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Spotting Animal Tracks on a Mountain Bike


Spotting Animal Tracks on a Mountain Bike

By Larry Williams, Certified Tracker 

To the owner of the mountain bike collecting dust in the garage; speed and competitiveness are not needed to pursue this combo. Any dirt/gravel road or single track trail is all that’s needed, and some animal tracking knowledge or classes under your belt, gives a new sense of appreciation for being out and about. Reading the footprint as a coyote and not dog, the bunch of marks on the ground as quail tracks and the scat(poop) on the ground is from a bobcat, opens up your surroundings to not just being outdoors but truly understanding this is where the animals live. They know you are there even though you can’t see them, now you know who is there also.

Downhill mountain bikers have an already developed ability to learn animal tracking; your eye is trained to see paths around the rocks, ruts and bumps 5 to 15 feet in front of you. You’re trained to not just look, but truly focus and understand what you see. Adapting animal tracking knowledge with downhill skills, applying in appropriate moments (safe with no one speeding behind nor on technicals), deepens your appreciation of the same single track in it’s thrills BUT also as who’s front room your riding thru and it’s residents. With the same amount of time, energy and effort getting to this ride, the combo adds to the experience.

Animal trackers themselves can enhance tracking by using mountain bikes as transport to good tracking areas quicker, and on the way spot sign. Learning good riding technique can broaden where to explore new tracking areas. After all, people have been tracking from the backs of horses for thousands of years, and on a bike your about the same height as when walking! Many times I’ve discovered areas to animal track by finding them in an exploring adventure on bike, some simply by putting the bike down and taking the time to animal track or coming back later on foot.

Some specific techniques for the combo; but first a few prerequisites. Learn/gain animal tracking knowledge first. Gain enough riding skill to have confidence in a variety of terrains. Keep a healthy respect for and reverence to the animals; after all, your the one coming into their domain.

 As a rider myself, one of the first and most liberating state of mind changes for me was, when safe, slowing down. Hey, I am a downhill junkie: Annadel, Bogg, Angwin, Northstar, Folsom American River, Downieville, Ely, Moab and other lesser knowns. Slowing down, when pertaining to animal tracking, has multiple effects. No more wind in the ears allows one to hear the birds, the true sentries of the outdoors, announcing your presence. Tire noise is not just reduced in total amount, but lowered in decibel level; remember, most animals hear much better than us in the higher range. More animals can be come upon and be less startled; quite the gain!

When entering into transition areas, i.e. forest to meadow, edge of an overview into lower area and others, before you break the plane of view of the new area (past this point anything can see you), stop and take a moment to scan the area, looking at the edges for animals, or in the larger area, usually by spotting ears and heads of animals.

Dust on the side of roads and trails shows animal tracks, with greater quantities where trails converge. Be aware of avoiding riding on these areas, thus conserving these animal signs. At Moab, Navajo Rocks, the third day of riding, I gave over to riding/tracking, getting there early. The dust from the riders the day before had settled, giving great tracks; coyote, bobcat, rabbit, snake, including sidewinder, and my favorite, kangaroo rat! I still got my riding thrills, but added a whole level of appreciation of the same single track.

Soon the rains will be here, if not already, and makes for great animal tracking. Avoiding the mud while riding is best, but coming upon a mud puddle or slick gives opportunities of clear animal tracks. I circle around when I can, to find the best light angle to make the tracks stand out. At times this is the absolute best animal tracking.

And that is the point: mountain bike animal tracking adds to the riding experience; thrills and technicals can still be had, a deeper appreciation of the same single track your on, learning more about the area you passing thru, all with minor tweaks and adjustments. Life is good, so give a hoot!