I understand this. I've been there too. I guess the only way out of this is to check if the project is still active before submitting pull request. Like checking the date of the last commit, commenting on the issue and starting a conversation going before putting in effort to make changes and submit pull request.
Although I think, that developing the source for a PR is also a good exercise in working with unknown code and worth the while (if it isn't tooooo time consuming). And if the code is presumably dead, you could adopt it, if you feel to.
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