A Trail Impedence

Mar. 24, 2021


By Leilah Grace
We crossed the road in the dark, her with her headlamp facing forward, mine turned backwards in an attempt to make ourselves as visible as possible. Quickly across the 3 lane road we walked, poles in the air, her dog trotting beside her, now searching for the white blaze to guide us back into the forest. It was November on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania and Dragonsky and I were on our second night of our 3-day trip.  I scoured Guthook prior to our crossing and it assured us that the trail crossed the road and then picked back up again a short distance down the road. We walked in the ever growing darkness, her headlamp flashing, mine producing minimal light, still trying to keep ourselves visible to cars and her dog safe on our brief road walk.
There was a small trailer park to our left, hauntingly lit by yellow sodium lights, we hiked up the barrier between the park and the road, searching for the elusive white blaze but it was nowhere to be found. Down the little hill and back on the road we went, through a tunnel with a small shoulder we walked quickly, praying for no oncoming cars. The map indicated the trail turn off would be soon yet all we could see was trees, brush and the steep hill on our left.  There were no blazes, no sign of a trail, or way up into the forest. We walked a little further and still no blaze appeared. Checking Guthook again I found we had passed the turnoff. We were confused, we had been slowly and diligently walking the shoulder and there had not been a blaze, nor any indication of a trail. Fatigue and hunger were beginning to rise as we were an hour behind schedule, and going to be setting up in the pitch dark, again. As we backtracked we searched again, moving even slower, finally a small path appeared, heading up the hill now on our right. There was no blaze, but it corresponded to the Guthook map, so we made a sharp U turn and began a steep climb up a grassy, overgrown path in the growing darkness.
As we began our ascent we were still unsure if this was the AT or a game path or a runoff path, though Guthook agreed with our location, we were both leery. A small post appeared on our left with the iconic white blaze and we breathed a sigh of relief. It was then we noticed Dragonsky’s dog whining and pulling at her leash in uncharacteristic fashion. We shined our headlamps to where she was indicating and saw nothing, but there was a sense of unease in this space. A few more feet up the trail and Dragonsky stops suddenly, so I too stop. Then I see by the light of my dim headlamp why we’ve stopped. There across the trail is dead, decomposing deer. The white belly gleaming and bloated in the brightness of the headlamps, a contrast to the inky sky and the darkness of forest just above us. We stood there in shock, wondering how the deer came to be here. It was too high to be have been hit and thrown from a car, yet at quick glance we could see no obvious injury. The poor deer, and poor us, the deer was blocking the entire narrow trail. To our right was a steep drop down to the road and to our left was the hillside and overgrowth, the trail was the clearly the easiest way to continue on our quest to camping, yet there was a large adult deer positioned such that we could not step over it. Even if we could have stepped over it, we clearly did not want to be any closer to the deer than necessary.
Mouth breathing and encouraging each other we decided we had to go through the brush to our left, yet still we hesitated. Here was a beautiful creature that once roamed free and while there was nothing we could do, I felt compelled to do something. I quietly said a prayer, thanking God for the beauty of this creature and blessed it. With that being done I told Dragonsky I was counting to 5 and on 5 she was to start hiking. As I counted I hoped that the brush would be forgiving and we could easily bypass this deer. She plunged ahead, her dog behind her and myself the anchor of our little group, leaving the deer with our blessing. The brush was thorny and rough but it took only a few short feet to push our way through and loop back to the trail, a dead deer behind us. The deer became the “thing we would not discuss” as we moved forward, adrenaline continuing to ease our ascent as it propelled us up the hill and further into the forest seeking the comfort of campsites and our tents. 

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