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Friday, July 26, 2013

overcoming fear

Tomorrow is the community bike ride in support of the woman assaulted riding her bike on a rural Maine road in early July.  My friend Chris and I were interviewed by the local news to try to get the word out to anyone who wants to ride.  We welcome everyone or all riding abilities.  There is a short course (12 miles) and a longer course (35 miles) to accomadate all riders.

Because of the craziness of summer at home with the kids and Sandi being in various corners of the state, I haven't been on my bike since the horrible incident.  Yesterday was the first time. 

With pepper spray in my back jersey pocket and with more trepidation than I wanted, I headed out on my favorite back roads at 6 A.M. for 35 miles.  I needed to just get back on the horse already.

I wasn't prepared for how random strains of anxiety would intrude my peaceful ride.  It was a truly glorious morning, cool and clear with the rising sun dousing the rolling landscape and awakening the hundreds of shades of green.  I was irritated to have to redirect my brain away from how such an assault can take place.

At about mile 20, on the most remote road of my ride, I was on a stretch of road made up only of trees. There is a peppering of houses on this road but I rarely see cars.  A small, red, older model pick-up truck was heading toward me from the opposite direction.  When it got to me it pulled over.  There was a large man inside with his window down.  He opened his mouth to speak to me and then said, "Never mind."  His tone was not menacing in any way.  I was riding fast before he stopped and I just kept on going.  I did not slow or speak to him.  He drove away in the opposite direction.

My mind started going.

Was he going to ask me for directions?  Did he think he knew me?  Did he mean me harm?

I felt in my back pocket for my spray and then rode as fast as I could to get to where the houses were, compulsively checking my mirror for any signs of a rear approach.  Not trusting the tiny mirror, I had to keep looking over my shoulder as well.  What would I do if he came back?  What strategy would I employ if he did this?  What about if he did that?  The woman who was attacked was pulled off her bike.  How does this even happen?  I felt paranoid and my heart was slamming around in my chest.

How would I describe him if I needed to?  What was it that was in the bed of his truck?  Some sort of long square columns that were a faded red.  He had long shaggy hair and was wearing a gray t-shirt.  I racked my brain for all the smart moves of all the female protaganists I'd ever read about in crimes novels.  I would scream first and foremost.  Would anyone hear me.  How fast could I ride if I needed to?  I could escape anyone on foot but what about if there was a weapon involved?

He didn't come back.  He may have meant me no harm or it may have been a near miss.  In all the countless hours I've spent on my bike only one time has anyone stopped me on the road.  I was with my friend Emilie and someone pulled over to ask for directions. 

To be honest, I am furious to be so scared and untrusting.  I used to wave to everyone on my bike and say, "Good morning!"  Now I hope to see no one and I look at every man as a potential predator.  I don't care if it is the smart and safe way to be.  It still makes me angry to have to be that way.  I have never worried about my safety on my bike, save for the general fear of inattentive or aggresive motorists.  To carry pepper spray, to be afraid, to question the safety of my route or the time of day I'm riding, to now wonder if I am safe on the 4 mile loop I run near our house, is somewhere between being smart and feeling victimized by people who perpetrate violence.

Sandi said to me that we live in a different world than we used to. Maybe it is just time that I get on board with that. 

When we go to camp, I love to run on the miles of dirt road in the blueberry barrens.  Several family members are expressing concern for me to do this. There are many transient people who come to the area during the blueberry harvest and there have been incidents, sometimes serious ones, in the past.  But I don't know, truly I don't, if me not running on the barrens when the sun comes up is smart and safe or if it is giving up my power.  In order to give it up I feel like I have to give up a part of myself, a part of my freedom, a part of the joy of being at camp.  Does running alone in a remote area make me selfish and inconsiderate of my family who depends on me or does it make me brave and empowered?

I share all this for a couple of reasons. I want to shed light on the wide-spread destruction these acts of violence, especially those targeted at women, have on individuals.  Also, if anyone has any feedback or advice on this I would be happy to hear it. 

For now I am carrying my pepper spray and looking into a self-defense class.  I'm also considering attaching playing cards to the spokes of my bike wheels so everyone can hear me coming.  Perhaps a giant horn isn't a bad idea either.

1 comment:

gretchen said...

Weirdly, I think I know that truck because I see it around town, and the columns are real estate sign posts. Also, have you seen Bia Sport? It's a kickstarter project and not out yet, but designed specifically for women with safety in mind.

I run with my iphone, and we use FInd my Friends, so Dave could get a good idea of where I am at any time. AND I use bluetooth headphones that I can push a button and it will dial the last number called. Being an early AM solo runner, I have routes plotted with safety in mind, like I go by just about every neighborhood friend's house at least once. And I know which houses are awake at 5am, and part of my emergency plan is to run to one of those if I'm not near a friend's house.

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