In the wake of a bizarre physical attack and the death of her father, Katie Arnold felt paralyzed by the anxieties of parenthood and being a woman alone in the wilderness. She got through it the same way she’d always done, by lacing up and hitting the trail. An exclusive excerpt from her new memoir, Running Home.
There’s one question that people always ask me about running alone in the backcountry. It’s the same question they ask me about taking young children down whitewater rivers. I know because it’s also the one I ask myself. Aren’t you scared?
The answer is: absolutely. In the seven years I’ve been an ultrarunner, I’ve taught myself to tolerate uncertainty, to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve run and won races ranging from 50 kilometers to 100 miles, but I still rarely leave the house without weighing my worries against my desire to run, assessing the risks of being on my own in the wilderness, thinking hard about what’s at stake. Everything.
I’m scared of getting lost and of getting hurt and of being attacked by animals wild and domesticated—even livestock. Dogs that lunge at me from yards; cattle that graze in meadows, staring at me with their mean, blank eyes when I sidle by, daring me to pass. They’re just cows, I chide myself, feeling foolish, but they are large and lumbering and ten times my weight, and they could mow me down in an instant.
I don’t worry about lone coyotes—at 40 pounds, they’re too small and skittish to do any harm—but packs of coyotes, though rarely encountered, are unpredictable. (In 2009, a female solo hiker was killed by a pair of coyotes in Nova Scotia.) Rattlesnakes are uncommon in my hometown of Santa Fe. They don’t do well above 7,000 feet, or so I thought, until the day I came upon a pair of mating rattlers in the middle of a trail. I was nearly on top of them before I realized the coiled brown rope at my feet wasn’t a rope at all, but a knot of amorous vipers, and I yelped and hurdled over them. Now I keep my eyes down.
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