How to Stay Safe While Exercising in the Country

I recently wrote a post over on Sad Runner that included some safety tips at the very end and I decided to expand on that here. I was going to write a blanket post about staying safe while exercising but then I realized it’s a lot different in the city rather than in the country. I mentioned there that in the about 5000 km I’ve run and 8000 km I’ve biked (mostly on my mountain bike in the deep woods) no one has ever grabbed me, touched me or hurt me and any really close calls I’ve had were wildlife or mechanical in nature. Almost all of that alone, and this post pretty much refers to going it alone. Certain things carry over to the city and more to the suburbs but I’ll write that post next.

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I can’t overstate how important it is to be prepared and think about this stuff before it happens. I firmly believe that if you don’t think about how you’ll act you’re very likely to do the exact wrong thing, well I am anyway. But I am a ‘what if’ sort of person. All that said most of this stuff I’ve never had to put into practice. But some like running without sidewalks is a daily thing. Even if you’re an occasional country exerciser it’s worth a read for the next time you’re out there.

Hunting Season

Once again I’m starting out with what inspired me to sit down and write this and what I decided didn’t fit into another one. Hunting season is open here now and has been for 9 days, bow and bear season specifically. At the end of the month it’s small game, general deer and fur bearers goes to the end of March. I don’t really care if you hunt, I only eat game meat myself, which you can read about here, but once there are crossbows or guns in the woods I take the same precautions. The big one here is the beginning and end of general deer from October 27th until December 2nd. Once hunting season starts I tend to stay off the trail even though it’s illegal to take a shot from it, let alone toward it virtually everywhere. It’s not totally necessary but often drinking goes part and parcel with hunting. It’s not legal to shoot after dark in some jurisdictions including ours to within 200m of a dwelling or road. First you have the ocean, then the road, then a line of houses, including ours, then the trail, more houses and then the highway for at least 5 miles in either direction where we live. Which is to say we should never hear a shot, yet the first two weekends of deer season they consistently punctuate the silence from within the house until 2 am.

I stay off the trail while running completely during dear season, I will go biking if the weather and the schedule permit. I always wear a hunter’s orange vest and a hat or scarf when I do. If I take my sister’s dog he wears a scarf I made him too. Even though dark should be safe that’s when the non-rule followers and potentially drinkers are shooting so I stay off completely. Dusk and dawn are the best times to hunt so make sure you avoid those in the woods at the very least. Nothing is very likely to happen at all but even in the remotest possibility it’s a big enough deal that you should take some simple precautions like wearing orange, in some situations it’s the law. You can even just get some yarn and tie it on your outfit for the season.

DUIvers

Now this is true of the city as well but there is often an idea in the country that drinking and driving is less of a big deal since you’re not likely to see anyone. In the country that might mean car, truck, snowmobile or all terrain vehicle. Lot of people have convictions for DUI’s partially, though not excusably, since there are no taxies and things aren’t in walking distance. If someone tells you they got caught both of the only times they did it they’re lying to your face. Chances are if they got caught once it wasn’t their first time behind the wheel.

One study stopped all drivers leaving an urban centre for a week and gave them a Breathalyzer with no chance of being charged and a drive and a tow home. It found over 10% of driver were over the limit between 11pm and 4 am on any given day and that number jumped to 30% on weekends leaving an urban centre. It was also a causative factor in over 40% of crashes after dark. Even if you only see 10 cars on your run that’s 1 – 3 near misses. As a runner, walker or biker I’m sure you see all those empties in the ditches that I do. Think long and hard about late night runs on Fridays and Saturdays, I don’t really bother after about 9. We have a Saturdays only dance hall that’s very popular in tourist season that makes Saturday night runs out of the question. If you do head out take extra steps to make yourself more visible but also take extra precautions. Approach intersections with the upmost of care or vary your pace to avoid being in one near a car. Think long and hard about your route and if it’s worth it at all.

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Just because you’re not likely to see anyone on a road like this, it’s NEVER okay to drink and drive.

No Cell Coverage

This is becoming less of a thing. But dead zones do exist. Its best to know where they are and if you feel so inclined to avoid them. We had a few bad ones here that got their own towers in recent years. I don’t worry about them too much while running except to be extra aware for those few minutes. It’s probably best practice if there are major ones on your route to let someone know when your heading out, your route and when you’ll be back. If you do deviate from your planned run by going further, resting or chatting let your person know so their not worried sick.

If this is something you deal with on the regular for example running, hiking or biking deep in the woods take it a step further. I use an app called cyclemeter that I’ve set up to automatically email honey every time I open it. It sends him updates every 45 minuets but also a live clickable map where he can check on my progress at any time. It’s way better than sharing your location because should something happen where you didn’t have service your last known location is still visible and it will pick up again when service returns. It is part of the add on elite package but it integrates with fitness trackers and has functions for other activities than biking, my stepdad uses it for walking and hiking too and there is a running function. You could even use it for that feature In a vehicle like an ATV in the woods.

No Sidewalks

This freaks people out but it really doesn’t need to. It is what it is and you’ll get used to it fast. Instead we have a packed dirt shoulder. These can be uneven, thin in some spots, washed out or grown in. But depending on where you are they can also be in great shape. What most of us do is run on or just past the white line and pull over onto the shoulder when a car is coming. In some way night is nicer because you can see the headlights approaching around turns. But takes extra steps lights, lights, lights and reflectors in that order to make your self more visible. In some spots you might not get to see what’s coming at you very for far. In those places pull onto the shoulder preventatively. In some cases you might have to walk a few steps or pause, you’ll live.

Wildlife

Unless you’re deeper into the woods or trail running your not that likely to run into a whole lot of wildlife. It’s more of a once in a lifetime thing really. I see deer all the time, actually once I came close to hitting one on my bike, like 4 feet close. Once in the woods an off-roader told me there was a bear with cubs close ahead and gave me a lift a few miles away. In general the old adage is true that they want to interact with you less then you want to interact with them. The best thing you can do is just not be silent. The noise of a runner hitting the ground should be enough to let anything furry know your close since they’re primed to listen for footsteps but adding a little bell to your ensemble couldn’t hurt. Biking is more of an issue since a dialled in bike is pretty darn close to silent. When honey got me a fancy new bell for my bike I had to ask him to break it a bit so that when I hit bumps it jangled a bit. All that said I once arrived home in my car at my mom’s house at 3am, I was young ok, only to meet a bear between the driveway and the front door. Luckily we have non-people eating black bears here. If you have dangerous wildlife just let them know you’re there by making some noise and being aware of your soundings. Your options include bells, singing, skipping the headphones and playing your music from your phone’s speaker or occasional yodelling.

Older Drivers

Oh I hate to include this because I don’t want to offend but… this is the most consistent freak out I have running in the country. My little town like lots of other rural little towns has a lot of older residents within it. I hear people say I don’t drive in the city anymore but around the bay I just take it slow. I know these roads like the back of my hand. Once the tourist season is over about 30% of the cars out there during daytime runs have handicap permits. Not all older drivers can be painted with the same brush, some take themselves out of the mix when the time comes but there are also some common themes. Older drivers (70 and older) have the second highest collision rate after teenage boys, per km driven its the highest. Older drivers know their abilities are declining so they stay close to home, drive slower and on slower moving roads and drive at non-peak times like during the days on weekdays. And if every used car salesmen is to be believed to church on Sundays.

I do a lot of my runs on weekdays during the day so it might be a squeed sample but I jump into a ditch every couple of months. What happens is pretty much scripted. A car is approaching going at or below the speed limit. The older driver is looking right at you and slowly surely they start drifting toward you in slow motion. You drive where you look after all. You have time to think, they see me, she’s looking right at me, alright swerve back… and then you jump into a ditch. Usually before it comes to that they do correct it. I actually don’t have a solution to this one, would waving make it better or worse? But you should be aware of this phenomenon to stay safe.

Know your Route stay where you can be seen

I’m not really sure how necessary this is since I’ve never really had a problem. Sure a few hoots and hollers from passing cars, the odd follow while honking for a few 100 m and other unwanted attention but no one has ever touched me. Since there are fewer people around sometimes I think people feel they can ‘get away with’ more if no one else is on the road to see it. Or maybe there are some more draconian attitudes in the country although our little slice is pretty evolved and a little but fancy pants so probably the former. If your freaked out on any level by the loneliness of it, which I love, or what ifs play in your mind there are a few easy steps you can take. Even the country has a main-ish road, often with streetlights. Even if it’s not that well traveled the thing is a car could go by at anytime so less funny business is likely. Make sure you know your route since there is a non-zero chance you might not have GPS and our roads can be poorly maintained and go on FOREVER! If someone does give you grief just take out your phone very dramatically.

No Public Places

Believe it or not I live close to the laughable downtown of our area. My regular 6k route takes me by the big beach at the end of my driveway and an elementary school, that’s it. If I run an in an out 10k I’ll pass a restaurant, that elementary school, a library open 12 hours a week, a post office, gas station, drug store and a non-staffed (volunteer) fire department. All of which close by 8 or 5 on the weekends. In the other direction another non-staffed fire station and a corner store open 10am – 7pm, that’s it. And while running in the city meant a few more freaks I could always duck into a local business on any corner of any street, which I occasionally did. You don’t always have that option close at hand, if at all, but I’ve never had that freaky of a run in here. Now the biggest issue I have with that is no convenient place to buy more water on long runs.

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No cell coverage and no public places, no problem. This route doesn’t  even exist 12 hours a day unless it’s close to low tide!

But there is another side I know people in 15 houses in one direction and 18 in the other less busy direction well enough to knock on their doors if I needed to so there is that. And I probably know fewer people than average here. Plus people in small towns are generally really nice as are people . Chances are if you ran up to any house in my town they’d welcome us both equally. That’s probably the case for any small town not at the centre of a TV drama.

What differences do you find between the country and the city. Any other things I missed? That’s pretty possible since I’m pretty urban considering my surroundings.

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