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Home Houred Out
"Broadening the Horizon of the Column..." Over the last several years it has come to my attention that many amongst our ranks do not share my fondness for the “history” of our sport and/or our organization. It is somewhat discouraging that the collective attention span of the present population, in general, has become so progressively short that practically the only subjects of interest at any given time is whatever is trending on social media for the next few minutes. Be that as it may, though, I continue to cherish the memories made during the past 45 years, although many of those memories were born out of miserable circumstances (most of which became considerably less painful as the color returned to normal and/or the swelling went down). But I digress… For the benefit/entertainment of the few of us who continue to share my fondness for the aforementioned history, I feel compelled to share the following story which was forwarded to me recently by SERA Hall of Fame Member Jonny Kemp, an old friend and mentor who, although he assumes no personal credit, very well could be considered the primary contributor to the establishment of what would become the 20+ year run of my “career” as an SERA Event Coordinator. I feel relatively certain that there are still at least a small number of individuals who will appreciate the subject of this “guest column” due primarily to being reminded of some past similar experience(s) with the same sort of efforts. It goes a long way toward supporting my long-held theory that is truly amazing that so many of our SERA events over the last four decades ever actually successfully took place.   I promise this story is true!  I have not changed any names to protect the innocent, the guilty, or anyone else for that matter. Also, this is the (exceedingly rare) story that requires absolutely no embellishment! First Check      1981 was 35 years ago as I write this, and there is a great deal of which I do not recall of that year.  Of course these days if I can recall my own address I consider that a "good day".  There is, however, one incident that does stick in the remnants of my mind, and as clearly as if it were yesterday.       That was the first year of the third re-organization of the Louisiana Trailriders, this time under the leadership of Kenneth “Fireball” Harrell (among others).  The “Prime Directive” of the club was to promote the Piney Woods Enduro in Chipola, Louisiana.  This enduro had been (is still being) promoted on a more or less regular basis since 1967. There was even a Piney Woods National in 1974 complete with John Penton and his boys.  Some new guy named Burleson.  The National was accompanied by copious amounts of rain, as seemed to be the norm for Chipola.      Kevin Taylor once joked that Chipola was unique in that way.  “And now, the forecast for Louisiana:  Your weekend should be spectacular, as pleasant temperatures and partly cloudy skies will prevail throughout the state. Your temps will be warm and pleasant, a high of 78 degrees with a 20% chance of afternoon showers.  Except for Chipola, for which we have issued a severe thunderstorm warning, and a subsequent flash flood warning.  Eight or more inches of rain is probable. We have also issued two tornado warnings across all of St. Helena Parish, centered on the Picnic Grounds and Fluker’s Bluff.  These tornadoes will be preceded by five inch hail.  These warnings will be followed by a 60 degree drop in temperature by noon accompanied by blizzard conditions by mid afternoon.”      I am not so sure Kevin was joking .  .  .  .      I was fortunate to have been born and raised approximately one mile from the Chipola Store, and was quite familiar with the Off Road Mecca that was Chipola.  I was on those trails from the age of six or so. Graduating from the back of Dad’s bike, onto my own “Honda 50 Cub” and eventually starting to understand more or less how off-road was done.  Then the Evil Paper Companies ran us off in the mid eighties.  I caught it just right.     Ah, but I digress!  This was 1981 and the Paper Company storm clouds were not even visible as of yet.  We had a 65 mile enduro scheduled and I was to captain one of the early checks.  My indoctrination was to be somewhat of a trial by fire, but I had no idea.      Chris Sellars (SERA number 002 or thereabouts) was referee for the event, he showed me how the clocks, the posters and the flipcards worked plus gave me a few tips and pointers.  I was a bit nervous that something might go awry, as I found myself captaining the first checkpoint that I ever worked.  And was basically just a dumb kid of 24 years old, not really what you would call seasoned.  Ah, but this is simple, what could possibly go wrong?  It was not even a tiebreaker!     I was familiar with the location on a fence line across the back side of some property that my Dad owned, I had a good crew of faithful friends, and all the confidence in the world!  We had parked the truck on the blacktop ½ a tenth from the check and had packed all the chairs, ice chest, and necessary equipment in to get set up.  Time was a tiny bit tight, but we still had a few minutes before showtime.     Having left a few instructions with the crew as regards stapling up the posters, driving the stakes for the flags, setting up the flipcards, etc I had trotted back to the truck to move it back so as not to tip off the riders as they crossed the road.  I had just fired the engine and still had the door open when Michael came flying out of the woods.  Literally flying.  His body was parallel to the ground arms outstretched and at approximately the speed of sound.  Superman should have been studying his graceful form and technique.  It was stunningly beautiful.  He maintained this attitude for several seconds before finally coming to earth in the ditch where he commenced to flip and flop on the ground EXACTLY like a fish that had been freshly caught.       I literally could not comprehend what I was seeing. I sat frozen in amazement with my mouth hanging open for several seconds.  I was just starting to become alarmed when finally Michael magically levitated off the ground to find his feet and take off running down the hill toward Pee-Wee’s house.  As he departed he let loose a tortured scream of one word: “BEEEEEeeeeeessssss!!”  I swear I heard a nice Doppler as he was quickly vanishing.  I never saw Michael the rest of the day.  When I did see him Monday, he was so swollen I didn’t recognize him.      By now all of my attention was turned to the checkpoint as I was dragged from my mesmerized state by the sounds of people screaming, fences squeaking and trees crashing that were now to be heard emanating from the woods across the road.  Oh (insert four-letter word of your choice here)!!!  All I can do is run to see what is happening and is there any way I can salvage this.  Both questions were answered as I ran headlong into the checkpoint to see a huge ball of Yellow Jackets boiling up out of the ground right at the check location.  My forward momentum was such that stopping would have put me right in the middle of them so all I could do was pour on what little speed I had left and ran right through the middle of them.  This tactic must have caught them by surprise as I was the ONLY ONE that did not get stung that day.      I needed to be on the other side anyway, as that is where my check crew was (aside from Michael) and about a hundred yards further I found them.  Good friend Allan, his wife Ms. Kim, my wife Ms. Karen, and good friend Pee-Wee.  It was utter pandelerium as clothes were coming off, hair was coming out, they were flailing about and seriously beating on themselves and each other as their squalls, curses and screams filled the air.  The scene was not then nor is it now adequately describable.      We were just getting everyone calmed down somewhat and were discussing our next move when five motorcycles came hurtling at us at approximately 24mph.  These riders were flailing about and screaming and yelling just as the check crew had been several minutes previous.  This did add a bit to the stress and strain of the situation, but they eventually moved on (pretty quickly actually) and left us again to our own defenses. They incidentally did drag a few more angry yellow jackets with them as if we did not already have enough to contend with.  About this time Allan mentioned that Ms. Kim was allergic.  This added an additional layer of urgency and of course we couldn’t get back to the road from the way we came, so we proceeded to break trail through the woods (jungle of privet) back toward the road well North of the checkpoint and the angry insects.  About halfway back to the road we heard (could not see) the telltale of revving motorcycles, along with cursing and screaming men quickly fading into the distance.      We do eventually break out into the road and make our way back to the (still running) truck.  As we were bundling Ms. Kim into the truck Chris Sellars rides up and asks what in the blue-tar cornbread (again insert four letter word) were we doing.  He had not gotten the words out of his mouth before five more motorcycles came busting out of the woods, across the road and shortly thereafter into the miniature hell of increasingly angry insects.  Their screams and engines were fading into the distance when Chris (cool headed, as he had experienced none of this Bedlam) suggested that we get Ms. Kim to the ambulance and he would flag the riders down the road to where they would pick up arrows and everything would again move forward with the race.       We did indeed get Ms. Kim to the ambulance where she received a shot of Benadryl and a ride to the hospital “just in case”.  Turns out she was just fine and got back home that day in good shape.  Everyone else was stung up but otherwise okay other than Michael, whose head swole up about like a balloon.  I never got stung even once.  Not sure about the fifteen or so competitors, but didn’t get any complaints after the race.  I think the story had gotten around…      Later, I asked Pee-Wee what had actually happened.  He told me: “Jonny, everything was beautiful!  We had the posters stapled up, Allan was driving the stakes for the flags and I was looking for a way to drive the flipcards into the ground.  Looking around, I saw a hole in the ground that looked to be perfect, so I jammed the flipcard pole down into that hole.      Dramatic pause here .  .  .  .  .  .      I have to ask, what are the odds?  I have in my 60 years encountered maybe a dozen yellow jacket nests.  Fifteen tops.  Have received two, maybe three stings total. What are the odds that there would be a substantial nest at exactly 12.80 miles on the enduro course?  Not just at the 12.8 mile marker of a 65 mile course, but at the EXACT LOCATION .  .  .  .  .  . TO THE INCH .  .  .  .  . that the flipcards would go!!!  Murphy?  No, I do not think even Murphy has that much power.  Gotta be more to it than that.  I suppose, considering all of the crazy things that have happened to me, around me, or as a result of my actions that this should have been considered a bellweather. Prologue       I can’t promise, but to the best of my knowledge those flags and flipcards are still right there. Sure wasn’t anyone going in to retrieve them!  I should go look for them .  .  .  .  . certainly after thirty five years the yellow jackets are long gone.  Probably a den of rattlesnakes have moved in. And all this time I was thinking I was the only one who had that sort of luck try to put on an enduro. Fred …