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  • Pamela Beason

My Most Harrowing Experience in the Great Outdoors – by Pamela Beason

When you spend time in wild areas as the three of us do, you’re bound to run into trouble once in a while. For our next three posts, we thought we’d pick our most memorable bad experience and share, answering the same three questions. We invite you to share your own memories in the comments below.

Where and when was your “adventure”?

A national forest area in Arkansas, in November, many years ago.

What happened?

I planned to go backpacking on a beautiful crisp autumn weekend with two male friends, but we couldn’t find the trail. We parked at a campground and tried several paths that dwindled to nothing, but the sky was growing dark as we tried the last one. That trail, too, looked more like a game trail than anything a human should explore, and as I climbed over a big log, I just happened to look back over my shoulder. At the base of the log I’d just climbed over was a copperhead snake, so big and red that it looked more like a rainbow boa constrictor. I'm grateful that copperheads are passive snakes, because they are every bit as venomous as a rattler.

This isn't even a venomous snake, but you get the general feeling of snakes hiding in leaves...

Our trio, admitting defeat for the day, detoured around the serpent and returned to the campground, where we set up our tents. As I was gathering firewood, I reached for a stick that turned out to be a snake. I quickly scanned the area. I soon spotted snakes everywhere amid the autumn leaves. God almighty! I’d seen videos on the Nature Channel of snakes denning up for the winter, but we had stumbled into an ongoing snake hibernation festival, and every slithery creature was coming from miles around. I’m sure they weren’t all copperheads and rattlesnakes, but to be honest, I didn’t look too closely. Our only saving grace was that the nights were cold, so the reptiles were slow. We decided to hunker down by our campfire and not wander far. We heard shouts all around from other campers about snakes, and there was a gunshot, too, followed by “I got the rattler!”

To top off the evening, one of my friends choked on his dinner. When he threw down his plate and bolted to his feet, his eyes wild, and it was clear to me that he couldn’t breathe. It was also clear to me that there was no way I could put my short arms around his barrel shape to perform a Heimlich maneuver. For what seemed like eternity but was probably only a second or two, I debated whether to throw him on the ground and jump on his diaphragm, but fortunately at that point, my other companion realized what was happening, leapt to his feet, wrapped his much longer manly arms around the choking man, and saved our friend’s life.

What did you learn from this experience?

Well, I’d like to say, be sure you have someone with you who can perform a Heimlich maneuver on everyone in your group, but that’s probably not always possible. This happened before the internet became so popular, but nowadays, I’d search online for all information I could find about a trail and a campground area. Odds are good that nowadays I’d find information about the snakes and decide that backpacking there at that time of year would not be the wisest choice. Obviously, we all survived that experience, and disasters make better stories than the wonderful trips where everything goes right, don’t they? Although I’ll always try to avoid snakes whenever possible, nothing short of falling off a cliff is ever going to stop me from enjoying nature as much as I can.

Got a scary or just plain awful experience in the Great Outdoors to share? Tell us about it in the Comments below. And stay tuned—next week Gregory Zeigler will reveal his most harrowing adventure.

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Welcome to the inaugural post of Free Range Writers (FRW), a unique collaboration between writers Greg Zeigler, Pamela Beason, and Dave Butler, all of whom write books set largely in western North Ame

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