Every Woman has a Story to Tell, Inside Each there is Wisdom
by Cindy Frost
This is the continued story of what happened to me and my dear friend Kristina while on a hike Summer 2021.
Recap from Part One:
Kristina and I have left Camas Lake because strong cool winds prompted a change of plans.
It is an odd scene at the primitive camp site: paracord hung awkwardly low in a tree– if its purpose is to hold a food cache.
A mountain bike has been spotted, new since our arrival, just off the path lying on the ground in a depression.
The rider is nowhere in sight, the top pedal is still rotating… it’s been set down in a hurry.Surprise Encounter in Montana Back Country, Part 1
Common back country trail etiquette is for passing travelers, at minimum, to nod or wave out of acknowledgement… a manner of respect. It would be impossible to miss seeing another person in this small hemmed in area near the lake… unless you didn’t want to be seen.
Straining to hear, scanning the area, I pause.
Back from the direction near the lake I hear a voice.
How did he get around us?
Now that we have departed there is an attempt to make contact, converse? Odd.
It is unsettling that I would have missed observing a person while still in their immediate proximity. This feels a bit like a game of Marco Polo… but we are strangers to “Marco” and because of that, I do not want to play. I remain quiet and do not call back with a reply.
I have no intention of playing.
Kristina and I continue down the trail.
In light of the circumstances, I am grateful that we did not drop our packs and equipment to go in for that swim. The entire duration of the hike though, jumping into the lake was something I had been looking forward to…
The wind stirred both the water and our resolution to do so, I reflect now. As we set our feet onto the path headed for home, I am counting it a blessing that we didn’t get in. The bike was stowed near the water in that small drainage depression. It was set down headlong, both handlebar and front tire aimed in the direction of the water. The rider, therefore, likely dismounted from the bike with his right foot pushing off from the top pedal as he stepped off. It is likely he then continued on towards the lake… That’s where we were.
Again, the fact that it’s a small, contained area hemmed in by the topography of the landscape… Tough to miss seeing someone unless they didn’t want to be seen. Without intention, this looping of facts continues to drive my thoughts.
Had this person been watching us during our brief time there?
Tracking, reading evidence, observing body language and human nature is what I do for as long as I can recall. Part of who I am, I do it on auto pilot. Growing up as a kid in remote areas and in many different towns, it was both a pastime and a survival mechanism. It saved me several times then and while working as a crime scene investigator in one of America’s most violent cities, the skillset helped me to excel at the work.
It is without intention that I find myself observing details, minutia really. Most observations are insignificant. However, when behaviors or circumstances fall outside of statistical normality, just as we breathe without thinking, my mind begins registering the anomalies.
I have learned to trust this process, just as you trust your body to tell you that it is time to eat, drink or sleep.
Thinking back to moments just past, my mind is reviewing the anomalies that are at the root of my thought process loop. What was it specifically, that caused me to want to leave when we did?
It was me that initiated the quick departure.
We had not gotten into swim. On any other given day, I would have… Even if Kristina did not want to (I have been known to lay down in the tiniest of streams, even a mud puddle to cool down from a hike! My husband can attest!)
I had observed goosebumps on Kristina; her arm, the one with the skin pulled taut from the recent cancer removal.
I noted the cheerfully patterned strap of her swimsuit popping out from under her t-shirt, it served as a follow up consideration to the merit of a cold water plunge. But she had goosebumps there too. Her body was already working to maintain warmth.
It would be best if she didn’t become even more chilled, I had thought.
If we had stood by, had waited five minutes to see if conditions improved at the lake… they likely would have. But we had stepped away from the water because of the wind and that took us to where we spotted the bike. Seeing the bike had caused me to keep on walking… Kristina was keeping up with me. The top pedal had still been moving as we walked past it.
The rider’s disappearing act was unsettling. Where did he go? Why did he go? Was he intentionally hiding from us?
Wait, I wonder to myself…. why do I think this is a man when we didn’t even see him… or anyone for that matter?…
Ahh… it was the sound of the voice AND the size and type of the bike.
Thoughts fire in my mind as we make way, away from the lake. I realize my hands are free. Exactly where is my camera? I glance down at my rig. I have stowed it there without being cognizant that I have.
I normally take a bazillion pictures; so, added in to all the other questions I wonder: when did I do that? and, why did I do that?
The answer is a concept I teach and so the answer comes to me readily: your mind has registered circumstances indicating a threat may be imminent. You are moving inside the survival mechanism known as fight or flight.
This is flight. I remain calm in the acknowledgement of it.
I’m moving on auto pilot further away from the closed in area surrounding the lake…
Why again? Because this is a strange situation. Remove yourself from it.
In cop land we would call this a tactical retreat. Movement to a different location, one that has been identified as safe or safer than the present situation, for the optimization of your survival.
Still moving, aware of what I am doing now with this further observation: it really is amazing that your mind is directing these tasks without awareness that you are… Here I am now, doing exactly that!
What is at the root of this response? Probing the possibilities, contemplating anomalies all the while on autopilot.
I have shared little to none of this with Kristina because now is not the time for discussion.
The remaining photos shared in this story were taken before I tucked my camera away. They are for illustrative purposes… Maybe putting an image of something beautiful here within this ugly debriefing is for the comfort of my own mind, the photos achieve counterbalance and a reminder of the good.
Most want that, I believe. A world void of violence, intention to harm or cause undue stress to another… and free from thievery in all its forms. That is the type of world I want to live in and for my family, too. A good life.
I did not take another photo this day during our hike from Camas Lake. I hope my memory and diction serves me well enough that you might understand why.
I had no intention for this beautiful day shared with my dear friend to pivot as it has, in flight from the mountain.
But, with every step forward in the opposite direction of the bike on the ground with the pedal still rotating and the man that disappeared… My worry diminishes.
I determine there is no reason now to share with Kristina all of the concerns I’ve been processing because they are now behind us– and we are gaining more distance, further from the unsettling unknowns.
Continuing on, ripe huckleberries serve a sweet, welcomed distraction. The sun, a familiar embrace of warmth.
Here Kristina and I resume conversation.
An alarm set on my watch reminds me it is time to pray for my son, Colten. Every day during this long stretch with little communication allowed between us, I think of him at 1500 hours. I pray for his strength, endurance, stamina and wisdom as he completes his training to become a United States Marine.
In letters to him I have asked, if he is able, to meet me at the throne of our Heavenly Father. At His feet in prayer… in spirit, we will join in the presence of the Great Physician, Creator of the Universe, the One who has the ability to do all things and works all things for the good of those who love Him.
As I tap my wristwatch to turn off the alarm I wonder if Colt will be able to join me today.
This is my prayer time, an appointment with the Holy of Holies, spiritual insertion into the realm of His presence. With all the heavenly grandeur my simple mind can fathom, my spirit stands before my Father in Heaven. I search for His presence, and Colt’s too… Suddenly my heart feels swollen inside my chest wall… A longing to hear my son’s voice, to hug him and to tell him how much he is loved, that I am with him, and I carry him with me…. in my heart, always…. I bring all of this emotion to our Father.
And I hand it over to Him.
Time and time again, I lay the burdens of my heart, heavy with the chains of worry at His feet. That is a peculiar transaction. If you know, you know. The peace that follows truly does transcend all understanding.
What a reprieve, a slice of Heaven though feet remain here on Earth, this gaze inside His presence!
Many times, I have arrived at His doorstep, tears running down my cheeks. And just as a Good Father does, He tenderly attends.
Assured and comforted, I have hope that Colt stands with me in Spirit here at our appointed time… We are sharing, all of us together in Presence of Everlasting Love.
As I am praying aloud, Kristina and I are also walking, making our way off the mountain.
I see from her reverent quiet and broad smile; she is here in the meeting too. Gratitude fills my heart and tears, this time of gratitude, flow again.
It is uncomfortable for me to share tears in the company of another. It is also nontypical for me to share such an intimate moment of prayer with her, or you dear reader. It is not that I am ashamed of my Faith, rather it is life that has made Our rapport more of the private kind.
I shrug off the discomfort and consider this sharing to be progress along the way of my Commission.
My first born shipped out before he could complete the ceremony of walking in his high school graduation. His ship date and graduation occurred the same day and we could not be in both places at once.
Although he exceeded the requirements, his classmates celebrated in his absence. His departure was sudden and the heart shift from seeing him daily to almost no communication, well it wrecks me sometimes. I too am in a state of metamorphosis as I learn to adapt to this new role of parenting him, now from afar.
It feels a bit like the death of a loved one. Of course, it’s not. Raising a child, it’s days that seem long and years that pass fast… Hanging on until nap time so you too can have a much-needed rest. Then, before you know it, the last time that they have reached for your hand to walk them across the street… it’s past.
The memory of their smaller versions: baby, toddler, and teen years coexist simultaneously, vividly in your mind– even though they are grown. It is difficult for the heart to comprehend the present reality of their rapid maturity.
I redirect my thoughts to the present.
“LORD, the world, US politics…. it’s just an ugly time right now… I am both pleased by Colt’s determination to serve and yet I am afraid of what that might entail. Please guide and direct him. Keep him under Your wing of protection always….
Guide me, too! I often feel like a child myself…. caught in this body that says otherwise… by the way!” This awareness, that I have not reached the milestone of feeling entirely like an adult makes me laugh. If not now… then when?! When will I feel I have arrived at adulthood given the fact that my child is now an adult?!
“Please, guide both Kristina and I to finish strong, this raising up of our children to Your glory and honor. They are Yours, after all.” The consideration that our battle is beyond today’s issue of returning to our families, I am assured that He will be here for tomorrow’s worries too. And always.
Tears flow from Kristina now as well; the sisterhood of motherhood is expressed in a hug and the wiping of our shared tears. With an amen, we lay the worries of our hearts at the feet of our Heavenly Father, together.
Lighter now, our steps trace His creation, and we have fresh eyes to see with clarity.
We admire His handiwork. Stooping to pick ripe huckleberries, we wind through the forest. This is rugged, delicious beauty.
From an elevation lower than ours, a man is coming towards us. He is walking and pushing… the same bicycle from before!
Without pause, I reach out and touch Kristina’s elbow to indicate we will step to the high side of the trail, providing space for him to pass.
From a distance of twenty feet, he calls out, the chain has come off his bike. That’s an easy fix I think to myself. Why did he announce that to us?… why hasn’t he fixed it already?
He continues, “I’ll just move passed you, real quick and then I’ll be out of your way.” But he has stopped pushing the bike and remains just standing there.
We have not communicated in any way that he is in our way. Conversely, by stepping off the trail we have indicated respect for him to occupy it fully, recognizing he would need room to navigate both himself and the bike on the small uphill path. Why is he negotiating these aspects, time and space? We have already afforded that to him. This anomaly directs me with keen attentiveness to the remaining space between us.
“No worries,” I say to him with a quick glance towards the bike sprocket, acknowledging I’ve heard what he has said, “Good thing it’s an easy fix!”
After a short pause indicating his acknowledgment of my reply, he continues pushing his bike forward.
As he is closing this distance between us, I offer a counterbalance, “It sure is a beautiful day we are enjoying.” I gesture with a nod of my head at the trail. We’ve given plenty of room for him to move forward with this pushing of his bicycle. We will wait for him to pass. At this point, for me it is still courtesy and inside my nod and glance at the trail, a re-evaluation of our security within the space that remains.
We are waiting for him to go past us while we stand just three yards above the trail. Our space, here along the slope of the mountain, among shrubs and rocks. We have given him the path. It is worn with enough use that it is free of vegetation that could entangle. It affords him the direct route to proceed on past us expeditiously. It also allows us time to react, if need be, with physics that positionally favor us.
He continues forward, pushing the bike slowly. Why is he prolonging this?
Odd. He is not pushing on ahead of us, “real quick” like he said he would. He is taking his time, occupying the width of the trail with both the bicycle and his body walking obscenely slowly towards us.
He has on a large multi-day pack. A protective helmet sits atop his head. There is a knife strapped to the pack.
And then suddenly– he stops!
This closeness of proximity feels incredibly tight.
We are surrounded by the vast wilderness as far as one can see.
There is no one else around.
His stopping with the bicycle and gear, directly in front of us, is a roadblock to our path.
Clearly, he sees that he is stopped precisely where we are wanting to go!?
The emotion of irritation grabs me at this point and the gravity of my feet here on the mountain with Kristina beside me consumes my every sense. If I were canine, the hair at my nape would stand visible.
With a flurry of movement, he flips the bike over. Astonishingly he is fixing the chain here while blocking our path.
Right here!? What about “getting out of our way”?!
This contradiction of words versus actions has communicated something else entirely about an attitude and intention towards us.
Experience informs: This is a con! He has inserted himself into our close proximity with pretense that he has a problem with his bicycle. He could have stopped to make a repair at a distance, one in which strangers would feel comfortable.
Now that the bicycle is flipped over on its back; he has asserted that he desires to be within our close proximity. Right here, right now!
His stopping is the assertion of that desire, an attempt to control. He has claimed the path and our accessibility to it.
With tangible discomfort, this new distance registers in my mind. He is too close. This lack of distance has sharply reduced our reactionary time. As strangers to one another, this is too close. He has chosen, carving out the distance until we are only feet apart. He has placed himself too close to us.
I do not take time to verify that his chain is actually off because there is a more pressing issue as I draw in the detail of his knife. It is a large folding blade. It has wickedly jagged teeth observable even as it is folded. Attached to his backpack, it is readily reached by him if he simply raises his right hand.
In this tight space where time is exploded by adrenaline into minutia, great details emerge. For the moment, he does seem occupied with head pointing to the bike or a stare at the ground. The backpack where the knife is stowed is faded brown. His clothing too is brown. Aside from the white and blue bike helmet, he really blends into this environment. Again, the question pushes into my thoughts, was he there at the lake watching us? His monotone clothing would have assisted an effort of concealment.
His cut fabric, makeshift poncho seems thick and excessively warm for a summer day. It is gathered at the waist with… paracord matching the one tied to the tree by the lake.
My mind begins stringing all these anomalies together. This is the person who placed cordage low in that tree. It wasn’t a child that had done so.
What then was the purpose of that rope?
Is he living out here? His scuffed clothing and pack indicate that’s probably the case. I wonder where he is from, but do not ask. Conversation would gift him more latitude besides that which he’s already taken.
How did he get here? It’s nearly an hour’s drive by vehicle from Hamilton to Camas Lake trailhead. In a flash of recall I remember, two vehicles in the parking lot… Already accounted for with the llama crew now down the mountain and us… trying to get there.
How is he now standing on the trail below us when we just saw his bike stowed back near the lake?
He turns to face us. Younger man, unshaven for at least a few days. His eyes move over Kristina, and he has returned his gaze to me. He has paused at my chest rig with Glock 40. He is making small talk, but I am not attending to what he is saying because he is moving.
Reaching down, in one fast motion he flips the bike right side up.
He begins pushing the bike again towards the lake. Awkwardly, Kristina and I both say, “Have a good day!” as he leaves.
I am relieved that he has left. I hope that he makes right choices to have a Good day.
That was the definition of uncomfortable and awkward! A sense of relief washes over me.
We watch him move farther away from us, Kristina steps down on the trail and begins walking again.
I watch him for a few moments longer as he continues out of sight beyond what I can see. Then, and only then, I turn my back in the opposite direction and continue, catching up with Kristina.
Something tells me that won’t be the last we see of him.
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That isn’t the last we see of him!
This story is grueling for me to try to spell out here– to provide opportunity for you to see and think what I thought about as we moved through it! I had hoped to get it all off my shoulders inside of two posts but it’s going to take three.
I don’t just want you to understand the dynamics as they became evident to us, each in our own way in our own timing of comprehension; but learn from it as we did.
Perhaps it will help you when you encounter a stranger in your path.
Are you recognizing the strategies used in this situation that kept us safe? Serving as your own auditor, would you have made similar decisions?
If you need to become more adept at recognizing danger– to see how a spider weaves its web, please get yourself into a class! If you need to explore methods of carrying that fit your lifestyle, reach out.
Life is precious and we are all connected while we make our life’s journey across this time in history. I hope you experience a large, adventure rich life!
Please, be sure you are prepared to meet whatever comes down the trail. Help prepare your loved ones too.
Learn to recognize when a web is being crafted so that you can avoid those entanglements.
I hope you take some time to evaluate the tools you carry, and the method and environments in which you travel. Are you well equipped to stand capable to defend when the moment dictates that you do?
I am motivated to help you find solutions, confidence through skill and discernment. I consider it an honor to become part of your journey. We become stronger together.
Next week I will wrap up this story!
Be smart and carry on,
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If you have a story to share about how you have had to be your own first responder, let’s add yours into this series so we can all benefit! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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