As a kid my dad told me never to be the third hiker in a group. Jokingly, he'd say that a rattlesnake sees the first hiker, takes aim at the second hiker, and strikes the third hiker. As ridiculous as the tale may sound back in Northern California the tale almost became a reality.
After a pleasant town stop in Etna myself and a handful of other hikers got a ride back up to the trail. A few miles down trail I found myself hiking at a pretty good clip with Easy A and Blue Skies. We were making fun of the book Wild, then transitioned into all of the things people fear on trail. Of course we mentioned rattlesnakes, and within a few moments of the discussion Easy A walked right past a rattlesnake which was coiled on a rock just inches downhill of the trail. Blue Skies marched just a few paces behind Easy A and as he stepped adjacent to the rattler the snake extended its head about six inches and stuck out its tongue, as if it were taking greater interest in Blue Skies, I wanted to alert my companions of the danger but they were hiking faster than my brain could process. Before I approached the snake I pointed it out to my companions, and I hiked uphill in a large arc to get around the looming threat.
Once on the other side we wanted the rattler to move off trail. We had several friends hiking behind us and we wanted to avoid another rattler incident. Just a couple days earlier a fellow hiker, who was a day behind us, stepped on a rattler and was bit by the snake. The hiker walked two miles to a highway where an ambulance was waiting to rush him to the hospital. The doctors determined the snake didn't release any venom, so after a day in town the hiker returned to the trail with a swollen ankle.
With the current trail side hazard, after nearly fifteen minutes of heavy coercion and cursing we were able to scare the snake down the hill. For the rest of the day we took turns hiking in different arrangements so everyone had the chance to be lucky hiker number three. We nicknamed this spot "striker position".