Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Snakes and Bunnies and Hills... Oh My!

I returned recently from a week-long vacation in the wilds of southern Utah just miles from Zion National Park. If any of you have been following the news of late, you might have heard about the tremendous wildfires that are being fought in that area of the country right now. Our travel was affected somewhat by the fires, forcing us to drive through stretches of freeway surrounded by scorched landscape, shooting flames and billowing smoke. Nevertheless, the scenery at the ranch where I stayed for several days was beautiful... a breathtaking portrait of nature.

Equally breathtaking was the higher elevation... a difference I didn't realize until I set out to train in it. Now, I don't exactly live at sea level here in Idaho, but suddenly, running at 4,800 feet at home seemed like a walk through the clouds. Sucking in 2,000 less feet of air during the course of each run took my lungs some getting used to. Add in the stifling heat (didn't matter that it was a "dry heat") along with the copious amount of long, steep hills and what was supposedly intended to be my fallback week turned out to be my most grueling week of marathon training yet.

And that's not even the worst part.

There's a number of critters to be found in the mountains of Utah. Some are cute and furry and some are... well... not so much. While driving an ATV across a dirt path one afternoon, a cousin of mine happened across a critter of the slithery type: a full-grown nine-year-old (according to its tail) rattlesnake. A staff member of the ranch promptly came out with his shotgun to dispose of the snake. Once the deed was done, there was a dead, headless reptile with which to entertain and delight the rest of the family (especially the children and women). I, unfortunately, was one of the entertainees.

Now, I'm no sissy. I can sleep in the pitch-black dark or kill a big, hairy spider with the best of them. I just really don't care to see snakes if I can help it... dead or otherwise. The shotgun had done its damage and even though I tried to admire the beautiful features of this animal, I couldn't help but get a major case of the willies just looking at it (the fact it was dripping blood from its previously-attached head didn't help matters). A smaller rattler paid a visit to our cabin the next morning, cozying up on the porch just outside the kitchen door. Once discovered, it too met an untimely demise.

Then there's Brilliant Me... heading out by myself at six in the morning to do my training runs on the mountain roads of southern Utah. Try as I might, I couldn't get the thought of the snakes out of my head. What if I come up on one on the side of the road? What if one slithers across the path right in front of me? What if I startle one as I pass by? I was so consumed with the what-if's of a possible rattlesnake encounter that I didn't notice until the last second the long tread of black tire rubber discarded in the middle of the road.... coiled up just like a snake.

Now, I wouldn't say I wet my shorts (much). But I'll admit I let out a good, hearty girl-scream. I think if I were wearing a heart monitor, it might've shorted out.

When I wasn't on snake watch, I had to look out for bunnies. (Jackrabbits, I suppose, would be the more accurate term.) They darted out of everywhere, with no warning whatsoever. And those suckers are fast! If I'd have strapped my GPS onto one of their little fluffy tails or around their funny long ears, I bet you anything it would have registered a sub five-minute mile. Of course, I imagine they have to be fast in order to avoid becoming the mid-afternoon snack for a coyote or a mountain lion or heaven forbid, a piece of black tire rubber.

So, that was my week of vacation training. I'm rather relieved to be back home, where I can run at my comfortable elevation, on flat surfaces, in semi-bearable heat and without menacing critters threatening to outrun me or make me wet my shorts (much).

Ahhh... home sweet home!


Allen said...

Ahhh, yes, the snakes. I was raised in Cedar City, an hour north of Zion. One summer, while home from school at USU in Logan, I met a friend who was also a student in Wildlife Management at USU. We decided to go hiking and camp overnight without taking any food or water. Water wasn't a concern because we knew there were streams there. But the food... My friend said, "No worry". So we hiked. We saw rattlesnakes. My friend, using a forked stick, picked them up while they were alive. Then my friend killed them and cooked them over a fire during the night. Presto. Our breakfast.

AddictedToEndorphins said...

"There's no place like home, Theres no place like home, theres no place like home" --Click your heels 3 times...

That's what I would have done--and if not, I would have confined myself to a treadmill..or a swimming pool to water run...or do something else.....I don't do the critter thing!

That picture is breathtaking!! Hope you had a good vacation!!


Anonymous said...

Maybe the jackrabbits were to blame for the fires. ;-)

Jim said...

Looks like gorgeous landscape to run in. As for the elevation part, I read and article recently about the migration of XC skiers who go to West Yellowstone Montana the week of Thanksgiving to take advantage of the early snow and training at elevation. Well, after doing an easy ski the first day, many of them will stay in bed for the entire next day - sometiems two days- watching TV and letting their bodies get used to the O2 change from the high elevation. After a day or two of non-exercise rest, THEN they are then ready to ski again. That elevation stuff can be a rude awakending. I was in Boulder once for a few days and whoa, it felt like I was running with a sandbag on my back.

Chesno Slova said...

Angie, I feel totally ripped off. You didn't mention it was me who killed the second snake--with a beach umbrella pole no less.

Furthermore, it was pretty entertaining to watch it spin through the air after I "winged" it into the underbrush.

Laurel said...

Wow, it really is beautiful! Even if you are were getting attacked by discarded car parts and Bugs Bunny on crack.

Glad to see you made it back in one piece!

Allen said...

Elevation changes can kill you or bless you, depending on which way you're going.

Even though I was raised in Utah at a 5500' elevation, I lived most of my adult life out of Utah, down at sea level. When I returned to Utah 15 years ago, it took me several years to adjust to the high elevation. During my first year back, I would suffer spells of dizziness as I would be walking (I have low blood pressure). It would feel like my feet had lost contact with the ground, and I had a hard time walking. After I had been in Utah for a year, I went to Connecticut for my daughter's graduation from college, and running at sea level again was like I had a turbo charger on me. I'm ok with the elevation now, thank goodness.

Chad said...

Ah - welcome to running in the southwest. I've only seen a rattler running once - of course I've been running again for about a year(and he got right of way on the road) and twice on the bike (scariest was where I missed one by 2 inches at dusk).

The bunnies drive me nuts, makes me wish the coyotes weren't so lazy.

Sounds like you had fun. Did you have enough altitude to avoid the heat?

See Zanne Run said...

ok. i got one word for the snake with its head blown off: eeewwwwwwww!!!!!! i was running in florida once & almost stepped right on a snake - i thought it was a stick in the road - until it started to slither & i had to do a little quickstep hop thing to avoid it.

welcome home!