We left hours behind schedule.
By the time we hit the Pennsylvania line, we had run into enough traffic to trigger within me multiple bouts of frustration and once — when the careless driver in front of us sent an orange construction barrel flying into the air — a flicker of fear.
By then, I'd already given up on my hope that my son and I would have enough time to stop and fish the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning Creek for a few hours before driving the last hour or so to our campsite along Lyman Run in Potter County in northcentral Pennsylvania.
But I was not ready to surrender my other idea for the drive out: giving him a glimpse of Pennsylvania's growing elk herd.
Yet, on a dirt road that snaked up a mountain just outside the hamlet of Benezette, the "Elk Capital of Pennsylvania," even that plan seemed in jeopardy.
In this most improbable of places, we'd run into yet another traffic jam.
This jam consisted of a single car — ours — and a construction flagger standing in our way with a "STOP" sign.
Unbelievable, I muttered.
Five minutes turned to 10. Frustration turned to anger. Is she asleep up there? Does she even see us? My son knew to humor me.
I got out of the car, seething. But I gritted my teeth and asked ever-so-politely what the holdup was.
Of course she was sweet as pie, and I felt like a jerk for getting so bent out of shape.
They're laying drainage pipe across the road, she told me. It was hard to say how much longer it might be.
We sat there on the road in the woods, waiting. I debated throwing in the towel, pulling a K-turn, and abandoning the elk. At the rate we were going, or rather, not going, we'd be setting up camp in the dark for sure. Now there is a Decker tradition.
After about 20 minutes, she waved us through. We crept past the construction crews and up to Winslow Hill, a mountaintop with vistas that stretched for miles. We had it to ourselves.
No people, but no elk either. As we were about to leave, I spied a calf about 300 yards out. It descended a rocky hillside and waded into a small pond to cool off on the hot afternoon.
We watched it for a while with the binoculars. Time was ticking.
I figured we'd hit Dents Run, another viewing area a short drive away. We pulled into the lot and walked to the overlook. Another family sat there. No elk, they said.
Oh well. It was worth a shot.
The gravel of the lot popped under my tires.
At least we saw a calf, I said, but I would like to have seen a bull. My son agreed.
I looked left before pulling back onto the road.
And there, maybe 40 feet from the car, stood a massive bull elk.
His antlers, covered in velvet, swayed as he grazed. He paid us absolutely no mind and walked to within 25 feet of us. He didn't mind the idling car or the breathless human exclamations pouring from the open windows.
Then a second bull appeared, roughly following the first.
He too walked within feet of the car. They stood beside the elk viewing area sign as though posing for the cover of a Pennsylvania tourism brochure.
We watched them for a good 15 minutes before they ambled into the woods.
That was awesome, my son said. It was an accurate assessment.
Here I was whining about that roadblock, I told him, and if we hadn't gotten stuck there we would have missed those bulls.
We spent the next six days in the woods. Later in the week we had another, even rarer wildlife sighting, scaring up a fisher that bounced into the hemlocks and Jurassic-sized ferns that line Lyman Run.
Theodore Decker: Fawning, and then worrying, over a vulnerable backyard visitor
But we kept revisiting the memory of those elk. It was a highlight of the trip, a truly happy accident. Good thing we got a late start, we said. Good thing we ran into all that traffic.
Typically we think of those situations only when a person falls victim to, or narrowly avoids, something bad. Even disastrous.
"If only he were a few seconds earlier, he would have made it through the intersection."
"Thank goodness she was late to the airport and missed her plane ..."
Why is it that I dwell on the calamity of this world? Rarely do I give a passing thought to these certainly more frequent and most precious bits of serendipity.
Theodore Decker is the Dispatch metro columnist.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Elk encounter: Traffic jam brings Pennsylvania woods experience