Tales from the Trails is a new section on OBT were our readers can guest post their bike riding adventures. We welcome cyclists to submit story ideas and a few photos to share your tales from the trails of Ontario or the world.
Paul was out mountain biking the trails in Squamish, Britsh Columbia with his trusty dog Chester. Suddenly a wild animal was attacking his dog…so what happened next? – editor Dan R.
By Paul Johnson
I had been living in Vancouver, British Columbia for about a decade. When I started to ride in the Pacific Northwest, even as an experienced mountain biker (from Hamilton), the learning curve was about as steep (and dangerous) as the mountain trails themselves. I had gradually become more comfortable and skilled at riding the legendary North Shore trails in North Vancouver.
My constant riding companion was (and still is) my best friend and fantastic dog Chester, an 8 year old Australian Shepherd. He loves being on the trails, and being a herding dog is very attuned to the motion and speed of running with a mountain bike. I guess he’s what you’d call an “Alpha” dog and very early on decided he would run in front and lead us on all our rides.
He gets very upset when I pass him, and if he ever takes the wrong path at a fork on the trail, he will come racing back, loudly barking and complaining until he passes me and resumes his rightful place in front. I don’t mind as this allows me to see him at all times while we’re on the trails.
Climbing is usually uneventful as most trail rides in B.C. start out as a prolonged ascent, during which Chester trots along in front, sniffing, exploring, and chasing the odd squirrel. I often get passed by other riders, who Chester instinctively adopts and tries to keep “with the herd” until I whistle for him to wait, which he unfailingly obeys.
Although able to ride almost year-round in Vancouver, by April of that year, as the warmer, sunnier days of spring were arriving, I was motivated to get back out on the trails. I had only recently begun to venture further from Vancouver to more distant trails and had been making some trips up Highway 99 to Squamish and Whistler, where there are even longer, steeper, more technical rides.
Squamish is a hidden gem whose rugged, quality trails are a mountain bikers dream to ride.
They have become some of my favourite trails in the world, superseding even Whistler with their famous ski resort. (Whistler resort now makes more money from their mountain bike park in the summer, than they do from skiing.)
One has to be seriously cautious, especially riding solo, which I often do out of necessity due to my erratic shift-work. As an ER Nurse in North Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital, I have seen and treated more than my fair share of badly injured mountain bikers who come in from Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish and North Vancouver with serious fractures, head injuries and sometimes worse.
Of course you’ll always hear that “mountain biking is an inherently dangerous sport”, but nowhere is this more true than in British Columbia. There are possible dangers in these woods, the worst being black bears or the occasional cougar that one hopes desperately not to encounter.
So on a beautiful, clear autumn day in April 2014, I decided to make the short trek up to Squamish with my dog to explore some of the trails in the Garibaldi Highlands. I parked near one of the trail entrances at the end of Perth Drive.
After taking my bike off the rear rack and donning helmet and gloves, I let Chester out of my van and he began excitedly barking, jumping up and pushing me with both paws to go. He sprinted ahead and led the way through the entrance gate where a sharp gravel climb rises up and into a dirt access road called Mashiter. This trail is a long, gentle rise up and into the Garibaldi Highlands trail system that is just south of Alice Lake.
Not knowing the area very well, this ride was intended as a mellow cruise to get to know the trails. After about 20 minutes of gentle climbing, the trail levelled out and we picked up speed cruising a flat, easy, wide single track access trail.
I took the opportunity to catch my breath before embarking on what I knew to be lengthy, steeper climbs ahead. My mind started wandering as I considered what I knew of the trails and where we wanted to explore. Chester was happily trotting in front…
A sudden explosion of fur and claws cannoned into my dog from behind a log on the side of the trail.
The predator was so well-concealed that neither I nor Chester had seen him hiding, and just as we passed, he launched himself violently onto the back of my dog, striking at the back of his neck. His momentum carried both tumbling off the side of the trail where both animals quickly gained their footing and squared-off.
The two adversaries now stood face to face in front of me. My 60 pound dog assumed a defensive posture against the equally large, wild feline (whose paws were as big as my hand). Its hackles were raised visibly, its eyes scheming, searching for an opening to resume its attack. Quickly stopping my bike, I instinctively jumped off and positioned myself in front of the Bobcat, holding my bike up as a shield, with Chester behind me.
Now directly in front of me, the wildcat, which I quickly understood could do some serious damage to us both, (if not kill my dog) was not in the least perturbed by my presence and was not backing off. My dog, though behind me and initially stunned, seemed quite annoyed at the interruption wanting either retaliation, play or to protect me.
I wasn’t clear which. The cat, however, was very clear in his intention to get past me to Chester. As I stood my ground, bike held in front of me blocking the cat, it continued trying to side-step, dodge and find a way past my bike-shield.
Frustrated by my improvised defence, the cat turned his attention towards me and made a sudden lunge right at me. Shocked by this new strategy, I instinctively yelled “HEY!” and blocked his attack with my mountain bike. He quickly decided that I was too big or too challenging to get at, and resumed his attempts to attack my dog.
After several minutes of this three-way standoff, I noticed someone approaching, walking a large black dog. I called out to the owner, “Be careful, I’ve got a wild cat trying to get at us.” She continued cautiously walking closer along the trail.
The cat slowly turned towards the newcomers, then turned back and shot an accusing look of disgust, seemingly blaming me for the arrival of these intruders who were thwarting its attack. The Bobcat then slowly skulked away into the brush. About 30m away he turned, sat down and stared at us menacingly.
I quickly explained to the young woman with the Bernese mountain dog what had happened and we agreed to vacate the area together, her dog still oblivious to the danger and I pushing my bike. As I had not brought a leash, I had to hold Chester by the collar and lead him away. He remained vigilant, repeatedly looking back at the cat, which was still visibly tracking our movements.
It was a testament to the cat’s camouflage and stillness that the woman and her Bernese mountain dog never actually saw the cat. Keeping my eyes on the ever-watchful Bobcat, we slowly made our way down the trail all the while keeping vigilant for his stealthy approach. After about 10 minutes, we reached the trailhead and the safety of my van. It was only then that I realized Chester had been luckily completely unharmed by the attack; with not a mark on him.
Over the next few days, recounting this incredible encounter to mountain-biking friends, I was told it was an incredibly rare thing to even see a Bobcat, let alone get attacked by one. I found out that this particular cat, however, had been in the news for having attacked 14 dogs (one of which died) on this very accessible, highly-traveled trail. Nonetheless, it was an incredible thing to see and experience an attack by a wild cat.
It had happened so quickly there was no time to think, or plan, or even fear.
There was only an instinctive reaction on the part of both my dog and me.
Interestingly, although I was initially concerned that the encounter might have a traumatizing effect on my dog, he still has a strange fascination and desire to befriend felines. Unfortunately, he’s never met a cat that liked him back. Not even domestic cats.
Somehow they still hold a certain fascination for both of us. As we continue to ride the trails of the Pacific Northwest, I hope the odds are in our favour that we never encounter any more wildcats…of any kind.
Author – Paul Johnson is an Emergency Department RN originally from Hamilton, Ontario who has worked and ridden in many of the great mountain biking destinations around the world over the course of a 30 year career. While living in the spectacular Lower mainland of Vancouver, Canada for the past 15 years, he and his 8 year old Australian Shepherd, Chester have been regularly hitting the fantastic, technical trails of the Pacific Northwest, mostly on the famous, North Shore trails of North Vancouver. (Trail Forks app is an excellent resource for navigating these trails.)
Paul rides a Trek Fuel EX 29’er which is perfect for the steep and technical conditions of the region.
A comprehensive list of places I’ve had the great good fortune and pleasure to ride include:
Squamish, Whistler Bike Park, Pemberton, Mission BC, Coast Gravity MTB park-Sechelt BC, Kelowna, Canada Retallack Lodge (Helicopter drop) Portland Oregon, Bend Oregon, Moab Utah, Asheville, NC, U.S.A; Nice France; Cape town, South Africa; Chiang Mai, Thailand.