Sometimes when you go outside, things don’t go according to plan. The outdoors are full of wonders and marvels — and also holes you can fall in and mountains you can fall down and snakes you can step on and snowstorms you can get lost in and rocks you can trip over and bears who will eat your food, and oh, just all sorts of things that can cause mayhem. Here are a few of our biggest outdoor mishap and disaster stories.
Erin , Writer
I’m a pretty outdoorsy person in that while I’m not constantly seeking out outdoor activities, I get nature. We have a mutual understanding. I can climb things if necessary, I can make a fire, I can tell you when and when not to freak out about an animal, I can help you find sand dollars with your feet.
Which is why it was very unlike me when one day, in my adult 30’s, I chose to walk barefoot on barnacle-covered rocks that lead out into the ocean. Standing in front of them, a chaotic part of my brain thought, “You’re agile enough to sort of spritely make your was across them, yes?” No. No was the answer! Of course I would be fine, fine, fine, until I took a bad step onto the next rock and then of course I would land just wrong enough that my instinct would be to grip the barnacled rock, all the way down, with my foot in an attempt to hold on.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that when I landed on the shallow ocean floor and drew my foot back to assess the damage, I immediately passed out. I was laid out in ocean, water rushing to and away from me, as my then-girlfriend watched on in horror. I came to and realized the only silver lining to be found in this well-deserved fate was that my foot was in salt water. In salt water while pooling blood around me, but still: in salt water. Now for the bad news: we were two miles from our condo without cell service after life guarding hours.
After calculating how much sand would likely be lodged into the tendons of my foot, and how long and how painful that would take and be to extract, we did the only thing we could do, which was attempt a piggy back ride. We abandoned that within five steps. Next up was a tourniquet, as blood was exiting my foot, angrily, as if it had been waiting to do so for years. The tied sock was a success insofar as it stayed on my foot as I drug it in the water the entire walk back, but ultimately served no purpose.
This is a reminder not to play the ocean.
Heather Hogan, Senior Writer + Editor
It’s not an exaggeration to say I lived the majority of my childhood in the forest like some kind of Mowgli. With the exception of the days I was sick or grounded, I honestly don’t think I spent less than three hours a day in the woods every day from the time I was five until I graduated high school. That’s when I took up mountain biking, so: more woods. I’ve fallen out of trees and broken bones, run full-tilt into a barbed wire fence trying to get away from a mama cow, sprained ankles, bloody noses, jammed fingers, bruised shins. One time I got so lost in a snowstorm in the woods with my sister I thought for sure we were going to freeze to death and die. I fully believe I saw the ghost of Sidney Lanier kayaking on the Chatahooche. My family got trapped at the top of a fog-covered mountain on a snowmobiling trip in Yellowstone. I fell into a very deep, very swift Rhine River wearing a giant backpacking backpack full of nearly everything I owned in Germany once. One time a katydid flew into my mouth and latched onto my tonsils. I’ve stepped on a rattlesnake and a copperhead. I have come face-to-face with a black bear. When I was nine, I got stung by 142 bees, one of them right in my eyeball. I clunked my head on a tree branch and bit straight through my tongue. I clunked my head on a tree branch and got concussed. I clunked by head on a tree branch and scraped off a six-inch patch of hair.
But reader, the biggest disaster I ever had was only at the edge of the woods, in my very own backyard. I loved to race anyone anywhere all the time. My childhood was spent trying to goad everyone around me into racing. One afternoon, I had two pairs of hedge clippers for some reason, and my sister was standing nearby, and I yelled, “First one into the woods and find a sapling, cut it down, and bring it back wins!” And I took off running — RUNNING! — with a giant fucking pair of hedge clippers, as long as my legs. Did I trip? Yes, of course I tripped. Am I lucky those hedge clippers didn’t stab me through the chest or in the face? Yes. By some miracle, the hedge clippers only dug themselves into my right forearm when I landed. They removed… a goodly sized piece of my arm itself and my sister had the great and immediate wisdom to rip off her shirt and tie it as tight as she could around my new arm hole. My mom was no stranger to emergency room trips, but even she was very shaken up by the situation. On the way out of our neighborhood, she said, “How close is that gash to your wrist,” and I removed the shirt and held my arm to the front of the car so she could assess it herself and she swerved off the street and nearly passed out.
Anyway, I’m fine. The scar’s only the size of a quarter now. Not bad for 338 stitches.
Carrie Wade, Writer
I was probably six or seven the first time my family went camping — or should I say tried to. Because our first night in the tent, I fell prey to a sudden and unnerving bout of croup. For those who’ve never had the pleasure, croup is technically “an upper airway infection that blocks breathing and has a distinctive barking cough.” All I knew at the time, though, was that I couldn’t breathe and needed to get out of there stat. Obviously, having this happen overnight in the middle of the woods was Not Ideal. I still remember sitting bolt upright in my sleeping bag and Aladdin nightgown and promptly altering everybody that whatever plans we had in mind for this nature adventure were now off the table, because my respiratory system was not into it. My parents frantically loaded our entire lives into the car and drove everyone home, where I sat in the steamed-up bathroom while my lungs settled down. I guess I was just always made for indoor plumbing.
I now identify as a Recovering Indoor Kid, though, and am determined to get back out there and take another run at camping someday soon. Hopefully by age 30 the croup window has closed.
Valerie Anne, Writer
The most time I ever spent outdoors was on summer trips to Maine. My dad and I (and sometimes my brother) would go with a few other families to spend the weekend camping and canoeing the Saco River. I was always really proud of myself for never wimping out like some of the other kids, and always pulling my weight canoeing the whole river, even when it left me sore for a week. But I was also going on these trips around the same time I was becoming a teenager, so one summer my youthful idiocy came to a head when I decided I didn’t need sunscreen because I wanted a tan. While canoeing on an open river. All day. Well, needless to say, my pale half-Irish skin burnt to a crisp all along my upper back and shoulders (and the tops of my knees because canoeing is fun like that) on top of my muscles being sore because I was a dancer with no upper body strength. That night I was in so much pain that it hurt to have my sweatshirt on but it was too cold to not, I couldn’t be too close to the fire, and I ended up sleeping (well, mostly not sleeping) in my dad’s car so my writhing and whining wouldn’t wake up my tent-mate. The hours-long drive home the next morning wasn’t much fun, either. I never did learn to do arm exercises throughout the year to save myself from the week-long muscle aches, but I did learn my lesson re: sunscreen and wear it even if I’m just going to have some patio beers.
Ari , Writer
All of my outdoorsy stories take place at either summer camp or A-Camp because I am an indoorsy bitch. Anyway, my first year on staff at A-Camp, I had pulled at my cuticles on the plane to California out of stress, and one cuticle/finger got infected. The first day of pre-camp setup, my finger was red and huge and hot to touch, and as much as I wanted to pretend it didn’t exist, I couldn’t. We found vodka, bandaids, and a safety pin in random places on the campground, and Nurse Viv gave me a shot of vodka and then lanced my finger. Like we were in the goddamned civil war.
A. Andrews, Cartoonist
I recently decided to try a new spot to get my hair snipped. I made an appointment and gave myself a bunch of time to get there as Minneapolis was at the tail end of a deep freeze, and I figured driving would be annoying but fine as long as I left super early. I quickly discovered after parking, that not the drive, but my walk from the car to the salon would be the actual downfall of this endeavor.
I opened the car door to find the street covered in thick sheets of ice. With the temperatures rising the space between streets and sidewalks were nothing but a series of gross lakes of questionably deep and half frozen sewer water. I trekked down the street, and made it to the curb just outside the salon door in one piece, but decided I’d take the plunge and just step into the water quickly and I’d be on the sidewalk in no time. My body isn’t one for tip toeing around or hopping over lakes with grand lunges. I’ve mastered one foot a tiny bit in front of the other, and that’s about all I’ve got.
As soon as I stepped toward the curb and into the lake, my foot sunk down to the icy bottom of a knee-deep puddle before my entire body flew forward and tumbled in as well. A stylist from inside the hair place saw me eat it, and ran outside. She wound up having to take her shoes off and wade in barefoot to pull me up and fish me out. I sat in the salon covered in towels and embarrassed, 40 minutes early for my haircut.
Bright side: It was a really good haircut.
Archie Bongiovanni, Cartoonist
I hate outdoor activities. I’m a city kid. I’m an indoor kid. There’s a reason I moved AWAY from Alaska. It’s a great place if you like doing stuff outside so naturally I moved outta there as soon as I was old enough.
A couple years ago I was visiting my family in Alaska when my youngest sister had the idea of going winter camping. I said no but she persisted. This was the absolute last time I would ever EVER EVER agree to something I’m not actually into.
Usually when we camp in Alaska in the winter we drive to a cabin, build a fire in the stove, pee outside, get real drunk, eat a family-sized bag of M&M’s and drive back in the morning. My sister Elyse planned a slightly different experience. She decided my older sister and I would HIKE SEVEN MILES to a dry cabin, with no heat or running water, in the middle of Fairbanks winter. It was -30F. THIRTY. BELOW.
Anyways we did it, each of us bundled up, with a giant backpack and each of us pulling a sled. My sled was full of firewood. Fun!
We hiked for hours. The trail wasn’t plowed so it really was trudging through a foot or so of snow. It started to get dark. The markings on the trail were covered by the recent snowfall and Elyse became concerned that we maybe missed the turn yet we kept going. We had definitely gone more then seven miles. She tried to use her GPS to get a gauge on where we were but the GPS failed. We couldn’t spend a night outside without shelter when it was nearing -40F. She decided we had to walk back to the car.
The good news was since we weren’t spending the night in the cabin, we could ditch the firewood. None of us had eaten for the entire hike. We walked back in total silence. The sun set and we were walking in the dark with just headlamps. Eventually we got back to the car where we sat in silence and ate all the food we had brought with us for the evening.
And I’ve never been camping since.
Molly Priddy, Writer
When I was just turning 20, I went on a river trip with my dad and his friends and their sons. It was really awesome, on this scenic river that you have to win a lottery just to float and fish, and the trip was a week long. I had the most fun, it was truly one of the best trips ever, until the last day, when my dad and I lit out ahead of the rafts so we could get to our car and to my sister’s state tournament softball games.
I, like a complete idiot, assumed I had this whole river thing licked, so I was sitting on my life jacket as a cushion. Then we hit a rock, and flipped the canoe. Everything and everyone went flying into the river, which wouldn’t normally be a problem other than trying to collect all the shit that is floating away, except I wasn’t wearing a lifejacket AND I was wearing chest waders.
This means the water filled up my waders and I became an anchor. I was able to grab a paddle and my dry bag floating nearby to keep my mouth above water as I went through a hole in the river more than 6 feet deep because I couldn’t touch. I was able to make it to shore, swearing up a storm, and laid with my legs uphill to empty my waders. My lifejacket had floated off, so I got back into the canoe wary. Then we tipped AGAIN and it happened AGAIN. I should be dead. But I’m not, and I’m so much smarter and haven’t ever worn waders again.
Drew Gregory, Writer
People who know me are always very surprised to learn I used to run half marathons. But from ages 12 to 14 I did. Then I got seriously injured and had to quit running and I threw myself fully into the arts. But before that, when I was still in the top physical shape of my life, I climbed Mount Whitney. My dad and I went with a group of friends and acquaintances, most of whom had already done it. We began the hike at 2am equipped with headlamps. It’s a long tale I won’t fully get into, but a couple miles from the top, all the newbies started turning back. The pros went quickly ahead. My dad and I rested and probably should have called it, but I’m extremely stubborn and insisted we continue alone. We just had to make it to the top. Then we could rest for awhile, get energized by our accomplishment, and start heading back. And we did. We made it. We made it to the highest point in the contiguous United States.
But once we reached the top of the mountain a hail storm began. We were told by some more experienced hikers that we’d need to start heading down immediately. Exhausted, we turned around, practicing the movement of throwing our hiking poles in case lightning struck. Towards the top of the mountain are switchbacks, a sort of indented trail, carved into the side of the steep cliff. As we walked down the switchbacks the hail on the ground began to melt and the icy water rose up the walls of the trail to our ankles. More hail continued from above. Ever the drama queen, I remember racking my brain for the last words I’d spoken to my mom, my sister, my best friend, my crush. Well, turns out, we survived. And I’m really glad we made it to the top because I’m certainly never doing anything like it again.
A. Tony Jerome, Writer
We had an outdoor bonding retreat of some kind my sophomore year of high school. I was on my period and cranky as hell and in one of my greatest Fight The Power phases to date, which meant: I was very vocal about not wanting to be in the woods with white people (WHEN HAS THAT EVER WORKED OUT FOR US???). As I continued being vocal about this (because I don’t listen to my gut regularly but when I do I’m loud as shit about it apparently), there was some activity where you had to climb a high ass pole (in the woods), wait for some white dude to clip you to the zip line (in the woods) and then jump and zip down to the other side (IN THE FUCKING WOODS). Well, first up, God was watching out for me that day cause ol dude at the top caught me before I jumped without a harness, like one foot off the platform just free-falling, which would’ve kept me from writing here today….or like any day, but I’m sad to say a bitch was super humbled when after climbing and doing the zip line, I walked backed pissed as hell, tried to yank off the harness and my jeans came along with it. Did I mention I never mastered the art of tampons? At least fifteen girls in my class learned that very quickly that day. This all sounds like I hate the outside but I love it dearly, just not when I’m forced to do bonding activities with people who don’t even call me by my real name. I’d also like to point out that I was right and being in the woods with them still didn’t work out for me.
Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor
The summer of 2004, when I was 14 years old and still basically an indoor kid, I went on a 12 day canoe trip. The trip was on the Missanaibi River and was with a group of campers from my summer camp, all ranging in age from 13-14; we had two staff members with us and they were just a few years older than us but had been leading canoe trips all summer and had lots of fancy certifications and such. Though in retrospect I have no idea how chill or not chill our skill levels and preparation were, most of the trip went smoothly. Every day we paddled for hours, we portaged the canoes and all the stuff we were carrying through mosquito laced trails of varying lengths, I learned to solo carry a canoe, we ate salami and cheese and tortillas for lunch, we made elaborate dinners in the evening, it was really hard and really fun and really magical and really empowering. On the last night we camped near the town where the camp would pick us up the next morning and there was a tiny bar that was willing to serve minors and we all got astoundingly drunk but only one of us threw up, and not even because of alcohol – Steph drank a lot of White Russians, briefly forgetting that there is a lot of dairy in that drink and she is lactose intolerant.
So the trip was mostly extremely successful and not at all horrifying, is what I’m trying to tell you. Except.
One of the fun parts about a canoe trip on a river is rapids! After paddling for long slogs you’ll get to a section of rushing water and rocks and you’ll decide which route makes the most sense and the person at the back of the boat will carefully steer you through that path while the other people in the boat paddle hard to keep you on course and then you get to the bottom and breath a sigh of relief and it is scary at the best of times but also it’s very fun and much less physical exertion than just, you know, paddling across a lake, or portaging. It’s a good idea to have everything set up properly before going down a rapid though, because they can be dangerous! By set up properly I mean, at the very least, it’s great to have all the humans who belong in your boat in their seats and it’s extra great if you can have your paddles with you too and it is the most great if you can all be looking straight ahead! It is also very, very, very great if someone who knows what they are doing has hopped out of the boat and scouted the best route to take down the rapid, so you know where the rocks are to avoid and which path is most likely to get you safely to the bottom. That is, at bare minimum, the ideal situation when going down a rapid.
One day near the end of the trip, after we had been down many rapids and seemed to be working together wonderfully as a strong cohesive group, as often happens when you plunk a bunch of people in the woods together and tell them to cooperate or risk death, we got to a big rapid. It was one of the bigger ones on the trip, and we’d been talking about it for a few days. What would it be like? How would we handle it? It came right after a portage, so we set about putting the boats back in the water and loading them with our stuff while our leaders assessed what the best route to take down the rapid would be. When loading a canoe we always had one camper straddle the end of it so that it didn’t float away without us. On this particular day, Bobby was straddling our boat while Steph and I put shit in it. We had our packs, our life jackets, and our water bottles in the boat. We were both standing in the boat. We were not wearing the life jackets. We did not have the paddles in the boat yet. Bobby, who sat at the back and steered the boat, was not in the boat. Because he was supposed to be straddling it, remember? Our leaders had not yet decided which path down would be the safest. And then.
Steph and I realized the canoe was moving toward the rapid with us in it before we realized Bobby was no longer straddling the canoe and was definitely not in the canoe. It’s still unclear exactly what the fuck happened but I guess Bobby was distracted by something and got up from his position of straddling the boat to do something else (?!?!?!?!??!?!?!!) and then didn’t notice Steph and I drifting toward the rapid at a very quick speed, with no paddles in our fucking boat, until the whole group heard us screaming.
We made it. I don’t know how. It was not safe! It was very scary! Bobby is a fucking fool! But we made it, and then slowly and surely, everyone else followed us in their boats, with their paddles and their life jackets on, and our leaders tried not to let us see how terrified they had been, and we all laughed about, and we’re safe and it’s fine and I hope Bobby hasn’t killed anyone in the Great Outdoors since then, amen.
Riese Bernard, CEO
In middle school, my friend’s Dad took a group of us backpacking in the Smokey Mountains over spring break. Honestly, the part of the trip where I accidentally sat on somebody’s chocolate bar for the entirety of the car ride from Michigan to Tennessee and then stood up, a pre-adolescent nightmare with a giant clump of chocolate on my ass, was a bona-fide nightmare in and of itself. But! The real nightmare came later, when we went on a day trip. We left our campsite behind and trekked up to a higher peak, took some cute pictures, and headed back down. Somehow we began walking at very different paces.
I tend to… walk faster than other people, but I don’t know that this was true then. I wasn’t significantly taller than everyone else, but I was much weaker — I was stick-thin and not very athletic. My friends were sturdier. Less humbled by the weight of their packs. So maybe I was all the way in the back, not all the way in the front. But before long I couldn’t see them anymore, and I kept walking, and I guess at some point I walked past our campsite without realizing it, eventually making it all the way to the site we’d camped at the night before. I was exhausted. I was 12! I had a small backpack on. I realized I had to turn around, and did. I remember only a few small things from this trip — the memory I searched for after realizing I’d overshot of a place where the trail sloped down that I thought “oh, that looks like our campsite” but didn’t think it WAS our campsite, ‘cause I hadn’t walked far enough yet. I remember looking down at my feet and noticing how dusty the trail was beneath me, and realizing it was the one we’d walked yesterday.
Once I got back they estimated I’d walked 3.5 miles out of our way. I remember that number always for some reason, and I never remember numbers. I was fine, of course. Everything was fine. This isn’t a disaster in the grand scheme of things — and yes, I’ve been through the standard boats that flipped in the rapids, gotten lost in the woods when it actually meant something, seen bears and had a boot break on the trail — but I think about it a lot because I think about the grown-ups who were in charge of our trip, and how for at least two hours they had no idea where I was and no way to reach me. I don’t remember how they reacted when I returned, but I remember that my friends weren’t scared, not really. Two of them had been kinda mean to me the night before and I was still upset about it. I imagine that in addition to feeling tired when I realized I was lost, I also felt a little thrilled, thinking about how they might have to wonder if I was gone or dead forever, and then they’d regret being so mean! But they weren’t because I used to do this a lot then, on purpose — disappear, usually just for a few hours, and usually when I was too depressed to be around other people. I’d just slip out. When I got older, I could slip out in a car. By then we had phones, so I’d have to turn it off or leave it somewhere. That’s still my instinct. I still do it, sometimes.
KaeLyn Rich, Writer
I was on a school-sponsored four-day hike with a large number of my classmates in 8th grade. We were backpacking and had to bring most of our stuff in our packs (with a heavy assist by the adults and the support staff who showed up with water and stuff on a truck each evening). I don’t know how to say this without just saying it. It feels like one of those teen horror stories printed in the back of Seventeen magazine in the 90’s. It was.
I had to go to the bathroom really, really bad one evening. We were setting up camp and one of the adult hikers was teaching the group of us about tying our food in trees or something. I had to go, like….really go. I did not have the trowel (gross) to dig a hole (gross) on me, nor did I have toilet paper (so gross) nor did I have the luxury of time. I went as far into the woods away from my classmates as I could, but…I definitely did exactly what you’re thinking in front of dozens of my peers, behind a tree, but pretty much in full view and…it was noted. My 14-year-old self will never recover from the social humiliation.