A Mountain Biker's Encounter With a Big Cat or: Staring at the Face of Death and Thinking "Nice Kitty!"

This story about encountering a large cat doesn't end in me beating off a vicious attack, but maybe you'll find it interesting anyway...

One Sunday I came upon a bobcat, not fifty feet away, sitting and licking his front paw. I was on a road (something I rarely do, thank goodness!) and I was riding slowly. I was actually looking for a coat hanger to get a locked door open because my friend had just locked his keys in his car. They say bobcats are pretty harmless, but when you can't tell a bobcat from a mountain lion (like me, at least back then) they seem pretty BIG and SCARY.

I passed a small clearing and there he was (the bobcat, not the friend) sitting down in the middle of the clearing, which was about 40 feet by 120 feet deep in size and he was near the middle. I actually saw him first! (Which is really the coolest part of this story...)

He was about 90 degrees to my right as I passed him, and I turned around to the left 270 degrees (keeping an eye on him except when I had to spin my head around once counterclockwise). I stopped the bike facing him and dismounted with the bike between me and him, in front of me.

Technically, what you're supposed to do is approximately this:

  • Make yourself look big.
  • Yell.
  • Throw things.
  • Gather in a group.
  • Pick up small children.
  • Light a fire, unless it's against local regulations. (Just try to light a fire while throwing things and making yourself look big!)

Technically, I had a problem. My wife, who happens to be a foot smaller and about 60% of my weight, was riding, slowly and unseen, a hundred yards behind me and was coming up on the scene. She was, of course, also looking for a piece of steel (the friend had gone off to call AAA, which is how we actually got the door open.)

We stared at each other (the bobcat and I, not my wife and I) for what seemed like a minute, but was probably about 5 or 10 seconds. He would flick an ear, and I would raise my eyebrows. He would flick his other ear, and I would raise my eyebrows again, since I can't do only one eyebrow. Neither of us yawned. He remained seated. I had a helmet on (of course). He didn't (of course).

My wife (Sharon) was coming up the road behind me and I didn't know what to do. You're supposed to look big, wave your arms etc. and generally present yourself as crazy, big, unpredictable, big, and maybe dangerous (and big). But I did none of these things.

I kept thinking -- what if it ran off when I scared it -- towards Sharon? This was very unlikely, but possible. I also couldn't shake the feeling of "that thing's not really dangerous, is it?!?" So I waited, and as she got closer I pointed and said "big cat!" which was the only way I could describe it. I'm pretty sure now, it was a bobcat. (which actually aren't all that agressive towards humans.) It left when I yelled, and she saw it only after it had turned to go and was trotting off away from us.

Sharon thinks perhaps her full-face Troy Lee Designs helmet scared the cat. I think it was that it was now two to one.

There's no exciting ending to this story, but I warned you of that at the beginning! The rest of the ride was great. I think we all kept our eyes out especially much, looking for big cats that day.

To get to this ride:

Note: Upon thinking about it, and riding this ride a few more times, I've come to the conclusion that this ride is really for locals only. For one thing, because it stays wet sometimes for weeks after a rain, and only locals will know where it rained weeks ago. Visitors can't know this. And also because, it might be trespassing to be there at all -- I'm really not sure. We've talked to city maintenance workers after riding there, but the signs DO indicate no one is welcome. Lots of people go and it should be cleaned up and kept open, but nonetheless, all things considered, I feel it's better to let the location be a mystery. So, without intending to keep out-of-towners off our many other wonderful trails (see list, below) and without intending to offend said guests of wonderful Southern California, (I've only lived here seven years myself...), I've modified the directions so that only those familiar with the area can find it. I doubt the sheriffs or rangers or whatever would do anything, but I could be wrong. And it's pretty normal for such people to be a whole lot easier on locals than on out-of-towners, isn't it? Besides, it's unmarked, undocumented, full of poison oak in all the water crossings and lastly, it's unridable for large portions of the year because in the last few hundred yards of the loop, it often gets too muddy to cross without excessive trail damage and a lot of portage and wet muddy feet. Did I mention stagnant water? Besides, there are countless turns and ways to go, but since it's in a tight space tucked into the city, it is easy for a local to know where they basically are at all times. So, here's how a local can probably find the ride:

From downtown Carlsbad, California: On what used to be called a tree, go away from the bars even if they no longer exist. Turn right at the king's road. U-turn between the strobe lights, and take a right, well before the big dishes. Turn into the first parking lot, which will be on your left. This is a public building and parking there after hours doesn't seem to be any problem.

The ride starts almost directly across from the parking area. Go into the brush about 150 feet along a variety of short singletracks to a long straight fire road, and go down it for about 1/2 mile. You'll return up this fire road.

Continue after it turns to fairly straight, fairly wide singletrack, turning left at a Y another mile or so up. Go into the trees and across a stream. Climb up all the way past the housing development until you are forced to again turn left by a nature habitat. Go more or less along the fence, generally climbing another 100 feet or so from the first summit (where you were forced into the left turn away from the housing developments.)

If you see the sun set here, you can still get back before dark. You'll climb again on a more Western peak. If you take the route we normally take, you'll tend to make left turns at most intersections, but early left turns won't work! So, expect to double back often your first couple of rides here, and leave enough light, water, and energy for that sort of thing.

The best route brings you to the base of the fire road you came in on, after some relatively easy stream crossings. The worst brings you near the Y mentioned above, with a nasty stream crossing with lots of poison oak.

It's only about 4 1/2 miles total trip so you can always backtrack if you run out of ideas and can't find a fun way across the stream.

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