6 Safety Tips a Naked Hiker Taught Me
As part of my preparation to hike the AT, I go hiking a few times a week. Recently, I chose a canyon near my house for my hike. There was a lovely smattering of humans traveling my chosen trail, and I even ran into a couple of people I knew. After I had been hiking for about an hour, I turned a corner and saw a man hiking towards me with his dog. The man was wearing a backpack . . . and nothing else. I thought to myself, “Do my eyes deceive me, or is that man naked?” I thought maybe he was just wearing something skin-colored but then I realized the only skin-colored thing he was wearing was his skin.
Because I normally greet everyone I pass on a trail, my next thought when I saw this man was, “Well, am I going to have to talk to him? What do you say to a naked stranger on a hiking trail?” While the man got closer and closer, I thought of how my conversation with him might go, and I ultimately decided it was a conversation I did not want to have.
Now, I know there are a lot of hikers out there who feel naked hiking is a liberating way to commune with nature. Laugh all you want, but even though the man could have been a harmless hippie hiking au naturale, something just seemed a bit off about the whole situation. (Something was off. In particular, the man’s clothing.) Hiking naked is a criminal offense in my state, and I was just getting a weird feeling about this guy. Ultimately, remembering that I had just passed a couple, I turned around and met up with them. I explained to them that there was a naked stranger approaching, and I would rather not be alone when he passed–just in case he might be a creeper of the exhibitionist variety.
This experience inspired me to make a list of possible things to do when you encounter a sketchy situation on the trail. Now, we all have a different threshold for what constitutes a sketchy situation. But when you encounter something that, for you, falls into that category, here’s what you can do.
1. Buddy up.
If you know there are other hikers close behind you, think about going back and hiking with them until you pass the source of your discomfort.
2. Take a break.
Now seems like a good time to find a tree to water. Get off the trail, find a private location where you will be unseen, and take a break. Perhaps you need a moment to write in your journal or to have a snack. Take that moment now.
3. Be alert, and trust your intuition.
Sometimes, what looks like a threatening situation is actually innocuous. Other times, there is a reason you have a bad feeling about it. If you misread the situation, you could end up whacking an innocent person with your trekking pole or being dragged into a situation that really is sketchy. If you’re going to keep hiking, trust your instincts, and pay attention to body language. Be alert. If the person who is giving you the heebie jeebies is exhibiting threatening body language, revert to option 1 or 2. If options 1 and 2 are impossible, keep your hands out of your pockets and at waist level or higher (in a non-threatening way, i.e., avoid making a fist). That way, if you need to react, your hands (or trekking poles) are readily available.
4. If you see something, say something.
You’ve seen this phrase posted in the subway; the idea also applies on the trail. If you see something sketchy, notify the proper authorities! Did you just see someone swipe a pack that did not appear to belong to them? Did you just stumble upon a group of people who seem to be offering human sacrifices to the trail gods? Did you just see someone punch a baby in the face? If you see suspicious behavior, tell someone. Notify a ridge runner, a ranger, or local law enforcement. If you’re hiking the AT, notify the ATC; they will be able to share the info with the appropriate channels. Their number is 304.535.6331. In an emergency, call 911. Obviously.
Before encountering a sketchy situation, try to visualize how you would react in different scenarios. Not only can this be a great way to entertain yourself while you’re walking, but it will also help you react more effectively if you do encounter sketchiness.
6. Wear censorship glasses.*
For any unwelcome, naked-hiker situations, use these glasses I made. They automatically censor whatever you are looking at.**
**They do not.
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