The Buffalo River is a 37.1 trail with roughly 6,200 feet of elevation gain and loss. It runs west/east and is north of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I’m going to guess and say that as the crow flies, right now I’m about 30 miles from the Ozone campground I stayed at while on that trail.
I decided somewhat at the spur of the moment to hike this trail, mostly due to the weather forecast, which is called for mostly clear skies, low temps (low 70s/high 40s) and so here I am. I’ve been wanting to hike this trail for some time and temps like this in late May are rare in this part of the country so I decided to take advantage despite the holiday weekend. I walked past a campground and it was packed. Glad I have my little spot near Steel creek. Although during leaf off time I’d like to camp there; it’s right next to the river and the big limestone cliffs, very scenic.
It’s been a long day, with the getting up super early and the drive, then the hike. But as always when I’m in my tent, it’s the best kind of tired.
May 29 2021
This trail is very scenic. Sure there’s lots of green tunnel type of hiking but the geology is pretty awesome. I got a number of views of the river and the limestone cliffs that make it that cool greenish blue color. stopped and looked at two old backcountry cemeteries. Also, I stopped by the Hickman homestead, and the door to the cabin was open and I got to check it out. I spent a good amount of time today thinking about who lived in this place and what their lives were like. I can only guess.
I saw a few backpackers, which was a change from the OHT.
I reached this spot at Pruitt trailhead, but everything, the bathrooms, the picnic area, and the water is closed because of road construction on Hwy 7. Which suits me well because I’m camping here in the picnic area. It’s perfect! Grassy, nice picnic table, and I got water from the river. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think anyone will tell me to leave, considering it’s a holiday weekend.
So this is technically the end of the trail, but only the half way point for me. I’m doing a yo-yo thru hike, which means I hike the trail from one end to the other, then go back the way I came, to finish where I started.
I’m so glad I left half a bag of Fritos in the car. I’ll be so stoked to eat those when I’m done!
May 30 2021
I was hiking just a few minutes before 6am today and I had a pretty nice morning. The sky was clear and the green tunnel treated me nicely. Since it’s a holiday weekend, there are more people, and more people means more garbage. I picked up quite a bit of trash on trail that was not there the day before.
I passed two groups of youth group backpackers; I hope they have a positive experience in the woods and I’m glad that they did not see the garbage I picked up. I used to get mad when I saw garbage in the woods but now I just pick it up when I see it and that’s that. Getting righteous about it doesn’t keep people from littering.
Anyway, it was a perfect day to be hiking, with low temps and a nice breeze with plenty of sunshine. I made miles easily and cruised along. There were lots of people in the river; the Buffalo River is world famous for kayaking and such. From my little campsite up on a ridge far above the river I could hear the shouts and whoops from the floaters, having a good time.
May 31 2021
I woke up in a kind of funk and did my best to dispel it. Coffee helps. And stroopwafels for breakfast. Once I got hiking I talked it out to the trail; I talk out loud to the trail as if I were talking to a therapist or a close friend. It’s something I’ve done since I started hiking again when I got sober. After about two hours or so I came to a realization and everything I had been worrying about fell into place. I could see it happening, and the relief I felt was a tangible physical feeling and I stopped and thanked the trail for listening to me and for giving me the opportunity to make sense of the complexities in my life. It’s had to make sense of things that defy sensibility and so many times I have found peace and contentment on the trail simply by talking things out.
Before I knew it I was a few miles from the trailhead and the car. When I got there I changed my clothes, ate Fritos, dumped my gear in the trunk and drove home.
Overall I had a good time hiking the BRT and the geology of the area was for sure the highlight of the hike. I really loved the old cemeteries and the beauty of those quiet places. I’d love to come back during leaf off time and have better views of the cliffs and the river.
The Ozark Highlands Trail is in northwestern Arkansas and runs from Lake Fort Smith State Park to the junction of Richland Creek and the Buffalo River, for 164.1 miles of a gorgeous, remote wilderness experience. I hiked from point to point, then returning back to Lake Fort Smith for a total of 328.2 miles and over 62,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. This hike took me 18 days, with one zero day (zero miles hiked) and one nearo day (nearly a zero with five miles hiked).
May 2 2021 Ozark Highlands Trail eastbound mile 5.1
I was on the road early and by 10am I was looking for a place to stash my food cache at Fairview trailhead. Of course it was pouring rain. I found a suitable spot, went back to the car to eat a salami sandwich and a couple of hours later I arrived at Lake Fort Smith State Park Visitor’s Center. Of course it was pouring. I went inside to check in and give them my car info and the two women behind the counter told me that Frog Bayou, one of two major stream crossings on the OHT was “totally flooded, there’s no way you can cross right now.”
I told them I would go check it out and they looked at me with worried faces and I started to get a little worried.
I snapped a quick selfie at the trailhead and set off. 3 miles to Frog Bayou and hopefully I could cross.
I got there and I found a place to cross; it was a bit swift and just over my knees. I told myself, “remember that river in Glacier. This is way more chill than that.”
And it was.
I hiked an enjoyable 2 more miles here to Jack Creek where I pitched my tent and am relaxing with the sounds of flowing water.
May 3 2021 OHT mile 23.6 Spirit’s Creek
Aside from seeing waterfalls, wild animals, and all the little beautiful things I see hiking everyday, I love the end of the day when my hiker chores are done, dinner is in my belly, I’ve cleaned myself off and I put on my comfy sleeping clothes. Especially my cheap $2.99 Walmart leggings. I wore them everyday hiking the Ouachita; they did not let me down then and I am convinced that they can outperform leggings that cost $79 at Prana.
Today was hot, and very humid so my clothes were wet all day. No big deal, but I’m looking forward to cooler weather tomorrow and clearer skies. Maybe dry clothes? Dry shoes? One can hope.
I know that in a couple of days my legs won’t be sore anymore and the miles will come a bit easier. It’s how it always goes.
I love this trail and I still have not seen anyone since I left the Visitor’s Center.
Fine with me.
May 4 2021 OHT mile 41.3 Hare Mt.
Just as I was falling asleep last night, thunder and lightning started up and a huge storm blew in. Winds, hail, rain, the works. My Plexamid tent held up gloriously. It wasn’t even muddy this morning when I packed it up. I was hiking by 6:10am and crossed Spirits Creek right off the bat. Not too deep or fast, fortunately. That came 7 miles later at Fane Creek. I was looking at the water, thinking, that’s a bit beyond my comfort level, when I noticed a bridge upstream on the forest service road. I had to cross a thigh deep creek to get to it but it was worth it not to have to ford Fane. I love it when stuff like that works out. .10 of a mile later I was back on trail and thankful that today was cooler than yesterday.
I was thinking g about getting a few more miles in today but when I got here to the Hare Mt. campsite I knew I’d stay. It’s so pretty, and since it’s at a higher elevation the green hasn’t fully blocked the views. And I got water from an well that used to be part of a homestead many years ago.
Once again I did not see anyone.
I love this trail. It’s absolutely gorgeous and very challenging.
May 5 2021 OHT mile 63.2 Pine glade
The theme for today was gorgeous weather and blow downs. Trees across the trail. Sometimes several in one place, creating an absolute mess. I’ll report their locations to the OHTA as soon as I can get internet, which will be awhile.
I’m fed, watered, dug my cathole, and relaxing in my tent.
So happy to be here.
Again, no people today. Maybe tomorrow? Who knows? Is there even a world out there?
May 6 2021 OHT mile 84.7 Ozone campground
I woke up this morning in a stand of pines and the sky was clear. I was hiking shortly before 6am and spent a few hours traversing a ridge line with many waterfalls. So many waterfalls on this trail. It was a pleasant day just cruising down the trail; few blowdowns, great weather and still no people.
Until I got to Ozone campground, which is a very small campground with electrical outlets, trash cans, and a pit toilet. And water! I walked up to the gazebo where the outlets are and saw another hiker, Carl. He is hiking the trail westbound, whereas I am heading East. We talked briefly, I grabbed some water and went to pitch my tent. All I wanted to do was eat and go to bed. I saw another person; a local walking his dogs through the campground. His dogs came to check me out and we chatted for a moment. This older gentleman has waist long grey hair and bright pink sunglasses. He was very nice. Anyway, people surprise me all the time and when I least expect it.
Since I had service I checked my email and soon fell asleep.
May 7 2021 OHT mile 104.6 Lopper’s tent site
One hundred miles! Today was a really fun day and I have a killer campsite with a great view. Up in the pines again. The miles came easy and by the time 11am came around I had gone 12 miles. But at one point I stopped to dig a cathole and left my spade. I know pretty much exactly where I left it so when I hike back I can pick it up, hopefully. It just sucks that I have to do without it. I can use a tent stake but it’s not the same.
More waterfalls, cool giant cliffs and rock formations, creek crossings. I had dry feet for about 5 miles then I had to cross a big creek. At least I had those 5 miles. Oh well.
I stopped for a bit at Cedar Creek and saw a day hiker with his dogs. We did not talk. So that’s three people so far.
Tomorrow I’ll hit my food cache at Fairview, another primitive campground and hopefully it will be there. And I get to cross the famed Hurricane Creek. Hopefully it won’t be too high.
May 8 2021 OHT mile 123.8 Fairview Rec Area
I woke up way to early and could not get back to sleep so I cuddled down into my sleeping bag and listened to the light rain shower on my tent. Perfect way to start the day. Soon the rain stopped and by 5:45am I was hiking into a warm misty morning.
By the time I reached Hurricane Creek it was clearing and everything had that fresh rain smell. Hurricane creek is more like a river and I had no problems crossing it. Slow and steady. Trekking poles help a great deal. I smelled a campfire nearby but didn’t see anyone. I wonder how they got dry wood. I can count the number on times I’ve had a campfire on a long trail on one hand. I’m always too tired and when I’m done for the day I just want to eat and get into my tent. Each to their own.
Hurricane Creek is absolutely gorgeous and there were several times where I just stopped and stared at the water. Today it was a nice slate green/grey color with huge boulders scattered everywhere. It rivals some lavish visuals I’ve seen in places like Glacier or the Smokies.
It was warm and sunny all day with a nice cooling breeze that came up just when I needed it.
I rolled into Fairview recreation area and saw that my food cache was untouched. Yay! And the water was on. Double yay! And I have the place to myself! Wow! Even the pit toilet is well maintained and does not smell. Which is rare. So I have decided to take tomorrow off and rest. My mind is ready to go but my body needs to rest.
I almost forgot: today I saw a herd of feral pigs! I came around a bend to a somewhat open area and there were about a dozen of them, rooting around in the leaves. They saw me and bolted. Which was good. And there were babies! Really small ones, probably no more than 5 pounds. So adorable.
May 9 2021 Zero Day at Fairview
I slept in until 6:30am. So late! The thing I really like about taking a zero day in the woods instead of in a town is that I really get to relax. In town there’s always lots of walking; to the store, to the laundromat; to the post office. There’s people to talk to, social media to check. Here, I walk over to the water facet or the toilet. I don’t have a signal on my phone. I’ve been reading in my tent most of the day. I go sit on the picnic table and eat something. It’s fantastic. I still have the place all to myself.
After dinner I’ll hide the food cache again, which I will visit on my way back through here in four days. Then I’ll pick up the last six days worth of food, some clean socks and underwear, and charge my small external battery with my larger external battery. I love the whole idea of resupply with a cache. It’s made this hike unique for me; I’ve never hiked a long trail without going into a town.
I’ll have to do this again with a different trail. Or just do this hike again. I am totally in love with the OHT.
May 10 2021
OHT mile 143.1 Richland Creek campground
It’s a quiet evening here at Richland Creek. There’s a couple of other people here, but everyone keeps to themselves. That works fine for me. It has been a tiring day. It was grey and cold so I did not stop much. By 10am I had almost 11 miles behind me and rolled into camp about 2:30pm. I could have kept going but there’s not a good place to camp for some miles and this place is nice. I ran into a mountain biker/hiker today and it was nice to chat trail with someone. He makes the third person I have talked to in 8 days.
Tomorrow I’ll be half way through this hike and I am looking forward to seeing the Buffalo River and camping next to it. Maybe it will be warm enough to swim? The weather here has surprised me; I thought it would be warmer here. Last night was super cold but I was also at the trail high point. So hopefully the next couple of nights will be warmer.
I accidentally dumped my pasta in the dirt this evening. I picked up up, rinsed it off, and ate it.
This is the way.
May 11 2021 Westbound OHT mile 3.1 Crumbling old barn
I saw this barn as I was hiking the last three miles of the OHT. The last three eastbound miles. A massive thunderstorm had just rolled in and I was hiking in the pouring rain. It was starting to get cold. I kept up hope that there would be a place to camp at mile 164, the eastern terminus.
I got there and not only was there nowhere to camp, everything was flooded and muddy.
I fell in the mud.
At this point I had turned west and was heading back. I had finished the first half of my hike. Hopefully I would find a place to camp soon, but I knew there was nothing.
Did I dare camp in the old barn? I checked it out earlier and there was a flat spot for my tent. Yes, it may look like it could fall down.
But it probably won’t.
By the time I got to the barn I was shivering and the rain got heavier. More thunder. I had to stop. I needed to stop. I am camped in the barn and I’d do it again.
May 12 2021 Westbound OHT mile 21 Richland Creek campground
Here I am back again at this nice little place. I even have the same tent site. The river provides excellent background noise and today I am happy. Not that I wasn’t happy yesterday. I was tickled pink that my barn bivouac turned out to be the best idea I’ve had in the past few days. I don’t mind rain but downpours like that are hard. The sun is out, I was able to dry my stuff out, and I met another hiker today. Maid Marionberry is hiking east, and she’s going to hike some of the Buffalo River trail that is a part of the OHT but not well maintained. Then she’ll hike west. She’ll probably catch up with me since I think she does bigger miles than I do. Which would be nice. On a trail like this where there are so few people, it’s nice to talk to hikers. I miss seeing hikers on trail on a regular basis almost as much as I like being by myself all day. Weird.
It looks like I’ll be camping in the same spots as I did hiking east, which is fine. I’ve had really great spots every night out here.
May 13 2021 Westbound OHT mile 40.3 Fairview
Once again I have Fairview all to myself. Chatted with a landscape painter who pulled up to the trailhead here about Hurricane Creek. I gave him directions to go check out Cedar Creek, which is more accessible. It was nice to talk to a human and he gave me some trail magic; two tangerines. So good. Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful day. This morning’s views were some of the best on the trail, and that was a good way to start the day.
My body is definitely tuned into hiking 20 mile days.
I find dead ticks in my socks that the permethrin on my clothing have killed.
I stopped to submerge my body in a jade colored creek; it was ice cold and completely divine.
May 14 2021 Westbound OHT mile 59.5 Lopper’s tentsite
Two great things about today; I met three hikers, Lynn, Johnny, and Theresa. We chatted for a bit and I had forgotten how nice it is to meet cool people on the trail. Well, maybe not forgotten, but not in the forefront of my mind. The other thing was I stopped for awhile at a really sweet swimming hole on Hurricane Creek and swam. Heavenly. The creek was lower this time around and I had an easy time with the crossings. Hopefully my luck will hold for the rest of my hike. Today was a beautiful day and I think tomorrow is going to be nice as well. I’ll be able to check the weather tomorrow when I get to Ozone campground.
Part of me is ready to finish up this hike and another part of me says, “we’re just getting started!” I have for sure hit my stride and feel great. Maybe I can get another hike in somehow before school starts back up. One can dream.
May 15 2021 Westbound OHT mile 80 Ozone Campground
I love how quiet these backcountry campgrounds are. Otherwise I’d hike on a few miles and camp. But probably not tonight because I had to charge my external battery and make sure I have enough juice for the rest of my hike. I think I may try to push as many miles as I can tomorrow; rain is coming and, well, there’s not really much I can do about that except hike in it. I had planned for 24 miles and that’s probably what I’ll end up doing. My last two days on trail will be wet but that’s ok. At least I have these few sunny days. That’s enough.
May 16 2021 Westbound OHT mile 103 Pine forest
I got maybe three hours of sleep last night; I was worried about the upcoming rains and creek crossings, even though I think they’ll be fine. The water levels on trail are super low right now so that should help.
I had a breakthrough today. I think I have learned to take and accept what the trail gives me, including weather, and go with it. Not to try to control it.
It felt liberating, and closer to the trail that I have ever felt.
Now to eat ramen and crash.
May 17 2021 Westbound OHT mile 124 Hare Mt.
I think this may be my favorite campsite on the entire trail. It’s gorgeous. And I love that the water source is an old well from a homestead that used to be here. It’s so quiet. Just the sounds of moisture falling off leaves.
I started hiking today around 5:45am. In the pouring rain. I expected it to rain most of the day but it tapered off around 10am. My only hope was to get to Hare Mt before the thunderstorms hit and that was a success. They still haven’t rolled in but I’m guessing sometime tonight.
Creek crossings were good and I am confident that I will be able to cross the upcoming creeks with no issues.
May 18 2021 Westbound OHT mile 148 White Rock Campground
Wow. Today was great. It was difficult and I struggled and at the end of the day I am in my tent with my belly full of Italian wrap and Ben & Jerry’s.
And here come the thunderstorms. Today was like hiking through a greenhouse. It’s the end of the hiking season here in Arkansas and the green is glorious. It’s amazing how much everything has grown since I was through here two weeks ago.
Tonight is my last night on trail and I feel content and happy with this hike. It seems like everything has gone according to plan in a sense, but also there have been so many unexpected joys, like this little backcountry campground with it’s great views and ice cream, that it has qualified as a great adventure.
May 19 2021 Westbound OHT mile 164.1 Lake Fort Smith Visitor’s Center
I was up early packing up a sandy, wet tent. Which was fine. So much of the trail today was overgrown, but again, that was fine. I have a feeling I’ll have some more issues with poison ivy but hey, today I finish my hike.
I rolled into the Visitor’s Center around 1pm followed by a local dog who accompanied me for the last two miles. One thing about Arkansas is that there are a lot of free range dogs, who have homes and owners, but these dogs go where they please and do what they want. Such was the case with this dog.
After reporting to the Visitor’s Center that I had returned for my car and thanking them profusely for watching over said car, I put my stuff in my trunk, took off my wet smelly shoes and socks, donned the purple Crocs, and drove off.
For about five minutes it felt weird to drive again, some remnant of a distant past when people walked or ran everywhere let me know loud and clear that this way of moving through the land was wrong. That being on my own two feet, everyday, all day, is my natural form of being.
This instinct is something to be cherished and I felt a loss when it disappeared into the familiarity of driving.
Now that I am showered, fed, and relaxing, I want to be back out there. Soon.
I arrived at the Taum Sauk State Park just before 9am. This is the high point in Missouri and lots of folks visit this park. Much to my delight, the parking lot was empty save for one car and I got my things together and headed down the trail. About a mile in, Mina Sauk falls is a popular place for day hikers, and there were two people at the top of the falls taking photos. I decided to keep hiking rather than wait for them to keep hiking. They were the only people I saw all day.
After I hiked past a well known rock formation known as the Devil’s Tollgate (I call it the Devil’s Toolbooth) I started to get a feeling that I have felt the two other times I have been out on trail since Covid. A since of guilt, combined with a kind of melancholy that has previously left me feeling unsure about myself and why I’m out on the trail. I kept thinking that the best thing would be to hike back the next day and not spend two nights out. I decided to take a break after a couple of hours of hiking and think about what was going on. I came to the conclusion that it was ok for me to be out on the trail, and that this was something that I loved to do, and that it was important for me to take time to get away from the house and my family and the internet and everything. That it’s ok for me to take time for myself. In the past this has never been an issue; I’ve always been good at self-care and boundaries and giving myself space and time for what I need. This year changed all of that. Hiking provides me with the time to reconfigure my approaches to self-care and boundaries. Once that dawned on me, I felt better literally right away and hiked on.
Around noon I came to a glade (open space) near the top of a ridge known as Ketcherside Mountain. I had views for days and saw two excellent places to camp. Since I mapped out my hike as a lollypop loop hike, I figured this would be a good spot to camp the next night on my way back to the car.
I noticed, in the distance, the Upper Taum Sauk reservoir which breached in 2005, flooding the area where I was planning on camping. If you look on Google, you can find some pretty interesting information about this event. Stuff like this is fascinating to me. After several hours of traversing ridges I came to what is known as The Scour. This is where the water raged through a small valley, destroying everything in its path. I picked up a liter of water here and hiked the last two miles down to the Black River.
So in Missouri there’s a term called “shut-ins,” which are pools in a river created by rocks. Often times shut-ins feature small openings between large boulders where the river is forced through. Sometimes they make great swimming holes and sometimes they can be unsafe. Johnson’s Shut-Ins on the Black River are a bit north of where the Ozark Trail crosses the river, and I did not see them, but I know I’ll be back to this beautiful place in the future. I got to the river around 3pm and decided to cross it and look for a place to camp on the other side. I knew that I would not want to cross it in the morning in the cold. I took off my shoes, gaiters, socks and pants and to my good fortune I found an abandoned rubber slip on shoe that someone had let behind. And it was even my size. So with the help of my newly acquired functional garbage, I crossed the river. It felt wonderful.
After looking around for about five minutes, I found an established campsite and pitched my tent as the sun was slowly disappearing. It wasn’t a perfect campsite, but it was better than having to cross the river in the morning.
Anyone who has slept in a tent on a slope knows the unique restlessness that comes with such a night. I kept slipping down, and which the slope was not super pronounced, it was enough to keep me awake and half-asleep most of the night. No matter; when I woke up in the morning I was happy to be where I was. I got some good photos of the river and then packed up and was hiking by 6:15am. I planned to hike 6 more miles on the Ozark Trail and then take a side trail down Goggins Mountain trail to the Johnson’s Shut-Ins campground, and then take another trail back over to the Ozark Trail near The Scour. There, I’d get water again and start hiking back, completing the lollypop loop. A good plan that panned out exactly as I had envisioned. It’s rare when that happens and I was pleased. But I get ahead of myself.
By 8:30 I was at the junction to the Goggins Mountain trail and took some time to check out the views from the various glades in this area. Soon I was hiking down the ridge on a really nice cruiser trail covered in yellow leaves. Delightful. I knew the trail went up another ridge and down to the parking lot near the highway but I didn’t feel like doing that, and since those miles are not Ozark Trail miles, I took a shortcut to the campground because I wanted to check it out for water, bathrooms and future car camping. I came across an ATV path and took it towards the campground rather than bushwack through the woods. A good decision, as the track took me right to the campground. Which was practically empty. I saw maybe five or six campers and that was it. I’ll be back for sure.
After learning that the water had been shut off and the bathrooms locked for the season, I started walking the two or so miles over to a spot where I could pick up the Ozark Trail again. My loop being almost complete, it was nice to have a couple of miles on flat, paved trail where I could space out and soak up the sunshine. Once I got back to the river I crossed it on the highway and bushwacked about 100 feet to the trail. Shortly after that I was back to The Scour. It was noon. I couldn’t believe I had made such good time, but I had a lot of energy and decided that since this would be my last water source of the day, I would pick up five liters and hike as far as I could. Which ended up being about 6 more miles, bringing my total to 18 miles for the day. I could have gone a few more miles but I knew there were no good places to camp and the Ketcherside Mountain glade was so perfect I could not pass it up.
I pitched my tent as some clouds rolled in. Eating an early dinner meant I would have room later for chocolate. I read for awhile and watched the sky change colors, and the clouds roll through. Perfection.
The next morning I was packed and ready to hike the last six or so miles to the car. It was an uneventful hike; I was pleased with the way everything went the day before and happy that I worked out the things going on in my mind and my heart about being out on the trail during Covid. I stopped in at the high point plaque and took an obligatory photo, and once I had put my gear in the car and turned on the heater, I ate my post-hike meal: bagel with salami, pepper jack cheese, mayo packet and mustard packet. Since I no longer stop at places along the way home to eat, this was my only option, and a good one at that.
I pulled up to the Hazel Creek trailhead and campground around 8:30am. I stepped out of the car and immediately felt the warm, humid air and smelled the pine forest. It had rained the day before so everything smelled thick, fecund, and rich with life.
I got going and soon decided to take off my shoes and socks in order to cross Hazel Creek. Normally this is something I would not do but I didn’t really want to hike my shoes and socks dry. Hazel Creek is pretty low this time of the year and it was not a difficult crossing. I got going again after a short break to get ready and soon was going up and over several ridges. Small creeks populated the hollows and as the day got warmer I stopped to get water a couple of times. The second time was at Trace Creek, which is just past an Ozark Trail landmark, an old chimney from a homestead of the past.
At this point I had about 7 more miles to where I had planned on stopping for the day, near Council Lake. Once I arrived at the trail junction for the Council Lake trail and the Ozark Trail, I decided to take the lake trail in hopes of finding a side trail that led up to the campground. Usually I don’t like campgrounds because they are noisy and crowded but I had heard this one was nice, and being a Thursday, I hoped that no one would be there.
While I did not find the side trail and ended up bushwacking a quarter of a mile uphill, I did find an empty campground with running water facets! Glorious. I found a nice site with a good view of the forest and pitched the Plexamid in a soft, flat spot. It was a blustery afternoon and the breeze felt good after hiking 15 miles in usually hot weather. I rehydrated and sat on the picnic table reading and watching the light change. I like getting into camp early because it gives me time to reflect and enjoy my surroundings more rather than focusing on getting miles in before dark. That can be fun too, of course.
I saw my first person of the day, a man who had parked his truck near the entrance of the campground and was walking the campground circuit several times for, I’m assuming, exercise.
Before it got dark I ate my beans and rice (with taco seasoning, pepper jack cheese, and Fritos) and got into my tent. The wind would blow into my tent, puffing it up like a lung, and then my Plexamid would exhale, and again the wind would fill up the tent with the clean scent of the pine forest, and soon I was sleeping deeply.
The hike back to the car began around 5:30 am because I woke up and could not go back to sleep. Fine! I’ll hike then!
I tell myself that to hike the Ozark Trail once, I have to hike it twice. That’s because with the exception of the Eleven Point section where I was dropped off and picked up, I have to hike out and then back to my car. There are people in the area who do shuttles but I don’t want to put them at risk or put myself or my family at risk if it can be avoided. So, I hike back to the car.
I love hiking in the dark. From time to time I turn off my headlamp and look up at the stars to see the dark shapes of the trees waving around in the morning breeze. I see the eyes of the deer who are still bedded down for the night. I hear things moving through the forest and wish I could move through the forest in that way, with my unique steps and scent.
Around 9 am I have about 5 miles to go to the car and I take a quick break to eat a Kind bar and get my water situated. I decide to put on my pack cover because I hear some thunder and it looks like rain is coming. As soon as I stand up and swing my small pack around onto my back, the rain comes. The temperature drops and in ten minutes I’m hiking through a storm. It’s delightful. Of course it’s also more enjoyable knowing that soon I’ll be putting on dry socks and clothing back at the car, eating a salami bagel and cheese.
Hiking the trail twice to hike it once has to have perks, right?
Before I begin I want to say that I did not see a single person on this trail. Which was awesome.
10/14/20 Bockman Spring at Wolfpen Hollow 9 Miles
About a year ago I started section hiking the Ozark Trail in Missouri. This is not to be confused with the Ozark Highland Trail, which is in northern Arkansas. Although, someday, the two trails will be joined and become a 700+ mile long trail. My first experience on the OT was the Marble Creek section, which is what I call a “stand alone” section, in that it is not connected to the main trail, which is about 230 miles. I have also hiked the Courtois section, which is the northernmost section of the main 230 mile trail. It is a bit confusing but makes perfect sense when viewed on a map.
I decided that I would start at the southern terminus and hike north to the Missouri high point at Taum Sauk mountain, which happens to be on the OT. It would end up being about 200 miles and I had planned, because of Covid, to carry all of the food I would need for the entire hike. I have been training since July, with incline and weights, and running, and I feel that I am in pretty decent shape to take on a hike like this.
When my dad dropped me off at the dirt road which leads about .6 of a mile to the trailhead, I knew I was in for a sufferfest. My pack has only weighed this much once before, when I started the PCT in 2015. Which was a lot. But I was super excited to be hiking and I just went with it. In five days, the pack will weigh half as much, and I’ll be flying down the trail.
I got here to Bockman Spring around 3:30 and found a tentsite nearby. The spring comes out of a pipe in the wall. There’s a doorway, and a cave, and it’s home to rare species of bats. It’s all very gothic looking and I love it. The spring water is delicious and I am so happy to be sleeping in my tent tonight.
10/15/20 Hurricane Creek 19 Miles
Today was brutal. Like, on a scale of brutal that I know from the past and a new realm of brutal, this was an entire different universe of brutal. I’m leveling up!
I got going around 6:15 after a few rain showers and a hot breakfast. Soon it was raining pretty hard as I went over the Devil’s Backbone and down into another hollow. This hollow was fairly overgrown and I was bushwacking through briars and lots of grass. Then came the blowdowns. Several were fairly large and I spend considerable time bushwacking around them. Thankfully the trail led uphill onto a ridge where there was no undergrowth and fairly nice trail. Soon I had made it near the Eleven Point river and some nice views. The trail got better but I still struggled for every mile. I’m used to hiking at a faster pace than what this pack has allowed me. So when I checked my GPS to see how many miles I had gone, expecting to see a certain number, I was disappointed to see that I had not gone as far as I had thought.
I got water at a creek just before the Greer Campground which was off trail a bit. I still wanted to go another 8 or so miles to get to Hurricane Creek, which was a dry section with some elevation gain. Finally, around 5pm, I made it to the creek and found an old campsite on the far side of the creek. Pleased, I set up my tent and walked back to the creek to fill my water bottles. I saw a belted kingfisher on the far side of the creek and watched as it fished over the creek, darting around. I was beautiful. The last time I saw a kingfisher was in Astoria so it was nice to watch one in action.
I’ll be honest, I’m miserable. I’m not used to carrying this kind of weight and my body is telling me to stop it. It’s literally all I can think about, and I’m not hiking this trail the way I would like to hike it. Mostly, I’m just not having fun, and I’m not able to mitigate the pain in the usual ways, like listening to podcasts and music, or taking longer breaks. The idea of having several more days like today is devastating.
I broke camp around 6am and after the first mile of hiking I decided to leave the trail. I’m not able to do the miles necessary to finish the trail with the food I have and I am miserable. What’s the point of being out here if it’s not fun?
I have a real difficult time admitting when I need to toss in the towel and leave a trail. It’s something I’ve done a couple of times before and it always feels like failure.
But things are different these days and while there is a certain heartbreak about leaving a trail there is also a sense of relief knowing I am doing the right thing and that I can learn something new. I tell myself, the day I stop learning and have it all figured out is the day something in my heart and soul dies. I’ll be happy when I come back to this trail with a lighter pack and more realistic plans. I’ll also be able to do more miles and see more things. Not to mention more enjoyment. So yeah, I texted my dad via my Garmin and set a plan to meet him tomorrow morning at the highway just past the pond I have camped near. It’s a perfect spot and I’m already looking forward to coming back.
I was planning on camping at Talimena State Park tonight and starting the trail in the morning but since Dad dropped me off so early (2:15), I decided to hike a few miles instead. We stashed a couple of liters of water 2 miles in where the OT is near a road, and then we went back to the trailhead. Dad took some photos of me in front of the OT sign and I also met two guys, Shane and JB, out on an overnighter. Once I got started I was glad to not be carrying those liters up a 1,000 foot climb right off the bat. I scooped them up an hour later, pleased to be making these “bonus miles” even though they are just miles. I decided five miles was enough bonus miles and I have pitched my tent just off the trail at an established site with a good view of the sunset. For the first time ever, I packed out cheeseburgers for dinner and they did not disappoint. Many hikers do this and I’ve always thought that it was a good idea and I was right. Shane and JB passed by and we chatted about turkeys and tents, then they made their way down the trail. I’ll probably see them tomorrow.
I’m loving this trail so far and I can’t wait to see what I see tomorrow.
October 23 2019 OT mile 23.8
The Ouachita Trail is 222.6 miles and runs East/West along the Ozark mountains. It has a total elevation gain of 34,360 feet. About the same in loss. The western terminus is in Talimena State Park in eastern Oklahoma. The eastern terminus is in central Arkansas at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, just north of Little Rock. So the plan is to hike the trail and then take the bus home from Little Rock.
This morning started off well and I was on the trail at 7am sharp. I made good time for about two hours then it got rocky. Like PA on the AT rocky. Merciful mercy cats! The miles came slowly and by the time I made it here I was exhausted. I’m at Winding Stair Trailhead and a trail angel left some water. My first trail magic!
October 24 2019 OT mile 43.2
I had just finished packing up my tent when I felt the first drops. I scrambled to pack the rest of my gear in my pack as I finished my coffee. I pulled my pack cover down over my pack and it started raining in earnest. It was about 6:15am when I headed across the road and started up the trail. Winding Stair shelter was about 1.5 miles up on a ridge and I thought I’d stop there to better organize my gear. Once I got within 20 yards of the shelter I couldn’t find it; heavy mist and my own fogged up glasses prevented me from seeing much. Finally I found it and there I reorganized and pulled out my rain mitts. This rain felt like it would stick around.
And it did. A few times it poured so hard I struggled to remember the last time I felt rain like that. Thunder crashed all morning and lightning a few times. After about 10 miles I got to Pashubbe shelter where I met two hikers and two trail angels. The trail angel had hiked in two gallons of water and some beer. They left right as I got there and I met Chris and his dog Owsley and Mike. Mike was getting off trail tomorrow and so he offered me some of his Mountain House meals which I gladly accepted. So nice of him. Chris and Owsley headed out; I’ll probably catch them tomorrow. I chatted with Mike for a bit as I ate lunch. It’s so nice to have shelters on this trail. When it’s raining it’s hard to make a sandwich and here I was, drinking store bought water, taking my time making my sandwich, and relaxing. It was nice. Once I finished eating the trail was calling and so I headed off to get ten more miles for the day. I have a sweet spot right next to the Kiamichi river and its sounds are going to be nice background noise tonight as I sleep in my tent.
October 25 2019 OT mile 57.8 Black Fork Mountain Shelter
The tent was soaked this morning as I got up and going. I remained dry through the night but packing up a wet tent made my hands cold. Good thing I had a big 1,300 foot climb up to the state line to warm up. I crossed into Arkansas from Oklahoma around 9am. Whew! I stopped at the shelter there and met Jeff. He said Chris and Owsley just left and I told him that his buddy Mike says hi. There was quite a bit of garbage around the shelter so we made quick time of cleaning that up. From there it was a nice 5 mile hike over to the Wilimena State Park Lodge where I had my heart set on a cheeseburger and fries. It was very foggy on the hike across the ridge and I passed a creepy old cemetery that was established back in the day when a local girl got treed by wolves and after holding out for a day or so they got her. Horrible.
With that bit of gothic horror stuck in my mind I stopped at the restrooms once I got near the lodge and found hot water. Yay! I washed my face and disposed of my garbage. As I walked through the campground, I met Ron, who runs the trail crews I had just met. They were clearing lots of brambles and blow downs which makes my hikes more enjoyable. I am always very grateful for the volunteers who keep our National Scenic Trails in tip top shape. Ron also told me that he oversaw the building of the newer shelters I’ve seen so far on the trail. Well done Ron!
I saw Chris and Owsley at the restaurant; they had already eaten so I went in and got my burger and a giant cup of tea. I was cold and it was cold in the restaurant. I enjoyed my food and tea and then headed out for the shelter. It was a slow going five miles due to the rocks. I saw two backpackers and their dog who said they were heading to the shelter but they never showed up. They were moving pretty slow and Chris and I figured they stopped to pitch their tent. I was a bit concerned because one of the hikers had her sleeping bag strapped to the top of her pack in a non waterproof bag. Not a good thing. Her bag must have gotten soaked in the rain.
Anyway, turns out Chris is a trail angel for Steamboat Springs and he was talking about some CDT hikers to whom he had given rides. Turns out we know some of the same people. The hiking community is close knit and I love that I can run into someone in the backcountry of Arkansas and we know the same people.
October 26 2019 OT mile 79.9 Turner Gap Shelter
What a long day. Some nice cruiser trail but today was mostly rugged, overgrown and uneven trail that was very challenging. But I made my goal. Made it down to this shelter in the dark. Now that I have a full belly I am going to sleep. Alone in this shelter.
October 27 2019 OT mile 96.3
I slept long and hard last night and so I decided to sleep in until 6am. Ha! Sleeping in. Funny! By 6:45 I was hiking down the trail. Before long it was light. It was nice to have some sun and warmth. I took lots of photos this morning and had fun tramping down the trail. I stopped at a shelter for lunch and to try to dry my tent out, finally. I saw no one today and I wonder if I’ll run into any more hikers on this trail. I’ve seen more trail crew workers than hikers! Which is actually pretty great. Today’s trail was very well maintained for the most part; not like yesterday. In all fairness I did see the crew I saw on Friday out there at the end of the day with their weed eaters trying to fend off the brambles. A valiant effort. I’ve pitched my tent off the trail in the woods next to some pines, and now that I have a full belly I’m going to read until I fall asleep.
October 28 2019 OT mile 116.7 Story Creek Shelter
I had pitched my tent in the woods about 50 yards from the trail under some pines and I slept hard. I was packed up around 6:30am and hit the trail. I felt tired but as soon as it got light I had more energy. I had nice trail all day. The further East I get the better the trail is. It’s not as rocky and overgrown which is wonderful. Around 1pm I stopped at the peak of Suck Mountain at the shelter there. A very nice spot. Well taken care of and clean with chairs! I had lunch and left a message for Lori, who owns the Bluebell Cafe in Story, a small town just a few miles from the trail. I scheduled a pickup with her for 9am tomorrow morning. The eight miles over a ridge and down to Story Creek shelter were classic cruiser trail and I felt magnificent. I got water at Story Creek before walking the .1 to the shelter. What a gorgeous spot. Right now is peak foliage and the colors are so vivid I feel like I’m in a calendar for the month of October. So far I have the shelter all to myself, once again.
October 29 2019 OT mile 127.6 Bill Potter Shelter
I was walking by 6:15am. I only had five or so miles to the trailhead where I would meet Lori but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late and I also wanted to take my time. Today is kind of my chill day. It’s been misty all day and kind of raining but not really. The trail is nice once again and I end up making good time despite my efforts to take it easy. The Bluebell Cafe and Country Store is a unique little place with lots of old tools hanging from the walls and ceiling, crystals, and knick knacks. I felt at home. I was nice to sit at a table, eat some good food and just relax. Lori took me back to the trailhead around 12:30 and we chatted trail for a bit and it is clear that she cares a great deal about hikers and this trail. It warms my heart. She asked me to call her when I finish to let her know I’m done and that made me feel like I am part of this community. It feels good. I hike for a couple of hours and got to this shelter early; it was nice to get here and do some stretches and read. Tomorrow is going to be a tough day so I want to rest well today.
Sidenote: someone pooped directly behind the shelter and covered it with tp. Jerks.
October 30 2019 OT mile 150.6 Big Bear Shelter
The call of nature woke me at 4:30am and I could not get back to sleep after I took care of business. In the rain. I got back in my sleeping bag and wondered if the Iron Fork River had risen much. There is a concrete bridge but sometimes it floods out. I was concerned. Hence my inability to get back to sleep.
So I made coffee and had breakfast and got going. I knew I had a long, rainy day ahead of me so I had extra coffee. It’s so nice having shelters all to myself, especially when it’s raining. Around 11am I came across some trail magic; a cooler with sodas and a couple of Starbucks iced coffee drinks. I drank one and immediately felt great. Maybe it was the caffeine or maybe it was the generosity of strangers. Both? Probably. As I was hiking up, up, up, a thunderstorm rolled in and I saw Blue Mt. shelter off to my left and made straight for it. I took off my drenched rain jacket and rain mitts and made some hot water on my stove. So nice. Soon, the storm passed and the sun came out for a brief moment. I decided to get back to it and make the last 7 or so miles to Big Bear. Another storm came through but by the time I got here it had passed and the wind came in. I know I should probably pitch my tent in the shelter but I am too tired to care right now.
October 31 2019 OT mile 168.3 Oak Mountain Shelter
I did my best to sleep in but I was cold. I was walking at 6:45am. I was tired all day. It was overcast and cold for hours before I started to feel warm. Fortunately, the wind during the night has seemed to dry all the rain that was on the grass and bushes next to the trail so that’s a bonus. Tonight, if I’m alone again in the shelter I’m heading to, I think I’ll pitch my tent in it for maximum heat. It’s going to be even colder tonight. Normally I’m against tents in shelters but if I’m the only one there, I can make an exception.
I found some trail magic again today; I’m guessing it was by the same person who put out the cooler yesterday since it was the same beverages. This time the coffee drink had no effect on me. While I am loving this trail and enjoy being out here I am also exhausted and ready for a rest. Soon. So I make the most of what I have and go from there.
I got to this shelter early and that’s ok. I dried my shoes in the sun and took care of dinner and pitched my tent in the shelter. This shelter has a covered deck porch which is really convenient and if it were raining I would be stoked. And as I write this another hiker has showed up. And a female solo hiker at that. I’m happy.
Later: Cathy, the hiker who is sharing the shelter with me tonight, was the one who left the trail magic I got today and yesterday. She also was the one who put water in the Turner Gap shelter last weekend; that water saved my butt and I am very grateful for her kindness. It was nice to chat trail and gear with another woman and I enjoyed her company.
November 1 2019 OT mile 189.5 Nancy Mountain Shelter
I was up early and so was Cathy. We chatted as we did our morning routines, which was a pleasant way for me to start my day. I was walking down the trail at 6:15am or so. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, the last day of big miles and big gains. Just after I crossed Crystal Prong Creek I ran into one of the trail crew volunteers I had met last weekend. He was heading over to a massive blow down that covered a section of trail I had just passed. And these guys use handsaws. I told him he had his work cut out for him and he looked happy about that. Trail volunteers make my hiking world go ‘round and I am always happy to talk to them about their work on the trail and how they do what they do. They take before and after photos of their work with the time spent on the project and submit it to get money from the state. Pretty cool.
The rest of the day was uneventful, I did get some good views at certain points and I ran into a beautiful golden retriever and his person, van lifers, who were camping near the trail. They were very nice and we chatted trail for a few minutes. It’s really nice to see people and now that I’m here at the shelter, a group of guys hiked up; they are out for the weekend and are tenting next to the shelter. It’s nice to be by myself, but it is also comforting to know nice people are around.
November 2 2010 OT mile 208.5 Penney Campsite
I was walking at 6:15am and it was a pleasant stroll downhill. I love the last few days of a hike because my pack is light; little fuel left, little food. Just enough to get me through. It was nice walking but once I got out of the higher elevations the landscape changed. Still beautiful but lacking that alpine feel. I met Dean, a tugboat captain from Louisiana who is out on trail for a week. We talked trail for a bit and it was nice. When I got to the junction to the campsite, I followed the white blazes for 200 yards and then the trail vanished. I found it again with my GPS but it was tough. Very overgrown. Then I popped out onto an ATV track which I took uphill here to the campsite. It’s an alright spot with tent platforms so that’s nice. I’m alone this night, my last night on trail. I feel good about this hike and am pleased with the way everything worked out.
November 3 2019 OT mile 222.6 Pinnacle Mountain State Park
I was walking at 5:30am and by 6:30 it was light because of the time change. Nice! Today was more scenic than yesterday and I met several nice trail runners from the area who were kind enough to tell me congratulations. I felt good all morning and by the time I was entering the last stretch in Pinnacle from the parking lot to the end of the trail at the Visitor’s Center I was elated. Some strangers gave me orange wedges and asked me about my hike. Of course they were volunteers; it seems that just about everyone I meet is a volunteer. I think I need to up my game beyond picking up trash on the trails I hike.
I got to the end of the trail and took a selfie in front of the sign and then went to the Visitor’s Center to get my OT patch. And a soda. I sat in the sun and waited for my Lyft to take me into Little Rock and my hotel.
Well, there is no bathtub in my room but I don’t give a damn. The last time I went this long without a shower was in 1995 on an Outward Bound semester adventure. I was 20. Another lifetime ago, but the same life. Different Cicely. Same Cicely.
I hit the road early this morning, saying goodbye to Kirsten and Matt. I felt really sad and pretty lost, which is how I’ve been feeling since I left the CDT in New Mexico. I am not sure where I am going and what I will do but for now it is enough to just go to a few places and have some new experiences. That’s what I am telling myself anyway.
I have been wanting to see the Steens and to go to the Alvord desert since the late 90s and so it is nice to finally be heading that way. I’ve been thinking a lot about my life in the late 90s in Portland. Probably because I’ve been listening to lots of music from that era and thinking about all the shows I went to during that time in my life. Some of it I remember quite clearly and some of it I remember it seems for the first time. Like, oh yeah, I did see Ben Harper and The Cure in the same night. Wow!
I turn back to driving and remember these times are part of my story, and if I am a storyteller then in behooves me to take the time to roll those memories over in my mind. About the night Alison and I went to see Elliott Smith at EJ’s, how we walked over there and Kevin (who we both had a crush on) was the door guy and we were in that room with not too many people for the show. Or seeing Sleater Kinney at La Luna before it became the Pine Street Theater (who knows what it’s called now) with Quasi and so many others. Going to shows was a way of being seen, being out was a way to feel the city that seems unavailable during waking workday hours. When my drinking started to advance and I would drink more during the day it felt wrong somehow to be out in these venues, without darkness and without live music. That’s when I stopped going to shows and left Portland for the second time. I knew I would be back, and when I did come back in 2011 everything was different for me because I was sober, just a year and a half then. I didn’t go out, I put my head down and worked, saved only to leave a third time. Maybe for good?
July 9 2019 Alvord Hot Springs
After breakfast and coffee I decided to hike up the dirt road into BLM land and Steens. It felt wonderful to be hiking, even if on a dirt road. Nine miles round trip and 2,000 feet of gain felt good. The knee is still sore and I’m glad that I’m not carrying a pack right now. But I want to so bad. But more, much more than a sore knee is keeping me from backpacking right now. It’s an itch in the back of my mind. I know I’ll figure it out, it just takes time.
Justin and Brooke, the couple who, along with their two boys, are the caretakers of the hot springs, suggested that I drive out on the playa for kicks. I was a bit hesitant; what if some kind of rare bird nests out there? I didn’t want to fuck anything up. But in the end I did drive out there, and it was a blast. I didn’t even drive fast. I think my top speed was 45mph. Whatever.
I spent the rest of the day soaking and taking naps in the shade of the changing area near the pools. Not too many folks here, which is nice.
Tomorrow I’ll drive down to the Ruby Mts. and explore a bit. Maybe try the pack. I don’t know.
July 10 2019 Thomas Canyon Campgrpound, Ruby Mts.
I got to Elko, NV around 2pm and got ice, water, bagels and some fruit. It was a quick drive south to the mountains and I checked out the trailhead that I’m thinking of hiking up tomorrow. Looks like lots of snow. Still! I think I’ll give it a go anyway.
it’s nice to be in the tent next to a creek, under the mountains. I still have this nagging feeling.
And it’s ok to feel that way. so much has happened this year, and last year. I really haven’t felt content, aside from hiking, since I finished the AT in June of 2018. It seems like after that I kind of sunk into this funk. I thought that hiking the CDT would be the think to pull me out of it but I know that’s not how hiking works. It’s much bigger than that.
I know I did the right thing by getting out of the situation in Cobb. I care for Keith but so many things just weren’t right. I felt trapped. Note to self; never, ever, ever move in with someone when you know it’s not right in your gut. no amount of pretending that it will be fine, no amount of thinking, “this is just how things are” will make that feeling go away.
And I feel a certain kind of guilt for letting it go on as long as it did. That too, will fade.
July 11 2019 Great Basin National Park
I was up and hiking up the trail with a pack (!!!) early. I forded an ice cold run off river and soon was postholing through deep snow banks. After a couple of miles I decided to turn back, something I don’t think I have ever done on a backpacking trip. I’m just not ready for a pack. Try as I might.
I gotta listen to myself.
I was happy when I got to the car. I changed my socks and put my wet shoes on the dashboard to dry as I drove. I was keen to get to Great Basin, and now that I am here I know I made the right choice.
I got a nice little campsite in Brooks campground. Most of the folks here are outdoorsy types; hikers or mountain bikers, or road bikers. Great Basin strikes me as a backcountry national park; most of the cool things to see here require hiking. Tomorrow I’m going to hike up Wheeler Peak, which is over 13,000 feet. I’m excited for it and I hope it goes well.
July 12 2019 Great Basin National Park
Wow. Wheeler exceeded all expectations. I felt like I was hiking in the Sierra. I left the car around 6:30 and was hiking on a gently graded trail through aspens. A mile or so later the trail branched off to Stella lake and the Bristlecone pine trail. I wanted to see the Bristlecone pines but the trail is still under snow with some steep traverses and I’m just not into that. So I kept on up to Wheeler. Once I got up on the shoulders the wind really picked up and my blue wind shirt was no longer effective. Which is something that has never happened before. The blue wind shirt is usually always effective when I wear it. I was glad I had thought to toss my rain jacket into my day pack and I put it on and presto: no more wind chilling me. I carried on and by 9:30 I made it to the summit. There were a couple of other hikers there, and I chatted with an older couple from Menlo Park about hiking in the West. They seemed so familiar I’m sure I have seen them somewhere on some lonely peak.
The hike back down was joyful and I had the good fortune to see a huge stag just below the treeline. Man, I’m really going to miss the mountains when I go to Missouri. Will I survive?
Also, I had a dream last night that I decided to go back to school and get my teaching certificate. It was incredibly powerful and I need to think about this.
A note about Bristlecone pines: the oldest Bristlecone pine recorded was Prometheus, at an estimated age of 4,900 years old. This number was reached by counting growth rings. However, Bristlecone pines do not grow a ring for every year. Which makes their actual age much greater.
Bristlecone pines that grow at lower elevations, in areas that are protected from the elements do not live long lives. They usually die around 3 or 400 years of age. The ones that live long lives live up high, in the wind, exposed to storms with no protection.
July 13 2019 Denver
I woke up early after a particularly depressing evening. Which kind of surprised me since I had such a great hike earlier in the day up Wheeler Peak. Everything hit me: leaving the West, which is home, not knowing what to do with my life, which really is the big thing right now. This cycle of working jobs, saving money and hiking is fun but really not sustainable and I need something that will provide me with the money I need to hike, travel and live. I don’t want to be 50 and applying for a job at Starbucks.
I decided to head to Missouri and cut my road trip short. I think it’s a good choice since I am unemployed and need to figure some things out. I don’t think there is any right place to do that, and I think in many ways I have figured some things out so I need to stop being so hard on myself.
It was fun driving here and driving across Utah was wonderful. Lots of thunder storms and it was very atmospheric.
Tomorrow I’ll get to Colombia.
July 14 2019 Colombia
Here I am. What a long drive. Not like driving through Utah and Colorado. Driving across the Plains is kind of tough and not very exciting. So I am glad I have arrived.
I have mixed feelings about being here. I love my family. I’m just not keen about living with them and I feel so sad about not being near mountains. I feel like I have been punched the chest and I don’t know what to do.
July 25 2019 Colombia
Well I about died of heat stroke on a hike last week so I have decided to stick with the gym until the heat and humidity have died down. Being back at the gym feels wonderful and I feel something like content.
I have also decided to get my teaching certificate here in Missouri for the time being and possibly go back to school to get my Masters in Education. This is something I have said I would never do which means that I am interested in doing it. Ha. I would be setting myself up for the rest of my life and I feel like I need that. Now is a good time to do it. I can’t keep dirt bagging forever. I mean, I can, but being homeless sucks and I don’t ever want to be in a position like I was, living in Cobb, again.
So, new chapter, here we go. It’a about time I leveled up and I am so ready.
I was sitting on the porch of the Many Glacier lodge this morning drinking a cup of hot coffee watching the swifts dart around over the lake. Around 8 I hit the trail with the guys and after about an hour I see MAV up the trail pointing. I get closer and see a huge bull moose about 25 feet off the trail, eating some shrubbery. We stood still and took photos and he somewhat ignored us. After about 30 seconds we went along our way.
Hammer went on ahead and Max, MAV and I had a small snack break below a huge waterfall before heading up the pass. And what an experience that was. Micro spikes were necessary and I got a little freaked out with some of the snow traverses. We all helped each other out and I’m glad I was not alone.
We met up with Hammer for the last push to the summit and it blew my mind. We didn’t have to cross any more snow fields but it was a very exposed hike and the trail was a little washed out in a couple of spots. The grade of the trail was really nice and I got a good pace going. The last little bit I had to get off trail and scramble around a snow field but it was a bit less steep by then.
And then the hike down was snow free for about a mile then we started hiking on snow at a downward traverse. It was exhausting. Finally I got here to the campsite and it looks like we have it to ourselves. I went down to the river and soaked my bandana and washed my face. Heavenly.
June 19/20 Red Eagle Lake Campsite CDT mile 64.2
The WPH (waterfalls per hour) was unusually high this morning and we got some good positive ions from the mist. Or did we? Max ran into a grizz and I fell down three times. The third time I felt something pop and my knee completely gave out. I got up and kept hiking, thinking, wow, I got lucky, I could have really hurt myself there.
Five hours later after fording a large river that almost swept me away I realized that my knee was starting to swell up and I couldn’t straighten it out. Nor could I bend it completely.
I made it to camp and set up my tent, trying to ignore the growing pain with each step. This is not happening, this is not happening. I got into my tent as it started to rain.
This is happening.
I walked over to the guys who were sitting at the food prep area and told them. I started to cry and came back to my tent.
MAV came over and talked to me and I went back to hang out with my trail family.
One of the many reasons why I have grown to love hiking with friends. They have a way of making everything better. We talked about me hiking out 9 miles to St. Mary village and they guys talked about hiking out with me. We made no plans and decided to see how things were in the morning.
A huge bull moose walked by our tents and waded out into the lake for aqua grazing. He put his head and rack underwater (except for his ears) and would stay down for 30 seconds. Once he brought his head up and shook it, water going everywhere. It was incredible.
This morning MAV told me that he wanted to hike out with me and I was so relieved. We hiked the 9 miles to St Mary and had a good lunch. We took the shuttle to East Glacier where we both have rooms. Max and Hammer hiked on and I’ll see them here Saturday. I have a comfortable place to stay and rest. I have a good book to read.
I know I’ve said this many times, but I feel that it is worth repeating since it is a notion that is so poignant, especially right now. Surrounding circumstances can change in a heartbeat, on and off the trail. I find solace in the metaphor that is the trail. A living, breathing, wild metaphor. The grizzly Max saw as he came around the bend. The bull moose shaking his rack in the ice cold glacial lake. Calves and thighs, sore from working hard to take body and mind to mountain tops and through roaring rivers, ultimately failing and placing me here, in a busy hostel, in a small tourist village and off the trail.
Is it a failing? Maybe. It feels like one. Part of me wants to say I failed. Or that I didn’t do what I said I was going to do. Which brings me back to the metaphor and the comfort and relief I find within it. Everything changes. All the time. The change that took me off the trail also takes me on a new adventure. So now I will develop a new plan, a loose plan, and enjoy some time traveling around the country and seeing what I can see. I can accept this change.
June 14 2019 Crooked Creek Campground, Canada CDT southbound mile 0
I am camped in a beautiful small campground in Canada just a few miles north of the Chief Mountain terminus of the CDT. I was going to start the trail in Waterton Park and hike in from there but MAV, who got the permit for us to go through Glacier National Park, had to work out some issues with our permit and campsites. So we have to start hiking at Chief Mt. I’m here with Hammer and Max. It is beautiful, a little rainy, kind of hot then nice and cool. So essentially the weather is all over the place. We start hiking south on the CDT tomorrow. And right now that is all that matters.
June 15 Gable Creek Campsite, Chief Mountain Alternate mile 7
Birdie, MAV’s wife, dropped us off the border and we walked across back into the States. It was a nice feeling. I am restarting this long hike but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I’m just out for a bit, to go for a hike for awhile. The vast swath of miles that lies ahead of me does not register. Right now I just hiking with friends, and we’re in a beautiful place. It has taken me thousands of miles to get to a place where I view the trail and my hike in this manner. I feel like I am leveling up. Big time.
Because of the permit system we have to stay in designated campsites every night. So our daily miles today and tomorrow are very small. I’m totally ok with that. Today we took a couple of long breaks and during one break in a nice meadow tow CDT hikers approached us. Moonshine and Piya chatted with us for some time and Moonshine recognized me from the AT last June. He looked totally different then, but I knew I had seen that hat somewhere: Vibes Por Favor. Earlier this year he had had a harrowing experience on trail and was missing for a few days. It was nice to see him happy and safe. The hiking community is close knit, and when something happens to a hiker, we all feel it.
I made it to our camp around 3pm, and were quite pleased that we were able to stretch out the day. While I was eating dinner I met Kiddo and Top Natch, two Triple Crowners who are camping here, working with a guiding group. We chatted trail and Kiddo gave me some good advice for upcoming alternates and routes.
We have a short day again tomorrow, and we have a waterfall to check out so that’s nice.
Oh, and I saw a grizzly 10 minutes into the hike today. It was taking a nap in the grass 10 feet from the trail. It saw us but did not care about us one bit.
June 16 Elizabeth Lake Head Campsite Chief Mt. Alternate mile 11
Dawn Mist Falls was otherworldly. I felt like I was transported back in time. Watching the water being pushed and pulled off the cliff and into a pool was mesmerizing. The color of the water, lighter than turquoise. The mist flung out from the pounding water up into the air to be carried to tree leaves and rocks. And me.
I had a leisurely walk down to Elizabeth Lake and along the lake to our campsite for the night. I’m super early but here I lounging against a log, watching the clouds move over the mountains, listening to the guys talking as they play Zip Chip (look it up). There were two bald eagles about 100 years away, perched on the top on pine trees. Lots of trout jumping up out of the water. And me jumping in. To fix my inflatable sleeping pad. I learned that I had a leak two nights ago and now that I was near a body of water where I could submerge my pad and find the leak. After about 10 minutes I found it, marked it with my Sharpie and brought it back to the tent to dry it off and patch it up. So far so good.
Then I saw two swans cruising around the lake near our campsite. Perfect.
June 17 Many Glacier Campground CDT mile 34.5
I hiked 20 miles today to get back onto the official CDT route. I climbed over Red Gap Pass, which was very challenging and rewarding; I saw one male mountain goat and five females. I also saw what I believed was a snowshoe hare. Many ground squirrels and chipmunks.
While I was hiking today I thought of all kinds of interesting things to write about today but right now, resting in my tent with a burger in my belly, I’m just content and very tired. I worked hard today and this is my reward.
Yesterday I hiked out with OB and Max and within an hour I knew it was a mistake. However, I passively let my mind go through the motions that lead to decision making. I did not want to decision make. I wanted what I wanted: to hike. And I hiked. Slowly, painfully. OB and Max would wait for me and then I’d watch them get further ahead of me. Which is fine, but this was not our usual hiking style. I was not hiking my usual hiking style.
Around 2pm after I had tried to hike in my Crocs a decision made itself clear. An option. To take a break from the trail and let my foot heal at my folks place. To get better shoes. As I was taking a break with the guys we were talking about the snow levels north of Cuba and the Ghost Ranch and the decision solidified into a plan of action. A huge wave of relief washed over me once I realized that I could potentially solve two issues (foot pain, snow) with one action. That certainly appealed to the Capricorn in me.
Snow is something I take seriously. And something many locals have been talking about is avalanche danger. And lots of snow. One in the same. I listen to locals with a keen ear, more so than other hikers in many cases. I am not a mountaineer and I do not have the skill to use an ice axe in a situation that would call for it. I don’t know how to read snow for avalanche danger. And I don’t carry the gear required for snow camping.
Once I got to the water cache maintained by Carol and Hugo Mumm, I stopped. Carol had texted me and said that Hugo would pick me up in an hour or so. I hung out with the guys as they set up their tents. Somehow if felt wrong not to be setting up my tent too. But I had made a decision that I knew was right in my bones.
Hugo picked me up and I said goodbye to OB and Max. I’m going to miss those guys. We’ve become pretty close over the last week or so and I just love hiking with them. I love how we all support each other and respect each other as humans and hikers. I would trust them with my life.
I know they are going to have a great rest of their hike and I hope I run into them
again this summer, somewhere down the trail.
Hugo and I restocked another water cache on Mt. Taylor and then he dropped me at the Super 8. Another motel instead of a tent. Soon, I tell myself, the tent will be home again.
I got a ride to the train station in Albuquerque from another local trail angel Mac. Mac is a surgeon who lives in town and helps out hikers. We talked trail, hikers, travel and more for the hour drive into town. I tried to give him gas money but he refused. At the risk of sounding repetitive, the kindness of strangers impresses and humbled me every time. Every time.
I sat with three fellow passengers for dinner and one of them had walked the Camino and we all talked about the film The Way, which is one of my favorites. We talked about how wonderful people can be, and how liberating it is to just walk.
I felt like I was sitting with three hikers.
May 14 Colombia, Missouri
I am waiting. Waiting for the snow to melt. Waiting for my plantar fasciitis to lighten up a bit. But it doesn’t feel like waiting. There’s lots to do here. Colombia is full of walking and hiking trails, some of which run across the state. Today I walked 9 miles into town and back. It felt good until the last mile or so. My foot feels good now as I write this in the evening and so I’m hoping that in a couple of weeks I’ll be ready to return to the CDT in northern CO or southern WY.
Tomorrow my dad and I are going to do a 20 mile bike ride. My cruiser bike that I got when I lived in Astoria is here, so I’ll ride that. This is very exciting to me and since the trail is essentially flat I can just go! It’ll be fun.
I’ve also had the chance to spend some quality time with my brother which is important to me since we don’t see each other often. Same with my folks. I was hoping to get a chance to see them when I started the trail but I just couldn’t figure out how to make it happen.
And then the trail provided.
Although I wish I was at home with Keith I am content to wait, as it were, here with the activities (and animals!) available.