I feel a connection to Bear Grylls. Seriously. I do. Defying the elements. Tussling with nature. It’s the survivor instinct. No, I’ve never had to weather a monsoon in a tent made from my underwear and a box of toothpicks, but I have had a serious confrontation with an opossum. And I’m pretty sure he was rabid.
The Polar Vortex was wreaking havoc on the Midwest. Temperatures plummeted below zero. The skies fired vengeful pellets of ice, snow, and sleet in a frozen trio known by the euphemistic darling of meteorologists, a “wintry mix.”
A wintry mix? How pleasant sounding! A wintry mix. It sounds like a snack food.
For ten miles, I nearly wintry mixed myself into oblivion. It wasn’t so much the slick terrain; it was the forty-miles-per-hour wind gusts that battered my face with shards of precipitation. At times, I was forced to use my hands to shield my eyeballs from what at that point had become nothing short of buckshot. This, of course, caused me occasionally to veer off course and tumble into unforeseen snow banks. But it wasn’t until I crested the hill at mile six that I saw him.
I saw him before he saw me. He was standing in the middle of the road, directly in my path. I kept running. I was certain he would move. Surely, he would hear me coming. Surely, he would look up with his beady little eyes and scurry away in a terrified frenzy.
But he didn’t. He was oblivious to my approach and bent his little rat head to sniff something on the ground. I keep running. There had to be some mistake. Why wasn’t he running away? Perhaps the opossum was preoccupied with marital issues. Or financial strain. Or high cholesterol. Feeling that etiquette required I announce my presence, I fake coughed. Once. Twice. Finally—not immediately, mind you—he looked up.
I kept running. He looked at me. I kept running. He looked at me. I kept running.
That’s when I knew he was rabid. (He was either rabid or drunk, but it’s so hard for opossums to get photo ID these days, and basically everyone cards, so I was fairly certain it was the former case.)
Yes, he saw me, and he didn’t care. He just sniffed the ground, shuffled a few inches in one direction, shuffled a few inches in the other direction, and then sniffed some more. He had no purpose. He had no direction. He was unfazed by my rapid advance.
Meanwhile, I was closing in. The situation was Code Red. The opossum held his ground. I began yelling—not actual words at this point, just screeches. Nothing. I clapped my gloved hands and yelled some more. Still unfazed. I was within three seconds of contact. We were going to collide. And I was going to have to get a rabies shot. If I survived.
With only a few feet left between us, I stopped dead in my YakTrax. We stared at each other. Neither of us moved. It wasn’t even a cool Tombstone standoff. I simply didn’t know what to do, and he simply didn’t care. It was very awkward.
“Aghhhh!” I began yelling. “Hey! Gah! Agh!” I yelled. I clapped my hands. I stomped my feet. I jumped. I waved my arms. Nothing. “Ugh…” I groaned. “Move…”
I just wanted to run. It was so dumb.
There was something fundamentally wrong about the whole situation. I’m so much smarter than you! I thought. I have a job! I can name all the Presidents! I buy greeting cards! You’re a giant tree rat. You can’t even send an email!
Being the mature, evolved creature I am, I decided the best course of action would be to throw a rock at him. Unfortunately, all the easily accessible rocks were hidden by snow. I opted for a long stick. Staring straight into his beady little eyes, I chucked the stick at him. He didn’t even blink.
I hurled another stick. Then another. Actually, I did a hurl-and-yell combo. Both in vain. Frustrated by the impotence of the stick offensive, I switched to simple commands such as “Go away!” and “Get back in the woods!” just in case he spoke English. He didn’t. He just looked at me like, “Dude, what’s your problem?” Actually, he looked at me like, “Dude, I’m rabid.”
By that time, I was done playing around. I found a small log about sixteen inches long and heaved it down the road on a trajectory directly in line with the opossum’s pointy little head. The log landed within inches of the target.
No response. This was the most unflappable marsupial in the history of mankind.
Guys. If you ever want to feel stupid, go outside in a blizzard, stand in the middle of the road, scream at the top of your lungs, and throw sticks at an opossum that doesn’t give a wintry mix about your existence.
I stood there for another minute or two debating what I should do next. As it turned out, I didn’t have to do anything. Without warning or reason, he ambled away into the woods. He was gone. And I was free to proceed down the road.
In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t my finest moment in surviving the wild. But it wasn’t my worst. Once, when I was running Castlewood, a squirrel pooped on my face. I’m not kidding. Halfway down the River Scene Trail, a squirrel with outstanding marksmanship evacuated his bowels directly on my face. It was really quite impressive considering the lowest tree limbs at that point were a good ten feet above my head. The droppings stuck to my cheek and, as I wiped them from my cheek, stuck to my hand. It was all very extraordinary and very unsanitary.
The good news is that I was only two miles from my car, and within minutes I was slathering my face with hand sanitizer. The bad news is that my face was dry from salt and sweat, and the hand sanitizer had the same effect of pouring rubbing alcohol on a cut. You know that scene in Home Alone? The aftershave scene?
Yep. I had my own Kevin McAllister moment, right there in the parking lot.
Nature happens, folks. The key is to survive. Like I survived the opossum.
And I’m pretty sure he was rabid.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.