Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Snake Gripper


Four and a half days into our hike we crossed the border between Georgia and North Carolina and, to be quite honest about it, we were feeling pretty damn smug about ourselves. We were hot, tired, ripe and, at times, a little moody. But we had conquered our first state with speed and agility and, most importantly, we were nearing the end of our first week without injury. A less humble version of me might even claim that we conquered Georgia in style.

As we ascended from Bly Gap, I started my vigilant watch for snakes, knowing that North Carolina contains one of the healthiest populations of legless reptiles between Georgia and Maine. At times the trail was steep enough that I feared the snakes would be above me, sunning themselves on rocks that placed them within easy striking distance of my Seattle Sombrero.

It was with this caution and fear in my heart that I rounded a bend and looked up to see, planted in the middle of the trail above me, a wolf.

My heart skipped a beat. I contemplated taking another dump, but the fight or flight within me was interrupted by the sharp voice of another man, out of view and uphill from the wolf. The wolf immediately sat down.

Turns out, my wolf was actually a mixed-breed German Shepherd. I could save my rapid dump reflexes for a more perilous encounter.

Ryan reached the dog first and, after sniffing his hand and approving of his character, she blundered down the hill towards me, tail wagging and tongue outstretched towards my open palm.

As I assured myself that the dog and I were going to be buds, Ryan launched deep into conversation with the owner. My ears perked when I heard Ryan ask, "Why they call you Snake Gripper?"

(Seasoned hikers don't use helping verbs on the trail).

"Well, I got so hungry that, on the second day, I caught a snake and ate it. I guess that's when they started calling me Snake Gripper."

I looked up. Snake Gripper's shirt was hanging wide open. There was a tick embedded in his stomach. I pointed to it and asked if he needed to borrow a tweezers. He looked down and casually jerked the deadly blood sucker from his body, tossing it over his shoulder.

"I just pull those things off," he said.

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