Monday, April 13, 2015

Cows on public land, is it right?

As you know, a few weeks back I was HIT by a bull during a mt bike ride. I was on National Forest land on a dirt road. I could have SO VERY EASILY been killed or badly maimed had the circumstances changed in ANY detail. IF there was a high bank on my left instead of a downhill, IF he had hit me higher up or lower down than directly on my hip, throwing me OVER the bushes along the road and down the bank, out of his sight. IF he had missed me entirely and just hit part of the bike causing me to crash (which would also have been the result of a higher/lower hit on my body). If ANY of those circumstances had come to play, I'd have been totally at his mercy lying there on the road, and most likely wouldn't have walked those 14 miles back to my car with my broken bike (I try not to imagine him stomping ME instead of my wheels, as that is a very scary thought).

And so. My mtb ride this past Saturday I AGAIN dealt with cows. This time they were Black Angus....about 30 or so of them, INCLUDING....yes...drum-roll please: a bull (again hornless). I was again in the Los Padres National Forest. The "road" was laughable. It might have been a road 10 or 20 years ago, but no longer. It's nothing but a dried up creek bed and a highly churned up (and CURRENTLY OCCUPIED) cow trail. I had ridden up Colson Canyon and down the other side to the T-intersection of La Brea Road, and turned left (north) headed towards Miranda Pines up on Sierra Madre Ridge. I wasn't very far up La Brea 'road' fighting my way thru the sandy cow-tracked trail when I started to see signs of fresh cow activity. I kept riding and soon enough I came up on the 'herd'. I was down in a valley so this time there were plenty of places for the herd to leave the laughable road, but they didn't.

I had my trail "dinger" bell mounted on my bike this time, so-as NOT to surprise any livestock I might come upon...and it worked. They were watching for me as I came into sight, and started trotting away en-mass almost as soon as I came into view. I very quickly figured out where the bull was...he was standing rear-guard for HIS herd. Standing there, staring at me, DARING me to come closer. He wasn't as big as the brown beast that clobbered me a few weeks ago, but he was still PLENTY big. Big enough to break every bone in my body without breaking a sweat I'm guessing. I could have turned around right there, but what can I say...I had only gone a small portion of my intended ride for the day, and I REFUSE to be chased off of PUBLIC land by a bunch of cows!

So we started playing the game. They would trot away and I would follow...very slowly...partly due to the horrid nature of the road (HA, I mean COW-TRAIL), and partly to let the herd get a bit ahead of me. Overall I think for this 5 mile portion I was only able to hold around 4 to 5 mph at best (it was quite flat here too btw). And that was with me working pretty hard thru the churned up sand and/or rocky dry creek-bed. It was VERY slow going, which was ok I guess, as I still had the COWS to deal with. I was hoping that they'd mosey off the trail on every bend of the creek, but they just kept following it, going exactly where I was hoping to go, and then they'd stop, and I'd have another face-off with THE BULL (by face off, I mean I'm still at LEAST 50 yards away, probably much farther). I had been playing this frustrating game for around 3 to 4 miles when we came to a big left/right bend in the trail. The cows were ahead of me as it veered left, and they had all stopped at the far left of the bend. As I came into sight of the herd, I realized THIS was my chance to finally get around them.

So I picked up my bike and hiked it up and over the hill that the trail/creek was veering around. I came down the other side to a steep drop-off to the creek-bed, and had to head back towards the herd to get the drop-off low enough for me to slide down the bank and back onto the cow-trail. It worked...I was ahead of them, and the bull was still at their rear, wondering where I had gone most likely. Stupid cows, you can't defeat ME!

So I picked up my pace a bit and very quickly came upon MORE fresh cow goo on the trail. And sure enough, soon I spotted a few cows and calfs, still trotting in my direction. I guess the herd had fragmented and these were a small group, and it appeared they had no bull with them. They were still ahead of me when I heard a gun-shot, and very soon after that here they came.  STAMPEDE right at me. I jumped off my bike and started looking for a place to go....there wasn't that many of them but they were now AFRAID and I wasn't going to get anywhere safe. I started yelling at them and thankfully they veered down a bank and back into the creek-bed (which had some water in it at this point). I was quite relieved and I had no idea what I would have done had they not turned. So I kept riding and just a bit ahead I was at the Wagon Flat campground, and there at a picnic table in the middle of nowhere sat 3 guys in cammies with rifles.

I'm guessing they saw the cows coming at them and shot into the air to scare them...and it worked. Only they had no way to know they were scaring them right back at ME. I chatted w/ them for a few minutes...they didn't speak very good English (they were Hispanic) but I was quite friendly and wasn't asking just what they were hunting at this time of year (I don't think there's anything in season that requires a rifle...but none of my beeswax...they had rifles after all). I continued my way for another couple miles as the trail FINALLY turned into an actual TRAIL with no sign of was AWESOME! The trail climbed out of the valley and finally T-d into another road of sorts. This is where the hunters were parked I gathered, as there was a white Toyota 4x4 sitting there at the gate.

At this point I figured I should just I had already been on the ride for almost 4 hours, with 17 HARD miles back to my car. I had lost a LOT of time due to the stupid cows and cow-trail-road. I had planned on doing roughly 50 pretty hard miles but was going to get home with just over 30. So I turned around and headed back the way I came. Of course, I knew I had to get past those cows again...and soon enough there they were. They had spread out in the river-bed area but as I approached they started banding together and trotting away in the direction I was headed. And not long after that there was my friend the bull.

The game started up anew, only this time I knew what terrain lie ahead. One one of the wide turns they all went wide left, so I picked up my bike, silenced my dinger bell and RAN as far to the right as I could around the wide turn, thinking if they slowed/stopped I'd be able to get in front of them. But I came around the corner and jumped on my bike, there they were...we were at a dead-heat as to who would get to the trail first...only they had the numbers and I backed down. So we played the game some MORE...until another similar situation arose and this time I came around the wide turn ahead of the herd. I jumped on my bike and hammered my way (as best you can hammer in that kind of sandy rocky cow-pocked trail) and was in front of them by about 50 yards. I poured on the gas and was all excited...for about 5 seconds. THEN the herd started to RUN. IN MY DIRECTION!

I had figured as soon as I got ahead of them they would turn and go the other direction. I figured wrong. I was screaming and yelling at them all while I gave an OLYMPIC effort on the bike, and the charging herd (bull included) seemed to be making a big effort to catch me. Obviously I have no idea if that was their goal...all I know for sure is they were NOT stopping, nor turning around.

It's amazing what you can do when you are in fear for your life. I'm pretty sure I set a sandy-rocky-cow-trail 1/4-mile world mtb-record on this ride. Once I had a good gap on them they FINALLY stopped chasing me, and I just wanted to fall off the bike and pass out...but I didn't, as I was still quite afraid they would start running again and I wanted as much distance as possible between us.

FINALLY I got back to the T intersection where I began the long climb out of the valley. Turns out I was pretty wiped out, as I was barely crawling up the road (and yes, this was an actual honest-to-god DIRT ROAD...and it was LOVELY!) The rest of the ride was uneventful other than it was REALLY HOT...but eventually I got back to my car. I ended up with a measly 32 miles for the day, and it took me 5 hours and 17 minutes of actual moving time to do it. THAT was one slow hard ride (and Strava only gave me an average estimated power of 51 watts...HA! Strava has NO IDEA how hard I was working on that cow trail. Their system only looks at elevation gain and time and speed to calculate way they could know I was pretty much riding thru quicksand for 10 miles of that 32).

So ANYWAY. Today at work during breaks and lunch I was researching cattle grazing on public lands...turns out it's a big issue as (quite obviously) the cattle do a LOT of damage to whatever land they graze on. They have totally destroyed the road that used to exist. And that doesn't even call into play the public safety factor. I mean, I have a right to be on that land too....don't I have a right NOT to have my life in jeopardy from these cattle? I searched online and finally found some phone numbers to our local Forest Service ranger station....I talked to their operator for a bit explaining that I just wanted to talk to somebody about these cattle on forest service land...and see what MY rights are. DO I have a right to defend myself? (ie: if I were to carry a gun?) Not that any gun I could carry would stop a bull...probably just make him REALLY mad. And it's not that I'd EVER have any intention of shooting one...but the single shot in the air by the hunters seemed to work REALLY WELL at turning the running cows. So there is THAT to think about.

I have  no idea what to do at this point, I left my message with the main man in charge of the range, and hope he calls me back to chat sometime in the next few days. I just want to let him know my experiences in the last few weeks. I don't think it's reasonable to have to risk DEATH just to ride my bike on PUBLIC forest service land. But I also think these grazing rights have been around for a LONG time, and the ranchers won't take it very kindly of my thinking maybe they shouldn't be doing that. Also I wanted to ask the ranger IF the owner of the cows is liable for them...(ie: does some rancher owe me a new set of XTR tubeless mtb wheels?) or is that just my loss? Not that it matters, I have zero idea where the brown cows a few weeks ago came from nor did I see or get a picture of a brand or the cows/bull.

All I know for sure is that they really don't belong there IMO. They are completely destroying the land (OUR land), and also are quite dangerous as I can state as a FACT.

And so....I've had QUITE ENOUGH of cows for a while I can tell you. Why can't I find the trails that run thru the free-range gopher herds? THAT'S what I'm looking for!

Have a great week!



  1. Matt, you crack me up & I'm very relieved you survived your most recent cattle run-in! :) Question - are these new trails/roads for you? If you've always ridden them I guess it must be a mystery why you didn't run into the cows before! I don't live near US Forest property but at least in MD, I know cows are NOT allowed to run unrestricted/unsupervised on local park land. Maybe this is a national Forest thing or just a CA thing?

    And not to alarm you but the bull is NOT the only cow you need to worry about. With ours, it's the "head" female cow, especially if she has a calf with her; very protective/confrontational. Far more than our 'fat & happy, let us just stand here munching grass, swatting flies with our tails, & enjoying the scenery' bulls. :)

    Were you able to watch any of Paris-Roubaix? Even though it was taped & a day late, we got 3 HOURS on NBC-Sports channel. Whoo-hoo, it was really exciting! However, today I just saw something on Cyclingnews that the BMC guy that finished 3rd is in trouble with his country's anti-doping assoc & they want him thrown out of cycling for 2 years! I don't have time to read the article just now so don't know if he tested positive or is linked to some doping story/scandal.

    The NBA playoffs start Saturday & I'm giddy & anxious that LeBron 'Sweet Pea' James & his Cavaliers will win all the way into the Finals.(Yes, I stole, I mean borrowed as an homage, your doggie's name as my nickname for LeBron!) :) I'm still perplexed that after 15 years of wearing a headband in EVERY basketball game he has ever played, he took it off in the middle of a game about 3 weeks ago & we haven't seen it since. HOLD THE PHONE! What?! I find this a bigger mystery than the freakin Loch Ness monster! I MISS the headband! Whah, whah, whah, I WANT the headband back! I think he's going thru some kind of midlife crisis! ;)

    Well, gotta run. And don't forget some SOPHIE pics! Oh, almost forgot - try SINGING to the cows! Our cows always seemed to "enjoy" my musical renderings of every pop/Broadway tune I knew. Wait, that will make them COME to you, so forget it! :)

  2. Susie...I've ridden the one where the bull smacked me once or twice a year for MANY years...never before seen cows up there. Haven't been on the one I rode last Saturday before, but I was told it USED to be an actual dirt road a decade or so ago, then there was a big fire about 5 or 6 years back, and then we had big rains (pre-drought) and it just wiped everything out and left a mess...THEN the cattle came in and that's it...the road is pretty much gone...just a dry creekbed and a horrific sandy cow-trail.

    As to your bull vs the ones I've had my "run in"(s) with, I'd much prefer yours. I'm guessing these bulls are there partly for protection and they want them agressive, as these cows live in the hills bordering on wilderness, away from most people (and where Mt lions freely prowl). I've heard there's bears out there too..but haven't seen one yet.

    And I think if I sang to the cows, they'd ALL want to pummel me to death. I am going to look for my old air-horn that I used to have on my Mt bike SO very long's a plastic water bottle w/ a tube running to the plastic pump the bottle to like 90psi, and when you hit the button it sounds like a Semi truck is bearing down on you...haven't seen it for some time, hope it's still in my bike box of 'stuff'.

    Didn't see a lick of Paris-Roubaix...I don't have crap for sports channels right now ($$ you we're putting away most everything we can).

    I've never been much of a BB fan...(tho I do enjoy the March Madness college games). My dad is THE BB fan in the family. Tho I recall watching Lebron play in a Hawaii BB tourney as a college Senior (I think)...I didn't know him from Adam, but my Dad did (the parents were visiting over the holidays...every year there's a nice college BB tourney that draws some big teams). He was impressive even then...and since then, he's the new Michael Jordan (well, not new NOW obviously). I didn't know he suddenly quit wearing the trademark headband...what's up w/ that?

    And sorry, I'm remiss in adding my condolences to you falling on the ice..YE-OUCH! That hurts just thinking about it...(and as someone who grew up in WY and MT, I can certainly relate).

    Anyhoo...think I'll go looking for cows again tomorrow! Never did get to talk to the ranger dude...maybe I can hook up w/ him next week...I'd love to hear his take on my situations.

    have a great weekend!