I am visiting my brother who lives in Snoqualmie, WA which is about 30 minutes east of Seattle. After dropping off my 16-year-old daughter off for a lunch date, I had about an hour to kill so I decided to hike a few miles away. I went up the path enjoying the beautiful trees, birds, and squirrels, and my internal dialogue kicked into high gear as it usually does when I’m alone.
I really like hiking.
I should do this more often.
Boy is the air clean here.
I was grateful that I could go on this hike alone in the wilderness, yet I would caution my wife or daughters against doing the same thing. Not because they aren’t capable, but because alone they might be at risk. I do not typically worry about someone trying to attack me, a worry that my wife and most other women and girls must consider. Ironically, my hike is taking place only a few miles away from Lake Sammamish, where Ted Bundy committed some of his most horrific acts.
I continued up the trail moving further and further away from the sound of traffic, and I began to feel more alone and isolated. Then I thought about how my brother told me about bear attacks happening more and more frequently because of urban sprawl. My rational side wanted to quiet my fear by saying you are safe…the odds of seeing a bear is so small, and not worth the worry.
I pressed on and fought through the fear, then remembered him telling me about cougars, big cats who are stealth predators. One killed a cyclist in North Bend, WA just a few miles away from where I was last year. This realization came with more fear and my fear started to feel rational. I turned around and hiked back down the trail.
I told this story over dinner for the purpose of laughing at myself. I turned around because of fear, and the odds of being at risk were possible, but not certain. Then my sister said, “Now you know what it’s like every time I get off the red-line in Chicago.”
Until that moment I did not connect the dots between my experience of the cougar, who is really good at not being seen, with the experience of a woman in any number of settings. In my 47 years I have only felt this fear a few times, but if I ask any woman my age, she will say this occurs for them daily or weekly. I can only imagine the toll that a fear like this can take on a person’s psyche.
For anyone who lives with this kind of fear on a daily basis, I feel more alert to your experience. I know I will never be able to completely relate, but I’m working to understand – and I will do all I can to listen and support.