Critters on the Trail
By Teri Saylor
Even if you have never ever been chased by a moose at an 8,000-foot altitude, it is probably not hard to understand why Carolyn Quarterman, of Cary, NC, was ready to channel her inner monkey as she frantically searched for a tree to climb on a sunny summer day last year when she encountered a mama moose on a trail in Centennial, WY.
“I was out on an eight-mile, scenic run on a dirt road,” Quarterman said. “Normally you would see deer and other animals, but nothing dangerous in the summer.”
But she knew a family of moose lived in the area and she knew the mother had recently given birth to twins, though no one had seen her in awhile.
On this day, the mama moose, on the lookout for intruders, spied Quarterman, and began trotting along behind her.
An article posted on the Animal Planet website advises humans to run to avoid getting trampled.
“Although moose can outrun humans at their top speeds, many times, they won’t chase you far if you run away from them,” Animal Planet author Cristen Conger writes.
The key word here is “far.”
At that moment Quarterman, with a giant mother moose breathing down her neck, not being chased far was the least of her worries.
She did not want the moose to chase her at all.
Moose are huge, standing up to 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder. Males can weight 1,500 pounds and they can run 35 miles per hour.
So Quarterman, who holds bachelors and masters degrees, reasoned that while she could not outrun a moose, she thought she might be able to outsmart one.
“I didn’t see any trees to climb, and the closest cabin was about 75 feet away, up a hill,” she said. “I thought about jumping over a fence to get out of her way.”
All the while, the moose followed, crossing the path back and forth, stalking and watching, until she turned, jumped a fence and ran away.
“I must have finally gotten out of range of her babies,” Quarterman said. “My heart was beating so hard. She had only followed me about a quarter mile, but that was the longest quarter mile in my life.”
Fortunately for most readers of Running Journal, here in the southeast a moose encounter on a running trail would be big news. Moose live up north, preferring cool climates and places with lots of fresh water.
But the southeast is home to a variety of other types of wildlife, some living surprisingly close to urban neighborhoods, in local parks, and in wooded land.
Anyone who has spent time communing with nature from the saddle of a bike, or running a trail, or hiking a winding path in the woods, likely has encountered critters on the trail.
On Saturdays when the trails are crowded, shrieks of terror that reverberate through the underbrush and bounce off trees usually signal a snake has been spotted.
Jeff Hall, a biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission says most snakes are harmless.
And despite what snake haters say, they are not predators, and they will not chase you.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, snakes are just as spooked as you are when you encounter each other on the trail,” Hall said.
Try telling that to Donna Kidder of Raleigh, NC, who was biking along the Virginia Creeper trail in Abingdon, VA. when she came upon a snake. Literally.
“It slithered into my path at the last moment,” she reported in a Facebook post. “I lifted both legs into the air and must have looked like a ninny. I think he slithered under my feet without touching a tire because I never felt a bump.”
That the snake came through the experience unscathed is a testimony to its survival skills.
For Kidder, it was a matter of luck.
“My heart was racing. He fared much better than I did,” she wrote.
“Did I mention I am afraid of snakes?”
Actually, snakes and runners have more in common than one might think.
• They are not active during the hottest part of the day.
• They love being out on the trails when it the weather is comfortable.
• They tend to gravitate to the trails in the mornings and evenings.
• They are more active when they warm up and get moving.
• There is a species of snake called a racer.
The snakes that runners are likely to encounter are garter snakes, black racers, rat snakes, and copperheads.
All snakes have teeth, but only the copperhead is venomous.
“If you are bitten, stay as still as possible,” advises Christine Hester, manager of Harris Lake Park in Apex, NC, “A snake bite can be very painful, and can make you sick, but typically, they are not deadly.”
Unless they give you a heart attack.
Robyn Smith, a Raleigh runner was on a beautiful mountain trail near Blowing Rock, NC, when she spotted two black, fluffy, furry creatures.
“I was running on the trail by myself, and I saw what looked like two bear cubs loping along,” she said. “My heart leapt. You know what it means when you see bear cubs. The mother is not far away, and if she feels threatened, you don’t stand a chance.”
The www.mountainnature.com website describes this scenario as one of the worst for a bear encounter.
The NC Wildlife Resources Federation reports that unless the mother bear is provoked, she won’t attack, but she tries hard to make you think she will.
And she probably would not have to try very hard.
Bears give warning signs. They pop their jaws, swat the ground with their paws while blowing and snorting, or may lunge or try a bluff charge just to run you off, according to www.bearsmart.com
The best advice out there is to remain calm and back away slowly, which would require a gorilla-sized portion of willpower, because all you would want to do is freak out and run away.
For some people, Canada geese are even more fearsome than bears, especially during the spring when they aggressively defend their nesting places.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife has documented goose attacks on humans that have caused serious injury, such as broken bones, head injuries, and emotional distress. However, many of these inju¬ries have occurred when the person tried to avoid an attack and tripped over an object.
Geese seem to pay close attention to eyes and body language.
An encounter with an aggressive goose can usually be resolved if you main¬tain direct eye contact while facing your body directly towards the attacking goose. Never turn your back or shoulders away from the hostile goose, and never close, squint, or shade your eyes.
If the goose makes an aggressive move towards you while hissing or spreading out its wings, you should slowly back away while using your periph¬eral vision to watch for obstacles you could trip over.
And make sure you are not near a steep cliff.
Kym McIntosh of Cary, NC, turned the tables on a flock of geese and goslings one morning as she jogged around a lake near her neighborhood.
“It was spring, and all the little baby and young geese were out by the lake with their multitude of parents,” McIntosh wrote in an email. I came upon a family gathering of these birds.
She tried to go right through the middle of the flock, but some of the younger birds got confused.
“Instead of getting out of my way, they just formed a line and started running as fast as their little legs would carry them with me right behind them. It looked like I was chasing this whole line of geese,” she wrote.
Now, back to Robyn Smith’s bear encounter.
So Smith, running alone in the North Carolina Mountains, spotted a pair of fluffy black bear cubs frolicking along the trail. Terrified, her heart pounding, she peered into the forest, looking for the mother.
What she had not seen was the man, holding a pair of dog leashes, walking on the trail. She went weak with relief at the sight of him.
“The bear cubs turned out to be poodles,” Smith said, laughing. “I didn’t see the dogs’ owner because he was blocked by a tree. I told him I thought his dogs were bear cubs, and he looked at me like I had lost my mind.”
The point to all of this is this: there are critters on the trails. They may be snakes in the grass, moose on the mountain tops, or crazy runners with wild imaginations.
In closing, here’s a little verse to send you on your way:
May the weather be perfect for your morning run;
The wind at your back, your face to the sun;
May your journey keep you happy and youthful;
And may all your black bears turn out to be poodles
Teri Saylor lives and jogs in Raleigh, NC. Her latest critter encountered involved wading into a creek to rescue a duck that had become trapped in a big pile of debris. Both critters – the jogger and the duck – lived to tell the tale.