This summer I went to Jon’s family reunion in Watertown, New York, just about as far north in NY as you can get without being in Canada.
Watertown’s got some charm to it. It’s home to an army base, Fort Drum, and sees lots of Canadian who come for the shopping deals. There are big chain stores and restaurants but also lots of independent cafes, restaurants, bakeries and other businesses that can hold their own.
We go every couple of years to catch up with Jon’s mom, siblings and extended family. Sometimes we stay with family, sometimes we rent a house. This year we stayed in a hotel that was centrally located to restaurants, shops and an amazing vegetarian grocery store/cafe.
Being so centrally located meant we were near a busy road in terms of traffic. Not a highway, but just a lot of cars pulling in and out of the parking lots of fast food restaurants, bars and chain stores.
On the Sunday morning of our stay, I headed out for a long run, 12 miles.
Because I didn’t know the area well, I figured out a route where I could run six miles out and six miles back to the hotel. I wanted to stick to the main roads so I wouldn’t get lost. These roads also happened to be busy which I figured would be safer than side roads since there would be people regularly driving by in case something happened to me. I didn’t want to stumble and fall on a country road.
I left the hotel shortly after 6:00 a.m.
Nothing less than a threat
The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of young(ish) people already up and about so early in the morning. The first group I happened upon were a few twenty-somethings hanging out in the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts. “Hmmm,” I thought, “early for them.” But then it dawned on me they hadn’t been home yet and they were likely winding down from their Saturday night.
Then as I ran on, I started to realize how far away from Seattle I really was. In Seattle, pedestrians have the right of way and drivers are very courteous when it comes to allowing you to cross the street, whether at a crosswalk or elsewhere.
In Watertown, drivers ignored the fact that I was there (yes, I’m sure they saw me) and drove in front of me while they were either exiting or entering a parking lot, not even hesitating to let me run by. OK, I can deal with that.
What was more annoying, however, was the leering, the slowing down of the vehicles on the road and the head-turning by male drivers of pickup trucks andÂ motorcycles.
Because it was so early, I had to assume that these guys, too, were still out from the night before and not necessarily up and at ’em in time for church.
To a guy, this behavior might sound innocuous, innocent, maybe even a compliment. But for a woman, these small gestures are nothing less than a threat to what might happen if a situation were to get out of control.
I can’t tell you the last time I felt the slightest danger while out for a run. Not even in New Orleans and certainly never in Seattle.
Particularly in Seattle, I feel very safe during my runs and walks around my neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect place. There have been reports of women runners being attacked or even hit by hit and run drivers. But the only nods and smiles I get are from other runners, many of whom I recognize since we travel similar routes.
I don’t know what the crime rate is in Watertown, but it’s not the kind of place you’d consider to be crime-ridden. But still, I had a feeling of angst as I ran. A sense that I could have been easily snatched by a couple of guys in a pickup truck.
As I got a bit further out of town near my four or five mile mark, I got so uncomfortable that I turned around and headed back toward the hotel. I did find another route that was more populated and was able to stretch out the run to nearly 12 miles. But that run was a bummer for me.
Jon has often said to me that I have a really good gut instinct when it comes to our travel choices. I dazzle him with my ability to find interesting (and safe!) alleyways in cities and fascinating locals to chat with in the most exotic of destinations. I now wonder if that’s a skill I’ve honed because I HAVE to be super tuned in whereas he doesn’t. He’s not aware of the same potential for threat that I am. But that means I’m also tuned into the good.
I now think this is why women have such a good sixth sense. We have to. Because it’s a matter of life and death otherwise.
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Watertown – Doug Kerr
One more thing–don’t go out without ID. A friend of mine lost her husband to a hit and run accident while out on a bike ride. He wasn’t wearing ID, so the hospital couldn’t call her to her let her know he’d been in an accident. By the time she found out where he was, he was gone. I have an ID necklace from these folks: http://www.roadid.com (no affiliation, I just like their products). I don’t even go for a walk around the neighborhood without it.
Beth Whitman says
Betsy – I’m working on a post/review about Road ID. Love those folks!
I have a friend who had a heart attack while running (he lived) but didn’t have ID on him and it took days for the hospital to find his friends/family. As a result, I’m quite vigilant about carrying ID as well as a card from my hotel in case something happens.
Pat Camp says
Hi Beth – I’m never without my RoadID – it’s my favorite bracelet and perfect for my solo walks. Glad to report that I haven’t had an incident where it’s been needed. Great article – thanks!
Smaller towns are always kind of creepy to run in. There’s an anonymity that comes with being in a major metro area, and anywhere else feels . . . like you’re too exposed. Half the time I think the leering isn’t so much a sexual threat as much as these guys simply not knowing how to behave around strangers.
Lea Jennus says
Thank you for this! I am always trying to point out to my daughter to be careful and aware of your surroundings. As a college student, she feels safe on campus. But, when she returns to our neighborhood for a visit, she forgets that it’s not the same environment. ID sounds like a great reminder, especially for students who just are likely to grab only
their tunes and go.
Astrid Mitchell says
I completely agree with Lea – I’m the mother of a high-school student. I’ve felt the leers when I travel alone, and far from being flattering, they feel like a threat. It’s also important to travel with a plan.