I’m sure by now most news hound hikers have heard about the death of Merideth Emerson, the 24-year-old hiker from Georgia.
I wasn’t sure if I would—or for that matter, should—write something about the incident. On one hand, this is mostly a nuts-and-bolts kind of site, with some input from me on various topics. On the other, this is an incident isolated to one perpetrator* against a “traildogger” who is like many who visit this site.
This case hits home for me in a way that many other trail-related crimes haven’t. Yes, I’ve heard of trailhead break-ins, trailside thefts, and so on. In my mind those are crimes that could affect anyone. This case, however, is so much closer to me. In this case the victim is very much like me—early-mid 20s, female, solo with a dog.
Does this frighten me? Absolutely. In the past I’ve made the statement that if someone wanted to drive hours from the nearest town and hike out 50 miles to hurt me, that person was likely to hurt me anyway. I’ve always felt that I was more likely to get hurt in town than I was on the trail. ** I’ve been rather flip about it because it wasn’t something I ever truly had to deal with.
Will this change how I think about hiking? Yes. It already has. I’ve always been good about letting the proper people know my itinerary, emergency information, and so on. I’ve been good about being prepared for various medical maladies, supply problems and so on. In the past year, since breaking my ankle, the biggest concern I’ve had, as a solo hiker, was that I’d break my leg on the trail and have to attend to that injury while in a very remote location. To be honest, I was terrified the first trip out and was, luckily, with someone else besides Beau on that first trip “back”.
These are all things I have control of—food, water, equipment, location, navigation, contact information, watching where I put my feet, personal accountability and so on. If any one of these goes wrong it’s my fault, and no one else’s. But this is different. If someone else wants to hurt me, there’s really very little I can do about it. I’d like to think that’s comforting, but it’s really not.
I’ve heard suggestions of how to protect yourself while on the trail, everything from hiking in a group, to carrying a pistol. I go out on the trail by myself because I need to be by myself. I’ve only ever fired a hand gun once, so I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be carrying that. I thought about carrying bear spray well before any of this happened because I do indeed hike in bear country (black bears), not to mention the possibility of stray dogs, and, unfortunately, other hikers. Prior to this the only real protection, outside of paying attention to what’s going on around me, has been my dog.
After all, even if that’s not the primary reason I have Beau along on my trips, it is a large reason. I chose his breed—one bred for hunting large, aggressive, wild animals—specifically because if I were attacked by an animal or human being, he’d be physically capable of protecting me—or at least keep it at bay long enough for me to get to safety. I also know, due to various experiences we’ve had, he not only can protect me, but he will. Unfortunately, that’s something I have to accept. Beau would lay down his life to keep me safe because that’s his job. That sucks. That’s reality, though. The bitter pill to swallow with that reality is that not only would he die to protect me, it’s that I have to let him.
That’s something I’ve discussed with various friends and family members. Beau is what my oldest brother calls a Good Dog—a companion and protector. He is worried that I would get hurt trying to keep Beau from doing his job. I know exactly where he’s coming from. Although Beau would never leave me to save himself, I have to leave him to save myself. I think that speaks for the kind of friend he is.
* According to articles on CNN’s website, as well as others, have stated links from the alleged perpetrator to other crimes, but it is not my place to surmise anything from that. In any case, I’m assuming it’s one perp, not several.
** I graduated college in August 2003. In December 2006 a girl was raped and murdered in her dorm room, which was across the courtyard from the dorm I had for the last two years I was at that university.
Yesterday I went through my official training to be allowed to carry OC spray while on the job. I’ve now looked into carrying it while on the trail.
A CCW permit is also a possibility for the future. I haven’t decided one way or the other at this time, but my advice to everyone is to do what you have to do (legally) to make yourself feel safe in whatever situation you’re in–on the trail or off.