What Was That Thing in the Woods?
By Khaliela Wright
On the morning of Wednesday, May 7, 2014, my world expanded.
The day started off cloudy, but the weatherman said there would be no rain. That was fortunate, since we’d had a long spell of rainy days and I hate hiking in the rain. My goal was simple: hike the loop trail at Little Boulder Campground at a fast clip and then make it to work on time that afternoon. I expected to accomplish it easily, as the trail is only 5.5 miles long. I wanted to evaluate the route’s condition, to decide if I should propose it for an excursion when the Lewiston Day Hikers met that evening.
The Little Boulder Campground is located on Park Road alongside the Potlatch River, 2.7 miles south of Helmer. The park is densely forested and thick with native vegetation. The campground, managed by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Service, offers a day use area and seventeen campsites in addition to hiking trails.
When I arrived at the trailhead at about 8:30 a.m., dew was heavy on the grass in the fresh morning air. As I hiked along the river, I stopped a couple of times to see if conditions were suitable for skinny-dipping, but decided against it, because I was in a hurry. Turning off the main trail and onto the loop trail, I noticed the birds were no longer chirruping, and it was quieter amongst the shadows, under the forest’s thick canopy.
I make a habit of looking for animal sign while walking, and I noticed an absence of deer sign, which was unusual. But I soon came across other tracks that were intriguing because I couldn’t identify them. The ground was wet enough not to have dust and dry enough not to have mud, making it difficult to see the clear outline of any print. As I worked my way up the trail, I noticed that the animal was leaving a lot of other signs behind, such as turned-over rocks, bark taken off logs or stumps, and scratches. This led me to conclude that I was following a bear. I wished he would get off the trail, because it seemed like I was making faster progress than he was, and I didn’t want to catch up with him.