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Why the cougar chased the runner

Rob DeCou rides a recumbent bicycle in the 2020 Uberman Ultra-Triathlon.
Rob DeCou at the 400-mile bike portion of the 2020 Uberman Ultra-Triathlon.
(Rob DeCou; illustrations by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

By Mary Forgione
Design and illustrations by Micah Fluellen

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Welcome to The Wild. While you were sleeping or scanning your laptop or just staying home last Thursday evening, Rob DeCou dove into the chilly waters off Catalina. He wasn’t alone. A handful of athletes tackled the 21-mile open-water swim to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. But that was just the first part of the 2020 Uberman Ultra-Triathlon.

After the crossing, contestants bicycled 400 miles from the peninsula south of L.A. to Badwater Basin in Death Valley, racking up a grinding 20,000 feet of gain, and finished with a 135-mile run to the base of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the Lower 48. Oh, and they organized their own support teams and aid stations. Really.

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I tracked DeCou on Facebook during the race. DeCou, who recently moved to Port Angeles, Wash., is using the event to raise money for a church group that fights human trafficking. As of Wednesday afternoon, he was expected to finish the running segment of the triathlon by Thursday morning. Posts report that he had “salt mouth” and shortness of breath while stuck in currents during the swim, forcing him to skip a few miles and boat to shore. Then he fell asleep on his recumbent bicycle and crashed onto the gravel. Then he sprained his foot during the Death Valley run in 105-degree heat. Of course, these are considered minor setbacks.

“Uberman is for those unique individuals who want the ultimate challenge, without all the hype,” the race’s website said. “The cost is free. The reward for finishing is infinite.” Event founder Daniel Bercu of Malibu told me in an email, “Half as many people (six) have finished Uberman solo as have walked on the moon (12).” This year just two individuals, including DeCou, and a relay team took on the 556-mile endurance smackdown. No prize money, lots of glory. Last year, Adam Scully Power finished in 125 hours and 45 minutes, and Melissa Urie, the first woman to complete the course, finished in 135 hours and 55 minutes.

DeCou’s ultra-triathlon finish won’t come until Saturday. He plans to return to the Palos Verdes Peninsula and swim those miles he missed to complete the course.

3 things to plan this week

Inspiration Point offers hikers a place to rest and picnic.
Break time at Inspiration Point.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)
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1. Hike of the week: Inspiration Point in the San Gabriel Mountains. There must be hundreds of Inspiration Points across the country; the one I’m thinking about is in the San Gabriel Mountains above Altadena. I went last Saturday and loved seeing puffy clouds blanketing the L.A. Basin and a few mule deer springing across the trail. Start at the top of Lake Avenue (which can be crowded on weekends) and hike 2.6 miles up to Echo Mountain, the site of a 19th century mountain railway and hotel. From there, you have three ways to get to Inspiration Point, where you’ll find picnic tables and sighting guides for views below. I picked the Mt. Lowe Road, a dirt track that’s wide and allows for social distancing. Mountain bicyclists are allowed on some of these routes too. Modern Hiker and SoCal Hiker offer trail descriptions and photos.

Golden ginkgoes are a sign of fall in Southern California.
Let ginkgoes guide your fall color search.
(Photos courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens; Sam Rice; Descanso Gardens; South Coast Winery Resort & Spa; photo illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

2. Be on the prowl for fall colors in Southern California. Looking for the soft yellow glow of autumn? You won’t have to go far. Really. In the L.A. area, look for exotic ginkgo trees rather than aspens for a jolt of fall gold. Planted trees such as maples, birch, liquidambar and tulip trees turn colors on city streets, in backyards and parks, and at local botanical gardens. Native trees change too. Sycamores turn yellowish brown; low-lying buckwheat becomes rust-colored; and shrubby rabbitbrush blooms yellow at this time of year. Fortunately, much of the Angeles National Forest has reopened for fall hiking and biking, though burned areas remain off-limits. Here are more places to look for fall.

P-22, masked up.
(Illustration by Miguel Ordeñana)
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3. Party on P-22 Day with the band Black Pumas and Rep. Adam Schiff. P-22 Day occurs every Oct. 22 (or the Saturday closest to that date) to celebrate the cougar famously photographed below the Hollywood Sign. Thousands usually gather in Griffith Park, his home, to mark the event. Not this year. Celebrations have gone online with P-22 games (you collect puma points), a performance by the Black Pumas and cameo appearances by Rep. Adam Schiff, Animal Planet’s John “Griff” Griffith and others at P-22’s Wildlife Wonderland. Sign up now for events that begin at 11 a.m. on Oct. 24. It’s free and includes things for kids to do, wildlife art lessons and other virtual activities. It’s hosted by the National Wildlife Federation.

Social moment

Illustration of a pouncing cat.
Always keep your eye on the cat.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

Kyle Burgess added a new line to his Instagram bio: “Yes, I AM the cougar guy.” Whew! It was beyond unnerving to watch his video, which went viral, of a mountain lion chasing him for 6 minutes while he was on a trail run in Provo, Utah. He filmed the entire fear fest. In the encounter, Burgess points his camera at some cougar kittens he has come upon when their mom bounds into view. He walks backward down the trail, never taking his eyes off the lion, which continues to follow him, at times pounding the ground and acting aggressively. There are lots of bleeped-out expletives and fear in Burgess’ voice as he yells at the lion: “You’re not getting me!” Here’s the video guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping. Turns out, the lion had a good reason to chase him. Read the full story here.

The must-read

Black bear cubs at the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, N.H.
How do you like them apples?
(Kilham Bear Center)
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Bear 747 has been crowned 2020’s fattest bear on Alaska’s Katmai Peninsula. Now it’s time to tune in to apple-loving black bear cubs in the forests of New Hampshire. The cubs emit a distinctive “odd, yet affable hum, seemingly in unison,” when gorging on apples, my colleague Rachel Schnalzer writes. For those of us not on the East Coast, wildlife preservationist John Fusco recorded the sounds for all to hear. Give a listen, and think about the cubs next time you munch an apple. Read the full story here.

Insider tip

The Palm Springs Aerial Tram.
It’s a 10-minute ride to the wilderness on the Palm Springs Aerial Tram.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Fall temperatures cooled for about a nanosecond last week. Now it looks as if we’re in for a little more summer-like heat. The good news: The Palm Springs aerial tram, which takes visitors to 8,500 feet in 10 minutes, reopened Oct. 9. It’s one of the quickest ways to get to high-elevation wilderness and cool off — at a cost of $26.95 per person and $10 for parking. At the top, you can take easy nature walks around Long Valley or strike out for Mt. San Jacinto, a strenuous 11-mile round trip. Day hiking in the backcountry is permitted but not overnight stays right now. The tram shut March 13 and has reopened with COVID-19 protocols, such as requiring masks and limiting tram cars to 25% capacity. Read more about the tram’s new rules.

Send us your thoughts

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Click here to view the web version of this newsletter and share with others. I’m Mary Forgione and I write The Wild. I’ve been exploring trails and open spaces in Southern California for four decades.

Mary Forgione


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