I ran into a strange situation today.  Some of you might benefit from analyzing it and thinking through possible response outcomes should a similar encounter happen to you.

 

Since I moved to Texas, I’ve come to really love all of the outdoor recreation activities down here as opposed to what’s available in my home state of Ohio.  I love being outside and there are endless hiking opportunities within a short drive from my house.

 

One of my favorite local hikes is at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s less than a 30 minute drive from my apartment.  The park is rarely crowded on weekdays and offers a very physically demanding loop hike.  The hike is about four miles long on a rocky single track trail.  Lots of elevation gain and loss.  The loop takes about two hours to hike and is a great workout.  When I’m in town, I try to do it at least once a week.

 

 

It rained a lot here yesterday.  When I woke up this morning, it was very cloudy.  Temperatures were in the mid 70s with a nice breeze.  Since the temps have been pushing 100 degrees for the last two weeks, I thought it would be great to hit the trail and enjoy the temporary respite from the relentless sun.

 

I ate some breakfast and drove out to the wildlife refuge.  There was only one other car in the parking lot.  It looked like I was going to have the trail mostly to myself again.

 

The beginning of this loop trail is the roughest part.  It’s about 30 minutes of straight uphill hiking with lots of switchbacks.  The trail is less than two feet wide.

 

As I was panting while hiking up the endless hill at the beginning of the trek, I caught a glimpse of another hiker heading towards me walking down the mountain in the opposite direction I was hiking.  As our paths converged, I saw that the person coming down the trail towards me was a young, attractive woman in her mid-20s dressed in workout attire (shorts and a tank top) walking a mid-sized dog.

 

The trail was not wide enough for both of us.  I saw her before she saw me, so I stopped, took a step off the trail to allow her to pass, and said “come on through.”

 

This is where things got a bit strange.  She stopped about 15 feet away from me and didn’t move any farther.  She didn’t say anything.  I noticed she had an unsheathed fixed blade skinning knife in her right hand and her dog leash in her left.

 

The knife she held in her hand looked like this, but with a wooden handle.

 

 

I looked at the knife and said “Is everything OK?”

 

She looked surprised, stuck the knife in a leather sheath tucked into her waistband, and began telling me how she had just heard a “mountain lion” screaming on the trail above her and wanted her knife out in the event it attacked her or her dog.

 

Very odd.  While theoretically within the natural range of a mountain lion, no one I’ve ever known has seen one around here.  I didn’t hear any screaming (feline or otherwise). 

 

I let the woman walk past me and I continued up the hill.  I didn’t see the woman again, nor did I see any evidence of a mountain lion or a mass murder scene.

 

Think about what you might have done if you had encountered the woman with a knife.  A couple of other details:

 

-The trail runs up the side of a small mountain.  If either of us had moved more than about five feet on either side of the trail, we would have had a very long fall/slide to the bottom.  The only escape is either up or down.

 

– Most of the park is in an area without any cell phone service.

 

– I’ve never seen any law enforcement park rangers at the site

 

I was carrying weapons, but I didn’t make any attempt to draw them.  I had POM pepper spray in my pocket, a Spyderco Endura knife clipped in the waistband of my hiking shorts, and a .22 magnum S&W 351C revolver carried in a sling bag across my chest.  I also had an aluminum trekking pole in my hand.

 

The situation was odd, but I didn’t feel threatened.  The woman with the knife looked slightly scared and maybe a bit embarrassed about being seen with a large knife in her hand.

 

I’m not buying the mountain lion story.  My guess is that the woman armed herself after realizing an unknown man was approaching her on a very remote trail.  I don’t blame her.  Remember, this is Texas.

 

Nothing happened, but I like to use events like this to analyze my performance to be better prepared for more dangerous events of a similar nature in the future.  Put yourself in my spot and ask yourself some questions:

 

– What would you do if you were to encounter a person wielding a large knife with no obvious reason on a remote hiking trail where no one is around and you have no cell service?

 

– The woman with the knife was a petite young woman in her mid 20s.  She wasn’t giving off threatening vibes.  Would your actions change if the person approaching you on the trail was a disheveled man giving you “crazy eyes?”

 

– Would you draw a weapon in either case?  Which weapon would you choose?  Could you draw it or place your hand on it surreptitiously?

 

– What kind of language would you use to verbally de-escalate the situation and to quickly convince the person you aren’t a threat, but yet you aren’t a scared victim either?  I really like using “Are you OK?” in a situation like this.  It frames you as someone who cares about the person’s well being, but also let’s them know you have spotted the weapon and you know what’s going on.  The person’s answer gives you more information about the scenario.

 

– She could have answered that question several ways.  Would your reaction be any different if she had said: “I’m fine.  My dog’s leash got tangled in some briars and I was just cutting them off” What if she had answered “An alien space craft just landed at the top of the hill and a bunch of little grey men have been chasing me?”  How would your reaction change if she had said “I was attacked by a man on this trail last year and I’m never going to allow that to happen again?”

 

-If she had told you that she had just been attacked, what level of assistance (if any) would you provide to the woman?  Would that change if she had been attacked by a human versus an aggressive animal?

 

– In what ways could the woman be setting you up for an attack if this was a ruse?

 

– It was a very narrow trail without any room to move a “safe” distance away from the armed woman.  Have you thought about how you might maneuver in order to optimize your safety as the two of you pass each other?  What if she hadn’t sheathed the knife?  What if the knife was still in her hand as she approached you?   

 

– She claimed that she heard dangerous wildlife and/or screaming  in the area you are approaching.  Would you continue onward, or would you climb back down the hill to the parking lot (about a 25 minute walk)?  Would you attempt to stay with the knife-armed woman or create separation?

 

 

Despite the woman’s bizarre actions, I didn’t feel threatened at any time during our brief encounter.  In de-briefing my own performance, I think the only thing I would have done differently is to keep ascending until I was out of her line of sight.  I would then pick a concealed spot in the brush to sit and wait about 10-15 minutes.  I’d do that to verify she didn’t have any unnoticed companions and to ensure she didn’t decide to follow me.

 

Take a few minutes to put yourself in this scenario.  Seriously think about each of the questions I posed and come up with your best answer.  If you have any further questions, start a discussion on my Patreon page.

 

 

I asked AI to come up with a photo of the woman I described in the story. There are a couple of details that aren’t perfectly correct, but I was pleasantly surprised. You can get the story’s vibe by imagining something similar to this.

 

 

 

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