Don't be Afraid of the Woods
In today's Asheville Citizen-Times, Karen Chavez, outdoor reporter, wrote a piece on staying safe in the woods for "hiker girls".
It is impossible to ignore or not have strong feelings about the rape and stabbing that occurred on the Gatlinburg Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a few days ago. And each time, a woman gets assaulted on the trail, the fear and precautions come out. On the same page, there was an article about a motorcycle crash which killed an 18-year old woman but no cautions about staying off motorcycles.
I'm concerned about all these women who now decide that hiking is unsafe. One more reason not to hike, to visit a park or to exercise. Are we going to let one isolated incident keep us out of the woods?
The assault was tragic but as the public affairs officers keep saying, a very rare incident in the park. The Gatlinburg Trail is an extension of the town of Gatlinburg. And though I've never worry about a man assaulting me in town, the trail is not really "in the woods."
The further in the woods you are, the safer you are. Thugs and nutcases are not likely to hike in the backcountry. Note that the attack on the woman in Nantahala was on Wayah Road, not a trail.
All the official advice tells us not to hike alone. That's one reason hiking clubs are so popular. The leaders know where they're going and there are a lot of friendly people around.
But for those of us who hike for a particular hiking challenge or to learn a new trail, it is impossible to find someone to join us to hike exactly where we need to hike at the time we need to do it.
I'd like to add to all the safety tips, if you're concerned about men attacking you - yes, I'm going to keep saying "men".
* Look like a hiker. Wear hiking boots, a pack and take water. I use hiking poles because my knees have had a lot of use, but poles are not a bad idea to look like a serious hiker and maybe ward off a dog in the Forest.
* Use some of your city street smarts. Don't doddle on the first mile or so from the trail. Hike steadily to get into the woods. Know where you're going. The time to study the map is at home or in your car, not at the trailhead.
* More street smart told to me by a ranger. Change into hiking boots and organize your pack at a busy place like a visitor center. When you get to the trail, take your pack, put your car keys where you'll find them again and go.
* Same routine when you get back to your car. Jump in your car and change out of your boots at a busy place. Of course, if you're going to a busy trailhead like Laurel Falls, you can change right there.
* Don't talk on the phone or listen to music on the trail. A good idea when walking anyplace.
* I try to say "hello" to everyone I meet on the trail. It's friendly and then they know that I'm there.
I've only done the Gatlinburg Trail once, to finish out the Smokies 900 challenge but I want more people to hike in the park. Do we need a Take Back the Gatlinburg Trail march?
PS - If you want to read Karen's article, do it quickly. The Asheville Citizen-Times takes articles off the web in a few days.