Three days ago I blogged an entire (short) piece* about risk and adventure, which includes quotes like “Your life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and “Do one thing every day that scares you.” You get the gist. Easy to write, not so easy to do.
The next day I was working on a chapter for my next book and it was about the local mountain biking trails I love. I wrote, “The plethora of mountain biking trails around my house have mountains and hills and streams and creeks and abundant nature, including wildlife—namely mountain lions, deer, squirrels, and tons and tons of bunnies. (For me, so far so good not crossing paths with a mountain lion.)”
That changed yesterday. I just edited the piece as of 5 am today. I had to, now that I’ve had my first mountain lion encounter. I honestly am not sure if it was a mountain lion or a bobcat, I’m still trying to figure that out. But to keep things simple, it was a mountain lion. ‘Cause that sounds scarier to me.
But whichever it was, it terrified the bejesus out of me.
That’s actually the first time I’ve ever used that word: Bejesus.
I truly never felt the need until now.
I was nearing the end of my ride, still down below but not far from where I park my car in a lot up above this canyon/gully/crevasse/gorge—whatever you want to call this little magical trail below Orange County. I was speeding through my favorite part because it’s downhill and you get to go through the twisty-turns like a demon. A good demon. It’s also super Polynesian-y feeling, like a jungle. It’s dark with patches of sunlight streaming through bamboo and palm fronds. Sometimes I can almost hear “Aloha ʻOe.”
As I was tearing around a corner, I came up ON the mountain lion. With his back to me, he was maybe fifteen feet ahead. I can only imagine my eyes in an exaggerated double-take, like you’d see in a cartoon. And then cue the screeching breaks sound, with a puff of dust behind my back tire.
Sometimes I’ll use the word surreal in casual conversation, but this was exactly that, and so I’m quite possibly using that word for the first time appropriately. Stunned, I straddled my bike, trying to decide what to do. I have to say, I noticed the animal’s gait was mesmerizing. For a sec.
The beauty and elegance of his casual saunter wore off and I weighed my options. I instantly felt profoundly alone. And incredibly vulnerable.
I knew what they say. They say get “big,” make like a tree, raise your arms, go “RahhhhhrRRR” like you mean it. I knew you’re not supposed to run away from a wild animal…but ride away? Is that okay? It seemed ludicrous to follow it on the trail. It definitely was headed where I needed to go. But since I wasn’t sure it saw me, I decided to do a 180 and keep muffling my internal, primal screams and get the heck out of Dodge as fast as I could. So many thoughts ran through my head as I peddled…what if he/she’s part of a pack and I’m going to come upon them around the next corner, etc etc etc? Ride like the wind, Pammy, I just kept saying. I was so afraid, I honestly didn’t even think to pray.
I got far enough away that I thought maybe I should call someone. And so I stopped and called John. I knew he couldn’t save me, but I thought, if I died, I should have some parting statement. Like some closure. I asked him what he thought I should do, even though I thought I knew what I should do. He told me to just keep going on the trail, as in TOWARDS HIM. Don’t “run.” Get big. Like a tree or whatever. I thought he was full-on bonkers for saying that, and so I said, you’re full-on bonkers for saying that, thanks, but no thanks and then goodbye. Not the best closure, probably.
I didn’t think to pray as it was happening, but now as I think of it, before I left on my ride that morning, straddling my bike at the take-off point, I did pray. Specifically, I asked God for three kinds of protection:
Protection against falling.
Protection against bad guys.
Protection against wild animals.
When I got out of the jungle and into the wide open, flat, sunlit patch, I crossed paths with a woman jogger I now know as Kimberley. Kimberley was headed into the direction I had just come from, and so I warned her. Kimberley and I are bonded in trauma. It’s a thing.
We stayed together until we got to the safety of the nearby golf course up above. She used her phone to report the animal to the authorities, I used my phone to call John back and let him know I wasn’t dead. I may or may not have said something snarky about his suggestion I pour honey and sprinkle brown sugar all over me, approach the mountain lion and say, “Here, kitty kitty.”
Kimberley and I emailed back and forth yesterday afternoon and we discovered she has the same Walsch quote on the wall in her office: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
It doesn’t take a lot of insight to see all the foreshadowing and “coincidence” in this story, it’s a story so fresh it’s still being worked out in my head. I’m trying to figure out my next route. Do I let that scary cat dictate my path? Keep me from my favorite place?
We get warnings and messages. Some people call it the universe, I call it God.
Where the rubber meets the road, we have choices. Surprising to me, in that moment of terror, I didn’t think to pray. When I had the of bejesus scared out of me, I’m just glad Jesus was in me.
And for now, that’s all I’ve got say.
*my previous post complete with cool risk quotes: https://pamelacapone.com/2018/09/how-to-do-ribs/
PS. I stole these photos off Instagram. SNS.