Top Chef judge Gail Simmons hit a Colorado bike trail while filming her new digital series Gail's Day Off — all about her epic adventures in Colorado during her days off from the set — and encountered what she thought was a rattlesnake. Luckily it was just a joke (you'll want to watch the clip above to see the action go down) — but here's what to do when you see a rattlesnake on a trail.
"First of all, give the snake some room, and let it clear the path on its own," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, told Jet Set. "Back away from it, quickly but not too quickly. Even a young snake possesses some amounts of venom, and it doesn’t matter whether it is coiled or not, rattling or not, looking angry or not. You don’t always know, which is why you should always — always — assume the snake is wild, poisonous, and dangerous."
Above all, you're going to want to do your best to not freak out.
"Rattlesnakes generally don’t hang around areas which humans frequent, but it has been known to happen," he added. "Snake do's and dont's are aplenty, but the most important rule is to stay cool and calm. Panic can lead you to do something stupid, and that is not what you want when encountering a snake."
OK, so — don't panic, but do know that rattlesnakes only rattle right before they're getting ready to attack, said Cameron Abdo, founder of SoCal Travels.
"Rattlesnakes are masters of disguise and try their best to not be seen or heard by predators," he explained. "They only rattle as a last-ditch effort before striking. While hiking, you should occasionally scan the ground and surrounding areas for snakes or other obstructions. This is especially important while stepping on or near logs, crevices, or reaching into shaded areas. In some cases the first person in line steps on a log and wakes the snake, then the second person follows behind, and they're the ones who get bitten."
That's why it's also a really thoughtful idea to warn future trailgoers where you've seen a snake, advised author Alan Muskat, who runs a wild mushroom foraging organization.
"If they are right on the trail, you can leave notes for the next person — one for people coming from each direction," he said. "If you don’t have anything to write on or with, the problem with leaving a marker is that it has to be placed carefully or it can distract from seeing the snake itself. In some cases, you can move the snake, but if it’s a sunny spot, or a good hunting area, it may just go back. The best overall answer is to simply watch your step. Snakes won’t bite you from seeing them any more than mushrooms will poison you from looking at or even touching them."
Muskat also thinks that people should practice mindfulness when it comes to these situations.
"Overall, people should remember that when you encounter a snake in the woods, you are in their home."
Another word of caution, Abdo reveals that you're more likely to see a snake on a trail at a certain time of year.
"Snakes are most active April through September," he noted. "During this time, they like to sunbathe on or near trails because it provides them the ability to get sun, and they can also regulate their temperature by being partially shaded by the vegetation on the side of the trail. If you see a snake on the trail, give it plenty of distance. Don't throw things or poke it in attempt to scare it off. Be sure any pets you have are on a leash or secured away from the snake. Snakes can feel the vibrations of people walking and will usually move off trail on their own. Give the snake time to move away. If the snake doesn't move you will need to find another way around with a minimum of 10 to 15 feet of clearance. A general rule of thumb is that a rattlesnake has a strike distance one third of its body length."
Of course, if you do get bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible. The bites are rarely fatal, and recovery (along with a great story to tell) is likely.
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