Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tales of Summer Part 2: Five Pounds of Pabst versus the Rattlesnake

I like a good, strenuous hike.  What white person doesn’t?  Oh wait, just checked the list, and camping is there but hiking isn’t.  It should be.  I, a whitey, went hiking several times this summer.  A good, strenuous hike is exercise that is actually somewhat enjoyable.  And unlike a gym, I can take beer into the woods without getting stared at by 15 spin class junkies.  The woods, as opposed to the gym, frowns on few things.  I can pee anywhere in the woods.  Not true for a gym, unless your in the pool.  I can spit freely in the woods, not in the gym.  I can tell horribly grotesque jokes of a sexual/religious nature in the woods.  I can do this in the gym as well, but in the woods people actually laugh.  At the gym people move to another stationary bike on the other side of the room.

I feel the woods, and nature in general, let most things roll off their back.  With the exception of littering and racism, and probably poaching and animal cruelty in general, along with deforestation and misuse of natural resources, nature is pretty much an anything goes kinda girl.  Nature hears a sexist remark from a few macho hikers and thinks, “oh you silly boys” or maybe “oh you pretty things” depending on whether or not nature is heterosexual and/or into David Bowie. 

So when I hike, I take beer with me, as do my hiking companions.  This may seem counterproductive to the whole exercise aspect of hiking, but as mentioned earlier, if I wanted exercise I would go to a gym.  Most men go hiking for such luxuries as outdoor drinking, uninhibited pissing and spitting, and to say things that only rocks and trees should hear.  My beer of choice while hiking is the Pabst Blue Ribbon Pounders.  Steve, my main hiking companion, prefers the Schmidt’s Pounders, which with its pictures of seasonal wildlife on the can is a great choice.

Pabst Blue Ribbon is a beer that tastes great when your sweating.  It tastes okay in normal situations, but if sweat is pouring down your face and your wearing a bandanna like Bruce Springsteen a la BITUSA, then Pabst Blue Ribbon is more delicious than life itself.  And like I said earlier, the hike we take is strenuous.  While only 0.6 miles to our destination, a lovely lookout over Berks County called Owls Head, in the first half-mile we climb up almost 1,500 feet in elevation (I tracked it on my iphone’s North Face Trailhead app).  And while I’m not sure how extreme that really is or isn’t, it amounts to a rather steep hike on a rather narrow and sometimes quite slippery barely there sort of trail.

Pabst Brewing has a rather interesting confusing situation going on.  It is independently owned but according to what I read here, it does not brew any of its beer.  Apparently, Pabst outsources its brewing to be done by the beer giant MillerCoorsMolson breweries.  So it is independently owned but not independently brewed.  I’m not sure what any of that really means.  If you, like me, need to clear your head to move on then just click below to watch Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days video.  If that doesn’t reset your system then nothing will (what a strange, strange intro).

For most trips, the first leg of our hike, approximately the first 0.5 miles or so, is done while drinking water and swearing up a storm wondering why we put ourselves through such an ordeal on a 90 degree day with 90% humidity.  It is not until we reach the bottom of the rock formation that we intend to climb to get to the lookout, that we take a rest and crack our first beer.  Once that is finished, we crack another to carry and add to the challenge of climbing the rocks.  Once we are at the top, we finish that second beer, crack a third and enjoy the view for 30 minutes to an hour.  We crack a fourth beer upon our descent with the goal of not spilling a drop as we crawl back down the rocks and then basically run from tree to tree to get back down the trail.

While the trip up takes about 30 minutes, the trip down takes about 12, maybe 15 minutes.  Usually, someone falls or nearly falls, which is just fine as long as not a drop is spilled.  I’m not sure what exactly happens if someone spills beer - I have not seen it happen.  However, I have seen some rather amazing athletic feats performed by not all that athletic of people in remarkably successful attempts to avoid spilling beer, so I imagine the punishment for spilling is something akin to Deliverance, or at least that is what Steve has led me to believe.

On most days, according to the above itinerary, the hike is about 4 pounds of beer long.  However, on one particular trip we decided to journey further than our normal lookout spot and head to place that Steve called Hemlock Heights.  Steve had been there before and so had Steve’s Uncle Mike, who, along with some others, was along for this hike.  This is a decision that I will regret for the rest of my life and should have known to turn back the first time I heard Uncle Mike yell ahead to Steve, “Are you sure this is the way?”

Trails? Where we're going we don't need trails
What Uncle Mike was really saying was, “If you value life, turn back now.”

But we each continued on, following Steve’s lead through the type of trail-less underbrush that you are warned to stay out of if your trying to avoid dying a lonely death on a cold soul-less mountain.  Again, Uncle Mike called out to Steve, “Are you sure we are headed in the right direction? I remember a path.”

What Uncle Mike was really saying was, “Steve, have we done something to upset you?  Do you wish to do us harm?”

But finally we arrived at another rock formation that Steve assured us was Hemlock Heights.  Uncle Mike arrived a few steps behind me and ominously proclaimed, “I don’t think this is where we are supposed to be.”  In all my life I have never heard a more true statement. 

What he should have said was, “Welcome to the Gates of Hell.”

Regardless of where we were, I was pleased to be somewhere so that I could open my fifth and final pound of Pabst (I was one short of a six pack  because I had given one away to a fellow traveler).  At this point I would say the beers were catching up to me  because I began to announce that I was going to walk along the rocks and look for a good rock to poop on.  This is a strange thing to announce considering I only had to pee and had no poop urge whatsoever.  But regardless, I continued to announce that I was looking for a good poop rock as I set my beer down and walked about 15 feet away from the others and started to relieve myself next to some sort of vegetation.  And then someone said it:

The den
Do you hear that?

And then Steve said, “ Yeah, what is that, is that a rattler?”

Now, Steve can be jerk sometimes and really play on peoples’ fears.  My fear, which he is more than aware of, is snakes.  Particularly snakes with poison.  I had mentioned my concerns about snakes several times while we trekked through the trail-less overgrown forest on our way to this very destination.  So with my back to Steve, because I am taking the type of piss that only happens after four pounds of Pabst, I tell him to shut the hell up. 

Now that Steve has shut his trap, I too hear the noise.  But it doesn’t not sound like a rattle at all.  For a moment I think it sounds almost like locusts, rather high pitched.  For a minute I even think what everyone is hearing is the sound of my monster piss, but then I realize I am no longer relieving myself.  At this point, Steve says “ Hey, it sounds like it is over by you man, be careful.”

I start to say, “ Steve it does not sound like it is over here, it sounds like it is over….” and I start to turn around and point in the direction that I hear it coming from, which is in the direction of Steve.  As I turn and point, I realize I am pointing directly at a Timber Rattle Snake curled up on a rock about 6-8 feet away from me.  It was at this moment that I said “Holy shit” and dematerialized and then rematerialized about 15 feet away.  I had never moved so fast in my life. 

While I did not see its head, I did see the thick part of its body and its rattle up in the air.  It was a big mother sucker.  About as thick around as my bicep, which I just measured to be about 14 inches around.  This may not be big for a bicep but it is quite large for a rattlesnake.  For some reason, as I ran away from the beast the others moved towards it, trying to catch a glimpse.  Turns out there were rattlesnakes everywhere.  Every time someone went to move more than five feet from our original location, another rattle would sound off.  Apparently Steve had lead us directly to a rattlesnake den.  For the full rattlesnake den experience watch this video:

Eventually we had enough sense to finish our beers and leave.  We made the hike back to the cars with out anything eventful happening.  I think without the liquid courage of the 5 pounds of Pabst in my system, I would not have been able to take another step - never in my life have I been so dizzy from the near lethal combo of fear and beer.  I literally had nightmares for 12 straight nights.

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