I’ve seen a lot of strange things while out riding and running over the years. But the strangest had to be the tall guy dressed in white cowboy gear from head to toe. And blood spattered down the front.
He was standing at the top of a rise on Ice Cave Road in Decorah, Iowa. As I was running up the hill, he walked to the middle of the road and gestured toward me to come look at something he was eager to show. Obviously, my self-protection radar went up when I saw the bright red blood down his shirt. This had all the makings of a horror movie, I thought to myself. And I don’t even like horror movies.
He was jumping around now, to the point where I was not sure that I could get past him on the road if I tried. So I stopped about fifteen feet away and asked, “What’s up?”
Sorry, that wasn’t more insightful or compelling. It was all I could think to say at that moment. Then he gestured wildly again and pointed at a tall tree. “Want to see my snakes?”
And that’s when I saw the snakes. Each of them nailed to the trunk of a tree. And there was blood running down the length of their bodies.
Being the naturalist that I am, my first instinct was to ask. “Why are you killing snakes?” There were several kinds of snakes, you see. It was the month of May, and warm outside. So the snakes that live in the many burrows and dens of the limestone bluffs around Decorah were very active that time of year.
This guy somehow knew how to find and catch snakes. And kill them. I noticed there was a long canebrake rattlesnake nailed to the tree. What a shame, I thought. The bright cinnamon stripe down its back seemed to glow in the late spring twilight. There were other kinds of snakes as well. The guy had killed an entire snake rodeo.
The ring of snakes nailed to the tree was macabre. So were the blood-stained white clothes of the cowboy. See, there is no real need for cowboys in that part of the country. The cows that live on the farms around Decorah are largely kept for dairy, not bred for meat. So the cowboy was dressed like a cowboy by choice, not profession. He was living some sort of strange cowboy fantasy. Or perhaps he was just ahead of his time.
But seriously, what goddamn real cowboy would dress in an all white outfit anyway? I supposed the Lone Ranger was pretty close. But that’s because black and white TVs back then couldn’t handle contrast very well. Every outfit on the tube looked either black or white in those days.
I decided that the cowboy I’d encountered was at least unstable, if not downright dangerous. A few nights before I’d seen another guy dressed in cowboy gear at one of the local bars. He was drinking heavily and started to lean toward his boots on the barstool as the night went on. Finally, after one too many drinks that evening, he simply pitched forward and sprawled across the floor. Mission accomplished, I guess. Drunk as shit and no need to listen to that complaining wife anymore. If that was the issue.
So I took stock of the bloody cowboy dude in my general path and started to run towards home. But he jumped in front of me, so I used an old basketball fake to get past him.
He called after me but I was running fast back toward the college campus. I took a glance behind me to make sure the cowboy hadn’t gotten into a sinister old truck to try to run me down. I’ve had that happen before. Several times in fact. The townies around Decorah hated runners.
But mercifully for me, the cowboy in white was standing there by his blood-covered snake tree as if I’d just stood him up for a date. He looked so pitiful. And alone.
When I got back to campus I told my buddies about the blood-covered, snake-killing cowboy. They all shook their heads and laughed. “Sure, Cud,” they teased.
So I convinced them to run the two miles back out to the spot on the road where I’d seen the cowboy. Of course he was gone. So were the snakes. But the ring of bloody spots where he’d nailed the snakes to the tree were still there. So I thought I was vindicated. “See?” I told them. “Look at the blood!”
They all laughed. The blood had no effect in convincing my running teammates that I’d had an encounter with a guy dressed in white cowboy gear that had been killing snakes.
But it’s a true story. I know what I saw. I just can’t explain why. I won’t even make any jokes here to cast doubt on the verity of what I’ve just related. It’s not the only strange thing I’ve seen over years of running and riding. But it is one of the strangest.
There was also that guy I met while running through the campus of Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory near my home. The guy rode up next to me on a beat up bike and started jabbering away about voices in his head. He was literally wearing an aluminum foil hat because he thought it protected him from whatever government mind control was emanating from the bowels of the tower. This lasted for a couple miles, so I picked up the pace and finally dropped him. He yelled after me to insist that get a hat just like his if I planned to continue running near the facility.
I’ve written about some of these incidents before. They just crop up now and then when I read or here strange things on the news, or see them on the Internet. Perhaps there’s some great conspiracy behind the things we experience. It’s all puzzling evidence, but about what?
All I know is that I’ve never heard any voices while running and riding through Fermilab. Nor have I developed the urge to kill snakes since my encounter with the White Cowboy covered in blood.
I do still run, and some people have always considered that strange behavior. I still ride too. But I don’t wear a tinfoil hat while doing it. Just a helmet. Supposedly that actually does protect your brain.
Who knows if it’s true? True stories.
What’s are some of the strange things you’ve ever seen out there?