Odyssey 2011 Journals

Wednesday—May 4, 2011
Trail Day—01
Trail Mile—13
Location—Bass’ Resort

I wanted to get on the trail Monday, but a call to Bass’ Resort ended those plans—flooding on the Courtois Creek, major flooding.  Their canoe operation is completely shut down.  It was time to wait it out—’cause the trail fords the Courtois Creek twice in the first 14 miles!

Decided today to go for it.  It worked out, but it wasn’t a really smart idea.

The Ozark Trail begins at Onandaga State Park, just the other side of the Meramec River bridge, then heads into the Mark Twain National Forest.  Joyce has brought me here, and as we walk over to the bridge, fright comes to her face (I’m a bit taken, too).  The river is raging, not out of its banks, but just a huge swell of rushing, roiling water.  I’ve got to ford one of its larger tributaries, the Courtois.  The state road department had just removed the barricades at the low water ford on the Huzzah, still hubcap deep, where the Courtois enters it, so we knew the Courtois would be up.

Five miles out the trail comes to the Courtois.  It really rolling—swift and deep.  This is a canoe access point, so Joyce has been able to drive down.  One of the toughest goodbyes I’ve ever had to make.  Half way across and in the incredible turbulence clear above my waist, I’m no longer able to maintain my footing.  The hydraulic force is washing the gravel from beneath my feet—and I’m moving downstream rapidly.  Fortunately I’m able to still thrust myself sideways while remaining upright, and in what seems a very long time I’m out of the current and am able to regain my footing.  Over the years I’ve made some pretty scary stream crossings.  This one will remain in my memory for a long, long time!  A final wave goodbye to Joyce and I’m off to another amazing adventure.

The remainder of the day is uneventful.  I see two turkey, and one turkey hunter.  The trail is most pleasant to hike.  Some ups and downs, a bit of mud from all the recent rain, but a most pleasant hike on in to Bass’ Resort.


I wanted to get on the trail Monday, but a call to Bass’ Resort ended those plans—flooding on the Courtois Creek, major flooding.  Their canoe operation is completely shut down.  It was time to wait it out—’cause the trail fords the Courtois Creek twice in the first 14 miles!

Decided today to go for it.  It worked out, but it wasn’t a really smart idea.

The Ozark Trail begins at Onandaga State Park, just the other side of the Meramec River bridge, then heads into the Mark Twain National Forest.  Joyce has brought me here, and as we walk over to the bridge, fright comes to her face (I’m a bit taken, too).  The river is raging, not out of its banks, but just a huge swell of rushing, roiling water.  I’ve got to ford one of its larger tributaries, the Courtois.  The state road department had just removed the barricades at the low water ford on the Huzzah, still hubcap deep, where the Courtois enters it, so we knew the Courtois would be up.

Five miles out the trail comes to the Courtois.  It really rolling—swift and deep.  This is a canoe access point, so Joyce has been able to drive down.  One of the toughest goodbyes I’ve ever had to make.  Half way across and in the incredible turbulence clear above my waist, I’m no longer able to maintain my footing.  The hydraulic force is washing the gravel from beneath my feet—and I’m moving downstream rapidly.  Fortunately I’m able to still thrust myself sideways while remaining upright, and in what seems a very long time I’m out of the current and am able to regain my footing.  Over the years I’ve made some pretty scary stream crossings.  This one will remain in my memory for a long, long time!  A final wave goodbye to Joyce and I’m off to another amazing adventure.

The remainder of the day is uneventful.  I see two turkey, and one turkey hunter.  The trail is most pleasant to hike.  Some ups and downs, a bit of mud from all the recent rain, but a most pleasant hike on in to Bass’ Resort.

Thursday—May 5, 2011
Trail Day—02
Trail Mile—20/33
Location—SR-8 Trailhead

Joyce had slacked my ten-days food supply down to Bass’ Resort yesterday, so that saved me lugging it.  Kind folks at Bass’—Thanks!

Another pretty much uneventful day, save the fording at Lost Creek.  Another very scary deal.  The creek is within its banks, but it’s a wild thing.  Take my time searching upstream, downstream—for a decent crossing.  Finally choose a section of rapids, a wide area, the turbulence spread out some.  Knee deep—no real problem.  Just, I’m an old man.  Doesn’t take all that much to get my heart really pumpin’ anymore!

Surprised to find I’m able to get cell phone reception out here—one or two bars most of the ridgetops.  I give Joyce a call late afternoon.  “Raining there?” she asks.  “Pouring here.”  Well, no time it clouds up, the wind starts howling, and the rain’s right behind.

Grab some water (no problem, it’s everywhere), find a flat spot down from the ridge, and get pitched just in time.  Rains all night.

Friday—May 6, 2011

Trail Day—03

Trail Mile—2/45

Location—Hazel Creek Campground

Ended up staying in my tent over 13 hours last night.  No problem—I sure needed the rest.  No rush getting out this morning, either.  Everything soaked, and there’s a good bit of chill on.  I finally manage to get going around eight.

The sun is up, and by late morning things start drying out some.  More creek crossings, but no problem like the past two days.  Snapps Branch, a crossing I’d been concerned about, I find is spring fed, not far up from the ford, so it’s running normal.  Meet the first folks on the trail right at the crossing.  Jim and Paul.  They’re from Kansas hill country (yes, there are hills in Kansas)—here to do some day hiking on the Ozark Trail.  Jim is originally from Pennsylvania, Paul from Minnesota.  We talk about the trails in their respective home states—and about their hopes and desires to become long-distance backpackers sometime in the future.  Pretty sure I sold a couple pair of New Balance shoes.  An enjoyable time, great to finally see someone else on this trail.

I reach Hazel Creek Campground a little after noon.  Time to take a good, long break, dry my wet gear, and work on journal entries (yes, I’m already behind on journal entries).

Being early afternoon, I decide to hike on past my designated stop for today, Hazel Creek Campground.  I’ve another stream crossing of concern just up ahead, the ford at Hazel Creek.  In my Ozark Trail Guide Hazel Creek is described as “…one of the larger creek crossings on the Ozark Trail.  It is considered a major permanently flowing creek.”  No problem, though, as I’m able to cross right where the trail crosses—fast moving water, but not the least above my knees, an easy go of it, compared to what I’ve had to deal with so far.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the flooding is behind me now.

Before reaching Trace Creek, my phone rings.  Hey, it’s Gordon, Gordon Smith, the kind hiker-support fellow who’s helped me the past three hiking seasons.  “Where are you?” he asks.  Ah, I know what this means!  This means he’s come to support me again this year.  And it’s true.  Gordon isn’t more than five miles from me, at the next road crossing.  It’s absolutely uncanny.  I don’t know how he does it, how he’s able to track me down.  But he does.  I pick up my pace, trek on down to CR-DD, where Gordon’s patiently waiting.  What pure joy seeing this dear friend again.  For sure it’s a hootin’ happy time!

Early evening yet, with not terribly far to go to get back to Eldon, we decide to head there—to get gear and other things needed for Gordon to again support me.

Joyce is surprised to see me back so soon—and very happy.  The goodbye at Courtois Creek was not a pleasant time.  Returning to see her now, a very good thing.

We’re in Eldon before eleven.  An amazing day, just an amazing day!

Saturday—May 7, 2011
Trail Day—04
Trail Mile—24/69
Location—CR-A Trailhead

Another long day today.  First thing, get the van setup with all the “stuff” needed for the next two months, then the three-hour return trip to the trail—then hike the remaining twelve miles of the Trace Creek Section.

Joyce is up early, as usual, fixing us breakfast.  Laundry to do, mine and Gordon’s. Seems to take forever. We’re not headed back south until eleven.

I finally have my pack up and Gordon sends me down the trail at two.  A blue-perfect day—cool, just the least breeze.  Not a cloud in the sky. Lots more up and downs again, some long climbs, some in excess of a thousand feet. Evening, as I arrive camp, Gordon’s got everything set up for supper. Been a long, tough day, for sure.

Less than half- an-hour and I’ve got my little space in the back of the van pretty much squared away. Time to do a little on this journal entry. Alarm set for six-thirty. We’re both out!

Sunday—May 8, 2011
Trail Day—05
Trail Mile—15/84
Location—Johnson Shut-Ins State Park

First night back in the van in a long time worked great—such a blessing having support, such a blessing!

Gordon has me out and hiking shortly after seven.  Today’s hike, on in to Johnson’s Shut-Ins will be but 15 miles, but I expect them to be slow, hard miles. Today I’ll climb to the highest point on the Ozark Trail (the OT doesn’t go over Taum Sauk Mountain), plus there will be much climbing—and rocks. This scenic area I’ll trek today comprises the Bell Mountain Wilderness and the Goggins Mountain Wild Area. Combined, they make up the largest tract of wilderness in Missouri.

And pretty much as expected—does the day turn. A tough, slow day, for sure. At the road crossing on CR-N the forest service sign there cautions about allowing eight hours to hike that 11 mile section.  Sure don’t feel at all bad now about taking five hours to get through. The remainder of the day, the short hike on in to the Shut-Ins is an easy go.

One of the reasons I wanted to hike around this eastern loop—in addition to the western main trail route, is to see the Shut-Ins. Right decision—a natural wonder—Black River making its way through the rocks. Being Sunday, and the warmest day so far this year, lots of families enjoying the park.

Decision is to hike the remaining section of the Taum Sauk Trail from west to east, so late afternoon, Gordon drives us around to the SR-21 Trailhead where I prepare our supper—then call it a day.

Monday—May 9, 2011
Trail Day—06
Trail Mile—18/102
Location—SR-21 Trailhead

I’d decided to hike the remaining section of the Taum Sauk from west to east, for a number of reasons, one being—the Ozark Trail Guide describes it from west to east. So after finishing at Johnson’s Shut-Ins last evening, Gordon drove us down to the SR-21 Trailhead, where we camped for the night. So, this morning I put my pack on and head toward Johnson’s Shut-Ins one more time.

I was expecting this section to be really slow, rough, going, but I’m handling the climbs very well as my legs are definitely coming back under me. Plenty of rocks, though, but they aren’t that big a deal.

By nine I’m standing at the highest point in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain. Gordon is waiting my arrival. Time for a video and some pics.

The remainder of the day back into Johnson’s Shut-ins is uneventful. Just a bit of excitement 100 yards from the end of the hike—crossing Black River. Take my time finding a good spot to ford. Turns out to be an easy crossing!

On our way back to SR-21 Trailhead we stop at the little mom-n-pop restaurant in Lesterville for hand-dipped ice cream. Lights out right away at the trailhead!

Tuesday—May 10, 2011
Trail Day—07
Trail Mile—20/122
Location—Marble Creek Campground

Yesterday I completed another section of the Ozark Trail, the Taum Sauk. Hiking the Taum Sauk was the purpose in coming around and down this east side.  And I certainly am glad I did. The Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk Mountain, more than worth the time.

I’ve trekked a whole bunch of trail in my time that had been totally destroyed, that the forest service and volunteers had gone out and brought back. But I can tell you that I’ve never seen nor hiked trail anywhere that had been so completely devastated as the northern Taum Sauk. Literally thousands of trees had been blown down across the trail. But it’s all been cleared out. Just amazing the work that’s been done. I thoroughly enjoyed hiking the rebuilt section—thanks to all who worked to make my hike through such a joy, thanks!

So, today I begin (and end) another Ozark Trail section, the Marble Creek. It’s out there by itself, isolated and cut off from the other sections, so a roadwalk to get to it, then another to get to the next section after—will be necessary.

And Gordon has me out and moving on the road at six-thirty. Looks to be the makings for another fine hiking day.

The truckers and folks hurrying to work have time to move over, to give me some room—all are most kind. To get to the Marble Creek Section I hike the roads for some 12 miles. Not the least unpleasant time, and the time passes quickly.

The Marble Creek Section, though short (only eight miles), is a very enjoyable hike—the perfect trail to bring the scout troop. Some climbing, but not too much. Some rocks, but not too many. And just the right length.

An interesting situation, the roadwalk out from Marble Creek—my roadwalk route out of here will cross my trail path!  First thing tomorrow morning I’ll cross where I hiked through at quarter-to-twelve today.

The trek for today is finished early, I’ve good energy remaining, so decision is to start the roadwalk toward Sam A. Baker State Park. Back in the Mark Twain National Forest we find a large, flat, area (fire ring included) and call it a day—24 miles for the day. My legs have definitely come back under me—one more time. Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday—May 11, 2011
Trail Day—08
Trail Mile—22/144
Location—Sam A. Baker State Park

The hike went quite well yesterday, so I was able to hike on out of Marble Creek Campground—for another four miles.

This morning I’ve a roadwalk down to SR-143, then another on to Sam A. Baker State Park. The hike goes fine until I reach CR-165. My DeLorme and Gordon’s Garmin Navigator both show the road going on through to SR-143—but it doesn’t. Gordon had gone down the washed out, rutty two-track only a short distance before he managed to get turned around. I knew we had a problem when I see him coming back. “It ends at an old house with a bunch of dogs.” he tells me. “Great!  I’ll make it through somehow; it’s less than two miles to the highway—you go around.” I tell him.

Oh yes, dogs, eight or ten, and they all want a piece of me. Learned a long time ago not to let the pack break up and flank me. When the old leader tries to get around behind me, I go straight at him with both sticks—and get him stopped. He tucks tail and heads back toward the shack, the pack following. The two-track turns to a washed out drainage full of gravel and sand, and in less than 500 yards, ends abruptly at Crane Pond Creek. I search upstream and down but there’s no evidence of any “road” leaving the creek on the far bank.  Wasting no more time I ford the creek at a rapids section and climb the far bank. Working my way through brush and flood tangle I come to a field fence. Across the fence I find a two-track and follow it in the downstream direction to a gate. Through the gate I come to a little-used woodsroad—which finally leads me to the highway. In the meantime, Gordon has found a way around, and I no more reach SR-143 than he’s right behind me.

From studying the forest service maps for the Wappapello Section, it’s evident I’ll be able to hike very little of it. Gordon made a call to the Corps of Engineers a couple of days ago and was told that when Lake Wappapello is above 362 feet MSL, that most of the trail along the lake would be underwater. He was also told that the lake level was currently at 397 feet MSL!  That puts the trail under 35 feet of floodwater in many places. Time to come up with an alternate plan—and that plan is to roadwalk around the inundated sections. So, first, it’s continue on down SR-143 to SR-34. SR-34 had been closed until yesterday, and today, traffic is backed up while workers remove huge sandbags from the road shoulders. I hike right on through!

Two of the roads we’d planned on taking, CR-FF and  CR-380 are both  closed, due to flooding. So it’s across the Saint Francois to US-67, then down 67 to a section of the Wap I may be able to hike just south of Greenville.

I end this day—and the roadwalk, at US-67 Trailhead—a 34-mile day.

Thursday—May 12, 2011

Trail Day—09

Trail Mile—43/187

Location—CR-402 Wrangler Trailhead/Campground

No, I didn’t hike 43 miles today!  Here’s how this mileage thing works: My itinerary (just click that heading on the Odyssey 2011 page), the days, the mileages listed there, those I follow regardless. Once I’ve reached or passed a listed location, then the mileage to that particular point is taken for the day. If I’ve hiked past a location but haven’t yet reached the next, that additional mileage isn’t added. As with today, two locations have been passed, one almost reached yesterday, plus another today. So, actually, I hiked around 25 miles this day. It isn’t really a big deal. I do like to keep track, though—and the daily variations pretty much pan out in the end.

Forecast is for rain today, and as I get out and going, appears it won’t be long. Yup, less than three miles out and I’m soaked.

From the US-67 Trailhead, taking the alternate route (the one above and away from the lake), I’m able to hike my first section of the Wappapello. This and two other short sections are the only ones not affected by the high water. The alternate trail is in fine shape, but the other two I’m able to hike have not been cleared of blowdowns and brush in quite awhile, so the going has been slow. Coming out of the last section, a kind lady, Lois, stops to find out what I’m doing and where I’m going. She knows about the Ozark Trail, but is surprised to hear how far I’ve come.

By noon the rain clears out and the sun comes to stay the rest of the day. More roadwalking the highway, some county and forest service roads, and I’m into a new section, the Victory Horse Trail. By late afternoon I’ve trekked the first part, down to Black River. More highway and county roads and by late evening I’ve reached Wrangler Trailhead.

What is it with all these box turtles—I’ve seen ten today!

Another long but enjoyable hike.

Spaghetti for supper.

Friday—May 13, 2011
Trail Day—10
Trail Mile—18/205
Location—SR-V Brushy Creek Trailhead

Hard rain nearly all night. Much thunder and lightning. It’s quit now (six o’clock) but looks of it, there’s more to come.

The  part of this Victory Horse Trail leading out from the trailhead is supposedly closed, but there’s no notice posted, so I head in. Not a really great idea. A couple-hundred yards down the trail comes to a “T.” There are Ozark Trail blazes leading both directions!  What to do? I go right. No more OT blazes, but at the next trail junction I begin following flattened pop and beer cans nailed up for blazes. These I follow for a good ways—until they give out—and I get lost. I set a waypoint for a nearby location and am fortunate to have trail (not OT) to take me there. Finally, the “closed” section behind me, I’m able to stay on trail, all the way to the end of the Victory Horse Trail section, at Brushy Creek.

It’s only two o’clock, plenty of afternoon left, so I head out on the Van Buren roadwalk. Short time and the thunder returns—and the rain.

Gordon remembers Simmons truckstop, about five miles away on US-60. Seems the rain has come to stay. So, we head for the truckstop. Gordon talks the kind folks into letting us park the van for the night. Hot food Deli (yippee—I don’t have to cook) and WIFI!

Have the remainder of the Van Buren roadwalk (around 15 miles) to do and that’ll be it for the eastern part of the OT loop.

Saturday—May 14, 2011
Trail Day—11
Trail Mile—23/228
Location—US-60 Trailhead Van Buren

The old fellow that owns Simmons Truckstop—Simmons is his name, kindly let us park the van at his place for the night. What luck! Ah, and am I ever mindful, the joy of having support. It is not a fading thing. A ride to the nearest hot food. A warm, dry place to sleep (off the wet ground), and light to work journal entries. Hey, and not to mention being able to daily leave most everything in the van. And the rain continues. Yes, just a true blessing. Thanks, Gordon, for caring. Thanks for being here for me!

Simmons opens his place at six. We’re right there for coffee, plus an egg-n-cheese biscuit, and a glazed roll—and more coffee. Free WIFI, so time to get a few entries emailed to CyWiz.

Today I’ll finish up the eastern leg of the OT loop. Sometime around two I should complete the Van Buren roadwalk. Just a short distance southwest of Van Buren the eastern segment of the OT loop connects back up with the western segment. There, after hiking down (the western segment), once again from the northern junction, I’ll continue on west/southwest to the Arkansas border.

Right at two, after nearly a full day on four-lane US-60, I reach the trailhead below Van Buren. A real iffy day, cold wind straight at me—jacket on, hood up, but the rain held off.

And my thoughts about the eastern trail segment? A number of things, I guess. First, I’m certainly glad I took time to hike it around. Had I gone on to the western segment, I would not have completed the Trace Creek Section, one of the best maintained and fun sections of all so far. You’ll recall my mentioning the reason for going around east was to see Johnson’s Shut-Ins and to climb Taum Sauk Mountain. Well worth the time and effort. The western part of Taum Sauk is one tough, rugged trail. Gained much satisfaction out of completing it. So, too, for the eastern part. Marble Creek is somewhat an orphan, roadwalk to get there, roadwalk out. But again a neat section to hike, and the roadwalks were not the least unpleasant. In previous journal entries I didn’t even mention the St. Francois River Section—because it’s a total roadwalk. Again, if you’ve followed along with this old intrepid the least time, you know I actually take pleasure in the roadwalks. St. Francois was a pleasant (and the least bit exciting) roadwalk. Sam A. Baker State Park is a lovely place. Any regrets would have to involve the Wappapello Section. No fault of the trail builders or maintainers. Just regret I had to roadwalk around the better part of it. As mentioned previously, most of the Wap is submerged, as deep as 35 feet some places. We were told that the most optimistic time frame in getting the reservoir level back down, drying out and cleaning up the trail—two months. So, roadwalks were it for most of the Wap. The Victory Section might be more correctly named The Victory Horse Trail Section. Not to deny the equestrians their rightful place—this section of trail is definitely better suited for them. The Victory was an okay hike, but with lack of consistent maintenance and blazing, it just didn’t prove great fun. And the 25+ miles of heavy-traffic roadwalk on into Van Buren—and this section not even named—guess I can see the reasoning for the western route.

Van Buren is a fine little trailtown. We’re holed-up this evening at the Hawthorne Motel. Great little mom-n-pop restaurant right across. Laundromat , library, and post office close by. It’s a strange feeling—being clean in clean clothes!

We’ll head north tomorrow, some 70 miles of driving back—to start down the Middle Fork Section, western segment, Ozark Trail. A bit over 200 miles behind me now—around 300 yet to go to reach the Arkansas border.  Thanks to all who work diligently to make the eastern segment, Ozark Trail, a premier hiking experience—thanks!

Sunday—May 15, 2011
Trail Day—12
Trail Mile—00/228
Location—South of SR-DD Trailhead, Barton Fen

Teddy, kind owner of Hawthorne Motel, asked me yesterday when we checked in if I’d been to Big Spring.  I said no.  When I took the room key back this morning he asked me the same question again—then grimaced when I again told him no.  So, first thing this morning (after breakfast) we head out to Big Spring.  Once here, we find much the same problem at Big Spring as for other rivers and streams—damage from flooding.  Quarter-mile from the spring the road is barricaded.  Half the pavement has been washed away.  Gordon parks the van, I get my camera, and walk down.

Oh my, is this a wonder to see, Big Spring!  Water is literally gushing straight up out of the boulders at the base of a cliff—just amazing.  A nearby sign explaining the spring says: “On an average day 288 million gallons of water flow from the spring.”  Ha, and we fret over a leaky faucet!

Well, Teddy, thanks for insisting I go see Big Spring; it was certainly time well spent!

Today is scheduled as a zero-mile day as time will be spent driving some 70 miles back up to where the Ozark Trail splits.  Gotta go back (now that the eastern leg of the trail is completed), to pick up the western leg and hike it down to Van Buren, it being the official route.

We make good time arriving DD Trailhead around eleven-thirty.  From the trailhead it’s a little over a mile in to where the trail splits.  I do that hike in, then turn around and head south (back out) on the Middle Fork Section of the trail.

Back once more at DD Trailhead, there’s time to get in a bit more hiking, so decision is to trek it on down to Barton Fen, a distance of some 12 miles.  Departing the trailhead I pause to read the tribute to John Roth, founder of the Ozark Trail Association.  This Middle Fork Section is named in his honor.

And what an impressive section.  Great trail layout, extremely well designed and constructed tread.  Wide, clear path.  No blowdowns, no brush—and marked so anyone could follow.  By a little after five I reach CR-79, the fen, where Gordon is waiting.

Been raining pretty much steady all day.  I’m soaked and cold.  The warm, dry van—such a luxury for this tired old hiker!

Monday—May 16, 2011
Trail Day—13
Trail Mile—19/247
Location—Crossing at Little Creek

A pretty miserable time last evening. It had rained on me most of the day and was still coming down steady when I arrived Neals Creek Road, the road just before Barton’s Fen, where Gordon was waiting—and where I called it a day (just short on the next itinerary/location click).  Waited patiently for the cold rain to let up, and it finally did. Then I climbed back out of the van, set everything up, and began preparing supper. Yup, right in the middle of working supper, more rain, cold, wind-driven rain.  Was in the process of frying burgers, so had to stay with it. Soaked, cold and soaked. Got grub dished up and we both jumped in the van, but it was way too late. What a mess, an absolute glorious mess.

Six in the morning now and I’m back out trying to clean up. Everything in the food bin is soaked. Ditto for the kitchen bin. Gordon and I just shrug at each other, then straighten up, and clean up, best we can.

A short distance on down this morning, at CR-J I’ll complete another section of the Ozark Trail, the Middle Fork (of the Black River) Section. So, this morning I hike on into the Karkaghne Section.  The day begins pleasant enough, especially through and just beyond the fen, but when I hit the Karkaghne, this being an older section, and having been dealt much use, it’s a rocky, root-crossed mud-bog for much the remainder of the day.

Just before eight this morning, near a small brook crossing, I saw three hikers. Well, actually, I don’t see them. They were still in their tents (3).  I assumed they were hikers—no mountain bikes or horses around. Later today I saw four folks on horseback. More people on the trail than any other day so far (save all the families at Johnson’s Shut-Ins).

The Karkaghne has also suffered unbelievable storm damage, looks of it, most occurred five or so years ago. The blowdowns have been cleared, hundreds and hundreds of them, but with the open canopy, brush is thriving, making for a very narrow path.

All the side-slabbing, the rocks, roots, mud-bogging—and tired, weary legs from hammering the concrete (on US-60) the other day, and I’m happy to call this day done. Gordon’s waiting at the Black River overlook, the paved road there—this is it for today.

Tuesday—May 17, 2011
Trail Day—14
Trail Mile—20/267
Location—Bee Fork Crossing

The view down across the West Fork, Black River, from Sutton Bluff, our campsite last was most picturesque. The road to Sutton Bluff Recreation Campground is wide and paved, but from the time we set camp, around five, then all night—and this morning as I hike the pavement down to the Black River Bridge, not a single vehicle has passed. Guess that’s because the campground hasn’t yet opened for the season. And perhaps the reason the campground isn’t open yet is because temperatures are still getting down in the high thirties, low forties at night!

Going to be another great hiking day—as soon as my fingers finally warm up. Oh, and my knees turned very painful late yesterday afternoon. Most likely the soreness stems from the pounding they took hiking the concrete shoulder some 20+ miles into Van Buren the other day.

Across the Black river Bridge the trail immediately climbs back to the bluff. A special place here, the sheer bluff, the meandering Black just below. Neat overlook, complete with bench to stop, rest, and enjoy the Ozarks—their serenity, their unequaled beauty.

Sad but true, this great section of trail is being neglected, much brush, the trail overgrown. Perhaps I’m here too early. Hopefully, when the campground opens, probably around Memorial Day, the trail will be groomed for the summer.

Reaching Bee Fork, a major tributary to the West Fork, I’m immediately taken by the damage and destruction from recent flooding. No way to ford the creek at the existing trail approach. At this point the riverbank is completely undercut, a sheer drop-off of over six feet. And there’s a pool near the drop-off, looks to be over my head in depth. Searching upriver, through the flood debris and tangle, I finally find a place to descend the bank. At this wide spot there are rapids (less than two feet deep) where I might ford safely. Taking my good time, the crossing proves uneventful.

Once across, the fun begins. A fierce storm, perhaps four or five years ago, wrought near-total destruction to the forest. What trees were not uprooted were topped out or twisted like pretzels. And through this devastation goes the trail. Blowdowns have been cleared, an amazing accomplishment, but the trail has not been maintained. It’s apparent no one’s been through this section for a very long time. I’ve considerable trouble staying on trail—and out of rootwad holes. A very dangerous place.

The grown-over trail goes on for what seems like miles. Progress is slow to not at all at times. For the longest while I keep hearing some kind of machinery in the distance. As I continue along, the sound gets louder and louder. Finally, I come to cleared trail—and a fellow sharpening his Pulaski. Here I meet Cam Lockwood, owner of Trails Unlimited, a trail building firm from California. And such an amazing circumstance, as I know of Trails Unlimited, since I’ve hiked literally hundreds of miles of trail built by them out west. What a pleasure meeting the man behind those great trails!  As I continue along the freshly built trail I meet Keith, the operator of the trail building machine I’d been hearing.

A short distance further, along the finest just-built trail I reach the road intersection where Gordon is waiting. After a three-hour break to rest my aching knees, I trek on to SR-TT, where I call it a day, a painfully slow—and painful day.

Wednesday—May 18, 2011
Trail Day—15
Trail Mile—22/289
Location—Blair Creek

Both my knees have become painful and very weak. I’ve doubled up on my enteric coated aspirin, Osteo Bi-Flex and Sports Meds, with some benefit. I’ve cut my daily mileage back considerably, also. Yesterday I hike only 12 miles, and today around 13. Tomorrow I’ll hike the full day down to the Current River Bridge, but it’ll be a slow-go day for sure. I’d gotten well over a full day ahead of schedule, but that’s all pretty much slipped away now.

Not all that exciting a day today, not like yesterday, what with the hike above Sutton Bluff, the Bee Fork ford, and meeting Cam and Keith with Trails Unlimited.

Actually it’s been a bit of a discouraging day as I head on into the Blair Creek Section. I’d expected to perhaps see a few folks around the Blair Creek Fen, but I was the only one around. In fact, from the appearance and condition of the trail, I’d say I’m the only one that’s been through the fen area in quite awhile. At the sign-in kiosk, no cards, register, nothing. When I opened the lid on the registration box, a bunch of wasps flew out. The trail is not being used—no mountain bikes, no horses, no hikers. What with all the uncleared blowdowns, it’d be very difficult to even make it through on bike or horseback. The trail here is simply not being maintained. Yes, a real disappointment, for sure.

I manage to hike on past Blair Creek for a ways, to the road crossing at P-283, where Gordon is waiting. That’ll shorten the day up a bit tomorrow, but not by much. Knees are weak and sore, very sore.

Good old spaghetti for supper. Yup, rained on us while cooking—one more time!

Thursday—May 19, 2011
Trail Day—16
Trail Mile—19/308
Location—Powder Mill Trailhead/Campground

The rain let up yesterday just as expected—right after supper. Gordon said it rained some during the night, but I didn’t hear a thing. Alarm set for five-thirty, so we’re up before sunrise. I’m expecting this to be a very long, difficult day—around 18 miles. A short day as most hiking days go, but with both my knees bummed up, I’ll be lucky to average half my usual pace—so gotta get out and moving early.

From where I begin this morning, P-283, it’s just a short distance to the Pioneer Backcountry registration kiosk.  This section of trail has had a little more traffic than Blair Fen. Last entry in the log was three days ago.

I’m having a difficult time getting going. My knees are stiff and very sore. I’ve dealt with this knee thing during other treks, but not both knees at the same time. With such a long day, probably around 11 hours with pack up, I pray my knees will keep going.

The excitement today comes at Blair Creek. Just past Harper Spring/spring house ruins, the trail crosses Jims Creek. Just the other side the trail leaves the gravel road. I miss the turn and keep to the road. After a quarter-mile or so, seeing no blazes, I take my guide out to check. Oh yes, missed the turn. What to do—turn around and go back, or figure another way?  Ha, you know the old Nomad—turn around—no way!

Reading my guide I see that the trail crosses Blair Creek some three mile on down. The road I’m on is following the creek. Just stay the road an it’ll all work out fine, right? WRONG! The road stays the creek alright. Actually, it crosses the creek, then crosses it again, and again—and so on—I finally quit counting at six! Less than a mile-and-a-half from where the trail crosses (according to my GPS guidebook waypoint) the road crosses to the other side of the creek again, to connect with another road. At the junction I go right, back toward Blair Creek. At the creek, the road ends. Folks on quads have crossed the creek, beat around the brush some, but that’s it. According to my GPS, I’m still half a mile from the trail crossing. Okay smart guy, now what? No way beating my way through the flood tangle and brush either side. So, what about the creekbed itself? You’ve been across it plenty, never got in above your knees, why not just hike down the creek half a mile? Hey, this is working. The creek is wide and shallow, and pretty much straight. No big snags or anything blocking my way. Well, this is a hoot! GPS reads .41, checking again, .32. Dang, I’m getting there, and wading downstream is an easy deal. .24, .12, 450 feet. Rope hanging from a tree—nice little swimming hole—and there’s the crossing, exactly on waypoint.  Made it; I’m here. A pure blast!

The climb up and out of Pioneer Backcountry is steep and long, some 400 feet of up. Sore knees seem to handle ups better than downs, but by the time I reach the ridge, I’m tired and weary—and still have over five miles to go before reaching the van at the Current River Bridge.

Gordon had told me about the spectacular views from the bluff above the Current River. By the time I get there the rain has stopped (oh yes, it’s rained most the afternoon) and the sun’s come out to give perfect light to the scene.

It’s five by the time I reach the bridge. Eleven hours to go a little over 17 miles. Yup, a very long, slow day. My knees made it through, somehow. Thank you, Lord!

Friday—May 20, 2011
Trail Day—17
Trail Mile—00/308
Location—CR-NN (on the way to Mint Spring, next itinerary click)

Yesterday evening right as we were finishing supper a raggedy old van pulled into the Powder Mill Trailhead—right by us. Young, shiny-faced lad, big smile. “Is this the Ozark Trail parking area?”  he asked. Gordon turned from his butterscotch pudding—”We’re doing the trail and this is where we’re parked for the night.” Gordon’s reply. So the lad pulls off and parks. Kid’s name is Ron, from near Nashville. On his first big adventure, headed west—”Kansas, the Rockies in Colorado, northern California, maybe the Olympics if the money holds out.” Ear-to-ear grin the whole time.

Ron’s all set up for camping, either in his van or on the trail. Kayak strapped to the van roof. Fun conversation as he heated up a can of spaghettios for supper. Short of it, he’s got the map for the Current River Section, Ozark Trail, and plans to backpack some of it. I invited him to hike out with me this morning.

Little after seven we’re ready to hit the trail. Pleasant, clear morning. Not a cloud in the sky. But Gordon knows better what’s up for the afternoon. A storm system, a good-sized storm system. Since I’ve planned for only an eight-mile day, we’ll hopefully get in before the storm hits.

I’d warned Ron about my blown-out knees and that my pace would be very, very slow. Doesn’t seem to bother the energetic lad as I stumble along, less than half my usual pace. It’s a real treat having someone to hike with. I truly love the serenity of the forest, but it tends to become a bit lonely at times. We thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, sharing and exchanging thoughts.

This northern stretch of the Current River Section is quite scenic, a most enjoyable hike. We’d hoped for bluff views back down to the Current, but instead, get to explore a couple of delightful creeks, a small shut-in (rapids in the rocks) and the old mill, Klepzig Mill, on Rocky Creek. Before one, the hike is over as we reach the van at CR-NN.

With the weather system that’s soon to arrive (it’s already beginning to cloud up) Ron has decided to head on out to Kansas. We load and Gordon runs him back to his van at Powder Mill Trailhead. Just a grand time with this fine young man. Gordon and I both wish him happy trails, and wide, safe passage. It was our pleasure meeting and sharing a bit of time with you, Ron!

Eight miles, only eight miles today.  How long’s it been since I’ve hiked no more than eight miles!  But for today, both my knees blown out, eight miles is way plenty. Oh yes, most hikers would have quit and gone home a couple days ago. The pain, the discouragement, the down-deep gut instinct of “I just can’t go on.” all of it, it just demoralizes you, slams you hard. Decisions I’ve made at times, I know—not too smart. Problem is: I’m no quitter, just ain’t in me to quit. So, I’ll struggle on. I pray for strength to continue best I can.  I also pray that my knees will heal and become strong again. I constantly remind myself, the words of Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest endurance athletes of our time. Lance is known to have said: “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” Ten or so miles tomorrow, fifteen Sunday—then we’ll see how it goes next week.

The rain comes again, stays all afternoon, pounding hard at times. It’s so good to be resting in the van, poor old knees up, and dry.

Overlooking the pain, sure enough it’s been a most enjoyable day.

Saturday—May 21, 2011
Trail Day—18
Trail Mile—00/308
Location—Still headed for Mint Spring (next itinerary click)

Ten miles or so yesterday, that was all my weak, sore knees could endure. Hours of daylight yet remained, but I could go no further. Rather, I spent a quiet, peaceful, afternoon in the van with my feet up. Thunderstorm(s) soon came again, wave after wave, bringing hard, steady rain. By the time the storms slacked off, it was too late to prepare supper. I did manage to get the food bin out and retrieve a loaf of bread for sandwiches before it started up again. Once the rain returned, it remained steady late into the night.

This morning it’s still overcast, but no rain, yet. I don’t get moving until after seven-thirty. It’ll be another slow, painful day as I’m having much trouble maintaining my balance moving forward, my sticks more useful as crutches.

Late morning I finally work some of the kinks out during the climb up Stegal Mountain.  Just as I near the summit, the sun begins making a show. Views from Stegal are glorious, near a 360 for the better part of 25 miles. Hey, four bars on my cell phone up here; able to call out!

Coming off the mountain the trail traverses Peck Ranch, lands managed by Missouri Conservation. However, I’ll be unable to enter as the trail is closed. Elk have been reintroduced in Peck and there’s to be no human presence, so I’ll have to take to the road around.

Lots of wildlife today, deer, turkey, turtles, countless songbirds, and a collared lizard. The lizard posed for a very neat close-up.

This has been the most painful day so far. The ten miles proved a really tough go. I should have reached Mint Spring yesterday, and I’m still not there. Perhaps tomorrow.

Sunday—May 22, 2011
Trail Day—19
Trail Mile—23/331
Location—Mint Spring

I managed to make it part way around Peck Ranch yesterday, a roadwalk. We stopped for the night where the ranch perimeter fence leaves the road. Today, I’ll have to hike the fenceline on down, around three miles, to where the trail exits the ranch to the south.

Sleep last was not only restless but fretful, much pain in both knees—plus worry about my ability to continue. Doubling up recently on my coated aspirin, then doubling up again (with a few ibuprofen thrown in for good measure) has helped not the least. The injury and pain are steadily getting worse, day-by-day. Additionally, I’ve started suffering dizziness along with much body weakness.

Plans were to trek the fifteen or so miles on down to US-60 today, to where the east and west legs of the Ozark Trail come back together. But as I depart this morning, in a slow, painful shuffle, it becomes quickly and readily apparent I’ll never make it. Much hesitancy in Gordon’s voice—his daily sendoff, “Have a good one, enjoy!”

It’s around six miles to Mint Spring. Somehow I manage, after nearly five hours on the trail. I should have passed the spring two days ago now. It’s a short climb up the ridge to a rutted-out forest service road. Gordon has somehow managed to find the trail crossing there. I stumble across the road, fall against the van, tears in my eyes.  No way I can go on.

Late afternoon now we’re headed back to Eldon. Hopefully, after a couple week’s rest my knees will mend. Then we’ll surely return to this delightful Ozark National Recreation Trail.



The Nimblewill Nomad was off the trail a couple of weeks, conferring with his doctor and allowing his knees some much needed time to heal. He is now back on the trail, the itinerary has been updated to reflect his current trail status, and the journal entries have begun again.



Friday—June 10, 2010
Trail Day—20
Trail Mile—00/331
Location—US-60 (Headed for Barren Creek)

Eighteen days I’ve been off the trail. Eighteen restless, fretful days of just sitting and waiting—for my old blown out knees to mend. Went to see Doc Tim (my sports med doctor) right away when I got home. He gave me a couple of shots, both knees, then an injection of the super-lube stuff way in under the kneecaps. Immediate relief for nearly all the pain. But I could still hardly walk. Crutched my way around the house for nearly two weeks. Finally last week the strength started coming back, and for the past six days I’ve been able to walk without aid of the crutch.

So here we are, back where I bailed out nearly three weeks ago, a little west of Van Buren, to give it another go. Pack up. Sticks in hand. Sure feels good!  I think I’m ready to resume this hike. “Have a good one, enjoy—and take it easy.” Big smile on Gordon’s face.

Next road crossing where Gordon can meet me is US-60, around six miles. Haven’t made plans for much after that. I’ll be happy to make it that far—pain free.

The hike is going well. Fine tread. Plenty of blazes—that is until I reach Pike Creek. It’s a formidable crossing. No problem with the ford. Problem: Where’s the trail on the other side?  There’s been extensive flooding earlier this year. The banks have been completely washed out in places. Brush and flood tangle everywhere. I finally locate a blaze, but still can’t follow the trail. Out of the flood area, and up a ways there’s a fence, and another blaze. From this point, up between fences, I’m finally back on track. Been hearing truck traffic from US-60 for the longest time—and finally reach the highway. Gordon is waiting patiently at the trailhead there.

It’s just a little past four, plenty of daylight left for hiking, but six miles, enough for today. Right knee’s doing fine, but the left has started tightening up, plus a bit of dull pain. Yup, time to haul ‘er down. Plenty of tomorrows to again hammer the long miles. I’m happy and quite content with my progress this first day back.

Thanks all, for your support, your encouragement; thanks your prayers.

Saturday—June 11, 2011
Trail Day—21
Trail Mile—19/350
Location—Barren Creek, then on to CR-167

It’s a pure joy to be back on the trail again. Not the best circumstances for me at the moment, but I’ll take it.

Yesterday I completed the Current River Section of the Ozark Trail. Took awhile but it’s behind me now. So too, the great loop, both the east and the west legs. Today I start heading south-southwest, along the Between the Rivers Section. Counting this section, I’ve three more to go (plus a fair bit of roadwalking) to complete my thru-hike o’er this Ozark Trail.

The first six miles of Between the Rivers Section have special meaning to Gordon, and as a result, and consequently, to me. Back when the Ozark Trail was being planned and built in this area, Gordon and his sister, Sue Ellen, lived nearby in Van Buren. Being trail oriented, they became involved in the process, ultimately ending  up not only flagging and constructing this beginning section of trail I’ll be trekking today, but they also maintained it for many years. Ah, so my hike this morning, for sure it will be special!

A short “ceremony” by the kiosk at the trailhead and Gordon has me out and hiking a little before six.

I was certain I’d be suffering a major bout of stiffness and overall discomfort this morning, but my knees and back are flexing freely and I’m loose and relaxed—just a great start!

I find this “Smith” trail to my liking. It’s well thought out and beautifully constructed. Sue Ellen, if you hear me up there—thanks!  And sure I’ll thank Gordon when I come out of the woods later this morning.

Slow, steady as she goes pace. I dearly frustrate lolling along like this. But I know if I start haulin’ that I’ll be right back off the trail again. Dang, that’d be a total bummer. So, slow and methodic. Ah, and seems patience is paying off, as I put another six crucial miles behind me. Gordon’s found a bit of shade and is waiting patiently for me at CR-210. Thanks for the great trail, Gordon!

It’s barely nine now, but I’ve at least got to take a break. Knees feel so-so. The least dull discomfort and some expected stiffness, but that’s it. I’ll lay around the van until late afternoon, then take a look at hiking on another six miles or so.

Early afternoon we can hear the far off thunder. Clouds have been forming to the north. By two the storm is all around, dumping rain in buckets. It remains intense till nearly four before moving on east. It’s six more miles to the next road crossing. I decide to go for it. Lots of rocks to deal with. Also a fair amount of climbing and grown-over, neglected trail. Certainly a long evening. My right knee comes through okay. But the left is the least painful—again. Probably should have settled for six today. Guess I’ll never learn.

It’s late evening when I emerge at the road crossing, tired, wet, and the least discouraged.

A fine spaghetti supper (my specialty) gives us both a boost.

Sunday—June 12, 2011
Trail day—22
Trail Mile—00/350
Location—FR-3155 Trailhead (Headed for Hurricane Creek)

Looking to this day with hopes of a pain-free hike and it’s shaping to be a great one. I’m on the trail before six. Wet feet. Wet everything from the drooping-wet overgrown trail. Not gonna dampen (no pun intended) my spirits though. Knees are working the best so far. I really feel I’m turning the corner now after all these days, through all the pain and discomfort.

I’ll be hiking around 15 miles today, good Lord willin’. Gordon will be able to meet me at around six miles into the day, then again at 13. Gotta concentrate on keeping it steady and easy, especially on the downhills. What I must do is walk, not hike. Oh, and sure there’s a difference in the two. It’s not all about speed. Hiking is generally at a quicker pace than walking. But there’s more to it than that. Hiking has a mental factor that’s also involved. Don’t know quite how to explain it, but I know that walking rather than hiking is exasperating, in a bunch of ways.

Hey, but I’m getting there. This day will end at the Between the Rivers Section Trailhead, which is also the beginning of the Eleven Point Section.

The first six miles go fine and I reach the van a little before ten. Time to get my feet up and rest. Dang if it ain’t tough taking a long break right in the middle of the day, but that’s what I must do. Four hours. Incredibly agonizing just sitting around.

I’m out and trekking again a little after two. Looks of it we’ll not have to wait on the thunder showers today—perfectly clear skies.

The remainder of the day is uneventful. A fair amount of climbing, plus plenty of beating my way through the tangle of overgrown trail, but I make good time and am in by six-thirty.

The knees are none the worse for wear. Fifteen miles. A short day for sure, but I’m so very thankful for it!

Monday—June 13, 2011
Trail Day—23
Trail Mile—18/368
Location—Hurricane Creek then on to FR-4153

The trail is ever patient as it waits, and it has been waiting patiently for me. This morning, the first in many recent mornings, I am finally eager to shoulder my pack and greet the trail, and this glorious new day.

It was so demoralizing having to leave the trail, to be faced with the real possibility of having to quit the hike. The thought of such grand plans just going up in smoke—shattered. These past few days since returning I have struggled both physically and mentally to put the pieces back together. Yesterday, though a slow, deliberate day, I could sense a change for the better. And this morning, after my longest day on the trail since returning, I can feel my knees are healing. The pain is subsiding. The strength returning. Thank you, Lord!

The Hurricane Creek Section is a premier section along this trail. The hollow, the creek—and the challenging crossings—just memorable. And to cap the day, the remarkable overlooks down and across the Eleven Point River.

A bit of excitement late evening arriving the road crossing where Gordon is waiting. Seems the van became a bit hung up when he tried turning around. Some digging behind all four wheels and I’m able to jack it back and forth—got ‘er loose and headed the right direction in no time. But it’s also late. Lantern out to light the place up for supper. Been a really fine day!

Tuesday—June 14, 2011
Trail Day—24
Trail Mile—34/402
Location—Bockman Spring, then on to Thomasville

A very long day yesterday, what with an extremely protracted lunch break waiting out two separate hail storms. Didn’t get back on the trail for the afternoon hike, eight miles, until well after three. Then supper in the dark.

So I overslept this morning (well, actually I just didn’t get up), and wasn’t hiking until nearly six. A fine morning. However, I become totally soaked immediately by the wet, overgrown trail.

The highlight today was to be my visit to Bockman Spring, but I can’t find the place. Spend the better part of half an hour looking around where my waypoint indicates it should be—no spring anywhere. There’s supposed to be a trailside sign by the spring, but can’t find it either. Been following blazed trail the whole time—don’t have the least idea what’s happened. Bummer.

Twelve-thirty I reach the western terminus of the Eleven Point Section. From here I’ve a roadwalk of some 35 miles to the North Fork Section, the westernmost and final section of the Ozark Trail.

My knees held up fine today, a 19-mile day, which included eight miles of roadwalking. Right knee, around 75 per cent, left, 90 or better.

Tomorrow will be my first total-day roadwalk, around 15 on in to West Plains. Just gotta keep it throttled back a few more days and my knees should be near 100 per cent again.

Wednesday—June 15, 2011
Trail Day—25
Trail Mile—21/423
Location—West Plains

My knees were handling the roadwalk fine yesterday evening. With the extreme heat of the day behind, decision was to trek on past Thomasville (cafe closed) to US-160. A couple of miles on west of Thomasville we found a place to park the van for the night—next a cell tower facility. The spot was well off the highway and worked fine. Spaghetti for supper. Oh, and now I make a little extra coffee for in the morning—for me. Luck would have it, I stumbled across (and retrieved) the small thermos from the van’s “black hole” where it’d been hiding near the past year!

Gordon has me up early and back on the highway hiking well before sunrise. A cool morning, as it’s been raining off and on. I’d like to make it into West Plains before noon. We both dearly need a shower, and we’d like to have a good lunch for a change.

The roadwalk goes well until around seven. Seems everyone out here works in West Plains and they’re all late. Most US highways are safe to hike, wide shoulders, good visibility. But not this US highway. Shoulders are non-existent, and with the rolling countryside there’s one blind topout after the other. I do make it to West Plains in one piece.

The route I’m following through town takes me right by Ziggie’s Restaurant. Yup, we head straight into Ziggies!  A bacon cheeseburger and fries, later it’s on down to West Plains Motel.

It’s really starting to cook. Sure glad to be off the Tarmac and in where it’s a bit cooler. Back to Ziggie’s for supper, then to our comfortable, cool room for the night. A great day overall.

Thursday—June 16, 2011
Trail Day— 26
Trail Mile—-22/455
Location—AP Trailhead, then on to CR-14

West Plains is a hiker friendly town. Great hiker trash deal at West Plains Motel, WiFi included. Ziggie’s is definitely the place for lunch and dinner. At the post office, hit the jackpot for my maildrop too.

Jimmie’s is just down the street from the motel, and we’re right in there first thing for breakfast this morning. This day’s definitely starting out right!

The reminder of my roadwalk to reach the last section of the Ozark Trail is some 10 miles north by US-63.  I’m headed north a little before ten. It’s a scorcher of a day for roadwalking, and sure enough I’ve got to take it easy on this pavement. It’s around two by the time I reach the Pomona Trailhead.

A heavy pack, and a heavy heart leaving here. My destination for today is AP Trailhead, but things won’t be the same, as Gordon will not be waiting my arrival there. He’s heading home to get out of this heat. And yes, Gordon has a home, and it’s not his van, which he’s been living out of the past number of years.

Strange how life twists and turns, isn’t it?  Gordon’s had his name on the waiting list for one of the assisted living units in Van Buren for the longest time. He and his sister, Sue Ellen, lived in Van Buren a few years ago. But his plans for that all changed when knee trouble took me off the trail. While waiting to put me back on the trail, Gordon looked at some apartments around Eldon—and found one he liked in Barnett, a little village just west of Eldon. He’s moved in and all set up there now. Barnett is Gordon’s home now, and he’ll be heading back there this afternoon.

Sure going to miss you, dear friend. See you this fall.

Before becoming part of the Ozark Trail, the North Fork Section was known as the Ridgerunner Trail. It’s popular with the horse folks, so it’s well used. I find it in good shape. Lots of blazes. Easy to follow. By evening I’m at AP Trailhead, and by late evening, SR-14. Haven’t said anything about the ticks, have I? This trail has ticks, lots of ticks, both common varieties—wood and deer. After setting camp, I spend the better part of an hour ridding myself of them. Sure glad I’ve got a bug proof tent!

Friday—June17, 2011
Trail Day—27
Trail Mile—11/456
Location—Collins Ridge Trailhead, then on to Caulfield (Headed for Matney Knob Trailhead, Ozark Highlands Trail)

Finding water has been a real problem coming through this final stretch of the Ozark Trail. It’s sure appropriately named—Ridgerunner. Mostly it stays the ridge—no water here. I was hoping, but not relying, on Dry Creek, for obvious reasons. To my surprise I not only find Dry Creek wet, but plenty wet. Near the middle, and as I ford, the fast-rushing water is working the bottom of my shorts! Filled both my water bottles and have been getting by on them since.

I’ve found much enjoyment in this section of trail, especially Devil’s Backbone Wilderness. The North Fork River (which the trail finally bails off to) is both serene and picturesque. By noon I’ve reached Devil’s Backbone Trailhead, end of the North Fork Section, end of the Ozark Trail.

Thru-hiking the Ozark National Recreation Trail has been both adventuresome and memorable for me. To all you dear folks who work diligently, giving of both your time and talent—thanks!  I’m the grateful beneficiary of your dedication, your hard work.

While resting at Devil’s Backbone Trailhead, reliving these past number of days on the Ozark Trail, a local fellow stops to see if I’m okay. Friendly, happy gentleman, Ron. He lives the other side of Devil’s Backbone. Was returning from his mailbox out by Highway KK. We share the most pleasant time. During our conversation I learn about this rugged Ozark wilderness, a bit of the history—and about Ron’s ancestors who homesteaded the area over a century ago. “Grandpa took me out one time and showed me where the old still was located. Way back. A hard hike just getting there.” Far-off, pensive look in Ron’s eye as he tells the story.  Parting company I inquire as to where’d be the closest place I might find a cold drink and a bite to eat. “Not too far.” he tells me. “Corner of AD and KK, Four Corners Grocery.” With that and a firm handshake I head on down the gravel road.

Out on KK now, trekking along, a vehicle coming up behind me. It slows, then stops. Hey, it’s Ron. Another happy smile as he offers me a cold bottle-water and a hot-bunned brot!  More enjoyable conversation—deer and turkey hunting, the best chainsaw, growing old—big news-making stuff. Thanks, Ron, for your kindness and generosity. A real pleasure meeting you!

Four Corners is quite the place. Busy little store, complete with deli. I go for the roast beef sandwich—and their fountain. Kind folks let me lounge around a couple of hours, through the heat of the day. I set to ridding them of their ice, and draining their Pepsi. Hey, the little place even has super glue. My sleeping pad’s sprung a leak. Super glue; quick fix. No more blowing up my sleeping pad four times a night.

With the sun torched back a bit, I’ve a pleasant hike on down to US-160, then on to SR-101 at Caulfield. Jiffy at the corner. My good luck, three pieces of bacon pizza left. It’s gone, and their fountain machine starts gurgling before I’m done.

Dark-thirty now, I find a secluded little spot behind the post office, pitch, and call it a day.

Saturday—June 18, 2011
Trail Day—28
Trail Mile—00/456
Location—Mountain Home, Arkansas (Headed for Matney Knob Trailhead, Ozark Highlands Trail)

Of the 28 or so miles trekked yesterday, a tad over 17 were on the road—and my knees came through just fine. A lingering bit of tenderness inside the left knee, minor stiffness, that’s it after a very long day. Thanks all who continue to pray for my total recovery; your thoughtful kindness is a true blessing.

For the past number of years, within both the Ozark and Ozark Highlands trail organizations, there’s been a concerted effort to connect the two trails. Eventually, and chances are, their good work will pay off. Right now, today, that trail dream has come to be known as the Trans Ozark Trail, or TOT. During planning, little of this was known to me. What I did know, however, was that a good bit of roadwalking would be in order to get from the end of one trail to the beginning of the other.

Here, on the Arkansas side, the Corps of Engineers  is working toward closing that gap—within their lands along Norfork Lake. Many miles of potential connector trail lie within their juristiction. I’m now also learning about their involvement, about their trail building. A short section of trail on Corps lands has already been added to the Ozark Highlands Trail, filling in a piece of the puzzle. That bit of trail lies just above Norfork Dam, and runs some nine miles, ending at the dam. So, my plans have changed, my route has changed, as I’ll now be hoofing it over that way to hike it—on my way to Matney Knob Trailhead.

Anyway, in the daily stats header, I’ll not be posting mileage these next few days, not until I reach Matney. And although these changes will add considerable overall mileage, I’ll stick with the itinerary miles that are posted, simply for convenience.

This is turning to be a grueling day on the road. By late morning the Tarmac is bubbling. Thank goodness there’s the least breeze.  This morning I had a bit of breakfast (and plenty of coffee) at the little convenience in Caulfield, the usual pre-wrapped microwave biscuit, egg, cheese and bacon. I’d been looking forward to lunch in Bakersfield. Two mom-n-pop diners there, but it’s just too hot to consider eating even a sandwich. So, I guzzle a king-cup fountain coke and chew up the ice—and sweat it right back out, on down the highway.

Been looking forward to crossing the SR-101 main-arm bridge on Norfork Lake, then shortly, reaching the big four-lane, US-62, east of Mountain Home.

The bridge hike turns out very enjoyable. Pretty unbelievable the boats, pontoons, and personal watercraft ripping around down below. Earlier today they were all trailering past me down 101.  Different story for the highway. Turns out, US-62 is one nightmare of a death trap, perhaps the worst I’ve ever hiked. Four solid lanes of hard-slamming traffic separated by a single, narrow, turn lane. Semi rigs, trucks towing campers, SUVs pulling boats, all barreling straight at me, 60-70mph, and I’ve no place to go—there’s no shoulder, no emergency lane, only a high curb and gutter slap up against the outside lane. Some engineering; just amazing. Break down on this highway; good luck!

I stumble along, up and down and in and out of the gutter, for five miles. What seems an eternity, and sure with angels resting both my shoulders, I get this gauntlet behind me. Thank you, Lord, for your safe keeping!

Late evening I reach Mountain Home. Innkeep at Days Inn (when I tell him no way I can afford his room) suggests I head on downtown. “No sense stopping at any of the other chains, they’re all higher than us. Go on another mile or two—Mountain Home Motel, just before the square. They’ll take you in at a fair rate.” A nod and a warm smile from him—and mine in return, and I’m headed for downtown.

In a mile or so I reach a little place called College Inn. Just a few rooms; rent weekly. But I head down anyway. A fellow, looks to be the owner, checking out one of the rooms. He sees me, and turns. “Man, you look beat; what’s up?” inquisitive look—plus a kind smile. “Yup, I’m really tired. Need to find a room, get cleaned up.” My somewhat somber reply. We shake hands—he’s Larry. I tell Larry about my stop at Days Inn, that I couldn’t afford a room there. “How much can you afford?” he asks. I tell him forty bucks. Forty bucks is  it. “Well, by God, an honest man; everybody else I’ve ever asked that question—they all lied. I’ll get you a room, hang on.” Larry punches his cell phone. “Hey Trina, got a fellow here needs a room. You set him up in #8. Charge him thirty-five bucks.  It’ll take him about 15 minutes to get there (Larry did offer me a ride). You’ll know him, a hiker, got sticks.”

Amazing! I just gawk, dumbfounded. Larry chuckles—gives me directions to the Mountain Home Motel—and sends me on my way.

Along the way I duck into Dairy Queen for their four-for-five, takeout. Trina at Mountain Home Motel recognizes me right away. Short of it I’m in for two nights. Thanks, Larry! Thanks, Trina! Mountain Home, a kind, friendly city—y’all certainly do it proud.

Ah, so that’s my day, folks. Hey my hiker buddies, all you who shun the highways and byways, go see if you can find a day like this up there in “The Green Tunnel!” Life’s sure good (to this old man).

Sunday—June 19, 2011
Trail Day—29
Trail Mile—00/456
Location—Mountain Home

Really don’t know how the mileage racks up for yesterday. Well over 30 for sure. For sure I was beat when I reached the Mountain Home Motel. To have been so befriended right then, a blessing. I can’t remember the last time a good soaking shower felt so refreshing. Downed the burger and fries from Dairy Queen (and the two cold cokes Trina brought me) and I was down, then out for the count. Didn’t wiggle again until well after seven this morning.

First order of business, a short trip to the corner jiffy for coffee. Surprised I’m not stiff and sore. Knees are nice and loose; no complaints from them.

This will be a well earned day of rest. Time to suds out some of the trail grime from my “work” clothes, then just get my feet up and relax.

Ha, I’ll use the excuse that it’s Sunday. The Corps of Engineers Office (a few blocks over) is closed on Sunday. So I gotta wait around till tomorrow to get the skinny on their trail along the shores of Lake Norfork. Good enough excuse, eh?

Clothing all clean—anyway, as clean as the little motel soap bars can get them. And journals, also email, all caught up. Time for another trip to Dairy Queen. Same idea everybody else has, seems. Line’s clean out the door. The queens at Dairy Queen sure enough earnin’ their keep today. Oh yes, hot day—cold Blizzard time!

A super day of rest. Ready to give it a go again tomorrow. Hope to hike the Corps of Engineers Trail, then do the short roadwalk on down to the little village of Norfork. Three straight nights in an air conditioned motel room. What’s that!

Monday—June 20, 2011
Trail Day—30
Trail Mile—56/512
Location—Matney Knob Trailhead

My, what a welcome stay in Mountain Home; great community, fine folks.

First stop this morning (close by and right on the square), the classic downtown mom-n-pop café. They open at seven. The klatch and me, we’re there at seven. These many years, while on the trail, and for breakfast, I’ve come to settle for a short stack with a couple-three eggs, a sure-fire high-octane starter-upper. Oh, plus plenty of refills on the coffee.

Second stop, the Corps of Engineers office, a few blocks over. I head there at eight to get the skinny on their trail above Norfork Dam. I’m told some nine miles of Corps of Engineers Trail are now considered part of the Ozark Highlands Trail. Warm smiles and kind greetings from Mark and Carrie. Some good news and some not so good. The good news: From lake access road #1028, from there the Corps Trail works it’s way along Norfork Lake south, past Tracy Arm, Georges Cove, Sycamore Highlands, Briarcliff, to finally reach Quarry Park at Norfork Dam, a distance of some 13.2 miles. The not so good news: The trail is underwater in a number of places. Coves such as Tracy, Georges, and Shoal, they’re flooded due to the above-median reservoir level.

As I hike out of Mountain Home, more roadwalking down SR-5, I keep picking up more loose (and beat-up) change. Been told that Arkansas is a not-so-wealthy state. If that’s true, I can sure understand why: Folks down here are loose with their money. I’ve picked up near a pocketful of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters these past few days trekking their roads.

Well, I’ve decided to at least give the southernmost section of the Corps Trail a try.  My best shot is to go in below Shoal Creek/Bay. Scenic Road leads there from the highway. I follow it, then Shoal Creek Trail, on down to Briarcliff Trailhead. From the trailhead I begin my hike south on the Corps Trail—for about a quarter-mile—till I reach one of the side coves at Shoal Bay. Nearing the head of the cove the trail dips down to cross, and totally disappears under Lake Norfork! Where the trail goes under I can see blazes on trees marking the submerged trail, as the blazes submerge, the trail there being probably four to six feet under. I climb up, directly into a tangle of brush (hoping to do a bushwhacked around) until I hit a literal wall of cedar hedge. End of my Corps Trail hike. Retracing my path, a fair climb back out and up to SR-5, and that’s it for this Corps of Engineers section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I did try, folks. Just wasn’t to be. Perhaps another time.

Late morning now I head on south for the village of Norfork, there to get a few provisions before crossing the White River and trekking the road on up to Matney Knob Trailhead. Another neat little Ozark village, Norfork. Hey, the post office is open!  Somehow, I’ve manage to beat the post office closing time by 11 minutes. And by golly, if the Hickory Pig ain’t open.  Stopped in for a mouth-watering BBQ sandwich!

On my hike out of Norfork, and nearing Matney, a fellow pulls off and stops on the shoulder across. It’s Russell. He’s full of excitement. Wants to know where I’m headed, where I’ve been. Comes a somewhat quizzical expression to Russell’s face as I tell him about my just completed thru o’er the Ozark Trail, and my (in just a short while) beginning of a thru down the Ozark Highlands.

Late afternoon now I reach Matney Trailhead, completing my connecting roadwalk of some 70 miles. Still lots of daylight remaining, so I head on in. Just a short hike and I reach a fine overlook, a most-scenic vantage back down and across White River. From the overlook the trail winds around to the first of four crossings of SR-341. Waiting here patiently, in full hiker garb, pack up, sticks in hand—guess who? Oh yes, it’s Russell! Russell lives just this side of Matney Knob and he’s trekked the road up to the crossing—to bring me two shiny red apples, and to wish me well. “I’m gonna hike the Appalachian Trail when I retire. Can’t wait.” Ear-to-ear grin from Russell. Thanks, dear new friend; it’s sure been a pleasure meeting and talking with you. Thanks, too, for your kindness and generosity. Oh, make sure and keep in shape. That AT hike isn’t all that far off—good luck!

Near dusk I take water from Twin Creek, then make the climb up and across (second crossing of) SR-341, to the high ridge above. A leaf-covered flat spot under the oak, enough light to pitch. Tick patrol—and this day’s done.

Lingering deep discomfort, left knee—dang!

Tuesday—June 21, 2011
Trail Day—31
Trail Mile—18/530
Location—Cole Fork Creek

A fretful night, what with my body near-covered with chigger and tick welts.  It’s well after daylight now, but I’m still in my tent tending to three more spots that are literally screaming at me—burrowed-in ticks situated in less than easy-to-inspect places.  It’s slow going breaking camp.  Finally, I lift my pack and head out.

Here along the ridge this morning the trail is well marked, certainly easy enough to follow, and I make good time on over to Brush Creek Road.  Picking up the road, the trail follows it along a short way, then breaks off in a less-than-happy sideslab just below the ridge (and the road), to descend, then climb back up to and over SR-341 (again)
at Brush Creek Trailhead.

From the highway, the trail leads out along the ridge, then descends to Birmingham Hollow, crossing an upper tributary to Cole Fork before climbing back up to Birmingham Road (trace).  At the end of the road (and the ridge) the trail bails off again into a maze of lesser gulches and crossings, clicking off every compass point in the process.  As it turn to sideslab along Cole Fork, the trail becomes difficult to follow, entering a rugged section of four “Bs.”  From my trek along the North Country Trail, especially while on the Buckeye Trail section, you’ll no doubt recall me oft’ mentioning the four “Bs.”  They’re blowdowns, brambles, briars, and brush.  This section of the Sylamore I’m trekking now’s got them in spades—plus blowdown holes and pockmarked limestone tread.

Late morning, and while negotiating a particularly gnarly off-camber uphill, it happens.  Of the thousands of consciously, carefully placed steps, it takes only one miss-step to spell potential disaster—and I take it here.  Through the high weeds and briars, and unable to see the tread, I step in a hole, lose my balance, and go over the side.  Everything follows except my right foot.  It remains firmly planted in the hole.  As I try righting myself, the pain descends, gut wrenching pain.  I struggle back to my feet.  In the process, comes first disbelief, then denial.  Hobbling along now, my trekking poles functioning more as crutches, I agonize the reality of the situation—this trek is quickly coming to a halt—again.

During the next four hours, as I continually check for any trace of cell signal, I drag myself down and across Cole Fork, then back up again, to the ridge at Cripple Turkey Road.  At the road, there’s a fine new trailhead—but no cell signal.  By four I’ve managed to hobble another mile or so along the ridge on Cripple Turkey Road.  At an unlikely spot I finally get a cell signal.  Hastily dropping my pack (and myself) I call Joyce, then Gordon.

Dependable Gordon.  Five hours he accompanies Joyce, guiding her to this far away place situated on a grassy two-track, one of countless two-tracks that meander the many ridges here in the Ozark National Forest.  How he performs his magic is a total mystery.  But he pulls it off again.  In the descending darkness they arrive, headlights on, horn honking—me with my little headlamp beaming—they find me.

Aw folks, I don’t know about this one.  My right lower leg and ankle are a pitiful sight—blackened, swollen, and sore.  Sure, I’m old.  Sure, my reflexes aren’t what they used to be.  They’re problems I deal with constantly.  But my passion and resolve have never, ever, become the least diminished.  I have a feeling this injury is gonna take a good while to heal.  But trust me, dear friends, this old intrepid will be back.  He’ll be back—to finish his thru-hike across these beautiful Ozark Highlands.



The Nomad was off-trail due to a broken leg suffered while trekking the Sylamore Section of the Ozark Highlands Trail.

At the time, he was 530 miles into his planned 1,111 mile thru-hike o’er a trail destined to become known as the “Triple O,” an amalgam of trails that form the backbone in a system of trails spanning the Ozark Highlands of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. These trails are the Ozark, the Ozark Highlands, and the Ouachita Trail(s). All three are National Recreation Trails.

Last checkup Doc Tim said his broken leg was completely healed. So, Joyce has driven him back to Arkansas, to the Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail, to Cripple Turkey Road in the Ozark National Forest, where his hike was interrupted nearly two months ago.



Saturday—August 13, 2011
Trail Day—33
Trail Mile—14/544
Location—Spring Creek Trailhead 

At long last I’m able to return to the trail. Last checkup Doc Tim said my broken leg was completely healed. So, Joyce has driven me back to Arkansas, to the Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail, to Cripple Turkey Road in the Ozark National Forest, where my hike was interrupted nearly two months ago—pretty much back in the middle of nowhere. Thanks, Joyce!

A little after eleven I’m pack shouldered and moving out. Oh, does it feel good to be back on the trail again. Leg feels strong. Ankle feels good—think I’m gonna do okay.

I’m in the Sylamore Section of the OHT. It runs some 32 miles, of which I’ve some 14 miles remaining to reach the westernmost trailhead at Spring Creek. In a short while I’ve crossed SR-341 for the final time. The remaining nine miles consist of a sideslab above Spring Creek. Sideslab trail isn’t my favorite, but the hike along proves most pleasant. Plenty of rocks, some briars, and a few ups and downs, but the trail is well marked and I make good time. Pauses are for lunch, to circle around a very big timber rattler directly on the trail, and to photograph the many bluffs below which the trail follows. With recent rains, the smaller creeks and drainages are running, or at least contain numerous puddles, so finding adequate water proves no problem.

By a bit after six I’ve reached Spring Creek Trailhead. From here I’ve a full-day’s roadwalk down throug the villages of Big Flat and Harriet, then on up SR-14 to the eastern terminus of the SR-14/Maumee Section of the Buffalo River Trail. Hope to be around the roadwalk to it, and on it sometime tomorrow.

Spring Creek is down the road from the trailhead where I stop for water for the night. Then it’s up the road to the ridge just far enough to get a cell signal, and that’s it for this first day back. Gonna do okay, looks of it. My leg and ankle made it through the rocks, nearly 14 miles of them, just fine. Think I’m on my way—again. Thank you, Lord!

Sunday—August 14, 2011
Trail Day—34
Trail Mile—23/567
Location—SR-14 Trailhead

First light doesn’t arrive until 5:30, so it’s six by the time I break camp and get back on the trail/road. It’s two miles on down to Big Flat, then another mile or so west on SR-14 to Katie’s Grocery. They open at seven on Sunday. I’m right there at seven. Janis pretty much runs the place. Met her when we stopped there on the way back into the Sylamore. Big smile from Janis when she sees me again—but not such good news. “We don’t serve breakfast on Sunday.” I find out.  My solemn frown does it. “I’ll fix you breakfast.” She says. A look of pity on her face  Two eggs, ham, toast and a pot of coffee and I’m back on the road to Harriet.  Thanks, Janis, for your thoughtfulness, your kindness. Get a picture of her standing behind the counter.

There’s virtually no traffic this Sunday morning, and I’ve a pleasant, cool hike on into Harriet. Another great convenience in Harriet—Crockett’s Grocery. Cheeseburger and taters, and a fudge bar does the trick. Drained their fountain Pepsi.

By 12:30 I’m hiking on down SR-14 to the Buffalo River. At the river there’s 11 miles of trail on west to South Maumee Road.

By four I’m at the bridge. After taking a couple of pictures I head on in.

Since Harriet, I’ve been running on the 20 ounces of water taken from their fountain. Once on the trail I’d expected to find water at the first drainage coming down to the river. But it’s bone dry. Not even the least of a puddle. Ditto for all to follow, all the way over (and up and down) to Kimball Creek. No running water here either, just puddles. But I’m happy. Sixty ounces down (I was running on empty), both my bottles full, I continue on. More dry drainages, all the way to Spring Creek. It’s running steady and cool. I camel-up and load up again.  Glorious scenery, the occasional views from the bluffs, down and across the Buffalo River. The trail runs along the tops of some, just below others.

Dark is descending, so I find a relatively flat spot right next the trail just past Spring Creek and call it a day.

Ticks aren’t anything like they were two months ago, but the chiggers haven’t given up. Lower legs and ankles covered with bites.

Monday—August 15, 2011
Trail Day—35
Trail Mile—11/578
Location—SR-52 Maumee Trailhead

A bit unsettled in camp last. Just after dark (and before the nearly full moon lit up the place) a black bear cub came sniffing around my tent. His not-so-quiet rustling around woke me. I let the little fellow get right up to me before I slapped the inside of my tent and yelled at him. Poor guy nearly jumped out of his skin. He shot straight down the trail—after shooting straight up.

Although the trek down the Buffalo River Trail began late in the afternoon yesterday, by hiking till dark I managed to cover over nine of the eleven miles. So, this morning I’ve a short distance on over to Maumee Trailhead.

Another glorious day for hiking. Been heating up in the afternoons, but nothing like the past few weeks. Lucky me!  These roadwalks would have been near impossible with temps pushing 100. By nine I’ve completed the lower Buffalo River section, to turn south onto South Maumee Road. It’s some five miles from here to Morning Star, then another five and change on over to Marshall. I’m in by noon, to Kelley’s Country Kitchen, for their great double cheeseburger and fries. Fountain Pepsi—oh yes!  Just across from Kelley’s is the Sunset Motel. Okay rate, and free WiFi!  Great folks, too, Bret and Jenny. Washed my dirty, smelly clothes for me, then fed me supper!  Thanks, dear folks, for your kindness and generosity.

Tomorrow I’ll hike up US-65 some 11 miles to Tyler Bend (on the Buffalo River).  From there I’ve 15 miles of trail to reach the official beginning of the Ozark Highlands Trail at Woolum. This next stretch of trail will require three to four trail over-nights, so I’ll need to resupply here in Marshall before heading out in the morning. Hope the weather holds—just great hiking!

Tuesday—August 16, 2011
Trail Day—36
Trail Mile—22/600
Location—US-65 Tyler Bend Trailhead

Great stay in Marshall. Over to the Sunset Restaurant this morning for my usual—short stack with two up smilin’ at me.

Dollar General is the place to resupply they’ve got everything a thru-hiker would want—bread, cheese, potted meat, Fritos, sunflower seeds, and candy, all kinds of candy!

Probably around six pounds of food, enough for four days, that’s what I figure it’ll take to reach Hagersville, my next resupply/mail drop.

On US-65 headed for Tyler Bend around nine. Should reach the trailhead there around 12:30. But that doesn’t work out. As I’m pulling the last grade to Silver Hill I can hear the thunder in the distance. Oh yes, I head straight for Buffalo River Outfitters. Get in just as the storm hits. It lasts for three Pepsis!  Milburn, a great friend to hikers runs Buffalo River Outfitters. Wanted to meet him but he’s fishin’. Leave my card to give him.

The final section of the BRT that I’ll be hiking starts at the Tyler Bend Bridge. I’m there and passing the first white blaze at two.

Another great section of trail. Will make a fine extension to the OHT. Some farm service roads to walk, but more of the spectacular breathtaking views from the bluffs above the river.

Just another great day for hiking. Make it nearly to Woolum. Pull up and take a side trail down to the river. Take a most refreshing dip. Calamine for the chigger bites.

Wednesday—August 17, 2011
Trail Day—37
Trail Mile—15/615
Location—Richland Creek/Woolum (official OHT)

Needing water and with dark on it’s way, I decided to end the day at the next to last access to the Buffalo River, some 2-3 miles from Woolum. Took water from the river, then treated it for supper and for the night. There was a delightful backflow pool just down from where I pitched—way too tempting. Oh yes, I went in. Cool and relaxing. Even got the first layer of scum off my stinky body. A great idea!

One more long, steady pull this morning, and I’m bailing off the mountain to Woolum. To reach the official beginning of the OHT, I must ford Richland Creek. With the lack of recent rain, the ford is no problem. At an area of rapids I cross easily.

Out of Woolum there’s a roadwalk first thing, around three or four miles along a farm road. Don’t see another soul all the way to where the trail heads back on the mountain.

Slow going right off the bat—and pretty much for the remainder of the day. Sideslabbing, rocks and briars—and plenty of ups and downs. Around seven I decide to find a place to pitch. I find water in pools among huge boulders at around mile 149. Great spot. This is it for this tired old hiker.

Thursday—August 18, 2011
Trail Day—38
Trail Mile—21/636
Location—Richland/Falling Water Creek(s)

The forecast has been for rain, for both yesterday and today. Yesterday morning, early, around five a thunderclapper came through. Didn’t last more than half an hour, so I was able to get out and going early. Not so this morning. The storm didn’t arrive until a little before six, and kept me in my tent until nearly nine. Lots of climbing, and rocks today, plus more poison ivy than I ever recall seeing on any trail.

A long day today, as I decide to try and make SR-123 tomorrow, from there to hitch down to Hagarville for my mail drop and resupply at Hagarville Store and Grocery, Mark and Alice Hodge, owners.

Even with the late start, and the incredibly rugged trail, I manage to get to marker 126, just below SR-27. The Ozarks of Arkansas are rugged mountains. The trail is well marked and not too much overgrowth. A really hot one, but no problem finding water. Thank you, Lord, for carrying me (and protecting me from falling) this day.

Friday—August 19, 2011
Trail Day—39
Trail Mile—39/675
Location—SR-7/16/123, then on to SR-123, Big Piney

I cross SR-7 first thing to head on toward the big Piney at SR-123, where I’ll get a hitch on down to Hagarville. I’ll manage two clicks off my itinerary mileage, hopefully.

My hike today takes me into and through the Hurricane Creek Wilderness. Spectacular scenery. More incredibly rugged trail, rocks, boulders, more rocks, and climb, climb, climb. Slow going for sure. This is the first time I’ve got to keep really tight with the trail. There’s been no recent blazing through the wilderness, where nailed up blazes aren’t permitted. So, I must follow old faded painted-up blazes from days gone by. I manage to get off-trail time-to-time, but do find my way again. As I struggle along, lots of turkey and deer to keep me company.

By four I’ve reached the old one lane bridge over the Big Piney. Next the bridge I wait and wait for a ride. Not a single vehicle either direction in nearly half an hour. Looks like I’ll be walking the 12 miles to Hagarville. Near an hour on the road now, only three vehicles have passed, all going the opposite direction. I continually check my phone for a signal—to call Mark and Alice—but no luck.

Finally, way down the road from Haw Creek Falls a vehicle comes along behind me, the first headed my direction. I recognize the two fellows. They’d been below the bridge at Big Piney and we’d exchanged greetings. Sticking my thumb out, no help. Looks of it they’ll blow right by. Just yards from me I wave to them in desperation—and they stop. What luck.

Hagarville Store is open till six. I’m in by five-forty. Mark and Alice both greet me with broad smiles. “Got to thinkin’ you weren’t going to make it,” says Mark.

What a day; what a day!  Alice makes two of the finest roast beef sandwiches I can recall. I’m invited to pitch in their yard for the night. Hey, one bar on my cell, oh yes!  Just before dark Alice comes to check on me—with a cooler full of ice and watermelon. It’s been a most amazing day, and I am so grateful for such blessings.

Saturday—August 20, 2011
Trail Day—40
Trail Mile—00/675
Location—Past SR-123/Big Piney, headed for SR-21/Ozone Recreation Area (near trail milepost 94)

Mark and Alice open their store at seven on Saturdays, and I’m right in there first thing for coffee. Mark is the breakfast cook. He prepares two bacon and egg sandwiches to go with the coffee—Alice is already making the second pot.

After breakfast I sort through my bounce box (which Mark’s been holding for me since late May), then get it down to the post office to send back home. Time now to get caught up on email and journal entries (Mark’s got WiFi here at the store!). Oh, and Alice has what I’ll need already laid out in their private bath so I can shower—their home is right next, connected to the store by a boardwalk.

Mark and Alice will be spending the remainder of the weekend in Fort Smith, so at ten they turn the store over to Lori and Karen. I put Lori right to work making a load-er-up cheeseburger, plus a roast beef sandwich to go. The store is well stocked with most everything for resupply. I go for the Spam, cheese, and M&Ms (still have bread, fig bars, and sunflower seeds left from the Marshall Dollar General).

Mark has arranged for Karen to take me back up the mountain, and it’s way past one before I’m finally ready to go. Karen’s home is on the way up, so she stops at her place to introduce me to her husband, Larry. Decision is for Larry and his friend, Quinton, to drive me on up so Karen can get back to the store. Larry has me back on the trail a little before two.

I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time in Hagarville. All at the neat old store there (Hagarville Store and Grocery), Mark, Alice, Karen, and Lori—just great folks. Hey, tell you what, you want to be a grump, have yourself a grumpy day, you got a problem if you come grumping into Hagarville Store. There’s a definite warmth to the place (they’ve got air conditioning—that’s not what I mean). Mark and Alice just love to greet folks. Seems it’s old-home week every time someone walks in. Sitting at the table front and center I watched people come and go—while downing two roast beef sandwiches and a half-gallon of Gatorade last evening, then two bacon and egg sandwiches, plus a pot of coffee this morning. Alice has been in retailing all her life. Mark, most of his. Anyway, about being a grump—one came in half asleep this morning, grumping at Alice. After getting his breakfast soft drink he left with the goofiest look on his face. Probably the first time he’d smiled in quite awhile.

Thanks dear friends at Hagarville Store, thanks for your kindness!

Plenty of day left to get in some miles. From Haw Creek, the trail smoothes out a bit. Not as many rocks or as much climbing. By no time I’m at Gee Creek. Hey, Gee and Haw Creek(s)! Do you know how gee and haw fit together? If not, and your grandpa’s still around (and he plowed with mules), ask him!

By four I start hearing thunder. It’s off to the north, so no problem. Keep hearing it as I struggle to get past some storm damage—probably a hundred or more trees down—a real problem finding and staying on trail. Late evening now the thunder is reverberating from the west and I can see the black wall coming. Now starts the wind. That means I’ve got less than three minutes to pitch before the storm hits. Only flat spot I can find is right on the trail. Haven’t seen another soul on this trail since I left Mountain Home, so middle of the trail—no problem. Get pitched and in just as the rain begins.

Probably trekked around ten miles today, not too bad for such a late start. Glad I took water from the last creek.

Oh yes, another fine day on the OHT!

Sunday—August 21, 2011
Trail Day—41
Trail Mile—20/695
Location—Ozone Recreation Area, then on to near FR-1404/Arbaugh Road (trail milepost 72)

The storm that came rumbling through yesterday evening turned intense. Much wind and rain. One lightening strike was very close. The thunder report was so loud the ground under my tent shuddered and vibrated. Rain came in buckets for over an hour. All my clothing and gear got wet from the wind-driven spray. Wet on the trail? Not unusual. More just a fact of life out here.

I manage to get moving by seven—to encounter a forest of cluttered, leaves and brush blown down by the wind last night. In awhile I’m slowed abruptly by downed trees in the trail. As I struggle on the storm damage becomes incredible. There are hundreds and hundreds of trees blocking the trail, many of them very big timber. The damage is indescribable. From Mulberry River, up and over Moonhull, then all the way to milepost #73 the trail is choked with downed trees. Just can’t adequately describe the devastation. All of this is new, from the storms yesterday afternoon and evening. The Forest Service needs to know about this right away. Clearing and opening this trail again will take the best crew weeks. I’ll be surprised if it isn’t closed over Moonhull Mountain.

Even with the slow going through the storm damage, I still manage around a 20-mile day. Thanks, Lord, for the Angels on my shoulders!

Monday—August 22, 1011
Trail Day—42
Trail Mile—20/715
Location—Eldridge Hollow near FR-1474, then on to Indian Creek.

With all the recent rain finding water is no problem. It’s generally a little murky, but no problem. Most all the little brooks are running again, and I pitched by one last night at milepost 72. That’s how many miles remain to reach Lake Fort Smith, the end of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I should be there sometime Thursday.

I’ve been much concerned about more storm damage today, and I do encounter additional downed trees and brush, but it’s minimal and pales in comparison to what I fought my way through yesterday.

It’s another fine hiking day, hot as usual, but I’m used to being totally soaked with sweat.

The tics have pretty much given it up now, but the chiggers, gnats, no-sedums, and horse flies are still plentiful. I have hundreds of bites on my legs. Off insect spray helps some, as does calamine, but as you know—bites are bites!

Still plenty of off-camber side-slabbing, but the rocks have backed off some.

Was hoping for, and finally got a cell signal. Nothing, nowhere, then five bars—go figure. Great to call home. Also was able to reach Paula at White Rock Mountain. She’ll report the storm damage to the OHTA and the Forest Service for me.

A great day on the OHT. My knees are doing okay. My right ankle is doing okay. Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday—August 23, 2011
Trail Day—43
Trail Mile—21/736
Location—Morgan Mountain/FS-1504, then on to milepost #26

Up a bit earlier today and on the trail by seven. Looking to hike a 25  to put me near White Rock Mountain.

I’ve around 15 ounces of water to start the day—figure to find water soon enough. By eleven, and after hiking eight miles, and finding little, I realize today is going to a water problem day.

Other than hiking thirsty, the climb up and over Lick Mountain is very enjoyable. A hazy day, but the views from Lick are some of the best. The sideslab up from the highway is a devil. Rocky and overgrown. Lots of briars to fight.

Interesting hike up the old railgrade. Saw a black bear. Finish the 25 just at sunset.

Wednesday—August 24, 2011
Trail Day—44
Trail Mile—20/756
Location—Spirits Creek, then White Rock, then on to milepost #10

Thunder and lightening way off in the distance early this morning, before first light. Didn’t think much of it until on the trail about half an hour. Here it comes. And I started out totally dry for a change, even dry shoes and socks. Oh well. Ten more minutes and wet everything. Really slow going. Much overgrowth in these burn areas. Water proves no problem this morning.

By 11:30 I’ve completed the climb to White Rock State Park. Paula’s not here, but she’d told me about the pop and snacks in the fridge on her porch, so I’ve chugged two Cokes and a Gatorade by the time she drives up.  I’ve hung my wet stuff all around, but no problem. She’s used to wet, smelly hikers!

Paula has been concessionaire up here on White Rock going on 20 years now. But from her pleasant disposition and upbeat way, it’s immediately apparent that the joy and luster of what she must be daily about have yet to tarnish the least.

By cell phone I’d briefly spoken to her about the storm damage down below, and we take time to go over my maps to better pinpoint the location—and about food. When figuring what I’d néed to get on through from Hagarsville, I shorted myself a day. So in order to help me along Paula has put together additional provisions from her personal pantry to get me on to Lake Fort Smith tomorrow.

I tarry long, enjoying the afternoon at White Rock—it’s such a delightfully relaxing place—and don’t get back out again until three. I’ve mentioned how problematic, the burn areas, what with the overgrowth of briars and brush (they’ll go through and do trail maintenance before the fall hiking season) and Paula suggests I leave out down the park entrance road to avoid the burn area just below the ridge. So down the road I go to where the trail crosses. Thank you so much, Paula, for helping this old intrepid along.

I’m able to make it a bit beyond milepost #10 before dark, where I call it a day.

Thursday—August 25, 2011
Trail Day—45
Trail Mile—23/780
Location—Lake Fort Smith State Park, then on down SR-71 to KOA near Alma

This day begins with much excitement, for today I finish the Ozark Highlands Trail at Fort Smith State Park. But also at the park today I’ll complete my thru-hike of what is known as the Trans Ozark Trail (TOT). Certainly there are folks who’ve trekked both the Ozark and the Ozark Highlands Trail(s), but to my understanding no one has thru-hiked the entire TOT, from Onondaga Cave State Park in Missouri, to Lake Fort Smith in Arkansas. So yes, I’m excited about this day!

The coolest of nights last night—so far. Crawled into my sleeping bag early morning. With sunrise arriving later each morning, it’s harder to get out much before seven anymore, but I do manage to break camp and hit the trail by 6:45.

A really fine morning for hiking as I head out on the final ten miles of the OHT. No trouble finding water—and the brush and briars have totally backed off. I’m cruisin’—through the remaining rocks. No time, seems I can see Lake Fort Smith through the trees. Milepost 5, 4, 3, 2.

With just a little over a mile to go I see the first hiker coming toward me. Haven’t met another soul on either of these trails the past 44 days. Oh my, is this day really turning memorable. The backpacker greets me with, “Are you Nimblewill?” What a pleasure meeting Squeeze. He’s also an Ozark Hillbilly—from near Lebanon. Hey, the fellow’s hiker trash, too—hiked the Appalachian Trail in ‘03. We share the most upbeat conversation.

I arrive Lake Fort Smith State Park a little before noon. Such a lavish and impressive setting. Nothing’s been spared in making it first class. The Visitor Center is absolutely the finest. I tarry the longest time savoring the moment, while I call Dwinda and Gordon—and down two 20-ounce Cokes.

Out to, then down SR-71 now, it’s some eight miles to the village of Mountainburg—and Mountainburg BBQ. Just before heading in there for a burger and fries—and most of the Coke in their fountain, I stop in the secondhand store next door. Need a new long-sleeve white shirt, and I’m in luck. 100% cotton, and a monogrammed pocket no less.

Back on the highway, and a bit passed the interstate exit, a vehicle slows in the lane across. Oh yes, it’s Squeeze. He’s finished his trek by the lake and is headed home—back to the grind tomorrow. He’s come looking, and has tracked me down to wish me well. Just great energy, Squeeze. Thanks!

On down the highway, I hike it on in to a jiffy for another 20-oz pop, then on into dark—and the KOA near Alma.

What a day; what a truly memorable day. Thank you dear Lord, for these never-ending blessings!

Friday—August 26, 2011
Trail Day—46
Trail Mile—31/811
Location—Past US-64/I-40 at Concord, then on to downtown Fort Smith

I’d hit the Tarmac long and hard yesterday, clean up to dark. So, this morning early I’m able to pass my Concord itinerary click. Then, by reaching downtown Fort Smith, also today, I’ll add that click, too, for a total of 31 miles.

I’m back on the road early, just after first light—with headlights coming at me. Pancakes, bacon and eggs (plus more ice water than coffee) in Alma, and I’m headed for Van Buren, then Fort Smith. Late morning, the pavement really gets to cookin’, so to cool down the least I start hitting every little convenience stop along for their ice and fountain. Through cities, like the hike today, I’ve come to appreciate that the Tarmac not only radiates intense heat, but the block buildings close in, either side, reflect it and press it right back on me. Hitting the jiffies, as if each was an oasis, brings the most welcome, momentary relief.

The excitement today comes in crossing the Arkansas River. Narrow, four-lane US highway, big trucks haulin’—and a two-foot needle’s eye to thread between the white line and the bridge railing. I stop only very briefly for a couple of shots before hurrying on across.

By three I’m at the main downtown intersection, Fort Smith, and Day’s Inn. I’m in!

A quick trip to Subway and I’m padlocked in for the duration. WiFi, what a remarkable service. Time to catch up on correspondence, journal entries, and to suds and wring at least a bit of the grime out of my gear. Oh, and finally to dig out the dug-in thorns from my hands, arms, and legs.

On tomorrow to Oklahoma and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail.

Saturday—August 27, 2011
Trail Day—47
Trail Mile—19/830
Location—SR-112, Cameron, Oklahoma, then on to Poteau

It was a real treat to finish the day early and get out of the heat yesterday. Some time to rest was needed, certainly a blessing. My clothing, my gear, absolutely filthy. So was I. Took longer to get the ring out from around the bathtub than to take my bath. Plenty to do on journals and correspondence. That kept me busy the remainder of the afternoon.

Day’s Inn is right in the middle of Fort Smith, so I’m figuring it’s going to take at least as long to get out of town as it did to make it in—well over an hour. I break it up some with a couple of stops, one for breakfast at Lucy’s (where some kind soul picks up my tab), and the other for a pint of the local ice cream.

I was late getting going, so I was also late getting out of town—and to the Oklahoma state line at the Choctaw Casino/reservation, where I give Sheltowee a call. Was thinking about him and his trek west a few years ago (which took him across the Arkansas/Oklahoma state line).

It’s turning to be another scorcher on the highway. Folks stop to check on me, to find out what’s going, and to offer me water. One fellow absolutely could not understand why I wouldn’t take a ride. I duck in and out of every convenience store for an ice/Coke refill. The iced-down drink sure helps—as does the sweat band on my Headsweats long-bill cap.

This roadwalk between the Ozark Highlands and Ouachita Trail(s) is a fair distance, over 90 miles, but, save for the blistering heat, it is not unpleasant. The terrain really has flattened out since crossing into Oklahoma, much more like the arid southwest than the Ozarks. Oh, but I can see the beginning of the Ozarks of Oklahoma, and I’ll be climbing around in them soon.

Folks here in Oklahoma are every bit as loose with their change as those of Arkansas. Picked up 83 cents today, two quarters, two dimes, a nickel, and the rest, pennies.

The kind young lady at Rick’s convenience really filled me up, two huge cheeseburgers, two orders of fries, and of course I near drained their fountain of ice and Coke. Polished it off with a pint of their good local (not that insanely overpriced New England overrated stuff), tin roof it was called—oh man!

When I found out that the intersection of SR-112 and US-59, on down past Cameron, has all the usual chain operations I trek it the extra 7.5 miles to get there. Tall iced-down Coke from Burger King. Folks overnighting it in the Super Wal-Mart lot—two eighteen-wheelers, three six-wheelers (motor homes)—and this no-wheeler. I find a nicely mowed spot out by the tire center to pitch.

Just a great day on the road (shoulder).

Sunday—August 28, 2011
Trail Day—48
Trail Mile—19/849
Location—Wister, then on toward Talimena State Park

Other than for three pull-n-push-engined freight trains rumbling straight through my tent, I enjoyed a perfectly serene night at the Wal-Mart Campground.

It’s three miles from the bypass to downtown Poteau—and McDonalds. They do serve a decent breakfast. This morning, mine will be biscuits and gravy, plus hash browns. Oh yeah, and coffee. I hook to their WiFi with my little iTouch, check email, and get caught up on journals.

Another fine day (every day on the trail is a fine day for hiker trash), and I’m out to see the world—after I duck into the first jiffy for a tall iced down fountain Coke—and my ice cream fix, the good local stuff. These parts of Oklahoma it’s offered up by Hiland-Roberts. Sure, they’ve the freezer burned New England stuff too. But nobody’s buying it. How does B&J stay in business?

I manage Wester in time for dinner. The restaurant I’m told to hit is Bev’s. Oh yes, great food, kind and generous folks—waitress buys me dinner!

Wester has a Dollar General, the perfect place to resupply. Into my pack goes strawberry jelly, bread, cookies. raisins, and Fritos—enough for four days.

By late afternoon the Tarmac is sizzlin’. And I’m out of water. Not good. Not good at all. At the junction of US-170 and US-171 an old fellow is sitting next his busted down pickup, a tarp draped over the whole thing for shade. He’s trying to sell three scrawny watermelon, probably all he harvested from his dried up garden. I duck under his tarp to get out of the sun. “Pretty hot to be out there on the highway.” his greeting.  When I tell him I’m out of water, he fetches his five-gallon cooler from the cab and sets it on his tailgate, next the scrawny watermelon. “Ain’t cold, but it’s wet—help yourself.” he shrugs. What a kindhearted old fellow.

From the 170/171 junction, it’s 16 miles to Telamina State Park and the beginning of the Ouachita Trail. It’s slow, hot going. By dark I’ve made it about half way. A flat spot on the ridge above the road is home.Location

Monday—August 29, 2011
Trail Day—49
Trail Mile—23/872
Location—US-271 Talimena State Park, Ouachita Trail, then on to mileposts #12 Ouachita Trail.

A pleasant night, until the storm came through around two. I scrambled to rig my fly. Still got wet. It finally let up just after sunrise, so I was able to break camp and hit the road.

It’s still some ten miles on down to the park. I’m there by noon, load up on water, and begin my hike on the Ouachita Trail.

First thing, a good climb up to the scenic drive, where the trail crosses. Then comes an immediate bail-off on the other side. Rough going. Rocks, boulders, climb, climb, climb. This is starting out as one very rugged trail. Boulder field after boulder field; don’t recall ever hiking this long, continuously, through rocks and boulders. Just wicked tread.

I’ve been warned about there being little or no water on this section, not until Horsethief Springs, some 20 miles distant. I do luck out and find a small pool in the upper run to Bohannon Creek. I load up there for the night before struggling on to near milepost #12, where I find a flat spot and call it a day. Water rationing for supper—and the night.

Tuesday—August 30, 2011
Trail Day—50
Trail Mile—20/892
Location—Horsethief Springs, then on to milepost #33

It was incredibly slow going yesterday afternoon and evening. I was surprised this morning when I passed milepost #12. Sure thought I got farther along than that. An urgency for sure today. I know the next water will be at Horsethief Springs, which is at milepost #20. That’s another eight miles to go. And I’ve only ten ounces of water left from last night. The full eight miles is through boulder beds and rocks—with plenty of climbing. It’s unbelievably slow, arduous going. Every step must be intentionally placed, lest it be my last—again. The heat of the day is already starting at nine, and I’m down to less than five ounces of water. Finally reach Horsethief at 11:30.

There’s a huge stone structure around the spring. I can see it from a distance. I can also see there’s no water flowing from it. Looking down into the enclosure I see a small pool of stagnant water—and what looks to be a spring box. I crawl down. The box is covered with a very thick and very heavy concrete lid. But it’s been slid to the side just far enough for me to get my hand in. There’s water in the box, clear, cool water. Tastes like cistern water. Oh yes, that’s fine!  My lucky day for sure. Thank you, Lord!

I camel-up (60 ounces downed) but leave Horsethief with only 20-ounces of water, expecting to fully water-up at Winding Stair Campground only four miles distant. Bad decision. The campground is closed—no water. So now I’m down to ten ounces of water again. Red Springs is another five miles. Red Springs is supposed to be reliable, but it’s been known to dry up by late summer. From the sign marking the short trail over to the spring, I can see a trickle of water coming out of the pipe. It’s called Red Springs because the whole area around it is “red” from the iron in the water. Good water? Oh yes, cold, clear (filled with iron) thirst quenching water!

For sure I camel-up and fill both my bottles. There should be water in Big Cedar Creek, but I’m not going to rely on it. And good thing. Two small stagnant pools of water in Big Cedar, that was it.

Excitement for today, except for being thirsty and dehydrated most the entire day was flushing two turkey from their high-up tree perch. What an alarming racket. Made me duck, reflex for sure.

The boulder fields have backed off and I’ve been able to move out a bit. Make it to near milepost #34 where I pitch on the only flat spot—right beside the trail.

Wednesday—August 31, 2011
Trail Day—51
Trail Mile—21/913
Location—Kiamichi River 1st crossing, then on back into Arkansas to Queen Wilhelmina State Park milepost #51

The past number of nights I’ve pitched my tent without rigging the fly, it’s remained so hot at night. But last night, no problem with the heat—I was so totally exhausted, mostly from worrying the whole day over water.

I stayed the trail till nearly dark in order to get within striking distance of Queen Wilhelmina State Park (and the lodge and restaurant). Looks of it this morning (just passed under the power lines) I’m at milepost #34. That leaves me with 17-18 miles to reach the lodge—doable for sure.

Section Two, which began at Winding Stair Campground, is much more hiker friendly. Not all the rocks and boulder fields are gone, but they’ve sure backed off—a blessing for my tired old back, feet, and knees. It is amazing that I’ve not had to favor my right leg the least. It’s strong, the broken bone totally healed.

Even with the remaining rocks I’m able to set a decent pace. I’d hoped for water at Pashubbe Creek, but there’s not even the least of a puddle. Oh my, running out of water once more. Only ten ounces left now, and no water at Pashubbe, and I’ve a tough climb up and over Wilton Mountain. Sure no fun running on empty. It’s downright scary when the sweating stops and you can feel your head starting to bust. Okay, buckle it and head for the Kiamichi River. The trail crosses it numerous times.  Should be plenty of water in the Kiamichi. WRONG!

By the third crossing, with nothing at any of them but boulders and rocks, panic was setting in. No way I’ll ever manage the long, hard pull up Rich Mountain. Oh my, how fortunate. At the forth or fifth crossing (the one with the great campsite) I found water about 50-yards downstream. It was a very small depression no more than four feet wide, ten feet long, a foot deep. But it was water, some of the sweetest water I can ever recall drinking. I camel-up, and load up—for the pull up Rich, and the hike on into the lodge.

By a little after four I’m sitting in the lodge dining room, tall, iced down glasses of water and Pepsi on the table in front of me. Hiker trash deal for the night. Wonderful meal.

Today’s hike took me through the Upper Kiamichi Wilderness. It was a memorable day, but mostly one of worry. So little faith—forgive my doubtful way, dear Lord.

Thursday—September 1, 2011
Trail Day—52
Trail Mile—18/931
Location—FR-516 Eagle Gap, then on to Tan-a-Hill Spring

Queen Wilhelmina Lodge is a great place. Sure glad I decided to stay—right decision!

First thing, as I head out this morning, I run into a really big black bear right below the lodge at the beginning of the Lover’s Leap Trail. Strange he’s hanging around so close. Not alarming for me, but pop, mom, and the kids might want to think twice about taking the short hike down to the overlook. Gotta wonder if Smokey’s getting into the trash or if someone’s feeding him. Either way, not good—this fellow was very well nourished—and BIG!

A mix of trail today, smooth sailin’ and more boulder fields.

I’m out of Ecotrin (my coated aspirin), so I’ve got to make a run into town. From where the trail crosses US-270 (Big Brushy Campground), from there it should be an easy hitch into Mount Ida. Problem is, there’s 44 miles of rugged trail between here and there. And to complicate matters, there’s little water along this stretch of trail.

The lodge seems the top of the world. The far-off valley seen from the vista here—is way down there. These Ouachita Mountains are tall and rock-rugged. For sure I’ll be getting a dressing down about one of my recent video segments—in which I mention the Ozarks of eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. Indeed, these Ouachitas are separate, they have their own uniqueness, certainly a stature and presentation all their own. I’ll be climbing around in the Ouachitas clear to Little Rock. Sorry about the error!

Heading out this morning (on past Lover’s Leap), and after crossing the scenic drive, the trail does a major bail-off, over a thousand feet in less than four miles—oh yes, rugged mountains!

Doesn’t take long for me to appreciate how incredibly dry these mountains have become. Huge patches of brown are widespread and can be seen all along the mountainsides. Where the trail drops to cross Big Creek (headwaters of the Ouachita) then again at Clear Creek (Eagle Gap), both have no running water, just stagnant pools. Sure glad I cameled-up at the restaurant this morning and am carrying double my usual water—two twenty-ounce bottles.

Another black bear sighting (more like a visit). This poor fellow is suffering the drought along with all the rest of Ma Nature’s kin. He never did see me, and I was right on the trail in front of him. Skinny little guy grubbed and foraged the longest time before staggering off in the woods. Never had the luxury of so much time, for video and still shots. Wait till these are up in my albums—just some super shots.

At a tributary to Cedar Creek I’m able to take water from a small pool there. Hopefully, I’ll find (and I’m relying on finding) water at Tan-a-Hill Spring, some 24 miles from the lodge. Tan-a-Hill Spring is my destination for tonight. Please, Lord, I’ll need water, lots of water to make the thousand-foot climb up and over Fourche Mountain tomorrow.

A bit more friendly tread today, but still plenty of climbing—and boulder fields. I’m totally beat and out of water when I finally reach the spring—just before sunset. Oh my, the spring is wet. Nothing to brag about, just a two-foot round, three-inch deep pool between some tree roots. But tell you what, here’s the coolest, clearest, sweetest spring water I can recall drinking—ever! I guzzle eighty (yes, eighty) ounces in less than four minutes, then slosh my way down the old road a ways to pitch for the night. Ah, and two more twenties downed during the night. What a blessing to find this spring still running, an absolute blessing.

Friday—September 2, 2011
Trail Day—53
Trail Mile—21/952
Location—Turner Creek Gap, then on to US-270/Big Brushy Campground—and a hitch to Mount Ida

First thing between me and US-270 today is Fourche Mountain, a full-pull climb of 1000 feet. And I’ve over a 20-mile hike to get to US-270.

Back to the spring this morning I camel-up (sixty ounces) then fill both my water bottles. It’s going to be a very difficult day. 40 ounces of water to get me 20 miles, and temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. I’ll have to ration what water I can carry. Sure won’t be easy sipping rather than gulping.

I’m out and climbing before seven. Hot, but not so bad this early (sunrise was 6:51). By nine, though, the trail really starts cookin’, and before noon I’m already beginning to stagger around. Finding a cool place, consuming plenty of liquids—not an option on top of this mountain. It’s well over 100 degrees now. On the ridge there are only stunts for trees, so there’s precious little shade. Brush and briars totally occupy the trail. I struggle on as the sun keeps drilling a hole right through me. With the high temperature (plus the heat index), high humidity and the frying pan for trail, there’s no way to keep my body temperature under control. 98.6 it ain’t. And with the constant exertion, my body starts telling me things have gotta change fast, really fast. I’m at milepost #83. That’s not even halfway. I’m soaking wet with sweat, but with scant fluid intake I’m drying up and beginning to feel groggy and disoriented.

Thank you, Lord, for the cool breeze that’s come in from somewhere as the trail enters a mature pine canopy—shade. I stumble off the trail to the trunk of one of the huge pine, drop my pack, drop down on it, take a couple sips of hot water—and instantly fall asleep. An hour goes by before I wake up.

It’s almost two now and I’ve many miles yet to go to reach Big Brushy (appropriate name!). Pretty much the kind of day I feared, but no way was I ready for this. As I lift myself up and shoulder my pack, seems the intense heat has backed off a bit, and the breeze is still coming through. My head isn’t busting and I can feel some strength coming back in my legs. It’s pretty much downhill from here on in, I try convincing myself. Oh sure!

I slow my pace considerably—and keep sipping. Still have over 20 ounces of water, and I’m doing a fair job at sweating again. Think I can haul it on in. Hey, milepost #90. That’s a great number. Only four-plus miles to go now, pretty much all downhill—and I can hear traffic running US-270 down below.

Lots of clear water in Brushy Creek but it’s way down below the bridge and I’m anxious to reach the road, so I hike the remaining short distance on. Ever optimistic I expect a ride right away—NOT. The traffic is flying. No one wants to stop. One guy waves, two more honk. Thanks a lot!

Forty-five minutes, still waiting. I’ve become so weak again that I must sit down on the rock wall around the campground sign. I do manage to stand a moment and stick my thumb out when I hear another vehicle coming down the highway.

Finally, a  fellow in a pickup seems to slow the least as he whizzes by. Couple minutes later he comes back. Yippee! “You out hiking in this heat!” The fellow’s a local, name’s Larry—shakes his head in disbelief. Larry has a case of (hot) bottle-water in his truck bed. Notice it right away when I lift my pack over. And I right away don’t hesitate asking him if he’d mind I take one.

Larry is a rep for the animal pharmaceutical industry. He’s on the road a lot, with most of what he carries stowed on the passenger seat. Takes him awhile to make room, and in the process he comes up with a (in the cool cab) another bottle of water, plus a Dr. Pepper. Oh yes, all three are down and gone pronto.

Very kind, content, laid back fellow, Larry. His turnoff to home is nine miles this side of Mount Ida, but he drives me on down. There’s a room for me at Mount Ida Motel. This’ll work!

Thanks, Larry, for your kindness, for taking time to befriend this tired old hiker—thanks so much!

What a scary day. Yes I know—dumb! Seems I never learn. But I’m totally consumed now with finishing this odyssey, and I will finish it.

Double cheeseburger and fries, plus at least a gallon of ice water and fountain Pepsi at Mount Ida Cafe—and I’m starting to come around again. Sure will remember this one for awhile, a very long while.

Saturday—September 3, 2011
Trail Day—54
Trail Mile—00/952
Location—Mount Ida, Arkansas

Sure am glad I decided to give it a rest for this day. My strength is returning, but slowly, and weather-wise it looks to be cranking up for another scorcher.

Hurricane Lee, now in the Gulf, is predicted to bring in a noticeable weather change for the Ouachitas, much cooler conditions, low 80s, perhaps even high 70s, and some rain. The intense heat and drought may be on their way out. If this forecast holds true, it’ll sure be a benefit to this weary old hiker. So, taking a day to rest, the decision to give the old body (and the trail) a break—right decision.

And it isn’t all feet up and rest. A trip to the post office to rid myself of a little pack weight. My shoes are giving it up because of the rugged tread. I’m attempting to patch and repair them. Luke, inkeep here at Mount Ida Motel, runs me to the drugstore, then the market—coated aspirin and provisions for the next number of days. But mainly a day of much needed rest. I’m up to that.

Sunday—September 4, 2011
Trail Day—55
Trail Mile—21/973
Location—Fiddlers Creek, then on to Muddy Creek, milepost #119

Mount Ida is a thru-hiker’s trail town. It’s got everything one could possibly need, like Mount Ida (mom-n-pop) Motel, and right next door, Mount Ida (mom-n-pop) Café. When I say mom-n-pop, I’m talking about family owned businesses. Mount Ida Motel couldn’t be much more family. Luke, innkeep, was raised in Mount Ida, right here at the motel. He left for a while, did a stint with the Marines, but he’s back now, running the motel. Can’t get much more local, or mom-n-pop than that!

A bit about Mount Ida Motel. For sure it isn’t five-star. The place is old and starting to unravel around the edges. But for hiker trash like this old intrepid—just no finer place. Great rates (I stay two nights), friendly, helpful folks—and Luke’s got WiFi! A couple examples of Luke’s kindness: As with many old villages, the main business district has moved away from downtown. The grocery, drug store, other chain operations, they’re a mile or better on out now. Too far to walk (Ha), so Luke drives me out, and waits patiently as I shop for provisions and other necessities to get me on through to Little Rock. Also, I’d become concerned about hitching a ride back to the trail so early on a Sunday morning, so I asked Luke if he’d drive me up. Yup, Sunday morning he’s ready at sunrise, to haul me back up the mountain to Big Brushy Trailhead. Luke, your kindness, your hospitality—I’ll not forget. Thanks, friend!

The boulder fields, rocks (and long climbs), have backed off, also the blast-furnace heat (thanks, Hurricane Lee), but not the scarcity of water. Finding and taking water remains a constant problem. For sure, I never intended to be on this trail in August or September, but circumstances have placed me here, and for better or worse, here I am, water or no.

More interesting names today, places along, like Murder Creek, Blowout Mountain, a bit of a climb I’m on now. But there’s cushy tread today through mature groves of pine, their soft, forgiving mat of needles underfoot and all along. I’m able to stretch my legs, extend my stride, and really move out. Just the best tread so far. Such a blessing to these old rock-hammered and weary feet. And I’m no longer staggering around, about to pass out from heat exhaustion!

I find a couple pools of stagnant water at Fiddlers Creek. Nothing to brag about, but I’m thankful for them, as I’m expecting Rainy Creek to be running rocks, not water (which is the case), leaving a dry stretch of nearly 20-miles to Story Creek/Chalybeate Spring. Reaching Story (and dry again) I water-up. More warm puddles. Not whining, folks, warm (and a bit murky) water is still wet! A few sprinkles today. A bit of wind for a change, cool wind, with temps only reaching the high 80s. The change in weather caused by Lee; what a true blessing!

At Muddy Creek/FR-149, I again find and take water, then pitch the other side of the road. Just a great hike today. Good strength and stamina. Cool days like this, high 80s (yes, the high 80s are cool compared to triple digits), if these conditions hold, I’m confident now I’ll reach Little Rock—to end this trek—in fine condition.

Monday—September 5, 2011 Labor Day
Trail Day—56
Trail Mile—43/1016
Location—SR-27 then on to Blue Mountain Shelter

Today should be an easy day, comparatively. The boulder fields have all but disappeared, the Ouachitas flattened some, making for much less vertical trail. Of course, there’ll be the ever-worrisome water shortage problem associated with hiking these mountains late summer, but I’ll deal with that.

And so the day begins, and continues—until I reach Irons Fork Creek. At Irons Fork, and for the next five miles (to FR-78) am I dealt the most unbelievable trail. Problem? The four “Bs”” blowdowns, briars, brambles, and brush. The entire area suffers yet—from an intense and devastating wildfire. Looks of it, the inferno occurred some five to ten years ago. Total burn-over. The fire killed and destroyed nearly everything in its path, mature oak, pine, everything. And now, their remains continuing to deteriorate, the dead tops are slowly giving in to the wind. They lie full about, and scatter the entire trail. Some large snags still stand, but most have been blown down, blocking the trail in the most remarkable way.

It’s hard to tell if there’s been any cleanup since the fire. Tops and blowdowns litter the trail by the hundreds. And to make matters worse, with the overstory gone” there’s the seasonal growth, a literal explosion of briars, brambles, and brush. A nightmare. It’s impossible to stay upright, what with the extent of greenbriar and brush tangle. I fall countless times. In the process, and relying on my trekking poles to keep me from doing even more headers, I manage to bend them both very badly. Five hours, five, that’s how long it takes me to put this trail from hell behind me.

The remainder of the day proves delightful. Finding just the right fork in a tree, I manage to pretty much straighten my mangled trekking poles. Ah, and glory be, there’s abundant water in the North Fork, Ouachita River, where I camel-up then fill my bottles for the remainder of the day.

Even with the slow going mid-day, and with a bunged up right leg (from all the falls), I still manage to make it to Blue Mountain Shelter, just short of 25 for the day. At Blue Mountain I’ve passed one itinerary click (the remaining short distance to SR-27), and have arrived at another.

The memorable time for this day (other than the not-so-memorable burnover bushwhack) is in meeting two other backpackers, their shiny, smiling faces coming at me down the trail. It’s Thad and Katy. They’re out for the long weekend, backpacking this delightful Ouachita National Recreation Trail.

Tuesday—September 6, 2011
Trail Day—57
Trail Mile-21/1037
Location—Sugar Creek, then on to Oak Mountain Shelter, milepost #167

Today will prove pivotal as I work plans to complete this Triple-O trek. From here at Blue Mountain Shelter to SR-9, it’s 51 miles. Plans are to be at SR-9 tomorrow evening. I’ve got enough food for tonight, but for two more nights, that’d really be stretching my meager provisions (poor planning in Mount Ida). So, I need to get off this trail and into town tomorrow. Oh, and hey, the grand plan is to be in Little Rock Friday evening, to catch the night train home!

Perryville is a short distance up SR-9. I’m told there’s a restaurant and store there. So, if I can knock down this 25 today, that’ll leave me with 25 or less tomorrow, to reach SR-9.

The day dawns quite cool, just a perfect morning for hiking. I’m camp-broke, pack up, and haulin’ before 7:30. Plenty of ups and downs today, as usual, but they’ll prove ever the more gentle. Perusing my profile map, I can see these lesser bips and bops. Of course, and I know, the rocks and continual climbing will slow me some, but if the trail is open, not clogged with the four “Bs” I’ll be able to cover the ground. I just dearly hope the trail will be open so I can move out. Oh, and please, folks, please, I’m not in such a great hurry to finish that I’ll not enjoy the remainder of these beautiful Ouachitas. I will pause to see them. There’ll be plenty more pictures and videos for your viewing pleasure, I assure you. It’s just that the time has come (as in all things) to close out this odyssey—and head for home.

The trail is open, just beautiful tread, and I’m able to move along fine. Indeed, the day goes quite well. My bruised leg muscle barks a bit, but the pain’s no worse. Oak Mountain Shelter is my destination for today, and I manage it with half-an-hour of daylight to spare. This 25+ is done.

Now, another 25 tomorrow to reach SR-9, from there to hitch it up to Perryville. A couple good (home-cooked) meals at Jones Family Restaurant just south of Perryville (Dwinda called and talked to them—oh yes, home-cooked), perhaps a shower and a good night’s rest (resort cabins nearby) and I’ll be rarin’ to return to this trail, then the downhill to Little Rock—and the completion of this amazing odyssey.

Wednesday—September 7, 2011
Trail Day—58
Trail Mile—19/1056
Location—Brown Creek, then on to SR-9 and a hitch down to Jones Family Restaurant, Perryville

Ending the day yesterday at Oak Mountain Shelter worked perfectly. I got the 25+ in and had the very best accommodations for the night. Hey, hey! Second night in a row in a shelter. Very enjoyable. Can’t remember the last time I stayed in a shelter.

Another beautifully clear, cool, day. Turns out, right after Hurricane Lee passed through the Gulf, the weather here cooled off immediately. The daily highs have barely gotten into the 80s. Just perfect hiking weather. I’m up at first light preparing for the day, reviewing maps, packing my gear. I’m out and hiking a little after six-thirty.

The entire morning is spent in the Flatside Wilderness. I’d figured on lots of rocks, tough ups and downs. But the hike is a cruise, save for getting through an extensive area of storm damage down along Crystal Prong/Cedar Creek. Near countless blowdowns, but nothing like back on Moonhull Mountain in the Ozark Highlands. The trail immediately disappears into the tangle and mangle, the pileup. Checking my map, I see it crosses the creek down below. So I simply work my way (over, under, around, and through) on down to the creek. At the creek I lucky-guess the right direction to turn, and find the crossing immediately! There’s also much storm damage on the other side, but thankfully, it’s been cleared.

Many more ups and downs as I make my way to Flatside Pinnacle, one of the most spectacular overlooks in my recent memory. Looking (and gaping) out from the pinnacle, Flatside Wilderness (which I just hiked through) rolls out below. Ah, and to anchor this spectacular and sweeping scene, as centerpiece, Forked Mountain. Just an awe-inspiring view. From Flatside, more climbing to North Fork Pinnacle. Then it’s cruising time again, past Lake Sylvia, and on to SR-9. I’m there just before five.

Two minutes, that’s all it takes to thumb a ride down to Jones Family Restaurant. Thanks, Mark!

Great food and fine hospitality. I absolutely hurt myself—huge chunk of meatloaf, piles of mashed potatoes and gravy, navy beans. Then more mashed potatoes and gravy, more navy beans. Put a dent, big-time, in their fountain, too!

Thanks. Billy. And thanks, Johnny, for letting me pitch at your place, right here behind the restaurant (no way I could afford a cabin—on down the way).

Iced down Coke right here in my tent as I work my journal entry for today. Really roughin’ it, eh!

Tomorrow will be my last full day on this Ouachita Trail.

Thursday—September 8, 2011
Trail Day—59
Trail Mile—24/1080
Location—Lake Maumelle Campsite #1

Billy at Jones Family Restaurant checked into getting me a nearby cabin for the night last, but it was way out of my price range—same amount needed for my train ticket home. He then called Johnny, owner of Jones Family Restaurant, to see if I could pitch my tent out back. Yup, I was in for the night. Again, thanks Billy, thanks Johnny!

Although I put a hurtin’ on myself last evening, ate way too much, I’m right back at five this morning for more. The usual high-octane breakfast, short stack and eggs, plus a pot of coffee.

A little after six-thirty, I’m standing the shoulder, SR-9 out front, thumb out, hoping for instant luck on a ride back up the mountain. Doesn’t happen. Finally, a construction worker takes pity and stops. He hauls me to the junction of SRs-9 and 10.  The fellow’s bound for Little Rock, on down SR-10, so he drops me at the junction. Lots of traffic this morning, but everybody’s barreling to work in Little Rock. Nobody’s turning up SR-9. Seems I’m doomed for the day, stuck here at this junction. But hey, would you believe this? Who finally comes by. Oh yes, it’s Mark, same fellow that gave me a ride down yesterday evening. Mark stops, loads me again, and hauls me back up the mountain. You believe this! I’m back on trail at 8:30.

Another glorious day for hiking, clear, cool, and calm. This will be my last full day on the Ouachita Trail, around a 23, and even with the late start, I’ve plenty of time.

As the trail meanders the Maumelle River, and just before the bridge, I chance to meet Randy. He’s out hiking. Part of his therapy—trying to get over a broken back. We share a few minutes of good company.

I certainly hadn’t expected (but should have known I’d have) a water problem around the lake. Numerous wide, boulder-choked, drainages, but not the least puddle in any of them. Along in the afternoon I meet another hiker, Mack.  Hey, the fellow’s got a backpack on—a bit of time now to just relax and enjoy life, before putting his recently acquired law degree to work—the rest of his life. And so Mack’s settled on a few days trekking this Ouachita Trail. I tell him about the water problem. Mack’s got plenty, so he shares with me; thanks, Mack!

While crossing the bridge over Big Maumelle I found a roll of masking tape. Picked it up. So this evening, after pitching for the night (and downing the two ham and cheese sandwiches from Jones Family Restaurant), I try taping up my pitiful shoes. Just one more day; they’ll make it one more day, as tomorrow’s my final day on this Triple-O Trail.

Friday—September 9, 2011
Trail Day—60
Trail Mile—31/1111
Location—Pinnacle Mountain State Park, end of the Ouachita Trail, then on to Amtrak, downtown Little Rock

This day is THE day, my final day of this journey, Odyssey 2011. You may recall this Triple-O hike was supposed to be a warm-up, purpose being to whip me into shape for trekking the final two National Scenic Trail(s), the Ice Age and the New England. But rather than whipping me into shape, this Triple-O has just plain whipped me, pure and simple. I should have been in Little Rock no later than mid-June. It’s now going on mid-September!

I’ve been humbled before, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been as firmly slammed in place—like the whipping these three trails have laid on me. And as to the virtue of patience? Oh my, daily do I pray for patience in all ways. Sitting around 18 days, waiting while my knees came back, then sitting again for nearly two months, waiting for my broken leg to heal—all those days spent just sitting (and waiting)—thank you, Lord, for a new appreciation and understanding of patience—and for granting me the strength (and patience) to endure.

I’m out at first light, with a light heart and a light pack—haulin’. Today’s trek turns to be a cruise—and I’m on cruise, from a wonderful feeling that’s welling up from deep within. I feel so privileged, so proud, to be the first to hike this Triple-O. Any one of these trails, all three indeed, each possesses the necessary requisites, those rare, outstanding, qualities needed to be considered for National Scenic Trail designation. You folks holding positions, whatever influence, within the Triple-O Trail System, I urge you to work diligently, to seek elevation of your trails to National Scenic Trail status.

I knock out the remainder of the Ouachita before noon. Ranger Ron, Pinnacle Mountain State Park, enthusiastically greets me. Genuinely excited, Ron listens intently as I relate my story about this journey, and its ending right here at his park. On the deck by the Visitor Center, I linger—deep, emotional feelings, reliving these past 60 days on the trail. What a blessing, to have been granted the grit and determination to endure against such adversity, such demoralizing setbacks. But here I am, at Pinnacle Mountain.

And here, today, a bit of hiking history has been made, the first thru-hike linking all three O-Trails, the Ozark, the Ozark Highlands, and the Ouachita. The catchy new title, “Triple-O,” as coined by my dear friend, Gordon, will certainly become known far and wide. And it’s possible, just possible that this Triple-O Trail could well become the premier trail—of all trails throughout the Midwest.

From Pinnacle Mountain I’ve a roadwalk, some 15-miles on into Little Rock, the Amtrak Station there. My night train home, it doesn’t depart Little Rock until 11:30, so I’ve got the remainder of this day to wander (and wonder) my way on down.

While hiking the Base Trail around Pinnacle, part of which is shared by the Ouachita, I chance to meet David. Hearing about my planned route into Little Rock, David urges me to go another way, through Two Rivers Park, the new pathway there. It’s known as the Arkansas River Trail, and will soon connect Pinnacle Mountain with the existing trail system in Little Rock, thereby adding some 17 additional miles to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. Here at the state park, Ranger Ron has also urges me to go this way. “You’ll be the first to hike this trail all the way through.”

Okay, that’s it. Instead of continuing down Pinnacle Valley Road, then to SR-10 for the long, traffic-congested roadwalk, over to Two Rivers Park I go. I turn at County Farm Road, to trek the bikeway on into Two Rivers Park. At the park, I pick up the paved way over to the new Two Rivers Park Bridge, which crosses the Maumelle right at the Arkansas River. Wow, talk about timing, this bridge was just dedicated July 23rd. And what a popular, very busy place it has already become. It’s estimated that over 1,500 people enjoy this trail each and every day.

Once over the bridge, it’s down Rebsamen Park Road, past the Big Dam Bridge over Murray Lock and Dam, and on past Murray and Rebsamen Parks—into downtown Little Rock.

If I choose to stay the river, I’ll connect with Riverfront Park in downtown Little Rock. But it’s late afternoon now, and all I’ve had to keep me going today are two Pepsis and a Snickers ice cream bar from Pinnacle—plus three energy bars and some raisins given me by two kind young ladies at Two Rivers Park. So, where Rebsamen Park Road breaks from the river, to head over to SR-10, I break from the river, too. Ah, and just before reaching SR-10, in a small, intimate, business district, I’m immediately drawn to The Faded Rose, a delightful little bar and grill. First order, drain their fountain, then it’s set myself to wolfing down a mighty fine cheeseburger and fries.

For sure, a strange looking character, the old Nimblewill. Word soon gets around about the amazing odyssey I’m about to wrap up. Pretty much through my burger and fries now, over comes this gentlemen. “I’m Buddy Villines.” Big smile as he introduces himself. Okay, folks, don’t quite know how to make this convincing. By now, though, I guess you’ll pretty much believe anything I tell you. This one, however, may cause you the least frown, then tilt you back on your heels a bit.

Buddy Villines; who is Buddy Villines? Well, when pictures of the beautiful new Two Rivers Park Bridge, those I’ve just taken this afternoon, are posted to my Web site, zoom in on the bronze bridge dedication plaque you’ll see there. Oh my, when Buddy introduces himself, I recognize the name immediately. Shaking my head, I’m totally taken aback. Prominently cast in large letters, here’s the first line inscribed on that plaque: “F. G. ‘Buddy’ Villines, III, Pulaski County Judge/Chief Executive Officer, Pulaski County Quorum Court.”

You believe this? Didn’t think so. What great conversation we share. Buddy knows what I’ve just accomplished, that this day, I’ve hiked his dreamed connector trail. “The fact that I wanted to link downtown Little Rock with the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, that convincing argument went far in selling the whole bridge idea.” Another wide grin on Buddy’s face. Is this not unbelievable!

Well folks, hang on. This day ain’t over yet. Out the door from The Faded Rose, over to SR-10, then down the sidewalk there—and less than a mile from the train station now this fellow approaches me. “You Nimblewill? You’re Nimblewill, aren’t you?” Over 60,000 people call Little Rock home, and this fellow has managed to track me down! A firm handshake and I meet Kent. “I’ve never emailed you, never even signed your guestbook, don’t own any of your books, but I’ve read your journals and I know you well. I knew you’d be hiking into Little Rock today—stayed a half-hour longer at work in hopes of running into you on my way home.” You believing this one? Amazing, just amazing. Dang, Bocephus, we sure enough gotta get us some bigger shades!

“Christmas and my birthday, all rolled into one.” The guy’s totally ecstatic. “Anything you need; can I take you anyplace?” Kent’s still off-the-sidewalk with excitement. “I need to find a drugstore.” my reply. Next thing we’re loaded and headed back up SR-10. “My place is less than ten minutes from here. Sure would like for my family to meet you.” says Kent. “I’m filthy, stinking, dirty, Kent. Take me home with you and it could well be your undoing.” Doesn’t deter him. “My wife wants to meet you, too.” says Kent. I shrug, “There’s time, and I could sure use a shower.” “Great, that’s it. Lori will wash your clothes.”

Out of the drugstore now, we head for Kent’s. Lori, and their children, Ben and Katy (and Ben’s friend, Marret), they’re all excited to meet me. I hit it off right away with Katy. She’s losing her baby teeth. “I know the Tooth Fairy; I’ll put in a good word for you.” Katy’s believing it. Not so good a reception from Annie their dog though. But Fred, the cat, takes to me right away.

Just the most remarkable time spent with these very kind folks. I recite a couple ditties. Tears all around. Just an intense, moving time.

Back in the car, then back down SR-10 to the sidewalk there, it’s dark now. Kent insists on walking with me to the station. Brought his flashlight to help us along. At the station, he lingers. We talk some more. A firm handshake and he’s gone.

I’m absolutely and totally drained emotionally. Way too much of a whirlwind day for this old backwoods intrepid, way too much.

My train’s an hour late, pretty much as expected with Amtrak. The train car is packed. Should have expected that too; we’re headed for St. Louis. Very little sleep. Just way too wound up. Train arrives St. Louis in time for my connection to Jefferson City. I’m in Jeff on time, 7:34 AM. Dwinda welcomes me with open arms.

And so, dear friends, this journey is finally over. Thank you, Lord, for your safe keeping these many days. Such a blessing to this old man, such a blessing.

Wednesday—September 28, 2011
Final Entry—Odyssey 2011: Triple-O

Dreaming a dream is one thing, realizing that dream (quite often) can turn to be another thing entirely. You see folks, for the past number of years, while being asked repeatedly if he’d hiked any of the great trails in his own backyard, and after living the continual frustration of having to say no, in his mind, then, began forming the dream to do just that, to hike the great trails of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. And so, the passion, the quest to fulfill that dream was born, a dream to connect, by a thru-hike, the three major Midwestern trails, the Ozark, the Ozark Highlands, and the Ouachita.

And finally, on May 4th of this year, at Onondaga Cave State Park southwest of St. Louis, Nimblewill began Odyssey 2011. Early-on he’d been informed by an Ozark Highlands Trail volunteer that no one had yet thru-hiked the Ozark and the Ozark Highlands Trail(s), let alone all three. So for sure, throughout the journey, the excitement continually welled within him. It was a glorious beginning. However, as circumstances quite often turn, the journey proved unbelievably long and very bumpy. Things were progressing just fine, that is until May 22nd when Nomad suffered a major setback. After 18 days and a little over 300 miles on the Ozark Trail, and after days of dealing with excruciating knee pain, it became evident that he could no longer continue. It took 18 days and multiple visits to Dr. Tim, Nimblewill’s sports med doc, to finally get his knees working and his legs back under him again. Then, on June 21st, while trekking the Ozark Highlands Trail in the Sylamore Section, Arkansas, at that point, 33 days and 530 miles into the journey, another setback. He took a terrible fall, breaking his right leg in the process. More visits to Doc Tim (and 53 more days off-trail for that one) before finally being able to return.

However, propelled by will and determination, on September 9th, at Pinnacle Mountain State Park north of Little Rock, his dream became reality—a successful thru-hike o’er the Triple-O, a delightfully catchy name for the amalgam of these three trails—as coined by Nimblewill’s dear friend, Gordon.

Oh yes, and oh my goodness, was Odyssey 2011 a difficult and protracted journey, but did it not also turn to be amazingly charmed, the final day, just remarkable. All journal entries, photos, and videos are now posted for your enjoyment.

Thanks, all dear family, friends, and sponsors, for your prayers, encouragement, and support, true and absolute blessings to this old intrepid!

Nimblewill Nomad

Missouri Waltz

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