Stalker Incident in Death Valley, California
Solo Female Travelers Beware
It was 4 am when I was awoken inside my van by scratching and rocking. I had only been living in my van for six weeks, but this was the first time that happened and thus, it was unusual. My first thought was rats, and I turned on a flashlight and shone it into the garage, the area under the bed, where I keep the dog food. Nothing scurried away, and the sound continued.
That incident alone wouldn’t be majorly significant, but the day prior, I had an incident with a human, male predator.
I was in Death Valley, California. I am a solo, female van dweller with a dog.
Two days earlier, when I arrived, after a five-hour drive, my back went into spasm. It was early October but still ninety-four degrees in Death Valley during the day and without the cab AC; it was ninety-two degrees inside my van. I know because I had to spend time inside, on my back.
The prior day, I drove a short way to a lookout. I didn’t have any cell service or Wi-Fi in Death Valley, so I couldn’t look anything up. And although I read all the signs at the front of the campsite and tried to figure out where “information” was, I could not.
Turned out the ranger station was next to the campsite, but there were zero signs or information saying this. So I drove until I saw a parking lot full of cars and a sign. The lookout was a short hike up a hill, but it was at the top of that hill and I slowly climbed up with my dog for an awe-inspiring view and photos.
Back at the bottom, signs indicated several hikes to the right of the lookout, and I walked down one path. I rounded the corner and assessed the road ahead. Uphill and gravel. Not ideal in ninety-degree heat with a bad back. So I turned around and headed back. As I made my way down the pathway, I noticed a man.
This, in itself, is not unusual, but what was unusual is that he was staring at me. I’m not unused to being looked at. I am female. But I’m also fifty-five years old and in the past few years, as I let my hair go full salt and pepper, interest from men has waned, which is refreshing. For my entire life, I felt like a museum piece or exotic fruit men wished to sample.
This white man with dark sunglasses and a bright white, short sleeve polo shirt overtly tracked my movement. My hackles went up, and I kept glancing at him to see him staring back. No smile, no wave, just watching. He crossed the parking lot as though he was going to walk up the hill. I continued across the parking lot to the trash can to throw away my dog’s poop. When I turned around, he had stopped at the first bench on the bottom of the hill and laid down. He hadn’t walked up to the lookout. He wasn’t even looking at the view from the bench. He was still watching me. Creepy as f…!
I got into my van and went into the back to pee. Then I got into my driver’s seat and guess what? He was rushing to his car, right by me. I ignored him, started my engine, and left. He got into his car (a Mitsubishi that turned out to be a rental) and followed me. I turned right. He turned right. I drove several miles with him two car lengths behind me. I got some photos of his car and partial license plate, only the first number is missing (which the cops were able to identify later).
At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that this man was a predator. In my younger years, I may have mistaken it for flattery, thinking he wanted a date. But no one who wants a date acts this way. Following a lone woman without an invitation is not in the human mating dance book.
Several weeks ago I was at my van builder’s house and my dog Jake took a fancy to their large female dog. My guy is a very aggressive miniature pinscher, and their dog is a much larger collie mix. Jake was following her around, sniffing, and I thought nothing of it. But when I wasn’t paying attention, he tried to mount her. Turning back, I watched his attempt, horrified.
Before I could act, she attacked him. In a second, she was on top and he was under her on his back. There was snarling and flying fur. When it was over, my guy had suffered several face and ear bites. His scabs have not yet fully healed.
“That’s what you get for attempted rape,” I said jovially.
Dan, my van builder, laughed.
“Next time, ask her to dinner first,” I added.
I use this as an example of how things are done in the animal world to contrast it with how things are not done in the human world.
My intuition has never failed me. Never. I have failed it, on several occasions, but it has never failed me. Once I was at the library in Sausalito, California. On my way in I saw a large table leg leaning against the library sign. I thought, “I should hide that, or throw it away because someone could use it to smash car windows.”
Shaking my head, I told myself how crazy I was being and went into the library to study.
Thirty minutes later the police entered and informed everyone in the library that we all needed to come outside and check our cars.
“Someone smashed the windshields of the cars in the parking lot with a table leg,” the cop said.
Mine was one of the cars that lost their windshield that day because I did not follow my intuition. I have listened to it, mostly, ever since.
With creepy, predator, white t-shirt guy following me on the one-lane highway, I ran over my options. No cell service to call for help. No ability to quickly maneuver around corners and lose someone while driving a huge van on a single-lane highway. I decided to pull over at the next trailhead dotted with cars and wait for him to pass, and that’s what I did.
Then I turned around and slowly made my way back to my campsite. I stopped at a restaurant and store on the way, hiding in the back, and sent texts from my satellite phone to friends and family. And then I made my way back to my campsite, locked all my doors, and waited all day long inside my van, in ninety-four-degree heat.
I had two options. Go back to my campsite and leave the next day. Hopefully, creeper would give up and go back to Nevada which his plates claimed he was from. Or I could drive south to the next town, look for a new campsite, and hope he wasn’t following. That seemed to be the riskier plan. I suspect he was stopped further up the road, waiting for me to continue south.
Late that evening when I finally walked Jake, before dark, holding weapons in both hands, I ran into a wonderful couple camping near me. We talked for quite some time, and they invited me to dinner.
I told them what happened, and the woman said, “that definitely sounds suspicious, you should report it to the rangers.”
Right before our dinner, a ranger drove by, and the woman encouraged me to tell him what happened, so I did. No surprise, he was completely dismissive, even gaslighting me. I’ve been dismissed by people my entire life, so I am familiar with the drill. The difference now is that I don’t need validation from a baby-faced, twenty-something male who has no idea what it’s like to be a woman preyed upon by men.
Not all men, of course, but enough. I’ve been prey. I’ve been abused countless times, beaten, molested, and raped twice. When I was brave enough to report these incidents, except for the time I had bruises all over my arms and neck in the pattern of fingers, I was dismissed.
However, this does not mean that creeper t-shirt was not following me. It does not mean I was being paranoid. It does not mean he did not wish me harm. It does not mean I shouldn’t be taken seriously. It does not mean I shouldn’t trust my own instincts.
So, when I was awoken that same night by something or someone trying to get into my van, I paid attention.
After the incident, I sent an email and the photos to law enforcement and the rangers, explaining in detail what happened. No one responded, so I posted the story and pics all over social media, tagging them. No one responded. So I did it again. And finally, someone called me. They found the car. My gut said it was a rental, and they confirmed it was.
But they said they would keep the creeper on file in case anyone goes missing.
Who knows what he would have done to me or what he has tried to do to others. All I know for sure is this person did not have good intentions.
Trust your gut. The worst thing that can happen is you stay safe.