Let’s Talk About Snakes, Shall We

I grew up in Northern Minnesota and had two snake choices to learn about. One was a Garter snake and the other was a small Redbelly snake. Out of those two snakes, I only handled the latter of the two.

Now when I and my two siblings, Cheryl and Vern were small, our parents took us out to Montana to visit my mother’s aunt and uncle on their ranch. While there, my brother goes outside to play only to come in a short time later to report he had seen a snake. Well, all the adults freaked out and went running outside to see the snake but it was gone. We had remained inside at our parents request, wondering what all the ruckus was about. Shortly, they all came back in with nothing to report. Uncle Bill Arbuckle then went over to a shelf and took down a mason jar. Inside of the jar he showed us rattles from rattlesnakes tails, he had collected from snakes he had killed on the ranch.

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Snakey boardwalk

I’m not sure if that is where the fear of snakes developed for me or something else. All I know is that the whole time I’ve been on the trail I have been dreading seeing my first poisonous snake. The first rat snake was huge, but I already knew that I had nothing to fear from that snake.  I kept asking Spirit for information about the copperhead, timber rattlesnake and a regular rattlesnake. Where had she seem them? What did they look like? What did they do? How big were they?  But most importantly, what did she do?  She reacted rather calmly to all my inquiries. Then she would look at me and chuckle. I wasn’t sure I knew how to take that. Somehow I knew I was in for it.

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What me worry

Every day that I hiked alone, I would say to no one in particular, because hello,  I just said I was hiking alone.  “Please don’t let me see a snake today.”  It seemed for a long time that worked. Until I hiked into New Jerse and in one day I would see not one, but four poisonous snakes. So, let’s look at my snakenado day.

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Snake 1:  I was hiking along the trail, minding my own business when I came around a curve in the trail. Out of nowhere,  a snake bolts off the trail, rattling it’s tail as it left. My reaction, jump back, say, “OH SHIT.” Then tell myself for the next half boy to calm down.

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Snake 2:  I was hiking along the trail, minding my own business when I came around a curve in the trail. I was about to head downhill and had to put on the breaks immediately. There laying half on and off the trail was a copperhead snake. His tail half was on the trail. His head was up and facing the woods. After a minute of debate, I quickly moved past on the tail end and I kept moving well out of reach.

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Snake 3: I was hiking along the trail, minding my own business when I came around a curve in the trail. Oops, I mean I it was 5 :15 pm and I was hiking uphill and I happened to glance up and think, “That’s funny. Look at that black stick moving down the middle of the trail.” SAY, WHAT! I look again and a rattlesnake is coming downhill, towards me, in the middle of the trail. Breaks,  put on the breaks. I toss a pebble to the side of it and it stops and looks. I start tapping my hiking poles together trying to get it to go off trail. No luck. The snake continues it’s downhill path towards me. Now thereare two trees in the path between I and that snake. So I get closer to the trees and I wait. As the snake gets nearer it veers to the outside of the left side tree. As the snake’s head disappears behind the tree,  I move forward. We pass each other with the tree between us. It is then that I take a picture as it heads into the bushes.

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Snake 4: It is now 5:30 pm. I locate a camping area just past the fire tower, just like the guide book stated for a change. The path is downhill and rather bushy. Right away I think snakes. I move quickly through to the camping area. There is long grass that has been flattened by multiple tenting. I chose a flat spot and set up my tent. I find my bear food rope and throw that over a tree branch. Then I stand in one place for a minute or two trying to decide what to do next.

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Snake bed

Cook or set up gear in my tent. I hear hikers talking up above and so I go up because I’m not sure I like my lonely, kind of creepy, camp site. A young hiking couple is up near the tower at a picnic table. I join them and try to talk them into staying the night. They are set on going .6 miles to the next camping are with water. I have stopped short of that camp because a previous thru-hiker told me locals might harass hikers who are camped there. We also talk about snakes and how the couple hasn’t seen a rattlesnake yet. I decide to go cook supper as they go and check out the fire tower.

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I walk back down to my camp and stop and stand at the corner of my tent checking my cell phone for messages from home. I’m not sure what draws my attention, whether it was movement or sound. I look down and behind my right foot and it takes me a few seconds to realize, I have the biggest rattlesnake I have ever seen right behind my foot with its head drawn back. I quickly move forward and to the side. As I do, the snake continues it’s path along the side of my tent and then past me. In my calmest voice ever, I call up the hill to the couple.  ” Hey, are you done looking at the tower? There’s a rattlesnake down here if you want to see one.” They come and join me and film the snake as it heads across the camping area. When it has left, they tell me that if I wasn’t too come with them, they will wait until I am all packed up. Needless to say, I didn’t waste any time in taking down my tent or bear food rope and we were on our way.

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Once at the new camp I sent a picture of the snake I had just had in camp. My mother called right away. She asked, “How much longer will you be in Pennsylvania?” I said, “I’m not in Pennsylvania, I’m in New Jersey.”

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Pennsylvania where shoes finish dying

She then asks, “Well then, how much longer will you be in New Jersey.” I now know what she is getting at, so I just tell her. “Mom, there are rattlesnakes until New Hampshire.” There is a long pause as that sinks in and then she says “Well, be careful.” I reassure her I will and the conversation ends.

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Back on the trail

So, I will be careful and watch for snakes. I’m glad I’m not one of those that carry a machete. There would be a lot of chopped up snakes behind me in the trail. Not because I want to kill them. It would just be my knee jerk reaction. I have hiked through areas where the rattlesnake is close to being on the endangered species list. I know that as long as they don’t rattle they’re not mad.  Just use caution at all times and just be glad they have a warning signal to let you know your too close.  Goodbye New Jersey. Hello New York!

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By Sookie, I will miss you

I leave you with an interesting fact to look up about sharks attacks in New Jersey.  I couldn’t resist since it is summer and the story helped create the movie JAWS.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150702-shark-attack-jersey-shore-1916-great-white/

And for my Minnesota friends and family.

http://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/4077138-another-alligator-captured-2nd-alligator-found-lakes-area?utm_content=bufferb5a08&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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OH, THE HUMIDITY!

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Day rolls into night, rolls into day, and my skin remains the same throughout.  Just one big sticky mess. I can wipe down with a wet one or jump in a creek it won’t matter, within minutes of any type of movement I’m a sticky mess. I asked local people “How do you get used to the humidity?”  Their response is, “You don’t.” While in Port Clinton, I stopped in at the barbershop. No no, not you remove my beard but to charge my phone, have a cup of coffee, and get assistance to travel to and from Port Clinton to Hamburg.

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As I opened the door, besides being greeted by the owner Frank and his father Rocco with the mighty hello, I was greeted with a blast of cold air that was so cold I thought I had entered a frozen food locker. Not a barber shop. Within minutes I settled in with a cup of coffee and bakery, a local guy named Steve had brought in.  Rocco was in the corner fanning himself with a piece of newspaper and complaining it was still too warm.

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So Frank went to the window where a fan sat and turned it on. I hated to go back out in the weather as this particular morning had started with a light mist  but I had resuppling to finish.

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By noon I finally had a total resupply thanks to Steve. It had stopped raining and I had no more reason to delay. I swung up my pack, picked up my poles and headed out the door. My next stop would be near PA 309 in 2 days. That’s where last year fellow hiker Crackers was picking me up for some trail magic.  I charged up the multiple switchbacks I thought I would never get to the top. Around 2 p.m. I was sticky from head to toe because of the humidity and the sweat of hiking. As if I wasn’t wet enough, I heard thunder in the distance and within seconds I was hiking in a downpour. This time though, I didn’t pull out any rain gear.  Why should I, it is just like wearing a sauna suit. Yes, that rain gear becomes an instant sweatbox. When my shirt, shorts, and now it looked like my boots were totally drenched. I started to regret my idea of no rain gear. I tried to find the ever-present canopy of leaves to protect me but of course it was  non-existant when I needed it.

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Instead, I loosen my backpack rain fly and tried to pull it up in over my head and I hunched as far over my feet as possible to keep as much rain from filling my boots. When the rain stopped, I was drenched.  My boots weren’t completely wet, but would become that way within minutes of hiking through puddles and streams in the trail. Wet feet equals blisters and right now I have 10 throbbing, painful blisters.

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So, back to the topic of  humidity. It is ever-present.  At night all clothing, my sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner are damp. My skin is sticky and it is hard to get comfortable eniugh to fall asleep. If it is material, it will be damp. If it is a rock in the trail and the sun shines on it, it looks damp. I am constantly trying to wipe the fog off my glasses and my camera lens. Yes, it is moisture in the air.  Damp  damp, damp, damp. I think the dampness could actually drive a person mad.  I’m so grateful I live where there is, at the most, maybe 14 days of humid weather each year. For any northern Minnesotan, all we have to do is jump into one of our 10,000 lakes. But don’t get any ideas of moving North. Everyone who lives in our state will tell you, we also have 9 months of winter.  Our winters aren’t for the faint of heart. I’m talking sixty below zero temps. I often have wondered why none of my Finnish ancestors, when they emigrated from Finland, didn’t go to a slightly warmer climate when they had the chance.I think I found that reason, it’s called humidity. KIITOS!

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Hiker Hunger…It’s For Real

A funny thing starts happening on the trail where food is concerned. Every hiker goes through it at one point or another. It is called, hiker hunger. What is it you ask? Well, for me it first started in the middle of the night. I had eaten breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, second lunch and supper. Seems adequate to us hikers, and for those not hiking, it may seem excessive. That M&M we first dropped on the trail and didn’t pick up, is now found along the trail dropped by another hiker, and we pick it up and easy it. It seems that all day long we think of food. At night we dream of food. In camp we have fantasies about food we will eat once we get to town. If we have left over food on the trail, (we usually don’t) someone is sure to consume whatever it is when offered.

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Don't eat me

One evening we were at Over-Mountain Shelter, a boy scout troop had passed us and were set up when we arrived. We were in the process of coming when a young scout walked up to his fellow about friends with a whole package of oreos. You would have thought he had gold the way we were acting. Whatever Works, Lambo and myself couldn’t stop looking at that package. Finally, I got my courage up and asked the about who owned the cookies and if they would be willing to sell 3 cookies for fifty cents a piece. He didn’t even hesitate in telling me, “No, I’m going to need them after supper.” The 3 of us were very disappointed. It was about ten minute later when the scout came to me and opened his package up and told me, “You can have just one.” He then did the same to Lambo and Whatever Works. I asked him if he wanted the $1.50, but he said, “No, that’s okay.” Lambo ate his right away. Whatever Works was shortly after and I saved mine for after supper. Those were the best cookies we ever had.

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Whatever Works & Lambo trying to decide about where to have lunch
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Lambo and Whatever Works contemplating the menu in Bland

We can hardly wait to get to a town to gorge ourselves with real food. Not that our trail food is fake, it’s just not that appealing when you eat the same thing for months on end. I have been eating oatmeal every morning for breakfast. I even added it to my beans and rice the other night because I had put to much water and didn’t want to waste fuel boiling it out. Then I have tuna or peanut butter every lunch. I’m really getting tired of the lunches. Supper had a little bit more variety, but not much. I eat soups that I doctor up with chicken and veggies, spaghetti I add veggies also, and last but not least beans and rice. Sometimes, I also have mashed potatoes that I’ve added veggies to. You get the picture.

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So, when I get to town I just want to gorge myself with fresh veggies, fruit and meat.  Oh and also a great cup of coffee.

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BLTA Wrap
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At the Anvil on Harper's Ferry
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And coffee please

The problem with this is that my stomach isn’t used to this type of diet and can’t always handle it. I know I’m in trouble when the old stomach starts to grumble and bubble.  Have you ever tried to unsnap a backpack waist belt, chest strap, throw off the pack, open the pack, search for the tp you thought was right at the top and discovered it wasn’t, and then hi-tail it to the woods all before the shit hits the fan. It isn’t a pleasant experience. Trust me, it’s happened twice.

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I now watch what I eat in town. Plus I have a good supply of Imodium and anti- diarrhea tablets close at hand. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

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MoMo waiting on us for a new trick