Recently, for the first time ever, I felt unsafe in the van.
I stopped in a tiny town in Oregon for a quick break on my way from Portland to the Northern California redwoods. It was a warm, sunny evening and I just loved it. So I decided to stay the night.
I drove down to the river as the sun was setting. I wanted to jump in the water. As I cruised along trying to find a place to stop, I noticed a black Jeep following close behind. I made a U-turn, and the Jeep did too. I thought it could just be a coincidence. I kept driving.
I continued a ways down the river and pulled off the road. The Jeep stopped as well. I started to get a little nervous, so I drove farther to a different pull off where another car was also stopped. I got out (there was a couple in the car) and the man in the Jeep pulled up beside me and stepped out of his vehicle as well.
In my mind I knew it was okay; there were people around, right? But as he approached, my stomach jumped into my throat and I totally froze. We were both looking at the river and he said, "It's a bit intimidating, isn't it?" I didn't engage and instead moved back toward my car. He followed way too closely. As I pulled my door shut he stood within a foot of the van and watched me drive away.
He got back into his car and pulled onto the road. I just wanted him to GO AWAY, so I pulled off again to see if he'd pass by. He didn't — he pulled behind me again. And I thought, Okay, this is it. I'm getting the f--- out of here.
I steered back on the road and he followed. I knew it would be okay because I was in a vehicle, but I still panicked. I stopped when I found an older couple walking down the road and told them I was being followed. I asked where the police station was, and they directed me.
On my way there, the creepy Jeep man finally left.
I don't tell this story to scare you, but this is sadly the reality of being a solo woman traveling. There are the rare, random creeps out there who think it's okay to disrespect us. But they are not the norm.
As I decompressed from the experience I decided to NOT let this dude scare me. That would give him way too much power.
I will not let this one creep ruin vanlife. I will not let him sour my belief that most people (including men) are good. I will not let my ego blow up this single experience so I am constantly on edge and afraid. I will not stay inside.
No. No. No.
Instead, I will remember the numerous awesome male friends I've made over the past four months, all of whom have respected my boundaries and treated me like any other human. I'll think back on the amazing conversations I've had with homeless veterans, musicians, business owners, artists, vanlife-rs, all of whom happened to be male.
I will not let creepy Jeep dude negate these experiences.
I refuse to close my van door just because a man drives by. Or not smile because I'm afraid he might take it the wrong way. Of course, I'll be safe and smart, but I refuse to be scared into submission.
And to all the men out there, please keep in mind what we women have to consider when you are interacting with us, especially while traveling. We are constantly told how scary it is out there.
Treat women as you would any human. No need to compliment our looks. Feel free to make conversation, but don't come on to us. And even when we're not around, advocate for us — you have a voice as well, and the only way we'll overcome injustice is if we all speak up.