Column: My run-in with a mountain lion

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The great thing about mountain biking is the adventure. You never know what you might find around the next curve or bend and the fitter you get… the more twists and turns you can cover on each ride.

The other day I decided to connect town to Spruce Mountain using a mix of trails and dirt roads. Some sections highly used and others almost forgotten. Eventually I made my way to the top of Smith Ravine, which is an amazing route down the east slope of Spruce. It’s fairly remote and often empty.

As I headed down at dusk I started to get into the groove. It’s rocky at times with old rubber water bars adding to the confusion. Most of this trails design would not pass modern acceptable standards for sustainability, but this gives it character and creates a deeper challenge. I often see all sorts of wildlife and I began to hope I might see some deer, javelina or even turkeys that I had come across here before.

Towards the last third, the PNF has applied fire mitigation strategies which basically means the densely forested route suddenly looks like the surface of the moon. When this first happened I understood the reason but was upset at the devastation. But now I actually enjoy breaking from the tree line as the unobstructed views offered are very impressive. I decided to stop, sit on a nice log, take a couple pics and enjoy the moment.

Sitting there involved in my phone and the world around me I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. Didn’t give it much attention and assumed the dog approaching was friendly and their owner would be along soon. Once it was about three feet away, I looked up to say hello and maybe give it a pet.

Suddenly I realized this animal was not a dog at all … but actually a full grown mountain lion!!

I jumped to my feet and shouted purely from instinct and surprise. The cat quickly dug into the trail and spun around. I could feel the dirt from its explosive action bounce off my shoes. It walked back about thirty feet and stopped, stood and looked at me. Its posture was not aggressive. No teeth and tail calmly swaying. I immediately tried to recall all the things I was supposed to do in an encounter like this, but my mind was empty. I wasn’t scared necessarily, but to say the big cat had nothing but my full attention would be an understatement.

Despite the potential for things to go very wrong I was struck by the beauty of the animal. The strength, color of its coat and confident stance. So quiet and still yet so powerful and intimidating. Moments later it began to walk down the hill. I was pretty sure I knew cats like to chase, so even though I didn’t want to lose sight of it, I also didn’t want it to watch me ride off. As it disappeared into the brush I got back on my bike and rolled in the other direction very slowly, looking back every second I could. Several yards away I let it rip and flew down the last section of trail to Walker Road.

Once across the pavement the encounter began to really sink in. I have always wanted to see a mountain lion but assumed it would be from a distance. Perhaps a brief silhouette on a ridgeline or flash of tail as it ran away. But to be only a yard from one was intense and deeply moving. Makes me love and appreciate the woods that much more.

Steve Reynolds is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Instagram at @Prescottopia. Contact him by email at sportsdesk@prescottaz.com.