Tag Archives: camping

One Year Out

Or rather, “The vacation I took to to celebrate being about a year out from the car accident and concussion that pretty much reset my life.”

A core lesson from the accident: I needed to carry decent health insurance, and “decent” tended to fall outside of “what I can afford as a freelancer.”  Truly, at the scene of the accident, I should have been taken to the hospital right away.  I feared the cost more than I feared the health consequences of my brain rattling around in my skull, and I didn’t want to head into my 50s with that same fear of, say, heart palpitations or weird lumps or menopause symptoms or…  You get the idea.

That lesson led to a fulltime job.  Darlings, I do indeed love my job, but going from a freelancer and martial arts instructor to an employee working always on someone else’s preset schedule has been an adjustment.  Especially since the job requires this not-a-morning-person to be onsite at about 6:30 in the morn.  But heck, I’m helping to make whiskey, so I can’t complain!  And the job comes with paid vacation time—something I haven’t had since I was my son’s age—and that led to the celebration.

Last year’s concussion caused lingering problems, from sleep difficulties to sporadic balance issues to minor aphasia to blank-outs.  (Not blackout. Blankout—the sensation of suddenly not knowing a thing that you know you should know, and not being able to articulate anything more than, “Um…  Hold on…  Um…”)  I certainly didn’t trust myself to camp on my own.  NO WAY.  What if I forgot to pack up my food at the end of the night, and attracted a bear?  What if I stumbled into the campfire?  What if I couldn’t remember which direction I was supposed to go on the trail?

For the first time, I was afraid—truly and deeply afraid—to head out on my own.

So I decided to use a bunch of vacation days, packed up my Tucson, and took off for six days in Wyoming.  Yellowstone and Grand Tetons.  I hiked extensively my first couple days up there, and stayed in an extremely Wyoming hotel for the first two nights.

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Why the hotel?  Because I was scared to death I wouldn’t be able to figure out a campground.  I’m glad I let myself transition that way, but I needn’t have worried.  I ended up in Grand Tetons (which I preferred to Yellowstone because it had far fewer people and far more solitude) the following evening.

Yes, I had bear spray.  And thankfully lost my fear of accidentally spraying myself in the face with it.

Then I drove mostly two-lane highways through the Wyoming countryside down to Laramie, Medicine Bow, and Vendauwoo.  I climbed boulders.  I walked through the pines.  I watched the Milky Way come into being.  I played with chipmunks.  I read two novels.  I watched cows wander through my campsite.

I ran kata, and bo and nunchaku, and practiced some knife work.  I’m rusty on all of them, but I least I could remember all my empty-hand katas, hit myself in the jaw only a couple times with the nunchaku, and gave myself only one nasty cut with the kukri.  I remembered where the first aid kit was and how to use it.

I stared out the horizon.  I let my mind wander.  I planned what I would do when I returned home, what I would do when I turned 50, and where I’d like to be when I turn 60.

I rested.

I proved to myself I was okay, and okay was pretty damned wonderful.

And since I was okay, I spent the first morning after my return rappelling down thirty-eight stories in downtown Denver to raise funds for the Cancer League of Colorado, in memory of my late husband (liver cancer), my best friend who was also my son’s godmother (breast cancer), and in honor of my martial arts instructor who beat throat cancer last year.  (Donations are still being accepted at the link, if you’re so inclined to give to a group that donates every penny to cancer research and patient support services.)

The highest I’d ever rappelled before was about, maybe, forty feet or so.  When the moment came to step onto the ledge and lean back over the edge, I will tell you honestly I almost backed out.  Then the voice in my head, “Bitch, sit your ass down in that harness and get it done.”  And so I did.

I will not lie.  It was terrifying.  I screamed at least once.  I wanted to quit halfway down.  When I reached the bottom, people had to hold me up for a minute because my legs wouldn’t work.  My son hugged me while I was still shaking, as did my friends Katy, Don and Rob.  (Rob had gone over the edge before me.)

I never wanted to do it again.  Now I kinda do.

So really, what I did on my summer vacation was prove to myself that, even if I’m fragile, I’m fixable.  That I can step off the sidewalk (or the ledge) and still be all right.  That even though I’ve different limitations than I had ten years ago, five years ago, or even one year ago, the way to deal with those limits is not to dial back my ambitions but to rethink my tactics and strategy.

I’m back, my Darlings–ass in the harness, whiskey in hand, stepping over the edge.  Let’s do this.

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#SFWApro

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Merry Camping Ahead…

powerSee that beautiful thing? It’s my Christmas joy, given by my brother-in-law as part of our family Secret Santa exchange.* He joked that he bought me one so I’d stop borrowing his. I told him it was his own fault for suggesting it would be a great camping accessory. 🙂

Yes, it’s great for emergencies–it’ll jumpstart a car, forex–but it’s the camping applications that make me love it so.

The last time I took my BIL’s charger along, I tested how much battery power it took to keep my Kindle and phone fully charged over three days.  By the end of the experiment, I’d recharged my used-until-dead Kindle three times, and my used-not-as-much phone twice.  The charging unit’s battery level had merely nudged down to around 97%.

Coming experiments will include discovering how long it’ll run my laptop, and what affects the power drain.  The first attempt got around six hours of active laptop and wireless use (in addition to the two-ish hours I get from the laptop battery).

My writerly camping trips are about to get WAY more productive.  Or at least differently productive.

Y’see, the usual writerly camping trip tends to revolve around plotting and editing, with some handwritten first drafting.  Truly, I love writing by hand, and part of me misses the days when I wrote first and second drafts with black extra-fine Uniball pens on college-ruled notebook paper in a three-ring binder.  But… I’ve also grown accustomed to the greater speed a keyboard allows me when my thoughts start running ahead of my cursive.

This lovely unit will permit me to flip open the laptop at those moments without fear I’ll suddenly run out of power before finishing.

Of course, now I desperately want to hide in a wooded campground for three days.

Alas, January!

On the other hand… March isn’t that far away…

 

*Our family shifted from the gifts-for-everyone model to Secret Santa many years ago, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is move into the holidays without massive financial and shopping stress. We draw names at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, keep our draw secret, then exchange the gifts on Christmas Eve. Yes, the kids still get Santa presents, and special presents from parents.

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot — Camping Edition

Hooray, camping again at Lake Pueblo!  I’ve been down here four times now–twice camping, twice hiking–and absolutely love the openness, the dryness, and the off-season quiet.

The first time I camped at Lake Pueblo, at a lovely site overlooking the lake, ended early because the winds came up so strong.  I was afraid the tent was going to snap, so packed it in.  Turns out that was a good thing, since an unexpected blizzard was roaring in.

This time?  Stray shower, maybe a thunderstorm, said the forecast.  Winds gusting to 20mph, said the forecast.  That’s nothing, my darlings.  I’ve tent-camped through Indiana thunderstorms strong enough to spawn tornadoes within a couple miles of my campsite.  I’ve tent-camped in inch-an-hour rainfall.  I’ve tent-camped in a desert windstorrm.  So 20mph winds with maybe a little rain?  I was not concerned.

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So after a fantastic day that involved a lovely hike, proofreading 250 pages, and sausages roasted over an open fire for the pupper and I, I sat outside while the last of the fire burned down.  The moonlight from the east was bright enough to wash most of the stars from the sky.  Off to the west, I saw a couple lightening flashes in the distance.  I took the moments to stash this-n-that in the tent or the Jeep (I don’t much like last-minute dashing when other options are available), stirred out the coals so they’d burn down faster, and got myself and Gambit settled in the tent.

It wasn’t fifteen minutes later that the first wind gust slammed the tent hard enough to knock a tent pole against my head.  No warning, no preliminary breezes, nothing.  Zero to whatever-speed in a single gust.  I tried everything I knew to do, inside the tent and out, but lost the battle.  For the first time in my camping experience, the wind was strong enough to yank one of the stakes out of the ground.  And when one stake goes, the strain on all the others increases.  In a minute, half the tent was levitating and the other half was considering the same.

Alas, this happened when Gambit and I were still inside the tent and–in the fashion of one with an overactive imagination–I envisioned my dog and I entangled in the tent, blown over the steep hillside, landing in the lake, and dragged down by the weight of the tent and everything in it.  (That picture above? That’s the edge my tent was headed toward.)  So I wrestled the tent flap open far enough to shove Gambit outside, thinking even if he ran off, he’d be safer anywhere but inside the smooshed tent, then got myself out too.

I remember finding the car keys and jamming them in my mouth.  I remember yanking the poles out of the tent and folding them just enough to fit on the back seat.  I remember dragging the tent halfway under the Jeep so I could lie on the ground (Did I mention the nigh-constant lightening, and the fact I was standing on a high point beside the lake?) and find by feel the valve that would deflate my mattress.  Yeah, that might sound like a stupid thing to consider, but I couldn’t wrestle the mattress out of the tangled tent, and the tent and all its contents was going to take off if I let go.  I remember stuffing the tent–along with the sleeping bag, mattress, clothes, and assorted stuff–into the back of the Jeep.

At some point, I had opened a door so Gambit could jump in the Jeep.  I don’t remember doing so, but the poor pup was shaking on the front seat when I finally got in the car.

I guess I could have stuck around for awhile to see if the wind died down enough to risk setting the tent back up.  I opted to head home instead.  I didn’t know if a pole had snapped (It hadn’t. Near I can tell, one end of the pole yanked free of the pin.), or if the weather would get better or worse (I’d lost all connection on my phone), or what the state of everything inside the tent was, seeing as it was now all wadded up in the Jeep.

I drove home.  Got there around midnight.  It took over two hours this morn to sort out and untangle the mess I hauled out of the Jeep, but nothing is terrible or unfixable.  It was just… messy.

I’m thinking that the next time I camp at Pueblo, I’ll choose one of the sites set back from the lake views, where junipers and gulches and some such will break the wind before it kills me.  I’m thinking I can damn well drag a chair to one of those views during the day, and sleep in peace at night.  I’m thinking I need to remember more about my desert camping youth than my Midwest camping middle years!

Mundane Miscellany

If I haven’t made huge mistakes in the trauma/recovery area, I’m thinking I can wrap up revisions on Breath of Stone by the end of the weekend. I’d like to say sooner, but I’ve perhaps a couple hours a day for it through the next seven days. (When I sell more books, I’ll get to do fewer non-fiction projects…)  Then I must draft cover copy, and that’s just… SIGH.

I’ll be posting a couple chapters for patrons over at Patreon, along with this month’s article on injuries and trauma and healing.

There is a second Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off underway! I’m thinking of putting Sword and Chant in the mix. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel. Even some of the most complimentary reviews mention it’s difficult to define. And it’s written in omni viewpoint.  More than ever, the response will depend on the reviewer randomly assigned the odd thing.

I’ve found new places I want to camp!  Pawnee Grasslands, Toadstool Geologic Park, Paint Mines, Palo Duro, Bisti Badlands….  And of course these longings are strongest when over a foot and a half of snow sits outside my door.

Have you see the schedule for the Nebulas?  There is cool, cool stuff happening there, and the cost of the conference itself is, in my opinion, darn good.  Alas, the Chicago location is far too expensive for me.  Maybe next time.

I’ll still be taping my own NOTx talk on the most important aspect of self-publishing!  I was trying to set up a small audience, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, alas, so it’ll likely just be me talking to you.

Lastly, the ankle is improving more quickly than I would have anticipated.  Just walking, there is nothing but a lingering tightness.  Going upstairs is quite workable.  Going downstairs happens slowly and stiffly, one stair at a time.  Side to side motion isn’t all that fun, and rotation doesn’t feel very good at all.  But progress!  It’s healing!

And now, back to work!

#SFWApro

 

 

 

Season’s First Camp

Between swings of cold weather, there were two days that looked perfect for a quick, early-season outing–clear skies, warm temperatures, and an almost-full moon as a bonus.  Shortly before the trip, the forecast called for a bit of wind and rain on the second day, but I’ve camped through Indiana summer thunderstorms (and a tornado outbreak), so I didn’t have much concern for a slight chance of a maybe-rain event in the high desert.

Compared to Indiana, Denver is pretty darn dry.  Compared to Denver, Pueblo is damned dry.  Truly, it’s been almost twenty years since I’ve spent significant time in the desert, but there is no mistaking the distinct feel of the air on the skin and in the lungs.  It isn’t just the low humidity (which dropped to around 5%).  It’s the smell of dust and–if you’re lucky–the heat-pushed scent of twisted little trees and determined brush.  Breathe it in long enough, and you’ll be able to discern the distinct scent-feel of plain water, too.

When I stepped out of the car and took a few deep lungfuls of that air, I felt as if I were visiting a long-lost home.

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Afternoon View From My Campsite

 

It didn’t take long to set camp.  I was one of two campers on the loop, with my nearest neighbors way on the other end, and we couldn’t see each other without stepping around the stunted trees and table covers between us.  We waved from afar, a nice little acknowledgment and mutual agreement to ignore one another.  Really, when you deliberately choose a campground as far as possible from everyone else–not to mention a short hike from the bathrooms–you recognize others who do the same.

In comfortable and quiet isolation, I settled down to bask in the sunshine with a bottle of water (my third since arriving, and I was still thirsty!) and my Kindle for a session of what was essentially self-chosen slush reading.

I looked up as tumbleweeds rolled between me and my tent.  The next one rolled through even faster.  Sitting in the shelter’s lee, intent on my reading, I hadn’t noticed the rising wind.  But now grit was scratching my eyes and my mouth felt a little dusty, and the tent was rippling.  Then a new gust shoved the tent, squishing it down to about half its height, and I thought I might have a problem.

After a few hours of checking and re-checking tent stakes, weighing down the leading edge of my tent to keep it from pulling up, keeping track of everything else that kept trying to blow away or blow over, and consoling Gambit where he’d decided to curl up under the table and shake, the wind abruptly stilled.  My tent had not blown away, its poles hadn’t snapped under the strain, and I just might get a decent camping trip in.

The moon was so bright that night, I sat out writing notes for book-plotting long after the sun went down.  And those other campers at the other end of the loop?  Musicians.  Every now and then, light guitar melodies provided a quiet accompaniment to the few insects chirruping in the night.  Owls hooted.  Coyotes yipped in the distance.

I turned in early, thinking to catch up on sleep, but awoke shortly before midnight with Gambit nosing me.  He never asks to go out in the middle of the night at home, but does so when we’re camping.  So we took a moonlit hike, not at all needing a flashlight, up and down the shale-scattered hillside around the campground with nothing but a light breeze for company.

The next morning, rested and ready to spend the day in combination of book-plotting and brief hikes, I checked the weather alert that had come through my phone.  It was another high wind warning, set to begin late morning and go late into the evening, with predicted wind gusts exceeding 60mph for hours and hours.  And Wednesday’s forecast was even worse.

Staying would have been little more than a decision to battle the wind all day in the hope I’d have enough energy left by nightfall to accomplish what I’d actually come to do.  So I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, gave the sausage intended for the next day’s meal to Gambit (HAPPY DOG!), and packed up.  The wind starting rising while I was taking down the tent.  That made it extra fun, I tell ya.  Driving through those winds coming home made for a long and tiring two hours, too.

And so it was, tired and dust-covered, I rolled up back home.  It was not a wasted trip.  After all, I screened a few novels, mapped out plot points and essential elements of two others, and plotted two novels of my own.  Gambit was thrilled to scout new stuff of his own–he has earned the privilege to wander off-leash under certain circumstances–and I felt absolutely ALIVE to reach even the edge of a desert again.

But within a few hours of being home, the headache started.  Out of curiosity, I checked the weather.

Surprise!  Blizzard warning!  Six to twelve inches, consistent winds around 30mph and gusts over 50mph.  Set to begin in the very early morning, and be at its worst just about the time I would’ve been attempting to drive home had I stayed that extra night.  Yep, I’d have been looking at a 100-mile drive in blizzard conditions.

Had the winds not been so terrible in Pueblo, I would have stayed that extra day.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to check the weather in Denver.  I’m not an experienced enough Colorado resident to assume blizzard potential in March.  Lesson learned.

Over a foot of snow has fallen here already, and it’s just early afternoon.  We’ve at least three more hours to go.  Denver International Airport shut down, as have numerous roads.  Even the snowplows are getting stuck.  And the winds around Pueblo, where I was camping?  Today, they’re gusting over 80 mph.

Home is good.  Really, really, good.

#SFWApro

What Does Blair Bring to the Woods?

In my recent post on camping while female, I mentioned I bring weapons that are legal and that I’m trained to use. Out of curiosity, I asked what folks envisioned those weapons might be. Most of the answers involved firearms.

Before I say more: THIS IS NOT AN INVIATION, NOR AN EXTENSION OF PERMISSION, TO DISCUSS OR DEBATE GUN CONTROL AND RELATED TOPICS IN THIS SPACE. ANY COMMENTS THAT CROSS THE LINE—AND I DETERMINE THE LINE, DARLINGS—WILL BE DELETED.

Guns are the default, truly. When we hear armed, we think “gun.” When we hear weapon, we think “gun.” When we watch crime dramas, we see “gun.” When we watch the news, we see “gun.” So it’s natural to assume the discussion of weapons concerns guns. And, for anyone familiar with and comfortable with guns, it’ll seem odd to hear I am, too, but have made the decision to leave them behind when I camp alone.

So here’s why:

One-Mississippi.

Say that as fast as you can while you pretend to draw a gun from your holster (or shoulder a rifle), disengage the safety, take aim at a moving predator, fire, and hit the target.

Certainly there are people who could not only accomplish that skilled feat, but could also count on their single shot dropping the hurtling creature at their feet. Certainly that number is much, much smaller than the number of people who think they could do it.

I do not count myself as one of those skilled people. I don’t spend enough time with a firearm in my hand to count my knowledge as “skill.” And the more I gained actual skill in other areas, the more I realized the limitations of both the firearm and my ability to wield it as anything but a weapon of desperate and last resort in most circumstances.

It seems logical to want a firearm in bear country, but only if the actual nature of bears and attacks aren’t long considered. Many bear attacks happen under conditions of mutual surprise: the bear is startled by the sudden appearance of a human, and so startles the human by charging and mauling. There is a great deal of speed, a great deal of mass, and a great little smidgeon of time involved.

The same is true when it’s a mountain lion, but without the smidgeon of time. I mean, if a mountain lion wants you, it’ll stalk you from behind or drop from above and bite the back of your neck to kill you. A good thing it is mountain lions aren’t much interested in adult humans.

So once I put that information together with the actual cumulative likelihood of being attacked by a bear or mountain lion (it happens to a total of five or six people in Colorado a year), and with the knowledge of what I can do to further reduce the likelihood (safe and simple actions often not taken by folks who are attacked outside city limits), bringing a gun along didn’t seem all that important. In fact, some of the research I looked at seemed to point to bear and mountain lion attacks bearing a striking similarity in setting to sexual assault: wildlife attacks are more likely to occur on one’s home property than in the wilderness.

But there are indeed well-trained and experienced gun carriers who could pull off the shot, and quite a few more who are certain they could if properly motivated.* Are you one of theem? Try it with a stationary target. Then simulate the live attack by having a friend toss a 300-pound sack of unsheathed daggers at you when you least expect it. One-Mississippi.

I mean, absolutely the right gun in the right hands will stop a bear or mountain lion. I don’t dispute that. But the absolutely comes into play only in the presence of the those two “rights.”

So how about two-legged predators? The ones who lie in wait along remote mountain paths in anticipation of a lone victim out for a five-mile hike? Or the ones who cruise through campgrounds after dark in search of a lone victim asleep in a tent?

Well… those are almost non-existent. The hiker or camper is far more likely to be attacked by a bear or mountain lion than a skulking human. Yes, it happens. But we’ve discussed the actual likelihood of a woman being attacked before.  Searching Colorado news reports for the last year—imperfect, but what I have time to do—I find one report of sexual assault in a Colorado campground. It was, heartbreakingly, a crime against two children camping with their parents.

But let’s put the data aside completely. Let’s assume that, no matter the statistical risk, I want to be prepared for the worst case scenario. The rare horrible thing.

I still am not going to reach first for a gun because, as I mentioned above, the more I understand about how attacks actually go down, the less effective I see the gun as a defensive weapon in my hands in most scenarios.

One-Mississippi.

Just as with wildlife attacks, folks consistently underestimate how quickly a human attack happens and overestimate how quickly they can respond. If I’m going to be jumped by someone on a trail, the attacker would have to give me—at my skill level with a gun—about three Mississippis… which means I’d have to count on being attacked by an incompetent attacker suffering from a sprained ankle and a fever.

Or perhaps we’ll go with the creepy nighttime attack, the attacker who will attempt to silently unzip my tent and creep inside before I awake. Do I need a gun to stop that person? Only if I’m unwilling to move from my sleeping bag. And honestly, from the perspective of someone who has camped in Indiana, where many popular camping areas involve sites that are quite close to their neighbors, I wouldn’t want anyone firing blindly through a tent wall within fifteen feet of where my kid was sleeping in an RV.

So what do I bring along? What do I consider part of my self-defense?

My dog. Even though he has the appearance of a dog who could be a weapon, he absolutely is not. He is a defensive tool. An alarm against all attackers, and a deterrent for two-legged attackers. He has given warning of Something Scary Is Ahead during our hikes. He has growled deep in his chest when something walks past our tent in the middle of the night. I’ve watched people give our campsite a wide berth once he stands up to stare at their passing.

I don’t expect him to attack any creature that comes to attack me, but I know I can count on him to warn me, and a heeded warning can be a lifesaving thing. And in some instances, a big dog makes a potential target seem to be just too much trouble to mess with.

Bear spray. This is something I added since moving out here. I’ve carried pepper spray before, but never much worried about it while camping in Indiana because that state doesn’t have the wildlife population of Colorado. Unlike a firearm, I don’t have to be concerned with fantastic aim and slamming stopping power. Bears don’t like this stuff. Bears run away. I don’t think mountain lions would much like it, either, and am pretty sure a human getting a noseful of it will desire to be elsewhere at a rapid pace. Yes, there is a risk of spraying myself. As with any weapon, practice pays off.

My bo. It’s about six feet of hardwood, of a diameter that fits firmly in my fist, and I’ve spent far more hours with it—striking stationary and moving targets—than I am likely to spend with any firearm. It lets me strike and thrust at a distance or at medium range. It can be a shield against attacks at medium or close range. It’s in my hand when I hike, either as a walking stick or in an “at ease” position at my side. It leans against my chair when I’m beside the campfire. I can’t swing it inside a tent, but I can darn sure ram its end into the face of someone trying to sneak in. That would really hurt.

And please—please—understand that bo-as-weapon is nothing like bo-as-baton-twirling. I mean, I can twirl a bo to amuse my instructors, and there’s a whole tournament scene where people compete in bo twirling and acrobatics. But y’all know I’m likely to point out the difference between what flashes and what works. I prefer Yamanni Ryu.

Knife. I’ve a couple I trade off wearing, depending what I feel like. My preferred is better for stabbing, though it’s sharp enough for cutting. One is better for cutting, but can certainly stab as well. One is quite heavy. One is light. But no matter which I have, I know if I’m using it against an animal—four-legged or two-legged—I’m also like to be in the process of being injured myself. A knife is an up-close, personal weapon. I’d be perfectly content to go through life without testing my capabilities with one.

Like a gun, a knife takes time to draw. But, unlike a firearm, I feel perfectly comfortable sleeping with one at my fingertips, even with my dog tromping and rolling around in the tent, as the accidental discharge of a blade is highly unlikely.

There are other things I bring along should the fancy strike me, and a multitude of camping accessories that can certainly be utilized should the need arise, but the four things above are as about as complicated as I’m likely to get. I didn’t feel any more or less safe for the presence or absence of a gun. Others will feel differently, and I respect that. Others will have different skill sets and abilities, and I most certainly respect that.

Should circumstances change, my preferences might change as well.  (I might feel safer, reasonably or not carrying during springtime hikes, when bears have cubs to protect.) But I’m good for now.

And really, more than anything, I was just curious what most folks thought I carried into the woods. 🙂

*This is the same magical thinking that happens with folks who have a few years of martial arts training. “I know how to score in a sparring match, therefore my punch will stop an attacker.”

All Alone and Safe

100_2828According to many people, I put myself in great danger last week. I took an irresponsible risk. I performed an act that, while totally stupid, required great bravery. I did something many others said that they’d like to do, but never would, because of the danger involved.

What did I do?

I—a 44-year-old-woman—camped in a state park without a human companion to share my tent.

Continue reading All Alone and Safe