Ever felt the hair stand up on the back of your neck? It's a strange sensation of concern and even being a little bit scared. You may even have found yourself frozen in your steps. It's happened to me on the trail at least once that I recall, and there is a very real reason why this happens. It is extremely important to heed that *warning* when you receive it, so lets talk about it...
The *signal* comes from a pair of little almond-sized nodes in our brain that read emotion that are called the Amygdala. When we talk with someone, our amygdala are reading the person's face and assessing their mood and truthfulness. That's why e-mail communication *fails* so often...we can't visually assess what is being said from written communications alone.
At the same time, the amygdala function to read danger and prepare us to act. When you feel that hair standing up on the back of your neck, that is your amygdala reading something in the environment that is threatening, such as an angry person walking toward you. Several years ago my Niece was walking down a street and a saw a man coming toward her. She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up, but she brushed it off. As he came alongside her on the sidewalk he suddenly wheeled and punched her in the face. She knew something was wrong, but failed to heed the signal.
You may even not see the threat...just sense it. A few years ago my wife and I were hiking a trail when she suddenly stopped and focused on a hillside a distance away. I asked her what was wrong and she replied, "There is something up there watching us." I asked her what she saw and she said, "I didn't. I feel it." Before you laugh, understand the U.S. Marine Corps calls this "Mountain Gaze" and they are taught to recognize it and act on it, because it may be an enemy that has them under observation. Likewise, they are taught to observe enemy troops with their peripheral vision and not to stare lest they alert the enemy they are under observation.
As to what was on the hillside, my best guess would be a Mountain Lion. If you spend any time at all hiking back country trails, you have at some point, been observed by a big cat. The bottom line is this: Mother Nature has equipped you with a wonderful self-preservation gift, so recognize and obey that signal when it pops up on your personal radar!
Awareness & Avoidance are always your first choice in personal safety. The best fight is the one we do not have to fight. If I can maneuver and avoid contact, I am ahead of the game. Along with recognizing warnings, its a very good idea to have a "tool kit" or personal inventory of skill sets for dealing with an assailant. These skill sets could include communication/negotiation/verbal dissuasion, physical combatives, or improvised/environmental weapons, just to name a few.
Weapons are a sticky wicket. Not only do they require extensive training to use, bear in mind that a powerful and/or determined attacker may be able to overpower and disarm you. Thus, they may turn your weapon against you, so it is always wise to be careful what you bring with you. Below, I have placed a video I made concerning a very simple impact weapon, the Pocket Stick, which can easily be crafted and provide a tool that can be used against an aggressive person.
At the beginning I mentioned having personally experienced this strange uneasiness on the trail. I was hiking a back country trail and was traversing a section when a sudden intense sensation of dread filled me. It literally froze me in my tracks. I was afraid to move and began looking all about me. To this day I have no idea what it was. Were I to venture a guess, I would again have to say Mountain Lion. After a few minutes of nervously scanning the area, I found my courage and moved off, all the while scanning and checking my back trail every few seconds. It was a seriously unnerving and eerie feeling.
Fortunately, most trail outings are peaceful, enjoyable, and uneventful. However, strange things can and do happen and it is wise to be aware of your surroundings, people in your vicinity, and any uneasiness you may feel. When that occurs, it is vitally important to heed the warning and ACT ON IT IMMEDIATELY. Either leave the area, join a nearby group of hikers, but whatever you do, DO SOMETHING.
[Bushcraft Woods Devil]