A near-miss with a giant elk

Last week, I went to get a haircut with my dad. It’s something that probably hasn’t happened since 1997, but it was the week of Thanksgiving and I was already at my parents’ house. I was in Belgium for Christmas last year, so I figured I’d go early for Thanksgiving to make up for some lost at-home time. My parents live in rural, northern New Jersey. I’m used to suburban Boston, where I can walk to get a pizza in five minutes. At my parents’ house, I have to drive 20 minutes to pick one up.

Thanksgiving is always a time for me to go see the ‘rents and bask in some nostalgia. Right now, I’m looking out the window at the nearby hay fields where I built my own cyclocross course every fall when I was in high school. I would wait until they had been hayed for the last time of the summer, and then I would mow my own course that would zigzag through the fields and in and out of the nearby woods. It would always make for some good preparation before the Mid-Atlantic Cup series started.

Another piece of nostalgia that pertains more to my current life are the stories of when I started to shoot bike racing in earnest. During the summer of 2003, I was shooting all the downhill NORBA races. All of the races in the second half of the season were out west, so I spent a couple months sleeping in my friend John’s living room at his apartment in Denver. We put a lot of miles on my Dodge Neon that summer.

During one late-night drive back from a race, John was starting to crack despite both of us having plenty of Red Bull in our systems. He started to see faces of demons in the road signs. At that point, it seemed like a smart idea to trade driving duties. We were on our way through a mountain pass so he pulled over at the top and I climbed into the driver’s seat. We were both a little on edge because he had spent the past 15 minutes spooking himself with all the imaginary scary stuff he had been seeing.

Less than five minutes after I started driving down the pass, a giant elk ran in front of our tiny Neon. It was going full speed, diagonally across the road. I slammed on the brakes, trying not to lock up the wheels, but it was inevitable. We narrowly missed hitting the thing as it ran out of our path, and for an instant we both breathed a sigh of relief.

That relief turned to horror when the beast swung a 180 and bolted right back across our path in the other direction. This time we came dangerously close to smashing into it. I had to look up to see the top of his shoulder towering over my car. If we made contact, we would both be dead, or at best, the Neon would be completely totaled. The wheels locked up again and both John and I were screaming. The elk’s back end got out of our path just in time for us not to take out his back legs and have his huge rear end come straight through the windshield. The elk ran away into the darkness and John and I had a pretty long and delirious laugh over the whole thing.

It was the only way we could react.

Sam Smith
Director/Producer, Behind The Barriers