A Running Story

It was the most rare of days: cool and clear, with hardly a breeze, and it occurred to me while driving home from work that this would be a perfect day to ditch the usual treadmill workout and go for a run outdoors. I figured I could easily get in five miles before the sun got too low in the sky.

Besides the remarkable weather, I was enticed by something new in the neighborhood. The development was being expanded to the north and to the south, and the streets were paved with virgin asphalt and still closed to traffic. The thought of running down the middle of a street with no danger, other than what I might inflict on myself, was the icing on the cake.

That's not to say that danger was non-existent. My intended route would take me across those beautiful new streets, but it would also entail some running down trails in the pasture that surrounds the neighborhood on three sides. With the recent rains, these trails were a bit overgrown, and it wasn't uncommon to encounter a rattlesnake in those fields. I was counting on the cool weather to keep the snakes dormant and out of my way, and on my senses to alert me otherwise.

I made two circuits around the neighborhood, each about two-and-a-half miles. I wasn't concerned about the off-road portion of the route until I got to the last quarter mile of each circuit, which meandered slightly away from the development and into the pasture to the west. The first time around was uneventful, but the second lap - about twenty minutes later - was a bit different.

As I veered onto the trail, I caught a movement to my left, out in the pasture. It was hard to make out at first, but I finally realized it was a coyote, and he seemed to be stalking something, creeping low and slow through the mesquite, coming toward me. He wasn't close enough for concern, and I'm not afraid of coyotes anyway, although I suppose there's always a chance of rabies. It was actually kind of cool to be running in the company of wildlife.

The sun was getting low in the sky, and the lengthening shadows stretched over the trail and made it difficult to discern details. That's my excuse for coming around a slight bend and finding myself almost on top of a stick-looking thing spanning the entire width of the trail, a stick that I was sure wasn't there during the first lap.

My momentum and surprise caused me to do something that isn't recommended in any rattlesnake avoidance manual: attempt to jump over the reptile. It was apparently as surprised as me, but was also significantly quicker (I thought they slowed down in cool weather!).

You know how they say things slow down in a crisis? Perhaps it's your body's survival instinct kicking in, trying to give you every chance to find a way out of the predicament you've put it in. In any event, time seemed to stop while I hovered in mid-air over a very large and annoyed diamondback rattler, and I saw his head come up toward my right leg while simultaneously sensing a movement from my left. I waited for the pain of the fangs sinking into my calf, but just as the snake's head was about to make contact, a blurred figure came between the rattler and me.

Remember the coyote? He'd been stalking a jackrabbit while I was running down the trail. Said jack had realized his danger at the last second and had bolted away from the coyote, not realizing (or caring) that he was on a virtual collision course with yours truly. And his timing was exquisite, because he flashed by just in time to take the hit from the rattler.

The snake, the rabbit, and I (and, I suppose, the coyote, but he didn't stick around to confirm it) were equally shocked by this turn of events. In fact, the snake apparently wasn't ready to administer the coup de grâce, thinking my leg was the target, and the bunny bounded off unharmed, heartbeat undoubtedly racing but still lagging my own.

I'm sure there are many lessons to be learned from this encounter, not the least of which is that treadmills are really quite nice, now that I think about it.

Some of you have accused me of making stuff up, and I confess that I have not told the truth...not the whole truth, anyway. I apologize for that, and I've revised the end of the story to address the situation. Let's rewind a bit, shall we?

Remember the coyote? He'd been stalking a jackrabbit while I was running down the trail. Said jack had realized his danger at the last second and had bolted away from the coyote, not realizing (or caring) that he was on a virtual collision course with yours truly. And his timing was exquisite, because he flashed by just in time to take the hit from the rattler.

The snake, the rabbit, and I (and, I suppose, the coyote, but he didn't stick around to confirm it) were equally shocked by this turn of events. In fact, the snake apparently wasn't ready to administer the coup de grâce, thinking my leg was the target, and the bunny bounded off unharmed, heartbeat undoubtedly racing but still lagging my own.

I was already winded by the run, and the adrenaline rush from this encounter lasted only a couple of seconds, so I stood a few feet from the now-coiled rattlesnake, trying to catch my breath and figure out the next move. The snake and I locked eyes, neither trusting the other, and the only sounds were my heavy breathing and the rattler's buzzing...and a peculiar mixture of growling and moaning coming from the same direction the jackrabbit had appeared.

I whirled to find that the coyote hadn't left after all. This one was displaying a decidedly non-coyote-like behavior as he sped toward me, yellow eyes seemingly on fire and a disturbing froth flying from his mouth.

If you don't know coyotes, you might be surprised at how fast they are. I've seen one cross a four-lane highway, slinking under the barbed wire fences on both sides, so quickly that I wondered if I'd seen him at all. So I knew instinctively that I had no chance of outrunning this one. I froze, watching him tear toward me, that horrible growling growing louder, drowning out the almost forgotten rattling of the snake behind me.

A rabid coyote isn't clever, but it is focused, and this was my salvation. He had no intention of slowing in his sick rage, so at the last second I dodged to my left as he left the ground in a lunge for my chest. I could hear the snap of jaws flying by, and I whirled again to prepare for another evasive move, however futile it would ultimately prove.

The rattler wasn't going to miss twice, though, and he caught that coyote in mid-air, sinking his fangs into the animal's throat and delivering the full load of venom that he'd prepared earlier. The crazed coyote stumbled as soon as his feet touched the pasture, and he staggered only a few steps before keeling over, free from his misery and madness.

The rattlesnake apparently felt that he'd been sufficiently vindicated, and that I posed no further threat, so he took his leave and slithered back into the pasture, with my full blessing, I might add.

So, there you have it. Saved by a rattlesnake. Life can be funny sometimes, huh?

OK, OK...I know. You got me. That wasn't the way it happened at all. Or, at least, it's not the complete story. I apologize for not be completely transparent with you. They say the third time's a charm. I have no idea what that means, but here's how the story really, truly, actually played out.

Remember the coyote? He'd been stalking a jackrabbit while I was running down the trail. Said jack had realized his danger at the last second and had bolted away from the coyote, not realizing (or caring) that he was on a virtual collision course with yours truly. And his timing was exquisite, because he flashed by just in time to take the hit from the rattler.

The snake, the rabbit, and I (and, I suppose, the coyote, but he didn't stick around to confirm it) were equally shocked by this turn of events. In fact, the snake apparently wasn't ready to administer the coup de grâce, thinking my leg was the target, and the bunny bounded off unharmed, heartbeat undoubtedly racing but still lagging my own.

I was already winded by the run, and the adrenaline rush from this encounter lasted only a couple of seconds, so I stood a few feet from the now-coiled rattlesnake, trying to catch my breath and figure out the next move. The snake and I locked eyes, neither trusting the other, and the only sounds were my heavy breathing and the rattler's buzzing...and a peculiar mixture of growling and moaning coming from the same direction the jackrabbit had appeared.

I whirled to find that the coyote hadn't left after all. This one was displaying a decidedly non-coyote-like behavior as he sped toward me, yellow eyes seemingly on fire and a disturbing froth flying from his mouth.

If you don't know coyotes, you might be surprised at how fast they are. I've seen one cross a four-lane highway, slinking under the barbed wire fences on both sides, so quickly that I wondered if I'd seen him at all. So I knew instinctively that I had no chance of outrunning this one. I froze, watching him tear toward me, that horrible growling growing louder, drowning out the almost forgotten rattling of the snake behind me.

A rabid coyote isn't clever, but it is focused, and this was my salvation. He had no intention of slowing in his sick rage, so at the last second I dodged to my left as he left the ground in a lunge for my chest. I could hear the snap of jaws flying by, and I whirled again to prepare for another evasive move, however futile it would ultimately prove.

The rattler wasn't going to miss twice, though, and he caught that coyote in mid-air, sinking his fangs into the animal's throat and delivering the full load of venom that he'd prepared earlier. The crazed coyote stumbled as soon as his feet touched the pasture, and he staggered only a few steps before keeling over, free from his misery and madness.

The rattlesnake apparently felt that he'd been sufficiently vindicated, and that I posed no further threat, so he took his leave and slithered back into the pasture, with my full blessing, I might add.

So, there you have it. Saved by a rattlesnake. Life can be funny sometimes, huh? Shaking my head in bemusement, I turned around and started walking back to the neighborhood, having experienced enough unbelievable excitement to last a lifetime.

That's when the first zombie appeared. 

2 Comments

And thats why I only run on asphalt! Although dodging a 6000 lb SUV being piloted by a texting Soccer mom can also give you a good scare.

Bring a gun next time.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on October 20, 2012 12:27 PM.

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