Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pocono Serpent Quest

One hair-raising incident stood out during my otherwise relaxing vacation week in the Poconos.

The weather was nice most of the week & I was outside as much as possible, sitting on the deck, kayaking, lounging or swimming in the lake.

Two days out of the week my brother-in-law & I went hiking trails along the Lehigh River Gorge in the mountains. We both really enjoy the outdoors and especially a long nature trek.

The first trip was on Tuesday & it was overcast when we started. It wasn't supposed to rain till midnight, but halfway into the hike I saw lightning over a distant mountain & thought "that's not good." We picked up the pace as it started to rain & thunder on us and rushed the couple miles back up & down the mountains to get back to his truck, soaked & exhausted. We felt a little better after a few beers at the local pub before heading home.

The second trip we took to hike the trails we previously missed was on Thursday. The weather was much nicer & we had a more relaxed pace. As we hiked Greg & I were discussing deep philosophical issues, religious ideas, & scientific theories. However, Nature soon gave a reality check to our high-minded discussions.

As we walked one of the more traveled trails, I caught a flicker out of the corner of my eye & jumped back. Along the side of the trail was a 5ft long black rat snake sprawled out in the leaves. It took me by surprise, but we weren't too worried about it. I took a few pictures & we were on our way.

Even this unique serpentine encounter couldn't prepare me for what we saw next.

As we headed down to the level of a trail along a creek, the path got narrow & overgrown probably due to a lack of use. I was walking along the foot-wide path when I heard Greg yell from behind me. I turned to see him staring open-mouthed at a huge snake with a diamond pattern along its curled-up body on the edge of the trail. He exclaimed "That's a rattlesnake!!!"

I knew it was a rattlesnake, too, but I couldn't believe it was right there in front of me. My mind was pretty much in alarm mode at that point, but later I shuddered to think that I had walked right next to it without seeing it & could've easily STEPPED on it, while wearing just sneakers & shorts.

Greg kept his distance about 10 ft up the trail from where we came, but I had unknowingly walked by this dangerous creature already- so it was between us- & one of us had to cross its path!

Having already cheated death, I decided to at least get photos of it & zoomed in on my camera while holding it out as far as possible so I could stay outside its striking range. After taking a couple pics, I turned my camera to get a vertical shot when I guess it had enough. We heard a loud rattle as the snake straightened out instantly & shot into the brush along the trail, directly away from me, thankfully!

At this point, I leaped back up the trail toward Greg & we sprinted about 100 ft up the trail. We were both pouring with sweat & had our adrenaline pumping. It left us totally awestruck at the encounter, and we were willing to completely backtrack up the mountain to avoid going in that direction again. That dreadful rattle triggered the most primal flight mechanisms possible. As Greg observed, we instantly turned from hiking philosophers to mindless panicking monkeys.

The rest of hike was totally nerve-wracking. Every step seemed like a potential hiding spot for a well-camouflaged rattler. I found a walking stick and tapped it along the rest of the trail like a blind man till we got to the truck.

Later that night, by sheer coincidence, an epsiode of "I Was Bitten" was on TV that recreated (what else?) rattlesnake encounters. I started to feel like I was receiving signs from Kukulkan the Feathered Serpent or some other crazy serpent power.

Although according to the Pennsylvania State Park website, nobody has died from a timber rattlesnake bite in the state for 25 years, the situation is still unsettling to think about.

Like all things in life, though, the most important thing is that it makes for a great story!

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