About 10 years ago, when I was still new to RV camping, I found this awesome campsite right on the waterfront at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. It was a gorgeous autumn weekend, and I couldn’t believe my luck. I was not only able to get this site, but had the entire campground completely to myself!
I went about setting up my popup camper and parked my "girly" Lexus SUV in front of it. No dog with me back then-- just me, myself, and I all alone...30 miles from the nearest town…in the backwoods of rural Kentucky. (cue up the banjo and guitar… do you hear them playing Deliverance yet?!!)
After enjoying a nice dinner and campfire, I gazed at the stars and couldn’t believe how bright they were. It was a moonless night and absolutely pitch-black. I headed off to bed enjoying the final whiffs of campfire smoke drifting thru the canvas tent walls, and hearing the crickets lull me to sleep. It didn’t take long as I was completely exhausted from the long day’s drive to get there.
Around midnight, I thought I was dreaming of distant lights in the woods. As I began to awake, I realized that was no dream—there WERE flashlights approaching my camper from the woods behind…and the sounds of mens' voices. They were still a ways off, but closing in fast and heading straight towards my camper!
In an instant, my idyllic camp site had suddenly become terrifying. And, it was only then that I realized how incredibly naïve I had been to put myself into such a vulnerable position...only camper in a very remote campground? DUMB. Camping in an RV without hard-walls or a locking door? DUMB. Tow car that screams "Girl camping here!" DUMB. No self-defense weapons onboard of any kind (other than a couple of dull, cheapo steak knives)? DUMB, DUMB, DUMB!
As the men and flashlights continued to approach, I could tell by their shadows that they also had shotguns… “oh shit, this is it!” I rolled out of bed onto the floor and reached into the drawer for a dull steak knife, preparing myself for the inevitable violence to come.
Just as the men got within10 feet of my camper (and could now clearly see it), they suddenly turned and continued walking to the parking lot of the campground. I had failed to notice previously that there were a couple of pickup trucks parked there. Nor had I realized there was trail behind my camper into the woods. Nor was I aware that It was hunting season, and these would-be armed assailants were simply a couple of good ‘ol boys returning from a long evening of hunting.
Much to my relief, they were not the least bit interested in terrorizing a single girl all alone in her pop-up camper!
The topic of self-defense has come up recently in a few RV forums I follow. It seems that some women are absolutely TERRIFIED to camp in an RV and feel the need to carry all sorts of protection—mace, baseball bats, a tire iron, and of course the most controversial….guns.
After my terrifying experience, you’d assume I’d now be armed to the hilt, right? Well, I honestly thought about it, for sure. But then I started thinking about it rationally:
- Would it have helped to carry mace, bear spray, or even hair spray (yes, some lady RVers consider this a weapon!)? Probably not. There was a breeze that night, and there were multiple men with guns. I would have never been able to spray them all, so more likely would have just disabled myself.
- How about a tire iron, baseball bat, or fire extinguisher? Again, not a great idea. They outnumbered and would easily have over-powered me (and likely would have used that weapon against me).
- Ok, then you should have had a gun! Well, I will admit, that would have been the most effective option here. Trouble is, it would have been too irreversibly effective. I was scared out of my wits seeing shadows of armed men right outside my camper. So scared that I honestly might have shot right through the canvas to stop them that night. And what would that have accomplished? My shots likely missing them? Them shooting back at me? Or me getting “lucky” enough to shoot one or two of them? And what if I had killed them, only to then learn they were just innocently hiking back to their car?
Americans have always been a gun-loving (and overly fearful) society. Thirty beautiful little 1st graders get shot just before Christmas by an apocalyptic lunatic, and we jump to the conclusion that the only effective prevention must now be to put a loaded pistol in ever kid’s book bag next to their sippy cup!
|Washington Post, Dec, 2012: What Makes America's Gun Culture Unique in the World|
One lady RV blogger recently excitedly announced that she was preparing to head out on her first extended solo RVing trip. She then casually mentioned some of the items she’ll be bringing along with her (and sadly, I’m not making this up): she will keep a gun in her camper, another gun in her truck, and conceal-carry yet another loaded gun on her body at all times.
What is it about camping that terrifies women (and men) so much? Have we, as a society, really devolved to such levels of fear that we must arm ourselves to the hilt just to enjoy a simple evening beneath the stars? The statistics would certainly seem to suggest that.
If anyone would have had justification to arm themselves up the wazoo, after my Kentucky backwoods experience, it would have been me.
But I didn’t.
I decided that if I were to ever get shot to death by some crazed idiot one night while out camping and enjoying beauty of nature, so be it. If a mama bear were so starved that she felt the need to attack me to feed herself and her cubs, so be it.
So, how did I improve my self-defense? What were my “lessons learned” from that night?
- I traded the popup and vowed to now only camp in hard-walled vehicles (with locking doors).
- A motorhome or van are exceptionally safe choices for solo female RVers—if necessary, you never need to leave your locked vehicle when you park for the night (so onlookers are unlikely to notice that you’re alone). And, if anything starts to make you fearful, you can easily drive away, again without leaving your locked vehicle.
- I got a dog. Burglars would rather target that quiet RV out at the edge of the campground, rather than mess with my stern-barking Millie (of course, if they ever reached to pet her, she’d lick them and wag her tail!).
- I avoid camping spots where I’m completely alone. Even if I’m boondocking out in the desert, I’ll still try to park where there’s at least one or two other RVs in the distance. If I do happen to break this rule, I’ll at least be sure to have good cell phone coverage and have good familiarity with the area.
- For overnight spots, I stick to well-lit, well-patrolled businesses (preferably open 24 hours) such as Flying J or WalMart, and avoid spending the night at dark, isolated highway rest stops.
- I try to blend in with the crowd. As much as I loved my Lexus SUV, or little, cute T@B trailer, neither were very common sights in a campground. I now stick with more common RVs and vehicles (even though I do sometimes wish my bright yellow Tracker was boring green or blue, it’s still an aging cheapo SUV compared to a newer luxury model).
- Now that I’m a vegan, I no longer bring along the dull steak knives. But we plant-eaters do tend to brandish sets of really sharp cutlery…so watch out for the vegan girl with the Ginsu knives! You’ve been warned!!!
Seriously though, the best self-defense I’ve found (in addition to the above changes) is to simply stay more aware of my surroundings at all times, and not put myself into places where fear would ever limit my ability to enjoy and be part of nature. It’s as simple as that!
Maybe one day, I’ll no longer find relatively safety in my surroundings and my comfort level will now require more potent weapons to defend myself. But I hope for my sake, the sake of those around me, and the general sake of our nation, that it never has to come to that.
I’d hope that there would always be one or two RVers nearby who were much more skilled and capable than me to protect us all (an armed off-duty police officer, ex-military, or skilled marksman would give me much more comfort than being surrounded by 100 other pistol-toting grannies with equally failing eyesight!).
A few years ago, I returned to this very same campground at LBL. It was still pretty deserted, but I now had my hard-walled locking RV, my dog, my less-fancy SUV, my cell phone, and my sharp cutlery. And I now felt perfectly safe.
So, I’m hopeful that my fears (and yours) related to personal safety continue to stay manageable. That we take a few sensible precautions to prevent dangerous situations, but don’t let fear ruin the magic of experiencing the natural world around us.
For now, the odds of being harmed out in the woods are far less than even the local shopping mall, so just relax, take a deep breath…and enjoy the view!