Alone in the Woods at Night…

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.

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