Ask the Blonde Coyote: Facing the Fear Factor

Home sweet home at a trailhead in Idaho

Home sweet home at a trailhead in Idaho.

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my free living success.

Teardrop Self Portrait

Teardrop Self Portrait

My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote: I have been wanting to travel the U.S. with my medium size dog. Of course, the first thing is that I’m nervous about traveling alone (besides my dog) and I also just don’t know if I could do what you do by tenting it or should I get a van/little trailer. So many things I’m worried about: traveling alone, meeting up with weirdos (safety concerns), bathroom situation, wild animals to name a few. Rereading these worries doesn’t seem all that scary but they’re holding me back. 

A wild animal!

A wild animal!

And this one:

It seems like you’ve never encountered any problems with other people, and personally, I’m not too worried about it myself, but my family is scared that I’m going to encounter trouble from other people, presumably because I am female.  My friend of the family thought I should bring a shotgun with me (uh, no) and I’ll have a knife for practical purposes but I really don’t want to try it out for defense.  I’ll have pepper spray, too, but I know that’s not ideal either.  I was thinking of bringing a baseball bat (?), but do you have any suggestions?  Like I said, I highly doubt that we’ll find anyone looking to give us trouble; we’re both pretty good at reading people and won’t likely find ourselves running into the wrong crowd.  But I thought I’d ask you since I’m sure you have plenty of experience. :)

Hiking up Paris Peak in southeast Idaho

Hiking up Paris Peak in southeast Idaho

Ah yes, the fear factor. If you’re going to enjoy traveling, especially solo, you need to get a handle on all those anxieties that can paralyze you during the day and keep you awake at night. Honestly, the most dangerous part of road tripping is driving. I’ve met some weird people and some creepy people, but never once in all my travels have I ever been threatened by anybody. Maybe it’s because I travel with two large dogs (though I’ve been to South America twice and Europe thrice and plenty of places around the US without them) or maybe it’s in the way I carry myself, or maybe I’ve just been lucky, but after nine psycho-free years, I’d like to think I’m doing something right.
Southern Idaho from the Highline Trail

Southern Idaho from the Highline Trail

The key, of course, is confidence. There are predators in this world, but they are generally looking to prey on the weak and unaware. Everywhere I go, I pay attention and everybody I cross paths with I meet with a level gaze. Making eye contact says “I see you too” and that’s often enough to stop a predator in its tracks. Just recently I ran into five drunk dudes at Bloomington Lake in Idaho who wanted me to come swimming with them. They were rowdy and leering and too friendly but I kept calm and said no thank you and made eye contact with each of them and when they saw I was not afraid they went on their way and left me alone.
At Bloomington Lake.

Spring hailstorm at Bloomington Lake

I am not fearful and I am not fearless; fear is an asset and I pay attention to it. I pay attention to my dogs, to my surroundings, to my exits, to my gut. I don’t waste my energy worrying about all the scary scenarios that might happen; I pay attention to what is happening in front of me and deal with situations as they unfold.
Storm descending on Bloomington Lake. Good thing I pack rain gear in the mountains!

Storm descending on Bloomington Lake. Good thing I pack rain gear in the mountains!

I think one of the best things I have going for me in the fear department is that I don’t watch television. I didn’t have a TV for most of my childhood and I’ve never lived with one as an adult. Every time I catch a glimpse or see a show, I am disgusted and often downright appalled. Whether it’s the news or the newest must-see TV or the incessant commercials, to my eyes it’s all ugly and violent and invasive and absurd and I can’t understand how anybody functions with all that terrible shit in their heads. I quit watching scary movies while I was living in a cabin in the Oregon woods by myself with no neighbors and no phone to call for help. If you don’t want to be thinking about all the terribly dramatic ways things can go wrong, don’t fill your head with torrid plots for the sake of entertainment.
My kind of Mountain Dew

My kind of Mountain Dew

In general, I try not to worry until I have to. Of course, sometimes things do go wrong. I’ve never had anybody threaten to physically harm me, but I’ve had a few unsettling encounters. Dealing with creeps is kind of like dealing with wild animals: there’s no one right way to handle meeting a bear or a moose. Every situation is different. As a general rule, always try to diffuse, rather than escalate and the best recourse is almost always to physically remove yourself from the situation.
White Buffalo chasing Dio

White snow buffalo chasing Dio through spring wildflowers

And now we come to weapons. I’ve thought hard about getting a firearm or at least a realistic BB gun that I could brandish. I’m not attracted to guns but I know how to handle one and I’m a pretty good shot. But after all this time of never encountering a situation where a gun was even remotely necessary, I can’t help but think that by getting one, I’ll be inviting that kind of darkness into my life. I am not unarmed, however. My trusty ice axe hangs on the door of the trailer, as a subtle warning to passersby. It looks intimidating as hell and I can wield it as if my life depends on it (sometimes, in the mountains, it does). My trailer door locks from the inside and if anybody ever tries to force their way in, they’ll meet the two-foot long razor sharp machete I keep handy, not to mention my two beastly dogs. Personally, I sleep very well at night.
My ferocious hounds! They're sweet dogs but they look out for me and if they don't like somebody, I pay attention.

What ferocity!  Look at those teeth! Seriously, they’re good, sweet dogs but they look out for me.

So, to Cathy: can you sleep safely in a tent? Sure, I did for years before I got the Teardrop. But if you’re skittish, you’ll probably sleep much more soundly if you have a door you can lock at night. Also, stop worrying about whether you’ll like traveling and go traveling. Take a few solo day trips and then work your way up to overnights, then weekends, and see how far you get. You don’t have to go full nomad to find out if there’s a road warrior in you. And Cassie: can a baseball bat work for self-defense? Sure, but if you only get one swing, wouldn’t you rather be wielding a machete? ;)
Home sweet home at the Spiral Jetty. Ice axe on the door.

Home sweet home at the Spiral Jetty. Ice axe on the door.

Got a question for me? You can email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Ask the Blonde Coyote: Facing the Fear Factor

  1. pmdello says:

    I like the idea about no TV. As a culture, we have little appreciation for how it corrupts us. Fear is a tactic of advertising and, boy, does it ever sell us crap, not to mention compliant behavior. Awareness of one’s surroundings is the best defense. I agree that driving is the most dangerous thing you do.

  2. ritaroberts says:

    Such sound advice Mary for your fellow travelers. I am sure they all appreciate your time in answering these questions.

  3. hobopals says:

    I have traveled alone, intermittently; once for 6 months in my small trailer with my lab, Jack. There were three things that I brought for safety; I never came close to using any of them. One was a taser gun–kept it on me at all times and by my bed at night. I carried a personal locator at all times, too, that would send a signal to rescuers if I fell hiking or if Jack got in trouble. I wore cargo pants so that they were always in the same pocket. And, I always wore a military whistle around my neck–that was just in case Jack and I got separated. He could hear the whistle better than my voice. In reality, he was never more than 10 feet from me. It’s always a good idea to keep your car keys near your bed at night. The panic button might be of help scaring something or someone away.

    Like you, I think you need to be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to move out of harms way. Follow your instincts.

  4. Brian says:

    The greatest weapon of self-defense resides right between your ears. In the vast majority of cases, those who found themselves in trouble failed to heed the warnings telegraphed BEFORE the trouble. Low lifes ALWAYS telegraph their intent. You don’t have to live in paranoia… just awareness. And the truth is, “Bad Actors” are typically lazy. They aren’t generally going to go out into the “wilderness” seeking a target… that’s too much work. They tend to stay in town where the pickings are rich.

    Stay aware. Use common sense. If a situation “feels wrong” … leave. Be emotionally and physically prepared to take care of business, however you choose to do that in the event that need arises. Just like you do with seat belts, fire extinguisher, road side assistance contract etc. Then just go out an LIVE!

    • egghill says:

      Brian, I agree about bad actors. I too RV alone and hike alone. As I was sweating through several switchbacks one evening and heard a sound behind me, I reasoned with myself that only people who appreciate the beauty and peace of the mountains would attempt that trail, like you say the pickings would be poor for someone desiring evil and too much work besides. (Turns out it was a trail runner I heard – I thought he was crazy for running with no water and on those boulders and rocks, but not crazy toward me.) I continued oohing and ahing over the trail precipices and wildflowers and totally enjoying life.

  5. Feels like a wonderful adventure with your 2 lovely dogs! Could see that they are so happy and carefree too being out running in the big field! :)

  6. Lavinia Ross says:

    Your post is a good lesson for life in general, not just traveling alone. Well said!

  7. Mary, this is a good way to relate important things for folks who want to get out on the road, whether for a day, a week, or longer. My job here in Wallace, Idaho ends this month, and then Clifford and I will be going out for longer stretches in the Pony – weeks to months. I’ve learned a lot reading your blogs – thank you. If you make it up to northern Idaho (or elsewhere as we get out on the road) we’d love to see you again. Happy journeys to you. Carol

  8. Stephanie Cook says:

    Hello Mary, I just started reading “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, about her solo trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, and this paragraph (p. 51) stood out –
    “It was a deal I’d made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”
    I know from my own experience that the scariest part of a journey is before you start out, when you’re thinking about all the things that can go wrong. Once underway, the fear recedes.
    That said, the things about hiking that still scare me are getting lost or getting hurt – survival stuff – and that’s why I love your clear-eyed blog so much – vicarious adventure. Now I really want to see for myself those fossils from the other day!
    Best, Stephanie C. in Fabulous Las Vegas

  9. beachman says:

    Great post. I too hate tv, it’s all crap if you figure you got to watch all those commercials to see the program/show. Peace out..

  10. Jonas says:

    wow! thats a really great trip you’re on! i enjoy reading your blog as i love traveling too. be happy to be able to do this! (:

  11. Upriverdavid says:

    So, How do you scare the skeeters away?..I carry but I also have never had a problem.I think most if not all folks out in the places we go are not anything to worry about. If anything they are there to help if needed.
    David

  12. Cassie L. says:

    You are so right about the TV thing! Crazy news stories are more likely to get attention, so that’s what we hear about. Also, like Brian said, people looking for trouble probably aren’t going to try and find it in the wilderness.

    Thanks for answering my question; it looks like I’ll have to go machete shopping this weekend!

    • Brian says:

      You know… for those that want to be a bit more private and a bit less “in your face” than a machete allows… a modifies walking staff is even better. It also provides the function of a staff :). Find the suitable shaft in the woods on a hike. Cut it to length and smooth/shape it as desired… now, get a bolt of say 3/8 diameter and maybe 2″ long. Drill the toe end of your staff to receive it. A hole an inch maybe 1 1/2 deep. Hacksaw the head off and epoxie/JB weld the bolt into the socket. Take some tie wire or equivalent and wrap an inch or so of the tip to reinforce. A bit tricky but you can do it. Last, file the protruding bolt to a point and you’ve got a walking staff that has a tip to bite into difficult ground that doubles as a VERY effective defensive weapon that doesn’t freak the neighbors :) (An alternative to the wire would be “whipping” the tip with mason line (nylon) and coating that with the JB weld)

  13. Noel Johnson says:

    Great post! There’s tremendous value in paying attention and acting confidently, and it’s best to keep in mind that the USA today is safer than it’s ever been….yup, EVER, on a per-capita basis. The impact of TV and areas of localized violence [=Chicago] have us convinced that the world is horrible. It’s not – it’s awesome, and so are people. Go outside, talk to people, and remain alert. I have oodles of weaponry, but if I consider carrying a gun, a reconsider and don’t go “there” because I have that option. Not everyone does, but parks and wilderness present a different danger. If you want to worry, worry about hypothermia and remote injuries – they’re real! Snow on the 4th of July and twisted ankles are deadly; but serial killers…? Seriously, worry more about lightning strikes!

  14. rileysb says:

    Great post! Love the photos too. This dogs look like they are in heaven! I absolutely agree about the TV thing. I used to watch scary crime drama shows all the time and then was wondering why I had such bad nightmares. When I first started solo camping, those plots would stay in my head and would lead to some sleepless nights. Now that I generally only watch nature shows, sports and some not so scary dramas, I sleep way better and have no problem sleeping in the woods! I definitely agree that awareness of your surroundings is almost better than having a weapon, because when you are using your weapon, it’s almost too late. However, having awareness and a weapon would make me feel safer!

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