Rattlesnakes and Traffic Safety

The other day I just wanted to relax after a turbulent couple of weeks. So I took my mountain bike and headed to the one place I knew I could find some peace: the Santa Teresa County Park, which I’ve ridden in before.

Feeling the fresh air and enjoying the warm open space – courtesy of the Santa Clara County Parks department – I pedaled on trails my tires had not yet set rubber upon. In a park this size, that isn’t hard to do.

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Between wondering if my chain was rattling too much and trying to estimate how many miles I could go before I had to return home, shower and pick up my wife at the railway station I saw something move suddenly under my bike and heard an unnatural sound. When I stopped and turned to look, I saw a rattlesnake. I did what any normal person would do in this situation: I whipped out my cell phone and took a photograph.

I didn’t take a selfie since I had no interest in turning my back to the creature I came within an inch of crushing with a Ritchey tire. Instead I watched it slowly come out of its coil and slowly slither away. My ride continued without incident but it wasn’t quite as relaxing as I had hoped when I had set out that afternoon – every twig and small branch in the trail was in the shape of a rattlesnake.

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Later, I did another thing any normal person would do: I posted a picture of the rattlesnake on social media. Of course, no picture on social media would be complete without a semi-serious comment inviting my friends from back east (where rattlesnakes don’t live) to come biking with me in California. My invitation was met with a mixture of silence and disdain.

Then I did a little research – mostly to satisfy curiosity but also to find reassuring information to give my wife and parents in case they’d demand I wear a suit of medieval armor the next time I fancy a mountain bike ride in the park: California has a population of about 39 million people, and according to the state about 800 people are bitten by rattlesnakes each year and one or two people die. That’s the entire state of California.

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In my home city of San Jose – population of about a million – 59 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2015 – with 23 of them pedestrians hit by motor vehicles and several fatal bike accidents. 2015 gave San Jose the highest number of fatalities in at least a decade.

I don’t have anything to say about the rattlesnake numbers (and I’m sure those statistics won’t comfort my mother when I talk to her on the phone later this week). But the traffic numbers are too high. In fact, I’d love for any number higher than zero to be considered too high. But it does make me wonder about the disproportionality of fear.

Being a few paces away from a rattlesnake shouldn’t scare people more than being a few steps from a motorist who’s sleepy, texting while driving, or eating a salad while driving. In California you can live side by side of both rattlesnakes and bad drivers but there are a few things one can do to take better ownership over one’s safety (never provoke a snake or a motorist and look at where you’re going before you step or roll there).

I’ll go mountain biking again in the park, and if you ever have a chance you should do so too: just take your bike on the VTA light rail to the Santa Teresa Stop, turn left on Santa Teresa Boulevard and make a right on Bernal to follow the signs to the park. Be safe on and off the road.

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About the author:

Michael K. Norris is the founding editor of DIYBIKING.COM, a site focused on bike builds, travel and activism. In addition to being a freelance writer and researcher, he is a regular volunteer at Good Karma Bikes, a San Jose-based organization that helps the less fortunate acquire and repair bikes. Michael lives and works in San Jose, California. He can be followed on Twitter @michaelknorris