I’ve referenced the time I got swarmed by fire ants while peeing in the woods a few times. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell (well, in hindsight anyway, in the present time, it sucked). Let it be both a source of humor and a cautionary tale to anyone who trail runs.
Without further ado, I give to you:
The Great Trail-Running Fire Ant Debacle of 2008
I’ll be the first to admit, I hate road running. I don’t know if it’s the impact on my joints or being able to see a mile in front of me, but it’s just not much my thing (which is concerning, considering I’ve run half-marathons and a marathon). My friend Jeremy and I both felt this way, but we both loved running, so we had ourselves a chat. Jeremy, who’s also a professional cyclist, suggested we go run the bike trails behind a public park right that is right next to my parents’ house.
Let me go ahead and state for the record that I love this park. My first trip out there was at six weeks old to watch my dad play ball at the softball fields. My mom would take my sister and I out there when we were little to play on the playground. I remember it had a jungle gym with big metal googly eyes on it that I loved. It also had a HUGE wooden fort that I wasn’t allowed to get close to, despite my many requests, because my mom deemed it structurally unsound. I think it collapsed a few years later, so thanks Mom.
In any case, the bike trails are great. They run up and across the side of the hill in the back area of the park. Keep in mind, there are actual PAVED bike trails going through the woods as well, but these weren’t it. This was like running through the forest on a little worn dirt path getting slapped in the face with branches.
In fact, once I got in a bad fight with a thorny bush back there. The thorny bush won.
Needless to say, this running these dirt trails made me fell all strong and athletic and badass and roar-y, especially after it rained because it would be cooler in temperature and muddy and gooey and nasty and FUN. This terrain made running fun.
As a running team, the only bad time Jeremy and I ever had was getting off the trail (because that was what we did) and getting lost. We ended up by the Fort Smith City Dump. If there are any Ft. Smithers, you know that’s a long-ass way off. We ended up clocking ten miles without planning it.
After that, Jeremy told me never to run the course alone. If I got hurt at all – twisted an ankle, fell, etc. – or if a scary old man tried to steal me (or if I got lost by the dump), no one would ever know and I’d be all by myself and stolen maybe. I followed that rule every single time, and I always ran with him.
Except for once.
*clap of thunder*
Jeremy had gone out of town, and no one else I knew wanted to go with me. I really wanted to get a run in, so against my better judgment, I laced up my shoes, and drove out to the trails alone.
(Writer’s Note #1: I sometimes think God likes to make an example of me, like I can show others why you should listen to those wiser than you. I always get caught if I do something I shouldn’t be doing, and this particular day was no exception.)
I drove out and park by the Frisbee golf area and started stretching. It was a beautiful day. Warm, but not too muggy. Sunny, but not scorching. In the shade of the woods, it set the stage for a perfect run. I saw my friend Brent zoom by on his bike doing a few laps and we waved to each other, and then I took off into the woods on the trail. Everything was great, until I had to pee.
(Writer’s Note #2: Now would be the time to disclose some personal information: I could probably pee every other day, if even that frequently. I have the stretchiest bladder ever. I could go days and days. That being said, I always end up having to FINALLY pee in the most inopportune times. I’m maybe a mile into my run, and I get that feeling I know all too well. I got the itch. DAMN. IT. I have to pee.)
I looked around and made sure there was no one else I could see- I’m not sure why, I was a mile into the WOODS. I darted a few feet off the trail, popped a squat, and peed. Half a minute later, I resumed my run. I started feeling this weird brushing on my ankle and leg, so I began kicking at it mid-stride. In my mind, I thought I’d picked up a leaf on the trail, and it was stuck to my shoelace. I awkward-side-kicked at it for a minute or so, not wanting to stop my stride, but that damn leaf wouldn’t get off my shoelaces. Reluctantly, I gave a big sigh, stopped my run, and bent down to pick off the leaf.
Not a leaf.
Swarming my leg, ankle to mid-shin. Like a blanket. I have no idea how that many got on my so quickly. I couldn’t see any skin on that part of my leg. I had no clue they were fire ants because while they had swarmed, I hadn’t felt any biting.
I flipped my shit.
I hauled ass back to the car. I knew I have a bottle of water on passenger seat, so I thought that maybe I could drown them if I poured enough down my leg. I don’t think I’ve ever ran a faster mile in my life. The entire time, I felt them creeping up my legs, tickling and then (finally) burning like the fire from a thousand suns.
I got to the car, managed to get inside, and realized I only had half a bottle of water left. I poured what little I had on my leg, and absolutely nothing happens. I shimmied and I swatted and I brushed at my leg, but the little bastards were anchored in. At this point, the despair hit. I thought the little suckers are were going to eat me alive. I abandoned all hope and had decided all was lost, and I sat down in the middle of the parking lot, still haphazardly swinging at my stowaways.
And then, like an angel descending from Heaven, I looked down the road and saw Brent zooming back on his bicycle.
He had a lot of water in his car, which had miraculously been parked next to mine. I stripped down while he poured bottle after bottle over me, but even when he checked me over and confirmed they were all gone, I kept feeling little phantom ants all over me. I thanked him, and he politely refused my gracious hug (which now makes me question his ant-finding ability). I got back into the car, wet, burning, and half-naked, and drive to my parents’ house. When I said the park was by my parents’ house, I meant park-to-front-door-in-two-minutes kind of close. I walked in the side door and immediately did what any adult who doesn’t know what to do does: I yelled for my mom. She ran down the stairs and laid me out in the floor with my feet elevated up on the couch and smothered me in calamine lotion.
It’s right about here that things start getting a little fuzzy.
I started thinking, “Gosh, those are quick little ants. They bit me on my scalp and feet and armpits!!” Oh, but no. My “bites” were hives. Huge, whelping, swollen, throbbing, itchy, mind-boggling hives.
Mom tossed me in her car to go to the doctor, and I insist on going to the Choctaw Hospital in Talihina, which is about an hour away. I had no insurance at the time, my tribe takes care of me for free, and damn it, I wasn’t going to become an indentured servant to the Mercy Health System for a zillion years because of a stupid allergic reaction. No, ma’am. NO.
Which, at the time, seemed like the smart thing to do in my poisoned mind. And for about thirty minutes, it was. Then I started swelling. Outrageously. Hives pop out prominently, everything is blotchy, and my eyes swell shut. It’s just gorgeous.
Trigger warning because ew.
(Writer’s Note #3: Keep in mind, my whole everything was swollen. I don’t think my features are typically this ginormous.)
(Writer’s Note #4: My eyebrows were not as fleeky as they are now. Be kind.)
Even with this, though, I was doing okay.
But about ten minutes out from the hospital, my throat started closing.
I was panicking in my soul, but I was scared to tell Mom. My mom has a tendency to speed in normal life, and she already had her emergency flashers on, one hand over the horn, putting the chase scene from The Italian Job to shame. I was trying to wheeze quietly to myself, but there isn’t really such a thing as “wheezing quietly,” so I was totally busted and Mom then thought I was legit dying and put a Mazda Millenia into Star Wars warp speed. Had it been nighttime, the stars would have blurred into lines. I think we were going THAT fast.
We blazed into the hospital parking lot, tires smoking and guns blazing. The hospital got me back to a room pretty quickly, as they were not blind and/or deaf people and could see that I was a wheezing, blotchy-red version of Violet the Blueberry Girl. I lay on the exam table and prayed to God for a quick death.
And then came a knock on the door, and Dr. Angel strolled in.
He walked in looking at the chart, eyes down, and he was in the middle of asking what the problem was when he looks up at me. His eyes got kind of big, and he put up one finger and simply said, “I’ll be right back.” Within two minutes, he gave me three different shots in the butt.
Then I remember very little.
The hives went down and the itching stopped. The hospital kept me for a few extra hours because the doctor told my mom he had never seen anyone’s ears turn that shade of purple before. Which was cool, I generally like doing things that have never been done before.
He told me if I ever get swarmed by fire ants again, I have to get to a hospital ASAP because the reaction will be quicker and worse. I was basically chided for coming that far in the middle of wheezing, which, as an adult, I understand.
Anyway, the moral of the story is this: don’t pee on fire ants. They get shitty about it.