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.