Here’s how it went down:
“Stop, stop, STOP,” I hissed at Lisa. She, as per usual, chose to look around instead and assess the situation herself before stopping, so I grabbed her shoulders and stopped her.
“Back up, back up!”
“Oh my god, what?” she asked.
“That,” I pointed ahead — just to the left of the center of the wash we were hiking down, directly in line with Lisa’s path. “There’s a snake.”
Now, it should be stated, that had I had my wits about me, I would have said something much more catchy, something like: “Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking hiking trail!”
But I didn’t. I could barely get the words out.
So there we were, walking down what’s basically a dry river bed with a snake in front of us. It hadn’t moved. Lisa was about 7 feet from it when I stopped her, now we’re about 15 feet back. Supposedly snakes can lunge at a rate of 10 feet per second.
“It’s not moving.”
“Maybe it’s dead.”
“Maybe it’s sleeping?”
“What do we do?”
“We should go back.”
Backtracking meant hiking back up the wash where there was limited visibility and Lisa was convinced a rabid mountain lion would try to kill us. A sign at the trail-head warned there was a ‘recent’ mountain lion sighting and that rabies had been found nearby. (However, it wasn’t so recent that the parks department wasn’t able to knock-out a professional looking signpost.) Lisa had spent the first 2 miles of the hike getting freaked out about mountain lions (which kill about 1 person per year vs. rattlesnakes that kill 5-6). Luckily, I was still plenty scared of snakes to watch where we were walking. If we could get past the snake, or get it to move, we were only about 1.5 miles from the relative safety of our minivan. But it wasn’t moving.
“Can you see it breathing? I don’t think it’s breathing,” I said.
“It’s not moving.”
We tip-toed in closer.
“Its head looks messed up.”
“Yeah, its face is kinda black.”
“Maybe it IS dead.”
“What do we do?”
“Well, I’ll take this rock,” I said picking up a hefty rock. “And you run past it and if it moves, I’ll peg him.”
“What?” Lisa wasn’t sold on my plan. “You want me to go FIRST?”
“Then I’ll run past after.”
“I think it’s a rattlesnake!”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It does looks like one.”
“You’re not supposed to provoke them.”
“Do you want to just go back?” I asked. But I was convinced that if we did, we’d just see another snake and get pinned down and stuck forever.
“Let’s run past.”
“You grab a rock too.” Lisa grabbed a rock. “Aren’t they supposed to be scared of us? This snake isn’t following the rules!”
The trail’s maybe 8 feet wide at this point, all sandy and loose gravel. To the left is a bush, probably hiding a mountain lion. If we ran by on the right, we’d be about 3-4 feet from the snake for just a fraction of a second … and the snake is potentially dead, right? What’s the worry? We can do this, right?
The snake has still not moved.
“Maybe it’s a fake snake,” Lisa suggests.
“Why would it be a fake snake?”
“Should we run?”
“Let’s run. Don’t stop until you’re well past.”
We look back.
It’s still not moving. We have our rocks ready. Lisa snaps a picture.
And then …
HISS!!! RATTLE!!! It awakens — it IS a rattlesnake! It’s a diamondback that was just napping.
“It’s alive!” yells Lisa. We jump 10 more feet down the trail. We look back. It’s not following us.
Goddamn. For the 1.5 miles back, every stick we see is a potential snake. We can’t get out fast enough, but we’re too scared to move too fast because we don’t want to stumble onto another snake. Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! At least we got our first snake encounter out of the way.
“You know,” Lisa says, “if you get bitten, you’re supposed to remain calm — get all meditative and zen-like — so the poison doesn’t spread.”
“Unfortunately, my first instinct when I SEE a snake is to NOT get calm.”
A few minutes later another hiker passes us heading towards the snake.
“There’s a rattlesnake at the next corner,” we tell him. “Where the wash meets the trail.”
He smiles, doesn’t miss a stride. “OK,” he says. Fucking locals.