Running on the Redneck Rivieria

subtitled: Greta, I don’t think we’re in Virginia anymore.

I guess it’s not fair to say that the hazards of running in my parents’ neighborhood are not found in any other part of the country. In fact, I’m sure even northern, urban Virginia has similar problems. But I’ve been spoiled by running on a military post where just about every household boasts one or more avid runners including many marathoners and triathletes, and hence the courtesies extended to those using the roads on foot or on bike are magnanimous and generally go beyond the generous rules mandated by post regulations.

My parents live on the panhandle of Florida. This is not my childhood home; my trip here last summer was my first time ever in this part of the country. I have no fierce loyalty to this area as I might if I had been raised here, and in fact I really don’t quite see the charm of this built up rural town where every country block has it’s own junkyard and half the “houses” look as though they ought to be abandoned but show evidence that they are not. And the “in-law suite” is the trailer parked on the side of the lot.

Please don’t think I’m a snob. My roots are pretty humble, but I think my extended family’s red necks are covered up by blue collars. I can’t think of a single family member, even in the farm country of Ohio, who is growing their own landfill in the front yard. One, maybe even two, rusting cars on the property is understandable, sort of, but after that it becomes a collection, and you just have to ask yourself why? Is oxidized metal really something that makes you happy?

But this is where my parents bought a nice home on a nice street in a small town on the Emerald Coast. They are close to Eglin Air Force Base, but not close enough that people exercising on the roadways are a common sight. No, around here, if someone is traveling by bike or foot, it is because they are too poor to own a car, or their last car just got added to the pile of defunct autos littering their property.

But the dog and I need to run, and so we head out on roads with no shoulder and no sidewalks. Fortunately, the traffic is light enough that cars can usually move over to give me some room. Many do. Amazingly, many do not. I guess they figure that the soft, sandy ground covered with twigs, weeds and underbrush is good enough for me. And I am so accustomed to the polite drivers who wait to see if I’m turning or going straight, that I couldn’t help but glare at the second pickup truck who almost ran me off the road right after his buddy almost took me down – how nice for the guy in the third truck to wait for me to cross the intersection, especially since I had the right of way.

But honestly, I’ll take the human hazards over the canine ones. When we had Greta in dog obedience class, the trainer recommended and sold a dog-repellent spray – kind of like pepper spray for dogs. We bought some and keep it in the doggie backpack we got for her to load her down and help her burn more calories (she’s pretty high-energy). But a week ago, Greta had a hurt leg that needed rest, and I guess I just wasn’t thinking much when I was packing last week. I didn’t bring it, and I’m kicking myself.

I think every house around here has a dog, half of those have more than one. Quite a number of dogs are unfenced and unchained. And they think their territory extends across the road and halfway across the neighbor’s lot too. It’s a crap shoot every time I go out: which dogs will be out, how soon will they detect me, how far down the road will they follow me. In my mind, I’m reminding myself that it is my responsibility as the pack leader to protect my dog, but also reminding myself that if I were to get in the middle of a dog fight, the biggest loser would be ME.

Tonight, again, I don’t know what I was thinking, I wanted to avoid the three dogs that guarded one road, so I thought I’d go a different way, a way I’d never gone before. This was after almost being run over by the three pickup trucks, so you might think I’d not want to push my guardian angel any harder, right? Ha! As I approached one property, I could hear the dogs – three of them – begin their charge. The yard was fenced, and the gates seemed to be secure, thank goodness: each dog was at least 60 to 80 pounds and mean and snarling. Of course, a minute later I understood why the gate here was actually closed. Two houses down were three bigger, meaner, and more snarly dogs. And there, the owner just stood on the porch and watched them scare the pants off that nice lady running by with her trembling pooch. But I guess I couldn’t expect him to call the dogs off. Even if he had thought that their behavior was deplorable (and I’m pretty sure he didn’t), those dogs lacked any amount of discipline that would have enabled him to bring them to heel.

And so, although I am sad to be saying goodbye to my parents tomorrow as I head to my sister’s place, I am very glad that my next run will be at Fort Rucker where dogs must be leashed or fenced at all times and most every household has at least one avid runner. The adrenaline rush has been great, but I’m ready for a more relaxing jog around the block.

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