Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wild NIght in the Woods

Years ago, when I was a much younger pup than I am now, I thought I was invincible, and I used to enjoy backpacking at night.  If the sky was clear and there was a large moon, I wouldn't even bring a flashlight.

 There was something freeing in the limited way I could take in the world through my eyes.  My other senses were freed to run wild.  I could hear better, smell better, feel the air and the ground underfoot better. 
There are many reasons why most people don't backpack at night.  If you're familiar with the woods in the slightest, then you probably could explain to me why my hobby was in fact very stupid.  It is very easy to get lost while hiking at night.  You could trip, twist an ankle, and then what would you do?  That, however, wasn't what finally stopped by from hiking alone at night. I stopped because it's at night that the woods come alive.
I was hiking a short trail in a national forest. It was a trail I'd hiked many times before.  I had a light pack on my back with just the essentials: tent, sleeping bag, food and some water.   

The trail was a three mile loop, and I knew it by heart.  I was about 1.5 miles in when I heard a rustling in the underbrush near the trail.  I don't live in bear territory, and there was very little animal life in the woods I frequented that could harm me.  So, I wasn't worried.  I figured it would be a opossum, though it sounded larger,  or possibly a raccoon. 

I paused, and watched for a moment, and the sound stopped.  After a few more seconds, I turned to continue, but when I turned around there was a dog on the trail. 
 He was some sort of mutt, and he was big, around German Sheppard size.  His hackles were raised and he growled.  Then suddenly I was surrounded by another five or six dogs, of various sizes and breeds.  They were all growling and barking and generally pissed off.  

At that point I was scared.  I had a walking stick that I used, and old hockey stick cut to size, but it was my only option as a weapon. At that point, an idea came to me.
                I took a swing at a dog to my right and he easily dodged out of reach.  However, when he dodged my swing a hole opened in their perimeter and I snuck through, jumped, grabbed a low hanging tree branch, and pulled myself up.   

The dogs barked, and growled, and leaped at branch on which I was perched.  I climbed a couple branches higher, and watched in disbelief as they ripped apart my discarded backpack.
                The wild pack of dogs didn't stay long around the tree in which I perched.  They seemed to realize they couldn't get to me and they trotted off.  

I slept in the tree until morning.  From the safety of the tree I searched the woods around in all directions, but saw no sign of any dogs.  In the daylight all things seem safer, so I hopped to the ground, gathered up the remains of my pack and walked back to the trail head and my car.  
                 I stopped by the ranger station on my way back home and notified them of what happened.  It was the first they'd heard of the dogs, and for the next several months when I'd go hiking, in the day time, there were posters up at trail heads warning hikers and campers of the wild pack of dogs.  I haven't had any problems since my experience, but I also don't hike at night anymore.

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