There are conflicting stories about what happened to Sherry Arnold, the teacher from Sidney, Montana, after she stepped out the door for an early morning run on January 7th. Hit by a car whose occupants panicked, abducted, something else? What isn't disputed is that she won't ever go for a run again. Neither will Amy Bechtel, vanished in similar circumstances near Lander over a decade ago, that mystery never solved.
I've been following Sherry's story, and the comments on the news stories are disturbing. Women need to be armed, they need to use common sense, they need to find running buddies (oh wait, they say "jogging"--how patronizing) they shouldn't go out at all. As a woman who likes running, hiking, and biking solo, I know there are risks, and I hate that half the population should have to fear the other half. There's something wrong with that, and yet there's something deep and ingrained that most women can feel inside, an instinctual fear that men will never know. There is a dark shadow that I fight to ignore as I run, a looking over my shoulder that I try to erase.
I have run the back roads and trails all of my life, in the national forests and parks that I worked in as a ranger. I've mostly run solo, because I like the silence of just my breath and the sound of my shoes. I like adjusting my pace when I want to, or even pushing my bike up a hill when I can't ride it, or slowing to a survival shuffle when I need to. The wilderness and back roads feel safe to me, welcoming. I like the clarity that being solo brings me. It is a respite, a meditation, just me and my workout.
I have run with others, but the older I get, the more my running has been solo. Hiking is a mixed bag, depending on whether I want to push it or share the experience. And I'm not really accomplished enough on the bike to keep up with real riders. What I am trying to say here is that good workout buddies are hard to find, and I am angry that I should be expected to find one every time I step out the door. If I run alone, do I get what I deserve? If a mountain lion comes down from the cliff, if a random weirdo decides it's a good day to commit a crime, is it my fault?
I am not going to turn the trails I run on to places of fear. I am not going to safely stay on treadmills. I may carry pepper spray now and again, but I am not going to give in. There are enough boundaries that we have to stay inside. This won't be one of mine.