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Field Notes: Light up your bike; coral snake antivenom going away; 'Paddlefish' book signing Tuesday

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Don't be afraid to look like a nerd; equip bike with plenty of lights

I ride my bike a lot early in the morning or after work, when it's dark. That's why my bike practically bristles with flashing, blinking and solid lights, from tip to tail.

In Austin, cyclists are required by law to use a solid white headlight visible for at least 500 feet. A rear red reflector is also required, but it's even better to attach a bright red blinking light in back, too.

Besides my front Nite Rider MiNewt 150 headlight (about $70) and my Planet Bike Super Flash tail light (about $17), I've got an extra blinkie attached to the side of my bike, and blinking caps on the air valves of both tires. (They look super cool as my tires spin!)

I recently added a new light to my stable — a quarter-size red LED flasher made by Energizer (about $6) that clips to just about anything, from my bike helmet to my collar or the storage trunk on my bike rack. I use it when I run, too, clipping it to the back of my baseball cap. To top it off, I wear a neon fluorescent "safety" vest with reflective piping.

I might look like a complete nerd (or the guy who gathers carts in the grocery store parking lot, as my husband likes to say), but I don't care. I want to be noticed!

It always amazes me how often I see cyclists riding without the proper lighting system. It's nearly impossible to see them until you're almost upon them.

Please, if you're going to ride in the dark, make yourself visible.

— Pam LeBlanc

Coral snake antivenom supplies low; restocking won't be profitable

The current supply of coral snake antivenom, which was stockpiled in 2003, has been declared expired already but tests showed it still potent enough to use on humans. But it's supposed to go away again Monday.

Not enough people are getting bitten by coral snakes and therefore there's no money to be made in restocking the supply.

Therefore, North America's only neurotoxic poisonous snake — the Eastern diamondback and a couple of others have some neurotoxic properties — will have free reign to bite, poison and possibly kill a couple of people each year. Red and yellow, kill a fellow.

Those are the cold hard facts. Here are some others:

There is a Mexican version of the antivenom but it hasn't been approved for use in this country, as far as I can tell.

There are only about 20 bites per year by coral snakes in this country and 60 percent of those — because of the snake's primitive poison delivery system — involve no venom at all. Before the development of the antivenom, only 10 percent of coral snake bites were fatal, so we're talking two per year, far less than from rattlesnakes (for which we do have antivenom), dog bites, bees and falling in the bathtub.

There's a Poe-like quality to a serious coral snake bite. The respiratory system slowly shuts down and untreated victims, tend to die from a lack of oxygen as their lungs slowly cease functioning.

Fortunately, coral snakes are really shy little creatures. I've only seen four or five of them in my entire life. And I'm looking.

And, they have fixed fangs in a tiny mouth, requiring them to sort of grind their teeth to break the skin and eventually inject any venom at all. Get them off quickly and you're unlikely to receive any dose of venom,

Of course, if I'm ever in that group of 20 bites, I want my antivenom. And I want it now.

— Mike Leggett


Guide who braved tough canoe race will read from book

I met Christine Warren last May, before she set out with fellow fly fishing guide Banning Collins to tackle the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile gut-wrenching, hallucination-inducing paddle race from San Marcos to the Texas Coast.

She'd been lugging two 50-pound suitcases around her house to boost her strength, and spending long hours on the river, toughening up for what's been called the "World's Toughest Canoe Race."

She survived, I'm happy to report. And now she's written a book about the experience.

Warren will read excerpts from "Paddlefish" (Departure, $26.95) and sign copies of the book from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at Jo's Downtown, 242 W. Second St.

Among the juicy details? Tales of dam portages, water moccasins, log jams, mosquitoes, alligators and sleep deprivation. And no, if the quote from Warren's husband on the back of the book is accurate, she didn't do it because of him.

"For the record, I never said you were an out of shape housewife," it says.

— Pam LeBlanc