A day after running the ING Hartford Marathon a few weeks ago I received an email saying that I was automatically signed up for a New Hampshire race that had been snowed out last year. Even though I was pretty wiped out, I thought it might be fun to visit the Granite State and enjoy a leisurely run with no concern about trying to go fast or finish within a certain timeframe. There was only one thing standing between me and my resolve to take it slow. That thing was a moose.
On my way over to the race, I took the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains. Travelers about to enter this stretch of road are greeted by a huge sign that states, “Brake for moose; save a life.” Whenever I see this sign it strikes me as a very obvious cause and effect statement. Sort of like, “Avoid hitting yourself on the skull with a hammer; prevent a headache.” Apparently, people do not always brake for moose because the sign tells you that there have been “hundreds” of collisions.
I drove carefully and watched for moose. I was so alert looking for this particular animal that I inadvertently hit a skunk, a deer and a family of raccoons. But I never once collided with a moose. I got to the race, picked up my number, and was ready for a laid back run. This was going to be fun and relaxing. Then I saw the moose.
Actually, it was a guy dressed like a moose. I don’t know if it was the proximity to Halloween, the fact that we were in New Hampshire, or that this man just liked to participate in group activities dressed up like a woodland animal. For whatever reason he was posing as a 1,000-pound mammal, and his costume was quite impressive. He had a huge set of plastic antlers strapped to his head and what looked like a large moose torso protruding from his back, with two rear moose legs dangling off the end. The guy looked like a very ugly moose with two back legs that had fallen asleep.
As soon as the race started, the moose positioned himself in front of me and we started running on the side of the road. In a matter of moments, cars were honking, crowds were cheering, and people were waving. Everyone was drawn to the moose. It was like running with the pope. Well, I’ve never actually run with the pope, but it is exactly how I imagine it would be running with the pope.
The irony didn’t escape me that this particular moose was saving lives right and left, as every car in the tri-state area was braking for him.
The attention this oversized Bullwinkle wannabee was getting began to bug me. I was tempted, when no one was looking, to give the moose a nudge into the roadside ditch. But there was never a time when no one was looking.
Besides, Mr. Moose was carrying a tiny video camera and filming the whole experience. Even if I got a shot at pushing him into some hedges on the side of the road moose lovers all over the region would be scrutinizing his video like the Zapruder film looking for a bearded runner on the grassy knoll.
But I had to do something; the moose was throwing me off of my game. I had no choice but to pass him. This was going to be tougher than I anticipated. It turned out the moose was actually pretty darn fast. He also seemed determined not to let me pass him. Every time I went to his left, he moved to the left. When I approached him on the right, the moose moved to the right. It was like the moose thought this was a NASCAR race and he was blocking me out with his foam butt.
Eventually I found the strength to get by him and resolved not to let him pass me. I missed water stops, jostled past other runners for position, and basically did everything short of calling a cab in order to finish the race before the moose.
I crossed the finish line and actually beat my best time by eight minutes. It occurred to me that I never would have been able to have such a good race without the moose’s help. I grabbed a bagel in the food tent, and then started to look for my new friend to introduce myself and thank him for motivating me. But he was nowhere to be found.
“Did you see a guy dressed like a moose?” I asked another runner.
“Saw him a few minutes ago, headed that way,” he said pointing to the White Mountains and the Kancamagus Highway.
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.
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