Ever been accused of breaking into homes? I have.
Let me set this up: As I was training for my annual Mark Forester JAG 28 Memorial Walk a few years ago, a home owner came out of his house as I passed by on the street and yelled “Hey, what are you doing?” Said I, “Just walkin.” Then he said, somewhat accusingly, “You know a guy with a backpack broke into a home here recently?” I told him I knew that but I wasn’t that guy.
I started training for this annual memorial walk/fundraiser back in 2010 to honor my little brother, Mark Forester. When I first started walking in Dec 2010, I had someone pull up beside me and offer a ride, more than once. The large backpack full of heavy items must have made me look like I was carrying all my belongings across the country.
Then, I moved to another city in a huge neighborhood. I can walk many miles without leaving our enclosed streets. So, as I started walking late winter thru May each year, I got suspicious looks. To really add to the fun, we had some break ins and a man wearing camouflage entered someone’s home thru a window, was seen, and fled. Another important detail: he was wearing a backpack.
What are you doing in our neighborhood?
So, the weekend following that event, I was doing my normal walking on Saturday morning with my desert tan camo backpack. This brings us back to my first paragraph – A home owner came out of his house and yelled “Hey, what are you doing?” I said, “Just walkin.” Then he said, somewhat accusingly, “You know a guy with a backpack broke into a home here recently?”
Later, a friend told that man who I was and what I was training for. He felt bad. But, I can’t really blame him. Don’t we want neighbors who are aware and protective of our communities, without being too nosy?
Regardless of my drive and commitment to do Mark’s walk each year, I felt more and more uncomfortable walking around my neighborhood b/c I got so many suspicious looks. This encounter with being questioned made it even worse. A good friend, Roger Long, used to do the same thing b/c if he didn’t walk, the effects of his Parkinson’s were too strong, i.e. shaking and poor balance. He also got those weird looks all over town. Then he moved to CO and he blended right in.
I decided that a few changes could make a big difference in people’s perception of who I was and what I was doing in “their” neighborhood (in this case, it was my neighborhood too).
Small changes go a long way
Now, I realize in some areas you won’t stand out, but where I live, seeing someone walking thru a neighborhood or around town on paved streets with a ruck sack or backpack and hiking boots draws suspicious looks. So, here’s what I did:
- got rid of the desert camo backpack and got a solid color pack (mine is a gray GORUCK GR2)
- started wearing bright colored shirts
- added velcro reflective strips to my rucksack. Originally got these for a GORUCK event
- posted on my neighborhood’s Facebook page about what I’m doing and who I am. This brought out some doubters who were relieved to learn my motives.
- optional: put a flag on your backpack. Pretty sure criminals trying to hide wouldn’t carry a waving flag with them.
I feel much more comfortable training now and the long, strange looks have subsided. In this case, it’s good to be just another guy on foot.
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If you’ve experienced this, I’d love to hear your story and what you did to change. firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details about my gear and actual training, I wrote this article two years ago.