For starters, it’s important for me to note that Julie and I walk together every mile of the AT. In the first part of the trail, she would always walk in front and I would follow. We realized that either she has gotten faster, or I’ve gotten slower because we now walk about the same pace. Now, we alternate who leads, switching off every couple hours or so. Neither of us seem to particularly like to lead and I usually like to follow so I don’t have to pay much attention to where we’re going or to think about much of the actual act of hiking the trail at all.
With that being said, I must now tell about my snake encounters and how they have lead to my theories about the relationship between snakes and I on the trail along with the conclusion that I in fact should not hike in the lead any more on this trip for the safety of all snakes and my own well being.
As of tonight, Julie and I have walked about 1270 miles total of the AT. In that time, we have had three encounters with snakes on the trail. None have been rattlesnakes thankfully. One was kind of small but could have been a cottonmouth as it was a light brown color and found near a river. One was a big black snake, at least 4 feet long, and the one today was a grayish color with white speckles.
Where it gets interesting is that each of these three snake encounters have all been when I have been leading and in which I have dealt with the brunt of the consequences of each encounter. The first was awhile back and the snake was sunning on the trail. I was grooving along not paying too close attention until I almost stepped on the snake. I jumped back and up reflexively and the snake did the same. It literally popped up off the ground and quickly slithered away. The second encounter was this past Saturday on the one sunny day out of the past 11 days. It was in the morning and I saw the back half of a 4 foot+ black snake, it’s scales glistening in the sun. It didn’t sense me until too late and instead of going away, stopped in its tracks and pretended to be a stick. In order to make sure it didn’t turn on me as I walked by I had to take one of Julie’s hiking poles and actually lift its back half off the trail. At that point it turned and got in a defensive posture. We took a wide path around it to avoid any more confrontation.
The last encounter was today and this one was the most hairy for me. I’m weaving through the rocky terrain that is PA, listening to a lecture on integrals and how to calculate them. Going around a bend as my right foot is coming down, I notice a big snake at the last moment. I couldn’t stop myself and squished right down on it. I naturally tried to jump to avoid it and immediately popped off the ground. Surprisingly, I didn’t squash the snake but instead, sort of bounced off it. It was an elastic-like feeling and the snake retained its shape after my stepping full force down on it. I looked back immediately and made sure Julie didn’t step on it. The snake played the role of the stick again and didn’t move. However, it’s head and front half was in the middle of the trail and Julie wasn’t going to walk right in front of its face so we had to aggravate it a bit in order to get it to move. It got defensive like the last one and Julie had to take the wide path around it so we could continue on. (I must apologize because we don’t have any video or pictures of the snake today. Due to all the rain, our camera has been buried deep in the pack to keep it safe and dry.)
So now on to my theories: First, it may be completely random that I have encountered all the snakes, even though I haven’t lead nearly as much as Julie. It’s like we flipped a coin three times, and heads came up each time. Not too crazy to imagine that. However, I think it has something to do with Julie’s trekking poles. She uses aluminum hiking sticks to help her walk. They provide extra support and are a good help on the steep ups and downs of the trail. They also make more vibrations on the ground and more noise. I don’t know how snakes know when we’re around, but I imagine it has something to do with our vibrations on the ground. Along with Julie making more noise with the poles, I like to think that I have cat like reflexes and am very soft and quiet when I walk. This may be a bit far fetched, but as most of you know, I can sometimes be somewhat self delusional.
The conclusion is that Julie should always lead. Snakes are safer this way. They don’t have to worry about not hearing me and then having to avoid getting stepped on and I don’t have to worry about stepping on them or getting bit as they try to keep me from stepping on them. However, I already presented this case to Julie and it didn’t fly so I guess I’ll have to hope that it was merely random that I keep running into all the snakes.