Dodging Rattlesnakes

This morning I headed to the Supe’s to visit an old dear friend of mine, Dutchman Trail. I hadn’t run this trail in a long time, and my plan for today was a simple, easy-paced long ONB.

The run started out pretty great. At dawn, it was overcast and looked like rain. Since I wasn’t sure if I’d get poured on or not, I opted to leave my phone since I didn’t have a way to keep it dry. Of all the runs to leave my phone, this was not it.

I slipped along this familiar trail, memories of friends and adventures gone by trailing through my mind. I was happy when I saw water flowing in the early washes- this meant that I’d have plenty to drink on this run (I’d brought my Sawyer Mini- if you don’t have one, get one, they’re a life saver, literally). Approaching the water, tiny toads the size of my fingertip threw their bitty little hoppy bodies out of my way. There were hundreds of them! I did my best not to step on them.

Climbing the saddle I looked out over the valley below and Weaver’s Needle ahead of me as the sun pushed its fingers through the clouds. There are no words. None. I started composing poems in my head.

I began bombing the downhill, my fave, and then…. It began. “It?” you may ask. Yes, “It”. Snakey, snakey, not so shakey. Rattlesnake number 1 (snake #12 of 2017), laying in a snakey puddle in the trail. I did my usual instant halt and back up a few steps, plus a little gaspy screamy thing, a good three feet shy of a dirt-brown rattlesnake. Usually when I’m this close they get pissy and rattle. This guy just laid there, tongue flicking. I weighed my options, jump over or go around. Everything in me panics at the thought of jumping over. Apparently the rattlesnake I don’t know (in the bushes) is better than the one I do. This is my logic, just go with it. Around it is. I made my way through a prickly pear mess, glanced back and the little pile of death in the trail, and ran on.

Thoughts that were running through my head rambled into each other:

              “Well, I’m glad that’s out of the way. I’ve seen my rattlesnake of the run, that should be it. Obviously there COULD be another snake on the trail, but that’s unlikely. You really never see the snakes, so one it is. Here’s my intersection, I’m excited to run this direction, it’s been awhile. Oo, this is a fun little hill. I can run this. I wish I’d brought my phone to take a picture of…. OH MY GOD!!!!”

I had placed my foot within tooth-tickling (as in his tooths tickling my ankle) distance of rattlesnake number 2 of the run, snake #13 of 2017. My panicked dance away from it brought me a few feet up a hill. I peeked back at this dark brown pancake with fangs. It was just laying there too, flicky-tongue, and that was it. It should have been pissed off, but it wasn’t. I worked on calming down as I now walked up the trail and thanked God over and over again for somehow keeping me from getting bitten.

My nerves were a little on edge, but two rattlesnakes in one run? Obviously I was done now. No way I’d see another one. Even so, I was super on edge. I’d come to a pretty solid rocky hill and was walking. I was thinking that both of the locations of the snakes I’d seen were not too far from washes, so that made sense. I was now on a hill, completely different terrain, plus I’d already met my snake quota for the day, obviously I wouldn’t see…. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Guess what I saw? Did you guess a rattlesnake? If you did, you would be correct. Rattler #3 of the run, and snake #14 for 2017. Another dirt-brown dude, again, all puddley. I eyed a way around and moved on.

I’m not sure what my thoughts consisted of at this point. Surely I was done with the snakes? I walked quite a bit, enjoying old memories of the trail and noticing how different it was in some places compared to the last time I was out. I came across one of many of the currently flowing (usually bone dry) streams and decided it was a good time to refill my water. I seriously love my Sawyer Mini. This was a pretty nicely flowing stream, but even so it can house Giardia or other swimmy-swammy things I don’t want in my guts. But with my Sawyer, even a stagnant cow-shithole puddle becomes delicious, precious water, say thank-ya.

Other things of note on my way out were circumnavigating a giant downed jumping cholla, (seriously, no going over that thing) and kitty tracks. I stared at the latter for quite a while thinking it was most likely they were dog. But they had been left in mud and were super clear, with not a hint of no claw marks, at all. Plus, they had that distinctive double-lobed heel pad, dogs are singular. There were also bobcat tracks right there too. These were super tiny and cute in comparison to the lion tracks which were about the size of my fist.

I ran out to 8.5 miles and decided to call it. I was having a great time now and there was plenty of water, but I had been so slow on the way out and the day was waxing on. Time to go.

As I turned around, all I could think of was the snakes on the way back. I don’t know how many times I’ve come across hikers warning me of a snake on the trail, just ahead, or around the corner, or whatever distance implying that it’s super close. It’s never there. EVER. It has always moved on. Nevertheless, because none of these snakes had batted a rattle at me on the way out, I thought it was possible they might still be there. The temperature on the way out was about 80° and now it was about 86°, so I figured it was likely they’d moved, but maybe not.

I stopped at the same creek and refilled my water again. I was drinking a significant amount of water, so I was very thankful for the creeks. The day was still overcast and felt cool, but without water I would have been in trouble.

As I was thinking this and running up a little blip, I screeched at snake #4 (2017 #15) however this was a garter snake, thankfully. It was a really pretty glossy black with yellowish stripes, but I wasn’t in a mood to care about how pretty it was at that moment. It slithered off very quickly, which I took as a reassuring sign that I wouldn’t see my rattlers on the way back out. If the garter snakes are moving fast, rattlers should be moving off too.

Before the big descent towards Peralta Canyon Trail, I took a quick little side trail and saw a bunch of sphinx moth caterpillars (interestingly, in the entire 17 miles, I only saw them on this little side jaunt). I also found an incredible camping spot (nudge-nudge Lucy’s runner).

I was on high alert as I began my descent, watching for the spot where I’d seen the snake. I came to the spot where I was pretty sure it had been and it was nowhere to be seen! Hallelujah! Sweet! Time to move! I began to run and about 15 feet later and just about stepped on the mother. I’d misjudged the location and the damn snake hadn’t budged an inch. Heart in my throat, again thanking God for the lack of two new holes in my ankle, walked down the hill, eyeing everything closely.

There were two hikers on the trail who scared the crap out of me when they said hello. I’d been watching for snakes so hard I hadn’t seen them until I was about on top of them. I told them about the snake up around the corner, that it was there that morning and still there now. They had their dog with them and thanked me. I assumed they’d come in from First Water Trailhead, but they’d actually come in from Peralta Trailhead, which I didn’t figure out until a few minutes later.

Leaving the hikers after learning they hadn’t seen any snakes, I started running fairly quickly. They’d just been through here, right? They hadn’t seen any snakes. I was maybe 5 minutes out from them and almost stepped on yet another rattlesnake (snake #5, rattler #4, 2017 #16). On the other side of it I turned around and yelled at it, “You weren’t here this morning! Argh!” This one was a light grey. Again, just a snakey puddle of venomous death, with not a care in its glistening eyes.

I was a mess. I wanted to start crying (I didn’t). I felt like I was running a gauntlet. I have this weird fear of small animals biting my ankles (shut up, I’m working on it), it’s SO MUCH WORSE when that animal is also venomous and can kill you.

Still reeling from this close encounter, I walked, slowly, looking closely at the trail and every step. Within half a mile of Mr. Grey Snake a bush off the side of the trail made the distinctive whirring sound, letting me know there was a rattlesnake sitting under its cover. I looked in the bush as I passed by, saw the completely pissed off snake (snake #6, rattler #5, 2017 #17), which I was in no danger of stepping on or harming in any way, and kept going. Damn gauntlet. Is PTSD from close encounters with snakes a thing?

Somewhere through here I saw a Coachwhip snake (snake #7, 2017 #18). These guys are super cool, they are crazy fast, and while most snakes follow the contours of the ground they’re crossing, this guy was like a bullet, shooting across rocks and gaps in a straight line. However, I, of course, was not pleased to see yet another snake.

The big dark brown snake was gone as I came back through. I ran some on the wider trails, but I was such a nervous mess I wasn’t running much. I wanted to be home and unbitten. I wanted the run to be done.

I hiked until I passed the location of the first snake I’d seen that day (also gone), then I started running more. I was exhausted. I’d come within inches of three different rattle snakes, and the fear had wiped me out. I did my best to keep running, keeping my eyes peeled for more snakes, but I hadn’t seen any through this early section on the way out, and I didn’t see any now either. Still, every variegated roundish object would catch my eye until my conscious mind calmed my instinctual mind down.

I finished my run and I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to finish a run, not even an ultra when my body is not really working anymore and all I want to do is cry and sleep.

Looking back at this run, I assume the recent rains and cooler night temperatures are why the snakes were out on the trail. I don’t know this, but it seems logical to me that they might be out trying to gather as much heat from the exposed trail as they can. I have run thousands of miles through the desert and have never seen or heard of anything like this. I would not have thought it possible. Five rattlesnakes in one run? No. This is more than I’ve seen all summer (I think my rattlesnake sightings for the year before today were 3?) I feel like God must have been watching over me. It makes NO sense to me that I would nearly step on so many rattlers and none of them moved at all. When it’s cold out this makes sense, but like I said, it was about 80°.  Every snake on the trail just laid there. The only one that acted normal was the one in the bush, which I was nowhere near.

So that was my adventure today. I foresee bad dreams a-risin’. All of this therapy writing aside, I have yet to regret an adventure, this one included. This adventure scared the living shit out of me, and yet, it was so incredible and I’m so thankful I was able to do it and come away unscathed (physically at least???). Life, it’s beautiful. Live it.

 

 

 

 

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