The Tour of California and the Deer

The Tour of California and the Deer

This is a sad story which sticks with me even months later. A little reminder that life is a gift.

The night before the 2010 Tour of California start in Nevada City I was on my way to dinner and what I hoped would be a good night's sleep in a cozy B&B just North of the town. Earlier that day I'd driven up from Sacramento, reversing the stage-one route in search of good shooting locations. I'd found several that were promising but wasn't sure if I could get to them through the rolling road closures on race day. Then I scouted the picturesque little town to see whether the parade lap would follow the familiar Nevada City Classic loop... I secretly hoped I might find one or two teams having dinner on main street, but it turned out they'd all opted for Sacramento convenience and wouldn't show until minutes before race time. I felt sorry for local organizers who surely wished for more.

I wasn't prepared for what happened next.

I came on the scene seconds after the deer had been struck. The doe was lying on her left side in the middle of my lane, she was shaking, I saw the car that struck her in my mirror; the occupants already out the car checking the vehicle for damage. Maybe it was the thought of my own animals that made me stop, I don't know. When I got to her she struggled a little to right herself but it was clear she'd never stand again with horribly shattered front legs. Her big brown eyes were wide in shock. I cradled her head in my hands and for a moment she lay absolutely still looking up at me. It was then I felt the most incredible wave of helplessness wash over me.

Another motorist stopped and together we got her onto the shoulder. He called animal control while I kept one hand over her eyes, my other hand stroked her neck trying to comfort her. She was finished but clinging to life even as her breathing grew shorter and more labored. She struggled to rise and it took considerable strength to keep her down. I could feel my own heart beating in my ears as the interminable minutes ticked away. My mind wandered. I seemed to trade places with the deer and it was my life being measured out on the road. Would anyone be with in my final moments? Would I know they were there?

Twenty minutes passed and still she tried to rise. It broke my heart to hold her down but letting her up with open fractures was too painful to consider. Her bladder failed as the life slowly drained out of her but she struggled on. Several more cars stopped. For the first time in my life I hoped one of them would have a gun, none of them did, so I knelt beside her as the car headlights came on, not wanting to leave until she was gone.

At last two Highway patrol cars pulled up. In this part of California this is probably a daily occurrence. They wasted no time, pulling her a little closer to the edge of the road, the officer shot her once in the chest, she briefly reared up, held herself upright for a few seconds, and then collapsed, finally beyond suffering.

I walked to my car got a bottle of water from the trunk and washed the blood from my hands. One of the half dozen cars that had stopped passed me and someone called out "thank you". I briefly thought about getting in the car and driving the four hours home. A bike race didn't seem that important anymore, but I was too tired.

I ate dinner alone at a small diner up the road, excused myself from the friendly invitation to join the B&B proprietors and guests in a drink, showered and went to bed. I lay in bed for a long time thinking about the deer, and what was really important to me. I'm glad I stopped; I'm glad I stayed.

When I woke in the morning, I was happy there were bicycles and racers to shoot. On my way to town I looked for the deer but all signs of the previous night's struggle were gone but I would not forget.

15 Responses to The Tour of California and the Deer

  1. David says:

    I could not image what that experience must have been like. Really puts things into perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  2. That is an amazing thing you did, and I’m particularly glad people were stopping to help, and say thank you.

  3. Caroline says:

    Wow, what an experience. Being with anything as it dies is a tremendously heavy and difficult experience. I’m glad you wrote about it. A lot of people take it for granted, but everything dies, and it’s as miraculous and strange as birth.

    • thank you Caroline,

      I’ll admit it was really the first time I’ve had to deal with death in such an immediate way. People I’ve known have died, in one or two instances, long before their time, but I’ve never been there. The hardest part was being powerless for 40 minutes unable to stop her suffering. I hate to think how I’ll be with our five young cats when it’s their time, far less my parents. Weak or strong though, there’s nothing we can do but experience it.


  4. kurt says:

    Haunting imagery

  5. Jon Moss says:

    Acts like that show the spirit, love and care that every human should have towards one another and to all animals on this planet. Sadly that not is the case.



  6. Tim Cox says:

    That’s so sad, Michael. I’ve often wondered how I might handle this situation; I think your actions were spot-on.

  7. Ildiddy says:

    A touching story and one that is a important reminder to us. In my line of work, I see this not infrequently and one of the most valuable (and valued) things we can do in a situation like that is show compassion, which you did. Thanks for sharing.

  8. BR says:

    Getting back on to a mountain bike has reunited me with so many animals that put up with me/us as I ride through their space. I see deer, hawks, skunk, bobcats, rabbits, fox, etc and I am always happy to see them because of their beauty. It’s really frustrating to see one of them injured because of our encroachment.

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  10. Michael a timely reminder to us all to slow down in the countryside, animals don’t recognise the car for what it is, a few miles slower might just give you time to brake sufficiently to avoid the collision. It might just save your life too because every now and then the animal is catapulted through the windscreen & you end up lying beside the stricken beast wishing the pain would go away.

    Well done Michael not many of us would have the courage or presence of mind to do what you did, or the stomach to sit by the bleeding animal hoping that help will come soon.


  11. surly says:

    Very, very well written. It’s easy for us to get busy with our lives and not stop to consider what events like this mean. The parallels to each of us are many and worth more than a passing moments thought. Thank you.

  12. doug says:

    Great and heart wrenching story. Thx for giving a crap enuf to write this up.

  13. PJT says:

    Your story, is horrific. You actually made me really sad and yes, I have had the same feeling when I took a long range shot at a deer and it was not a clean kill and that is why a sportsman should be smart and try not to wound game only kill it when taking a shot. However, I ride bikes AND hunt deer in the winter and our wildlife bioligist that consults with us on the deer we have on our farm, tells us that there are too many and herds need to be managed. Deer are overpopulated in most of this country and the population is out of control causing potential harm to motorists. See this article from a recent Washington Post:

    This is a very sad situation, it is very sad to see dogs, deer, cats, etc… hurt and on the side of the road dead or suffering. Deer mostly move early in the morning and at dusk. They pose a big problem in the fall/winter during the “rut”/mating season but for the most part they should not pose a problem to cyclysts only motorists at night and dawn/dusk. Sorry you had to witness the kill shot but the overpopulation of deer cause are indeed dangerous to motorists.