Running in the Wild

A View From the Top


By Gordon Cherr,


David Guerra’s fine article in the August, 2001 issue of the Fleet Foot, about running into black bears in the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, coincidentally coupled with the Triswami’s close encounter of the fourth kind (a billy goat entangled in a fence) really unstuck the writer’s block I had been at war with for the past several weeks. The reasons were so obvious.

David Yon and I had a similar black bear encounter at the Wildlife Refuge in November of 1999 during the most incredible nature run either of us had ever taken, and we survived to tell about it. David wrote a wonderful column about our adventure and you can find it in the Cat Bird Seat archives, November 1999. It is really worth your time.

For that matter, there was a fatal mauling of a woman by a black bear, while she was hiking with her then estranged husband in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about two years ago, and her estate has sued the United States Forest Service over the incident. Like they could have prevented it or something. Like she didn’t know that there were bears there. I would be more interested in knowing how her “husband” worked out that deal with the bear, in advance, but my wife has publicly stated that I am a cynic. I believe it to be simple sarcasm, if I may say so in my own defense.

As for the Triswami and his billy goat, well, I swear that I witnessed a similar incident while running on Miccosukee Road with my old running buddy, Mike Johns (presently of Boca Raton), nearly 15 years ago. We were out somewhere east of Miles Johnson Road and the most awful racket was emanating from a field off of the south side of the roadway. We happened upon a female goat that had her head caught in the field fencing, just as the Triswami described. Only a billy goat had seized the moment to mount his hostage lady friend from the rear. A case of billy goat bondage you might say. Anyway, if you are familiar with Mike’s proclivities then you would not be surprised to know that he wanted to watch the show. I thought it might be better to try to free the female goat, but the billy would have none of that, and I let Mike talk me out of it and the rest is history…

This reminded me of some of the many strange events I have witnessed while running. Some are worthy of mention. Like another time Mike and I were running down that same stretch of Miccosukee Road, where the roadside shoulders are as high as your head. We were just rolling along, conversing, when, OH MY GOD! A DEAD BODY! Sure enough, there was a foot and ankle sticking out of the underbrush at eye height. Mike refused to look and ran several yards down the road and stopped, imploring me to not get involved. I couldn’t help myself…I uncovered the rest of the body, it looked like a boy of about 12 years of age, wearing blue jeans and a football jersey. He was lying there face down…THERE WAS NO HEAD! I started to lose it right then and there when I noticed that his foot and ankle had a joint between them, and you know what? That was no boy, that was a mannequin. Mike and I ran back to his house laughing the entire way, and it wasn’t until I returned home from Lafayette Oaks that I realized it was April 1, and you know what? Mike was a prosthetics salesman and had mannequins, and I knew I had royally been had. I jumped into my car to get that damn mannequin and confront him but it was gone not one hour later and Mike denied the whole thing and still does to this day. Some friend…

Or the time Mike and I and a third partner in crime, your trusted physician, Dr. Karl Hempel, were running on Tung Hill Road and then through someone’s bean field, where we didn’t belong. Of all things, we were talking about rattlesnakes and arguing about the best way to treat venomous bites, when we turned a corner and ran headlong into a huge eastern diamondback curled up in the middle of the dirt road. Several very high pitched screams immediately followed and we three all tried to climb up each others back at the same time, falling all over each other into the dirt and mud, but it turned out that the damn snake was dead anyway. What I could never figure out was how that snake got there in the first place because we had run down that road from the other direction not 10 minutes earlier and didn’t see a thing, and there hadn’t been any traffic, and to tell you the truth, I know for sure that Mike was also at the bottom of that little deal, but I can’t prove it any better than I can prove he was responsible for the dead mannequin episode, either.

Or the time a whole crowd of us was running up Starmount Road when someone’s little yap-yap attacked us all, and we scattered onto lawns and porches and up onto the hoods of parked cars like a bunch of sissies, except Richard Henry bravely asserted human control over the roadway and when that foolhardy pooch made a snarling run at him, Richard quite calmly snatched it up by its tail and in one great circular motion, slammed dunked that little canine into a nearby garbage can, neatly slamming home the metal lid in the next instant. The dog’s owner witnessed all of this and what Richard said to that stunned woman does not require repetition here. But he made his point… again. Bravo, my old friend, and I’ll skip the incident involving you punching out that guy in the basement bathroom of the Bellamy Building on the FSU campus while you were on the commode, but I’m sure you recall it vividly….

Another dog story deserves honorable mention. Sometimes, on Sundays, maybe 5-7 of us would run down to Tom Brown Park. The route included Weems Road, runs past the old Chapman Produce Company, then across the railroad tracks and into the park, then back the very same way. Chapman’s property was fenced off and he had two very mean and sizable German Sheperds protecting his relatively worthless property and who was going to break in and steal a rancid head of lettuce over the weekend anyway? Nevertheless, the dogs had devised a way of getting out beneath the fence and would regularly worry us as we ran down the road. They knew we were coming back and the big male was always ready for us. Of historical note, the return portion of this run up Weems Road was the actual introduction of the uphill, screaming, cursing, kicking, group sprint fartlek workout to Tallahassee, but with the exception of myself, Mike, Dr. Karl, Richard, John Hesselbart and Dr. Al Barker, very few other people know of this.

On this particular day, Richard had cut his run off early and headed back, not waiting for the main group. We all laughed and joked about how we would probably find his lifeless body in the jaws of that nasty dog, but as we approached the railroad tracks and impending confrontation with Cujo, the mood of the group changed (as it always did at that time and place), to one of seriousness and not a small amount of fear. Al had a better idea and picked up what must have been a 5 lb jagged piece of concrete from the railroad siding and we started up the hill to an uncertain future. Predictably out came the big male from under the fence. He started for the group, snarling, teeth gnashing, close enough that you could hear his nails clicking across the blacktop. The group began to spread out, it you couldn’t run fast, you could at least try to find someone to hide behind.

From a long distance though, Al let out with a blood-curdling scream and heaved the boulder in the direction of that dog, as far and as hard as he could. All that I can remember is what seemed to be an eternity of utter silence, the slow parabolic motion of that big rock and the incredible thud when the rock landed squarely on that dog’s nose and muzzle. A one in a million long shot had just paid off. That 90 lb dog, totally stunned, fell backwards, rose wobbly and set off for the fence as fast as he could run. Primal screams came from the mouths of several of us, and I can tell you that mob behavior quickly ensued with several of us now chasing that dog for all we were worth. He made it to the fence, scooted under, and disappeared into the work yard under a parked delivery van. The last few miles back to Lafayette Oaks passed quickly.

The run scheduled for the next week would be the acid test. We knew that the shepherd would likely be utterly ferocious when he saw us, and when we started down the hill that day, we all gathered up as many rocks and sticks as each of us could carry. Sure enough out came Cujo from under the fence, tail up and ears perked. A major flash of recognition crossed his face and he immediately dove back under the fence and ran away, out of sight. We never had any more trouble with that dog and I often wondered over the years what Chapman thought when he saw his prized guard dog turn to Jell-O.

Be careful out there. It is a zoo.