Snake spotting on the run

Traci and I ran past — and occasionally hurdled — 14 garter snakes on the path into Oubache State Park one  day last week.

This is about the size of most snakes we see -- and unfortunately, some of them, like this one I found on, have had run-ins with humans on wheels.

Our previous snake-spotting record, set one similarly sunny afternoon last fall, was 10.

I can’t stand snakes. Yet this is how I mark Indian Summer these days, by noting the presence of fellow trail users who crave the warmth of its sun-heated pavement.

It’s amazing to me that I’m willing to run this stretch that Traci and I have christened Garter Snake Alley. But it’s wide enough that we needn’t step on the creepy crawlies if we see them in time — no small feat sometimes, given the carpet of leaves.

The buffalo at Ouabache State Park aren't really "wild," since they're fenced in. But the guy I ran past was right up against the fence along the trail, and it was cool to gaze into his giant eyes.

When I think of wildlife encountered on runs, snakes aren’t the first thing that come to mind. My friend Tinea and I were stunned to glimpse half a dozen deer in the middle of Fort Wayne early one summer morning. It was far less surprising — though still awe-inspiring — to exchange stares with a Ouabache buffalo on a recent trail run with my sister.

But snakes are the wildlife I encounter most often, and though they initially struck me as a creepy nuisance, snake spotting has intensified the experience of running on a glorious fall day.

This past week I was feeling sluggish and out-of-sync until those first couple of garters sent me into hyper-alert mode. I found myself focusing on every step. We picked up the pace. I forgot all about my aches and pains.

For the first time in my life, I found myself wishing I could communicate with snakes, to find out if they had any inkling of the potential dangers on this long black river of sun-heated “rock.” Don’t they realize some of them will never make it back, victims of deadly encounters with humans on bikes?

If they do, it’s a risk they’re obviously willing to take. The next morning, before the sun had a chance to do its thing, Traci and I saw five garters on the Jorrey Hills in Adams County, all in one half-mile stretch of the road heading out of Vera Cruz.

Every one of them had been flattened by the previous day’s traffic.

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