This week I’m leading a nocturnal camp, which is exactly what it sounds like: we hike at night and sleep during the day. I’ve led plenty of short night hikes for my job before, but this is going to a lot more intensive, and I’m hoping to be able to take some trails that I’ve so far only been on in daylight. So last night I decided to practice, setting out after 10PM to walk by myself along a fairly narrow, twisty trail that skirts one edge of the property, wanting to make sure I could do it before trying to lead campers there.
I did not take my cell phone – or a flashlight. I’ve been in the woods at night plenty, I thought. I’m used to being by myself in natural surroundings. It doesn’t freak me out. I’ll be fine.
Riiiiight. Despite the eerie light provided by a rising full moon, fireflies, and heat lightning flickering in the distance, I could barely see the trail. Several times I strayed off it and had to backtrack to pick it up again. Finally I got to a point where I just couldn’t find it anymore, and decided the smart thing to do would be to turn back, rather than risk getting lost.
That was when I first heard the snorting sound.
Somewhere in the woods, not very far from where I was standing but completely invisible with my limited Homo sapiens night vision, a white-tailed deer was snorting. Angrily. Oh crap, I thought, I’m about to be killed by a charging deer. What a way to go. My instincts were screaming at me to either freeze until it went away, or run, but I knew that if I ran I’d just lose the trail and get lost, and I’d heard anecdotally that standing your ground just freaks out a deer even more.
What I did was calmly turn around and start going back the way I’d come, clapping my hands and yelling to scare it away. “Raaahhhh! Go away, deer! I’m a big scary predator!” Every time I thought it had finally left, though, the noise just started up again a little further on. “RAHHHHHHH! GO AWAY!” Clap, clap, clap! Miraculously, I managed to make it all the way back without losing the trail at all or having a close encounter with my deer friend. It was the gladdest I have ever been to see the camp buildings.
When I’m hiking with campers this week, we’ll be in a group, and I’ll have a flashlight and a cell phone with me in case of emergencies, and there will be nothing to worry about. But that’s the last time I try to walk that trail by myself at night.