Being more like Steve

I know it’s old news, but part of me is still mourning Steve Irwin. With the exception of dangling his infant son in front of a salivating reptile, I had the utmost respect for him. Other than the time he left his wife clinging to a rope inches above a teeming trench of poisonous snakes. But aside from those two incidents, and a few others that may have bordered on animal harassment and/or human endangerment, I really admired his courage. See (and again don’t take this the wrong way) in a lot of ways, he was the original “Jackass.” And by this, I am referring to the TV show of the same name and not a male donkey (which would not be a very nice thing to say about a dead man.) See, before the drunken, post frat boy MTV set made it hip to run through a gator pond wearing nothing but a raw chicken loin cloth, the Croc Hunter was out there, wrestling with the gators and the snakes, not for the chicks or the fame or fortune (OK, maybe a little), but because he saw the wild animals of the world as his brethren. I also suspect mild insanity played a role. But nevertheless, it still takes a massive set of cojones to put oneself between the camera and a snapping set of razor sharp chompers all in the name of inter-species communications. I mean let’s face it, Marlon Perkins never would have had his ass nipped by a croc mom protecting her young.

I guess, on some subconscious level, I aspire to be more like Steve. See, other than the occasional deer sighting from afar, I am not so comfortable with human-animal encounters. Yes, I know we are really the hairy, dangerous beasts who have invaded their homes, and not vice versa. And I can only imagine how terrifying it must be for our furry or scaled little friends to see a gaggle of Spandex-clad humanoids darting by. I myself am frightened by my own reflection in Spandex. But this doesn’t help the fact that I am, for the most part, terrified by anything larger than a baby bunny rabbit – and sometimes even those can be scary in the right light. Of course, snakes are at the top of this list. And that goes for baby snakes, too. There’s just something about a legless, armless, slimy, cold-blooded animal that can eat 100 times its body weight in one sitting that strikes a primitive chord of fear. I know, it’s snake discrimination, and they’re not really “slimy” at all, but actually cool and dry. Which makes them all the more creepy in my book. And I know there are even people who own snakes as pets. But I am a firm believer that any household pet, my own dog not withstanding, would not hesitate to eat us if we were only 2 inches tall – or if it happened to escape its cage and found us asleep on the couch, jugular prominently exposed. And here’s a tip ladies: if a guy ever invites you up to see his pet snake, take it as a big red flag – especially if he is serious.

Anyway, the point of this is not to snake bash or offer dating advice, but to point out my aversion to the slithering ground dwellers. Even snakeskin boots or wallets make me leery. Nevertheless, I admit I am filled with morbid envy whenever I hear of a snake sighting – or any toothsome, wild creature for that matter. So, in the spirit of our slain Aussie ambassador to the animal kingdom, I, like every other

Durangoan, decided to make a pilgrimage to see the stuffed mountain lion in Horse Gulch. (I know this has nothing to do with snakes. I’m getting to that part.) I’m not sure what drew me to the middle of the woods to gaze upon a nappy old pelt – perhaps it was the promise of risk-free wildlife viewing. Anyway, there I was, riding along, fully expecting it at every turn, when I nearly jumped out of my skin at the site of a puma, poised to strike – except there was neon orange string holding its head together and it looked like it had a bad case of mange. I laughed in spite of myself – even turning back a few times to make sure the Frankenkitty hadn’t miraculously sprung to life.

With my wildlife fix out of the way, I headed home, but decided to take a little-used short cut. I dropped down a steep gully and through some willows and prepared to dismount on the other side to walk my bike up the steep singletrack. However, as is typically the case, my shoes refused to cooperate. Seems one of the screws in the cleat on the bottom of my left shoe had fallen out, leaving the shoe hopelessly jammed in the pedal. I tried prying it out but extreme frustration set in, and I took my foot out and walked my bike up the steep incline. As luck would have it, another rider came up behind me, catching me in my moment of embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. I was trying to explain how I had a screw loose, which was probably quite obvious, when a strange, high-pitched hissing entered my subconscious. Anyway, I kept talking until I realized the odd noise, which I had passed off as a strange form of bird or rodent duress, was coming directly from my feet, one of which was clothed only in flimsy cotton. I stopped long enough to look down and see the world’s largest rattler coiled about 2 feet from my very vulnerable appendages. And for the record, this was not a fake, lingerie-wearing, cotton-stuffed, sick attempt at a joke. He was very real – and very pissed. I can’t really remember what happened next. They say in extreme life-or-death situations, the primordial fight or flight response kicks in. While, my flight must have been on autopilot, and instead of fighting, I believe I hyperventilated. All the while, I was still calmly walking, one shoe on, one shoe off, over old broken glass and rusty cans. If I got bit, at least they could give me my tetanus shot along with the antivenin.

I tried to warn the man behind me as best I could. “Big …rattler … on left …” I called back.

He stopped to get a closer look. Probably a snake lover. Anyway, I didn’t much feel like waiting around to see the outcome. Alas, I hobbled straight out of there, more like a jackass than a true Croc Hunter, and rode directly home. Where I will wait, until the snakes crawl into their holes for the winter, and I can once again crawl out of mine.

– Missy Votel