Elephants coming straight at us! Photo by Madelyn Given.

Wild Animals and Hiking, Part 1

In my hiking adventures, seeing animals in the wild is a highlight long remembered, a sudden surprise that adds to the thrill and adventure of being in the wilderness. One time in Kenya, I had been hiking during a very long day and it was hot. The staff had forgotten to pick us up and several of us were walking back to our campsite. I was walking ahead and just as I rounded an opening in the brush and small scrub trees, a herd of elephants came charging out.

I froze and Clive, my guide, said “Don’t move.” The matriarch was enormous and the others were large, too. She stopped and smelled me with her trunk. Her ears were flapping and all were trumpeting. It was a scary racket. This all happened quickly, and then they all crossed the opening at a running pace and disappeared. Elephants are a majestic, grand animal and very special to see, understand, and keep safely on this earth. It is a lasting thrill to see them in the wild.

The opposite of the great wilds of Africa was hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT). In four months of hiking with zero days off, I did encounter a few types of animals. Deer fill me with happy vibes. They are harmless, dainty animals and a joy to watch.

A beautiful deer on the Appalachian Trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A beautiful deer on the Appalachian Trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

I had made it all the way from Georgia to Virginia on the AT, when one day I spotted a deer ahead of me nibbling on leaves from a tree. I stopped to watch her and she didn’t jump with a start and bound off—instead, she kept on munching leaves. I picked a few leaves from another tree and slowly moved towards her. Almost within reach now, I put out my hand and she walked towards me and ate the leaves from my hand. With her eyes so big and beautiful, and her tail flicking away flies, she gave me a lovely greeting, and then turned and walked out of sight.

During the 2,175 miles plus that I walked on the Appalachian Trail, sometimes animals came to me. One night I had set up my tent and gone to sleep. I was awakened by footsteps outside my tent. The sound came closer and closer until it went around my tent. Fully awakened by this unusual happening, I shouted, “Who’s there?” No answer. Soon the footsteps went away. In the morning, I saw the footprints of a lone deer.

Another night, two months later, I was still hiking the AT and I was in Maine with less than 200 miles left to hike. I had hiked 27 miles that day and as dark was approaching, I tried to find a place to set up my tent. It was a swampy area; I was alone and hadn’t seen anyone all day. I set up my tiny tent in the middle of the trail; it was late and I planned to leave at dawn. I was tired and went right to sleep, but in the night I heard thumping coming down the trail.

I knew it was a moose. I just lay there in my tent, hoping it would go past me. It slowed to a walk, went around the tent, and resumed its faster clip as it thumped along the path, until I could no longer hear it. I almost immediately fell asleep, too tired to worry about any other encounters.

(posted August 9, 2016)