The Running Man was hit and killed by an Isuzu Trooper on Tuesday morning, in the fog, while running west out of town on 250. Toph sent me a text pretty much right away with the link to the story and the words we all felt, I FUCKING HATE THIS.
It was inevitable. It was inevitable because he was incredible.
As a guy who logged about 5,000 miles/year - on foot - on the roads of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, the exposure he faced and the risk he took on by doing what he loved were pretty high. How high? It's hard to say. I've written more than a few times on this blog about the unlikely and unfortunate reality that Route 250 is the "safe route" out of town.
The timing of his death, so closely following the news story a month ago about the man himself and his accomplishments, his goals and lifestyle, is physically jarring for me. Collectively, I feel like we just met him. I'd seen him many times out on the roads, of course. Pounding pavement on Garth, on gravel on Ridge, Reas Ford on the big hill up from the Rivanna, all over the place. It's just what he did, wearing next to nothing, in freakishly cold weather, simply running. Seeing him always made me smile. The story on NBC29 back in November, though, gave a little context to the legend. He was a loner. He had no family. He was running...somewhere, and in huge amounts.
Some mountain lions do this. Wildlife biologists call it Dispersal. Basically, it's the instinct that young, male mountain lions follow sometime before they turn 2 years old which drives them to vacate the area where they grew up. They split. They disconnect from their family, their home, and they run for it. Typically, they travel about 100 miles, far enough that they won't have any chance of someday mating with their sisters or mothers and harming the collective DNA of the population, and they re-settle. That new place becomes their home. But sometimes, the dispersal instinct goes haywire, and they simply keep running.
In a well-documented case of such a dispersal gone too far, there's the chronicle of the mountain lion from The Black Hills of the Dakotas who, sometime around his 2nd birthday, went East - crossing the Mississippi way up in Minnesota somewhere, before plunging through Wisconsin in the snow, then farther North - into Canada, and across the northern edge of the Great Lakes before somehow (possibly by swimming the channel across Lake Erie near Buffalo) he crossed back into New York, traversing the entire state West-To-East, and winding up in Connecticut, almost making it to the Atlantic Ocean.
It would make a nice childrens' book, I've always thought - "The Cougar Who Walked To The Sea." But you'd have to re-write the ending, the part where he was hit and killed by a Hyundai SUV on Route 15 near New Haven.
The truth is, we all share this instinct - at least a little of it. You can run away from home. But most of us have a governor of sorts - an opposing instinct that serves to pull us back into the fold. We curb the dispersal instinct with those other instincts like, for example, nesting, or being a creature of habit. Self-preservation. Community. Fatherhood. These are the things that keep the rest of us grounded.
The Running Man's name was Philip Weber. But I don't think anyone knew that. He was a loner, an eccentric. He recognized the risks, and he just kept going.
Here's the thing about Long-Range Dispersal that you might not consider, however. Eventually, it's the cat who is willing to go the farthest and survive that ends up setting the the new mark for what is possible. One day, that cat meets another cat in Connecticut, and they hook up, those two wandering souls, and they have a family together. And where today, The Federal Ag department can tell you all about (and prove) that there is no reproducing population of mountain lions east of the Mississippi, suddenly - under those circumstances - we'd have one again.
Or, suddenly, 5,000 miles/year is attainable.
(I FUCKING HATE THIS.)
We will miss you, Philip Weber. The bar is set, and it's dangerously high.
Keep looking up, up, up.