After an unusually wet winter, our mountain bike trails are in danger of being obliterated by grass and weeds. There are places where a cyclist can disappear entirely in weeds five feet tall. By this time of year, everything is going to seed and every kind of fox-tail, corkscrew seed, and thistle, claws at your legs as you pedal through on trails you have to simply believe are there when you can’t really see them. To add an element of suspense to the ordeal, snakes are active and invisible in the brush.
Sally and I made our way up the wash trails for several miles before we came to the realization that it really wasn’t any fun and decided to head for the Crafton Hills Conservancy trails which are cleared of brush by energetic, civic-minded folks. We were grinding our way up the trail we call Escalator, when I spotted a nice sized Diamond Back rattle snake, business end in the middle of the trail, about three feet ahead of my front tire.
Luckily, Sally was several feet behind me so I was able to stop abruptly without having her pile into me. Before I could back away, the alert creature spotted me and took a defensive stance (that would be coiled up) and rattled a stern warning. I backed away, still astraddle my bike.
Intellectually, I am not afraid of snakes. Respectful? Absolutely, but not consciously terrified. But evidently, the non-verbal part of my brain operates on a more instinctual level because I became aware of the hair on my arms standing on end like a frightened cat. We waited patiently for the snake to calm down and move on which he did within a minute or two. We watched his progress up the hill until it was safe to proceed and then realized that our trail switch backed directly across the path the snake had taken. The thought did lend wings to our pedals.
We descended the ever-exciting Motorcycle Trail, on which there was plenty of brush (it’s not a sanctioned trail) and a dearth of traction. Thankfully, it’s sufficiently steep to allow enough speed to not see any snakes that we may run over. It’s also deeply rutted which makes it riveting enough to keep one’s eyes engaged on the trail. We debated, at the top of Joint Point North whether or not to attempt the wickedly steep descent in the overgrown weeds. Finally, Sally said she would walk down to the point of no return to assess how treacherous it would be. I said the heck with that, I’m not WALKING down anything. I knew if we rode down the first fifty yards, we would ride the whole thing…and, of course, we did.
Sally led the way, picking up speed uncontrollably on the hard, dry, trail and I attempted to follow her at a more controlled pace. When my back wheel began to pass the front I realized that maybe control was overrated. By this time my bike had left the trail and was headed across country, straight down, through knee high grass, rocks, and hopefully, no snakes. Naught to be done but hang on and try to steer a course back to the trail. A rut appeared between me and my goal, forcing me to continue to boldly go where no bike had gone before. I glimpsed Sally below, off the bike in the tall weeds, before narrowing my focus to the trail which had miraculously rejoined my path.
When I joined her at the bottom of the hill, she explained that she had caught her shorts on the back of her seat and couldn’t get back to her center of gravity when the hill leveled out. Note to the uninitiated: When going down something extreme, it’s a good idea to get behind the seat to keep your center of gravity over the cranks rather than over the bars, as nobody likes to actually be thrown over the front of the bike.
Sometimes when we ride this trail, we compliment ourselves on our skill and courage. Today we were grateful for simple luck.