During my time at Appalachian State University, I developed a passion for photography: my major was Electronic Media with a focus in audio and video production, and one of my minors was Commercial Photography. The school was about fifteen minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, dotted with scenic vistas in both directions. Going to the Parkway to take photos on the weekends was a favorite past-time of mine.
On a Friday evening in September 2017, I had a near-death experience taking photos at one of these scenic locations. As I feared for my life, I could imagine the headline, App State Student Trampled to Death by Cows on Blue Ridge Parkway. What an unexpected story that would be!
It was a cool, autumn evening and I had gone on a hiking trail not far from campus, about halfway in-between Moses Cone Memorial Park and Price Lake. I was wearing jeans and a blue Columbia fleece jacket. This Friday evening wasn’t my first time on the two-mile loop based at Sims Pond, which I call Sims Trail because I don’t know that it has a title.
This was one of my favorite spots to take photos, so I was very familiar with the hike.
There is an easy-to-travel path through the woods leading to an open, grassy field with a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains; at the top of a slope it curves to the left and goes back into the woods towards Sims Pond.
It was probably my fifth time in this field, but my first time being there in the presence of farm animals: there was a herd of a dozen cows grazing in the field at the top of the hill, about 100 yards from the trail’s edge.
At about 7:15 pm I neared the top of the hill, a safe distance from the herd, took out my tripod and camera from their bags and set them on the ground to start shooting. In my eyes, the presence of the cows added to the scenic view. The sun was setting and the Blue Ridge Mountains appeared truly blue, perhaps even purple. It was a perfect spot for golden hour photos.
As I stood solitary taking photos of the pasture with the tree line and mountains in the background, the cows were about one-hundred-and-fifty, maybe over two-hundred, yards from me. Over a period of fifteen minutes or so of me taking picture after picture, the cows started moving closer to me.
They were moo-ing, chewing some grass, and minding their own business, and I was minding mine as well. At one point they had gotten within 50 yards of me, and I saw that they began walking towards me. Over about 30 seconds I took several more photos as they got closer and at which point I became struck with fear.
I realized that cows are huge, and there were ten of them galloping straight towards me. It seemed that they had noticed my presence and were not at all pleased with it. My survival instincts kicked in: I quickly grabbed my backpack and my tripod, with camera attached, and started calmly walking away from them. I was terrified and thought that if I started running, they would stampede and I would be a goner.
I stuck out my tripod like a three-pronged spear and walked backwards, not knowing what else to do. I don’t think poking a cow with my tripod would’ve stopped them, but it was the closest thing to a weapon that I had. They advanced to within 10 yards of me.
Thankfully, there’s an anti-climatic resolution to this story that doesn’t involve me getting trampled.
I decided to go down the steep hill that the trail is on, and after about 30 seconds they stopped following me and stared as I walked away at a slow place, careful not to cause alarm.
When I got to the bottom of the hill, crossing the fence separating the pasture from the rest of the trail that goes through the woods, I was so relieved, thanking God that I had not seen death in a most unconventional way.
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