I decided I should do a little bit of a shakedown hike before I head off for the AT. I choose the Ozark Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest because I know the trail to be a challenging test when it came to the terrain and being in driving distance was a big plus. I parked my van at Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort near Leasburg, Missouri, which is at the trail head of mile#1 of the Ozark trail. I registered my vehicle at their office and told them I would be back sometime Thursday at the latest. I started my hike at 4:15pm on Monday February 27th. The weather was in the 50’s and the sun was shining. I wasn’t sure where I would camp the first night, but I was just excited about getting started so I decided not to wait until the next morning to start.
The trailhead went immediately to some good single track, then around mile 1.5 switched to some logging roads. At mile 2 back to single track.
I saw two nice backwoods camping sites, but was not ready to quit yet.There was still a lot of daylight left. I kept hiking. I really am feeling like I’m getting the technique down on my new trekking poles. They really do help a lot. As I got to about 3.5 miles I know I really need to find a camp site soon and I had’t seen one in a while. I kept going. Still nothing established. I start thinking I may need to just find a good spot and I’m OK with that, but the best “leave no trace” practices tell me it’s best to find a sight that is used regularly rather than disturb the environment by starting another. At about mile 4 I looked at my map and saw that there is a primitive campground at mile 5. If I push I can make it there before dark, so I go hard for the next mile. I do make it to the campground just as it’s beginning to get dark. I end up setting my tent and camp sight up with the help of my headlamp. I found some leaves dry enough to start a fire in the fire ring provided. I used my Jet Boil stove for the first time to cook my supper. I made noodles and added tuna.
I went to bed and did not sleep well. It rained lightly off and on all night(No storms yet). I think between the rain, my adrenaline and it just not being my bed made it hard. In the morning I got up and ate a bagel with peanut butter. I didn’t make any coffee even though I had some.Now the sun is shining and the wind is light. The temp is in the mid 50’s. Beautiful. It’s going to get to about 70 degrees today. 30% chance of storms according to the forecast. Today I plan to hike as far as I can. Ultimately I wanted to make it to Berryman Campground and back to my car by mid day Thursday. So I set out briskly. This hike was more about testing my new shoes, legs and my back and shoulders under my 43 pound pack.I didn’t know that a half mile into my hike I would have cross this river. The river was about knee deep. No way to avoid getting my feet wet. Oh well. At about noon I arrived at the Bass River Resort(mile 13 of the trail). I stopped and topped off my 3 liter bladder and water bottle. I ate a granola bar and bought a coke from the resort office. From this point I know the trail because I’ve been on it multiple times from races I’ve run.I hiked pretty hard all day. At around 3:30 I heard some thunder approaching and before long it started to rain. I stopped and put my rain cover over my back pack. It started to rain harder. Then the hail started. The lightning was all around me. There was no place to take cover. At this point I was more worried about the lightning than anything.Then the hail started getting bigger. It was about marble size, which doesn’t sound big, but trust me marble size hail hitting your head and ears hurts. It’s hailing so much that it’s now covering the trail and the trails getting slick. The hail is going down my back between my backpack. All this time the lightning and wind are going crazy. I am completely soaked.
I know where there is a backwoods camp sight about four miles ahead, so I put my head down and keep hiking. The hail has stopped, but it’s still raining, alternating from heavy to light. The trail I was hiking at times was like a river itself.
I arrived at my camp sight at about 5:00pm. I stood there for a few minutes contemplating setting my tent up in the rain, not looking forward to it. I had no choice. I was in the middle of nowhere. The closest highway was about a seven mile hike. My car was 27.7 miles away. This is where I was spending the night whether I wanted to or not. The camp sight was 75% standing water. The highest ground was next to the creek, which is now running pretty fast.
God must have heard my prayers. It stopped raining. I wasted no time in setting up my tent. I had about thirty minutes of no rain to get my tent set up and everything inside of it. I could hear more thunder on it’s way.
Sure enough, it started pouring again. I ate my supper in my tent. Granola bar and trail mix. No cooking tonight. Fortunately everything in my backpack was dry. I changed out of my wet clothes and climbed into my sleeping bag to warm up. My shoes were soaked though. I new I was going to be hiking with wet feet in the morning. I literally wrung my socks out under my rain fly and hung them in my tent. I had a dry pair of socks in my pack, but I knew I was going to be putting on wet shoes in the morning.
Now, I’ve eaten and I’m dry and warm, but it’s raining. So I didn’t come back out of my tent the rest of the night. The storms through the night were strong. Lots of lightning, thunder, wind and rain. They seemed to come in waves. I could hear the thunder of the storm coming and then it would be immediately overhead in all it’s fury and then I could hear it moving away. Every time I would think that must be the last one. It’s over. And then I would hear thunder in the distance again from another approaching thundercloud. I’m not sure how many times this happened. It seemed like ten.
This night was the most scared I’ve been since I was a child. I had all the worst thoughts going through my mind. What if one of these trees or a big branch comes down on me and my tent? What if the creek I’m next to floods? What if the creek gets so full and fast that it washes away the bank I’m camped on? No one knew where I was and I had no signal for my phone. I saw no one else on the trail that day, so there was probably no one that was going to find me if I was in trouble. I felt very vulnerable. I was completely alone. I was praying out loud. I wanted to yell at the wind every time it started getting violent.
I made up my mind that when I got up in the morning I was headed back towards my car rather than pushing on to the Berryman Campground. You see, the forecast for Thursday was 30% chance of storms again and with no signal to check the weather I didn’t want to put myself further away from my vehicle and get caught again. If I didn’t make it back I would camp another night, but if everything went well maybe I would make it the whole 27.7 miles.
Needless to say I had a mostly sleepless night again. It was a long night considering I went into my sleeping bag at 5:30pm. The storms finally let up at about 3:00am. I slept hard from 3:00-5:00.
In the morning I put on my damp shoes and damp socks and started hiking. My damp feet turned to wet feet in the first five minutes because some of the trails were still more like streams. It was cloudy and considerably cooler than the day before, but no rain. I was good with that. I made great time and was at Bass River Resort by 12:15. I reloaded on water, ate some trail mix and a Snickers and got moving again. Now I know it was realistic to make it back to my van before dark. About a half mile down the trial I stopped and turned around and there was a dog behind me. A big dog. At first I don’t know if he’s friendly or not, so it spooked me a little. I walked a little further and stopped again and so did he. He was still following me. He never got closer that about twenty feet to me. Every time I stopped he stopped about twenty fee behind me.
About five miles from my vehicle I reach the river crossing and I’m on schedule to make it before dark. The river is now much higher and very fast compared to the previous day. I wade into it and about a fourth of the way across it’s up to my thighs and I realize I need to go back and empty my pockets. Money, cell phone etc into the top of my pack. The river ended up being waist deep. Again this scared me because of the fast current, but I had no choice. Thank God for my trekking poles to help with support.
I thought for sure that there was no way that dog would cross that river. I figured this would be the place he would turn and go back home. After I crossed I sat on a rock to empty my shoes of water and rocks and all of sudden there is that dog on my side of the river.
The next five miles went fast and the dog followed. I got to my van at about 5:30 pm and for the first time the dog came to me. He had followed me for 13 miles. He had a collar but no identification or contact information. The office at the resort was closed. I left him in the parking lot.
The next night I did get a call from the resort I left my vehicle at inquiring about the dog. Turns out that the dog belongs to her sister that works at the Bass River Resort. He has wandered off many times.
So, now that you have read this far I want to tell you when I’m on the Appalachian Trail my posts will be much shorter. I won’t have as much time plus I’ll be using my iPhone instead of my mac.
This was a good experience despite the adversity and straight up fear I endured. I did a few things I hadn’t before. My biggest question was answered. Could I manage that kind of weight on my back for long hikes? I was tired and sore after two high mileage days but did fine. I do not intend to hike that many miles per day on my long hike. The only thing I didn’t get to do was water purification.
Thanks for following. One week from today I start driving to Springer Mountain to begin. I’m excited, and anxious at the same time. This is new territory for me. I think most about Amy, my kids and grandkids. Amy and I have never been apart this long.
I’ll be in touch soon. Love all of you.