Welcome to Greg “Manly Man” Vaughan’s One Too Many (Voices in My Head). His last, best chance to exercise those pesky demons. In his column, you’ll find… I really have no idea, but he gave me $20, so… all yours Greg!
Though I am an Okie through and through, I spent a portion of my years—specifically the junior high portion—in rural Alabama in the small town of Wetumpka. There, my best friend Harley Upchuck and I spent many a summer day playing D&D and then heading out into the woods for hiking and camping fun. While I’ll be the first to admit that I am no outdoorsman, I was a Scout in my youth… well, a Cub Scout anyway. So I, like many of my scouting peers, feel a certain justification in pretending to be outdoorsmen and getting into all sorts of trouble and mayhem that only the outdoors far from civilization can provide…
I can just envision the Donner party’s exchange before heading out on their fateful trip.
Day 1: “Captain, are you sure it’s a good idea to press on through the Sierra Nevada with winter coming on? Seems like it might be dangerous.”
“Nonsense, I’ve got my scouting background to fall back on if there’s any trouble.”
Day 15: “Well, Ms. Imelda May, you sure do look delicious today… er, I mean succulent, no, I meant pretty, yeah, pretty that’s it. Aw, who am I kidding? Somebody get the stew pot!”
So with that background in mind, what happens when a group of middle-aged men with little to no real outdoors experience gets together for a weekend of camping and rock climbing? You get the Men’s Mountain Adventure, that’s what.
Delmer Bradley had never been camping—he told me one fine spring day—and mentioned that he had just bought an air mattress, so the prospect of doing so did not sound daunting to him. I immediately scoffed at the idea of his air mattress and explained, as an experienced outdoorsman, how no finer comfort could be found for sleeping than the freshly cut green boughs of a Douglas fir. When he later told me that his wife, Dottie, had scoffed at my claim of outdoorsmanship, the trip was official—we were going camping! He then almost immediately said that his wife claimed that we’d never last through the weekend. Irritated by this seeming clairvoyance I asked, “What? Do you have a walkie-talkie in your pocket or something, Delmer?” to which he held up his Nextel Wireless DirectConnect phone. Sigh. Cityslickers.
In no time, the crew was assembled and we were headed down to the Wichita Mountains for a weekend of camping, climbing and, most importantly, no wives. As we headed out, Dottie handed Delmer his Nextel—which I had cleverly hidden in their car before we left—and warned him to be careful because there were real dangers out in the wilderness (here she looked significantly at me). I was so offended that I stopped polishing the pins of my merit badges—the old Scouts shirt still fit… barely.
“Just what do you think he’s going to need a cell phone for, Dottie?” I asked. “He’s going to be in the wilderness away from all wives. And besides, he’s got me there in case something happens.”
When she caught her breath again from her bout of very unladylike laughing—I would say it could be accurately characterized as a braying laugh—she said, “In case there’s an emergency, moron.”
“Well, we’re going to be 2 hours away. I would suggest that if there is an emergency that you call 9-1-1 rather than calling Delmer, because I don’t think we’ll be able to make it back in time. Plus I expect it’s pretty expensive to break out the rescue helicopter just to comfort some distraught wives.”
I thought this last quip was a bit clever, but the reemergence of the donkey laughing suggested that she thought otherwise.
“No, you idiot, in case you have an emergency, and we have to bail you out.”
Mustering all the dignity I could in my much-too-small Webelos blues without bursting the buttons, I assured her once again that there would be no wives needed on this trip. Then our party packed into two cars and off we went down the highway, the sound of the braying donkey laugh ringing in my ears… until we made Delmer turn off his Nextel.
Arriving at our campsite, we immediately set up the necessities after a short argument over who had forgotten to buy ice for the drink cooler. (I argued I had taken on the duty of preparing the greenhorn, Delmer, for wilderness survival, so while technically it had been on the list of things for me to do, surely somebody else should have thought of it.) Todd set up his portable generator and satellite dish, so we could see if there were any good games on while the others pitched camp and I proceeded to explain to Delmer the finer points of tree selection for the crafting of a green-bough mattress.
“But these aren’t Douglas fir,” Delmer said. “These are scrub oak and some kind of tree that appears to only grow in puddles near a Port-a-Potty.”
I good-naturedly took him aside as the wilderness novice that he was and helped him select a good blackjack oak to make his green-bough mattress—though, in his defense the tree had been dead a good 2 or 3 years and was dry as a matchstick with an exceedingly large number of acorns to remove. But I explained how after the first night of no sleep, he’d be so exhausted that he wouldn’t even notice the intense discomfort in his back and limbs.
The rest of the first day passed uneventfully although a weather report did come through that mentioned thunderstorms with chances of tornadoes over Lawton.
“Shouldn’t we be concerned?” Delmer asked.
I comforted him with my best outdoorsman look and said, “Naw, Lawton’s a good 10–15 miles from here.”
“More like 5,” Todd chimed in.
My outdoorsman look turned into a withering glance toward Todd (witnesses later stated they could discern no difference between the two) and said, “Yeah, okay maybe 5 miles. But it would take a tornado at least… 20 minutes to get here from there.”
The experienced campers among us put our heads together to come up with an emergency weather plan.
I turned back to Delmer, “There’s a hamburger joint over in Meers and a Love’s Country Store near there. We can go grab a bite to eat and pick up some ice for the drinks.”
On the way into Meers, Delmer called his wife on the Nextel to let her know we were okay. “Everything is fine, honey, we’re just getting some ice.” Reception was bad, so that was about as far as the conversation went.
By the time we got back to camp, it was dark and we decided to turn in for the night. At about 2 am, Delmer burst into my tent, waking me from a blissful snooze.
“I hear sirens, I think there may be trouble… hey, is that my air mattress?”
I mumbled something about field-testing his equipment as we all stumbled out into the darkness. There was the vague sound of sirens in the distance, which we agreed could possibly be the tornado sirens coming from Lawton. We would have turned on Todd’s TV, but somebody who had thoughtfully bought the ice at Love’s had just as thoughtfully left one of the open bags sitting on top of the TV set and pretty much shorted out the whole system as it melted.
Thinking back to my days among the Scouts I said, “Well, I don’t remember them saying this, but it seems like a good place to hide during a tornado would be up among the rocks where the mountains can give us shelter.”
The thought of a night climb terrified Delmer (and didn’t exactly sit well with me either), but nobody could come up with a better idea, so up the rocks we went in the pitch dark. After many bumps, bruises, short falls (the Wichitas aren’t the highest peaks in the world), and much general cursing wherein my name seemed to come up quite a bit, we found ourselves in a sheltered dell where we could wait out the imminent storm—which never came.
Not a drop of rain fell that night, and I’m pretty sure the wind never rose above a decent gust. So in the morning we found ourselves tired, battered, and completely lost on account of climbing the mountain in the dark. I felt, as the senior outdoorsman, that it was my duty to keep the group together and maintain its morale and kept insisting that this current trail was the correct trail back to the camp. After the 43rd time, their faith seemed to be waning. At one point, I even managed to filch Delmer’s phone and, in a show of confidence, called Information for the number of the Lawton Domino’s Pizza, reasoning that they would surely deliver as far as our campsite, and since we were nearly back, we’d have some hot pizzas waiting for us. Once again, reception was a problem, and the call disconnected just as I was asking for help with the number.
The second night on the mountain was in the exact same dell where we had spent the first night, having faithfully led my companions by hook and crook back to the point where we had started in a masterful feat of land navigation. They failed to appreciate the sheer chances of me pulling that off, so we all pretty much just went to sleep grumpy.
However, the next morning we did manage to stumble back into our campsite fairly quickly although I had trouble convincing any of the others that my exclamation of “Oh, thank God!” upon first seeing the camp was really just an expression of my gratefulness that none of our stuff had been stolen.
Finally, we were back in camp. We had food left over from Meers and some of the ice had made it into the cooler, so there were cold drinks. At last, we could spend the rest of our camping weekend blissfully away from all wives. And that’s when we heard the sirens again, only this time they were close enough to recognize as the sirens of emergency vehicles. Then we heard the whomp-whomp of the helicopter overhead. In moments our campsite was awash in Park Rangers, Sheriff Deputies, a volunteer rescue team complete with bloodhounds, and all of our wives—Dottie leading the pack.
Apparently, during the height of the storms hitting nearby Lawton, she had received a call from her husband stating that we were getting ice, which she took to mean a hail storm was pounding our camp. In a panic she had called the other wives and had reported that we were stuck somewhere in the mountains in the middle of the storm and needed rescuing. The Park Rangers and Sheriff Deputies went out that night and drove around with their emergency sirens on to attract our attention but couldn’t find us. Then the next day a telephone operator reported that somebody had called her for help from somewhere up on the mountain before being cut off. That’s when the search party was formed, and they put the rescue helicopter in the air.
So, as a whole, I have to rate the Men’s Mountain Adventure at best as a “qualified” success as an exercise in outdoorsmanship, and I can’t wait until next year.
By the way, do you have any idea how much they charge you for having to use the rescue helicopter?!?!
Greg is the creative director of Frog God Games and author of The Slumbering Tsar Saga. You can check it out at talesofthefroggod.com. He is also a regular contributor to Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Adventure Path and various and sundry other things too tawdry to mention here.