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On my evening run through the Arizona desert last night I had a number of wildlife encounters. Expected during the summer season and remarkably common during my runs on my local trail route. I would encounter two Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes this evening which gives me almost as many sightings as all of last year (a record year for me). It is still June with about four months of watching where I step and hearing the occasional rattle, jingling while I sort out how close I am to the snake.
Of the many assorted and interesting critters I experience while I take in the desert environment, the most often seen, in this order are deer, rabbits and you guessed it, rattlesnakes. Twenty one at last count for the Spring and Early Summer season. Getting rather close to the number that welcomed me on my runs last year.
I love wildlife encounters and, well, snake encounters are a not quite a love affair but I do take on a trail runner crazy enough to run through the desert in the summer time, will trek through snake territory and will have a few meet and greet sessions with other inhabitants toting a rattle. It is their home and I do respect that simple fact.
Do rattlesnake's give my heart a jolt? No, but there is a bump in the heart rate when I take a quick dodge to the left or right to avoid a snake. They can blend in very well to the desert floor but I have had to become great with those scaly senses.
Very, very thankful that of all the creatures on the planet, the rattlesnake rates high on the list of animals that let you know of its presence. A beautiful fact and one of the reasons I have an admiration for the scaly and sometimes noisy, scary creatures of horror films and jolting newspaper articles. Oh, those stories of people who get bitten after decapitating a rattlesnake are primal fear unleashed.
I have adjusted my trail runs, slightly, due to encounters at the start of my trail. There are one of two 'friendly' slithery reptiles along the start of my trail time. Roughly eight or nine meet & greets within the first minute of the trail. I had to wonder about the fact that there was a r snake 20 feet up the trail. The photo below is another run-in that is at the exact start of the trail. Sheeesh! I now walk this lively section.
Clock is ticking toward my next run. Almost all of the wildlife I see on my runs is during the suppertime excursion. I will have my eyes dialed in for any and all wildlife, capture what I can with my camera and enjoy getting out in nature and continue to improve my health and diabetes care. And watch my step.
If you find yourself trekking through rattlesnake territory, do be ultra careful. I have read about some horrendous encounters with some devastating results after interactions with Mr. Rattlesnake.
Plan to share another angle on my wild wildlife experiences. Could include Gila Monsters, Tarantulas (yes, I pick them up!), Desert Tortoises, Bobcats, Javelina's (no, don't pick those up), Giant Desert Centipedes, and who knows what else might appear in my blog.
I have shared that I am a runner at heart but adventure is plugged into my dna. For the most part I thrive with new challenges and experiences. Yes, fat biking is a thing and I am slightly addicted after riding through the desert with Billy Joe. Billy Joe was on our No Limits team of riders with type 1 diabetes who competed in 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo (mountain bike race). In his bike arena sits mountain and road bikes and two fat bikes. Just enough for the two of us to take on the desert.
Vlog from the Fat Biking Adventure
We zig-zagged through some neighborhoods that soon found us in front of a wash and unlimited sand and rocks. Time to ride, but very, very slowwwwwwwlllyyyy. Oh, and those fat bikes, having tires that are better suited for go carts, are also extremely heavy. They do allow you to ride in terrain that is not suitable for other types of bikes.
It was grand to be back on a bike after a long hiatus off of the saddle. I hope to get back on my mountain bike but will be challenged by the coming three digit temperatures that will swell the desert with a zapping heat that frightens me with the horrifying thought of having a helmet on my head.
Video below gives the viewer a glimpse of a rather fun sport. #8 in my vlog series.
The bike path above us was bustling with weekend riders and runners enjoying their time on pavement. It was a beautiful day and the scenery, while stark in areas, afforded the quiet moments to power the fat bike through sand and over a landscape of rocks, rocks and more dang rocks.
While those monster tires churned through the varied sand and rock obstacles, the bike was unsuccessful at finding victory in deep sand. Or, my skill set was not quit as deep as the unforgiving layer of sand.
I did fall a few times but only one fall will be highly featured in this blog. Almost done with our route through the Pantano Wash, I found a notable rock that had my name on it and I crashed to the desert floor. Also crashing was my insulin pump which had a short but sweet meeting with the mentioned rock. The noise that my pump squealed out was loud, irritating and the sign of death as our ride was now over (except for the pedal back to Billy Joe's home). Pump was now dead and I needed to make my way to a syringe and insulin and eventually a previously used insulin pump in my archives. Not a stunning way to end the day but an excellent way to spend the day. Thanks go to Medtronic for promptly zipping a new insulin pump my way.
2 Peaks Adventure in Alaska
Following the Canadian Death Race in July of 2011, I was open to another adventure, one a little closer to my home in Sitka, Alaska. Out my window, opposite the Pacific Ocean breaking under my home, I could see 2 prominent peaks near downtown (Mt. Verstovia & Gavan Hill). Gavan Hill is known for the ever popular and long suffering Alpine Adventure Race. Mt. Verstovia is known for its wickedly steep, rugged trail that climbs 2550 feet in about 2.5 miles.
Gavan Hill trail is no less brutal, with about 2400 feet gained in 1.6 miles. This would be my own custom created event. A signature event without the aid stations.
I elected to run/walk from a parking lot (Sitka National Historical Park) between the 2 peaks, run to Verstovia, grunt up to picnic rock, zoom down, run to Gavan Hill and of course, up, up, up to a point that I felt was a high point. Trail does continue from there but I wound be content with about 5,000 feet of gain for the elevation deposit for the day.
This is trail running/walking in SE Alaska. One of the nastier sections.
The effort would take place in September, about a month after my 23+ mile, 6,500 foot (elevation gain) ordeal at the Canadian Death Race. This was a momentous occasion as I signed on to run with the I Challenge Diabetes team. I had recently had knee surgery and was hoping for one of the easier legs. That easier leg transformed into the toughest leg as others on the team withdrew or pleaded a little louder than I.
The timing should have been perfect for the 2 peaks effort, but I managed only 1 hill training run before September rolled in. Also rolling in was weather.......SE Alaska rainforest weather at its gnarliest. The teeth would bite later in the day.
1st view point on Mt. Verstovia (800? foot elevation)
I set off with a well stocked Osprey running pack. The blood sugars were good and the day appeared to be in a stable hold. It might be a decent day, weather wise in the rain forest. Could it be?
Despite a lack of specific training, meaning, actually running up hills, I made my way up Verstovia. Slow but sure, a mix of walking and running. I passed 1 person (if memory serves me correctly), my only link to humanity on either trail.
I had brought along a camera that was lacking in quality and performance but was waterproof. I shot footage at various stages, knowing that I would eventually piece together a somewhat rough film (see link above). It would take 21 clips to create the short film that would be my introduction into the world of filmmaking. I have been working on my first 'real', quality film as I work through the footage of a No Limits Sea Kayak Expedition, tentatively, named 'Alaskan Waters'.
Near the first summit of Verstovia
I would reach picnic rock, which is the first summit of Verstovia in good shape. The Arrowhead is the true top of Mt. Verstovia was jutting just above me. A more technical approach, which I was not willing to attempt without a partner.
Goal #2, Gavan Hill
The weather was turning as I made my way down the mountain. As evidence by my array of photos, running SE Alaska trails is a challenge and requires a major dose of concentration. I had a lot of trail time and was somewhat skilled at the ballet on rocks. Having diabetes increased my need for good planning and focus. I had dealt with higher blood sugars for the first half of the run but would eventually level out.
I hit the trail head of Verstovia and made a right turn. On to Gavan Hill.
1st viewpoint on Gavan Hill, approximately 1,000+ feet up
A bit more tired, Gavan would require more walking and an onslaught of nature as the wind, rain and a thick, layer of wetness became the next chapter in my 2 Peaks experience.
Gavan Hill near the first summit
I would glance at my watch and realize that darkness would begin to envelope the mountain terrain soon and the dismal day would usher in darkness quicker.
Near the top of the first Gavan Hill summit
Reaching the trail head, I shot a final memory of the 2 Peaks experience. Darkness casting its shadow across the Last Frontier. Deep in the woods the evening came at an alarming rate as I ran toward my vehicle. There was an encouraging glow of light and life as I escaped the veil of forest behind me.
7 hours after my first steps toward Verstovia, I slowed my run to a walk and unlocked my car door. Done. A tired, but happy thumbs up for another adventure check off the list.
A Wild(life) Year in Photography!
Me and the Roaming Bison in Colorado.
Photo by Eric Peffer.
It has been been a wild year for me, in many aspects. One of those areas that continues to make my head swirl, is the amazing desert I live in and the wildlife I have had the opportunity to spend some quality time with.
Most of the photos are from my home base in Catalina, Arizona, although photo adventures to Colorado and New Mexico have added some new animals and geography to my photo line up.
Part of the large herd of elk in Colorado (approximately 150)
I have a number of things in my favor:
1. An eye for things that are 'wild'
2. a 70-300 lens
3. Many of my photo adventures are with a wildlife biologist.
4. I run in an a desert area where I see maybe 1 person a month. More of a true desert setting.
5. Just plain luck
Family of 4 Bobcats in the neighborhood
Many of my photos are taken during my daily runs through the desert. I typically run near sunset, which I feel is a better time to see animals plus it puts me on the highest road in our area to capture stunning sunsets. The runs limit my camera options but I have had good success with a decent point and shoot camera (Samsung WB350F). The Samsung is sporting a 42x zoom. Oh yeah!
One of the four bobcats (family) in the neighborhood
My goal, when possible, is to take film along with photos. I may put together a film blog for this year.
I think back to last year and I did not get much in the way of wildlife photos while this year has been phenomenal. Looking toward 2016.
Wild horses near Fort Garland, CO
Enjoy the photos!
When I grab my camera, I aim to get photos and video. Check out the videos on my latest blog:
Wild horse near Fort Garland, CO
Bighorn Sheep - Taos, NM
Redtail Hawk - Klondyke, AZ
Not totally 'wild' but a wild setting - near La Veta, Colorado
Rattlesnake on one of my runs - Catalina, AZ
Roadrunner near the house - Catalina, AZ
At the house
A Javelina visit during a run - Catalina, AZ
Horned Lizard during a run - Catalina, AZ
Young Desert Tortoise - Catalina, AZ
Walking Stick, almost stepped on and bypassed - Catalina, AZ
Tarantula visit on a run - Catalina, AZ
Tarantula on one of my runs
Gila Monster at the house - Catalina, AZ
Family of 4 Bobcats in the neighborhood - Catalina, AZ
Bobcat photo published in a local paper
Young Desert Tortoise on a desert run - Catalina, AZ
A brief stop during the Race Across America as wild horses cross the road in Utah
During the Race Across America - Pagosa Springs, CO
Praying Mantis, Lori & Eric in Klondyke, AZ