This Wild Life
Trail Runner|Fall 2021
ONE MAN’S 92-MILE RUN OF GRIEF AND SELF-DISCOVERY.
Patrick Rodgers

I stood there, arms raised, begging my GPS to find a signal. As I crossed the remote mountain border between Colorado and Wyoming on mile 37 of a 92-mile run, the rugged trail I had been following suddenly disappeared into a wall of ghastly gray downed trees, remnants of the recent bark-beetle epidemic. The thick canopy overhead had blocked the fragile link between my GPS and SPOT devices.

Alone, calorie-depleted and far from help, I felt painfully isolated. It was the same feeling I had nine months earlier, as I sat beside my father and watched his life come to a premature end. Devastated by that loss, my life spiraled into an abyss of depression, the path out of grief nowhere in sight.

My dad, Neil, was a kind, joyful man with wavy, gray hair, frequently adorned with a sweat-soaked National Geographic Today ball cap and a plain black T-shirt (also drenched in sweat)—his signature hiking apparel on a hot summer day. Neil was a lover of the wild—wildlife, wild places and— never shy to shout it from the mountaintops— wily me. Our adventures hiking, fishing and hunting in the mountains together instilled in me a same love for the wild, so much so that I decided to become a wildlife biologist to try and conserve what fleeting wildness remains.

I have spent the last seven years studying one of the West’s most iconic wildlife species—the mule deer. Since the year 2000, mule-deer populations in Wyoming have declined by over 40 percent, their seasonal migrations threatened by a growing human footprint. Understanding their movements is a critical piece to the intricate puzzle of ensuring deer will be around for future generations. The landscapes that sustain these epic treks—upwards of 240 miles—are often shared with a host of other human activities, from energy development to outdoor recreation. Fences, highways and railroads crisscross migration routes—some of which have been travelled for thousands of years—limiting the deer’s ability to access critical habitats and making these journeys more perilous than ever.

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