Alex Smith

My scariest bike ride ever

The only worry to that point had been the wind.

Yesterday I bombed down the other side of Hawk Hill, on the extremely steep, windy one-lane road that takes you from the amazing northwesterly view of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. Due to the storm-like conditions, I rode the brakes the entire way.

No point in going real fast for two reasons. First, the cliffs along the left side of the road lead to a long, perilous drop. Second, I had to put away my sunglasses going up the hill because they were getting as foggy as a Candlestick Park Giants night game in the eighth inning.

At the bottom of the hill, the same wind that hit me from the side was now coming straight on, and with the slight incline I was now facing, my pace had gotten considerably slower. As I came around the corner, I looked up to the path right next to the road I was traveling on, raised maybe four or five feet higher than I was, where I saw an animal trotting in the same direction I was going.

Proving once again that if humans have instincts, they surely aren’t useful when it comes to surviving in the wild, I slowed down and stopped to get a better look. Now only 30 feet away, I figured it was just a coyote. I had just seen a sign that said, “Don’¢t Feed or Approach Coyotes.”

Easy enough, but the sign didn’t say anything about looking at them. I’d seen them in Santa Cruz before, and they’re usually skittish, scrawny little things.

But this creature’s tail didn’t look like that of canine.As I kept watching, I saw the animal (which couldn’t have been more than 40 pounds) stop in mid-trot to flop on its side. After hitting the ground and rolling around a little in the dirt, the animal’s long, thick tail went up in the air, with the darker end-portion kind of snapping like a furry whip before falling back to the earth. “Oh S&*%. That’s a cat maneuver,” I thought.

Right as I realized I should have just kept pedaling all along, the cat jumped up, spun around and looked at me — frighteningly quickly, I might add. “Look at the dome on that thing,” I thought. It sure looked like a cat, but with a much wider head than any I’d ever seen besides at the zoo and on TV. It made sense, since its tail looked like a cat’s tail too, only similarly larger.

Was it a Sabercat (roar)? No. This was a mountain lion.

Kind of funny that I lived in Eureka for 20 years and Santa Cruz for six, and had never seen one before. But less than five miles from the city limits of San Francisco, here’s one I just startled. Now I’m sitting on my bike facing this thing, going exactly 0 mph.

Even though it was a one-way road, I turned around and started pedaling. Fast. So fast that I almost fell trying to clip my left shoe back into its pedal. That I was going the incorrect direction and would have taken the rest of the afternoon to ride back up this incredibly steep hill were concerns I’d deal with later. I immediately crossed paths with another cyclist, who told me I was going the wrong way.

“Mountain lion!” I yelled.

As the other guy rode past, he yelled, “What?”

By then he was gone, and he wasn’t turning back. Either he ignored or didn’t hear what I said, or he is a lot more courageous than I. With no way out besides traveling through the predatory cat zone, I tried to follow the guy and see if he was attacked by this beast, but he was gone. I figured that if I got going fast enough, even if the mountain lion was waiting for me I’d be too difficult a target to bring down. So I started pedaling my absolute hardest, checking the path and all suspicious looking bushes along the way. It wasn’t until I was a half-mile past where I spotted the mountain lion when I started to finally slow down, and my heart rate began to fall back to somewhat normal levels.

It’s too bad, because I wanted to hike around the Marin Headlands one of these days, and now I’m not so sure that’s a great idea. Even though the feline I saw was smaller than an average Labrador, looking one in the eye still gave me quite a scare.

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