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 Two:
Kristina and I had an unsettling encounter with a stranger: a man pushing the same bike we saw stashed near the lake.
He placed himself very close to Kristina and me, too close for strangers to feel comfortable or to be safe.
He created a physical barricade to our path… even though he had the entire expanse of trail and forest on either side of us to make the easy repair to his bike.
He has a knife.
He departed from us, but I am certain he will return.
Go to part one here: Surprise Encounter in Montana Back country
Kristina turns to me and says, “He seemed a little off.” There’s a pause, and in a voice that seems lilted with nerves, she adds, “He seemed nice, enough… maybe, he’s a little slow?”
There is silence as I take in Kristina’s impression of the encounter. It stands in stark contrast to what I have seen. I want her to have her thoughts about the experience and the peace those thoughts provide. But the anomalies I have noted press into me with a sense of urgency.
Moments later that urgency compels me to share how his actions have unsettled me…. “That was the same bike as the one up at the lake! Where did he come from? How did he get below us on the trail without us seeing him? Why did he wait until he was right in front of us, such close proximity to us?… Blocking the trail to fix his bike!?… He could have done that anywhere?! Instead, he did it right in front of us? Why!?… He contradicted himself and what he said he was going to do… He said he was going to “get out of our way” and then he put himself directly in our way! … Why!?”
Why did he want to be so close to us? These alarming thoughts and consideration of motive are coming out as phrases without pause– questions I am posing to myself just as much as to Kristina.
What I am saying does not seem to have unsettled her as it has me. I cannot be certain though; our attention is directed back at the path ahead of us.
We are silent as we continue making our way off the mountain.
I am considering her perception to the encounter while she is likely considering mine.
Understanding that she has not registered the encounter with the same potential I have, I know she is catching up… considering the information I have shared. Conceptually, we are on different pages. I want, rather I need for us to both understand what may lie ahead of us. Time feels compressed because it is.
There will be another encounter with him.
Choosing the crux of what benefited us within the previous encounters I say to her, “Do you see now why I asked you to step up off the trail?… Did you see that big knife strapped to his back?”
Distance equals time. Time affords opportunity to react.
I have learned this over and over again during the course of my lifetime. I monitor that space between myself, the reactionary gap, and others with the tenacity of a bulldog. The truth is that once you see the potential of mankind to do evil, you simply cannot discount the possibility of it… Especially as you witness the elements emerging before your eyes: time, motive, opportunity.
She sounds upset as she admits, “I didn’t see the knife… He seemed nice enough… I just think maybe he was a little off… or slow.”
Yes! Honor your instinct, my friend! I encourage her to acknowledge her own perceptions of the encounter in light of her observations…
“Yes, that!” I say, “He was off, Kristina! My husband, your husband Colby, even our sons know that they should not approach a woman, unknown to them… in the middle of nowhere… like that!… He could have fixed his bike anywhere…. but he chose to put himself literally in the middle of our path? Obstructing it… In close proximity to us! Why?”
The urgency and the unanswered questions have me repeating myself.
A lesson from another crisis comes to mind as I realize how differently Kristina and I have perceived our encounter with the man and the bike. Though we both looked at the same event, we each saw things through our own lens of experience.
+ + +
Years ago, my husband and I were rafting the Bitterroot River with our young sons. It was August and the water had dropped significantly. That drop signified for us and many others that it would be safe to float the river. But the river carves deep beneath the curved sections of its banks. Dead trees swept away during high water reroute its waters. We struck one such section and all of us nearly succumbed. At the confluence of South Bass Creek, a cottonwood and ponderosa pine combined their tangled branches, weaving a net above and below the surface of the water. Gathered together, it was deep and powerful… forming what locals refer to as “a strainer” or a “deadman”.
I can assure you: You don’t want to be inside a strainer and the unrelenting force of deep flowing water! If you find yourself approaching such a feature, paddle hard and make a land portage around such obstacle! This lesson was a hard learn and nearly cost us our lives.
Although our river story is worth spending more time to share all of its details; I will share a segment of it with you here. Though we were all present to the same event, each of us experienced it differently:
Colt had entered the water to try to assist us while his younger brother was in crisis. Asher had fallen from the raft headfirst into the water, just ahead of the strainer. He was submerged there, even with his life vest, for what seemed an eternity. Neither Ron nor I was aware that Colten had moved to join our efforts in the water while we were so focused on rescuing his little brother.
This memory has coiled its way into my mind now. The trail before us and the river then, a winding serpentine, hidden danger.
After pulling Asher from the water and still recovering on the shore, we turned to find Colt pressed against the upstream side of the strainer. Neon yellow life jacket wrapped around the torso of his small body, compressed against the dead fallen trees. As we fought earnestly, none of our efforts to rescue him successful, the moments expanded into dark despair… His head slipped below the rushing waters!
Certain I was witnessing his drowning I began screaming. Water spilled over where his head had been, his bright yellow vest too… Underwater! My screams carried a tandem prayer of mother’s torment and pleading that the LORD would not allow this… It seemed impossible; his head completely covered… a bump in the rushing white water.
I felt as if I was drowning, too as despair engulfed me…
How can he survive, the water is covering him!
My adrenaline completely used up from before with Asher’s rescue and my failed attempts to save Colt… my legs, like anchors incapable of moving me to affect his rescue. Shaking violently, this horror before me… Impossible… he was underwater too long!
Our horrific experience did have a precious and beautiful ending…. Colt was pulled from the water in the most miraculous, unexpected manner!
Back and safe at home, huddled together I shared with Colten how fearful I was at seeing that water pouring over his head. And he shared with me his experience…. Pinned against the logs, his life jacket shifted up his body and over his head. The water poured over it! His head had slipped down inside the envelope of the life jacket, into what he described “a pocket”. He could see the white water… a moving curtain before his eyes! There in that pocket he could breathe freely…
He said it was calm there!
How vastly different his experience was from mine!
Life is…. perhaps?… full of these duplicit possibilities. I am so very grateful that Colt had that pocket from which to draw breath and to experience CALM! It was such a stark contrast and perspective from my own!
LORD, You do and You are… The impossible!
+ + +
Kristina and I are still walking.
I am stuck inside the dilemma: allow Kristina to experience her pocket of calm… or continue to press the issue by reviewing the troubling facts I have observed?
The lens of her experience is so vastly different from mine.
I am concerned and convinced… that wasn’t the last time we will see the man with the bike… And the knife.
It’s too many concepts to cover right now… but I need certainty, at some point we must both be on the same page… I say to Kristina, “I really want you to take the class, Developing a Personal Protection Plan. I want you to understand and recognize pre threat/pre assault indicators too. What just happened is classic (victim selection/interview) and once you know these things, you too would recognize it.”
I stop talking for a moment, relieved that we are safe.
Kristina and I had moved to higher ground together. That had provided space between us and him, a pocket.
If he had decided to do something even more foolish, we would have had the space there to work.
The desire to discount, to tell our internal voice… even though we know something is off, to hush…. That is common, even the typical response. We are prone to talking ourselves out of intuitive knowledge when it carries a message of discomfort. Doing so provides us with the momentary feeling that we are okay, we’re safe.
Kristina is doing that now. She did identify, without my leading, that he was “off” and then she quickly talked herself down from that cautious posture. She is rationalizing that he “seemed nice”… in spite of the stressful situation he put us in.
This process of justifying behavior, hoping for the best, prevents us from seeing the whole picture.
Behavior we define as “nice” is a mere snapshot in time. Perhaps it’s what a person wants you to see.
Character can only be evaluated over time, through the hallmarks of observable and consistent conduct. One cannot know if “niceness” signifies benevolence, true good intention, or a cunning trick used to manipulate and achieve violence. (Or any other reason that falls between.)
Being “nice” on one occasion does not provide proof of character.
But now is not the time for discussion pertaining to these details. We are moving off the mountain and that is the most important thing.
Then that changes too. Because there he is again… on the trail coming towards us!
Here we go again.
Kristina and I glance quickly at one another. With a point of my chin, I motion to step up above the trail, again to create space.
We step up off the trail to allow ample room between us and him. While I quickly examine the ground to ascertain my footing, he is saying something about riding his bike… this is his favorite stretch.
But… he is pushing his bicycle and has been from the moment we first caught sight of him. And now again… He is pushing, not riding his bike.
He continues that push until he is within our close proximity once again. He is inside three yards and coming closer.
With an air of pretentious familiarity… as if we are all well acquainted now!?… he stops pushing the bike. Once again, he has angled it and his body to obstruct our path off the mountain!
He is smiling but I am not.
My disposition of friendliness has passed.
He stops talking. He stares at my hand which I have placed, high tang, on the grip of my pistol. Elbow flexed similar to the drawing of a bowstring…
The 10 mm remains in my carrier, but my thumb is poised ready to break leather. I am facing him straight on with the confidence of knowledge… I am practiced and I stand ready to defend. This work, if necessary, will take me less than a second.
His eyes are evaluating. Inside that gaze, I have clarity that he is not cognitively “slow”.
I am certain.
I do not know his motive, I only know that he persists, placing himself inside our close proximity. These are troubling dynamics… he has a knife that is easily accessible to him. It is inexplainable, this evident desire for him to be close to us.
If he makes a move further towards us, inside our pocket, or if he makes a grab for that knife…
I will draw.
Instead, he pushes his bike passed us and on towards the lake.
We stand there, Kristina and I, watching him again push the bike up the trail.
It dawns on me, “He must be getting around us by riding the rock face down!”
Kristina cannot know what I mean as she has not seen the steep granite slabs that cut through the forest distantly parallel to this trail.
Okay… I understand what he is doing and how he keeps re-emerging on the trail. I cannot, however, understand why he keeps forcing these encounters with us.
Why did he change from that proclamation that he would “get out of our way, real quick” to this continuous loop of putting himself in our proximity, again and again?
My mind reviews the encounters we have had with him thus far. Each time he has placed himself within our space. I have observed him staring at my chest holster and firearm. Were those target glances? Is he studying how the harness is attached, how to unholster it, whether I can get to it faster than he can?
If you are going to victimize someone, you must first gain access. If you are a predator, you must get close to your prey.
Stepping to the high side tactically put him at the disadvantage.
He is going to come back. The thought pierces me.
This time he will try a new tactic. I know this, but I hope I am wrong.
I have yet to say any of this realization out loud to Kristina. I am hoping this is actually a huge misunderstanding!
How can I be certain that he means us harm?… becomes my next thought.
Because he will emerge again on the trail. You must begin formulating a new strategy now.
He is on to you taking the high side of the trail.
LORD, how did we just leave Your presence and now we are here in the middle of this?!
A still voice cuts through my thoughts, “Do not negate what you know.”
What do I know?!…
I am so unsettled and now I need clarity to see the big picture.
What I know boils down to these facts: a man who is a stranger to us has demonstrated, at the very least, blatant disregard for us. We are two women hikers here in the remote wilderness. We did not welcome him into our space. Each meeting has been awkward and yet he keeps putting himself in close proximity to us. He has a knife. It is readily accessible. He has seen that I have firearm and that Kristina has bear spray.
What does he want?
The next progressive step would be for him to try to obtain my firearm. How will he do that? It would require an ambush. He will try to separate Kristina and I from one another. He may use an improvised weapon to extend his reach…. a boulder, a branch…
This is all internal thinking…. it seems if I give voice to it, all of the potential for ugliness will be true.
Fear doesn’t win. Strategy wins.
We continue picking our way down the trail. I am scanning the trail below us. Kristina has begun speaking in fast sentences. I don’t really know what she is saying. I just want to get us down off the mountain, quickly. We are moving but the thought comes to me suddenly that we should stop. I do and I turn to face Kristina.
I tell her, “I need you to stop talking so we have all our senses about us. I need us to listen for him.” I am pointing to her and back at myself because we are a team. This will require both of us working together. We begin moving again down the trail, quietly.
I continue scanning the trail below us.
It is only a few more steps before I catch movement in the trees out of the corner of my right eye.
Ahead of us the man has appeared again. He has gone from upright to dropping down into a squatting position. He is partially concealed at the base of a tree.
He is close to the trail we still need to traverse.
He has taken position at the high side of the trail.
He is set up to ambush us. Waiting for us… at the base of that tree?
If we intersect with him there, it will be bad news.
There is a lot of shrubbery around him. It is difficult to make out his whole form now that he has stopped there. I cannot see the bike, his pack or what is in his hands.
“Kristina, stop! He’s right there! I don’t think he sees us yet.” We move to change the angle of our position in hopes that the trees surrounding the trail near us will conceal our position from him.
With a low voice I ask Kristina, “How quickly can you get to your pistol… from out of that pack?”
I see that it has both a snap and a zipper. “Not fast enough,” I conclude.
“Put the bear spray in your hand, remove the safety.”
We will be prepared for whatever the encounter requires. With haste, we formulate a plan to come off the mountain pressed back-to-back. Kristina with bear spray in hand will keep watch of our backside. We must remain close to ensure we will not be separated during his ambush.
We set ourselves again to the task of moving down the mountain, but before we get too far, I say, “Let’s just watch him for a minute to see what he’s doing.”
Offsetting our position so that we can see him… I discover he has moved….
He is no longer there!
This is condition red because we do not know where he is.
We have a long distance to cover before reaching our vehicle.
Fatigued by the cancer and this ridiculous situation, Kristina is suffering. She tells me her legs are shaking. I tell her quickly the concept of going wide to better avoid an ambush. She will have to perform these strategies upon her trembling legs.
Legs shaking under stress is symptomatic of adrenaline ripping through the body. It is part of the survival mechanism: fight or flight.
We want flight but are preparing for what seems to be an inevitable fight.
I calm myself with deep breaths though my mind is committed to doing whatever it takes for us to move our trembling legs off this mountain.
You must think with audacity, like a predator now. What would you do… if you were him?
I visualize the portion of the trail ahead, with the massive blowdowns. The path is obstructed there; the debris piles would provide concealment, a place from which to spring an attack.
There is possibility to this scenario. He has demonstrated again and again his surprising ability to get out ahead of us on the trail, then circle back to find and obstruct us.
Thinking from the perspective of an attacker is ugly and dark. I pause to breathe again and to remind Kristina that we must stay very close in this portion of the trail with the fallen trees.
Fatigue has set in for me too. I push it aside as we carefully navigate through the especially troublesome segment of trail.
Backs touching, I can literally feel her tremor.
Moving back-to-back down the trail over the next two miles is grueling; it’s like trying to walk through drying concrete. With two decades under my belt battling chronic illness, I am feeling all of this stress set in as fatigue deep inside my bones.
(Adrenal insufficiency is part of my fight. I rely on adrenal support to keep me vertical and ventilating.) We are both suffering. I consider calling my husband for assistance.
Can Kristina and I make it off the mountain at this point…. even if we don’t end up in a fight for our lives with that man? What is the precise support we need? We are still inside his strike zone. We must keep on moving.
We are too far away for my husband, or anyone for that matter, to help us in a timely manner.
As a team, Kristina and I must overcome this. We must serve as our own first responders.
As we make it to the stretch where the granite rocks intersect in close proximity for the final time with the trail off the mountain, we come upon a group of hikers making their way up. The man with the bike will not have access to our trail onward as a point of insertion into the trail ahead of us.
We have passed through the canyon.
The man leading this arriving group of hikers reveals a level of novice. He is wearing flip flops… Toes exposed to boulders, cannot face a mountain lion, back pedal from a moose, show respect to a griz… flip flops! It seems unlikely he would know these facts and come into the forest equipped as he is. He must not be from here.
I laugh a little at the situation. Not him, but the situation.
Here we are making haste to get off the mountain from a man that is an articulable threat. A man who has been using a geological feature as a short-cut to insert himself ahead of us on the trail over and over again.
Thankfully, we have made our way past him and instead we are meeting a different man on the trail. His arms are raised high, out from his sides as if he’s walking a tight rope… because he’s wearing those flippity flops!
We are still a mile, at least, back here surrounded by wilderness.
He has made it this far walking his “tight rope”! I am encouraged that we can too.
Gingerly, Mr. Flip Flop is making his way up the trail, head down. It’s a scene of striking contrast to what we have experienced over the course of the last few miles!
And I am finding it comical….
Today we have experienced a circus: a string of llamas, a wild man with a bike and a knife, and now this man! Mr. Flip Flop really does look like he’s tip toeing or tight rope walking through the wilderness!
Kristina and I are a surprise to him because his head is down. When he finally does look up, I am in close proximity to him.
His eyes are full of uncertainty as he sees that I am armed and within two yards of him.
Typically, as I have shared, I will move off the trail to allow both of us our space. Most often, I will place my arm over my pistol so as to not alarm the people I come upon. After the events of today– I move straight ahead, bee lining it to our vehicle down at the trailhead.
At his passing though, the woman coming up behind him says, “Oh, is that for bears?!” referring to my pistol and the bear spray still in Kristina’s hand.
And Kristina begins telling them about the strange man up towards the lake with the bicycle. It seems they don’t know what to think of the situation and decide to continue on anyway.
I think we must look like the strange ones to them!
This was a moment of elation. That man on the bike who kept cutting through the forest and instigating awkward encounters (should be) behind us. This group of eclectic travelers will soon be between us and him too.
For me, this is a mental milestone.
On the final leg of the hike, among the flowering yarrow, yellow rocket and clover, I demonstrate for Kristina my draw. The front carry chest rig can be accessed quickly and meet a threat in a timely manner. I ask Kristina to consider if she would be able to get to hers with the buckle and zipper. With the wisdom of experience, the situation we have just come through instructs, that answer is “no”.
One of the number one factors contributing to our risk, that we would be the subject of violence, is going alone. We can drastically reduce the likelihood of victimization by making it a habit to travel with another capable person. I know I was very grateful, and Kristina expressed the same to me, that we were together. I do not want to consider what would have happened if we had not been together… or if we were without discernment, then a plan with the proper tools to defend.
Familiar with handguns for most of her adult life, the events from this day helped Kristina become aware that she must build additional skillsets, too. Knowing how to fire and manipulate a firearm is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to personal defense… Handling a pistol out on a range with a static target is a far cry from knowing how and when to defend yourself in the face of danger. Recognizing risk factors through discernment, threat assessment and moving inside a potential threat are also paramount. Experience is a wise teacher: the right equipment and carry method matters, too.
If you take personal safety or the safety of your family seriously, and I believe you should… I encourage you to stay practiced, vigilant, and continue learning. The unfortunate truth is that those with ill intent are practicing; they are not using static targets. Through practice runs and situations that offer opportunity, they are developing their skillsets. They may even seem “nice” at first impression.
Kristina attended the very next Developing a Personal Protection Plan class I offered. It was a quick turnaround. She honored her own voice of caution and she responded by obtaining training and a plan to continue on. She is also committed to evaluating her equipment as each situation dictates.
Kristina’s victories, my victories and yours, they are gasoline to fire…. Fueling me to continue teaching, mentoring and walking back-to-back off the mountain with you should that be what is required.
Questions to consider: Are you wanting to embark on this journey of personal defense because you understand a threat can emerge at any time? Is the world, specifically Montana, becoming a more peaceful (safe) place? Unfortunately, statistics say that is not the case.
Take some time please, evaluate the tools you carry and the method and environments in which you travel. I am motivated to help you find solutions, confidence through skill and discernment. I consider it an honor to become part of your journey.
These tools, when properly employed can deter violence and just might save a life.
Precision marksmanship and defensive speed, both are skills to pursue because the situation may dictate proficiency in either, both even. Are you capable? Focused and guided practice will set you in the right direction towards that aim.
We really are stronger together.
My hope for each of us: Live a life rich in adventure and pockets full of blessings.
May we stand capable when the moment dictates that we are.
Be smart and carry on,
Text or phone to schedule your training now (406) 961-5375
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 might all benefit! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org