Saturday, January 14, 2012

"a woman would have to be nuts to run alone"

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.

RIP Sherry.


  1. Good for you. And remember, whereas stories such as Sheryl's are disturbing, statistically speaking it's very unlikely to happen to you, and ultimately you'd have greater health risk by staying home on the couch. Yeah, I guess you could hit the treadmill at the gym, but that wouldn't be fun for you (or me), so you wouldn't be likely to stick with it if it's not fun. Sometimes you just have to accept a little risk (though I'll concede I'll never know the additional risk you women may feel just by nature of being a woman).

  2. Great post! As a woman who regularly runs and hikes by herself I agree, we cannot let fear dictate our actions, and keep us from participating in the activities we enjoy.

  3. Well written. It's so insulting that they say "a woman shouldn't run/hike/etc alone" but they rarely say "men should not prey on women." The offenders are the real problem, not the victims.

    I agree that men have no idea what it's like to have to constantly be vigilant for violence.

  4. Hear hear! You wouldn't believe how many comments I've gotten the times I've backpacked solo, ranging from admiration to concern to purely judgmental. Interestingly, the positive comments are usually from men, while women seem scared on my behalf.

  5. As a relative who cares much about you and your safety...I still say, "Right on." The joy from going how you want and being where you want is a part of who you are.
    Keep running, biking, hiking, skiing and being you!

  6. 99.9% of my runs are solo. Things happen. They happen more often in cities than on trails. Does that mean I will never go to the city? Heck, no! I am terribly sorry about Sheryl. I've been following her cousin's blog for years now so I felt as if she were someone close. Still, I refuse to give into fears. I think the more of us are out there, the safer the we are going to be. OK, there is a lot of anger talking through me now but I just refuse to give MY trails to the thugs.
    Enough of that rant.

  7. I love running alone too, but I am way more cautious after this summer. I do look over my shoulder alot and stay on a trail that is busy. I am always very aware of my surroundings and anyone looking odd, I enjoyed my trail that wasn't as busy until this summer when somebody took that away from me and 4 others.

    I will contiue to run alone just even more cautiously.

  8. It's like anything else -- you can't live paralyzed by fear.


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