Thunderstorms, Snakes, Tarantulas, and Mountain Biking
Dodging another Arizona monsoon, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas while mountain biking in McDowell Mountain Regional Park outside of Phoenix, Arizona. After a few weekends of dodging a bear, snakes, and lightning storms, I figured I’d head to Phoenix for a nice weekend of mountain biking…and the storms decided to follow me there!
Arriving at the campsite in McDowell Mountain Regional Park on Friday, I spent most of the afternoon casually biking around some of the easier trails and relaxing by camp. As far as I could tell, I was the only person in the park. Later in the evening while sitting around camp, I realized that I had plenty of light from the moon and the two headlamps I had on my bike. I finished up dinner and prepared for my night ride. As I started pumping up the tires, a summer monsoon started rolling in a few miles to the north. The storm was clearly moving away from camp and away from the area that I had picked to do my night ride – or at least I thought. Before long I was out on the trail.
I knew from the minute I hopped on the single-track trail that I would experience some nocturnal desert life, but I had no idea I would see that much on the trail. Every 100 feet or so would be a tarantula the size of my fist, a rattlesnake, or a desert mouse, or all three. I had one bike light focused straight ahead, acting as a pseudo “high beam” while the other was pointed down at the distance immediately in front of the tire. The “high beam” was pointing too far away to me to make out any desert critters, while the “low beam” light only let me see the critters that were within a few feet of my front tire. As a result, I could not see the critters until moments from hitting them and I shrieked every time my “low beam” light landed on something scurrying away from the bike in the night air.
During the ride, I was keeping an eye on the storm to the north which seemed to be moving away from the area I was riding. When I arrived at the spot that I was supposed to turn around and head back to camp, I looked back at the storm and noticed that it had shifted course and was heading straight at me. With over three miles back to camp with a monsoon thunderstorm in my way, things were looking grim.
With no shelter and my metal mountain bike serving as the perfect lightning rod, I had no choice but to power through the storm and ride back as fast as possible. I’ve never ridden faster in my entire life. The critters that had been on the trail previously had vanished- leaving me an open trail to carve. Lightning was striking all around me- it was a miracle I wasn’t struck multiple times. To add insult to injury, on a very sharp curve, a six-foot rattlesnake was crossing the entire trail. To avoid running it over, I did a skidding stop and lost control of the bike, tumbling over. When I recollected myself, the snake had curled up ready to strike just a few feet away from my head. Think of the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark for reference. Making matters worse, my feet were locked in my clipped petals. Finally freeing myself from my petals, I slowly backed away from the snake and continued on my journey, without having to think about where the closest hospital was to me to treat a snake bite.
After a few miles and praying to the lightning gods to spare my life, I made it back to camp. My tent set-up was clearly not going to survive the night with more monsoons on the radar. I packed up the site and left for the covered camp host’s spot that would provide me enough shelter for the rest of the night.
The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful. I made a promise to myself to avoid all further thunderstorms for the rest of my career in Microadventures. And so far, I’ve kept to that promise!
Nick is the owner and regular content writer for Southwest Microadventures. When he’s not writing, you can find him rock climbing, peak bagging, mountain biking, backpacking, or drinking strong coffee.