Updated: Sep 14, 2020
By Jerrole Hosler
The shoulder straps from his pack are digging into his shoulders, and he can feel a dull ache in his lower back. He knows he should have packed lighter, but food is food and he knows he’ll be grateful for the rice and peanut butter when the sun goes down and they make camp.
His hiking partner, Kyle, is fairing just as poorly. The banjo in his hand was as big as a guitar and twice as heavy; but they figured they could do some busking and earn some extra money in the next town they went through, maybe Charlevoix or Petoskey. Kyle looks over.
“You alright Alex?” He asks.
“Yeah, but fuck this bag. Let’s take a break.” Alex answers. They are on a small path in the middle of a forest, and it’s easy to find a tree with good shade. Alex drops his pack and sits on it, it might crush his loaf of bread, but he doesn’t care.
“Whoever planned a trail next to a river is an idiot,” Kyle says, as he swats at one of the many mosquitoes. Alex nods noncommittally. He knows that this was actually an old snowmobile trail, and never got much foot traffic in the summer. There’s a can of peanuts at the top of his pack and he pulls them out. Hiker tip number one: always put things you’ll need during the day at the top of your pack. No one likes dumping their whole pack to search for a granola bar. Alex hands Kyle the peanuts and they munch in silence for a while.
“We should camp farther from water tonight,” Alex says.
“Animals come to the river to drink at night, and there are more bugs by the river.”
“Oh yeah, cool. We can do that.” They don’t talk much, there isn’t a need to. They’ve been friends for years and haven’t seen another person in three days, and probably won’t see another one for three more; if they kept hiking at their current pace.
“We need to get going if we’re going to reach Grave’s Crossing by sundown.” Alex breaks the silence. Grave’s Crossing was just a place to put your canoe into the Jordan River, and he was pretty sure camping there was illegal; but if they show up right at dusk and leave before full light, he doesn’t think anyone will notice. It’ll be better than camping on the side of the snowmobile trail; which was probably full of curious animals.
“Sounds good. Help me with my pack.” Kyle says, after putting the peanuts into his pack. Alex closes his bag without looking inside and helps hoist the large pack onto Kyle’s shoulders before Kyle does the same for him. He knows they packed too much, he can’t even lift the damn thing without help. Fuck his shoulders hurt, the break dulls the pain just enough to make putting the pack back on feel that much worse. Neither of them is aware of the stowaway that slipped into Alex’s pack while he was sitting on it.
They reach Grave’s Crossing right before dusk settles over the river.
“I thought you said we shouldn’t camp by the river,” Kyle says.
“Aww, fuck. I totally forgot about that. Well, animals know to keep away; because of all the people that come here. We should be fine.”
“You want to go for a swim?”
“You know how cold that water is, right?”
“About as cold as Lake Superior.”
“You’re a damn liar.”
“Hand to God, The Jordan is fucking cold.”
“And we stink, let’s jump in.” They were both wearing shorts already, so they strip off their shirts, shoes, and socks and jump into the river. It’s a good idea, they can wash their clothes and hang them to dry while they build a fire and cook some of that rice. Kyle even has some hot sauce saved that they can add.
The water is as cold as Alex promised, but they both don’t care. The water feels good on their sunburned faces and sore hot backs. Alex leaves the river first and climbs the short bank back to their packs. It’s almost dark and they need the tents put up before full dark sets in.
If it had been a little lighter he might have been able to see into his pack. If the sound of the water was a little quieter he might have heard the sound of the rattle. If he was a little less happy he might have been looking into his pack instead of around him at the glorious scenery of water and forest. What he didn’t see was the Michigan rattlesnake cosily resting in his bag. He feels his hand brush against it, and then he feels a flash of pain in his wrist.
The cytotoxic venom rushes into his bloodstream and his heart starts pounding, more from panic than pain. He pulls his hand back as his entire body breaks out in goosebumps. He feels cold sweat run down his back in fear and Adrenalin.
“Kyle! Get up here.” He runs to the bank of the river. “I was bitten by a snake, we need to go to the hospital.” Alex tries to remain calm, but the dark red blood pooling into his hand sends another wave of panic into his brain. “Hurry the fuck up!” He shouts and goes to his shirt, shoes, and socks. No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service. He thinks, with a nervous laugh, well the hospital will take him with no shirt. He scoops it up and wraps it tightly around his wrist, that fucking snake got him right in the…what the hell, was it? Palmar or Dorsal vein, he can’t remember. He needs a hospital.
“Goddamnit!” He says to the air. Kyle trots out of the water.
“My first-aid book, it’s in my pack. And so is my first aid kit, and so is my phone.”
“Well, let’s go get it.” Kyle goes over to Alex’s pack and kicks it over so the top of the pack facing away from the pair. He sees a brown and black spotted snake, about two feet long and thick, slither out of the pack and make its way downriver. By the speed it went, Kyle thinks it was just as scared as they were.
“You gave that thing a hell of a start.” He says.
“Yeah, you think he was scared? I think I pissed myself.” He tries to smile, but the truth is, he thinks a little piss did come out.
“What should we do?”
“We need to go to the hospital.”
“Was it poisonous?”
“Venomous,” Alex says. “I can feel my lips tingling.” He goes over to his bag but stops.
“Do you want me to get your first aid book?” Kyle asks. Alex nods and Kyle reaches into the bag for the small green field book. Kyle looks in the table of contents, finds ‘snakebites, spider bites, and bug bites.’ He reads for a minute. “It says to go to the hospital.”
“Right, I knew that. Does it say anything else?”
“Yeah, it says don’t scratch bug bites.”
“Fuck you, let’s go.”
It was full dark by the time they used the supplies in the first aid kit to wrap Alex’s wrist, and he was more than gun-shy about putting his pack back on, but Kyle helps him hoist it and he tries his best to help Kyle with his. They notice Alex’s bandage was already soaked through with blood and Alex tries to seem calm when he re-wraps his bloodstained shirt over the bandage.
“How do you feel?” Kyle asks. Both of Alex’s legs felt light and were shaking in panic.
“Great. Peaches and cream. Top dollar. I’m on the moon.”
“I get it, I get it. Can we hail a car?”
“I’m covered in blood and shirtless and it’s pitch black outside, but we can try.” He can’t feel his hand anymore and his lips are tingling even worse now. Grave’s Crossing was near a local county road and they make their way there in under 15 minutes.
“How’re you holding up?” says Kyle.
“I’m g--,” Alex says before vomiting onto the gravel road. The vomit looks like normal rice and peanut butter vomit. That’s good, no blood.
“I think we need to hurry.” Kyle is starting to panic now too. “How far to the nearest hospital?”
“25 miles East to Gaylord, 24 miles North to Charlevoix, or 40 miles south to Traverse City.” Alex answers.
“You sure picked an awesome place to hike.”
“Right?” he can’t focus enough for a comeback.
“Should we call 911?” Neither of them wanted to, but it might have come to that.
“Okay, I’ll get my phone.” Alex goes to one of his pack’s side pockets and removes his phone. He presses the ‘On’ button with his good hand. He waits. He presses the ‘On’ button again. He waits. Third time’s the charm. He presses the ‘On’ button. Nothing.
“My phone is dead,” he says.
“Shit!” Kyle says.
“What, let’s use your’s,” Alex says.
“I didn’t bring it.”
“I didn’t bring my phone.”
“Seriously?!” Alex says, but his tongue has started to swell and it comes out as, theriouthly.
“We can still flag down a car.”
“Sure,” Thure. They wait for a car. They wait for headlights. They’ve been waiting for 45 minutes when Alex has a seizure. His mouth starts to foam and his body spasms. Kyle panics, Alex goes into a coma.
He dies early the next morning; waiting on the side of the road outside of Grave’s Crossing. The doctors will say it was a fear-induced heart-attack, no one has died of a Michigan rattlesnake bite in 79 years.
Kyle gets a civil citation for illegal camping and he doesn’t go hiking anymore.
More on the Author:
Jerrole Hosler was born and raised in Northern Michigan (USA). He graduated from Northern Michigan University in 2013 with and English Writing Degree. He has spent his time since then working numerous jobs. Under his resume you will find restaurant work, warehouse labor, nursing home care, and secretary work at a University.
Through all of this he has kept his love of words. He currently works as an English teacher to adult students in Shanghai and is writing his first book.
In his free time he enjoys complaining about the US Government and making gross oversimplifications of America to people of other cultures.