“You Won’t Believe What I Saw!”
55 INCREDIBLE, TERRIFYING, HILARIOUS THINGS WE’VE ENCOUNTERED ON THE RUN
55 incredble, terrifying, hilarious things we’ve encountered on the run.
IWOULDN’T SAY I HATE snakes like Indiana Jones hates snakes, but I would say I enjoy encountering them on the trail about as much as I like running into someone blasting music from their iPhone speaker. The snake scenario has only happened to me a handful of times, but every time is about as pleasant as remembering the existence of a song called ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ because some stranger decided to play it while hiking. I live in a dry, hilly area, so my nearby running trails are in the foothills, an arid climate that snakes love. If you’re running on a Saturday morning in any season but winter, there’s a good chance you might surprise a snake sunning itself on the trail, which is exactly what happened to me once.
That summer Saturday, I was running with my friend Jayson on the trail. We rolled around a corner into my favourite section, above a tree-lined gorge. I was saying something to Jayson when he interrupted me with a “WHOA!” and stopped in his tracks. Thinking he had rolled his ankle or something, I stopped and turned.
“That snake just lunged at you,” Jayson said, pointing to the coiled-up scales, lying half on the trail.
I must have stepped about 30cm away from it as I ran past obliviously. My heart jumped, then thundered in my chest, similar to the feeling when you just miss being in a car accident by half a second.
I used to be a rock climber almost exclusively, until one day I suddenly became aware of the fact that I could quite easily die on an alpine climb. So I took up trail ultrarunning. I told my friends, “It’s all the pain and suffering of mountaineering, without the risk of death.” Turns out I wasn’t 100 per cent correct in that statement.
Here’s a fun fact: a single vial of some snake antivenoms can cost over R1 000, and sometimes you need 10-15 vials per bite. That’s R15 000.
So it’s in everyone’s best interests to avoid snake bites. Which, statistically, shouldn’t be that hard, although around 7 000 serious snake bites are reported in South Africa each year.
Another fun fact: a recent analysis published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine found that of the 8 000 or so snake bites that occur annually in the US, 92 per cent happen under natural circumstances, which means the victims were unaware of the snake’s presence before they were bitten. Fifty-four per cent of victims encountered the snake while walking or hiking, and 67 per cent of those victims were men.
I stood still, thinking about how disastrous that could have been, as Jayson picked his way through the brush far to the left of the snake, and my heart rate started to slow. I was lucky.
But can you blame the snake? If someone 20 times your size came sprinting through your bedroom on a Saturday morning, you’d probably be a little peeved too.
And yes, you should be wary of snakes. However, if you avoid overgrown trails and watch your step (which will benefit you in all sorts of ways in addition to snake evasion), you should have a much easier time avoiding getting bitten.
I continue to give snakes the respect they deserve as animals that can cause enormous hospital bills at best, and try to avoid them generally by running on frequently maintained trails, higher in the mountains. I’m just trying to stay out of their way, and I hope they’ll stay out of mine.
Also, if the universe is listening and would like some input on what type of animals I prefer to run into on the trail, how about more golden retrievers?
– Brendan Leonard is founder of the blog SemiRad, and has also written for Outside, National Geographic Adventure, and Men’s Journal.