By Sarah Schrock

In the wake of the Las Vegas tragedy, it’s difficult to focus on local goings-on. The tragedy is somewhat poignant to my theme for this week, which I had already honed: personal safety.

While technology is constantly upgrading safety features on consumer goods and infrastructure to make life safer, it seems the real and present danger, as the Las Vegas shooting demonstrates, is human malicious intent — and that a more difficult to be predict.

Last week, an avid trail runner friend of mine (I will call her Jane to protect her privacy) had an encounter that shook her sense of safety in the backcountry. Thankfully though, no malice ensued.

We have all seen those T-shirts that say, “Hike Naked.” In fact, the summer solstice, June 21, is the official “Hike Naked” day. Well, it’s a bit past the solstice, but apparently, one hiker up the South Creek Trail donned his birthday suit anyway.

Finishing up her trail run from South Pass, nearing the trailhead and parking lot, Jane spotted a hat bobbing on the trail ahead of her. At jogger’s pace, she caught up quickly to discover the hiker’s hat was his only piece of clothing. Shocked and little abashed, unsure if she should pass the naked hiker, she stopped to take in a final snack, figuring he’d be at the parking lot soon enough, and gone by the time she arrived. Shrugging it off as a naked hiker who was taking in the full freedom that nudity in the wilderness inspires, she reasoned that giving him space was the prudent thing to do, for him and for her.

Meanwhile, the cogs in Jane’s brain were in full motion, questioning her safety, his intent, and contemplating an encounter. She’d prepared for the worst. She had a safety whistle in hand, albeit there was no one around to hear it, and her walking poles fashioned as spears. Much to her dismay, when she arrived at the parking lot, which is situated along Twisp River Road visible to any driver, the naked hiker was standing opposite the trail across the road, offering up a full frontal as she exited the trail! He avoided eye contact, said nothing, and proceeded to his vehicle.

Jane hopped in her car and sped off, adrenaline coursing through her veins. Leaving with her head spinning and heart pounding, questioning, “what was he doing? why was he just standing there? why didn’t he at least acknowledge and act surprised to see me? Pervert, hippy hiker, a little crazy?” The whole encounter was awkward at best, with a dose of fear.

As females, we are always a little on guard in any possibly vulnerable situation. This is a burden that men don’t carry and it feels a bit unfair. As she put it, “we always have a pilot light on.” Walking through a dimly lit parking lot at night, getting into your car at a rest stop, or going solo on a hike — as females there’s always a little bit of insecurity.

Jane felt angry after the encounter. “If he has the freedom to hike naked, I should have the freedom to feel safe,” she said. She sent out a mass email to friends detailing the incident, hoping to find out if she had encountered some living legend of the Twisp River woods. Something like “oh yeah, that’s jolly ol’ Nude Nicholas, he hikes naked everywhere … he’s harmless” or “you ran into in the notorious Milo Harry Ball, he’s been hiking these hills for a generation.” No such luck, yet.

Unsure how to process the event, Jane called the sheriff’s office a few hours later, just to make a record of the incident. She was directed to the Washington State Patrol dispatch, who then told her it was too late to report it (even though she hadn’t said what happened yet), as the U.S. Forest Service rangers wouldn’t be able to respond. Too late? What if she had been assaulted? How can it be too late to report an incident? Isn’t it helpful for law enforcement to have a record, just in case Free Willy shows up somewhere else, and something worse unfolds?

We will never know the naked hiker’s intent. Hopefully, he was simply soaking up the last of the season’s rays, harmless. But hey, naked hikers out there, here’s a little advice — put on some stinking shorts when you get near civilization, like a parking lot or road!

I know some readers will say, “she shouldn’t be on the trail by herself, or “get over it, he was just naked!” Call me whiner: it’s not fair. It’s not fair to feel unsafe doing what you love, be it in the wilderness or at a concert. Sure, there’s inherent risk in life. Seemingly too commonplace now, normal everyday activities seem vulnerable. It’s not fair to have your sense of freedom from harm stolen by someone, your sense of personal safety, and perhaps more distressing — our collective safety — robbed by a deranged individual, during what should be a joyous communion of humanity. It’s simply not fair.


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