Jim was the victim of a rattlesnake bite during a trail run through the
Tongue River Canyon. I'm not going to overly-dramatize the incident and say he
was scarred for life, but it was one of the most traumatic events he's ever
experienced and he'll never forget it.
The incident definitely affected me, too. I was
there when it happened and
wrote about it in this journal as a cautionary
tale for other folks. It could just as easily have been me.
The rattler that bit Jim 6-5-06; we didn't kill it.
We've been around rattlesnake territory much of our lives and
knew to be cautious on our run through the rocky canyon that
day. But we were busy talking and not listening for the
distinctive rattling sound or paying close enough attention to
the trail under our feet, even though I had taken this picture
of another rattlesnake earlier in the run that very morning.
Someone had killed it and left it next to the trail:
Same day, two miles away: someone else
killed this one.
Talk about being well-warned! But Jim still landed right on top
of an angry rattler that was very much ALIVE (and probably still
Jim's bite was on his ankle (see the
puncture wound?) but the venom quickly coursed up his leg.
We were fortunate that
- Jim had a normal reaction to the bite
(not so allergic that he died from it),
- we were only a couple miles from our truck when
he was bitten, and
- the nearest hospital had enough vials of anti-venom to begin
treatment (they had to rush more vials from another hospital an hour
away to complete the treatment).
It's critical that anti-venom serum be administered within a few
hours or necrosis sets in (death of tissue).
It took about two hours before Jim was in the hospital
in Sheridan and the treatment began; although he was in a great deal
of pain and his foot, ankle, and leg were considerably swollen,
he did not suffer permanent tissue damage to our knowledge.
The morning after: Jim at the hospital in Sheridan
on June 6,
He did experience a delayed allergic reaction to one of the types of
anti-venom ten serum days later (on race day!) and had to be treated a
second time at the hospital so his airways weren't blocked from
the swelling he had in his face and throat. That was almost as
scary as the bite.
It was also more than a little disconcerting to find the
emergency room doctor on duty when Jim was first admitted (not the
doctor pictured above) on his computer, searching the internet
to determine the appropriate treatment!! To our amazement, the
hospital rarely gets rattlesnake bite patients. That surprises
me, considering how many rattler sightings we've heard about in
the nearby canyons.
The whole incident, including two hospitalizations (one
overnight), meds, and follow-up doctor visits, cost well
over $20,000. Most of that was for the six vials of anti-venom
It could have been worse. Rattlesnake experts say it was
probably an older snake that bit Jim; it did have a bunch
of rattles, shown in the blurry close-up below. The older the
rattler, the less venom it usually secretes in a bite. It has
learned to conserve its venom. A younger snake might have given
a more powerful dose, causing more damage to both Jim's leg and
Our guy had lots of rattles.
Jim's most excellent insurance covered most of the cost. When
we've told the tale to friends since then, some have visibly
flinched or swallowed
hard, thinking about their huge deductibles and/or miserly
coverage. At least we didn't suffer too badly in that regard.
My insurance wouldn't have paid as well as Jim's but it wouldn't
have put us in the Poor House, either.
Since this incident Jim and I have been even more guarded during
trail runs all around the country, especially those through
rocky areas in forests and canyons. Let's just say our
"rattlesnake radar" is on full alert. We know Cody is at risk
for rattlesnake bites, too, so we usually don't let him run with us
through terrain we deem risky.
Tongue River Canyon Trail
WARNING TO SNAKE LOVERS
After Jim's bite three years ago we made the comment in this
journal and to the internet ultra running list that we didn't
kill the snake that bit him. It wasn't out of empathy for the
snake, I can assure you of that! We knew we needed to get back
to the truck ASAP (but without running) and we didn't have
anything to kill it with anyway.
We later learned that some medical practitioners say it's a good
idea to kill the snake and take it with you to the hospital so
the proper life-saving treatment can be given. There are many kinds of
poisonous snakes and not every type of anti-venom serum works effectively on
every kind of snake bite.
Well, let me tell you, that casual comment unleashed a minor maelstrom of
protests from the PETA crowd!! We got a couple scathing
e-mails from total strangers about how terrible it is to even
think about killing a rattlesnake, and others that were just
plaintive, pleading with us to reconsider ever killing one.
I'm going to be very blunt here. If you are of this mindset, stop reading this entry immediately
because you aren't going to like what I'm going to say
next! And if you
foolishly read on, don't bother to write to us about being
murderers. I usually try to be at my diplomatic best in this
journal (not always successfully) but in this case, we don't
care what you think and we will not engage in a dialogue
with you about the morality of killing poisonous snakes. Unless
or until you have been at the receiving end of a potentially
fatal snake bite, you have no right to tell someone else what
they should or
shouldn't do. Or even if you have been bitten, for that
matter . . .
SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC
For the more tolerant and less squeamish of you, here's the
current story. My brother, who is deathly afraid of even
non-poisonous snakes, should enjoy this tale (tail?).
Jim did a solo run/hike this morning through the Tongue River Canyon
and up to Horse Creek Ridge, the same out-and-back course
described in the
May 23 entry. He didn't have
his camera with him so three of the photos below are
ones I took during that run.
Lupines in bloom at about 5,500 feet in the
upper canyon area.
Jim was on full rattler alert through the canyon where he was
bitten previously. So far, so good, he thought as he climbed
higher and higher through the canyon and above most of the
trees. Even though we've seen dead rattlers three or four miles
up in the meadow, we do tend to relax our guard a bit more up
About four miles into the run (hike, at this point), shortly
before the first aspen grove,
Jim heard a cricket-chirping sound. He'd been hearing various
birds and insects
all the way up the canyon, but this sound was a little different
and caught his attention. Thank goodness he wasn't listening to
He looked in the direction of the "chirping" and saw a six-foot
rattler about five feet away, in the middle of the trail, coiled
up and ready to strike!!
He says it just about scared the crap out of him. In retelling
it later he's able to laugh about his instinctive response to
avoid landing on the snake and describe how he "must have jumped
ten feet in the air and ten feet over."
Near the spot where Jim encountered the snake today
Once Jim's adrenaline and heart rate returned more to normal a dilemma still
remained: how and whether to get past the PO'd snake, which was still right
smack dab in the middle of the trail. This was an out-and-back
run. Jim had two choices: turn around and cut his run
short, or detour around the snake and be paranoid the rest of
the way up to the ridge and back, wondering where it would be on
his return trip past this very same spot.
He didn't like either alternative. He thought not only about his
own safety but also about the safety
of other runners he had seen on the trail that day -- three
women hiking behind him, several Forest Service workers who were
carrying out trash some slobs had left behind during the
weekend, and others he may not know about.
What if someone got bitten, especially someone who is more
allergic to snake bites than he is, someone who couldn't get to the hospital in a timely manner, or
someone with lousy (or
As an EMT and General Nice Guy, that bothered him.
What he did next was mostly altruistic and partly revenge:
he slew the dragon. It took a while because he didn't have a
knife or trekking pole or sharp stick. He had to use big rocks.
Repeatedly, even though his aim was pretty good.
was 99% certain the snake was dead, he cut off the rattles and
brought them back as a graphic reminder to both of us to be
careful out there:
Knowing that even a dead rattler is still capable of injecting
venom as an autonomic nervous system reflex, Jim kept his foot on the rattler's head
when he cut off the rattles. (See "Envenomations by
Rattlesnakes Thought to be Dead" in the New England
Journal of Medicine:
"Even after suffering potentially fatal injuries,
venomous snakes are capable of injuring humans. Klauber
performed experiments showing that rattlesnake heads
are dangerous for 20 to 60 minutes after
Don't ever forget that fact. It could save your life, or a lot
of grief, anyway.
Jim left the dead rattler in the middle of the trail, just as
another person did three years ago in the photo I showed
earlier, as a reminder for other trail users to be careful not
only in the rocky canyon area, but also in a peaceful, sunny
meadow full of flowers. You don't have to stick your hand
between rocks to get bitten. It can happen anywhere rattlers
View of the "ship's prow" from the upper
Tongue River Canyon trail
Jim continued on his run, shaken but feeling like he'd done the
right thing to protect not only himself but also others. It was
a little nerve-wracking for him to return to the scene of the
carnage on the way back down the valley but he detoured gingerly around the
dead snake (just in case!), fingered the rattles in his pocket, and finished out his twelve-mile run.
This experience was probably pretty therapeutic for Jim and I
don't blame him one bit for killing the snake. I consider it a
public service. And it's one less snake I
have to worry about the next time I'm up there! Simple as that.
My day was much less dramatic until Jim came home.
After taking care of some
financial and medical business, finding a place to board Cody
during the race in case we can't find a pet sitter in the
campground, and ordering some Hammer Nutrition products to
replenish our supply, Cody and I walked around the campground
and ran the nearby park loops several times.
Much greener now at 4,000 feet in Dayton than
higher up in
In the afternoon I started riding our mountain bike out the
Tongue River Road (above), thinking I might see Jim on his way back from
his run in the canyon. I didn't get very far, though. The county
was in the process of grading and watering the road to keep
dust down and it was simply too hard for me to muscle my way
through the soft dirt, rocks, and mud. It would have been OK for
running but I'll have to wait a few days for it to get packed
down more before I can ride it. I finished my ride on pavement.
WHAT A GRAND ADVENTURE!
After supper I took another walk around the campground with Cody
and met a most interesting fella who was setting up camp next to
the river. He was obviously bike-touring and I was more than
curious to see where he'd been and where he was going.
His name is Scott Mullin. We had an interesting
conversation about his six-month (or longer) tour of the country
from Florida to Alaska. He's gotten stronger and stronger the
farther he's ridden, similar to journey runners, and he dreams about continuing on an
around-the-world cycling tour if everything falls into place.
Scott said he was laid off his IT job after 13 years and decided
to have some fun. I've heard of lots of folks who are doing the
Appalachian Trail and other lengthy adventures this year because
of job-loss "opportunities" like this that they wouldn't
ordinarily have during their working years. What a great way for
them to turn a negative into a positive.
The picture of health and happiness!
This is the introduction Scott wrote for his website:
"No mortgage… no wife… no kids… and now no job… what’s a guy
living in South Florida to do? Jump on a bike and ride to Alaska
of course. I’ve always known I’d end up doing something
different with my life. Considering some of the things I’ve
already done maybe a bike tour around the world isn’t that much
of a stretch? It’s certainly shaping up to be rather epic
though. Alaska is just the first destination. When I make it up
there the plan is to head down to South America and then over to
New Zealand and then Australia. After that wherever the road (or
a boat) takes me."
I love his spirit and sense of adventure!
Scott has outfitted his bicycle with 80 pounds of gear and
supplies -- not exactly ultra-light cycling, but he has a
strong, athletic build and has been maintaining a consistent
pace so far across the country. He carries a laptop computer,
GPS, cell phone, digital camera, and other high-tech equipment
to maintain his website, conduct personal business, and stay in contact with folks via
He stays in campgrounds each night so he can get internet
connections and take showers. He has time each evening to relax,
write, update his website, surf the internet, eat a decent meal,
chat with curious folks like me, and get ready for his next day's ride.
He sticks to paved roads and replenishes his supplies in the
towns through which he passes.
Although we didn't have time to talk about all the adventures
he's had, Scott did tell me some interesting stories from the
road. I'm surprised how many other journey cyclists he's met
along the way.
You can follow his adventures on his
[And since I'm writing this entry two months late, I'll let you
know that Scott made it to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, on July 26,
still in fine shape. He has a funny comment at the end of that
entry about hell officially freezing over because his dad has
finally joined Facebook! I like his humor.]
I went to sleep dreaming of the possibilities . . .
Next entry: more irreverence: WWCND? and our long run from Dry Fork to
Stock Tank and back
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil