How to Ruin a Trail

05.30.2018 | 10:24 am

Every bike ride has a story in it, and a story worth telling. Further, every big bike ride has either a big story worth telling, or many smaller stories worth telling.

And one of the best things about those big rides is finding out what stories they’re going to tell you.

Last Saturday, The Hammer and I went on our weekly big ride — our “Crusher in the Tushar” simulator ride, because it has dirt, road, a similar distance as the Crusher, and similar elevation — you can see a little video showing the path here.

The only big story was that it was a really nice, long ride, and The Hammer and I both agree that thanks to our new full-suspension Specialized Epics, hardtails are pretty much ruined for us forever. (And since I persuaded The Hammer to ride her hardtail last Saturday while I rode my full-suspension bike, that’s probably a story I’ll need to tell at some point.)

There were, however, several small, interesting events worth telling. And one small event that pretty much freaked us out and ruined one of our favorite trails for us forever.

The De-Bonkification of The Hammer
First off, I should explain that this moment happened toward the very end of our long ride. We had ridden about 70 of the 76 miles and climbed about 9700 feet of the 10,000 feet we’d be climbing.

And the Hammer had bonked.

It was pretty spectacular, really, because no more than an hour ago she had been proposing an extension to our ride — an extra segment of climby singletrack that would mean at least an additional hour of riding.

She was no longer making such proposals, for which I was grateful.

Anyway, we were climbing — slowly and tiredly — the last couple miles of the Canyon Hollow trail in Corner Canyon. The Hammer was in front. I was a foot or two behind her. We were talking about sandwiches and ice cream, I’m pretty sure.

And that’s when the rattlesnake rattled its warning at us.

Yes. That’s not a clever metaphor. It was a rattlesnake. On one of our favorite trails. And it was not OK with the fact that The Hammer was at that moment riding six inches to its right.

The Hammer started pointing frantically to her left and yelling, “I hear a snake, I hear a rattlesnake!”

I didn’t exactly need the warning, because as soon as I heard the snake I looked to where the sound came from and, yep, there it was. About two feet long, in full view, on the left edge of the trail.

I stopped instantly. The Hammer stopped too, about five feet ahead of me.

The snake moved onto the trail.

“Hon, I’m just going to let this snake get off the trail in its own time, OK?” I said. “We’re not in any hurry.”

“That’s fine!” The Hammer said, an octave higher than usual.

The snake hung out in the middle of the trail for ten seconds or so, then went back off the left side of the trail and disappeared into the scrub oak.

The Hammer suddenly had all the energy she could ever want and virtually flew up to the top of the climb.

Yesterday, we went on a different mountain bike ride — a much shorter one — which took us up on the Canyon Hollow trail. The whole way up, I was scanning up ahead — left, right, left, right — looking for rattlers.

Every stick, every exposed root, was at least briefly a rattlesnake to my eyes.

“I don’t like this trail anymore,” I told The Hammer, feeling a little foolish since we have ridden this incredibly beautiful and benign trail hundreds of times and have never seen anything menacing or scary before.

“Me either,” she replied.

And that’s why I love her.

The Question
So I have a question. A simple, honest question that probably has a simple answer. Take a minute and answer in the comments if you would.

What would you have done in this circumstance if you had been bitten?

And that circumstance is: There are two of you, you’re on singletrack probably about three miles from a road. Your car is nowhere near. You do have a phone and service.

I’m of course interested in wisdom from people who know what they’re doing for this kind of thing. First responder types and survivalists who frequently walk about town with serrated blades clenched in their teeth and whatnot.

But I’m even more interested in the honest responses from people who — like me, like The Hammer — aren’t really sure how you would have dealt with it.

And also: would you be wigged out by that trail? For how long?


  1. Comment by Mike | 05.30.2018 | 10:47 am

    I have no idea. I worry about this too. I feel like if I could roll downhill to a trailhead, I’d do that, but having your blood pumping (which it already would be) is supposed to be a bad thing when you’ve been bitten. Bottom line is you need to get to someone who has antivenin as quickly as possible, no? I’m curious about what the experts have to say as well.

  2. Comment by Bad Dad | 05.30.2018 | 10:58 am

    If you are a 3 mile descent from the road, get there and call for help. You can get out on a bike faster than they can get in.

    If you’re a 3 mile single track climb, call for help.

    In addition to speed, you’re wanting to slow your heart rate (and hence the distribution of the venom).

    As far as the trail, don’t worry about it. That snake does not want to bite you. It can’t eat and it knows that. So as long as you don’t mess with it you’re likely to be ok. Living down here in the Sonoran, if I didn’t ride trails with rattlers (yes Dave Houston, even the real and actual rattlers vs the bull snakes) i would never ride.

    I know a couple of ER docs here. They say the vast majority of rattler bites are on the hands and forearms. There’s only one way that happens…

  3. Comment by Allison | 05.30.2018 | 11:03 am

    According to the internet, 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten each year. Five of them die. So those are not terrible odds. The bite will be painful. We’ve seen several on our hiking trails, one moved off the trail. One assumed a strike position, so we turned around and went back down the hill. I have been told that if they’re laying across a downhill section just to aim for the middle of the snake with the bike and lift up your feet. They’re not stalking you, they know you’re too big to eat. All you can do is cede the territory to them. The usual things apply, don’t put hands or feet in places unless you can see what’s in there and don’t tease the snakes. They’re everywhere, on every trail. Just because you have not seen them doesn’t mean they’re not just off the trail.

    I am now picturing you quoting similar statistics to David as he collapses on the floor due to a bee sting. – FC

  4. Comment by Beerbiker | 05.30.2018 | 12:43 pm

    A few years ago whilst hiking in the Bisti Badlands NM I came within a nanosecond of planting my foot 6″ from a well pissed rattler. It was windy & there was water running but I just heard the rattle as I was about to plant my boot & stopped in the nick of time.
    Since that day we’ve talked a lot about the incident & what could of happened. We knew we were 20+ mins from the car & 45 mins from Farmington hospital (no cellphone then) so for us it would have been a gentle calm hike followed by a mad drive & hopefully a full recovery.
    As previously said the rattle is just the little fella saying ‘Yo Fatty, Hammer I’m here please don’t run me over’ so it would never put me off that trail, I’d even hope to meet him again & say hello. Now if it had been a Bear I’d probably not go within 20 miles of that trail again ever !

  5. Comment by fastMB | 05.30.2018 | 3:41 pm


    i have bunnyhopped a coiled up snake on the mill creek trail just above aptly named rattle snake gulch. put a pedal stroke down towards another snake head behind the U. both super local absolute favorite SLC trails when i lived there. now near folsom they always sun them selves on the bike paths. i am just glad they make noise and don’t hit me from behind like a car would. at least being attentive they can be treated like a trail obstacle. i vote for being aware of the likelihood of an attack. keep riding the same trails and staying safe.

    Bunnyhopping a rattler! You would be a Youtube superstar if you’d caught that on camera. – FC

  6. Comment by Allison | 05.30.2018 | 7:25 pm

    Who is David? Does he have a bee allergy?

    I hear he makes great cookies for people who donate a bike to WBR via his fundraising page. – FC

  7. Comment by Chubby Elvis | 05.30.2018 | 7:51 pm

    Did you hear about the kayaker in South Carolina who got bitten last week because he picked up a swimming rattlesnake out of the water? Claimed he thought it was a small alligator. Unfortunately, this week all my home trails are ruined, as Alberto has dropped so many inches of rain in WNC. I am looking forward to the trails becoming like new, once they are no longer rivers.

  8. Comment by Nurse Betsy | 05.30.2018 | 10:18 pm

    I would pack a snake bite kit, and some rocks. Rattlesnakes go towards sounds, by throwing the rocks off the trail to move the snake along. BTW glad to have you back!

  9. Comment by Alan Schenkel | 05.31.2018 | 12:15 am

    Snake bite kits are useless Betsy. Just calmly go into ER. And no, they won’t go towards sounds.

    Snakes are like bees and wasps. Don’t intentionally piss ‘em off, don’t kill them, and be calm about the aftermath if you do.

    Edited for niceness. – FC

  10. Comment by Dave T | 05.31.2018 | 9:51 am

    Well in practice I would try and keep my heart low by remaining calm and have my riding partner get help. In reality I would likely panic and ride like a mad person towards the trail head. I came across this little guy yesterday and I’m not sure I will be able to enjoy this trail as much ever again.

  11. Comment by Tominalbany | 05.31.2018 | 10:55 am

    My only experience with a rattler was actually cool – but, for one good reason. We were warned. A friend and I were riding on a new trail where we knew there could be rattle snakes – uncommon in upstate NY. A hiker came out of a small stand of woods near the top of a hill and let us know there was one off the right side of the trail. So, as we entered the woods, we dismounted and put the bicycles between ourselves and the snake. It didn’t’ take long to hear the rattle. We gave it wide berth and walked right on by. As soon as we were about ten feet past, it stopped rattling.

    @Alan S. Like I tell my kids, it goes better for the spider if I find them rather than if they surprise me.

  12. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 05.31.2018 | 12:12 pm

    So after taking a refresher on my Wilderness EMT cert just last week….

    If you are not a 18-25 year old male, the odds of you getting bitten are supper low. Humm. Wonder why that is.

    Just get to ER with as little drama as you can. Medical world is even split on giving “antivenom” at this point.

  13. Comment by Tim | 05.31.2018 | 12:55 pm

    I am not an expert at all. I would ride to the rode and call for help. Having been bitten, being calm would not be possible. Getting closer to help to me would outweigh blood flow.

  14. Comment by Andrei Malyuchik | 05.31.2018 | 3:52 pm

    I’ve run into many rattlers in Ferguson Canyon and by the Hogle Zoo. Never crossed my mind to be scared of them. Just don’t mess with it, try your best to stay out of its reach (which is literally only a couple of feet maximum snakes cannot jump) and go about your business.

    Moose on the trail make me much much more nervous. They can chase you…

  15. Comment by Andrei Malyuchik | 05.31.2018 | 3:54 pm

    Alta View hospital is pretty close to Corner Canyon. If nothing else ambulance would make it to Draper in enough time to save you.

  16. Comment by Ed | 06.1.2018 | 7:14 am

    Just don’t read the article in the June ‘18 issue of Outside Magazine! One of their writers relays his snake bike experience. Granted, this sounds like a really unique event with regard to where the snake bit him and how quickly it spread through his body.

    It made me really think about riding on the trails in Austin, especially given all the rattler sightings lately!

    I always get a little freaked out after seeing one, but I just go back to what a lot of people have said and realize the chances are small (knocking on wood).

    Get out of danger, stay calm, keep the affected area lower than the heart and call for help.

    Happy riding!

  17. Comment by Grant | 06.3.2018 | 2:14 am

    Depends on where you are and what access is like, but the first aid for a snake bite is compression bandage and immobilisation. You then have to decide if the ambos can get to you, or if you will have to get to them.

    I’ve seen plenty of snakes out on the trails (but that is fairly common here in Aus), and I’m yet to see a snake that actually wants to be anywhere near you. You would have to be pretty damn unlucky to get bitten – keep a distance and let them get of the trail in their own time. Snakes respond to vibration/sound, so bikes can be a bit of a surprise for them.

    When mountain biking in Tasmania late last year I probably saw more snakes in a week than I have in years. Most of them were Eastern Brown snakes too – 2nd most venomous snake in the world EEEEP! One guy was laying in the sun across the track, we stopped and waited about 15 minutes for him to decide to get out of the way.

  18. Comment by JILL HOMER | 06.3.2018 | 11:59 pm

    Last year I ran over a rattler with my bike. It was unintentional. I was descending around a sharp corner on a dirt road and the snake was stretched across half of the road. It was enormous. My choices were to either slam on the brakes and likely still hit the snake, or swerve to aim for the tale end. Took the latter option and didn’t look back. I hope the innocent snake survived!

  19. Comment by Jill | 06.3.2018 | 11:59 pm

    Last year I ran over a rattler with my bike. It was unintentional. I was descending around a sharp corner on a dirt road and the snake was stretched across half of the road. It was enormous. My choices were to either slam on the brakes and likely still hit the snake, or swerve to aim for the tale end. Took the latter option and didn’t look back. I hope the innocent snake survived!

  20. Comment by Brian C | 06.4.2018 | 3:09 pm

    - There was once a rattlesnake on the climb to Little Badly – past the Alter – That section still wigs me out. Mostly because I was almost right on top of it before I saw it – a baby rattler perfect camouflaged on the trail.

    - I once saw a bear on the trail in AF Canyon climbing back to the summit parking lot on Deer Creek South Fork. The bear turned and ran as soon as he saw me. Every time I ride that section I imagine the bear is coming back with his buddies to make up for being scared of me.

    Short answer: you’ll never fully get over it. It’s not the full trail though – just in the section you saw the snake.

    As far as the bite – I’m sure you’ve heard of this experience:

    My buddy and I were riding and he got bit by a rattlesnake right on his snipe.

    Fortunately we were in cell range and I called 911 who gave me the number for poison control.

    I told the operator that we were several miles from civilization and asked the operator what to do.

    She said that I had to suck the poison out immediately to save his life.

    My friend asked frantically: What did they say.

    My answer: Sorry man, they said you are gonna die.

  21. Comment by Aussie kev | 06.4.2018 | 5:30 pm

    always carry an elasticated bandage (2 inch) and youtube how to wrap it round the bite.

  22. Comment by Rob Franklin | 06.5.2018 | 8:58 am

    Here in Dallas & Fort Worth we’re lucky to have a lot of trails nearby. Its common to see copperheads, and sometimes rattlers, in the summer. I’m only aware of one rider who’s been bitten; he was bit in the hand after trying to pick up a baby rattler.

    Snakes we see are usually stretched out across the trail sunning. Stretched snakes can’t strike; it’s the coiled ones in the brush at the side you have to watch out for. You won’t even know those are there unless you stop and put a foot down off the trail.

  23. Comment by ac | 06.5.2018 | 8:32 pm

    Compression bandage technique and keeping the victim both calm and still is so effective (over multiple hours) that snake bite victims can sometimes think perhaps they haven’t been bitten. Those that remove the bandage then very quickly (matter of minutes, and sometimes tragically) find out for sure. :-(

    What to do.
    - Only move the victim if absolutely required for victim or group safety.
    - Assuming you have been bitten on a limb (arm/leg), or if you think you have been bitten, then firmly (but >not< so super-tight to cut off blood flow!) bandage the limb. Start at bite, wrap up towards the torso, then back down to and past the bite. So it's wrapped about even distance both sides of the bite. You can use a second bandage to extend or supplement bandaging coverage.
    - DO mark the outside of bandaging to show the place of the bite. This will allow medics to cut access to the bite without having to remove the bandaging.
    - Immobilise the limb. Such as by using another bandage to tie the limb to a stick, or to another part of the victim's body.
    - Keep victim still and calm, and wait for paramedics to come to you. (Only move victim if you can do so without the victim's assistance, or if it is absolutely necessary for paramedic access.)

    - DO NOT try to chase, catch, or kill the snake. It's a good way to antagonise the snake and get someone else bitten too!
    - DO NOT cut, bleed, or try to suck venom from a bite. These methods don't work.
    - DO NOT apply a tourniquet, or do anything that cuts off blood supply to the limb. (limb will be permanently damaged without adequate blood supply)

    A. (another Aussie)

    [Apparently Australia has 9 of the 10 most venomous species of land snakes in the world. Despite that very few people actually get bitten, and when treated properly and early very, very, very few people die from snake bites.
    You're much, much more likely to be killed or injured while driving in your car. Fear of snakes is vastly over-proportional to the risk of being bitten. Fear of car crashes is low because we've become used to the risk, or de-sensitised to it. We drive 'every day' (usually) without any crash event, and we perceive we are in a position of control and (incorrectly) that it allows us to alter the riskiness.]

  24. Comment by Bradley D Gay | 06.8.2018 | 11:22 am

    Long article in the last Outside magazine i picked up about a guy who got nailed in an artery by a rattle snake and ended up nearly loosing his leg – after being airlifted out. Scary stuff.


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