Solo Road Tripping: Encouragement and A Cautionary Tale

Yesterday evening I made it home from a week-long vacation in Lakehills, Texas, which is around 35 miles northwest of San Antonio. Throughout the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting about specific things that I did and saw, but today I want to talk about something that happened on my way home.

I wasn’t going to mention it at all originally–mostly because I don’t want my family who reads my blog to freak out–but as I’ve thought on it more, I think there’s actually some really valuable information in this story for women who travel alone or really go anywhere alone period.

That’s very relevant to me because I’m such a huge advocate of doing things alone. It’s the reason I was so excited for this road trip where I drove 500 miles both ways by myself.

So, as noted in the subtitle, this is a cautionary tale, but I in no way want this to discourage anyone from taking a road trip by themselves.

The Story

picnic table area texas

My favorite picnic area on this trip

I love picnic areas. Those little spots on the side of the road that are just a few tables and trashcans, maybe covered with little roofs for shade or just surrounded by trees. There are tons of them on the northern half of Hwy 281 through central Texas. I got really excited every time I saw one, and if it was on my side of the road, I tried to pull in to look around and have a smoke break since I don’t smoke in my car.

The last place I stopped was in between Mineral Wells and Jacksboro. It was one of the depressing ones with peeling paint on the picnic tables and covered areas, and very few trees. There wasn’t much of a view either, unlike the picnic area in the picture above.

I pulled up by one of the tables, and I found a dead armadillo along the fence line. There weren’t really any noises other than the traffic going by, but that’s part of why I liked the picnic areas so much: no one else was ever there.

dead armadillo at texas rest area

The scene behind the picnic table. Bottom left.

Still, this place kind of gave me the creeps. There wasn’t much of a breeze, so it was hot as balls even in the shade despite the fact that I was wearing shorts and a tank top. June in Texas is rough, not that it’s much better in Oklahoma. The point is, I wanted to finish my smoke break quickly so I could get back to air conditioning fast.

I was half-finished with my cigarette when another car pulled into the little loop. It was a beige station wagon-looking thing, so I thought maybe a family was using the area for its originally intended purpose. But instead of going to one of the other tables, the vehicle pulled up behind mine.

This guy twice my size (which isn’t hard considering I weigh something like 100 lbs.) got out.

“You broken down?” He asked as he strolled towards me.

“No, just having a smoke break,” I said.

He proceeded to join me and tried to initiate conversation. I remained polite and friendly but distant, though I was glad I still had my sunglasses on because I was internally freaking out. He didn’t seem overly-threatening, but I was a tiny female alone in an area just off a not-particularly busy highway.

picnic table graffiti

Colorful picnic area graffiti to lighten the mood.

Also, some of his questions were… well, disconcerting. In any other situation they probably would have been innocent enough, so I tried to withhold judgment while staying on my guard.

For instance, I have Oklahoma plates, so it was obvious that I was probably far from home. So, it could have been a conversation starter when he asked me how far I was going, but I still lied and said it wasn’t much farther.

I finished smoking, and thanked him for stopping to check on me as I calmly got into my car. He called after me “You want to have some fun?”

If people had thought bubbles, mine would have said “F@*#$%” at that moment.

I just said “No” and kept walking. I was starting my car when he knocked on the passenger side window. I rolled it down an inch so he could speak (why did I do this? see the section below) and he repeated the offensive question. When I again said no and actually turned the ignition in the car. He first asked if I had a man at home (I lied and said yes) and then he asked if I didn’t want to “have some fun” because he was ugly or something.

I was so freaking done at this point. I’m not even sure what I said, but I rolled up the window, and I barely waited for him to back away from the car before I took off and got back on the highway.

I kept glancing in the rearview mirror until I finally had to stop for gas about 100 miles later. I was shaking, seething, and basically just having a mini-freak out.

Happy road trip bubble busted by one creepy a**hole at a picnic area.

The Advice and Other Thoughts

Okay, some of you are probably screaming at me that I should have gotten out of there the second that he showed up. Given the bad vibes I was already feeling as soon as the beige vehicle appeared, you’re probably right.

Some of you might be thinking: that’s what you get for stopping at lonely picnic areas. To which I can only say: please leave, and don’t come back to this site.

picnic area near stephenville

My first picnic area on this trip, near Stephenville

If you’re going to propagate the idea that women deserve to be victims for ANY reason at all rather than realizing that that way of thinking is a huge part of why skeezy people can justify hurting them, I’d rather you didn’t stick around.

And while we’re on the subject, a woman’s clothing is not a reason for her to be victimized or even made uncomfortable. It is not an invitation of any variety to anything. It’s just what she’s freaking wearing because it is comfortable for her, and it has nothing to do with any other damn person.

Okay, there’s a lot more I could talk about with this, especially given my own history of abuse and particular hang ups on clothing because of that history, but I do want to get on to the helpful stuff instead.

I’m going to explain why I didn’t just bolt for my car and peel out as soon as this dude popped up. For one thing, until he actually came over to join me at the table, I wasn’t feeling uncomfortable.

I’ve stopped at the side of the road to check a tire or been checking my oil at a gas station and had people ask if I needed any help. This wasn’t new for me. Again, I’m a tiny female, so people tend to think I look like I need help, even though I am perfectly capable of putting a donut tire on my car or calling a tow truck if need be.

I’m even used to people joining me for a cigarette randomly. It’s a surprisingly social habit. The only thing that made this creepy before the awkward (and then downright offensive) questions started was the fact that we were the only people in this area.

map and coffee

Seriously, that big red interstate line? I was nowhere near that line.

Now, when he did start creeping me out and I started imagining myself in the beginnings of one of those crime shows on TV, I didn’t just bolt because at that point I treated him like a wild animal: Unpredictable, but less likely to bite me if I don’t seem afraid.

So, I stayed calm.

I find that if you seem confident, people assume that you have a reason to be. So, I didn’t rush to get away, but I sure as hell didn’t dawdle, either.

I know that a lot of advice (when there is any available) says to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t mean run screaming if you’re in an abandoned area. Then again, if my car had been broken down, that might have been what I ended up doing. I know this is a bit of a unique situation considering if I’d taken the conventional advice, I wouldn’t have been alone in that area to begin with.

If you’re in a crowded public place, these suggestions go out the window. I am all about public-shaming creepers as proposed in this article by Krista Burton.

If you’re traveling alone, here’s a handy list of tips from Jamie Zunick for GoNOMAD.

Final Thought

This has been replaying in my head at varying levels of intensity since it happened yesterday, and I keep trying to think if the way I handled things was correct. Obviously, I got away from the situation completely unharmed, and he did not follow me. Still, I don’t know that the same tactics would work again.

And maybe he wouldn’t have tried anything anyway. Maybe he was just awkward and creepy without being a potential rapist. Luckily, I didn’t actually have to find out.

Either way, F@*k that guy for taking away my peace of mind.

That said, I still refuse to live in fear. So, picnic areas will probably still be on my go-to stopping spots whenever I get to take another road trip, if for no other reason than that people are too freaking judgy at gas stations.

aviator glasses selfie at texas rest area

Me at one of the rest stops before the creepy incident. See? Happy and relaxed!

I also refuse to let this be the sum of my vacation, so look out for much lighter reading fare in the next couple of weeks because I visited some cool places.

I feel like there are so many more things I could cover with this and so much more research I could do on this topic, but I’ve got to be honest: I am so tired of thinking about it already. I hope that someone finds anything I’ve said here helpful.

And if you have a better idea of what I could have done or what someone else could do in a similar situation please share it. Though, I do request that you refrain from saying “Don’t stop in picnic areas” because I’ve got to be honest, that does not qualify as helpful.

Ah! And one last thing: WikiHow is generally fairly useless, but this article on How to Prevent a Potential Rape was actually more helpful than anything else I found on the subject, and it was actually well-written.

Stay safe, and happy road tripping.

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