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
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!
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
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
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.
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!
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
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 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.
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? ;)
Got a question for me? You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.