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That one time I got locked in a public bathroom

The view from a tent is shown

This is a story about a not-so-traditional adventure. And I can only call it an adventure in hindsight because the only option is to laugh at the fact that I managed to lock myself in a public restroom.

During a heat wave in the summer of 2020, I went to an Arkansas state park to camp with my family.

I rode my bike to use the bathroom. As I was leaving the campsite I asked my dad where it was. He directed me to the one up the hill and to the left. But then said there might be one closer. So I went looking and found the one closer. It was a fairly new one and was divided into single rooms with a toilet, sink, and shower. Arkansas State Parks has added these types slowly and are replacing the one-room with stalls.

I did my business and washed my hands. But when I went to open the door, it wouldn’t budge! I turned the lock again and the lever was moving but the bolt that slides from the door into the jam wasn’t.

I was locked in the bathroom.

In vain I tried to make the lock move. I pushed the lever into the door, thinking maybe it just needed a little extra pressure. But it still didn’t work. I tried it slowly, and I tried it quickly. But it still didn’t open. I shook the door, but I was stuck.

I wondered how long it would take my family to worry about me, and then to come to look. They knew I went to the bathroom, but they thought I went to the other one up the hill. For someone who loves to solo travel, I was thankful I was with my family and not on a solo trip. At least someone would notice I was missing soon.

“As long as the light didn’t go out, claustrophobia would stay at bay,” I thought. Then I thought “I have water and shelter and a shower if I get hot. I could go to the bathroom if needed. Not the worst place to be trapped.

White Oak Lake is shown

What if I was in a pit toilet at a National Forest Service trailhead that is not often used? I looked around, and if I had only had a screwdriver or even a key, I might have been able to take the lock off and get out. But I didn’t have anything. I thought I could maybe have climbed onto the sink and attempted to escape from the vent in the ceiling. But I’m not sure I could have done even one pull-up, and it looked that would be a requirement.

I had no phone or book to occupy my time, and for some reason, this bothered me the most.

It felt like I was in solitary confinement.

After I exhausted all my options to possibly break out, I just sat down and waited. Fortunately, I wasn’t at a National Forest Service trailhead that is not often used, and someone would eventually walk by.

Panic crept in a little bit so I tried the lock some more. I banged the door, but this was a heavy door, and I wondered if anyone would even hear my banging. I tried the lock again and shook the door.

And then I heard, “Is everything OK??”

“Oh thank God someone is here to help!”I thought.

“No! I’m locked in here!”

The man asked me what campsite I was staying at and sent someone to let my family know what had happened.

He said he would stay with me. He could see the bolt and asked me to try the lock some more, but it wasn’t moving.

Nephew Noah came to talk to me through the vent and make sure I was still feeling OK. We talked about calling 9-1-1, but they found a number for after-hours maintenance. Fortunately, the maintenance man did not live too far away and was able to arrive quickly.

When he showed up, he was able to pry the door open and I was free! Lesson learned: Always take your phone and maybe a screwdriver to the campground bathroom.

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