When you announce to friends you’re backpacking the Appalachian Trail the first response is: “What about bears and snakes?” When and how this became a worry for hikers and backpackers is a riddle. But, if snakes were a significant risk along the Appalachian Trail I never would have hiked it, seeing that my first encounter with reptiles was unsettling.
While hiking the Uwharrie National Forest on a clear April Sunday I bushwhacked off-trail to explore. Using compass bearings I reached a squat rocky outcrop and poked around a bit. I sat, snacked on a granola bar and drank some water. Then I stood up. Three feet to the right of where I stood lay a rattlesnake. Adding to the joy, a copperhead lay a foot further on. Though my comprehension of snakes was limited I knew one thing; when copperheads and rattlesnakes are found together it means you may be at or near a den – which suggests many snakes.
Adrenaline punched me in my stomach as I charged down the slope. I struck the earth in front of me with my hiking staff and, finally reaching the trail. My imagination got the better of me as I sped down the trail the way I came, making incredible noise and beating every bush and fallen log to alert snakes of my presence. I got back to my car trembling and sweating, and drove home. Driving down the two-way parkway I saw a long black thread squirm across the blacktop. It was a huge blacksnake. Adrenaline spike two! Getting home I “came down” from the experience, and was doing nicely a few hours. Until I switched on the television. Hoping entertainment would be an agreeable diversion, I tuned in a science fiction television series which was airing its pilot episode. The show was “V”. At the conclusion of the episode, some valiant soul tore away the human skin of an invading alien face only to find underneath…a reptile! That sealed the deal. I don’t think I slept that night.
When the first fear subsided, I began to do what I always do when I’m faced with a situation I’m interested or unversed about. I started reading. By the end of that year I knew enough about snakes to nearly be an amateur herpetologist. And I had answer to the question: “What about snakes?”