Yesterday’s cycling was tough. Peddling up mountains in the July heat is no easy task (especially on a fully laden chariot) and I had just completed my single largest ascent of the trip.
After the climb that took me up endless switchbacks and through some low laying cloud, the road leveled off and the familiar feeling of the Spanish sun returned to my skin.
The tarmac was smooth, the traffic quiet, and the breeze was just so. That can be a somewhat rare combination when travelling by bicycle, so I took note to appreciate the moment. It was a steady cruise to my destination – a campsite next to a lake in the mountains. The methodical ritual of pitching my tent took no time at all, and water was boiling for my bicycle shaped pasta before the sun went down.
After sleeping well in the cooler night air from a higher altitude I was awake enough at 8:30 AM to get my rest day chores started.
I hung my hand washed clothes from a washing line devised from two bungee cords pulled precariously tight between two small trees and began to think of breakfast. It was during those brief thoughts of fried eggs that my attention was turned to the lake as something was spotted moving close to the shore.
On the other side of the gated fence was the sandy beach of the lake, and the waters edge not much further. A small silhouette could be seen in between the suns rays. It was not moving fast but it was slowly coming toward the shallows.
As the silhouette drew closer it became easy to make out the shape of a deer in the water. The poor creature only had a few more meters to go and she would have been back on her feet, but the campsite groundsman had picked a poor time to drive past in his loud truck and rattling trailer. This spooked the already scared animal and she headed back out into deeper water. It was obvious from how low her head was to the surface that she was getting tired. She may have been in the lake for hours, or even all night.
I moved from my camp, through the gated fence to the waters edge and kept my eye on the Doe. She got close to shore at another point by a clearing with thick undergrowth and a small cliff edge, but never made it out of the lake. She was maybe a couple hundred meters away but it was evident she couldn’t lift herself from the water. At this point I made my way around the lake’s edge, the beach quickly ended and became marshy woodland. I had made ground but I had also made enough noise to scare the poor creature into thinking deeper water was the safer option. So off came my shoes and I waded out waist deep, stepping down the drop that she could not climb and caught up with her. It would be no exaggeration to say I caught her near her last breath as her nose was under the water and It was a struggle to lift her clear of the surface (she may have been a small Doe but my word she was heavy!)
After struggling back up the incline with what must have been a lead-hoofed Deer, I set her down in the clearing on the shore.
When I set her down it was clear she had hurt her back leg, likely from a fall into the lake. She was wheezing heavily so I compressed the sides of her chest behind her front legs, forcing her to expel some water she had inhaled. She was also trembling – probably from the cold water, perhaps from shock/ adrenaline or even perhaps from the ordeal of a 6ft sunburnt tourist chasing her around a lake…
Either way I used my shirt (the only dry clothing I had left) to dry her off the best I could before gathering up all the moss from the thick underbrush and constructing a makeshift blanket over the Doe. I returned to camp, grabbed my bag of salad and returned to leave a pile of fresh greens next to the Deer burrito I had created.
After a difficult game of charades in an attempt to translate the story of the Deer into understandable Spanish with the campsite owners, I had a phone number for the regions wildlife rescue service. The conversation with wildlife rescue was underwhelming… They stated that due to the location it would prove difficult to retrieve her and there wasn’t much they could do.
With mixed feelings I decided the best course of action would be to wash my Deer-and-stagnant-lake-water scented attire, have some brunch and then check back. It must have been close to 4 hours before returning again, taking a slightly different route to avoid the thorns and mud I had encountered earlier. I stepped over the large fallen tree into the opening where I had left the burrito and was met with a heart warming surprise. My salad and the Deer were gone! I’ll never know the exact sequence of events during those few hours but I hope the Doe, exhausted as she must have been, slept a little, had a nibble on some salad and had the strength to hobble back to familiar surroundings.
*Happy Deer photo for reference*
For more of my animal adventures, please click here!