Recently, my wife and I decided to go jogging at the Sacajawea Center in Salmon. We are desperately trying to preserve our health as we age, and running sounded like a great idea. The “Sac” Center, as it is affectionately known, offers running and walking trails with the scenic Lemhi River as a backdrop. Wildlife abounds; deer, beaver, various birds and critters make their home amid the trees and along the trails. There is even a sign near the entrance that allows visitors to mark which animals they observed while walking.
In the parking lot, we stretched and performed the actions we thought would make us look like seasoned athletes. My wife said to be sure and stretch my “hammies”. I knew this referred to a particular muscle group, but unsure which, I swung my arms in a circle and did some deep knee bends. That should cover it. Sufficiently loose, we walked to the head of the main trail. It was accessed by a little bridge that crossed a small stream. Mounted near the bridge was a sign that said “pick up your dog’s poop” or something to that effect. Little plastic bags were provided. What about deer, beaver, bird and critter poop? Seems a little discriminatory if you ask me.
My wife sprung into an energetic gait, eager to chase that “runner’s high”. I loped in pursuit trying to find a rhythm that felt right. Other than flat feet, bad knees, and several bulging disks, I’m in decent shape. As I caught up to my wife, I noticed a wheezing rattle start deep in my chest. Between my ragged, gasping breathing and her bright red face and neck, I’m sure we appeared to be in top form.
About 100 yards into our morning exercise, some movement ahead caught my eye. As I focused on the spot, I observed a flash of black about 10 feet off the side of the trail we were on. I thought: oh, how nice, we will get to see some wildlife on our run. As we got closer, I identified a member of the mephitidae family. Yes, that is a skunk. Black in color? Check. Parallel white stripes from head to tip of tail? Check. Capable of hurling noxious scent when confronted? Check. Nocturnal? Che…WTF…why is a skunk out in broad daylight waiting to ambush unsuspecting runners. That has to go against the code of the wild kingdom. We had a renegade!
All this went through my nimble mind in a manner of seconds, but I failed to recognize our immediate danger until we were likely within striking distance. I yelled “skunk” about the time it spotted us and started headed in our direction. It was an aggressive renegade! My wife, who thinks fast on her feet, immediately kicked me in the stomach and sprinted in the direction we had come from. She told me later she’d read that if you leave something when you flee a charging animal, it won’t chase you. Comforting.I struggled to my feet and staggered after her.
We looked back when we felt a safe distance was between us and the skunk. To our joint horror, we saw two people walking along the trail toward the skunk. They appeared to be chatting, oblivious to the lurking renegade. We started jumping up and down, yelling and pointing at the trail ahead of them. Finally, they stopped and looked questioningly at us. I yelled, “SKUNK!” and pointed again. They waved appreciatively and turned back the way they had come. They must have suffered similar injuries, because neither used more than one finger to wave.
We stoically resumed our jaunt, high-stepping another direction along the trail. We eventually came, huffing and puffing, to a narrow trail that split from the wide main path. We knew this would lead us through the trees along the southern bank of the Lemhi River. We wound hither and yon, skirting rocks and leaping tree roots. My wife had warmed up and was bounding through the brush like a gazelle. I stumbled along, not nearly as graceful, yet enjoying the sunshine and beautiful scenery.
All at once, my wife stopped abruptly in the middle of the trail. I immediately thought “skunk”! A fast learner, I fell to the ground in the fetal position to protect my tender abdomen. After a few noneventful seconds, I peered up at my wife. She sat staring at me with a weary countenance. “The path is flooded because of high water.” she said, “Stop being so dramatic.”
The path turned out of sight a few yards ahead. “Let’s just go,” I said, “It’s only a few inches deep.” She allowed me to get 20 yards and knee deep before she called, “I don’t really want to get my shoes wet. Besides, the skunk is that direction.” I waved my understanding with one finger and followed, dripping all the way.
We made it back to the parking lot without further incident. As we passed the animal sign, I observed that “skunk” was mysteriously absent. At the car I hopped on one foot to remove my wet shoes and socks. The back of my legs immediately convulsed, and I fell to the ground making a noise like newborn calf. My wife looked around for witnesses and kicked me in the stomach. She growled, “Why didn’t you stretch your hamstrings?” I looked at my shoelaces to see if they were untied.
When I regained my feet, I detected the distinct odor of freshly disturbed canine excrement. It was spread across my torso like an abstract painting. My wife wrinkled her nose and said, “you’re not getting in my car like that.” Apparently someone hadn’t seen the sign and the convenient plastic bags by the trail.
“Those people with the hand injuries probably couldn’t open the bags very well.” I told my wife. She just stared at me sadly. On my walk home, I had time to reflect that aside from skunks and dog poop; Idaho didn’t really suck. I gave the next car that passed a triumphant one-fingered wave of understanding.