Lessons Learned: My Walk Along the River this Morning

note: originally written/posted in 2015

Physical TrainingAs you know by now I try to do physical training 5+ times per week. I am also blessed with a job that pays me to do that each day. But I am cursed being in an area that at this time of year it is 100+ degrees and humid most days. But today was nice, hot but a stiff breeze blowing. Along the river it is usually a couple degrees cooler when the water is flowing. So I headed to the river for my PT today.

It was absolutely gorgeous along the river there this morning. I was even wearing my new tennis shoes. Hey, if you haven’t read my “Lessons Learned” about my tennis shoes you might want to read about that under Lessons Learned. I did my stretches and headed north along the river enjoying the stiff breeze blowing the bugs and mosquitoes into oblivion.

I have to admit I was a bit in la-la land as I was walking along. But then I got pulled back into reality. Let me share a series of photos with you and then I will talk some more…

Lessons Learned - River WalkLessons Learned - River WalkLessons Learned - River WalkOK, what did you see?

I am sure you saw everything I did, but what did it mean to you?

Since you are probably not familiar with this river, especially this part of the river, I doubt you picked up on what all of this meant. But to me it meant I need to keep my Situational Awareness (SA) up all of the time. Let me go into the details and tell you what I saw…

Lessons Learned - River Walk - danger signs - red flagsLessons Learned - River Walk - danger signs - red flagsLessons Learned - River Walk - danger signs - red flagsThe river corridor here is owned by a government agency. Yeah, go figure. And they maintain this trail for walkers,  bikers, and horseback riders to enjoy the riverside. It has probably been about a year since I walked this river trail. But, I’ve been walking it for probably 7 or 8 years now. And I enjoy it. But this is the first time I ever saw anything like:

  • The empty cases of beer.
  • The large soda cups.
  • Tire tracks and ruts.

But then as I got a little further along the path I saw this…

Lessons Learned - River WalkLessons Learned - River WalkLessons Learned - River WalkAnd what it really was…

Lessons Learned - River Walk - danger signs - red flagsLessons Learned - River Walk - danger signs - red flagsLessons Learned - River Walk - danger signs - red flagsUp until this point this area never had anything like this…nothing…ever. And so I decided to turn it into an SA exercise.

The trail is 1-1/2 miles out to the point where I turn around and head back. The three miles with a few sets of pushups along the way takes me about 45 minutes. I got to the end, the half-way point, turned around and headed back. I started to take pictures to make this an SA experience for me and to share it with you.


Because I want to keep SA in the forefront of our preparedness skills. Similar to what I did with the “tennis shoe” Lessons Learned a while back. So hang in there and see if you can take away something useful from this article.

So here is the scenario that I set up…

It is the third day of grid-down. I got caught at work and was unable to leave due to agency responsibilities. I finally get a chance to leave. I am walking home where my family is waiting for me. I know this trail, it is where I regularly PT. It is a combination of the safest, most direct route home. It is also the only route where I will have water available to me; I have my MSR Sweetwater Filter System to use. I head home about 9:00 in the morning. Here is what I see as I walk along…

River walk lessons learned - situational awareness SAFirst thing, I walk in the middle of the trail to keep the safest distance from each edge of the trail. When a bush is close to the edge of the trail I move to the more clear side of the trail. That allows me a small increase in reaction time due to distance. It also gives me a slightly better view of what, or who, might be trying to ambush me. Then I see…

Lessons Learned - River Walk

This trail is “non-motorized” meaning that only walkers, bikers, and horseback riders are allowed. The presence of these tracks is out of the ordinary. The deep ruts is also a red flag. Either a truck accidentally went there, or someone intentionally tried to drive off the road into soft sand. Either way, it is a red flag. Then I see this…

Lessons Learned - River Walk

This area has never been trashy, there never has been large soda cups along this trail. They are fresh. They are next to a bush, but not “wind blown.” Why are they there? Where are the two people who put them there? A little further along I see this…

Lessons Learned - River Walk

Major red flag!! There is a strictly enforced no-drinking policy in this area, along this trail. Never have I seen an empty beer bottle let alone multiple empty beer cases and the bottles. But not all the bottles are strewn around. The cases are not faded, not rained on, not torn up. All of that points to them being fresh, recently put there. I keep walking, now as I come around the bend I see this…

Lessons Learned - River WalkNow, what does this tell you? To me this is a huge red flag, a true danger signal that absolutely cannot be ignored or dismissed lightly. So what is the deal?

The shopping cart is the first thing I notice. That indicates that someone, or a group, pushed the cart here with a “load” of something. Maybe food, water, and such. Or maybe cases of beer. But it was enough of a load that they didn’t want to carry it and had enough guts to steal a shopping cart to get their goodies here. But I have to keep moving, but I slow way down now, full of caution. Then the rest of it comes into view…

Lessons Learned - River Walk

What do you see given the scenario I painted at the beginning of this exercise?

More directly, and more importantly, what don’t you see that could well be fatal?

Let me digress for just a minute. At no time ever has camping been allowed in this area. The cops would never, and have never, tolerated people camping int his recreational use area. It is strictly for “day use” only. Although we have a large homeless population in the area, the cops simply won’t have this within a recreational area.

So, obviously you see the camp. How many folks is this camp set up for at first glance? But have you identified the real issue yet? That issue that could be the fatal issue.

Let me give you a clue by asking a question…”Where are the campers, the people?”

Yeah, you don’t see them right? Why don’t you see them?

Let’s explore the options:

  • They left and moved on to another camping location.
  • They went to town for food.
  • They went for a swim in the river.
  • They went scrounging for edible plants along the river bank.
  • Ambush01They have been arrested and taken away.
  • They have been killed and their bodies are in the bushes.
  • They are alive and in the bushes waiting for their next victim, their next prey, to come along.

I am sure there are more options you could come up with but I think the options I laid out got you thinking. Which are the most dangerous to me right at the moment I spot their camp?

I will propose that all of them are dangerous to me, but the last two particularly so. Why?

The first five all do with them simply being away from their camp for some period of time. But what if they are returning to their camp at the same time I come walking by? Do they see me as simply walking by or do they see me as approaching their camp to steal their gear?

How will they will view my uninvited presence? But they are likely to see my presence with some degree of defensiveness in my opinion. So, what would be their normal reaction in that case?

And do you honestly think they would all leave their camp and not leave someone behind for security purposes?

Now, let’s look at the last two options I listed. If there a difference in the degree of danger to me?

I don’t think there is a difference, either is a significant danger to me. If they have been killed by a person or persons then what is to say that I am not the next to meet the same fate?

I didn’t smell any dead bodies so I honestly think this was not the case. So that pretty much would leave the last option as a very probable option. And in my opinion, the most potentially deadly.

What would you do at this point? But before you do, remember the scenario I painted for you, think in terms of reality for the situation.

I would slowly drop into a slight crouch to lower my profile, do a quick 360 to clear my immediate area, and then slowly move to the closest cover in the opposite direction (or at least 90degrees) of the camp. Then I would RiverWalk-11develop the best 360 view I could and then settle in with patience.

I want to observe the camp area and the approaches for 30 – 60 minutes minimum. If I honestly think there could be an ambush waiting for me then I would observe and then withdraw. I would have no desire whatsoever to try a counter-ambush or any other kind of engagement. My mission is to get home…period.

If I don’t see anyone for 30 – 60 minutes then I slowly and carefully continue on my way but not using the trail for my travels.

If I did see someone I would slowly withdraw and carefully continue on my way but not using the trail for my travels.

Notice my actions are the same whether I observe someone or not. At this point I have no desire to interact with anyone. The more interactions with people that take place in a scenario like this, the more likely you are to encounter trouble, problems, or worse.

Leave people alone…get home.

I mentioned not using the trail for movement in describing what my actions would be. Why?

Well, if you were desperate, of low moral character, and had no issues taking people’s gear, equipment, food and water, where would you do that?

Where people are, right? And where would people be besides their homes, where they would be vulnerable? Yup, walking along a remote trail. So where would I walk?

I would walk 100’ or so off the trail, among decent brush parallel to the trail. That distance would be enough to put you to the rear of ambushers if there were any. Most people wouldn’t expect to see you walking that far off the trail when walking on the trail is the easiest. You do the unexpected.

So what to do if you aren’t that paranoid cautious yet? Try these ideas:

  • Walk in the middle of the trail creating distance between you and the sides of the trail giving you slightly more reaction time.
  • If there is brush close to the edge of the trail on one side, as you approach move to the opposite side of the trail keeping your eyes open for threats on both side.
  • If the bush crowds in on both sides of the trail, stop. Act distracted such as tying your shoe, adjusting your hat, looking at your watch. While you are engaged in the act of deception observe the entire area for threats. Any sign of threat take slow, careful and well thought out evasive actions.
  • Alternative to the above, stop and take a break next to some concealment like a bush or tree. Now, observe the area for 15 – 60 minutes for any threat indicators. Take appropriate action based on observations.
  • Additional alternative, without breaking stride make an immediate hard turn off the trail. Take evasive action based on your perception of the threat. But don’t continue near the trail. If you are going to continue moving forward, do so outside of the 100’ margin of the trail.

A couple things to be very cautious of:

  1. Don’t engage someone trying to talk with you. In the scenario outlined above they will try to bluff you into something, gaining time to relocate their ambush against you or social engineer you into something. Either way you go with this, they are a threat. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been hiding from you.
  2. If they claim to be police and shout for you to stop you have a tough choice to make. First question, how do you know they are really police? Second, even if they are police, can you afford to be stopped and probably detained by police? Remember, you are armed. They police probably won’t like that too much and they will see you as the threat, especially since you just thwarted their ambush. Me? I would escape and evade at all costs.
  3. Any encounter or engagement of any kind with anyone is a threat to your freedom of movement and possibly your life. Simply move on…your goal is to get home to your family.

I hope that you have gotten something out of this Lessons Learned article. I am not trying to turn anyone into a special operations ninja or anything like that. I am not qualified to train folks in those skills. But what I am trying to do is share thoughts and scenarios with you that might help you think through a situation ahead of time. That is called planning and training.

Enjoy your day!! And go take a walk down by the river.




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8 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: My Walk Along the River this Morning

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