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October 2007

Survive This: Meeting a Menacing Stranger On the Trail

Learn how to avoid shady characters on the trail.

Predicament: You’re several miles into a solo dayhike when you pass a aggressive-looking man who seems out of place on the trail. You pick up your pace, but he follows and demands loudly that you turn around.

Lifeline: Keep walking. Look for other hikers and ask to join their group. If the stranger persists, give a slight wave and continue moving. If you have no choice but to engage him, keep your answers short, and your tone flat and neutral. Tell him you’re hiking with friends who are nearby. Be as calm as possible. Make eye contact and rest your hands by your side. Crossed arms can be interpreted as a defensive stance, and won’t allow you to react quickly. If he takes a step toward you, step back. He might want to scare you away from trailside criminal activity, such as a meth lab, marijuana cultivation, or illegal dumping.

If the stranger shows or mentions a weapon and asks for money, don’t resist. But if he attacks, yell for help and fight back aggressively. Shout, bite, scratch, poke—and aim for vital areas like the eyes, groin, and throat. As soon as you can get away, drop your pack, run to the nearest trailhead, and alert authorities.

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