Writing Out Loud: Running with the River is No Bull

By George Stahl

Earnest Hemmingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises was first published in 1926. It was about a group of friends traveling from Paris to Pamplona, Spain to participate in the Running of the Bulls. This is an event that is held during the festival known as Sanfermines, honoring Saint Fermin. The crux of the story? These guys go on this life finding foray to discover what it is they may have gained or even lost as the generation who survived the war to end all wars, World War One.

The last part of their journey is filled with revelations and coming to an awareness of their masculinity and mortality, kind of. As a side result of the book, The Running of the Bulls was made more famous, and more people from all over the world wanted to do what Hemmingway did. He never actually ran with the bulls, but he did attend the event on several occasions. Nevertheless, young men jumped into the raging river of angry bulls to prove a point or something concerning their own manliness.

There is a chart, a sort of sign, declaring how many of these men, who still had a lot of living to do, died, while proving this point. The heading reads, ‘15 Deaths Since 1910 in the Bull Run in Pamplona.’ The chart stops at 2009, and 15 people dying while voluntarily running to stay ahead of six, ground snorting, hoof thumping, horn wiggling 600 pound, 4-year-old bulls seems not so bad, statically speaking. But wait! On average, during the weekdays of the festival, there are upwards of 2,000 men, 18 years and older racing the bulls for three minutes and 55 seconds down fenced off streets, winding through the town while thousands more watch in person and millions more watch the death race on television from the safety of their armchairs.

And still, there’s more! On the weekends of the festival, over 3,000 runners precede, or at least that’s the plan, these six bulls charging them at almost 15 miles per hour. Now, let’s see, the average, in shape male, can run approximately 10 to 15 miles per hour. Right in there with his anger driven Bovine counterpart. The idea here is that the human is going to get to the end of the run before the thunderstorm coming up from behind overtakes him. But just like watching a NASCAR race, a few of those millions of spectators are going to want to see a wreck. Disappointed, they are not. Every year, between 200 and 300 runners are injured, trampled, gored, thumped around or who knows what else a bull can do.

In the end, the runners, panting and exhausted, maybe even a little bloodied, take off their red scarfs and sit in some outdoor café and enjoy a glass or two of something really cold. The six bulls? Well, not so good for them. The evening of each run concludes with a bull fight. If you know anything about a bullfight, then you know how the bull fares.

We have our own version of the Running of the Bulls here in the Kern River Valley. We didn’t need Hemmingway to write about it in order for it to gain popularity among young to middle aged men who come to challenge it. It too, like the Bull Run in The Sun Also Rises, has a bunch of statistics about it, including a sign that reads, 280 Lives Lost Since 1968. Plus eight more this year. Let’s see, 15 dead in 107 years while being chased by a bull, and 250 dead in 50 years while being dragged, bumped on rocks, scraped against trees and branches, trapped in the grip of an exhaustingly strong current. Better odds with the bulls? Go figure. Young men jumping into the raging waters of the Bull Run, and a group of men and women leaping into a raging river, both to prove a point?

The Kern River is currently flowing at 15 miles per hour, the same speed as those bulls, the average swimmer can swim … let’s just say, they don’t have a chance. So, the next time you get the urge to take a plunge into the Kern River, don’t. Why not look up one of the local ranchers and ask him if you can rent one or two of his bulls for three minutes and 55 seconds. Let them chase you around the pasture and forget about the river. Who would have thought that you would be safer running with the bulls in Pamplona than jumping into the raging waters of the Kern River? As Hemmingway put it in his book, ‘olé!’

Please, stay out of the river. If you do, your chances of seeing your next birthday just increased…a lot.

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect those of the Sun.
George Stahl can be reached at stahl_george@yahoo.com