I was in my favorite place on earth, Winthrop, WA, a few weeks back to celebrate the 4th of July. Winthrop is charming, rustic, Western-themed town that today continues the tradition of being a hub for ranchers and farmers, and importantly has transitioned into a tourist destination for those seeking active getaways in a beautiful valley. On a busy summer weekend, every car on the street will bristle with all manner of outdoorsy paraphernalia from mountain & road bikes, to kayaks and inner tubes, to camping and hunting gear, bulging from Thule roof racks.
We were enjoying a break from mountain biking ourselves, strolling down the diminutive main drag, ducking in and out of the shops, without a care in the world- when it happened. One moment I was saying something to my 6 1/2 year old daughter, and the next moment I was staring at a gun. Now, it wasn’t pointed at me, but it was about eight inches from my daughters face, so to say my heart skipped a beat is an understatement. It was as out of place as if someone had walked up and slapped me.
The man in front of me was participating in the practice known as open carry. As in, I have a gun stuck in the back of my pants and I want you to know it. The gun was in some kind of fanny-pack (he’d call it a holster) and it was perched there like a flower stuck in a vase- a very deadly flower. My initial reaction was shock followed quickly by anger. Then, almost as quickly as he was in front of me, he was gone. He turned into the next shop and we kept moving down the block toward our destination.
However brief that moment was, it was a lightening strike. As bright and harsh as a fiery bolt of electricity, it illuminated in a flash why open carry is so harmful.
Let’s Get One Thing Straight
Let me state emphatically- I am not opposed to gun-ownership and I am a supporter of intelligent gun rights. Please don’t read any secret agenda into that- I truly support the right to bear arms and given the chance, I’ll happily have a dialogue about the parameters that should be implemented to ensure everyone who wishes to, can enjoy and own guns safely. The comparison to car ownership and operation may seem like a cliched argument (and may not be enshrined in the constitution- because let’s be honest, it would be an amendment about horse ownership) but it is incredibly relevant and apt. I’ll come back to that in a little bit. In fact, NYT Opinion Columnist, Nicholas Kristof, just had some great thoughts about this idea.
Like most Americans, I have many friends who are hunters and frankly, if you are a meat eater, you are a bit of a hypocrite if you don’t support hunters. I admire the ability to dress a kill and have enjoyed the fruits of these endeavors (whether as jerky or steaks). When the zombie apocalypse happens, I’ll be glad to count these folks as friends. Further, I have many friends who enjoy owning a handgun and although we may argue about whether or not possessing a gun actually makes them safer- in many ways that’s beside the point, they have the right to own a firearm.
Not to mention, the United States has the highest rate of firearm ownership in the world, 97 guns for every 100 people; 50% more than the next two closest countries (those paragons of civil society, Serbia & Yemen)- so to a very real degree, regardless of your feelings on the subject- guns are here to stay. No one (at least not me) is arguing that fact.
What I do want to address is the impact of reducing the complex issue of gun regulation to a one-dimensional “all or nothing” argument. It’s ridiculous. We should feel embarrassed as a nation to allow that kind of shallow invocation to distract us from the real opportunity and need in front of us. We must find a way, both in terms of our laws and more importantly, in our attitudes and social mores, to ensure public safety and security. To do nothing is selfish, arrogant, and short-sighted. One place to begin is with a careful look at the impact of open carry on social dynamics, freedom of speech, and safety.
The Reality of Open Carry
Back to that moment in the sun in Winthrop. Recall, the open carry individual and I didn’t even make eye contact, though my first impulse was to reach out and tap him on the shoulder. I wanted to ask him, “What the HELL are you thinking?” How dare you introduce that kind of threat into our peaceful afternoon? What if my daughter had tripped and instinctively reached in front of her to catch herself? What if I had tripped (a pretty common occurrence) and stumbled into him? What if he thought I was a threat? An unarmed person, even one spoiling for a fight, would do no more than push me, but this guy- who’s arrogance and slavish devotion to belief puts every member of the community at a very real physical disadvantage. He could shoot me. He could KILL me. In front of my daughter. And he might even successfully claim it was self-defense. That’s the reality we invite when we tolerate open-carry in the public sphere.
It’s important to note that in Washington State, open carry is legal (even without a permit), so this man wasn’t legally doing anything wrong, but he was in a very tangible way, impacting every person around him, by destabilizing the dynamics of power, community, and freedom from fear that our society relies upon to function.
Critics may move to dismiss my assertion as hysterical or naive, but that’s the lazy voice of misdirection. The crux of the issue is this: when one person has a gun and another doesn’t, the person without a gun has less power, less voice, and in point of fact, can be under threat of death in an instant. Standing eight inches behind that open carry person as a pedestrian, I was “safe”. However, I have no doubt that I could have provoked the guy into shooting me (perhaps with words alone) and that is not okay. It is not okay that my ability to speak and move about on a public street was limited because one guy had a pointless point to make. The other lazy answer to this is to arm *both* people. But we know that’s a violence multiplier, not a violence reducer. It’s bananas to think that any rational person would want to live in a society where we all walk around armed.
Cars vs. Guns
Back to the cars vs. guns analogy. Although the right to own a car is not in the Constitution (again, it would be a horse amendment), US car ownership is on par with gun ownership; particularly with respect to other nations. We have the highest level of car ownership in the world. Car ownership and what it represents in real terms and psychologically, is vitally important to America and yet, we have a whole body of comprehensive laws that folks are more or less happy with and abide by. It is not only against the law to drive on the sidewalk in the US, but it’s also socially unacceptable. You may laugh, but that’s NOT true in all other countries. Social norms in Kenya (where I lived as a Peace Corps volunteer), dictate that cars can drive wherever they can fit- sidewalks, center dividers, into on-coming traffic- whatever they can get away with. Through enforcement of our laws and our social norms, we have made car ownership a reasonably safe and regulated prospect. Insurance, training, safety features, consumer protections. Remember when seat belts weren’t mandatory in cars? Okay, me neither- the law was changed in 1968, but I DO remember when it became the law to *wear* a seat belt in California in the mid ’80’s.
Only someone grossly out of touch with reality would *ever* suggest we abolish cars in the United States. It’s not even a serious conversation, BUT it is a good discussion to talk about ways to continue to improve safety, efficiency, affordability, and alternate methods of transportation. The same holds true for gun legislation. Criminal background checks for gun buyers has overwhelming popular support among Republicans and Democrats and yet it becomes Kryptonite the minute Capitol Hill goes near it. And it’s true- no one piece of legislation will be a silver bullet (see what I did there?), but again, that’s beside the point. That’s like saying that seat belts don’t save ALL the lives, so let’s just forget them. We must take some moderate, common sense steps toward improving the safety and security of guns for the benefit all Americans.
Our Collective Responsibility
Changing our attitudes and laws takes courage and it will, ultimately take trust. So I am taking a first step, gathering my courage and showing trust. It was difficult for me to write this post. I had to consider whether someone might decide that my voice, my words, would be considered a threat to their “security” or “freedom”. In writing this, do I put my family at risk? As a parent, this is a sickening question to ponder. But the answer is- if I don’t speak up, if I don’t advocate for common sense, if I don’t call for the nation to join together in support of safety for all, in conjunction with (not at the expense of) the rights of the individual, who will? There are many individuals and organizations doing this, but we haven’t seen the groundswell of moral conviction and support that must be present to change, not just the laws, but our society itself. Again- it’s crucial to reject the urge to marginalize or derail progress by sounding the “slippery slope” alarm. It’s a specious cry and one that Americans must step up and prove that we are smarter than.
So, my call to action? Share this post, comment on this post, write your own post. Get involved. Add your voice. Conventional wisdom would say call your senator or representative, but maybe it’s time to expand our approach. Contact your local gun store, contact your local NRA chapter, your hunting club, your shooting range. Contact the gun manufacturers- tell them you will support the makers and sellers who are committed to responsible gun ownership.
As for my encounter in Winthrop? It was a grim reminder of what we are allowing to become “the norm” in the public sphere.
Depending on how long you have known me, you have seen me occupy one or more of these states: avid runner, casual runner, motivated post-baby runner, trying to hold on runner, lapsed runner, and back on the wagon runner. The last 2- 3 have been the most common over the last few years. Work and family have made it hard for me (and everyone else I know) to keep running the priority I’d like it to be. Recently, I have been moving back up the stages from lapsed runner, through back on the wagon and casual runner, heading towards avid runner. To jumpstart my efforts, I signed up for the Methow Endurance “Women’s Trail Running and Yoga Retreat.” Never let anyone tell you that fear of failure isn’t a motivator….
I signed up about 5 weeks ahead of the retreat that promised, “sun, fun trails, snow-capped mountain views, wildflowers, and relaxation in a beautiful place”. As Alison Naney, the co-owner of Methow Endurance put it on her website, the plan was: wake up, eat yummy food, run, eat yummy food, practice yoga, relax, eat yummy food, sleep, repeat. Sign me up!
Well, the retreat was this last weekend and delivered all of that in spades and more! I was trepidatious about my condition heading into the retreat- since I had done my first (flat) seven-mile run in over eight months just two weeks before and I know that trail running attracts a certain type- tough, adventurous and not afraid of killer hill climbs! Fortunately, I had been running nearly daily for the previous three weeks and that proved to be a sufficient base- though I’d put it in the “don’t try this at home category” and I’m sure any personal trainers reading this are shaking their heads- this is not the normal way to ramp back into running and would tell me I am lucky to have avoided an injury.
I dropped my kids at school on Thursday morning, popped on some driving music (“The Heist” got me out of the Seattle area in no time!), and headed north toward Hwy 20 and the beautiful Cascade mountains. The drive over was absolutely gorgeous- blue, blue skies, open road, and wildflowers blooming with all their might all along the road. I stopped in Newhalem to eat the PB&J I had packed for the drive and to admire the old coal powered train that is permanently parked at the base of the mountains.
As an aside- Newhalem is like an historic time capsule of a company “town”- consisting of a dozen or so clapboard homes nestled in between jagged mountain sides along the Skagit river. The “town” (owned by Seattle City Light) residents are all employees of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project and it reminds you of a place that time forgot or the setting for a Stephen King story, ala “Stand By Me.” If you have never stopped there on your drive- it’s worth a visit and always has clean restrooms (pro tip).
I rolled into Winthrop about 1:30pm and hooked up with some dear friends (who are lucky enough to be full time Winthrop residents) for a quick hello! Then, it was on to my destination. The retreat was based out of the River Run Inn & Cabins– one of the few places we hadn’t yet had a chance to stay at in Winthrop. The River Run Inn has a fantastic location, just on the edge of town and next to the river- it turned out to be perfect for this event and I look forward to staying there again. Clean, spacious rooms, friendly staff, and common meeting space for our group made it an ideal choice for this event.
I was one of the first to arrive and met Alison, the host of the retreat and an amazing ultra-runner, all around athlete, and massage therapist. Alison is warm and friendly, with an easy laugh, and immediately put my mind at ease about the weekend and the runs planned. Whew! Most of the other participants- twenty-five women in all, ranging in age from 25- 65, and in ability from run/walkers to beast-mode ultra runners arrived that evening and we went out for a 5pm “shake out” run before tucking into some amazing food prepared by Stewart Dietz Catering out of Winthrop. Seriously- the food was sublime and to my surprise, all vegetarian! Maybe it was just the running, but I have never been so excited for lentil salads, cous cous with golden beets, ginger infused cole slaw, or house made veggie burgers with black beans and faro, in my life! If I ever get a big group together in Winthrop- we WILL be ordering food from these folks!
On Friday, we all assembled the quintessential stick-to-your-ribs breakfast of oatmeal, prepared by Alison’s husband and co-owner of Methow Endurance, Sam. After a quick overview of the options for the run, we headed out to Riser Lake and Lewis Butte for the first real runs of the weekend. Riser lake was a rolling 4 mile run through gorgeous foothills just beyond the Methow Valley Ranger Station. The run felt good- throughout the weekend, I was on the lower end of “mid pack” relative to the rest of the runners, but there was a whole range and everyone was as nice as could be. Everyone was encouraging, relaxed and just out to enjoy the beauty of the trails and the company of friends and the newly acquainted. After completing the first loop, Alison directed our attention to the other side of the trail head where Lewis Butte towered over us- yes, that was next. A quick drink to rehydrate and off we went. Now, Lewis Butte was a steep single track trail that really turned the run into a hike for all of us. It was pretty grueling under the hot midday sun, but so worth the effort at the top! The view was spectacular, only slightly impacted by a controlled fire burning a few miles to the east of us. From the top, folks split into several groups- some heading straight back and a smaller group going out for an even longer run. I opted to head back- wanting to conserve my legs for the two days ahead.
After a refreshing lunch, it was time for yoga- outside, under the softly swaying boughs of pine trees, next to the gently rushing Methow River. You couldn’t ask for a better spot for some soul restoring and muscle loosening yoga. Our instructor, Becky, was on of the best teachers I’ve ever had and she had everyone sighing with happiness at the end of the 90 minute session. Some folks did a recovery run after yoga, but I felt that a 20 minute power nap was more my speed and then freshened up for dinner. Another delicious meal, then off to bed and a quick good night call to Tony and the kids.
The schedule for Saturday was much the same, with the primary run of the day being an outstanding nine mile loop through Pipestone Canyon. As I ran, trying not to get completely engrossed in the view or the smell of blooming Lupin that carpeted the valley, I reveled in the scenery, the companionship of the other runners, and the physical challenge of the run. This run had a couple of brutal ascents but again- we were more than amply recompensed by the stunning surroundings from the high points of the run. Once we completed that loop, a few of the hardiest went out for another shorter run, and I gratefully headed back to the Inn, marveling that I had consumed my entire 32oz Nalgene on the run! 80+ degree temps and no shade will do that to a mossy-toed Seattleite!
After another fantastic yoga practice, I showered and walked into town for a well-earned brown ale at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. That evening, we dined out and enjoyed traditional Irish Pub Food at Kelly’s, about half way between Winthrop and Mazama. The teeth grindingly slow service (I think they were busier than expected and should have had one more server on staff) was more than offset by the great company and the tasty grub (first meat of the weekend!). Pro tip: Kelly’s is the perfect mid-way stop for cyclists riding between Winthrop and Mazama or coming down from Washington Pass. With a good selection of bottled beer and hearty food- it would be a sight for sore eyes after a few hours in the saddle.
On Sunday, everyone was starting to think about their journeys home and the schedule made the most of our time left. After a quick breakfast and a slightly shorter yoga session at Becky’s beautiful yoga studio in Winthrop proper (near the Methow River Lodge and Cabins– another favorite lodging spot of ours), we headed out to Patterson Mountain, near Sun Mountain Lodge, for our final run of the weekend. Like others, I was feeling a little tired and momentarily advocated for a shady, flatter run along the Chickadee trail. Alison, being a good coach, cajoled everyone into hanging together and doing the more challenging Patterson Mountain loop. And like coaches usually are- she was right to push us all to do this final run- it was a clear morning and the view from the top was the best we’d had all weekend.
It was also great to finish on the high note of completing a trail that normally takes several hours hiking in under an hour! The yoga helped my form on the downhill and we all jammed down the mountain in a blur of pony tails and spandex.
In summary- this retreat was fantastic and it’s a testament to Alison’s personality and reputation, that she was able to attract such a friendly, congenial, and talented group of runners. Personally, I am well on my way to making the transition back to avid runner and appreciate the boost that this intense weekend gave me. I look forward to joining the fun next year and in fact, have signed up for a Fall Endurance weekend that offers trail running, mountain biking, road biking and cycle cross! And the fall event is coed, so grab your spouse or partner and join us for a kick-butt weekend in one of the most beautiful places on earth- just 3.5 hours from Seattle!