I never run alone in the forest. Ever. But I really, really needed to go and I was so sick of running around the neighborhood. I decided I’d just be extra cautious and with that compromise, I drove out to Capilano Forest. After pulling in, I put my bright blue jacket on, tucked my mace into my side pocket, my phone into my other pocket and set out for the trail head. About three feet from the sign that would signal the beginning of my run, I stopped dead in my tracks. I can’t tell you why, but I had the most uneasy feeling, like I shouldn’t go on. It was probably just my paranoia or the guilt I had about knowing my Dad would hate for me to be here by myself right now. I decided to just go. What’s the worst that could happen?
I started a slow jog and was making my way down the trail towards the river when I stopped again. Did I just hear someone yelling? I stood and held my breath, trying to hear as much as I could. Sure enough, just beyond the sound of the river coursing through the forest was a consistent shout every three seconds. I couldn’t make out what the words were, but there was extreme panic in the deep voice. I immediately went into emergency mode. I called my boyfriend and told him I was going to run to the river, where the sound was coming from and that I had a funny feeling about it. I wanted him to pay attention to the clock and keep checking on me in case anything happened. I said I loved him, hit “End Call” and ran fast. Jumping over branches and logs and only slowing down to make the quick turns through the forest, I was in full on rescue mode when I finally reached a cliff overlooking the river.
I could hear him very clearly now. Sure enough, he was yelling for help. I could see him sitting just on the edge of the river wearing a blue shirt. Something inside of me was telling me to be careful. Although he was yelling for help and not moving, for some reason, I thought it might be me that was in danger. So, I stayed on the cliff with him in eyesight and called 911. I told them there was a man here yelling for help and he was sitting in the same spot and not moving. The dispatcher asked me if I had called back out to him and let him know help was coming and I told them no. He had me stay on the line and call out to the man. I told him that I heard him and help was on the way. He just kept yelling for help, wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, and eventually fell silent. The dispatcher told me to stay right where I was and that help would be there soon. I tried to call out a couple more times, but the man stayed silent.
Standing there in the silence with the greenery all around me, everything finally sank in. My adrenaline had run out and I realized what was going on. I was very worried that the man had stopped responding and I wanted to go down and check on him. But I was also a little fearful of the situation. I still had an uneasiness that maybe I was in danger. So I did the only thing left to do when I’m not sure what else to do. I called my Dad.
I filled him in and asked him what I should do next. After about a minute of lecturing me on being there by myself, he also snapped into emergency mode. He said to absolutely not go any closer to him, that it very easily could be a crazy person. He said I was right to trust my instinct to stay away from him and if I were to go down there or even possibly stay where I was, it wouldn’t take anything for a man to seriously hurt me. He advised me to run back up to the trail head and wait for the firefighters who would be first on the scene. That way, I’m out of harm’s way and next to the road and more people. I can also show the firefighters right where to go to get to the man instead of waiting for them to find me halfway down. I hung up and bolted up the trail.
Eventually the firefighters came and I showed them the trail I had taken. I waited where I had previously been at the cliff with two of them while the other two went down by the river’s edge. After a few minutes, the two firefighters radioed up to us that the man was uninjured, but heavily intoxicated and unaware of his surroundings, who he was, or how he got here. They thanked me for my help and I walked back up to my car, taking everything in and realizing that my gut feeling had been right. If I would have gone to try to help that man, who knows if he would have fallen asleep, ran away from me, or seen me as a target. I guess it wasn’t so foolish to be cautious.
I remember watching a segment on Oprah with my mom a few years ago. The guest was a security specialist and author of a book named The Gift of Fear. He has chronicled and worked with dozens of women who have been through heinous situations and lived to tell about it. Through their stories, he was explaining to the audience and viewers that while the victim is certainly not to blame for these horrifying acts committed against them, there was always a key ingredient in the beginning. In every one of these scenarios, the woman always has a gut instinct that she is stepping into dangerous territory. And as not to offend anyone or over analyze her feelings, she steps into the situation anyway.
That’s exactly how I felt that summer day when I began my jog into the forest, trying to push aside the feeling of uneasiness I had. I was being dramatic. I was over analyzing. It would turn out to be nothing and I’d feel ridiculous. But in actuality, there was something inside of me warning me not to proceed. It was the same thing that told me to not get in the car with friends who had been drinking, to not go to that party, to get out of that relationship. The gut instinct that was so deeply apparent at the beginning of every bad decision.
And according to experts, that instinct is a gift and one that I now know the full value of after watching that Oprah segment and hearing such horrifying stories. Stories that began with a man offering help carrying groceries, a woman noticing things missing in her apartment each day after work, a woman who walked into her home after noticing her trash can moved to the middle of her driveway. A woman going for a run by herself. They call it the gift of fear and I am going to start treating it more like the gift it is. And that should make my parents very happy! :)