When writers meet, a topic often pops up that intrigues me. Someone will mention an incident that makes such a salient point that the experience appears far too perfect to be true. Most writers feel reluctant to use these phony-sounding anecdotes, but as our courage builds through the years, we eventually write the story, because it’s too good for proving an axiom.
Six years ago in August, one such event occurred on the highway in front of my home, but first, please listen to this quick digression to help explain a punch line.
Bicycle shorts or long tights should fit skin-tight, a safety consideration, and here’s why: In the second or two before a fall from a bicycle, pedalers occasionally jump off the machine to land on their feet and not crash into a pile on the pavement, but loose clothing may catch on the saddle horn, handlebar, reflector or something and cause a needless spill.
So, we wear ultra-tight, snag-free attire that shows all our bumps and lumps, because tight bicycle shorts or long tights leave little to the imagination. So, until “the event” a half-dozen years ago, I wore bicycling underwear with the chamois-pad protection for my butt and pulled baggy gym shorts or sweat pants over the undies to hide things.
Six years ago, modesty came with a price. A hill drops past my house, and worse yet, the junction between the south corner of the driveway and highway has a short, sharp incline, making it difficult to pedal up onto the road — a 12 percent angle that starts right from a dead stop.
After stretching and then spending a few minutes on a trainer to warm up, I grabbed my bicycle, pushed it down the driveway, checked for traffic and then pedaled out with my head down, grunting up the steep rise while staring at pavement just a foot or two beyond the front wheel.
Suddenly, a guttural growl made me look up. A pit bull 20 feet away was running down the hill straight at me. I jumped off the bicycle while grabbing for a can of pepper spray in a handlebar holster — and missed with the grab, because my shorts caught the saddle horn and tripped me in the air.
I started to fall on the dog, which frightened the vicious rascal for a second, because he thought I was jumping on him. The snarling animal darted back for a moment, giving me a chance to leap to my feet, grab the bicycle like a huge, two-handed kitchen chopper and hammer the dog with short chops from the tires and chainrings, sending it fleeing down the road.
Nearly falling on a cranky pit bull can change anyone’s mind about modesty, and that very evening on the Internet, I ordered tight bicycle shorts with a chamois pad and have worn biking shorts or long tights ever since.
Along that line of perfect anecdotes, I’ve seen two “mountain lions” in Maine, and the first one was classic, because it explains most sightings:
On a rainy, foggy day almost 30 years ago, my ex-wife and I were driving home from a long weekend of camping in the Moosehead Lake region. We were traveling south on Route 15/6 several miles south of Greenville, when a tawny animal with a long, club-like tail loped across the road about a quarter-mile ahead.
“Look … a mountain lion!” I yelled, or some such words.
The cat disappeared into the woods, so I marked the spot in my mind and several seconds later, stopped my truck there. An old tote road went into the woods, and 60 feet away, we saw a yellow Lab sitting in the two-track logging artery with its tongue hanging out. If he hadn’t waited for us to see it a second time, I’d have sworn to this day that we had seen a mountain lion.
The second cougar sighting occurred on the Back Road in Lexington, east of Sugarloaf, about 25 years ago. On a bright, sunny day with a west wind, a small mountain lion ran across this dirt road, heading into the breeze. The feline just didn’t act wild enough, though, so it struck me that the critter was an escaped pet — an opinion from a layman, not a biologist.
These anecdotes exemplify typical mountain lion sightings in the Pine Tree State — just a straight mistaken identity or an escaped pet cougar, which reminds me of a story from the 1980s. A man with a mountain lion was allowing his pet to run around Sugar Island on Moosehead Lake, where it couldn’t run off beyond the shore, making me wonder how many open-water anglers had seen it and still tell their “wild” cougar tale.
Many stories, particularly ones involving mountain lions, usually seem too perfect to be true, and snarling, growling cats on high ledges in dark, woodland settings fill the narratives.
I’ve seen two cougars in this state, two more than most Mainers, and both sightings have a sane explanation. Also, I’ve had lots of experience with mountain lions while shooting photos of them in controlled settings.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: