We all see it. The granular chunks of tempered glass, also known as street ice, from a recent car break-in at the trailhead. We give a second pause about parking here, but as trail runners, the only way to avoid it is by riding a bike to the trailhead (and possibly having the bike stolen.) Almost all signs at trailheads say keep valuables out of the car. With busy lives, that’s tough to do. So we do what we can to keep our items safe and hope we are not the next victim of a smash and grab.
Recently I pulled into the Leif Erikson/Thurman gate parking lot to do the weekly Trail Factor group run. Thurman might be the most popular trailhead in Portland. It was one of spring’s first lovely days, and the area was full of foot traffic. I arrived early after visiting some customers in the area and decided to wrap up the day by doing some documentation on my laptop. I felt safe because it was in a busy neighborhood. I noticed two people hanging out that didn’t look like hikers/runners, but I didn’t give it a second thought. As it was time to go, I packed my laptop under the seat, put my day clothes on top, and left for the run.
Less than an hour later, there was broken glass next to my window. My laptop and gear bag were gone. Quite frankly, I thought it was about time. I’ve been running trails for more than ten years, and this was my first break-in. I know people who have had multiple break-ins. So I called the non-emergency police line and my car insurance.
The next day, I had the back window of my Subaru replaced. My repairman said he does several Subaru windows daily, almost all break-ins. The cost was less than $300. Luckily I had most of my information on my laptop saved. I signed out of my Google accounts and changed my passwords.
I talked to fellow trail runner Nate Lewis about what we can do to prevent break-ins. Nate has been in the auto glass industry for over a decade, so he’s seen everything associated with smash and grabs.
- Don’t leave your extra adventure weekend gear in your car all week.
- If you have a nice tidy post-run drop bag tucked behind the driver seat, toss its contents inside out and leave a pair of undies on top.
- If you don’t run with your phone or wallet, please don’t put them in the glove box or center console. My tip is I tuck my wallet under the floor mat because thieves don’t want to sift through a pile of broken glass just for fun.
- Life happens, but we still have to run. If you have important things such as a computer, don’t hide this under garbage or the secret spare tire compartment when you get to the trailhead. Hide and make a mess of your stuff before getting to the trailhead. You never know who is watching.
- Don’t waste your time trying to understand the mind of car vandals. Evil criminal geniuses are not breaking into cars.
So I figured I made the mistake of working on my laptop where I parked. I think the two people I saw were casing the parking lot and just waiting their time to get into my car. I was too comfortable with the situation that I didn’t think anyone would have time to break into my car. I should have trusted my instincts and parked at another location. I also didn’t turn my Bluetooth off on my phone and computer. I’ve since learned that thieves can use a Bluetooth scanner to locate phones and laptops.
Since then, I’ve done my work away from the trailhead. I change into my run clothes before my final parking destination. I also bought a lock for my laptop. There are lock slots on most computers where key and combination cables can secure a laptop to any stationery item. Kensington makes locks for every type of computer. I also turn off my Bluetooth on my phone, laptop, and any other electronics.
Lastly, it’s good to report the incident to the police so they have a record of car break-ins, but don’t expect the police to do anything about it, according to Portland station KGW. Washington State Troopers told K5 news that thieves might be looking for more than just items in your car. They will look for a garage door opener and registration for an address to break into later.
My assessment is that expect your car to get broken into every time you park at a trailhead because, unfortunately, it will happen. So lock what you can; hide the rest (not in the console or glove box.)
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