I have been hoping for an animal encounter ever since I returned to hiking in earnest almost four years ago.
It should have happened by now. The woods of the White Mountains teem with life. Every hiker in the state seems to have a story — with photos — of moose and bear sightings. Some of the moose in the photos even seem to be hip to the camera, striking a pose aimed at landing their image on the next state stamp, maple syrup bottle label or gift shop trucker hat.
No such luck for me. In the past four years, I’ve seen black flies, mosquitoes and the occasional squirrel. I’ve seen plenty of bear and moose crap. The closest I’ve come to a shocking encounter was turning a corner on the way up Mt. Eisenhower and coming upon a hiker dropping trou to relieve himself in the middle of the Edmands Path.
This all changed Friday on the Ridge Trail in the Breakheart Reservation. While it’s a fine place for a late winter/early spring warmup hike, Breakheart will never be mistaken for the White Mountains. For one, it’s located about two minutes from the odd commercial bustle of Route 1 in Saugus (You can stop at Karl’s Sausage Kitchen for some hackepeter and bloodwurst and just love a bargain at the giant Christmas Tree Shop before your hike and refuel at Hooters on your way home). The views are dominated by power lines, covered landfills, parking lots and the back sides of hastily constructed condominium complexes. The Ridge Trail, however, has a decent number of rocky ups and downs, making for a good workout.
I expected to be stepping around broken beer bottles. I didn’t anticipate an animal attack.
I was walking in the woods below the ridges. With no views, I was deep in thought (about bacon. Seriously). Suddenly, there was a scream and something slammed into my backpack. I let out a loud little-girl shriek of my own and stumbled forward a few steps, barely keeping my balance in the rotting, late-winter snow. There was a loud crash through the trees on my right and something was yanking at the hiking pole. Steeling myself, I turned to face my attacker.
A turkey. Two, actually. Big ones, with mean-looking beaks. We hadapparently startled each other as I rounded a corner on the trail. I did what any brave, red-blooded American man would do. I turned around and hauled ass down the trail. I could hear their taunting gobbles and clucks behind me as they followed.
After about 10 yards, I gathered my courage, turned around and bellowed, waving my arms wildly.
Turkeys CAN fly. They shot off the trail stage right, half flying, half falling down the hill before disappearing in the brush in a hail of feathers and scat (theirs, not mine).
I’ll be spending much of the spring and summer in the White Mountains, so I expect to run into a moose eventually and have a somewhat more manly tale to tell. Until then, I’ll always have Saugus.
I never saw the turkeys again, so I couldn’t get a photo. However, police were able to come up with a sketch of one of the suspects: