Running with Snakes

The morning phone call left my husband unsettled. Our investment banker was unsettled also. They are both less comfortable with risk than I am, but it is this trait of mine, my vague attraction to risk, that helped drive us to an early retirement. That coupled with long, steady years of working and saving, as well as believing and trusting that the Universe loves us and wants us to be happy.

By the time the phone call ended I was happy. It was a late start, and I needed to put in twenty miles, something I hadn’t done in over a month, but none the less, I was happy to be parking my car at the trailhead and running up the first hill by 9:00 am.

I was quickly rewarded with the sighting of a bushy tailed fox. He was running up the trail ahead of me. He stopped to watch me as I fumbled for my iPhone camera. Sitting upright like a dog on the side of the trail with big ears pointed towards the sky, he tipped his head curiously at me. By the time I’d readied the camera he’d lost interest and was running over the ridge and down the rough hillside. So I continued on.

The uphill running was going smoothly. The recent addition of an asthma inhaler to my pre-run routine was proving very effective. I felt light and strong, running up the two mile hill with little effort. Returning downhill was equally relaxed, hopping over rocks and roots with stableness and agility, without a thought of last year’s ankle sprain.

Back at the car I grabbed my second water bottle and headed towards the next hill climb. This one was less steep, but longer, crossing the river on No Hands Bridge at the bottom of the canyon and then running four miles up the mountain to the Dam Overlook. Again the uphill run was coming without great effort, and I was pretty happy with my performance. That was until I saw the first snake.

He was lying across the trail, half in and half out of the weeds. Anyone who has ever run with me knows that snakes make me jumpy, and I was pretty sure this one was a rattler with his diamond shaped head and fat body. Stopping twenty feet from him, I was able to get a photo before backing away and letting him slither across the trail and down the hill. I was glad that we both had the same plan in mind. Leave each other alone and get out of each other’s path.

Still, this sighting left me a little shaken. My running slowed for the last half mile of the climb as I diligently searched for other snakes along the trail.

I didn’t see another one until I was through the Overlook and halfway down the next three mile decent. This trail to the river was a fully paved asphalt road that had been closed to cars and was now used by bikes, hikers and runners. With the road wide open I could see far ahead so that I could run without feeling like I was going to surprise an unsuspecting snake.

I spotted this one far off sitting in the shade of a tree on the left edge of the road. He was big. He seemed a little agitated with his head and rattle tail raised, both waving opposite directions in the wind. Staying far away from him I snapped a quick photo. Thank goodness for iPhone zoom and cropping features. I gave him a wide berth and continued down the road.

What should have been a nice, relaxing downhill run was now an all-out search for snakes. The adrenaline rush was taking its toll on me, and I could feel my energy waning as I hit the river at the bottom and began the climb back up the hill I’d just descended. Every spot of shade was a potential hiding place for a snake. I was getting tired and nervous thinking about the narrow single-track trail that lied ahead. Should I find a different route back to my car? Is there a way to run mostly city streets back to the river confluence where my car was parked?

I found Shade Snake half way up the hill making sure to stay far away. He was laying down this time, fully extended. It looked like there was blood near him, but I didn’t get close enough to get a good look. Besides, I was getting tired and my focus was fading.

A couple of cyclists rode up behind me and I asked them if they’d seen the snake.

“The dead one?” one of them asked.

“What? It’s dead?” I replied, shocked.

“Yeah, someone cut its head off,” the same cyclist answered. “It’s sad.”

“Yeah it’s sad,” I answered.

The three of us proceeded up the hill a bit further to find a mountain biker bragging about the snake he’d just run over.

“He was lunging at my tire, so I ran over him,” he said. “I don’t normally expect to see them out here on the road, but if he’s going to get in my way I’m going to take care of him.”

I wanted to yell at Mr. Mountain Biker. Get in your way? The road was twenty feet wide. You’d have to aim at him to get in his way. No wonder he was agitated earlier. Mr. Mountain Biker had been messing with him on the way down the hill. I felt sorry for the snake. It just seemed wrong.

Back at the Overlook I filled my water bottle, had a bite to eat and convinced myself that I would be fine on the trail. These snakes were not aggressive if not provoked, but I was still worried that there would be a family member of Shade Snake out there hoping to avenge his death.

And something was happening to my breathing. It had been about four hours since I’d used the inhaler and the Albuterol was beginning to wear off. Plus it was getting hot, and the snake induced adrenaline was exhausting.

I thought the last four miles down the single track and fire road trails would never end. Every shadow or twig was a snake to my mind’s eye. I was jumping at every little rustle in the bushes. The smooth, calm running of the morning was gone as I resorted to a run/walk routine for the last mile. My breathing was raspy and my chest felt heavy.

Relieved to finally reach the car, I grabbed a bottle of ice water I’d backed earlier that morning when my biggest worry was which retirement account to take my monthly distributions from. My breathing still labored so I decided to give the inhaler another try. Two pumps and instantly I was nauseated and dizzy. I had to sit down. I had to get out of the sun. I found a shade structure and sat on a large rock under it. I started to see spots. I thought, this is what passing out feels like. I knew I needed to get closer to the ground so I sat in the dirt with my back against one of the structure’s supports. I was still watching for snakes.

While I sat there a pair of hikers with backpacks and long walking sticks wandered by and asked if I was okay. I bobbed my head, yes. Still they persisted. Did I need water? They had extra. Did I need them to call someone? No. No. I declined, but they stayed with me until I had called my husband and they were convinced that I really was alright.

Strange. Strange day. As I sat there catching my breath and recovering I scanned emails from my phone. A friend of mine had just heard that her brother-in-law had committed suicide. Crazy day. Sitting there in the dirt I was grateful for my own life, even if it was a little complicated with finances, asthma and snakes.

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