Pacific Crest: Mile 1289

Mid-air, flying into the unknown, my head spun back, staring at the trail I’d just left, trying to see where the rattlesnake went.

This is how hikes end.

I jumped faster than thought. The rattle, the instant recognition, the brief glimpse of a snake falling toward me. By the time my mind caught up, I was in the air, leaping blind, arms and legs flailing to brace for impact. I landed with a crunch. A pop echoed through the forest as I shattered a fallen tree branch and sent it spinning down the steep slope. My body wasn’t far behind. My legs scrambled to stay underneath me in the uncontrollable slide.

Twenty feet later, I crashed into the trail again as it switchbacked underneath me. My feet found themselves on the flat surface and I ran like a madman, not knowing if the snake had fallen with me.

The rattle, that insane rattle, rung through my head. It lit something deep inside my psyche, injecting me adrenaline and fear into my veins.

I stopped a few yards down the trail. My entire body felt tense and jittery, like a thousand spiders were crawling across my skn. I threw down my hiking sticks and backpack, shaking myself out, checking my bones, and cackling like someone who just seen death falling toward him.

Breath returned to my lungs between laughs. I gave a few loud yells, needing some way to vent my surging energy. I’d escaped.

A few minutes later, I found the snake coiled in a pile of leaves between two rocks not far from where I leaped. It gave a gentle rattle as I approached, letting me know where it was. I looked at it, the two of us holding each other’s gaze for a few seconds before I tipped my hat.

“Thanks for not killing me,” I said.

The snake sat there motionless for a moment, then silently slid away.

“Likewise,” it said.