adventures in arkansas

So, as part of The Year of Why Not?, we went on a three-day backpacking trip to the Ouachita National Forest with the North Texas Outdoor Pursuit Center last weekend. You already knew that though. I've been talking about it constantly.

This was me:

I felt completely unprepared for it, physically and mentally, but we thought it would be more than worth the challenge, and at the very least, would give us some interesting memories.

(Spoiler Alert: It was, and it did.)

A few weeks out, we picked up our gear and started training for the miles we would be hiking on the trip. As a side note, if you know you're going to be hiking several miles a day with a 30-pound pack on, you should NOT wait until 3 weeks out to start preparing. The longest stretch we hiked before we left for the trip was 2 miles on mostly flat terrain. On our longest day of the trip, we hiked 9 miles on wildly varying terrain.


I'm going to be really honest (I can't help it.) and let you know that at the end of day 1, I was seriously regretting signing up for this adventure. It was freezing, with highs in the low 40s and lows in the 20s and 30s. I have thoroughly Southern Californian blood and poor circulation, so I was a solid lump of cold for most of the day. We got a late start, so we ended up only having a few hours to make it to our first camp site before dark. And by camp site, I mean a relatively flat, relatively dry spot of land.

I knew I would be cold, so setting that aside, the real problem came when I understood what our guides meant by "river crossings." We were told we would be making several crossings on this trip, but I pictured streams. More specifically, small streams that allow you to skip lightly from rock to rock until you land on the other side safe and dry. No ma'am. There was a rather large, deep and frigid river standing between us and our camp site for the night. We got to the edge of the water, our eyeballs wide and shifty. Without missing a beat, Chris and Jeff (the guides) told us to take off our shoes and socks, roll up our pants and unbuckle the waist strap on our packs. The latter was done in case we fell into the river. The hope would be that at least the backpacks probably wouldn't drown us that way. Never mind that the water was so cold I couldn't feel my toes within 6 seconds of them being submerged, so if I were to fall in, I would probably have a heart attack immediately anyway. Yay, adventures!

Another note: The following are not pictures of that first river crossing. We didn't take pictures there. And we weren't smiling. And the river below is much smaller than the one we crossed that night. Use your imagination.


I was about 1/4 of the way across the river - still in the shallow part - when the regret began to seep in with the ice water. Along with a string of four-letter words I won't repeat here, I kept thinking this had been a terrible mistake. About the time I got to the middle of the river, all I could think about was my Snuggie. I'm not kidding. Thoughts of my pajama pants briefly entered my mind, but they were quickly overpowered by those four-letter words again when I stepped in a hole and the water went to my thighs and soaked my pants.

"Oh shoot!"*

(*That's not even close to what I said.)

45 minutes later (Or 5. Whatever.), I made it to the other side of the river soaking wet. I felt a little smug also. That river did not get the best of me. And by that, I mean I didn't drown. What what!

It was already getting dark, so once we all made it to the other side, we found a dryish, flatish piece of dirt (a camp site, if you will) and pitched our tent to the glow of our headlamps. Once we dove inside and peeled off our wet clothes and replaced them with slightly less wet clothes, we feasted on Clif Bars and trail mix in our sleeping bags. That part wasn't so bad. But as we walked a good distance away to hang a bear bag (don't even get me started on Bear Watch 2013) and to pee in the woods; and as we lay on the lumpy ground with our 20 degree sleeping bags cinched up to our dry, freezing eyeballs, my thoughts drifted back to my Snuggie.

Go backpacking, they said. It will be fun, they said.

Day 2 started off on a much more hopeful note. We got a solid 45 minutes of sleep and were feeling refreshed, although my eyes were nearly swollen shut. Needless to say, I was looking rather glamorous.

We made some oatmeal, so I had a warm belly and high spirits. They were only a little bit dashed when I realized day 2 would start out with immediately crossing another river just slightly smaller than the one we'd defeated the night before.

My clothes hadn't dried overnight - something about it being below freezing and misty, I suppose. So I put on the $7 men's sweatpants from Walmart that I'd stuffed in my bag just in case (so much for my quick-drying, fancy high-tech pants), and we set out.

The rest of day 2, although still full of frigid river crossings and cold rain, was bliss, you guys. The further we hiked, the more peaceful I felt. Spring hadn't yet touched the area we were in, but even still, it was stunning. The only sounds we heard were birds squawking, water rushing over rocks, the chattering of our fellow hikers, and the clanging of the pots and bowls clipped to the outside of our packs. The sounds of simplicity.

I mean, no one could stay in a bad mood while surrounded by this...

The peace I felt that day was the reason I wanted to do this so badly. There are very few things as settling as being completely out of reach of technology, modern comforts and entertainment. I could feel my mind unwinding and simply exploring the details of the forest around me.

There were plenty of moments of trying and failing to warm up my toes after splashing across a river and walking in the rain up the side of a mountain. That part didn't change. But it was a lot easier to see those moments as part of the beauty of it all, rather than an inconvenience, when I stopped thinking I could spend 3 days living outside without getting a little roughed up in the process. Nature is beautiful and harsh and painful. The sooner you accept that as part of the experience and appeal, the better. Don't fight it. Just walk through it like you belong there. Nature will always win.

On our last night, 10 of us huddled beneath a rain tarp made for 4, and we cooked soup in a dented pot with stains from the last adventure. We warmed our hands on the steam, talked about everything and nothing, and ate bowl and after bowl until the food was gone and there was nothing left to keep us warm. It was humanity in its simplest form, and it was so good for my soul.

All night, the rain poured and the thunder crashed. When lightning struck, I saw shadows of the trees towering above us. I thought a lot about what it would be like to die in a flash flood that night (what can I say?), but I also thought a lot about how right it can feel to be in the middle of nowhere, gathering water from streams, getting wet from the rain, huddling close to strangers and talking about life, and seeing dirt under your fingernails and licking them clean after dinner anyway. Life is raw and beautiful that way. We logged at least 3 hours of sleep, and I only briefly thought there was a bear in my sleeping bag before realizing it was just a snorer in a neighboring tent. Win!

I'm so thankful for the chance to be uncomfortable. I see myself as pretty low maintenance and quick to adapt to new environments. This weekend showed me I still have a long way to go, but that I actually enjoy the discomfort and simplicity once I let the comfort-craving of home get out of my system. It was also confirmed that my husband is a natural and smoking hot when he's being rugged.

I suspected it to be true before we left, but I can now say that it's completely empowering to carry everything you need on your back. This weekend was another reminder that I'm stronger than I think, and that my heart condition doesn't have to hold me back. I was able to easily keep up with our group (most of the time) while carrying 30 pounds on my shoulders. Feeling weak is one of my biggest sources of anxiety. I'm so thankful for every experience that proves my fears wrong, because it gives me that much more confidence to look forward to the next challenge. That's what The Year of Why Not? is about. Right? Right.

You know what else I'm thankful for? No bears. Can I get an amen?!

The only wildlife we crossed paths with was a very sassy skunk. I named him Pepe, obviously. I wish I could describe what it looked like to see 10 grown humans running away from a tiny, furry animal as it chased us back up the trail. We're fearless right up until there's a chance things could get very, very smelly.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I want to take this moment to make you aware of a common species of snake that has infiltrated the Ouachita National Forest. I was on high alert the entire time and saw them EVERYWHERE. It's called the Stick Snake, and if seen, can cause heart attack, dizziness and, most often, panic.

Another Stick Snake sighting...
Stick Snakes EVERYWHERE!!!

Don't let anyone tell you they're not real, even if they are in fact, much more related to your average tree root than actual snakes.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."
— Henry David Thoreau




  2. I LOVE this post. So glad you guys got to have the experience! Someday I'll have to tell you guys about the skunk that visited us (me and two of my buddies) when we hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail almost 5 years! It is SO empowering as you said to be OUT of cell phone range and carry all your stuff on your back.

    I have a place in the mountains now, so if you guys ever get the itch to attack the PCT you got a place that is a WHOLE lot more comfortable than a rain fly to stay overnight! You haul yourselves on out here!

    Love it, keep up the why nots kids!


  3. You two are so good for my soul...
    Great adventure. Great read. ♥


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