– Double Digits With a Pack (Sam Merrill Trail, Altadena, CA) –
Back in 2010 I trained on Sam Merrill because it was the final stretch of the Angeles Crest 100-miler. I figured I ought to be well-acquainted with its long, unforgiving switchbacks and its steep, gravely zigs and zags that eventually dumped runners onto Lake Avenue, one mile from the finish at Loma Alta.
But on race day, I never made it this far. No surprise, because I was cursed. By a rattlesnake.
On one of those training runs I came to a skidding halt after a blind curve. The narrow single track was blocked by a fat rattler, already coiled up defensively and smelling the air with its lashing black tongue. Though I had stopped, my heart raced into my throat. I’d been in a sprinting groove on the creosote rollercoaster, hurrying downhill to finish an ass-kicking 20-miler. One for the ages. But I was already late to meet my ride, so slowing down was an inconvenience. I impatiently yelled at the snake but my words did nothing.
Kicking dirt at the creature only irritated it. And the few pebbles I tossed nearby to scare it only exacerbated its snarl. My frustration got the best of me and I started screaming at it. “Get the fuck out of the way, snake! Move off the trail, goddammit!” I threatened to take aim. With a bigger stone. Like, really hurt it.
“Don’t make me do it,” I spat as it hissed and rattled.
When it still didn’t move, I Nolan Ryan’d a fist-sized cobble at the snake, hitting it square on its diamond-printed back. Upon impact, the snake shot straight up into the sky like a slinky bouncing on a trampoline. As it launched upwards, it repeatedly bit the air and shot venom like an erratic sprinkler. When it landed, it rocketed up again, repeating the spectacle over and over until it had nothing left to give flight.
I watched. Horrified.
I knew I’d made a mistake. Knew full well I injured this creature who was merely holding it’s ground. Protecting itself. Full aware that I’d taken advantage of my ability to outsmart, out-move, or at least, out-attack this otherwise peaceful animal. All out of fear.
Was my run really that important? No way.
The snake eventually stopped writhing and limped to the side of the trail, then off of it, leaving behind wet bloody curves. I continued, expecting punishment. Wanting it and getting it. A curse. It would come back to haunt me. It would be why I stop breathing at mile 89 on race day. I’d pay the price, even though I was sorry.
This week I did Sam Merrill again. Even found the spot where I crushed that snake’s spine seven years ago. I hoped the same scenario would play out again so I could do the right thing this time. But it didn’t happen. In fact, though it was a perfect day for snakes, triple digits and dry as a bone, I saw none. Just lizards, a few squirreling things, and a bunch of birds.
Not one snake to apologize to. Not one.
But maybe this brings me full circle, somehow? Some kind of validation of the world’s forgiveness? I’ve made countless peace offerings to snakes, all snakes, including a harmless little green one I encountered near the Eno River in North Carolina. Last year I even had the rattlesnake tattooed on my arm. It says, “Lo Siento,” I’m sorry. My penance. But still, I wonder how one makes peace with bad decisions even when the world’s long forgotten. Because fact remains, I haven’t.
If it’s a choice for me to make, I’ll make it. And move on.
Which is why I’ll take this week’s energetic yet eventless 14 miles on the Sam Merrill as a fine way to begin my “training” for my upcoming walk across America. A weird sort of full circle. But I also know for certain that my momentum isn’t to be taken lightly. That though the rattler (and its cousins) may have forgiven me, it doesn’t forget. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I want to remember who I was so I might appreciate who I am.
Please consider donating to my GoFundMe campaign to Walk Across America! I start in January…thanks a million!