I had just carried my bike over a somewhat treacherous rocky landslide when I saw her. Barely ten pedal strokes after getting going again she stepped onto the gravely singletrack. To my right, a steep, rugged and windswept mountainside. The coastline from where I had come barely visible in the coastal fog. To my left, an unrideable logging mountain.
It was early winter, and I was midway through perfecting my coastal play route — a mixture of desolate gravel, farmland, singletrack, hiking trails, and beach. This stretch I was on, high above the coast line, was new to me and I had blatantly ignored a fence, washed away trail, and a warning sign to get here. But, this new connection was an absolute thrill to ride and I was on quite a high when she stepped onto my path.
Furry. Four-legged. Feline.
And a whole lot bigger than any house cat I’d ever seen.
A few years ago, one of my coaching clients was attacked by a cougar in a harrowingly traumatizing (and public) event. And he barely lived to tell the tale. I hadn’t known to be scared of wild cats before — I grew up in The Netherlands where the wildest thing I ever saw was a pissed off swan — but after that incident and the one that followed involving a hiker in Mt. Hood, Oregon, let’s just say I am not a fan of anything that isn’t a domesticated house cat.
In my time in Oregon, I have come across plenty of scat and signs of cat activity on various rides, but I’d never seen one before. And I was hoping I never would.
But here she was. I say “she” as though I would be able to tell the difference. Ha, like I would ever want to get that close. Anyway, “she” stepped onto the path and just stared at me. She was not frightened or skittish. Her clear yellow eyes just stared at me defiantly, waiting on my move.
I, meanwhile, stood frozen to the spot. I had slowly and soundlessly unclipped and was considering my options. Is eye contact good or bad? Should I stay still or move about wildly? Do I yell? Make scary noises?
The one thing I knew I didn’t want to do, was turn around and go back from where I had come. For one, I had come all this way and the next part was going to be really fun. And more importantly, I didn’t want to turn my back to the cat.
So, I reached for my phone. No, not to snap a picture. This trail was so remote, that should anything happen, it would be months before anyone would ever find the phone and the photo evidence of what had happened. And by then, the snow and rain would have destroyed it anyway.
Without taking my eyes off the cat, I turned the volume up as high as it would go and played whichever song first showed up in my music app. It was Beyoncé.
Loud and upbeat, the sound startled the cat whose ears twitched and then she slowly stalked off, up and into the bushes.
I sighed a breath of relief but was then faced with another problem: what if she just wanted higher ground so she could attack me from up high once I passed? Again, I really didn’t want to go back, but didn’t like the idea of getting pounced on either.
So I placed my Beyoncé-playing phone in the unzipped bar bag, clipped in and, hugging the trail as far away from the cat as possible without falling off the ridge, I bolted the hell out of there.
The rest of the ride was a blast and I was very happy I hadn’t turned around, but the moment I got back to civilization, I hopped on the internet and bought some mace which I have carried with me on adventures since.
Tips for bobcat or mountain lion encounters, according to the National Park Service*
- Stay calm
- Back away slowly and deliberately
- Avoid running away because that could trigger a pursuit response
- Do not approach the cat. Give them a chance to leave.
- Stand tall and face the cat.
- Do all you can to appear intimidating
- Attempt to appear larger by raising your arms or your bike above your head
- Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
- If looking bigger doesn’t scare the cat off, throw stones or branches in its direction (not
directly at it).
- In the unlikely event that the cat approaches you: start throwing things at it.
- In the even less likely event that the cat attacks: fight like hell.
*Info summarized from the National Park Service