May 18, 2009


Yesterday was among the more brutal rides I've done in some time. Did a hundred miler heading south toward Glen Ellen, up over Trinity Grade, down into Napa Valley, up Silverado Trail into Alexander Valley, east into Healdsburg and south back into Santa Rosa. with the temperature approaching triple digits it was a scorcher and I was loving every minute of it. So too were the reptiles. With the heat cranked up full blast and miles of hot asphalt to warm themselves upon they were out in force. They're my kind of people, them reptiles.

Lizards and snakes were on display all over the place and I spent a fair portion of my ride trying to avoid them. Blue Bellies, all too literally known as The Western Fence Lizard, are tough to avoid at 20mph as they blend right in with the asphalt and they typically can't be seen until they've begun hauling ass out of the way in the attempt to avoid being crushed. At one point I thought I might have run one down. Unable to carry on in good conscience I circled back and was relieved to find it was simply a twig.

Snakes are a different story though. I can usually see snakes well up ahead as they lay strewn about like discards of old rope. They're not so easy to spot, however, whilst flying downhill at 40mph and if I did run one over, chances are slim to none I'd circle back to put the poor bastard out of its misery. At any rate toward the end of my ride and just short of making a left on River Road, I caught sight of a baby Rattlesnake sunning itself out on the side of the road. I'd seen plenty of snakes out on the road, mostly King Snakes and Gophers, but the only Rattlesnakes I'd seen had been relegated to roadkill status.

As I had my phone with me I figured I'd snap a shot of it. Given the prospect of being bitten and dying on the side of the road from snake bite with complications of heat stroke, I proceeded with caution. First I rode by it a couple of times to test it's responsiveness. It made nary a move. Taking that as good sign I made a couple more passes, snapping shots each time.

Unfortunately this didn't work too well as the lo-tech camera on my high-tech phone has the no-tech inability to maintain it's focus whilst in motion. I can't blame it entirely on the camera as it's damned difficult taking pictures with one hand while pedaling a bicycle, particularly when Rattlesnakes are involved. Thus I gave myself over to the prospect of getting close enough to get a good shot whilst remaining far enough away to hop on my bike and haul ass in the event it decided to make any less than amorous overtures. Here's the result:

Given the lack of anything in the background that might provide some perspective, it looks as though it might be an adult, but in reality it was much smaller and consequently less threatening. And as it seemed entirely absorbed in it's sunlit reverie, I thought perhaps I might get a bit closer, hoping to get a better shot. No sooner than that thought arose, however, did it suddenly begin to wiggle a bit at which point I wisely decided not to push my luck and settled for what you see above. Whatever the case, I'm always excited to chance upon the diversity of wildlife here. It's but one of the many things I love about being back in Northern California, the wildlife.

You just don't see this kind of thing back in New York City. You see other stuff, like rats the size of cats and cockroaches as big as birds, but not snakes and lizards. Oh, there've been a few Coyote sightings in Central Park, but they're rare indeed. No, I much prefer to witness wildlife in it's natural environment whilst pedaling my way through the lush Sonoma County countryside, than to encounter it's urban counterpart, gnawing on the baseboards. City critters do have their own unique appeal, mind you, particularly when the only other living creatures you have access to are of the human variety. But given the choice, I'll take a Rattlesnake on a dusty back road over a Renegade Rat any day, or a human for that matter. It was a day for the reptiles to be certain.

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