Start local…

Fortunately, most of us have plenty of pathways to adventure nearby. Especially for those of us who live in Southern California, which is where this site is located — South Orange County, home base for NeuroAdventures. From here, the adventures will continue across the state, country and planet…

But let’s start with a recent MTB ride.

A couple weeks ago, I was dropping into some easy trails behind my house when I ran into this guy stretched across a section of trail:

Big Gopher Snake

No big deal, since it’s not poisonous — right? That was my thought, but not my initial thought. First thing to hit my mind was, “Holy F%#k! A big f%#ckin’ snake!” Not my fault, really… It’s one of the things embedded in our brains from birth. Biologically, we instinctively fear snakes. It’s literally wired into our DNA…

So… why did I jump off my bike? chase it down? catch it? and pick it up? BECAUSE IT SCARED THE LIVING S#*T OUT OF ME!! And that is a very cool thing: to overcome the fear of something, through a learned response, and continue with the action. This is a gopher snake. This thing isn’t poisonous. I’ve picked up dozens of them before. They don’t bite! Or, well, sometimes they try to bite, but it’s just a little pin-prick if they do, and then they calm down a bit…

This is what flashed through my brain in an instant. By acknowledging it rationally, overcoming the instinctual fear, grabbing it by the tail as it slithered into the bushes, then lifting its tail (which, as I learned from watching The Crocodile Hunter, prevents it from being able to whip around and strike you), and then slowly reeling it into my grip as I tried to calm it down, I was able to pick it up, have a look at it, then eventually let it go back to the wild:

Hasta luego!

But back to the original question: Why? First, I think snakes and other reptiles are really cool, always have, since I was 5 years old. But mainly, because it was scary. And because I have learned which ones are poisonous, which aren’t. Because I knew if I overcame the initial fear, picked it up, looked it over, then let it go, it would be a cool adrenaline rush — followed by a happy feeling: dopamine hit! And back to the original reason the adrenaline-to-dopamine pathway got embedded into most animal brains: successfully overcoming fear to obtain a positive outcome that rewards the organism in some way and helps it continue to survive is an evolutionary advantage. Granted, in this instance, picking the snake up had nothing to do with me reproducing to continue my genetic lineage… So, I was merely activating that pathway in a way that seemed scary, but, in this case, held little risk. And that’s the essence of adventure sports really, isn’t it? As long as the snake doesn’t turn out to be poisonous… or the trail turn out to end in an unexpected 100′ cliff… or the wave doesn’t end up drilling me into the rocks and knocking me unconscious… or the slope doesn’t end up releasing an avalanche and burying me alive…  All risks! But all manageable with knowledge and experience and a calm demeanor when confronted with their possibility.

Let the NeuroAdventures continue!


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