Yesterday after lunch, I braved the record high temps to take the puppy for a hike and swim in a nearby nature preserve. I was just a couple of minutes into the trail when I felt a presence behind me. I immediately turned around and saw a man not more than three feet behind me on the trail. He was wearing a black short-sleeved workout tee, black workout pants, and, bizarrely, was carrying a long spear-like stick with the sharp end pointed toward me. How had he crept up on me so quickly? I screamed at the top of my lungs, stopped for a second while he took a step toward me and muttered "sorry," then screamed two more times. I stepped to the side of the trail, and he passed.
I watched him proceed down the trail ahead of me while I debated what to do. When he stepped toward me and muttered "sorry," I honestly didn't know whether he was saying "sorry I'm about to rape and murder you," or "sorry I startled you." His clothing suggested a trail run, but why the stick? It could have been a hiking stick, but why would he carry it if he was jogging?
I considered turning around and leaving the nature preserve, but I really needed to exercise the puppy before the kids got home from school, and the guy didn't particularly have the look of a rapist or murderer. (But, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.) I remembered seeing a construction crew on Monday, further down the trail, working on a bridge to connect two sections of the trail. If I needed help, surely I could reach them.
I continued on the walk, and never saw the guy again, which itself is a bit odd since the trail system is a figure 8, with street entrance only at the bottom of the figure 8. I thought there was a chance I'd see him again when he looped back toward the bottom. Three quarters of the way into the walk I reached the sandy "beach" area where I let my puppy swim. I saw an older couple wading in the creek with their dachshund and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I felt safe again.
Now I'm wondering whether I need to invest in Mace/pepper spray, which I haven't carried since college. (And just thinking about Mace makes me laugh as I recall my college friend Fred accidentally spraying it into his mouth, thinking it was Binaca.) In the short term, I will likely restrict my nature preserve walks to the weekends when the whole family can join me. And I will investigate whether there have been any incidents in the preserve.
An older male neighbor told me about this preserve last winter, explaining that he took his dogs there for off-leash walks at least once a week. The first time I explored it with my puppy, I did so cautiously. On that first visit, I was relieved to run into another woman walking her dog. I quizzed her about safety, and she told me that she has always felt safe walking there alone, and that she rarely sees anyone else. She did say that she once saw a homeless man, but that he made a point of walking out onto the trail so that she would see him, and not be startled. In my experience there, I'm just as likely to see no one (as on Monday), or a solo jogger, or even an acquaintance from the dog park.
I hate feeling unsafe. But I also hate having to restrict my activities. There is a wonderful rail-trail here for biking, which runs almost 100 miles to the state line, but I feel very nervous biking too far down the trail alone because a female cyclist was murdered on a secluded section of the trail several years ago.
Sometimes it stinks to be female and vulnerable.