Murder in the woods.

It’s been some glorious early summer out there these past three weeks, and the call of the trails is upon me, getting out of the gym and into the woods a welcome relief after 8 months of elliptical trainer and kickboxing classes at the YWCA. I love my gym and all, but day in and out seems a bit too much like going to work whereas the forest always feels like play. Brian and I took our first hike of the season last weekend, and yesterday I went out on my own for an 8 km canyon trek on the North Shore. I had never done this trail before and was glad to check it out – being so accessible to Vancouver and all. Sometimes I get into a bit of a rut with Lynn Headwaters, my favourite 10-km being there, but this year I’m trying to branch out to other mountains, trails and watersheds in the vicinity.

As much as I love hiking with Brian and other people, I also enjoy taking the occasional hike out by myself. Nothing backcountry or foolish mind you, I know how easily an injury can happen and would hate to be way out there alone should one occur. But the North Shore parks are populous enough that if something were to happen, someone else would be along the trail within the next ten minutes. Added to that I always tell someone where I am going and when I will be back, just to make sure all my bases are covered. In short, I take my precautions and otherwise don’t worry.

Or at least, haven’t worried until lately. I had to confess to Brian last night that I had a slight pause in me as I pulled into the Lower Seymour Conservation Area parking lot, a marginal case of the nerves that came out of nowhere and reminded me that since April, two women have been murdered in different lower mainland parks. First being the case of Wendy Ladner-Beaudry struck down while jogging in Pacific Spirit Park early April, second being the recent death of Tammi-Lynn Louise Cordone who was living in a tent in Lighthouse Park. The police have not publicized the cause of death or potential motive in either case, though they have issued the declaration that the two murders are not linked – which I suppose is meant to allay any fears the public might have about using their local parks.

Both murders are believed to be random attacks though a chilling fact whether or not they are linked. Our recreation areas are places of refuge from the daily bustle of the city, from the sterile world of concrete and glass our city has become. A little green space, a little cardio activity and a couple hours later I head home feeling physically and emotionally refreshed – lucky to live in a place that offers such lush opportunities within minutes of my home. And I’m certainly not the only lone woman out there who feels that way. Check out the North Shore hiking trails any weekend and it’s pretty clear that women are at least 50% of the trail population if not a lot more. In groups, and alone – hiking or running – women’s appreciation of outdoor sport has clearly been on the increase in the last decade or so likely due to the explosion in holistic approaches to fitness over the same period. I suspect that this is more true in the Vancouver-area than almost anywhere else given 1) proximity to outdoor recreation space and, 2) the relative safety of Vancouver compared to other major urban areas. (I note that on one of the weight-loss boards I frequent, it seems many women from the US are afraid to walk on their own, whether in cities or parks).

Point being, there are a lot of women out there in the woods these days which is significant in terms of overall community health – and the idea that some person or persons may find these places of refuge a ripe hunting ground is maddening – particularly as there seems to be no discussion on what overall safety concerns or practices might arise as a result. It’s just another case of – oh, more women murdered, no connection etc. etc. that we always seem to hear. As if women treated as prey in our communities isn’t connection enough to explore the possibility of more paid park staff, and increased trail maintenance as starting points for safety.

In any case, today being my flex day I decided on another short hike (for fitness more than anything else), and at Brian’s suggestion took his dog Charlotte along for peace of mind. Not that I’m overly worried about this being an epidemic or anything, but the fact I think of it at all has disrupted my enjoyment of the forests around Vancouver – and I’m hoping to shake that sooner than later. In the meantime I’ve got a big dog-companion to come with me – and as friendly as she is, no one would mess with her big black self I’m sure.

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