"Life and Death on the Trail"

(Rest in Peace Mary and Susan)

by L. Lisa Lawrence

(author holds copyright on all material.  Permission granted to link to original pages, please use contact link on webpage for any requests for reprinting or publishing)

Their names were released on the news tonight.  Mary Cooper and her adult daughter Susan Cooper Stodden from Seattle. 

They were murdered on a local trail in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State.  They hiked in the Cascades every week because they loved the area so much.  Mary was a librarian and educator.  Susan worked for the Audubon Society.  They loved nature, and they shared that love with other people.  It is a tragic loss, even for those of us who did not personally know them, but may have some day. 

I did not know them, but they could have been any number of my friends.  I held my breath when they finally, publicly named the (up until that point) “unnamed victims”.  The last time I held my breath like that, it was when a group of Mountaineers died in a freak climbing accident last year and one of them was our beloved Jo Backus.  I did not want it to be “our Jo” from the Tacoma Club, but it was.  This time it wasn’t, but I still mourned. 

I actually had people call and email me before the names were announced to make sure I wasn’t one of the victims (“You’re out there all the time”, “The wilderness is dangerous”, etc…) Yeah, I am, and that is not going to change.   

Upon further reflection, our lives did parallel in many ways.  I used to teach environmental education and I used to work for an environmental non-profit (and might still if it hadn’t been so dysfunctional and badly managed) I, and many others that I know, make weekly trips in to the Cascades and Olympics because we are so blessed to live here and have them so close. 

Then I started to hear the warnings.  “Don’t go out there until the maniac is caught”.   

We do not know that there is a maniac running loose all over the Cascades randomly killing people.  The sad fact of life is that most women who are murdered, are murdered by someone they know.  It is most often a partner (or “ex” or “soon to be ex” partner) or family member.  (I am not making any speculation in this case, just stating statistical fact from my law enforcement background)  It can be a jilted lover, or a case of unrequited love.  It could even be a case of witnessing or having knowledge of a crime.  Right now, we don’t know. 

These women spent their lives loving and sharing nature with others.  I cannot speak for them, but if it were me, I would not want people to avoid that love because of the incident, particularly when the details of the case are not known.  If it were me, I would not want my legacy to be people (particularly women) avoiding the wilderness.

The fact is, statistically speaking,  that if we use common sense, we are much safer on the trail, than we are in the city.  I had to remind my dear mother of that just today.  (Bad news travels fast, even to other states) Granted, even as a child, I was such a “fighter” that my mother used to joke that if anyone tired to kidnap me that they’d throw me back.  Today, I am an accomplished athlete and former federal law enforcement officer with the permits, training and experience to carry a weapon, and most likely handle a situation without having to use it.  Heck, I’m a redheaded Scorpio with Celtic Warrior ancestors.  If there is a random manic out there, he’s likely to end up with his head displayed on a trekking pole if he messes with me or anyone on one of my hikes (but I digress) 

The point is, the world is a dangerous place.   

We cannot hide in our homes afraid of living life. 

There are common sense things that we can do to minimize our risks when we hike. (and walk down the street) 

The first, is to hike in groups when possible. (It is actually, statistically odd that two women hiking together were targeted) 

Let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back (this is just good common sense in case you get lost or hurt) 

Be aware of your surroundings. 

Walk, hike and present yourself confidently.  In the case of “random” attack, a potential attacker wants an “easy” target.  Do not appear to be an easy target. 

If you are alone or outnumbered, call to imaginary “hiking partners” down the trial. 

Learn some self-defense to the level at which you are comfortable.  Just YELLING the word “NO” is often enough to startle an attacker long enough to get away. (Do NOT carry a weapon unless you are well trained, permitted, and prepared to take a human life without hesitation; otherwise, you are just a danger to yourself and others) 

Get some distance between yourself and a potential attacker. 

Many things can be used as weapons long enough for you to startle an attacker and get away:  (and the goal is not to “kick their ass”, but to buy enough time to get away)  car keys in the eyes, trekking poles, rocks, even splashing water in someone’s face to surprise and distract them all work. 

Pepper spray is a good thing if you are UPwind. 

As I previously stated, I cannot speak for Mary and Susan and we will not know the details of their tragic murders for some time (if at all) but I can say that if it were me, I would not want people to avoid the trial.  I would want them to confidently hike, climb, ski and snowshoe while minimizing their risks as much as possible. 

I want my legacy to be “live life to its fullest” 

Tonight, I will raise a glass to Mary and Susan, friends that I never had a chance to meet, and keep their families in my prayers. 

~L

(author holds copyright on all material.  Permission granted to link to original pages, please use contact link on webpage for any requests for reprinting or publishing)

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