How Not to Get Eaten by a Mountain Lion

11.24.2008 | 8:21 am

A Note From Fatty: Today’s guest post is by Alex, the VP of Sales at the company where I work. He’s also a fast cyclist — the kind who wins races and stuff — and has the kind of sense of humor that lets him include slides like this in the middle of his presentations to the entire company.

What didn’t click for me — until just recently — is that he may well have been separated at birth from Bill Nye the Science Guy (same height, same build, same friendly enthusiasm, same rapidfire delivery). Alex’s Blog — Watching the World Wake Up — is definitely a cyclist’s blog, but it’s full of all kinds of interesting science. He’s made genuine botanical discoveries while riding. He knows all the plants and animals in the area, and interesting stuff about them. And even if you don’t care about those things, you’ll still like his blog: Alex (like his estranged twin Bill Nye) keeps it light fun. I just added his blog to my blogroll. You should go check it out.

I’m not a big worrier, but like most everybody, there are several things that I really hope don’t happen to me. Some of these things are losing my job, or my kids getting kicked out of school, or my wife running away with my next-door neighbor. (Not that I would really blame her; he really is better-looking and much nicer than me.)

But right at the top of my list is this: I really don’t want to get killed and eaten by a wild animal. And the reason I think about this is from time to time I either see a mountain lion, or recent evidence of a mountain lion, while biking.

alex-1.jpgTuesday morning for example, about ½ way up Dry Creek, I saw this- picked over carcass, little left of this deer except for spine and rib cage, which is classic cougar-kill. I think about mountain lions because they’re most active at dawn and dusk, and at this time of year more than ½ of my biking is at dawn, before work. When I go out, 3 or 4 times a week at dawn, I’m always the first guy on the trail. Sometimes I see another biker or a trail-runner on the way home, but I never see anybody on the way out, and oftentimes I don’t see anyone else for the whole ride.

Over the past 20 years, there have been more and more human-cougar encounters across the West, and several of these have been fatal (initially for the human, usually later for the cat as well.) In 2004 a mountain biker was apparently killed and partially eaten in California. And so here’s the uncomfortable reality I’m facing: as quite possibly the most consistent, frequent dawn-mountain-biker on the Wasatch Front, if a mountain biker’s going to be killed and eaten in Utah, it’s probably going to be me.

So here’s what I’m doing about it.

alex-2.jpgAlthough cougar attacks on people are still (thankfully) pretty rare, there’s a place in the world where big cats kill and eat people pretty much every other week. In the Sundarban Islands in India, about two dozen people get killed and eaten by tigers every year. Over the past few decades the local villagers have tried lots of tricks to dissuade tigers from attacking them, but probably the most effective has been this: they wear masks on the backs of their heads. Tigers, like most cats, always prefer to attack their prey from behind. Villagers who wear the masks when out and about in the jungle get attacked way less often than those who don’t.

Now I’m no feline-ologist, but a cat’s a cat, and since I don’t have any better ideas it occurred to me to try a similar approach here in Utah with mountain lions. There is however, a limit to the level of both discomfort and bad fashion I am willing to endure in the name of safety, so wearing a Dick Nixon mask on the back of my head for example, is right out. But I do have some spare real-estate on the back of my helmet, and here’s what I’ve done with it:


So far I can report 100% effectiveness with this prevention method; I have ridden once with the eyes on the back of my helmet, and been attacked zero times. Now since Fatty’s blog is all about service and sharing, I figure the least I could do is to provide his loyal readers with similar protection. So just print out the eyes below, cut them out and secure to the rear of your helmet with clear tape.


Of course, not all of you are brown-eyed, and so I have included a blue pair for your convenience, should you prefer.


And also a green pair.


And lastly, for you stoners out there, a bloodshot pair.


Now, It may have occurred to the astute reader that a big, wily cat — like a tiger of mountain lion — might eventually get hip to the mask trick. And sadly, this indeed appears to be the case; over a period of several years, the efficacy of the masks in the Sundarbans diminished. But since the rate of big cat-attacks in the Western US is about 1% of that in India, I figure this one shtick should last me until I’m too creaky to get up and ride at dawn anymore.

And the next generation can come up with their own dumb gimmick.


  1. Comment by buckythedonkey | 11.24.2008 | 8:34 am

    Sorry to get hear first and raise an issue, but I can’t see any of the images in today’s post…

  2. Comment by buckythedonkey | 11.24.2008 | 8:37 am

    …which is a shame because I’m wondering if these Evil Eyes will work on London cabbies (they being a feared predator on this neck of the woods).


  3. Comment by fatty | 11.24.2008 | 8:47 am

    buckythedonkey – yep, noticed that as soon as i published. and am pleased to announce that that it’s resolved after only two comments (by one commenter).

    check me out: i’m johnny on the spot.

  4. Comment by Wes | 11.24.2008 | 8:49 am

    I noticed a month or two ago that I was being stalked by some feral tabbies. Those (bloodshot) eyes will save me from 15 pounds of raw hungry feline madness :-)

  5. Comment by Jeff | 11.24.2008 | 8:59 am

    Awesome. Fortunately no mountain lions to worry about here in the East. But maybe the eyes could keep the black bears at bay?

    I also could use some tricks that would keep rattlesnakes away.

  6. Comment by cheapie | 11.24.2008 | 9:04 am

    lol. funny stuff. kinda like bill bryson’s stuff.

    stalked by a mtn lion? scary stuff.

    stalked by a cougar? rawr!

  7. Comment by Woody | 11.24.2008 | 9:23 am

    I’ll be needing a set of the blood shot ones. It’s been a long weekend!

  8. Comment by Rick S. | 11.24.2008 | 9:39 am

    On group night rides, I always bring a baggie full of bacon and place it in the jersey pocket of the slowest rider.

  9. Comment by Marla | 11.24.2008 | 9:43 am

    I may tape a pair onto my helmet, because “officially” there aren’t any cats here!

  10. Comment by Ashton | 11.24.2008 | 9:45 am

    FYI – not all human-cougar encounters are bad…

  11. Comment by Aaron | 11.24.2008 | 9:47 am

    Nice Post.
    We have mountain lions here too. Currently, we use the “always ride with someone slower” trick. But these eyes are worth a try! How about adding some big sharp teeth too!

  12. Comment by chtrich | 11.24.2008 | 10:07 am

    awesome….cougars or not, those eyes are great on the back of a helmet.

  13. Comment by bikemike | 11.24.2008 | 10:17 am

    Can i work with you guys? I know absolutely nothing about what you do but i would be willing to pretend to listen and learn for the right amount of money.

    From seeing how the auto makers and wall street operate, it would appear that this is how they do things.

    All is not lost, i’m actually an awesome bike wrench turner and can tell people they look good in lycra.
    so, you could bring your bikes into work and i could fix them under the illusion that i’m some sort of IT guy.

    Thank you for considering my resume.
    By the way, the story was excellent, Alex. Thanks.

  14. Comment by KanyonKris | 11.24.2008 | 10:24 am

    I’ll put eyes on the back of my helmet for the cat safety, but secretly I’m more interested in freaking out riders behind me. I hope you don’t mind if I find some more sinister eyes, like something off a monster mask.

    A friend rides a lot in a area where there has been a few black bear sightings. He bought a bear bell at Cal-Ranch. It seems bears will avoid humans if they hear (or otherwise sense) them coming. Are mountain lions the same or will they investigate the sound?

    Rick S. – I’ve been wondering what that smell was in the jersey I wore to the night ride more than a month ago.

  15. Comment by Mike D | 11.24.2008 | 10:32 am

    You know, I have a rock that keeps mountain lions away…

  16. Comment by Bluenoser | 11.24.2008 | 10:36 am

    In the east it’s black bears. So as Ronny James says, use the bearspray to spray in your eyes so you don’t see the bear chewing your arm off.


  17. Comment by leroy | 11.24.2008 | 10:51 am

    I have learned through painful experience the “I-have-eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head” gambit does not work with one’s children indefinitely.

    On the other hand, one’s children are more likely to pounce than a mountain lion — at least in Brooklyn — so the eyes on the back of the helmet are probably a safe ploy for the far less frequent and less dangerous mountain lion attacks.

    But what can I put on the back of my helmet to scare off Access-A-Ride vans?

    They no longer respect the “Baby On Board” sign suction cupped to the back of my helmet.

    And my imitation of the beeping sound a large truck makes while backing up isn’t fooling anyone.

    Great post!

    Win Susan!

  18. Comment by run-girl-run | 11.24.2008 | 11:35 am

    Ashton… lol!!

  19. Comment by cheapie | 11.24.2008 | 11:40 am

    KanyonKris….i’m gonna take a wild guess and say you’re not really the slowest rider in the group. you look pretty lean in your pics.

  20. Comment by Mark | 11.24.2008 | 11:46 am

    Fatty, like you I ride early in the am during the winter. My ride to work takes me right through known cougar habitat here in Boise Idaho. Down along the Boise river and through heavy brush. Cougars have been sighted in the area. Often,I have heard rustling in the brush as I spin by. My mind convinces me it is a starving mad cougar ready to pounce. Thanks for the eyes, I will be putting them on my helmet to protect me from danger. I will let you know how it works out.

  21. Comment by Lerjoy | 11.24.2008 | 11:55 am

    Ashton – Road trip to Boise might be in order, eh?

  22. Comment by ricky | 11.24.2008 | 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the safety reminder. From now on I’m bringing my pet wildebeest on all my rides. He has just returned from his migration so this is good timing.

  23. Comment by Craig | 11.24.2008 | 12:56 pm

    once the eyes fail I suggest a setup like this

    (but once the eyes fail, I am guessing you may not need an alternative setup)

  24. Comment by Al Maviva | 11.24.2008 | 1:17 pm

    Instead of extra eyes on your helmet, I recommend carrying a mountain lion of your own, and if you are attacked, unleash it on the rival mountain lion. To get your mountain lion to attack on cue, you must convince your mountain lion that you are its property, so when the other mountain lion starts eating you, your mountain lion will become enraged and attack it. This involves dousing yourself in mountain lion urine and pheromones prior to any ride, which sounds disgusting but it isn’t bad compared to the way week-old Cytomax smells if you leave a bottle of it in the trunk of your car during the summer. You may also want to consider sleeping in the crotch of a tree, which is where mountain lions sometimes hide food. You’re not dead of course, but you want your mountain lion to think you’re what’s for dinner, so that he’ll fight to defend you from rival mountain lions. Mountain lions are also hard to carry so you may need to get a bike trailer with a cage – maybe Surly makes one – or consider training your mountain lion to chase you as you ride, which you can do by dousing yourself in the urine of slow, elderly, diseased cattle. That sounds disgusting too, but it probably is better than being eaten by a mountain lion.

    You could also just spray some water from your water bottle on the mountain lion. I hear cats absolutely hate water, so that may work for you.

  25. Comment by leroy | 11.24.2008 | 1:42 pm

    Al — do you really want to keep a moutain lion in a cage with the name “Surly” on it?

    That just seems like asking for trouble.

  26. Comment by TrailMonster | 11.24.2008 | 1:56 pm

    Awesome idea. I am a huge fan of the night ride…that is until I saw a big cat…oh by the way…the conservation agent says no big cats in Missouri…BS…I saw it…right there in my light…what a pretty cat…until it disappeared over the ridge…The next thing I recall was dinging that stupid little bell and pedaling my butt off for the next several miles…my mind raced and then all of sudden it occurred to me …I am in Missouri…we don’t have big cats here, at least not wild ones…my thoughts raced to the fact it could have been a semi domestic cat…what if they trained it to feed at the sound of a bell….Damn You Pavlov! I no longer have a bell on my bike, and I no longer ride alone at night or as the sweeper on a group ride.

    New set of eyes going on the helmet as soon as I get home. Custom set…with glowey stuff in the middle…

    WIN SUSAN!!!

  27. Comment by KanyonKris | 11.24.2008 | 2:16 pm

    cheapie – Thank you for your kind comment. I can’t complain, over the last 3-4 years of much more frequent riding I’ve become a stronger cyclist than ever before, and it’s helped me stay slim-ish. But from my experience riding with these guys a few times, they are a quantum step stronger. It’s impressive to see these guys propel their single-speed bikes so smoothly up fairly steep climbs and then rip the downhill. It’s OK, that’s the way it is. I was just happy to be riding and enjoyed the company. And they were all gracious even when they waited for me to catch up. And dug was a good shepherd.

  28. Comment by Alex Rodriguez | 11.24.2008 | 2:21 pm

    I agree with Ashton, not all encounters with cougars are bad :)

  29. Comment by Clydesteve | 11.24.2008 | 2:43 pm

    Ashton and Alex R. are funny.

    Al M. – thanks so much for the suggestions, but I think those would be more effective in PA than OR, or UT, for that matter.

    I have not encountered a couger / MT. Lion (same thing btw) on my bike. But I did once encounter one while elk hunting. I was tracking an elk in the snow, and heard a strange strangled snarl. 130# cougar, 40 feet in front, and up the hill. She had two escape paths, but chose instead to leap in my direction. This encounter did not turn out healthy for all involved, and I walked away unscathed.

    I have a friend with a similar story, but he is braver than I. He bow hunts elk. A cougar came up to his hiding place, and he chased it away by shouting and waving arms. The cougar reappeared 1/2 hour later from the other side – stalking him, as he made his way out of the woods! He REALLY needed some eyes on the pack of his hunting hat!

    He killed it with bow & arrow. What a guy. I would have melted.

    Ever since the urbanites in Oregon voted to disallow cougar hunting with dogs, cougar population in Oregon has grown, as have human-cougar interactions.

    We have had livestock killed in our rural neighborhood by cougars, and the local dogs always seem to know. They go nuts.

    Cougars are, indeed very interesting, but they give me the creeps. I think I will mount some of thoses googly novelty eyes where the pupil bounces around, to the back of my helmet.

  30. Comment by Frilly | 11.24.2008 | 2:56 pm

    TrailMonster–that agent was spouting bs. There are mountain lions or panthers here in Missouri. My brother saw a panther a couple of years ago & wasn’t quite sure he saw what he thought he saw. So he called MO conservation and they said yes it is most definitely possible he saw a panther. btw, this was in northern MO.

  31. Comment by aussie kev | 11.24.2008 | 3:34 pm

    its past magpie season here at the moment, but come next september, i will have a pair of the “stoner” eyes

  32. Comment by Miles Archer | 11.24.2008 | 3:58 pm

    I think glowing reflective eyes would be better.

  33. Comment by Kt | 11.24.2008 | 4:01 pm

    What those eyes need is some reflectivity in the iris area.

    That way, it’s scarier. And neater, because I’d love to come up behind another rider in the dark and see reflective eyes glowing in my lights.

    Ok, or maybe that’s just scarier. :)

    I haven’t had any carnivorous wildlife encounters while biking– but there were the two coyotes tromping through my yard, and then the one coyote I spotted while walking Mr Dog one early morning….

  34. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 11.24.2008 | 4:06 pm

    Are those eyes purely for all you cat hating mountain bikers or can I use them on the velodrome so my opponents think I’m always watching them?

    And what about us blue-eyed stoners? I’m feeling very marginalised here.

  35. Comment by Richie | 11.24.2008 | 4:06 pm

    These eyes are going onto my helmet and I predict a 100% success rate(this is aided by the fact that there are no wild or dangerous cats in Ireland but better safe than sorry!!)
    Excellent post!


  36. Comment by Jenni Laurita | 11.24.2008 | 5:28 pm

    I’m totally doing it.

  37. Comment by Jenni Laurita | 11.24.2008 | 5:29 pm

    Will it stop other riders from attacking too?

  38. Comment by Lucky Cyclist | 11.24.2008 | 7:28 pm

    The best part about this post is that I only had to scroll once to read it.
    Good job at being succinct.
    (pointed at you Unholy)

  39. Comment by Fat Guy | 11.24.2008 | 8:31 pm

    Fatty, don’t let the cougar get you, keep pedaling.

  40. Comment by Bats | 11.24.2008 | 9:34 pm

    100% brilliant.

  41. Comment by Di | 11.24.2008 | 11:32 pm

    Here in Northern Michigan, we have lions and squirrels and bears – OH MY! ;-)

    The black bears are a non-issue. They don’t like us and they run away. I’m starting to wonder if they are a) lacking acute senses, or b) extremely focused individuals who can’t be bothered by mountain bikers.

    I’ve been given one piece of advice regarding the mountain lions: don’t look up. The words of encouragement are: they are well fed by the deer and squirrels. Cool.

    Now, the squirrels, they are really scary. I have occasioned upon many a squirrel on the trail. I can tell you from experience that they are constantly plotting against mountain bikers. They scurry here and there in an effort to distract the biker sending him or her into a tree or bouncing off a rock. They also occasionally send a suicide squirrel out across the trail. Mountain bikers, thankfully, miss these terrorist squirrels by a fraction of a second.

  42. Comment by Kathleen | 11.24.2008 | 11:44 pm

    I’m gonna try these critter eyes out on the crazy drivers that pass too fast and too close on the roads…maybe it’ll scare them off too!

  43. Comment by Big Boned | 11.25.2008 | 5:11 am

    I too have had an encounter with a lion while living in Colorado Springs. I’m still breathing, so is he, so the story isn’t any more interesting than the others told.
    Therefore, I have something else to discuss…I think Fatty needs a raise. Think about it, who else in your company does as much to recruit plumbers, electricians, short order chefs, wrenches, and astrophysists all willing to do ANYTHING to work with you all? No one, that’s who. You get your choice of the cream de la cre…well, of a bunch of people who’d like to bike and want to move to Utah.
    Give the guy a nice little raise and maybe he’ll expand his efforts to find people who would actually be useful to you.
    P.S. Who else in the company has given you an audience of MILLIONS and told you that you are funny and called you FAST?

  44. Comment by Mike Roadie | 11.25.2008 | 6:33 am

    Funny post!!!

    Clydesteve….they are definitely NOT the same thing around here. While we don’t have Mt Lions in FLA (feline, 85-105lbs, fast four-legged runners) we do have “cougars” (95-125lbs, avg age 45-55yrs, divorced and looking for a man)!!! Beware!!!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!!

  45. Comment by Animator Thom | 11.25.2008 | 11:54 am

    Great idea! I’ve been thinking of doing the same thing to ward off red wing blackbird attacks in the summer. I’ve noticed that if I look at them, they won’t swoop at me. But I’m afraid I’ll run off the road and down a cliff while I’m twisted around giving them the evil eye. This is the perfect solution! And it will amuse my riding buddies.

  46. Comment by Greg | 11.26.2008 | 12:41 pm

    I thought I was the only one afraid of being attacked by a mtn lion. I always get nervous near the cliffs just above the S curves in AF canyon before Timp cave. I’ll assume you know the spot. It would be so easy for a mtn lion to be hiding on the cliff in the brush above and just jump down on you. The next car to go by would see a bike sprawled on the road and maybe an arm still sticking out of the bushes grasping at asphalt…..lame.

  47. Comment by Amy | 11.29.2008 | 8:51 pm

    Did you know Bill is an avid cyclist also – not as avid as he used to be – we also enjoyed his recent cameo in stargate atlantis

  48. Comment by bike tours Terracotta Journeys | 12.1.2008 | 5:41 am

    I am going to be biking in the Berkeley hills soon. But I still use the old method of shouting: “Chooo bad cat! Go home, now!”

  49. Comment by Kelly | 12.20.2008 | 8:24 pm

    It was one of my husband’s old work mates from Carmichael Training Systems that got eaten by the cougar in California. I still think about it, especially when I saw one out in the field in our back yard here in NJ of all places.


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