It was September of 1979, when I was freshman at UTM, in Martin, Tennessee. One of my across the dormitory hall neighbors, Kyle Williams, and I were out on a bike ride. We had ridden out of town on the Highway 45 bypass, then meandered our way through some country roads back to town. At this point, we were heading through a neighborhood, taking a shortcut to hit the bypass, again, to complete our loop back to campus.
I was riding my old Triumph ten-speed, and Kyle had a Schwinn of some sort, as I recall. None of us had ever seen or heard of a mountain bike, at that time. (I often wonder how differently my college career might have gone if I'd had a mountain bike to keep me occupied, rather than a pool hall.)
Anyway, Kyle and i were cruising along at a conversational pace, discussing what to do when we got back to the dorm. We knew we needed to eat, we were just trying to figure out what and where. Ahead of us, on the step of a house to our right, I spotted a St. Bernard dog, lying peacefully in the sun, panting happily along the way dogs do when nothing much is going on.
"I'd kind of like to have a St. Bernard," I told Kyle, as we drew nearer to the big dog. "They are nice and friendly."
Just then, the dog's head swiveled around and he caught sight of us. Hair raised up on his shoulders, and he showed his teeth as he lumbered to his feet.
"He's not going to chase us us, is he?" Kyle asked me, in disbelief as the the big damn dog started loping toward the road.
"I've never seen one chase anybody," he continued, as the dog let out a booming bark and began sprinting toward us.
"Let's get the hell out of here!" I yelled, as I stood up and sprinted.
I wasn't too worried about being able to outrun the dog. We were on ten-speeds, and he was huge lumbering oaf of an animal. Still, though, as we sprinted away the dog seemed to be gaining on us.
"Go, go, go!" I yelled at Kyle, as I passed him. I knew that we only had a few hundred yards before the road headed steeply downhill. That would let us get up some speed that even the hell-hound on our trail couldn't match. But, that would come with a potential price.
At the bottom of that hill, where the road leveled off, there was a railroad crossing with some pretty rough tracks. Immediately after that was a signaled intersection with U.S. 45. We could only hope that the dog would abandon his chase at the top of the hill.
Within seconds, we were blasting down the steep hill, and the damn dog was still in full-on pursuit mode! I scanned the highway, left and right, and didn't see any traffic.
"Jump the tracks!" I screamed at Kyle, when it looked he might be reaching for his brakes.
We hit the slight incline to the railroad grade, probably doing 30 miles per hour on 1-1/8" tires, and launched ourselves over the rough tracks. The landing was sketchy as all get-out. I really expected my tires to explode, or my wheels to collapse. But, we both made the landing without augering in Six-Million Dollar Man-style.
Then, we blew across the highway, running the red light, very grateful that no one had seen fit to come roaring down the road in a pickup truck as we went across.
I glanced back over my shoulder to see the dog standing still, on the railroad crossing, baying his lungs out at us as we rode away screaming like little girls.
"I have never seen a St. Bernard go after anybody like that!" Kyle panted as we coasted along toward the bypass, trying to get our heart rates to slow down below redline. "He must have had rabies, or something."
"Yeah," was all I managed to say. I don't think I had ever been so scared of a dog in my entire life.
When we got back to campus, no one would believe out story.
"St. Bernards are friendly and gentle," Johnny said. "They would never attack anyone."
Two years later, in September of 1981, Stephen King published Cujo. Soon after, someone asked me if I had read it.
"I not only read it, I lived through it," I told them.
Stephen King owes me and Kyle about a million dollars each, I think...