The icy patches are now a distant memory along the shady back roads of West Creston and I can once again say farewell to running on a treadmill with the constant flashing numbers that remind me exactly how far I still have to go and how slow I am lumbering along. I can now return to running in the crisp, clean outdoors and the constant inconsistency of the woodlands. Though I am intimately familiar with every inch of my favourite running route, I never know what is going to happen while I am out there. Perhaps the sun will suddenly disappear and it will start to rain; perhaps random lost tourists will ask for directions; or perhaps some wild animal will leap out from the undergrowth. All these things have happened numerous times and I am never fully prepared when I am in my running trance. While I don’t mind a sudden light drizzle or the occasional car that pulls over in front of me, I am never sure how to react when I come face-to-face with wildlife – especially when I am vulnerable and alone in my stretchy shorts.
The past week I almost stepped on a snake. I was merrily running along, and had less than a kilometer to go before I was back at my car, when I noticed something on the road. A recognized it was a snake as I quickly approached, but assumed it had been squashed earlier in the day. I was going to maintain my speed, give a slight hop over the carcass if needed. But it wasn’t dead; it was very much alive and jolted just before I put my foot down next to it. That got my heart rate going – as if it needed any help.
Every so often, I hop over other smaller animals and I continue my way while they continue on their way. I have hopped over little lizards, frogs and turtles. Sometimes various birds will watch me from up in the branches as I run along and sing to my favourite songs. I can tell some of them are judging me, wondering why I can’t run faster or sing in tune, but I am comfortable with my awkward self.
Sometimes I come across a cat that is out warming her tummy while she rolls in the dust, or a dog that barks for a few seconds and then gives up (life in West Creston moves a little slower than the rest of the valley). Every so often I come across larger domestic animals. There is a herd of cows that will get loose and block the road. I’m not sure what to do when that happens so I just run towards them, and somehow that does the trick. They let me pass and, on my way back, they do the same. It’s like some bovine road check.
Other times I run into (luckily, not literally) other larger, undomesticated animals that could easily do me harm if they felt so inclined. I went for an early morning run once and noticed, in my peripheral vision, some sort of black and white animal running along beside me. Afraid as to what it might be, I tried to ignore it for thirty seconds but my curiosity got the best of me. I snuck a look. It was a skunk. After another long thirty seconds, he ran into the forest and I continued along the road.
I have an odd relationship with deer. When a herd of deer decide to just hang out and block traffic, much in the same way cows do, I always wonder if I should let them be, turn around, and go the other way. I’ve heard they can bunt or kick when threatened. But I take my chances. I figure that if I continue to run towards them, they will see me coming and leap to a nearby field. But they usually don’t. Instead, they stare me down until I become uncomfortable. I get closer and closer and still they don’t move. Only when I am to within arms reach, do they reluctantly scatter. This has happened three or four times.
I’ve only come across a moose once, and it was crossing the road far ahead of me. By the time I arrived to where I had seen it, it was long gone. I have come across bears twice. That also gets the heart rate going. The first time I spotted a bear was two years ago. I was training for a half-marathon, and was hoping to increase my speed and decrease my overall time – calculating it on my GPS watch – when a neighbourhood dog came out to say hello. I didn’t want to stop and ruin my time, so I brushed him off and continued running. The dog began to run with me, and kept running in front of me. Eventually I stopped worrying about my time and stopped to say hello to the dog. I looked up and a hundred and fifty meters ahead of me was a bear. I thanked the dog, turned around, and ran back to my car.
The last time I came across a bear was just this past year. I had been out for a longer run and, with less than three minutes to the finish line, I looked up and saw a bear seventy-five meters away. That didn’t give me much of a head start if he suddenly decided I would make a nice mid-morning snack. I looked at him and he looked at me, and neither of us could decide what to do. Neither of us was aware of protocol. We both stood there for almost a minute until it was decided that he would move first. I watched as he disappeared into the woods. Gingerly, and with my senses heightened, I ran towards my car, jumped in, and drove home.
You might think it would be wise to run a different route – one that doesn’t involve wild animals – but I’ve noticed that wildlife and I have come to an understanding. If I leave them to do their thing, then I have some sort of immunity. So far, I have not been mauled or eaten or sprayed with a hideous smell. But there’s always next time…