Dead skunks reek revenge; it’s a fact of life for roadkill aficionados, otherwise known as bicyclists.
In 1989 I did a 10,000 mile solo tour of the US and Canada on my bicycle and became a specialist in what North America offers in the way of dead animals. I quickly learned that different regions produce different roadkill. For example, if you are interested in smashed armadillos, go to Louisiana.
Dead skunks, on the other hand, can be found decorating pavement everywhere. Lately, Peggy and I have had to dodge several on our 13-mile drive home from the small town of Ruch, Oregon to our new home in upper Applegate Valley.
I use dodge somewhat loosely since there is no way to avoid the aroma. Dodging a dead skunk is infinitely better than hitting a live one, however. I did that once. It was on my first ‘driving’ date, ever. I was 15.
Paula called me. The date involved Mom, Boyfriend, Paula and I going out to dinner in the small town of Sutter Creek, about twenty miles away from Diamond Springs over California’s curvy Highway 49.
After we filled up on Italian food, Mom and Boyfriend promptly climbed in the back and suggested I drive home.
“Um,” I noted nervously, “I only have a learner’s permit.”
“That’s okay, it will be good practice,” Mom stated before I could add that I had just obtained the permit the week before.
Paula, meanwhile, was waiting for me to open the door for her on the passenger side of the car. She gave me an encouraging smile and my options dropped to zero. Any further hesitation would appear wimpy, which is a definite no-no on a first date.
After doing the gentlemanly thing for Paula, I dutifully climbed into the driver’s seat and miraculously found the keyhole and lights. Minimal gear grinding got us out of town and I breathed an audible sigh of relief.
We had made it just past Plymouth when I ran over the skunk. Its response was to become a virtuoso of glandular activity.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Boyfriend said as the first powerful whiffs of eau de skunk came blasting through the air vents, “it happens all of the time.”
“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled to myself through tongue-biting teeth, “young men always run down skunks on first dates, especially first dates with Mom and Boyfriend along.”
Fortunately I made it home without further incident.
There is another roadkill story here, though. This one involves a cat and took place in the same area 25 years later.
While working for the American Lung Association of Sacramento, I had created what is known as the Trek Program, a series of multi-day outdoor adventures that people go on as fundraisers.
At the time this particular event took place, I was living in Alaska. ALA Sacramento had hired George and Nancy Redpath to run its Treks. They had a popular three-day bicycling event that incorporated a portion of the same route that I had traveled the night of the fateful skunk incident.
The Redpaths had added a roadside scavenger hunt to the Trek for fun. A sail-cat was on the list of items to be collected.
For the uninitiated, a sail-cat is a cat that has had an encounter with a logging truck’s wheels, after which it resembles a furry pancake with legs. Given several days of curing in the Sierra foothill sun, the cat can be picked and sailed in much the same way you would a Frisbee, hence the name.
Although tossing sail-cats has provided dogs with a new way to chase cats and play Frisbee at the same time, it is a sport without many adherents. Even dogs have serious reservations.
Not surprisingly, one Trekker managed to find a sail cat, load it on his bike and dutifully turn it in at the end of the day. The person won the scavenger hunt, which he should have considering his extended association with the umpteen-day dead cat.
But wait… there’s more. Two other couples became involved in the dead cat saga. I’ll call them Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice to protect the innocent.
Bob and Carol finished the Trek, hopped in their car and naively drove home that evening unaware that they were carrying a fellow traveler. When they arrived back in Sacramento and opened their trunk, lo and behold, there was the dead cat.
Bob and Carol had a good idea it was Ted and Alice who had stowed the unwanted passenger in their car. They vowed to get even.
As it turned out, both couples had spouses who worked for the State of California. A devious plot was hatched. The next day Ted received one of those large inner-office envelopes in his in-basket. It was rather bulky so he opened it with interest. Out slid the sail-cat, your tax dollars at work.
Unlike Aunt Tilley’s fruitcake, the cat apparently ended his strange after-life journey at that point.