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The Great American Fishing Race
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In January of every year, my brother and I would lay out the course for one of the most difficult and challenging races that anyone could conceive. It started of course, at our favorite fishing hole, but from there it rapidly devolved into a challenge unlike any other most of us would ever face.

Indeed, that was the entire point of the Great Fishing Race, was to weed out … no pun intended … those of us who were not the most adept at cutting through the brush at breakneck speeds. My brother was unnaturally strong and an incredible driver. I was unnaturally tough but never very fast … which I have an ample supply of scars to prove.

The Great American Fishing RaceThus it was that my brother and I were never invited to actually join the race, but being as we were among the most competent in the woods, we were still given the privilege of marking out the best route for Escape and Evasion each and every year. The prize for winning this race was a real treasure, coming as it did in the form of a Fishing License, replete with all of the requisite stamps.

My brother and I could, and often would spend weeks or even months alone, so far back out in the mountainous woods that you would have to pump the sunshine in and the moonshine out in order to stand within a hair of being able to find us.

This was natural behavior for us, and I still find great comfort in the peace and solitude in the great outdoors, so in some respects, I suppose, looking back, that it was only natural that we would be the ones selected to design the most effective course.

The race course, such as it was, was not designed for speed, but as was noted above, precisely for the purpose of Escape and Evasion. The prize was almost secondary in nature, though still beneficial of course, in the unlikely event that the winner was ever to have someone catch up to them.

Mind you, nobody ever did manage to ever successfully track any of our routes, though looking back, it may be that they never tried with the most steadfast and ambitious of efforts either.

The first hundred meters or so of the race course would be lined out along the river bank where we did most of our fishing, especially if we went out in a large group or as a family outing. The reason for this was so that anyone seeing the start of the run would be able to keep their eyes on those running for a sufficient amount of time to get a sniff of their scent so to speak … making them easy to pursue in the opening phase of the run.

This path quickly veered up into deep and cutting brush that would tear at all but the most hearty of clothing and hinder even the most nimble of rabbits. This portion of the race was designed to discourage any concerted effort at pursuit while at the same time, allowing the pursuer(s) to continue, albeit not very effectively.

The third phase of the race was the point at where the going started to get extremely difficult. This portion of the race course would see a steep incline up the mouth of O’Brien and begin traversing rocky terrain in between sections of heavy and dense brush.

The third phase was ultimately designed to effectively terminate any possibility of pursuit and to ensure that only the most fit deer would ever have a chance of even catching a glimpse of the racers as they passed through.

At this stage, if nothing else, merely to be fair to the racers, a slight break was given as they reached the apex point of the race. After a slight breather, they should, by all accounts, be capable of hitting the last phase of the race and moving at a substantially increased pace.

The fourth phase of the race would see the participants able to run, relatively unimpeded down the other side of the hill, finally ending up on the dirt and gravel road that ran up the mountain towards our familial homestead.

The first one to get to the finish line would then be taken down to the local store where we would all chip in and purchase them a fishing license, all of the requisite stamps included.

In a small town, it is pretty much a given that everyone knows virtually everything that everyone else is doing, so it was easy to spot who had placed bets on the winning racer. Junior, the owner of the local general store, would not actually bet on the races … or anything else for that matter, though he would hold the funds for all of those that did bet … informally of course.

But who would be fool enough to chase such madness, dashing through the mountains and the brush? Well, in reality, I still do not think that they ever really chased us too hard, and looking back, I am quite certain that yet again, the “older generation” knew damn good and well exactly what was going on, but it still became something of a tradition locally.

Any time the game warden would see us fishing, he would be required to stop by and ensure that we were all duly licensed and properly registered with the government so that we could enjoy the privilege of feeding our families.

Each and every time the game warden would pull up, the winner of the race would get up and run, down the same path, so carefully selected so as to allow them to escape.

On the rare occasion that they did get caught, and this did happen, generally because of a slip or a misstep in the second or third legs of the race, they would have their fishing license in order and the game warden would be “forced” to let them go on their way.

Regardless of whether or not the game warden ever caught the racer, they would always be gone at least long enough for us to get all of our gear back in the car and start down the road … where eventually we would hit the spot where the racer would be exiting the woods, at about the same time that the racer would be emerging and hitting the road. In our minds, it was as every bit and exact as the most well-choreographed ballet, timing and poise allowing us to get away yet again.

In reality, I have come to the conclusion in my old age that the game warden knew we were just feeding our families and never really did have it in his heart to chase us with any intention of ever really catching us. Still, it was always a helluva race to behold.

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