I have little experience dealing with wild animals, not that that is necessarily a bad thing. I grew up in Southeastern Wisconsin, in a rural area around a beautiful lake. Harmless deer frequented the woods that surrounded our house, and now and then I checked for deer ticks behind my ears, but other than that, the largest animal that startled me while running was our neighbor’s sheep dog. Sure, there were slow-moving tractors to dodge on the road and a few rude summer tourists walking the lake path, but no lions or bears or rockslides to contend with. My mid-western upbringing has left me capable of defending myself against ticks, rude humans and large domesticated dogs.
When I moved to Portland, I ran the dark, rainy city streets startled only by raccoons and the local homeless men taking shelter under an awning. I spent nearly 3 weeks backpacking through the Sierra Nevadas with Outward Bound and never once saw a bear.
F grew up in “cougar country” in western Washington. On several occasions he saw cougars in his friend’s neighborhood. While B was living in Colorado, she saw bears poking around in garbage cans as she drove down the street. A friend from college, a native Alaskan, was camping in Alaska with her mom one night. As they were turning in for the night, they noticed a polar bear circling their tent for what seemed like eternity. Her mom had the shotgun poised to defend at any moment.
Bears, cougars, mountain lions, rattlesnakes…they were never a big part of my life and I never felt like I needed to worry about them until now. My friend G wrote to me, “I don’t even know what you do if you run into a mountain lion… adopt a scary posture, gnash your teeth and growl back? Walk sideways away from the conflict???” She’s from the mid-west like me.
I’ve gone long enough pretending that snakes and big cats don’t exist here. It’s time to get trail smart. So, I looked up what to do when face-to-face with a mountain lion and I found this handy brochure by the California Department of Fish and Game. Some key points:
- Do not hike, bike or jog alone. (Oops, I’ve done that one too many times.)
- Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active: dawn, dusk and at night. (Hmmm, is that why there were no other hikers or joggers that day I went out early by myself???)
- Do not approach a mountain lion. (No problem. I’m deathly allergic to cats anyway. You won’t hear “Here, Kitty Kitty” coming from my mouth. Ever.)
- If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. (Wait, I need to make eye contact? But I try to avoid confrontation at all times. I hear water bottles are good to throw at them, and since I carry one with me on trail runs, I’ve got something. The other day I was tempted to pick up one of the fallen rocks to have just in case. F likes to whoop and holler like a wildman when he’s trail running. He claims that frightens away the mountain lions. I think he just likes to yell.)
- If attacked, fight back. (I’ll try.)
My defense plan: cross my fingers and hope I never have to fight a mountain lion.