One of the lesser known dangers of winter running in Canada is the crafty Northern Sidewalk Snake. For those who are unfamiliar with this native of Canada these snakes are usually only seen in the few coldest winter months. They can be coloured bright yellow, orange, and sometimes red. They like to stretch themselves across sidewalks late at night. If they are noticed in time a vigilant pedestrian will cautiously move around or step over quietly. Those not paying attention have been known to panic as they sidestep the snake trying not to disturb it or to trip over it. Those not careful can easily injure themselves in the sudden movements and can potentially harm this mostly dormant species. Angry pedestrians have been known to fight back by assaulting these passive creatures.
Urban legend holds that the snakes can perceive a runner approaching and will often jump imperceptively fast up to 12 inches straight up, purposely tripping the runner. Many a runner will attest to being assaulted by these creatures. Hospitals are inundated at this time of year by snake-induced injuries.
With the temperatures hovering around -5 C to -10 C there are only a few out, but when the temperatures drop much below that they seem to come out in hordes stretching themselves along the sidewalks. Inexplicably, their numbers multiply exponentially as the evenings stretch to nighttime, and by morning most have disappeared again.
So if you are a runner, run earlier in the evening when there are fewer out. Watch for especially dark areas, where the most active, seemingly vengeful snakes lie. One preventative measure to being surprised by these terrors is to wear headlamps in the dark winter evenings to eliminate the shadows. Of course, the best precaution is vigilance.
Some homeowners, have resorted to providing alternate crossing locations so the snakes can cross without interfering with passers-by. These crossings are often located above the pedestrians head level which can be unnerving but is a safe alternative. Many snakes lives have been saved from irrate pedestratians by installing these contraptions. Also, many a runner has been kept free from injury by these ingenious devices.
All experienced runners in Canada know to respect the sidewalk snake. Be aware, be safe.
PS If you don’t live in a climate where you’ve ever heard of a car block heater, you’ve probably never heard of these sidewalk snakes. But they do exist, and they’re nasty.