The Wild Mountain Scramble, off Aenon Church Road, has been a low key end of the year get together that is a very unique race among friends. It is a five mile race that has lots of different rules, the most important one being that as long as no one catches you, you can cheat. Founded by Fran McLean, Bruce Moore and Ray Hanlon, the Wild Mountain Scramble is overseen by the Mountain Rules and Race Committee (The “MRRC”), a shadowy underworld group of nonconformers who think having fun is important. The race championship has become the personal kingdom of Gary Droze. This year’s “race” was the third “third” annual and Gary has found a way, sometimes without cheating sometimes with, to win every race so far. If we could move the Olympic 5K race to this course, he would have 5 gold medals. This year’s race was also special because it was dedicated to Ed Wild, a GWTC member and friend, who lost a battle to cancer. The story I am about to tell, I am sure, made Ed very pleased to have this year’s race run in his honor.
The 1999 race would bind its participants in a special way. And winning would quickly pale in importance to Gary Droze’s second mission for the night – rescuing Bud. Many hours after the race, he would know where Bud was, but not whether he had won the race. Bruce Moore, one of those shadowy figures on the MRRC, was surveying the course looking for lawbreakers and possible cheaters. While Gary Droze was able to avoid Bruce’s steely gaze, Melvin Austin was not. Just when Bruce was about to swoop down on the rule breaker, he heard a cry for help. It was the intense barking of a dog. The sound came from well off the trail, but there was no doubt that this was a cry for help. The voice was deep, but the bark was clearly coming from a dog in trouble. Bruce climbed through the thick brush toward the sound. Just off the trail was a huge construction and debris disposal (C & D) site. As he broke through the line of trees, Bruce stood on the edge of a huge valley with walls of debris forming mountains that could have been located in North Carolina. An incredible sight appeared before him and a cold chill swept down his spine.
On the other side of the story, Bud started out this day just like most others in his life. First, the excuse of an owner he had was not interested in playing. That was ok though, the yard fence was just a momentary delay on his way to a wild outdoors full of squirrels and rabbits to chase. The dude was a real bore anyway. So, up and over the fence, and Bud was on his way to a day of fun and adventure. Well, adventure was on the horizon, but fun was about to be replaced by terror.
Bud had lots of great places to explore, but he really had been itching to get back to the debris dump. All kinds of critters played there. He had been there once before and it looked like dog heaven. No fences, no keep out signs, just lots of room to play. He crossed over Aenon Church Road and into the woods. He was soon in the Apalachicola National Forest, trotting down a dirt road. First, he found a set of deer tracks. They were pretty cold though, so after a quick squirt he kept going. Next thing you know, he was standing on the edge of a huge cliff. To his right was a series of ridges and then a monstrous drop off. To his left was a landslide of shingles, wall boards and other waste. All kind of fun stuff to get into. Just as he started heading toward the debris, a squirrel bolted in front of him. Yes, this was the good life. He took off after it, forgetting completely about the drop off he had just seen. Catching the squirrel didn’t really matter. Chasing it was what was fun and that occupied his full attention.
He bolted over the ridge and on to a path that snaked around the side of the mountain. He hesitated for a minute. There was a drop off of over one hundred feet. The squirrel, sensing Bud’s dilemma, stopped and looked back. He cackled knowing he had plenty of room to run. “No way, I am letting him go,” Bud thought, and charged again completely forgetting the situation his brain had just told him to avoid. The thin line of flat earth was easy for the squirrel to navigate and he was quickly around the bend and climbing back to safe ground. Bud, on the other hand, was a 95-pound English bull dog and thin lanes of loose clay were not the places for him to be charging after a squirrel. Especially not when they are on the side of a 150-foot cliff. It was too late though and as he rounded the corner, he was momentarily suspended in mid air. Panic seized every cell in his body. All four legs moved frantically in open space, as if he were auditioning for some cartoon special. With a pitiful wail he lunged for a small hole in the side of the cliff. Amazingly, he found just enough solid ground to grab on and pull himself out of the air. He landed with a terrified thud, his face buried in the side of the cliff. He was relieved, but trembling as his back legs joined him on his island of safety. After a few moments he slowly turned around and to his horror saw exactly how bad his situation was. Below him was 75 feet of air. At the bottom of that air was a pit of water and muddy clay – probably quick sand. Above him was an overhang and another 50 foot or so of cliff. To his left and his right were sheer cliffs made out of sandy clay that would crumble beneath any significant weight. He could not even start to figure out how he had gotten here and he certainly had no idea how he was going to get down. There was only one thing left to do. He began to bark and howl.
Bruce looked over at Bud and knew this would not be the ordinary Mountain Run Scramble. He made his way closer to the cliff and then found a ridge to climb. He called to the dog, not knowing his name: “Hang in there fellow, we will find a way to get you down.” He found the top of the cliff and then began to work his way down along the same ridge line that Bud chased the squirrel on. The ledge soon ended though, and he was too far from Bud to help him down. He called to his new friend: “Hang in there guy. We will get you some help.” Word spread quickly at the finish line of the race and pretty soon a group of 15 to 20 runners had gathered at the base of the cliff. By now Bruce had called the Sheriff’s office, the Humane Society and the Fire Department. But on the last day of the millennium they all were unreachable or had more important things to do. The most commonly heard comment was: “How could a dog get trapped on a hill in Florida?” One look told the story though. Bud was in a tiny hole on the side of a mountain. A sheer drop below him and an impossible cliff above him left him frightened, with no way out.
Gary Droze, not even thinking about his finish place (the somewhat strange scoring in this race means you should carefully watch Ray Hanlon to make sure you don’t get bumped from your rightful place), scrambled to the top of the mountain and after surveying the impossible situation quickly came up with a plan. His rappelling experience in the Air Force told him all he needed was a rope and a harness to rescue Bud. Tie the rope to the big tree at the top and then drop over the edge. One big problem – there were no rope and no harness. He also had to wonder exactly what reception he might get from a 95-pound bull dog that was scared out of his mind. Especially, if tried to lift the dog out of his haven of safety and swing him into the air.
Finally, Bruce flagged down a passing Sheriff’s car. “Look if you don’t do something, someone is going to die, either Bud or those nutty runners trying to rescue him.” The deputies were scoffing as they moved through the woods toward Bud – “Yeah right, stuck on a mountain in Florida? These runners have been doing something back here that has affected their sense of reality.” Soon three deputies found themselves surrounded by a group of runners proclaiming: “We are not going home until the dog gets down.” The deputies took one look at Bud and knew that would be no time soon. The scoffing stopped, they knew none of them was going to climb up the mountain after the dog. Darkness was moving in though and the tension was building. “Gary, get out of that tree before you kill yourself,” someone screamed. Vicky closed her eyes and turned the other way, not wanting to know what he was getting ready to try. Something had to be done. Bud began to cry again. “Don’t worry Bud, we are going to get you down,” someone in the crowd yelled.
One of the deputies headed up the hill to find the site foreman. That was David Oiler and he quickly proved he had the right heart for the job. He quickly cranked up one of the biggest vehicles I have ever seen. With wheels like a huge tank and a car sized claw suspended several stories above the ground, this machine literally could create and destroy mountains of sandy clay. And that is exactly what David set about doing. He demonstrated incredible skill and patience as he began rearranging the mountain. First, he drove to the edge the pit near the bottom of the cliff. If he had gone a foot too far, the entire machine would have tumbled into the pit. If he didn’t go far enough, there would be no chance of getting Bud. He worked for 45 minutes packing dirt and gently knocking corners of the cliff, driving the machine right up to the edge of the pit. Finally, he placed the claw with a few feet of Bud. A loud cheer broke out. Now all Bud had to do was make one small jump from his ledge into the bucket and he would be safe. Everyone began yelling at Bud to jump into the bucket.
Bud looked across this great valley at the crowd gathering on the other side. They constantly called his name and told him not to worry. “Well do something he whined. Help me, I am scared.” His legs were trembling. He was pushing hard against the edge trying to make sure he did not slide off. His legs were getting tired. Suddenly, he heard an engine crank and a huge monster machine began heading his way. “What the hell do I do now?” He looked down. “Maybe I should jump. No, it is way too far.” Soon the machine’s arm was digging away at the mountain below him. “Don’t these people know that this whole slope is going to give way if they keep digging?” He backed up further into the wall of the cliff. After what seemed like hours, the noise stopped and the arm, with some type of bucket, rested just below him. Everyone was yelling at him now. “What were they saying? No, they could not possibly expect me to jump into that thing. It is at least 20 feet to the bottom and if I miss. . . .” He backed up even further.
It had been at least two hours now since Bruce had discovered the dog. Again and again David Oiler looked for ways to position the bucket so that Bud would jump. Several times the clay under Bud’s feet seemed to give way and it seemed that he would be force to slide down, hopefully into the bucket. Each time the runners held their breath, hoping the whole wall would not crumble down. Once, Bud rose up on his hind legs and got ready to jump, only to retreat to the back of his ledge. It was now dark outside and only the lights of the big machine made it possible to see.
Finally, a sherif’s deputy, Bill Dawkins, made a call to the Fire Department. “Get a swat team over here as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will never get home.” It was not long before the whine of the fire truck’s sirens could be heard in the background. Then there was silence. There simply was no way to get the trucks into the pit. Gary Droze muttered once again, “Just bring me a rope and a harness.” All of a sudden more than ten figures dressed in black came striding over the hill. There was no doubt they were on a mission. They came from the South Monroe and Appleyard Fire Stations. Long ago, when Sunday runs used to go from Tully Gym, the Appleyard Station was a great water stop for GWTC runners. Now they were back to help again.
It was only a short while before the night was lit up with five or six strong flashlights. Scout teams climbed around to the top of the cliff, while others examined the bottom. Shortly after they returned, a plan was drawn up. They would tie a rope to the tree on the top and Bob Obenear would rappel down the side of the cliff to Bud. (“Finally!” Gary thought.) He would then gently move Bud into the bucket to be lowered to the ground. Bob would then rappel the rest of the way down. When he got to the top though, he decided trying to get Bud into the bucket was too dangerous. Instead, he planned to buckle Bud into a harness and lower him down. “Anyone know if this dog bites?” he asked. The team went into action and soon Bob was descending down the side of the mountain in the dark.
“Great, a bunch more people to confuse things. Are you guys ever going to get me down, like the guy with the moustache promised?” Bud was convinced he was doomed. The number of lights below had doubled and now he heard a bunch of rustling above him. “Maybe,” he thought, “they have a plan.” After another ten or fifteen minutes, Bud heard someone scrambling close to him. “Hey this guy looks like he is here to help, but I don’t know.” Bob soon found himself perched next to Bud. He had just enough ledge to stand on. Bud watched closely to see what was going to happen next. It was a moment of truth, did he bite the guy or trust him to help? A hand reached out. A chance to build a little trust. Bud sniffed it. “How much experience has this guy had?” He wondered. “I don’t know if I want to go or not.” The voice was very soothing and patient. It was somehow reassuring. “Maybe he does know something.” Soon Bob’s hands were reaching around Bud, fastening a harness. Bud started trembling again. “Well, something is about to happen.” Bob continued to work slowly trying to reassure Bud. Bud was not convinced though: “I weigh 95 pounds, can this guy handle that? He does not look that big.”
Suddenly, before Bud had time to react, Bob grabbed him and swung him out into space. There was a moment of terror and everyone watching gasped with fear. Bud slipped deep into the harness legs flailing in the air, his back legs dangling out the bottom of the harness as if he was going to slide right through. Just when it looked like he was going to fall through, the harness caught him and he began to descend slowly. A load cheer rang out and relief swept the crowd. A few moments later Bud was on the ground, tail wagging faster than the speed of light. Another moment and he was climbing out of the pit and headed back to the fire truck and home. “Man, I am staying away from that place,” Bud promised himself as he headed home. Congratulations went around to everyone and thanks to all who made this Mountain race something special. Somewhere, Ed Wild was smiling knowing that he had been honored in a very special way this year. And if anyone sees Bud again – tell him he has an honorary membership in GWTC and a lifetime fee waiver for the Mountain Run. Just tell him to stay off that cliff.