I went for my desert trail run a few days ago—like I do every week—and it was great. I started a little earlier than normal, about 7:30am. It was still cool out, probably in the upper 70s. I didn’t have a lot of energy so I was careful to make sure I lifted my feet over the rocky trail to avoid a toe crunch/forward drive into the rocks and cacti.
As the run progressed, I completed the halfway long incline successfully and looped back towards home. I was running on the left side of the road as normal—facing oncoming mountain bike traffic—just after the 4-mile point (2/3rds of the way) along the old narrow dirt service “road.”
Plodding along on a nice flat quarter-mile section I suddenly hear a freaky loud static-type sound. Somehow in the middle of one stride, I look down five feet ahead to my LEFT—11 o’clock position, and in mid-stride (is that even possible?) I lurch my body four feet to the RIGHT.
It’s in this new location far to the right of where my feet were headed was a half-coiled rattler telling me to give him space, or else.
I have to say, he was VERY polite, giving me ample notice in distance, and rattle volume (that rattle speed must have been why it sounded like static to me). He could feel me coming and let me know he was there, no real (big) surprises for either of us.
I stopped and watched him (and took a few pictures) as he moved off the road and headed down the little slope.
He didn’t want any trouble with me. No trouble to or from me. He was just going about his day and prey.
I’ve run this trail every week—sometimes multiple times per week—for over 20 years. That’s probably around 1000 runs, 6000+ miles (3.1m out, 3.1m back). I’ve seen coyotes, javelinas, one gila monster, and 3 rattlesnakes.
Now that I think about it,
the gila monster and all three snakes were in the same 10th of a mile stretch.
The first snake was 30 feet down from the trail towards the wash.
The second snake scared the shit out of me but it was my fault, three people were taking pictures of the side of the trail (duh), so I gave them space and ran within 4 feet of a snake coiled up on the hill about knee-high. I did a magical lurch movement there too, but I just kept running along with my newly added adrenaline (performance enhanced)
This was the third snake and he was rattling and probably would have bit my foot if I kept on my track if my foot strike just happened to fall next to him.
My wife and I did see one other snake, it was in Sedona on the great Bell Rock trail. She was on her mountain bike ahead of my running and she passed it and yelled back to me as a warning. I didn’t hear here and did a long jumping stride over him laid out 5 feet long across the trail. Something like that, it was kind of a scary blur.
The little guy I just encountered was about 2 ½ feet long.
I know you’ve all had these types of stories—or worse—so this isn’t that interesting, but to me, I learned a few things.
- I learned that even when plodding along you may need to take an abrupt and immediate action to avoid a bad situation. Stay nimble.
- That bad situation may not be out to get you. It may just be a warning to alert you to change for your own good/safety.
- I once went to the rattlesnake “museum” in Albuquerque and they had over a dozen snakes in a room (a small bedroom-sized room) with a bunch of large fish tanks rattling like crazy and I was literally paralyzed and couldn’t pass one of the snakes/tanks to get to the exit door. It took me probably 15 minutes of very, very, very rational thinking to walk past him. They told us he was just “rescued” the other day from someone’s home. – The point, is I wasn’t too freaked out by the little guy on the side of the trail. That may be some significant progress on my part…for now.
- I was wearing my newish Aftershokz/shokz bone-conducting headphones while listening to a podcast. If I had earbuds IN my ears with music, I may not have heard him. Aftershocks are SAFER.
- Earlier in my run at mile 1.5 where I run by bushes I thought about snakes. But since that location is right next to an active parking lot with lots of people the snakes might stay away. Yet half a mile away is where I ran (“into one”)—ran by one. When your guard is up, don’t let it go down totally. Always be aware of the danger and plan accordingly if possible.
I also had other thoughts from this “running” experience.
About two weeks before this run the temperatures started rising into the high 90s. I thought about hiking and running a different cool route but I didn’t because I know the snakes must be out and they’re hungry and grouchy. Now I just try to avoid the trail sections with large rocks (underneath shade spots for snakes, etc).
Another noticeable thought is that there were very few people on Friday morning at 8am. This mattered in two ways, 1) fewer people so existing snakes would try to avoid the trail activity, and 2) fewer people available to help someone in danger.
I was thinking about how timing is everything in life. If I were running 30 seconds to one minute earlier (faster) the snakester would have been in the middle of the road. Maybe in a more dangerous position. Then again, a minute later/slower, or two minutes earlier he could have been farther away from his right-on-the-side of the trail location
In past summers when I full-timed in Phoenix, I often had to do my desert trail runs at lunchtime because of work. I always found it interesting and later cautionary that I may only see one of two people out on the trail (at 105+) when I was running. I had the trail all to myself, but I had only myself to count on in case of emergency. There are now signs posted not to use the trail during the summer daytime. Tourists are frequently overheating on hikes starting in March. I worked my way up from the 70s, to 80s, to 90s, to 100s each month as I ran so I was very acclimatized and quite safe. I had a bail-out point at mile 1.5/4.5.
So in the post, and on this run, I had one of my (almost) worst life encounters and it was fine. One stride before horribleness. You’re working towards something good (health) and BAM, something bad can happen.
I continuously realize that amazing things can happen in life, it’s how to perceive them and how you use those events to make you better.
*** Nothing in this article is to be construed as financial advice. I am not a financial planner, nor do I pretend to be. You should always consult your own professional when seeking advice. This post is not a piece of literary mastery, just a random thought I had.