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Image: Lauren Marek

“I’m out of wine and I’m starting to feel the blisters form under my feet,” moaned my friend, limping along in her chic leather sandals. We were dragging ourselves through the pinecone-laden trails of Huntsville State Park, an hour outside of Houston.

Our original, ingenious hiking plan (which was supposed to be only two miles, tops) failed miserably; instead, we found ourselves completing an eight-and-a-half-mile loop after realizing too late that the trail back to the parking lot was closed.

The sun was starting to set, and all we had left was an almost-empty water bottle and half a bag of salt-and-vinegar-chips. Every now and then, we thought we spotted a man following us. I thought we would never escape the Triple C Trail and would instead end up on the local news, abducted or just plain lost.

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, my family used to take trips to Pennypack Park, wandering its wooded pathways in the middle of the city. This was a weekly outing for us until word spread that a man was murdered there for his bike, which turned into another being stabbed, a missing child, and countless drug deals. To this day, everyone knows to leave Pennypack before sundown.

I’d long prided myself on being a street-smart city girl, yet there we were, isolated and wandering the woods of the Sam Houston National Forest. All I could hear was my dad’s voice in my head when I’d told him of my plans to take on the East Texas woods: “Hah! Camping? You in a bed in a cabin with running water; that’s about as close to nature you will ever be.”

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Image: Lauren Marek

Soon enough, though, we found our way out of the dark abyss. We headed straight for the Oakview Manor Bed & Breakfast, located only a few minutes away, along with a Spec’s (with the wine gone, it was time for a champagne run) and other retail. Relief.

The rest of our trip was peaceful, spent riding horses and kayaking through the calm waters of Lake Raven. To my surprise, I found myself getting more and more comfortable with the whole embracing-nature thing, even taking a selfie with a few alligators in the background, as they sunned themselves on the banks of the lake. I couldn’t wait to send it to my dad.

tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/huntsville

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