The line of runners was being held up by a skunk. Our fearless cat from Kauai had recently tangled with a skunk and had come out on the wrong end of things. He required a good dousing with Skunk Odor Remover followed by a vigorous bath. This thought was on my mind as I was somewhere along the last ten miles of the American River 50 on Saturday, April 5, 2014.
In the later stages of an ultra, you tend to swap places in the line with the same runners. You come to know them as they pass you and then you later pass them as walk breaks are taken. The process is repeated a number of times – somewhat like the instructions on Skunk Odor Remover – rinse and repeat.
Stopped ahead on the single track trail were two runners with whom I had been keeping company. They were pointing at something just ahead in the middle of the trail, and there was an odd smell. With a precipitous drop to our right and a steep slope to the left covered with poison oak, there wasn’t anyway to get around the skunk which had its back to us – tail up.
“Throw something at it,” was suggested by a voice from the group that was now piling up behind us.
“Don’t kill it!” was appended to the first request by another.
The lead runner tossed a small rock in the direction of Pepé Le Pew who moved to the side of the trail but still with tail up ready to fire.
“It’s unusual for them to be out at this time. Perhaps he is ill.”
Great…now we have to deal with a rabid skunk.
One of the two runners ahead of me uttered an expletive and started to run up the left bank.
“You’ll get poison oak!”
“I’m probably already covered with it.” True, leaves-of-three were vibrant along the trail all day.
As I was weighing the merits of poison oak versus skunk spray, the other front runner made a dash for it. I instantly decided to match his stride reasoning that the first runners past would confuse the skunk before action could be taken. This proved correct. And as far as I know, the rest of the pack came through unscathed.
It was another superb day on the trails. Perfect temperature, outstanding volunteers and flawless organization on the part of Race Director Julie Fingar. Several news articles repeated a remark that AR50 is now the largest 50-miler in the country. Well done!
P.S. Much to my surprise, I did not get poison oak on me…Next up, the Canyons 50k on May 3.