After a terrifying experience with haunt, I resent that Im safer backpacking in the woods than I am in the place I live
Before I learned the bite of breaking in brand-new hiking boots or the aching cold that is a tented nighttime in north California, I learned that backpacking- especially as a woman- is dangerous.
Everyone said it: aren’t you so worried about being a woman alone in the wilderness?
The wilderness is an unforgiving home. One sloppy mistake can cost you their own lives or, at the very least, a very warm night and a red-hot meal. My backpacking trips are carefully calculated. I pack sufficient food, and a Snickers bar to boot. I map my sea generators and fill up often. I’m alert, taking a mental inventory of every snapping branch. I mention fresh publishes and heaps of scat. And because I grew up in Ohio, a state with very few wild predators, even the tone of a clambering chipmunk can heat my blood. Fortunately, I’ve always arrived at the trail’s terminate, tired, breathless and hungry for a red-hot meal.
My off-trail life is different, though. Beyond the pines, I don’t have to cock an ear to hear a piranha. The shrill catcalls are audible. So are the shuffles of too-close steps. I can feel the grabs, the tickle of a brushing hand, and the hot that simmers near my hairline when a man’s gaze lingers. These off-trail piranhas aren’t concealed by trees. They’re visible, often aggressive and ever unprovoked. It’s my off-trail life, though, that is more dangerous.
I was 23 when I caught the attention of a human I’ll call Josh. I was young, petite, brunette- only his form, police would afterward tell me.
I don’t know when or why Josh firstly took interest in me. What I do know is that, for at least two months in 2014, he watched me through the windows of my one-bedroom apartment. He called simply to hear my voice when I answered the phone. He knew where I ran and which library I frequented. One darknes, he removed clothes from my car’s trunk and draped them across its hood, taking care to hang a lily-white, lace bra from the side mirror. It was vengeance, I supposed, for calling the police a day earlier.
During the time Josh stalked me, I called the police, daily, in sob. Dialing 911 became a familiar routine- a race to get authorities on the line before Josh interrupted with a see. But the security forces did nothing to alleviate my anxieties. They often didn’t respond to my pleas to check my complex for Josh. And the few times they did show up, they offered little solace. You can try to press charges, one male officer told me, with the caveat that a restraining notice was unlikely. The thought of envisioning Josh in courtroom established my belly churn. The “ve thought about” not being granted a restraining order, of him anticipating his action was acceptable, established my skin hot.
As the weeks progressed, Josh’s calls became more frequent. He rarely spoke on them, but when he did, he would ask about my underwear. Was I wearing any? What color was it? One darknes, after a particularly startling phone call, I asked two officers to come to my suite to check for him. The time they depicted up at my door, I burst into tears. One of them cracked a smile. He leaned in and propped an arm against my entrance frame. Gently, he told me that Josh hadn’t done anything wrong. Nothing, at the least, that I could take to court. Josh didn’t know better, he said softly. He had an remarkably low-spirited IQ. And, anyway, he was probably harmless. In cases where, the officer proposed I remove my professional headshot- a smiling version of myself in hiking clothes- from my own personal website. You’re tempting him, he told me. I choked back a sobbing. Or perhaps it was a scream.
One night, I sat alone in my suite, huddled on the flooring. My dazzles were gleaned and my doorway locked. I hadn’t slept in what felt like weeks. Tonight was no different. I watched my phone light up on the floor. It was Josh. A rip rolled down my cheek. My hands trembled. My gaze shifted from the door to my windows to the cheap kitchen knife in my lap. I comprehended its plastic treat with a sweaty palm. A smaller knife lay beneath my pillow, merely in case. But everything from the locks on my doorway to the flimsy knives seemed to offer simply superficial protection.
In that instant, my brain shifted to Heather Anderson, who, after specifying a accelerate register in 2011 for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, told a reporter that the wilderness is the safest home for a woman to be alone.
At the time, I had only recently begun hiking. I didn’t own a tent or a camp stove. I had two packs, but neither of them were very large. I’d never applied a compass, and I’d never invested a darknes in the wilderness- much less a nighttime alone in the wilderness. Still, I considered it. The theory of putting hundreds of miles between myself and Josh was seducing. I established a mental checklist of the things I’d need to survive a night or two alone in the backcountry. Water. Food. Tent. Lantern. A huge pack to carry everything there is. I had none of these things. I knew that I was unprepared. But the concepts of camping alone, somewhere far away from Josh, still felt safer than my apartment.
I reckoned hopping in my auto and driving north for hours, taking gale turns and little-known backroads. I would park at a trailhead beneath the encompas of a pine, I guessed. Then I would hike for miles in the safety of solitude. No police. No cell service. No Josh. Just me. Like Anderson, I envisaged I’d be safer outside.
Four years later, I still think that. I’ve stirred innumerable campsites my house since my first backcountry trip in late 2014. But even out there I get angry. I shouldn’t feel safer summitting an icy pinnacle than I do in my own residence. I shouldn’t feel safer march among 400 -pound grizzlies than I do ambling among my male co-workers. I shouldn’t feel safer ambling alone on a road, miles removed from civilization, than I do strolling through the grocery store.
Backpacking, for me, is an fleeing from many things- emails, co-workers, relationships, procedure. I feel at peace beneath the weight of a pack. My supposes quiet during uphill ascents. The knots in my stomach unwind. I stop overthinking, a rarity for me. Hiking is drug for my anxious mind.
After two months, Josh’s calls stopped. Police ultimately paid him multiple inspects, and he got the level. Or at the least it appears to be. But I still had a nagging sympathy he was watching me. I worried that if I was no longer the target, someone else was.
I still ensure versions of Josh everywhere- on the qualify, in the gym, at holiday parties, in my vicinity. But I don’t let those encounters characterize my days. I don’t give him power over me.
Instead, I envision a world where I can walk alone at night, nervousnes free. A world where I can wear what I crave without person telling me I’m” asking for it “. Where I can take forms of public transport without the lingering stares, catcalls and crotch rub. A world where people like Josh are prosecuted immediately.
But until that world subsists, you know where to find me.