“Emily likes that kind of stuff!”
I was out on the town in Deep Ellum with some friends, when a cute new guy got pointed in my direction.
“I heard that you’re the person to ask about camping & hiking,” he said to me. “I’m Ethan. I just moved here and wanted to do some exploring.”
I introduced myself and listed some good spots for him. Then I threw in, “I’m always looking for adventure buddies if you ever want to join me.”
He took me up on the offer pretty quickly and we planned an outing to the Wichita mountains for the following weekend. (Loyal readers may recall this was the site of another grand misadventure in the past.)
Ethan turned out to be a great adventure partner. He prepped the food and packed the cooler for the trip, which was a huge help. He also proved that he could be helpful and keep his cool in an emergency.
We were on my favorite Wichita Mountains trail, Charon’s Garden, when one of my dogs sprained her paw in the middle of a boulder field. Ethan patiently helped me carry her back, which involved passing her back and forth across giant boulders. He maintained a great attitude the whole time and was very gentle with my injured fur baby.
I invited Ethan to join me for another trip for an upcoming 4-day weekend over Easter, this time in Arkansas. I was looking forward to some great hiking but then I broke my toe at an aerial hooping class. No matter, I thought. I convinced Ethan to do a backcountry paddle trip instead, which would require minimal use of my toe. I got the go-ahead from my podiatrist who sent along a bottle of Naproxen in case I needed a painkiller. I’m not a huge fan of pain meds but I threw the drugs in the cooler just in case, and forgot about them.
Our destination was Lake Ouachita. I drove by this gorgeous area many years before and had dreamed of returning ever since. The massive lake is teeming with small forested islands. On sunny days the water becomes a light turquoise such that you could almost mistake it for the Caribbean. It is, in fact, one of the cleanest lakes in the United States – and also one of the only places where the water is clean enough to support freshwater jellyfish. Scuba divers actually dive here to see the jellyfish as well as ruins at the bottom of the lake. To quote Onlyinyourstate.com, “if there were ever a lake-based beauty contest this one would win every award.”
We got a late start on Thursday evening and decided to stop halfway at Atlanta State Park. Google maps took us on some weird back routes along dirt roads and we got lost multiple times. By the time we arrived it was pitch black. I didn’t see any other lights so I assumed we were the only ones at the campground.
I put on my headlamp and started unloading supplies. It was a couple minutes before I noticed something was… *off* … about the campground. The dogs were sniffing what appeared to be a grave. A tree right above it had runes etched into the bark… runes like something you’d see in a horror movie set in Norway. What were they doing here on the Texas/Arkansas border?
“Well that’s creepy,” I commented. “Do you think we should move to a different site?”
Before Ethan could answer, a loud noise blasted through the air: a chainsaw. Yes, a chainsaw. Were we in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?? I almost laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. But I was still kind of scared.
We turned off our lights and sat quietly, waiting to see what would happen next. I heard a thud and then the chainsaw stopped. A minute later a couple of guys walked up in the dark dragging a tree behind them. My dogs barked ferociously, giving away our location.
“Hey!” Came a voice from about 15 feet away. “Y’all want some firewood??”
Ethan turned his flashlight on and greeted the guys and thanked them for the offer. They definitely weren’t supposed to be cutting down trees in a state park… But it was better than the alternative use for that chainsaw.
The guys ended up bringing some Bud Lights over and sitting around the fire with us. Turned out to be nice fellows, actually. So the crisis was averted… at least for that night.
The next day we drove the rest of the way to Lake Ouachita. We rented a canoe from the state park and set off. It was peaceful and the scenery was absolutely stunning.
That weekend there were a couple of pontoon boats out there but the lake was mostly empty. We had our pick of endless beautiful camping spots along the shores of the islands. The dogs spent hours diving into the water after rocks and sticks.
I brought my sketchbook and found no shortage of inspiration in my surroundings.
The second evening I was pretty exhausted and fell asleep just after sunset in the hammock, while Ethan was still grilling hot dogs over the fire. During my peaceful slumber a couple things happened.
First, Ethan went to collect firewood and ended up grabbing a piece with a bark scorpion on it. Luckily he noticed and dropped the piece. It wasn’t until then that he looked carefully at the wood pile he’d already gathered and noticed there were scorpions crawling all over the place. It was sheer luck that he never got stung.
Secondly, after enjoying a hot dog Ethan began to have trouble breathing. At this point he tried to wake me up. I did for a little bit, but he was so calm that I didn’t think it was serious. I assumed he was having an allergic reaction to something, so I told him to go jump in the cold water. I heard him splash into the water and then fell back asleep.
Unfortunately Ethan was up for most of the night, suffering from shallow breathing and a racing heart. I feel really bad; if I had known that this was continuing and was actually a serious situation, I most definitely would’ve stayed up with him.
The next morning I opened the cooler and saw that the bottle of Naproxen was empty. It must have spilled and dissolved into the cooler water.
“Oh well,” I said. “I didn’t need those anyway.”
“Wait,” said Ethan. “What kind of medicine was in there?” I had told him that there was pain meds but I hadn’t specifically mentioned what kind.
“Naproxen,” I answered.
“Oh my gosh. I’m allergic to Naproxen!” he exclaimed. “No wonder I couldn’t breathe last night.”
The heavy reality set in on us that Ethan literally could have died from this. I think this was the first time that I fully realized the potential danger of back country adventures. We decided not to eat any of the rest of the food in the cooler, since it had all been sitting in the Naproxen water. We had granola bars & whatnot which was plenty to last us until we reached the shore.
It’s ironic that the stranger wielding a chainsaw in the dark turned out to be harmless, but a prescribed medication almost killed somebody. You just never know.
Anyway, three years later Ethan and I are still going on adventures together. And luckily we’ve never had another scare like this first one. If anything, this little incident brought us closer together and made us fully appreciate each other.
This post is available for your listening pleasure on the Boose on the Loose podcast, streaming now on Spotify.