By Brian N. Willhite
Running of the Bulls is one of those bucket list experiences that many adventurous types may never get to accomplish. But for two Bakersfield brothers, it’s become a checked item on their ever-growing to-do list.
Brian Jones, 36, and Brad Jones, 35, made their way to Pamplona, Spain for the annual foot race in July, and to revel in the city’s Fiesta de San Fermin.
The nine-day ceremony kicked off in Pamplona’s city square with a spectacular grand opening, officially starting the nonstop celebration at noon July 6.
For the brothers, the trip came up a couple of months earlier when they brought up the idea to run with the bulls in a casual conversation with a friend, who immediately laughed it off.
That was the spark they needed. Two months later, they were running for their lives from Navajito the bull.
No kids’ birthday party
The Jones stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the San Fermin opening ceremony with people from throughout the world.
“(There were) tens of thousands of people in the streets, and they were all dressed the same, and waving their flags,” said Brad. “As soon as it opens up, everybody has a Sangria fight throughout the whole city and everybody gets completely soaked.”
Before attending, both Brian and Brad were unaware how grand the celebration was going to be.
“We didn’t know it was this huge deal with parades and all these parties — it’s a constant celebration,” said Brian. “It made Mardi Gras look like a kids’ birthday party.”
The bull runs take place daily at about 8 a.m. through a narrow pathway in the city on wet cobblestone streets for about a half-mile, and ends inside of the bull-fighting arena.
The Jones’ tour guide shared with them inside information, including the best spots for a successful run.
Ten minutes before the run begins, runners are allowed to walk toward the finish line to get a head start on the bulls. The run is quick — about two minutes — and only those challengers daring enough to keep pace with the bulls hang back by the starting line.
On the morning of July 8, the brothers dressed in the ceremonial white pants and shirt, with a red scarf and red belt.
They had planned to run together but were quickly separated in the large crowd, leaving each to brave the bulls alone.
“I was walking and waiting for the first bull, and as soon as I saw one, I started sprinting. And as I got around the corner, he almost got me,” Brad said of one of the bulls named Navajito, which broke ahead from the pack and ravaged through the crowds picking people off and flipping them over his head.
“It took out like four guys right in front of me. Then another one came, and there was a big pile-up in front of me,” he said.
Brad made it past the pile-up and ran the last 30 yards with the bulls ahead of him.
Brian was also about to finish the race without serious injury. He positioned himself atop a small hill in the road so that he could see over the crowd and see the bulls coming.
It didn’t quite work out that way, Brian said.
“All of a sudden I see people start to run and I’m thinking, ‘OK, they’re getting close.’ And I distinctly remember the look on this guy’s face and I thought, ‘I can’t see the bull, but I know this guy can,’ because he just had this look of terror on his face and was running as hard as he could not looking back,” Brian said.
Along the course, divider rails separate the runners and the bulls from the crowd of people watching. While Brian ran, the crowd split down the center as Navajito began to plow through, forcing Brian up against the wooden railing, scraping his arm. People tried to climb over each other to get to safety on the other side of the rail.
“I’m caught on the edge of this rail, and I’m thinking that this is not a good place to be because I could just get nailed right here,” he said.
Brian ducked under the railing to where a line of police and safety personnel gathered. He noticed a man yelling for help at the bottom of the pile, and Brian and another man reached out to pull the injured man to safety.
Afterward, he was able to get back into the race and reach the finish line, making it into the arena just before the last bull arrived.
With their trip behind them, the brothers are now driven to see what the other famous parties of the world are like.
They’ve placed two more on their list: Brazil’s Carnival and Germany’s Oktoberfest.
They got a commemorative tattoo of the brutish Navajito to remind them of what they refer to as “The experience of a lifetime.”
“That’s our best souvenir,” Brian said.
The Jones are eager to go back and help others who are interestied in running. They even started a Facebook page to promote their tour group and to offer advice. You can find them on Facebook by searching for “Wild Rides Travel Group.”