The rain intensified as high winds kicked around the vehicles with an unrelenting roar. We couldn’t see much of anything. The hazard lights were on for the three vehicles and we drove at a snail’s pace, looking for a safe place to pull off the road. The lead car turned onto a dirt road in the flat lands that gave no shelter from a storm. We were headed to Colorado for a hike and the adventure had already begun as tornado watches and a violent storm forced us off the road. P1330762We sat in our vehicles on the dirt road and waited for the storm to pass. The winds were kicking at the car and causing it to shift and push as if it might throw us into the barbed wire fence on our right. We glanced over to our left when lightning struck and lit the ditch that was churning into a roaring river and rising quickly.

We started honking at the lead car that we needed to head to higher ground. There was no service and no one was answering their phones. There was no response so we started the process of turning around between the two cars to get the hell out of there. This made the lead car take notice and head up the road. When they found a wide enough spot to turn around their headlights shown on the flash flood that was sneaking up on us in the darkness.

Waiting out the StormWe got back on the road with our hazard lights on and crept along. Lights shone up ahead in the blur of heavy rain. A closed gas station gave shelter at the pumps, most of which was already taken by a semi-truck, a galactic taxi (not kidding, it said that on the door), and a few cars. We found some room for the cars and jumped out to get under the roof by the front doors to laugh while we watched the storm.

Group Shot before Willow Lake

Our arrival in Colorado before the hike to Willow Lake. Photo by: David Greer

The sun was blazing down on us as the elevation increased and each breath became more of a challenge. We were just getting started. There were eleven of us hiking up to the mountain lake in Colorado and it was an arduous climb. My pack was heavy and I was struggling to catch a good breath. I started using the occasional spots of shade as a timer, stopping in every shady spot to relax for small moments, then get to the next shady spot. The trees were thick at first and there was plenty of shade to hide from the sun which meant plenty of quick breaks, but it didn’t last.

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Crowded pine trees gave way to views of open meadows far below. If a good sitting rock or log showed itself I would thank it, take a seat, drink from my water bottle, then get up and head to the next comfort zone. Either shade or a launching pad. Launching pads are rocks or logs that keep your legs from bending too low, so you can sit with your pack still on, and not have to squat thrust the weight of your pack to get back to your feet.

After hiking 200 Miles along the Ozark Highlands and Buffalo River Trail in the Ozarks of Arkansas I made it a rule to never pass up a good launch pad. In this landscape I added another rule for myself, don’t miss a moment of shade on a hot cloudless day at high elevation, even it’s just a few breaths, after all the goal is to get to the top. Those little moments gave me seconds to let my heart rate slow and appreciate the beauty around me. It can be easy to get stuck in my head and start internalizing on those tough uphill stretches.

The only cure for internalization is to remember to stop now and again, take a look around, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.

For some they have to look deep, and when you can get away now and again you remember there are more important things in life. Gone are the petty grudges and there is a whole new world to explore and adventures to be had. The ability to ignore things can be a great gift, but you have to pay attention to the important things. Hold on to those moments in life that make you smile or make your heart race. Remember the people who inspire you along the way. Cherish the memories and the lives of those who have gone. Don’t let anyone pull you down from your cloud, and reach a hand out now and again to pull someone up from the ground. Remind people they are unique and strong. Sometimes that simple kindness is all it takes.P1330810

The shelter of trees thinned and an open meadow of green and yellow grass encircled by pine groves lay below us. I heard the sound of a drone and crept around the rock to find it. A man in an orange hat was watching the drone footage from his remote, Uriah. It meant the lead crew of Super Nazario Brothers, Wolfman, and Schoeppe were waiting up for the rest of us.

 

Me hiking up to Willow LakeWe took a quick break without packs to appreciate the view. There were a few stragglers as the rest of the crew came together. Coop was close behind followed by David, Goose, Jeremy, and Walt. Once we knew they were in good shape, it was back to the trail. The lead crew were off like gazelles. I trudged my way through it and stayed in the middle of the pack.

I had prepared for this trip by putting exercise into my daily routine. I would pace around with a kettle bell in my backpack curling five pound weights to simulate trekking poles while listening to Harry Potter en Espanol, hoping some magical language skills would seep into my brain. Without a vehicle I was walking everywhere to run errands and find a job. I had no luck for far too long. I started walking into town with a backpack that only carried a snack, notebook, pen, and a thirty-five pound kettle bell.

I finally found some luck and was hired on by a rental company at the airport. It was a nine mile bike ride to get there. I had already been pulled over on my bike leaving the interview by airport security, he was polite enough, but naturally I hated the inconvenience. Apparently I wasn’t allowed to have a bike on airport property. I handed over my ID, while explaining I had just completed an interview, and this bike was all I had. He called it in and received word that I was harmless and had a valid driver’s license. He repeated the company name, handed back my license, and let me be. A few emails and phone calls later I was re-assured it wouldn’t be a problem if I was employed at the airport to ride my bike on their roads. That bike ride became my new routine, get up, throw on the backpack, and prepare for an hour long bike ride to work, regardless of the weather. It was a struggle at first, but the ride got easier with every trip.

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The journey up the mountain in Colorado continued in heavy breaths. 

The crew at Willow Lake caught up to one beautiful spot with a good view, shade, and places to sit and relax. We made lunch, had snacks, and took a load off to enjoy a moment of reflection, conversation, and laughter. Other hikers started making their way up the mountain and the race began. We knew there was a chance the space might be crowded up top to camp. When we saw other hikers with large packs, David said, “first there gets a good campsite,” and got everyone to their feet. The lead crew took off in a race to beat the newcomers to the top and save a spot for the rest of us. Meanwhile David sat back and relaxed to enjoy the beauty and take pictures. Like me, he knew our athletes in the bunch would scale that mountain in no time and save us a spot. I didn’t need to hurry, but I was ready to get that heavy pack off my back.

P1330846We continued to climb, each person at their own pace. I was in the middle with Ryne and we continued our pace of chasing shadows. I had gone through 64 ounces of water, with a little help, and my bottles were empty. I came across a dripping creek from the mountain wall, and decided to wait up for someone with a filter. I have always used water filters on my trips. We split them up to save weight, which meant that the water purifiers were either way ahead of me or way behind me. I took my pack off and got comfortable sitting on a rock. A few of the crew made the path in front of me, neither with a purifier or water. I knew it could be awhile, and decided I didn’t need one. The water smelled good, and had gone through a natural purifying system down the mountain before trickling into my bottle. I filled both water bottles and decided if any dirty water gave me parasites, I would just eat a cigarette, and send them packing. Source: 1986 Army Field Manual (do not ingest more than one in 48 hours). It wasn’t necessary, the fresh water smelled good and tasted wonderful.

Melody Lane with umbrella at Renn FaireIn 2017 we lost Melody Lane, a heart transplant patient with a beautiful soul. She loved to make others laugh, and if you didn’t laugh, she didn’t care, because she would be giggling to herself regardless. You just couldn’t help but giggle with her.

I recently lost another wonderful friend shortly before this trip. We all called him, ‘Jib’, and he was a great friend to many people I know and to others I have never met. We were all connected by one great man with an indelible laugh that turned everyone into a successful comedian. You just had to hear that great laugh again so you could laugh with him. His name was Caleb “Jib” Shaner. Photo of Caleb Jib Shaner from Memorial

We used to walk the hills of Avoca in the dark to hang out with other metal heads and strange night folk. We would hang out in the place we called “the barn” and just listen to music. Jib’s death was a terrible loss to the entire crew and to his family. His daughter Destiny has been a part of our lives through so many changes and Destiny if you read this, you know you have a family with all of us, and don’t hesitate to call on any of us that had a hand in raising you at some stage in your life. You are so strong because of him and he stayed strong because of you. Caleb ‘Jib’ Shaner we miss you terribly, but don’t let that keep your spirit here. There are world’s beyond and let us know what you find when we get there.

Pink Flowers along Willow Lake

 

The crew I grew up with were wild, strong, and creative creatures. We had all experienced a different kind of pain, and found each other hiding in strange places. Connections were made with others we have bumped into along the way. I have come to cherish them all. We have known each other for so long and had so many wild adventures that we have become family.

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Those I have lost were fresh in my mind as I hiked up the mountain. Others from our crew passed by, and I offered water. They drank and we carried on, ready to get to the top and finally take these packs off for a few days. The sun blazed down on us as we switch-backed across boulder fields. The comfortable shade of trees disappeared, but the view was breath-taking. Willow Lake Descent down boulder fields

I took a moment to enjoy the view under the last tree I would see for some time before I started into the open. I just wanted to climb to the next point of shade, and the sooner the better. I put my trekking poles back like a skier, looped my thumbs under the straps, hiked my pack up, put my knees at a slight bend, and double timed it. The switchbacks allowed me to see the wonderful view down the mountain frequently without slowing my pace, and I would shift gears depending on which muscles were sore.

Some uphill sections cause me to internalize and stare at the ground. I would get lost in memories, sometimes even grudges, but I pushed them aside, because none of them really matter. The past is gone, but it’s the memories you keep that will define you, and don’t let anger and negative energy be among them. I stopped to look around again as I crested the last of the switchbacks that would provide a view. I held my hand up over the sun to shield my eyes, and took a look at the vast expanse of the valley.

Angry SquirrelThe trees started to appear again after crossing over the saddle of the mountain. The wonderful view of openness was gone, but I had been given shade and was grateful. The pines sang with bird calls. An angry squirrel tried to scream at me from the trees while still holding onto its acorn. Whoops, can’t do both. It dropped the acorn and looked around frantically with disappointment. I laughed while it yelled at me in twittering squeaks. Then it ran away and up the tree.

Goats under the Mountain.jpgThick pines gave way to grassy meadows. A herd of goats bellowed at me. Then it was the sound of campers and brightly colored tents. Quite a few of them. I was glad to see the lead pack enjoying the shade of pine trees with their tents up in a great open area with flat ground, plenty of shade, and a spot for a hammock.

Relaxing Around Camp at Willow Lake

The rest of the crew came trickling in and we had plenty of daylight. I tried to figure out where to put my hammock, and realized most of the trees were on the verge of collapse, widow-makers ready to fall with a push of wind. The more I looked around the more danger I saw, there were trees already collapsed held up only by another dry and cracked tree. I had no choice and found a decent set of trees that still held some bit of vegetation. I re-checked the possible decent of the widow-makers to assess an escape plan should I hear a crack in the middle of sleep, then ingrained it into my mind so I could wake up ready if needed.

Mountain Goat at Willow Lake

Bear lines at other camp at Willow LakeWe set up camp, made coffee and food, and were able to relax without such a heavy load on our backs. The energy came back and we had a look around. There was a large group in the adjacent camp, and we were glad for it, because we knew we could just relax and have a good time.

One of our neighbors was a trail crew and they had some major gear for bear lines with their belongings in tough plastic containers hanging from pulley systems strung between the trees and high in the air. We had para-cord, gorilla tape, caribeners, and ingenuity. We looked around to figure out how to make a bear-line. The dead trees would collapse if a bear did get a hold of it, and the options were incredibly limited. Our valiant attempts failed due to the thickness of the pine trees and getting a rope around two trees high enough to be away from a bear in dwindling light.

Lesson #68: Deal with it now, or pay for it later.

We had scent proof bags that were supposed to mask the scent and we kept all of our trash in one and the sealed bags in another. Night fell and our options for bear lines were limited and didn’t work. We were out of time. I kept all of my food separate in a heavy duty vinyl dry bag, clasped it to a stump, and hung caribeners around a metal coffee mug as an alarm system. The caribeners were linked to a small one that would tap on the bottom of the cup if anything touched our food.

As nightfall approached we hear the call of, “Bear!” ring out from the other camp, then the sound of a loud bang.

Night fell and the mountain grew silent. Then I hear, “What the…That bear is right here!”

The others rustled from their sleep. “Where?”

“I’m looking at him.” Walt said.

The bear ran off into the darkness away from the headlamp. Then we relaxed, and there was even some snoring, which seemed to attract the bear. I hear the crinkling of a large plastic bag, the “scent-proof” bags that we put our trash in and rolled up securely. Scent-proof? NOPE. More like scented with little morsels of backpacking meals. My Nalgene bottles were in my boots and my headlamp was wrapped around the right boot. I reached from the hammock and clicked my light. When I saw the large black bear tearing his way through the bag I started yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” and nothing happened. I put my headlamp on swung my legs over and started clapping a beat as I yelled “Go! Go! Go! and walked slowly towards him.” He let go of the bag and crawled back up the rock. Then he went around and headed to the next campsite, a crew of older men and women with grey hair and tough as nails who had warned us of the bear. They heard the call and were up with a flashlight and clapping and stomping and saying, “go away, scat, get,” and other single syllables meant to get rid of a predator.

Steve the Bear

Steve the Bear prepares for an assault on every campsite to steal food. Photo by: David Greer

It turns out our campsite was just the first on the list. Then the bear would make its rounds to the other campsites, dig through whatever it could find, and scamper when the humans finally did something about it. Then to the next campsite, and so on, all night long. The bear tried to come in from another route near a couple of tents but his quiet steps faltered and rolled a large overturned log with a loud hum. I shined my light behind me and his nose shone through the darkness and disappeared over the log and out into the night. I felt like a tasty kebab rolled up in my hammock. I wasn’t going to be sleeping. That much was clear.

The next time I heard anything out of the ordinary, it was that crinkling sound again. That bear was back in camp and working his way through empty camp meal bags he had torn out from the pile of rocks and scent-proof bags with pulls from his teeth while it’s claws held it down. I swung my legs and called while clapping my hands, “Go! Go! Go!” The bear looked up at me, and went back to chewing. “Uriah! Where are you?”

“Uriah’s right here, he’s okay,” Schoeppe said.

“I know he’s okay. I just want him to get the bear mace. This bear does not give a f^%!” I yelled.

Others sprang into action which caused the bear to leave back into the boulders above us. We knew he would be back. There was nothing we could do about the torn bag except pee around it, put logs and rocks on top of it, and keep our eyes and ears out.

Uriah was up and ready for the bear’s next approach. I shined my light over the hammock and hear, “Okay I’m going to mace him!”

“Uriah’s going to mace him!” was repeated by others.

“Okay, go for it!” We prepared our nostrils and covered our mouths. Luckily, the wind was on our side.

I heard a growl, a sneeze, then grumbling.

“Oh, he did not like that at all.” Uriah said.

The bear turned back toward the boulders shaking it’s head back and forth with a grumbling growl as several lights now shone on it. It disappeared into the boulders. It wouldn’t be the last time we would see him. We named the bear, “Steve.” Steve was the subject of much cursing the following day by many campers.

Daytime Guard Duty

Daytime Guard Duty

The goats and deer had come out to play and graze nearby and we knew they could keep an eye on things while we re-assessed the situation. We needed a good bear line if we were going to get any sleep and make a summit. In the meantime, we played and had some fun while we thought about our options. There were some willing to stay back at camp and keep an eye on things.

We hiked to Willow Lake along cascading waterfalls and ran around the giant playground of forests, trees, and boulders around the lake. We made an effort to keep it clean and pristine as it was meant to be.

I took off my boots and was wearing a black Fear Factory shirt from the Demanufacture album in remembrance of Jib. It was given to me by Adam at Jib’s memorial metal fundraiser. It was one of many bands and albums that bonded us. We listened to Type O Negative’s October Rust while sitting in the barn in Autumn or traveling to see them. We hung out at train bridges at midnight, snuck into cemeteries, cow pastures, and parks over barbed wire fences during a wild time in our lives. The shirt was a celebration of a wonderful friend.

It was also to celebrate other’s I’ve lost: Melody Lane and her wonderful spirit. Lauren Elaine Reynolds who was like a niece to me. They were talented, creative, unique and wonderful souls taken too early in life. Matthew “Jesus” Musteen, the gentle giant. Heart problems gave him a limited time, but he celebrated life, and helped others to appreciate it with him. Cliff Jones was friendly and hug-able, and one of the closest things to a real life teddy bear I’ve ever known.

Me hiking to Willow Lake Falls

I disappear into my own little world. Photo by: David Greer

 

I jumped and ran barefoot across boulders and pine needles. I worked my way around the lake having to tiptoe over sharp rocks or spines and picking them out of my feet, sometimes following the lake shore or having to retreat into the rocks along animal trails. I kept walking until I found my own little fantasy world.

 

 

 

 

 

Ladybug side glance over reflection

A beautiful lady enjoys the view on a lichen dotted bluff overlooking oceans with golden coasts.

Willow lke flower and falls

In a beautiful dress the Blue Columbine swoon, dancing to the rhythm of gentle winds.

I finally found my way to the end where a giant waterfall  dropped from the cliff down boulder fields into the lake. Wolfman and Schoeppe met me where fields of blue Colorado Columbine flowers grow in green pastures to lead the way to the falls. A raven flew over the waterfall as I tiptoed along sharp boulders, trying to find flat ground to jump or crawl to.

 

We made it to the waterfall and turned into kids who had finally found something worthy of overtaking our imaginations with beautiful visions of reality. We played and celebrated life under the falls. Wolf and Schoeppe had stripped down and bathed under the falls in heaving breaths before heading back out into the sunlight. I took my turn and waded into the shallow pool, placing my hands flat to the cliff face and bowing my head to the rush of cold water overhead. The water was freezing and took my breath away. I shook my head and headed back into sunlight and wandered around taking pictures.

Et Tu SchoeppeWolfman under Willow Lake Falls

We all enjoyed the day, each in our own way. Some of the group were on the cliff above us, others were hanging out on flat rocks with extended legs soaking it all in.

Hawk over Willow Falls

 

Willow Lake Sitting Wolfman

Ryne with a Hamm's on Willow Lake

Ryne gets his Hamm’s on. Photo by: David Greer

We went back to camp and settled in for some dinner and a re-charge.

Speaking to Goats

Give em the horns

Give ’em the horns

I borrowed one of the Guardian water purifiers, a few water bottles, and headed to the creek to pump some water. I followed the trail to the water and jumped across the rocks for a little fun to the next waterfall pool. When I got there I looked to my right and there sat a guru looking gentleman, shirtless in a gold wrap, long black hair, and thin black beard past his neck. There was a tattoo of foreign inscription along his forearms. He was sitting in half-lotus in a patch of grass and smiled and waved at me. I waved back and he said something I couldn’t hear over the falls. I stepped closer to him. “Do you have any electrolyte powder?” He asked. “Only if you have any you can spare. I have made a long journey.”

“Yes. I have some back at camp,” I smiled, “I can bring some back to you, or you can just stop by our camp.”

“I’ll just go to your camp, don’t trouble yourself. It’s the big one where you come in?”

“Yes.”

“I am Siva.”

“John. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you,” he nodded. I went back to pumping water and had to stretch myself across the boulders to make it work. I look up and Siva is squatted on a boulder above me below the falls. “Is that really necessary?” he asks.

“No, not really,” I reply, “This water is clean and I have already drank straight from it, but I am pumping water out of habit.”

He smiled. I finished pumping three bottles and let Siva know to join me at camp whenever he pleased.

I got back to camp and said to our crew, “I invited a shaman into our camp and he will be arriving anytime, welcome him.” They all looked at me weird, nodded, and went back to what they were doing.

Siva in Stride

Siva in Stride. Photo by: David Greer

I dug into my pack and found my electrolyte powders. I had more than enough for me. In fact I had brought extra treats for everyone and was carrying a heavy pack in the hopes of sharing. Siva arrived, looked around our camp nervously, spotted me, and smiled, “John.”

I greeted him with a smile, “How do you pronounce your name again?”

“Siva,” he said as an introduction to our wild crew.

Siva reaction

I told him he was free to join us and to get comfortable and relax. He humbly and graciously accepted the electrolyte powder and refused the extras I tried to give him, saying, “You will need them. This is plenty. Thank you.”

I had a whole bag of tangerines and offered him one along with the rest of our crew. Letting them know I really did want to lighten my pack. Some accepted and Siva was gracious. He sat down on a fallen log and relaxed while he ate. I sat down on the ground nearby and said, “I want to hear your story if you’re willing to tell it.”

He smiled and recounted his adventures. Siva has been on a long pilgrimage from California, to burning man, to Buddhist shrines, up mountains, and down trails. He had only a shopping bag and a few tiny disposable water bottles. He talked with us and told us of his journey. On the way up the mountain he tried to carry a cantaloupe, but it fell and he lost it. He was going to head back down the mountain and wanted to do some of it in the light of the moon. Siva sat with us for awhile, and we talked about life and things beyond. Trying to find balance, borrowing energy from an ever expanding universe, making amends with your ego instead of trying to defeat it, finding self-confidence without arrogance. He told me I was special and unique. It was something I really needed to hear. 2017 was a great year for me: I self-published a novel, finished a painting and sculpture I had been working on for over a year, lived in an art community, and completed a 200 mile thru-hike, but the time since had been tough. I am lucky to have good friends. I had been staying in a friend’s guest room for months and riding a bike to work, trying hard to get back on my feet. I was depressed, sometimes angry, and doing my best to keep my spirits up, but it was difficult. Siva’s positive energy and words helped lift my spirits.

We shared poetry and I sang a poem in return. Siva got to see the bear we called, “Steve,” who made a bold appearance on the boulder behind our camp in daylight to let us know he would be coming for us in the night. We sent Siva off with some electrolyte powder, tangerine, a bit of soft granola, and our best wishes for his journey.

Group Shot with Siva

Photo by: David Greer

Teamwork with Wolf and Jeremy

Photo by: David Greer

A few of the crew had figured out how to do a bear line and got to work. Ryne and Wolfman were climbing the parallel pine trees and forcing themselves through thick branches. The weak, dead branches that broke had been tossed aside and the ropes tossed up to each tree to tie and tighten. Wolfman needed a knife and Jeremy had one sheathed that was safe to throw up to him. Uriah did the honors and Wolf man caught the knife in the air in epic fashion. The bear lines were made far from camp. We separated the trash in a separate bear line away from our fresh food. I strapped my dry bag in the pine tree beside the fresh food, up high, and through the thick of it, hoping it might continue to hide from the bear who had yet to notice it.

 

We realized the sunset would be soon as blue skies turned to pastel shades of orange, pink, and purple across the landscape. We made our way down to a good view point through the trees. I stumbled upon Schoeppe and Wolfman and asked if they found a good spot to watch the sunset.

Schoeppe replied, “You know where you’re going. You don’t need a guide.”

He was right in so many ways. I wandered through the trees and then saw the rest of the crew amassing on an exposed piece of rock over the valley. We watched the sunset in silence as an orange haze turned into pink and purple like a great mist that covered the entire landscape below us and to mountains on the horizon.

Sunset at Willow Lake by David Greer

Photo by: David Greer

Lesson #136: All night Bear Watch begins when Steve says it does.

The trash was the first to go. Steve the bear had climbed all the way up the tree, extended his claws and just tore the bag from its bindings. We heard the crunch of defeat. I set my trip wire bells on the bear line attached to our bags so if Steve had a go at our fresh, sealed food, we could try to stop him. Another crew stayed up all night to keep Steve at bay as the clinking cup rattled. They chased him out of the other campsites and bear-maced him a third time to keep him out of the trees where he was caught trying to cut the rope our bags were hanging on. Thanks to them, I finally got a little bit of sleep. I would wake up to the strobe light effect of people running with headlamps trying to run the bear off with varying techniques. Knowing the situation was well taken care of, I would try to get back to sleep.

The spray of bear mace unfortunately caught another camper as well as a few of our own. When we apologized the next morning to the camper, he said, “That bear deserved it, bastard.” turned out it was his fourth attempt to summit Kit Carson behind the lake. Steve the bear had eaten all of his food during the night and left him with only a warm pudding snack. He had to go back down the mountain. It was a sentiment we had heard the previous day when campers left after having to stay up all night to defend their camp from Steve the bastard bear, the tamest of the comments. “Bear fu@%ery!” was one of my favorites.

We were all in good spirits the next morning, but tired, and not in shape for a summit as a solid group, which is what we were going to need. The lack of sleep and intense sunlight at high elevation had taken its toll and we were spent. It was time to head back down the mountain.

Cooper descending Willow Lake

Group Shot down the mountain

We made the trip down and the lead crew were so far ahead they drove into town and came back with cold beer before the rest of us arrived. As others made their way down the mountain to be handed a cold beer, they were confused, and asked how they had kept that beer cold this whole time. The Super Nazario Brothers simply said, “magic,” and it wasn’t a lie.

 

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

 

It had been another dark, rainy day of hiking and I had seen very little of the sun. After finishing the Ozark Highlands Trail at Woolum I was over 180 miles into this journey and 33 days in the wilderness. I had a heavy pack with a full load of water, 2 Nalgene bottles, camelbak reservoir, and a one liter collapsible bag. Despite the promises of the name, the Buffalo River Trail lets you look at water from the mountain with no way to get to it. I was ready in case I ended up stuck on the mountain. I no longer had a good map and wasn’t sure when I would get to water.

Moss stone steps and fall leaves

The trail markers had come to an end. The last sign I saw was a wooden sign that said BRT with an arrow. I followed the arrow up the mountain and descended the other side into a no man’s land of dead leaves hiding sharp rocks and holes over steep terrain. I had slipped into these holes twice and decided to turn back, this was obviously not the trail. I headed back to the bluff and checked out the little pamphlet map given to me by a Park Ranger and tried to figure out where I was. I decided just to take it easy and stayed the night.

 

 

I had plenty of time and just needed to make it to Dillard’s Ferry by Saturday for my pick up. I was camped on a bluff overlooking the Buffalo National River with a scenic vista of fall leaves. The next morning I slept in until the rain let up, then made coffee and breakfast and explored the area in my warm pajamas when the weather finally stabilized. The wind had momentarily dried most of the foliage to keep me from getting soaked while creeping through the underbrush.

 

Old pine trees were covered in neon swathes of Spanish moss overlooking the river below. Bright fall tones of red, yellow, and orange glowed like beacons amidst the dull and dreary brown of dead leaves surrounding them as the last of the color left the forests. I explored a large area of the land around me and just stayed dry through intermittent patches of rain while I tried to decide my next plan of action. I would have to make a decision the next day if I couldn’t find the trail, either turn back, or just make my own path.

 

 

Purple Flowers with rain on Buffalo Trail

I got up early the next day and made two mile excursions into every available path around me. I used the compass to navigate the areas I needed to get to. The creek I was following was headed in the right direction and I was hopeful I would find something that could get me back on track. But it didn’t last.

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I crossed over barbed wire fences and ended up on private land. I found that out when I saw tire tracks and became hopeful. I followed them and passed a deer stand, then I ended up in a pasture with cows staring at me. I could see a large house in the distance over the next hill across a valley. This looked like a great place to get shot for trespassing. I got the hell out of there, back to the cross section of creek to the BRT sign, and gave it the finger.

There was only one path I knew would get me where I needed to go, the Buffalo National River. I decided to give it a try. I back-tracked for maybe a mile or more and found a little canyon that looked like it would get to the river. I rounded a corner and saw the river as I stepped carefully across muddy ground. I weighed my options: wave down farmers and ask for help, back track all the way to the Gilbert General Store, wade the river. I wasn’t going back unless I absolutely had to. I finally had a reason to use the swim trunks I had been carrying and never used. I slipped them on and my camp/river shoes.

The bottom of my pack was right around the same level as my testicles, which became my river gauge, if my dangling flesh sack was in the river, so was my pack. Of course once I entered the river those parts of me tucked themselves in and were not willing to be dipped in the cold water. After so much time in the rain it wasn’t as cold as I was expecting. I had to walk on tip toes and lean forward to keep my pack dry for a deep section. I made it to the other side and started wading the river from beach to beach.

Buffalo National River selfie on wading day

One section was too deep and the only way around it was through some thick bamboo and boulders along a steep embankment. I made it to another beach, and another. I had found a rhythm and was just happy to be moving forward. I found enough driftwood on one of these beaches that I contemplated making a raft out of gorilla tape and para cord. Then I saw tire tracks compressing river stones and sand. I followed the tracks and saw  a dirt road with a sign for North Maumee. I was thrilled, until I got there and saw the no camping signs. There wasn’t a reasonable place to camp anyways. I knew from the map South Maumee wasn’t far. Back in the river I went.

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I made it to South Maumee and found one good camp with trees to support my hammock. I had the whole camp to myself. I got a fire going and made a meal to celebrate. The days without sun came to an end as the clouds dissipated just in time for the sunset. I was thrilled to be back on track.

 

Journal Entry: Day 36: 11-9-2017 – Sunlight! finally. Charging batteries, drinking coffee, then heading up the road to another BRT trailhead. If it fails me, I’ll jump in the damn river again.

The next day was a beautiful day full of sunlight. I charged my batteries and sat in the sun. There was a map at the campsite and the sign said 5.3 miles to Spring Creek. There was a campsite symbol on the pamphlet and by this point I knew I could make that distance in no time.

Red spider in dead leaves on OHT

I wasn’t carrying much water, assuming I would come across something or get it at Spring Creek. I made it to a dirt road with a sign that said Spring Creek, and no campsites anywhere in sight. I decided just to keep going. I estimated I had two hours of sunlight left. I went into turbo mode and double timed it, climbing for a while, then shuffling across dead leaves.

Dillards Ferry Sprint overlook with Spalding

Then I climbed higher and higher. I looked down on the river and realized how high up the mountain I was as the sun was setting.

Sunset on Night hike

I wouldn’t be making it off the mountain tonight, so I relaxed and watched the sunset from a beautiful overlook.

Night came and I was still on top of the mountain. I was close to finishing this whole adventure, and decided to hike through the night to enjoy the night sky from the top of a mountain. I had no food and very little water. My dinner ended up being starburst and crackers. I climbed up stone steps by headlamp in the dark. I pushed hard and kept climbing. It was finally time to set up anywhere I could.

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It was a cold night, and I had set up in the shadow of the mountain. I got to watch the warm and beautiful sunlight reflect on the bluff across the river, but I stayed frozen.

Mist crept through the valley and I watched the sunlight spread across the bluff before finally getting out of my warmth and packing up. My hands were cold and barely functional.

I headed down the mountain chasing after that beautiful sunlight so I could bathe in its warmth. I made it to Dillard’s Ferry and let my pack slip from my back to pump water from the river under a highway bridge. I was early and this was not a place to camp.

A park ranger pulled up. He jumped out with a nervous expression and put his right hand over his gun.

I took off my beanie, set it on my pack, and held my hands to my sides. “I have been hiking the Ozark Highlands Trail since October 5th and tried to hike through the night, only to freeze my ass off on the mountain last night.”

He relaxed and told me how to get to Buffalo Point and that there was a gas station with food just up the road. I jogged across the highway bridge since there was no shoulder on the two lane road. I hiked up hill to the gas station a few miles away. I walked inside excited for some non-instant food and nearly knocked over the wine display while turning around with my monster pack. I left my pack outside on a table and went back for a sausage, egg, and cheese croissant. I bought a large can of beer and some snacks for the night, then made a new rendezvous for Buffalo Point.

Buffalo Point Skull Bluff

I carried on along the highway and made it to Buffalo Point. There were a few scattered tourists out enjoying the beautiful limestone bluffs.

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I set up camp at a walk-in sight away from the road. There were no trees to hammock to and I used my trekking poles to create a shelter with the rain-fly by the picnic table.

This was it. I had made it across roughly 200 miles of trail. My ride wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. It was still early on a Thursday. I had Friday all to myself with nowhere to go, no miles to get done. I sat back and relaxed, and finished the book, “Secret Tactics” collected by Kazumi Tabata. I charged the ipod and speaker and listened to music while I finished writing in the journal and enjoyed the sunlight. I ate the last of my food and coffee.

Buffalo Point sunset

Sunset along Buffalo Point on the last day of my Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike

a post trail feast

The next day the Super Nazario Brothers and Walt showed up with a feast fit for a king. Boxes of wine, a bag of cheeseburgers, cheesecake, beer, deli meats, cheese, and more.

They sat back and I told them stories from the trail and found out what had been happening in the world while I was gone. Once they started on the news of the world, I said, “Never mind. I don’t want to be plugged in yet.” It was all bad news. I found out what they had been up to and we talked and laughed into the night with plenty of delicious food and drink. It was a wonderful reunion with my closest friends.

Journal Entry: Day 40: heading Home.

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I left on the celebration of the exodus on October fifth and spent forty days in the Ozarks while watching the seasons change. It was a wonderful experience and I look forward to getting back out on the trail in the future.

I got cleaned up and groomed and had my first hot shower in forty days. I only lost 5 pounds in that time, but my body was completely re-shaped. All the muscle went into my legs and my upper body shriveled away.

 

Now, it was time to get plunged back into the cold reality and start the assimilation back into normal society. One thing has always been in my mind since I finished the trail. My grocery bill was around $200 for a 200 mile trip. No matter what happens in life, I always know I can escape into the wild beauty of the forests and mountains, and even do it in comfort for only a dollar a mile. I’ll tape and tie my old beat up gear together if needed.

I had some grudges when I first started the trail. They would pop up on long uphill climbs when I was low on water. One of the tips in the “Secret Tactics” book mentioned quite frequently was, “forget old wounds.” The trail cleared my head. My only worry was water, food, and shelter. The pettiness and ugliness of others has been left behind.

All I can do is keep moving forward, one step at a time.

The Blood of Winter

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available from Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.

 

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.

 

 

 

After several rough days in the rain and darkness I had finally finished the Ozark Highlands Trail. I set no records. I took my sweet, damn time and enjoyed as much of it as I could. I left October 5th, 2017 and finished on November 3rd at Woolum, completing 165 miles of trail from Lake Fort Smith state park. Now it was time to decide if I wanted to keep going. I still had plenty of food and wasn’t ready to head back into the cruel world of reality just yet.

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I had hiked into Woolum after several dreary days with only the occasional day of sunlight. Those days were beautiful and perfect, but the rest was a drizzly mess. After wading through the Buffalo River at night and hammocking in the thorns and burs then trying to sleep to the sound of horses and people very near my campsite I was a bit tired, but ready to move on. Turns out I had set up camp right by the horse trail and the main entrance road on a weekend. I woke up to the sun creeping through the clouds. My maps ended at Woolum.

A park ranger pulled up in the morning as I was brushing my teeth in pajamas in the woods near the dirt road. I crawled through the brush to greet him. I told him how far I had come and that I no longer had a map. He offered a Buffalo National River pamphlet. It only had a rough drawing of the river, but it was enough to show me direction and the path of the river I would be following along with a few highways. He also warned me that water was tough to come by. As I would be following the river this confused me.

I packed up and prepared for a fresh start on a new trail. As I was about to cross the river again a Jeep pulled up and offered to get me across to keep my feet dry. My pack was such a monster that it wouldn’t fit anywhere in that Jeep. They crossed without me to drop off the passenger and came back to get me. I barely got my pack in my lap in the driver’s seat and the driver plunged into the river. I was grateful and they wished me luck in my travels. Unfortunately, fifty feet later I had to cross the river again in an even deeper portion. It’s the thought that counts though and I am glad someone was willing to help. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled my pants up, and crossed.

On the other side I found the white trail blazers I had know for the past 165 miles and started up the mountain. The warning about the shortage of water was still in my mind. I explored old cemeteries and enjoyed the beauty around me.

I came across an old car rusted out on the trail. Me and Spalding the friendly face-hugger took an imaginary joy ride. I wondered how that car had ended up there. Further down, a homestead still had some of it’s walls, and even an oven.

P1320023Tom Shanks and Spalding Road Raging on OHTSpalding and the Oven Incident on OHT

I climbed further up the mountain and finally got to the top to enjoy an amazing view of Boxley Valley over the Buffalo National River (the first designated National River in the United States). Spalding on Buffalo River

I continued to climb and came across a spot with a fire ring and a stunning view over the valley. There was a plank rock and I sat with a 180 degree unobstructed view. I was low on water, but I couldn’t pass this up. I set up the hammock.

Hammock over Buffalo National River with golden leaves

Buffalo River overlook with golden leaves

Buffalo River Plank point overlook selfie

The beautiful view over the Buffalo National River was just what I needed, and the perfect reward for finishing the Ozark Highlands Trail.

That night the clouds went away and a full moon came out to greet me in the night sky. I took my half yoga mat to the plank rock and did yin yoga under a full moon.

Spalding face hug on Buffalo River Overlook

Fall over field on Buffalo National River

 

 

ozmore with pack on plank rock OHT

The next day the clouds came back. I carried on through dirt roads. I met a hunter along the way and told him my story. He graciously offered to fill my nalgenes and gave me all kinds of treats: fun-size almond snickers, vienna sausages, and a beef stick. His truck had the company name ‘Rogers group asphalt, concrete, etc.’ on the door. Another trail angel saved me, for little did I know what little water there really was on this trail. I descended back down the mountain into the lowlands along fields, dirt roads, abandoned homesteads, farms, and dried up river beds.

I called a friend to arrange a ride the following Saturday at Grinder’s Ferry. I didn’t realize it was so close. I found a run-off of water and filled my bottles. I had to cross the highway, but saw a tunnel going underneath it and decided to skip the traffic. Bad move, the tunnel under the bridge was incredibly slick with calcium deposits and run-off water. I didn’t make it far before my feet came out from under me and I toppled hard to the ground. I have good balance, but there was no way I was going to make it safely through the tunnel. I felt like an overturned turtle trying to get back to my feet on a surface with the viscosity of baby oil. I got out and went over the top, sprinting across the highway.

I continued past Grinder’s Ferry and made it to the top of a mountain with a church across the valley of the river. Fall leaves had already started to change and were in their prime. I had cell service and made a new rendezvous at Dillard’s Ferry. I saw the town of Gilbert in the distance as the trail began to descend into switchbacks. I assumed the trail would take me right to it and the Gilbert General Store for a few extra supplies and pick me ups. dead fall leaves with golden backdrop

As the trail continued on past the town I realized I would have to double back to get to it. I crossed over a fence and through the woods, then waded across the river. I walked across a sandy beach and made it to the General Store with excitement. Turns out I was about thirty minutes late. The store was closed. It was late enough that I decided just to find a place to camp and wait for the morning. Finding trees worthy of the hammock proved to be a challenge and I explored the area looking for anything that could work. I had to cross the river again and finally found the only two trees in the area that would work on a hill by the river. Gilbert hammock

Morning came, but it was difficult to tell what time it was, the sun was hidden behind rain clouds. I packed up and walked to the store. I stared at the door trying to determine if they were open. I heard a voice from a nearby window tell me to come on in. It turned out I showed up at 8 am right when the store opened. I walked inside to warmth and set my pack on a nearby bench. A very friendly man with grey in his beard greeted me. I told him about my journey and he let me relax and wander around. He made coffee and gave me a fresh cup.

I told him about hiking two books with me, one of which I never had the chance to read. He said I should the read the Bible. I told him I already did.

“Well, you can read it again,” he said.

“I want to know what others think about life after death and what lies beyond from more than one source. I’ve read many religions and beliefs and just finished The Teachings of Buddha.”

He scoffed.

I saw where this was going and started off on a calm and matter of fact tangent.

“Most beliefs have the same basic underlying principles: practice compassion, kindness, and understanding and don’t willfully cause harm to others, and those are the only laws we need. Unfortunately we have lawyers and politicians to try to determine what that means. But it’s really quite simple. As long as people use their beliefs to better themselves and to help others, I’m all for it. If it’s used an excuse for hatred and bigotry I’m against it, period. People want to use the Old Testament as an excuse for horrible behavior just because it’s in the Bible.”

He agreed with me and smiled. The religious conversation ended there when he said, “I agree, and we’ve been washed in the blood of the lamb to be saved from our sins. You are blessed.”

He was never unfriendly during this exchange and we were both better for it.

There wasn’t much in the way of food, but he had just what I needed. With ten dollars cash I still had left over from the Ozone Post Office cash back I was able to get a jar of peanut butter, some snack crackers, and candy bars. He donated a ziplock bag of coffee grounds and half a pack of swisher sweets in exchange for a signed copy of my Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” Demons of Lost Souls when I finished the trail, despite my warning that it was dark and violent. I had some coffee and a swisher out front and relaxed. We had a pleasant conversation about life. Bless you kind Sir and the Gilbert General Store for the fine company and treats to get me going again.

The rain showed no signs of stopping. I waded back across the river and found the trail again. I trudged through the rain which I had gotten used to over the past week. I could get plenty of miles in until the next campsite revealed itself. I had to cross another deep portion of the river and thought it was worth taking off my boots and socks again, even though they were mostly soaked.

 

The trail blazers changed from white to silver. I carried on in the rain and suddenly the trail was very well marked with blue flags all over the place. Then all markers disappeared. I was starting to wonder if I had made a wrong turn and went back to the last marker. There were no other paths to take. I found a wooden sign that said BRT and had an arrow going up the mountain. I followed the path. There was a beautiful bluff overlooking the river. Because of the rain I was able to find plenty of puddles to get water. Be forewarned, the Buffalo River Trail can be troubling when you’re thirsty and get to stare at water in the river far below from the top of a bluff with no way to get to it, but more on that later.

The trail just ended. I had followed a path up the mountain and started to descend along an old farm road now grown over. Then I was in a boulder field covered with dead leaves and had my feet disappearing into hidden holes between the boulders. There was no longer a trail. Occasional ribbons tied to trees gave me hope, but after exploring the area I realized this couldn’t be the way. I turned back and decided to stay at the bluff overlooking the river and figure it out in the morning. I could get to water at a cross section of creek, get dry, and have dinner.

The coffee and swisher sweets came in handy the next few days to calm my nerves. I had plenty of food and wasn’t stressing about it. I knew if I had to I could just head back to the General Store and call in a ride on the weekend, but it felt like a step backwards, and I wasn’t going to until it was absolutely necessary. I could figure this out. This bluff was going to be my home for the next few days.

Next Installment: Lost on the Buffalo River Trail

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.

 

After enjoying a beautiful sunny zero day, it was time to get going. The sun disappeared and the gray haze of rain clouds covered the skies. I wouldn’t see the sun for many days. It was Halloween and I trudged through the drizzle as it rained off and on all day. I hiked five miles and found a good camp by a creek to celebrate the holiday by staying dry and well fed. I was determined to have a fire despite the rain and scoured the area for firewood.Hike to Richland camp on Hallows Eve

I was camped very close to a dirt road by a one lane bridge and thought about just heading on to a more secluded area as trucks and tourists drove by once in awhile to see the leaves change and check out the creek by the bridge. After a look at the map I decided just to get out of the rain. I had a brand new food drop and was well stocked. I was close to Richland Creek campground and was hoping to hit a side trail and stay at the Sandstone Castles the next day or the day after.

Re-route camp in rainLater in the day the traffic went away and an eerie quiet settled over the place with only the light pattering of rain from time to time with no wind. I was alone again. I stayed dry and kept a good fire going. It rained all night and I lost the fire. I got up the next day, made coffee and Cream of Wheat, then waited for a break in the rain and packed up in chilly winds.

It was an interesting hike as fog rested over everything. Trying to hike on wet rocks and leaves up steep hills proved challenging. There was one spot in particular that was ominous as switchbacks climbed steeply up a mountain and even in the dense fog I could see the entire trail all the way to the top. With wet ground and the steep climb, I knew this would be tough, and I had to be careful or I would come tumbling down.Snail on a rainy day on OHT

I made it to the top and looked out over what was probably an amazing view, but all I could see was fog all around and below me. I walked along the edge of the mountain through a mist laden forest that seemed appropriate for a post Halloween hike.

 

 

I made it to Richland Creek campground after five miles and the rain continued. Firewood was tough to come by and it was all soaked. There would be no fire tonight. I was able to empty my trash finally and ran into a group of three making camp. Two of them were a couple arguing and seemed quite rude and angry. I nodded and waved and they turned their heads down immediately and said nothing. I walked on, but the third of their group was an older woman and said, ‘hi.’ We chatted and I told her a little bit about the trip so far. It turned out she had a big portable USB battery charger in her car and she let me borrow it to charge up the tunes. I was grateful. The long wet days without sunlight were draining.

Creek in the Mist on OHT

It continued to rain all night. I had a tapered candle ready for occasions such as this. I dug a small post hole in the dirt, stacked some rocks at the base, and lit the candle. I sat in half-lotus on my map under the rain-fly with the hammock resting on my neck above me and stared into the candle or out into the rain. I was able to play some music under my little shelter and it helped tremendously. A couple of people wandered into the campground that night but kept to themselves. A nearly full moon crept through the clouds now and again. It was finally a bit warmer and I was able to sleep well without my toes freezing.

I decided against the hike to the Sandstone Castles. If you have the time along the trail it’s absolutely beautiful if you now how to find it past Twin Falls and worth the effort. Under the circumstances however, I decided just to move on. It was still drizzly through the first part of the day and the ground was saturated and slick along the rocks. It was a beautiful hike through the first part despite what I now call “knuckle-punch alley.” Sharp rocks jut out from the ground like rounded knuckles that punched at my feet. They are everywhere and hard to avoid.Boulders of moss and golden leaves on OHT

Yellow fall leaves on trees OHT

The sun came out and I found a beautiful site of moss covered boulders and a cascading waterfall. The falls were all small and hidden beneath the boulders. Fresh water puddles held fallen leaves that slowly swirled in clear waters. I dropped the pack, filled up my water, and had a look around. I ran along huge boulders and fallen trees that just kept going up and up. I wanted to find the source and continued to climb, but every summit only had me looking further up into more boulders and cascading falls. I filmed some footage with the Gopro as I descended down slick boulders. I finally gave up the chase and sat down to enjoy the sights and sounds around me.

 

 

Creek in fall yellow and gold on OHT

I felt so light on my feet without that damn heavy pack on. I had fun in this playground sliding down boulders and balancing across logs. It would be the last bit of fun I would have for a while.

I was expecting to stay at Stack Rock eight miles from Richland Creek, since the map shows a camping symbol on it. Stack Rock has since become un-stacked in a seven acre landslide. I had read about it before I left and knew there was a re-route and was hoping it would be marked. I figured I could camp at that spot and figure out the re-route the next day. I got to stack rock and found a camp ring next to a red gate with a big “No Camping” sign attached to it. An angry man in a red Dodge Ram glared at me next to another sign, ‘Road Closed.’ There was a laminated paper attached to a tree nearby with directions for the re-route around the landslide for three miles. There was no choice, and nowhere to camp. I started down the dirt road, shuffling my feet painfully after my experiences with knuckle-punch alley, the eight mile hike, and having way too much fun in the boulder field falls of Dry Creek.

I followed the trail blazers and thanked each one out loud to whomever took the time to put them up. I had been lost enough on this trip and forced to run in circles to find trail-blazers that I got in the habit of thanking each one. The trail-blazers and occasional laminated signs led me across the top of the mountain along a dirt road that hides the view. The red Dodge Ram passed me and he continued to glare even into his rear-view mirror. At this point I was no longer in a good mood and I just wanted to get to a water source and rest. The three mile re-route felt a lot longer.

After traveling along the dirt road where I could easily shuffle my feet I took a right onto a farm road. It was rough and rocky and my ankles were tested to the extreme as more rocks punched into my feet or sent my ankles tilting all over the place. It’s downhill sections that I have had knee problems in the past. I have since learned to widen my stride and sort of wobble back and forth to save my knees and have never had problems since, but I could feel a familiar sensation starting to warm up in that area under my left knee-cap. I put more weight on the poles and widened my stride some more to keep my legs straighter.

I had a few moves that I started naming:

“The Dead Leaf Shuffle” resembles a cross-country skier. Good for flat surfaces of dead leaves. The white noise of it in silent days with no wind can be like having the white noise of a television at full volume after many miles of it.

“Turbo-Mode” would have me shuffling my feet with my pack hiked up on my shoulders, thumbs under the straps to get them off my collar bone for a bit, and poles tucked under my arms high enough they don’t drag the ground. Leaning forward to support the pack a little higher on my back. I will shuffle, slide, ski, and side-step in rotations to double time it down the mountain. Comes in handy when I’m losing light and need to find a good camp or rush to a food drop before the weekend.

“The Hunchback of Nature Done” Spent. So done with this day. It’s already dark. There’s no choice. Find any two trees that will work. There haven’t been any for miles. Might as well watch the sunset if we’re stuck up here. The last water source looked like a disgusting pile of mud barely functioning as a water source, but great for a festering pile of dead fish rotting in the mud and flies. I’m not getting off this mountain and to water today. I’ve climbed over fallen oaks up steep switchbacks. My head sways from side to side in search of two trees without thorns or boulders between them. I’m hunched over because the trekking poles are supporting most of my weight. My huffing breaths and grunts are followed by dragging feet as my poles seem to pull me along with wild eyes.

I finally made it to a creek at the bottom of the road with a fire ring and chairs and two trees for a hammock. It was late and the sun had already settled in, leaving the haze of twilight before the darkness came. I found fire-wood and set up camp. I got a fire going and had such a rough day that I was really just wanting some fire and music. My ipod had already died. I had already tricked it once into getting an extra two hours while it said it was dead. But I had to try. I got the ipod to start up, connected the blue-tooth, pressed shuffle all songs, and hit play. The second I did the low battery signal came on and it was out of my hands. I thought I could get a few songs before it gave up, but I must have gotten another hour and a half. It was wonderful. I was exhausted, but I had a fire next to a flowing creek, music, food, and tea. It was all I needed.

P1310990

Camping in the rain after Stack Rock landslide re-route on Ozark Highlands Trail

I had seen the air-evac helicopter several times along the course of this trip. Always in the distance. I was eating from my mug next to a fire when the helicopter came hovering low right in front of me in the valley over the creek. It hovered for a moment and I stayed sitting and eating. I gave them a thumbs up, and continued to eat. The helicopter moved on and I smiled. The music kept going for far longer than I had expected and I felt rejuvenated. I had the rain-fly in half so I could lay in the hammock and enjoy the view, but be ready for the rain. Sure enough, I went to sleep and woke up to drops hitting my face. I jumped into action. The stakes were already tied to the ropes and ready to go, all I had to do was throw the other half over the top and hammer it in with a rock. I went back to sleep to the sound of rain.

I never had the chance to dry out my clothes and everything was still wet, but I had to put it all back on and keep going. I didn’t expect to go far, just to the next good campsite. There wouldn’t be another for quite some time. I hiked in the rain that only got worse as the day went. The forest turned into a thick mess and through the drizzle there were a few times when I ended up in circles trying to find the next trail marker.

I hadn’t seen much wildlife on this entire trip other than an occasional armadillo. I was excited when I saw a solitary elk ahead of me. The vegetation was so thick through this stretch I was lucky to see anything. I only saw the one elk, but I could hear the whole herd rumble as they ran away. The herd sounded like thunder through the rain, but I never could spot them.

Blue green lichen boulders and cactii path on OHT

I found a fire ring with stone chairs, but it had no shelter whatsoever, or reasonable trees. My only water source would be the constant rain. I decided just to press on. Some of my best miles were in the rain and I just sloshed through it all in wet clothes, thinking about how wonderful it would be when I could get under the rain-fly and get dry. My pajamas were warm and dry in the dry-bag and just waiting for me. A hot cup of tea, a meal, and a tiger balm massage. For now, it was just time to trudge through it all.

It was so humid it felt like I was drinking every breath. I spotted several stones shaped like hearts along the way and placed some of them in plain view on the trail as motivation for any who might follow. I made it to the dirt road at Woolum when it was getting dark. I was ready to settle down at anything that would work, just two trees off the road. There were plenty of trees, but none were suitable for a hammock. A farm truck went by with his headlights on. The driver smiled at me as I stood on a pile of dirt with the last of the light from rain clouds fading quickly. The world went gray, then to pitch black.

I had barely seen the sun in four days, and it was brief. I was wet and miserable. It was an eternal darkness along the road to Woolum with overcast skies. I could barely see the clouds in the shadow of trees and bluffs. I turned on the headlamp every once in awhile with the green light to spot the next area of terrain. Then I turned it off and walked in the darkness to save the batteries. I have great night vision once adapted, but it was so dark I could just barely make out the silhouette of trees against the dark clouds in the sky. It was a long six miles along that dirt road to Woolum in the dark. The road was flat and I could do the shuffle along the flat forgiving ground, but it had been a long couple of days. At this point I realized there would be no camping until I finished the Ozark Highlands Trail at Woolum. This was the final stretch if I didn’t continue on to the Buffalo River Trail.

I finally made it to Woolum and was ready to hammock up to anything. I had to use the headlamp to see anything in the rocky terrain and realized I had to cross the river. My view of the river was a small circle of light in the darkness reflecting off the waters when I needed to see what was beneath it. Everything was soaked and I was tempted just to go ahead and walk through it. It was still raining and the river was deep and wide. There was a family camping by their pick up truck across the way and I could see their lamp shining like a beacon. I took my boots and socks off and put on my camp shoes that doubled as river shoes. I just wanted to get this day over with and get dry. I tied my shoelaces into each other, stuffed the socks inside and hung the boots from my pack with bendy ties that held the half-yoga mat to my pack so I could do it without taking the pack off. I used my trekking poles for balance and waded into the Buffalo National River across slick rocks and flowing waters.

I made it to the other side and searched for two trees to hammock in the dark. It was all rocks, sand, and thorns. The only trees were covered in spines, too small, or had obstacles between them. I was so frustrated by this point I actually said out loud, “What a s#!tty reward for finishing the Ozark Highlands Trail.” (This isn’t true, the reward is just a bit further down, and even if you end at Woolum, take a quick trip up the trail to overlook the Buffalo River Valley for your reward). I will have those pictures in the next post.

I searched deep into the thickets and finally found the only two trees in the damn place that would work. There was enough space between them that wasn’t filled with brambles and thorns and I set up camp and got dry. The rain was straight down and light. I got dry pajamas on, lit the candle in a safe place under the rain-fly, made some dinner and tea, sat in half-lotus and massaged my shoulders, lower back, and feet with tiger balm. I reflected on how far I had come next to candlelight with everything covered in burs. I had just completed my first thru-hike along the Ozark Highlands Trail.

P1320016

Woolum hammock spot after packing up in the morning.

I wasn’t in the right mind set to make decisions, so I just stayed warm and went to sleep. I had hiked twelve miles that day through some thick and unforgiving terrain, got lost, and was soaked to the bone even through my rain gear, but it would not be the last of the trip. The next day I headed out along the Buffalo River Trail.

Next Installment: Buffalo River Trail

The Blood of Winter

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available from Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.

 

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.

 

After nearly freezing in the night it took some mental coaxing to get out of the hammock in the morning. I waited for the sun and my water bottles finally unfroze so I could get a drink. My mouth was parched and lips were flaking. Then the sun came up through the trees. I had a fresh food drop and full sunlight. It was time to get back on the trail.Orange rippling wall with creek flow on OHT

I hiked another seven miles and the chill of fall was in the air, but with the sun out, it was a far cry from freezing that previous night. I found a hidden little campsite just off the trail after dancing across stones in the creek to keep my feet dry. The sunlight that morning allowed me to recharge the ipod nano and speaker. I was all alone and ready to make a big fire and rock out.

I appreciate the sounds of nature by all means. Two nights prior I had heard one of the most beautiful symphonies in my life created by musical trees rubbing together and water flowing through stones. Being alone for so long though, made me want to hear some music or other human voices. I had music. I got a fire going, set up camp, and decided it was metal night. Moonspell, Samael, Gojira, Devin Townsend, Amon Amarth, Insomnium, Killing Joke, and Type O Negative gave me comfort by a fire as Fall weather approached and the green leaves started to change colors. I ate dinner and had some hot tea.

I put the ipod to shuffle all songs and left it alone. Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance sang me a haunting melody as I stared into the fire. These moments when I could have music were very rare as the solar charger took some time in direct sunlight to get the job done and the charge would diminish quickly. If I had music going when the Low battery signal popped up, I could still get another two hours out of it, but if I touched anything, it was instantly dead until the next sunny day. Having music was a great morale booster to go with the fire and energized me for the journey ahead.

I heard voices softly through crunching leaves. It was pitch black and late in the night, possibly even early into the morning. I never bothered to look. My cell phone was only turned on when I got to a mountain top and wanted to check in with friends and family. Otherwise I didn’t want to see the damn thing. It was two females walking the trail with headlamps and having a pleasant conversation. I walked down to the creek crossing nearby and greeted them. I could tell by their packs they weren’t thru-hiking, just water reservoir packs and nothing else. I guided them across the creek and gave them a friendly farewell as they continued on into the night. My guess was some sort of endurance race. Never had the chance to ask, but they were friendly enough. I went back to jamming out. It was a cold night, but I finally got some decent sleep.

I woke in the morning to more sunlight and chilly winds and soaked it all in, perfect fall weather. A father and son strolled up on me as I was packing up in the morning. They had also started at Lake Forth Smith state park and were hiking the entire trail 165 miles to Woolum. We chatted for a bit and they went on their way as I was still slowly gathering my things and breaking down camp.

Moore Face-Hugger

Moore Camp Overlook with Tom Shanks and Spalding the Friendly Face-Hugger

I thought the trail would diminish my night owl habits, but it didn’t. The best sleep I got was after the sun had started to warm the place up and I could stop shivering. I took my sweet time at camp because there was no one to rush me. I was on my time. The funny part would be when I did get going, I could set a fast pace and double time it. I would put my pack up high on my back, put my thumbs under the straps to take some strain off my shoulders, tuck my poles under my arms, shuffle my feet and start running. It surprised a few people when I would suddenly catch up to them down the way. I was taking a break by a creek for a quick snack and water fill up when the father and son walked up behind me, again. They seemed confused on how I had gotten ahead of them because they never saw me. They got lost for a minute on an old farm road, but came right back to the trail. That must have been when I swooped past.

Moore House on OHT

I only hiked three miles when I came to the Moore C.C.C. Camp. As soon as I got there I knew I wanted to stay. The only question was how to get to water. The markings were a little confusing at first but then I found a trail that went straight down a steep hill to Richland Creek. I dropped the pack, filled up with water, and had a look around. Pumping water at Moore on OHT

It was a beautiful spot with stone shelters and a bluff overlooking the creek with an old camping chair just waiting for me in a depression on the bluff. I set up camp and spent the day writing, reading, and relaxing with hot coffee and tea.Moore Camp Overlook

The next day was a beautiful sunny day and I decided to stick around for a zero day in warm sunlight. The bluff and camp was off the trail a bit and I set up the solar charger in the sun, played music, and sun-bathed in the nude on the bluff over the creek. It was a perfect day. Moore Bluff overlook

I created a song awhile back that I sing on special occasions. I sang my song to the woods that night on the bluff and soaked it all in, contemplating the wonderful adventure this had been.Candle light vigil on the OHT

I planted the last of the memorial flower seeds for Melody Lane on the ridge above the bluff. I hereby declare the section from County Road 6200 where the first trail angels found me getting water from a mud puddle to the Moore C.C.C. Camp as Melody Lane. It’s a 72 mile hike along the Ozark Highlands Trail through some of the most beautiful landscape of the Ozarks.Melody Lane with umbrella at Renn Faire

I have lost many friends in recent years and I miss you all so much. Melody Lane along the Ozark Highlands Trail is devoted to all of you in loving memory: Matt Musteen, Melody Lane, Lauren Reynolds, Caleb “Jib” Shaner, Cliff Jones, Nikki Young, Holly Pederson

Next Installment: Halloween Hike in the Mist

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon available in paperback and Kindle versions.

Ebook versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.

 

 

 

 

Journal Entry: Day 19, 10-23-17: Great Sunny day. Got some water then packed up after coffee and instant breakfast powder as creamer. Headed out late in the afternoon. Tried to push straight through to Hurricane Creek, but ended up on mountaintop around sunset. The red light of a lowering sun told me time was up. Saw two meteors. One was incredibly bright and tore apart into blue and white flames overhead. Thought I heard an impact in the distance a short while later. It is hunting season, but I’ll just pretend that sound was a meteor impact.

I had hiked 11 miles from Cedar Creek and my late start kept me from getting to the creek that day. Despite the trees surrounding the area there was only one decent hammock spot. While lying in the hammock and watching the stars the meteor that tore apart into flames was a beautiful sight. It lit up the night in a spray of blue and white flames. I was ready to get some sleep and enjoy the next full day at Hurricane Creek.

The next day was a short two mile hike downhill. I arrived at the flowing waters of Hurricane Creek. I crossed the creek jumping over boulders and across fallen trees. I put down my pack and watched the sun come up and enter the valley with a fresh cup of coffee and some instant Cream of Wheat. It was a beautiful sunny day.

I set up an office by a rock that allowed me to have a desk while sitting in half lotus on my rugged yoga mat now stitched with pine leaves, burs, and dead leaves. I laid out the solar charger and started charging my batteries for the gopro and camera while I explored the area. I jumped across boulders along the creek and played in the morning sun. I wrote in the journal and read more of “Secret Tactics” collected by Kazumi Tabata.

MunenFreedom from All Thoughts

Ozmore in stance on Hurricane Creek OHT

“Hear the sound of Wind and Water.” Neither makes a sound until contact with an object.   “Secret Tactics” collected by Kazumi Tabata

Walking Stick getting a drink on OHT

Praying Mantis sun bathing on OHT

Butterfly on waterbag on OHT

I brought a solar shower with me, but never got to use it. It became my camp water bag. I set it out in the sun all day, hoping it would be enough for my first hot shower since I started the trail. It wasn’t. The bag was useful for camp water and I would fill it up when I stayed at the creek and just hang it from a tree for water whenever I needed it.

I had my fun in the sun and was ready to hike down to the next campsite which wasn’t far. So I decided just to carry the solar shower bag filled with water. It was a longer hike than I expected when carrying my pack and switching arms to carry the four liters of water.

Hurricane Creek campsite on OHT

I made it to the next campsite before sunset, and set up the hammock.

It was a great day. I had to make it to the next Post Office before the weekend or I would be stuck with very little food until the next Monday. I still had a ways to go. Otherwise I would have stayed for another day. I enjoyed every moment I could while I was there.

 

Blue eyed flame on OHT

I had a great fire and finally used the color changing flame packet I had been saving for a special occasion. I stared into it or at the stars and listened to the sound of the creek speak beside me.

I took my trail mascot around the area to keep watch and we played in the waterfalls.

The Adventures of Tom Shanks and Spalding the Friendly Face-Hugger

To get my food drop I needed to make it to the Pelsor(Sand Gap) Post Office near Fairview. The post office would close by 12:30 on Friday. It was late on Wednesday and I still had a ways to go. I met two older men as I was packing up. They were old friends just getting out for a weekend hike away from the wives with some whiskey. They took their load off and got water at the creek as I packed up. I shared my story and they gave me instant coffee bags. I had just run out. Those coffee bags were a treasure, especially when I woke up freezing in the fetal position with frozen water in my bottles two days later.

There have been too many funerals. I am thankful for the wonderful friends I’ve known and to those who have gone. In Memory of: Matt Musteen, Melody Lane, Lauren Reynolds, Caleb “Jib” Shaner, Cliff Jones, Nikki Young, Holly Pederson

Next Installment: The hike to FairView

The Blood of Winter

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon available in paperback and Kindle versions.

Ebook versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.

 

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.

Journal Entry – Day 16: Hiked up further into the mountain then descended quickly into Hobo Falls on Cedar Creek. Think I will stay here for a day. Fresh water puddles. Got to really explore the area and have some fun. Got some rain. Just random sprinkling, but may be more later. Saw red sky this morning through the pines. That old saying popped in my head, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Rainfly is up and I’m ready for a fire or a storm. Mashed potatoes for dinner and plenty of clean water.

It was at Cedar Creek that I finally got to start reading the book I brought. I had actually brought two books, for some reason thinking I would have that kind of time since I planned to loaf it. I didn’t. I hiked Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley 200 hundred miles and never read it. The book I did end up reading was perfect for a thru-hike, “Secret Tactics” collected by Kazumi Tabata. Lessons from the Masters of Martial Arts. The small hardback copy is durable. The lessons were collected from writings of the masters of feudal Japan. A one page biography of the author is followed by a few pages of advice for life. I would read a few pages and then contemplate the advice while I explored the area.

One of my favorite descriptions of a martial art style is what was said of Ittosai Kagehisa, “His style was divine to the point of being indescribable.” As I was reading this passage I had a visitor show up in my lap. I named him Ittosai. He hung around camp all day to stay dry. Orange katydid on OHT

It threatened to rain all day as storm clouds covered the sky in tones of grey. It sprinkled lightly from time to time. I heard voices up the mountain as a man wandered around the cliff side and scrambled over boulders to get below the bluff. I knew what he was looking for. It was the first place I looked for water when I got down. A woman came down to meet him and said, “Is there water?”

“There’s water down the creek this way, not far,” I yelled across the holler. They both looked at me surprised, then smiled. They were an older couple in their sixties and still in great shape. Another woman in her forties descended the mountain path shortly after. They unloaded their packs and were relieved to shed their burdens. I showed them where the water was. It was a decent size puddle, maybe fifty feet down the creek from the trail and the water was crystal clear.

We got to talking and shared our experience on the trail. Realizing they were kind people, I invited them to join me or to make their own camp if they wanted some privacy. “It certainly won’t hurt my feelings if you want your space, but you are welcome to my fire and camp if you want.”

Threes Company on the OHTThe three friends didn’t have far to go, and a storm seemed imminent. After some conversation and relaxation, they decided to join me and set up their tents to prepare for the storm. We collected  firewood and kept a good fire going. They shared a couple drinks of fireball whiskey and were wonderful company. The man had thru-hiked the Ozark Highlands several years ago with a sixteen pound pack and a pair of tennis shoes. He gave me some great advice and we had fun by the fire. Then the rain came.

In the morning the crew packed up in the rain and said their goodbyes as I huddled up under my blankets in the hammock. They left me with a trash compactor bag and put the remaining firewood in it. I stuffed it under my rain-fly with everything else. I carried that bag with me to the end of the trip and it worked great against the rain when I needed it. I made a habit of collecting good tinder along the way and kept it dry with my lighter so I knew I could have a fire when I needed one.

Rainy day Office on the OHT

I made coffee and breakfast at my feet, raised the Eno rain-fly on the side facing the creek, then sat back and watched the rain. It was a light rain with no wind and the sound sprinkled on leaves like a symphony. I continued reading “Secret Tactics” while practicing hammock yoga.

The rain let up for a bit and gave me the chance to go explore. I crawled to the top of the bluff carefully over loose rocks. I walked into forests of tall pine at the top and wandered into a collapsed boulder field. The leaves were starting to change and the glowing dress of autumn shimmered in drops of rain amid the dance of pines swaying gently in the breeze. I danced across fallen trees and skipped or slid back down the mountain under overcast skies.

I walked along the creek to Hobo Falls and relaxed by its waters. I had a good fire that night. In the morning the sun had come back for a visit. I set up the solar charger to charge some batteries. I had four batteries for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS25, and the tiny plastic USB charger I ordered for it was lightweight and charged quick. The Renogy E.flex solar charger was durable enough to just hang onto the outside of my pack with a carabiner and would charge even on overcast days. I walked back to the falls and planted memorial seeds for Melody Lane nearby.

 

I had my fun, but it was time to get going. I checked the map with breakfast and coffee, packed up, and got back on the trail.

Next Installment: Hurricane Creek

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon available in paperback and Kindle versions.

Ebook versions are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.

I was staying at a friend’s house for a few days before I left for the Ozark Highlands Trail for final preparations. I had been slowly gathering supplies when I could and had double and triple checked to be sure. Most of my equipment was ancient and second hand, but still functional, and that’s all I cared about. If you are thinking about thru-hiking for the first time, get advice from multiple sources, and then make the trip your own. I intended to loaf it and take my time, so I planned accordingly. If you want to go ultra lightweight then this is definitely not the list for you, but you can still find some useful tips for your hike.

Least favorite equipment: Tiny folding metal shovel (I ditched it on day one. Use a stick.)

john ozmore and face hugger on log under bluff

Favorite equipment: Half yoga mat (floor mat, place to sit, and for holding gear) Rolled up and wrapped with bendy ties on pack. Great floor-mat for the hammock. Spalding the friendly face-hugger stuffed animal. I had so much fun with the pictures.

Best morale boost: Fire. Tea and honey with a piece of dark chocolate for a nightcap. Welch’s fruit gummies for a bedtime snack. Coffee with carnation instant breakfast powder for creamer in the morning (half a serving packet was plenty for protein and vitamins and I could make them last.)

What I wished I had more of: Instant Cream of Wheat. And if I had more I probably would have craved something else. Variety is a key element.

What became the routine?

Morning – Boil water in jet boil, make breakfast (Instant oatmeal, grits, or cream of wheat) and use rest of water for coffee with instant breakfast powder. Spoonful of peanut butter with a dot of honey. Study map. Get water. Pack it up and get going.

Night – Place mat down, unload gear, set up hammock with rain-fly half folded over and ready to stake down (enjoy the view, but be ready for inclement weather in the night). Get water. If there is still enough sun, set up solar charger. Take off boots and use as water bottle holders. Hang up socks and clothes on hammock straps with Alligator Clips. Change into dry pajamas (kept in dry bag with blanket). Protein powder and ibuprofen. Gather firewood and separate by size from kindling up. Arrange separate area in fire pit to hold pot to boil water for food and tea with small sticks ready. Make fire (if there isn’t a burn ban). In the event of a burn ban or a storm I had a tapered candle in every food drop and a few tea-light candles which helped my morale after tough rainy hikes. Pour tea, let steep, make meal. While sitting in half lotus on mat, massage lower back, shoulders, and neck vigorously with tiger balm. Clean feet and massage with emu oil and beeswax for cracked heels. Relax with tea and tend the fire. Put all food in heavy dry bag, strap or tie to a tree and booby trap with carabiners and ceramic mug as an alarm in case any creatures try getting into my food.

Best quick tips:

Knowing you can get dry at any time is a nice feeling to have when backpacking so keep your night clothes dry and be prepared to set up in the rain.

Deal with it now or pay for it later. You’re cozy and warm. The wind picks up and one of your rain-fly cords is loose. You may think, oh, the wind won’t get that bad. It will be fine. I’m warm. You may wake up in the middle of the night to sideways rain and an impending doom of storm clouds ready to ruin your night. Take care of it, batten down the hatches, and have peace of mind.

If you’re thru-hiking alone things are a little different. When trudging up mountains with a heavy pack it can be easy to internalize. A friend of mine named Wolfman, who has solo thru-hiked in Scotland and the Colorado trail, put it best, “You’re going to ask yourself a lot of questions, and you’d better have answers for those questions.Remind yourself to take a moment to enjoy the view. Develop a rhythm of checking your footing, then sweeping your head left and right to enjoy the view and find what works for you. Take a moment to look around. It’s not as easy as it sounds on some of those uphill stretches when all you see is the dirt at your feet. When you get to the top it will be worth it.

Spalding the friendly face-hugger and a 16G ipod nano were my company. Getting enough direct sunlight to charge the ipod could be challenging, so I valued my days of getting to jam out by myself with Spalding and a fire.

Use sitting rocks and logs while hiking that allow you to sit with support of your pack without bending your knees past ninety degrees. Even if it’s just a moment to catch a breath and take a quick drink. Never pass up a good sitting rock or log, aka a launch-pad to get you on your feet and going again.

If you’re going up a mountain and see a puddle, and even think about whether or not you should stop for a water break and refill, don’t pass it up. I thought I was fine on one stretch and skipped a little run off puddle that looked clean. I ended up on top of Hare Mountain with a beautiful view in full sunlight, and wished I could have stayed, but I had to head down to water.

Make the thru-hike your own! A thru-hike should be a trip for you, not an ego test to impress friends and colleagues. Get advice, do some research. Swim with the current. Then find a rhythm of your own and embrace it.

Bring a Trail Mascot and a camera. Something lightweight and fun. My trail mascot was a Face-hugger stuffed animal I named Spalding. I put a wire hangar in its tail so it could also be a functional tool. Spalding was always on top of my pack and catching the shadow of spidery legs on the ground gave me a giggle. I would hang him from a tree as a camp flag when I set up for the night. If they could add some pockets to those face-hugger love handles, make the abdomen inflatable as a pillow, and turn the legs into bendy ties it would be the ideal backpacking accessory. Spalding on waterfall at Hurricane Creek on OHT

P1300614I laid out all of my fabrics on top of my rainfly: clothing, hammock and straps, blankets, sleeping bag, backpack. I sprayed every fabric with waterproofing silicone guard, let it dry, and then sprayed it with perithrin for bug protection.

When I weighed my pack with every water container filled and my starter food: two nalgenes, one two liter camel bak, and a plastic single liter foldable container, there was a problem. I weighed 165 on the scale, and with my pack I weighed 240. That’s right, I was going into the wilderness with a 75 pound pack, not ideal, and some would think it was dangerous and irresponsible. So did I. ozmore with pack on plank rock OHT.jpg

I laid everything out and gave it a good look. It was time to edit my pack and get rid of the unnecessary. As I looked at everything, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to get rid of without at least trying it and seeing if I needed it. I just upped my training. In hindsight there are so many unnecessary items I could do without. I didn’t even bother to list some of those pointless items in this blog, a rat trap among them. I am a hippy and didn’t want to harm anything, but in a pinch, who knows? It wasn’t necessary. The next trip will have a much lighter pack. I’ll get to that in other articles.

At the time, I wanted to try everything. I was also at a disadvantage as lightweight materials and equipment for backpacking were out of my price range. I would only need full water for going into certain long stretches in the higher elevation which isn’t much in Arkansas, but don’t underestimate the hike. Otherwise two 32 oz. bottles were enough. I decided just to train more and prepare.

My life was starting to sound like a bad country song. Car died. Can’t get to work. Robots were taking over the job anyways since a 3-D printer can take some of the work load. Luckily robots can’t counter-act for human error so I can still get some work. Next car died six months later. Had the same tow truck driver for both. He recognized me and empathized. All I had was some old but dependable backpacking equipment, a few hundred dollars, and good friends. If you are looking for advice on a lightweight thru-hike, look elsewhere. If you are on your last legs and want to have a good adventure in life before it’s too late but don’t have much to work with, then read on.

The rest of this particular blog entry is all about the gear and lists and may not be entertaining to anyone not planning to hike the trail. Check back for the next installments that include photo blogs from the start of the adventure at Lake Fort Smith to Buffalo Point 200 miles later.

The Gear

The Guardian water filter from MSR was well worth the weight. No cleaning filters and it’s fast. Saves the time and energy of boiling water. Most of the creeks and streams are clean, but you may have to find water in unsavory places from time to time. The problem: it’s pricey and can run up to $350. If you can hunt down a deal it is a great piece of equipment to have. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one. Thank you, Walt! I have a good friend who always passes down his gear when he gets something new and it has been a blessing. I ran into hikers using tablets, and running out quicker than they expected, then having to re-route quite a distance to get some more. A ceramic filter will get you through with far more work and energy, and they’re way cheaper.

Whey protein powder. Empty protein powder and just fill a few ziplock bags for half a serving a day to be taken after day’s hike. Use empty protein powder container to store tea, coffee, powders, spices, and snacks or whatever you wish to help keep the rodents out. You can line it with ziplock bags and have something in the middle. That container held my tea, honey, coffee, spice grinder, protein, electrolyte, and instant breakfast powder, as well as a few snacks. It was also a safe place to store my headlamp to ensure it didn’t accidentally get switched on.

Poppy flower seeds from memorial Book Meldoy seeds and stone

Jet boil

Two pot mess kit, large ceramic mug, and plain metal spoon

Gregor Backpack and rain cover

Trekking Poles

Hammock and straps, Eno hammock rainfly, five tent stakes

20 degree sleeping bag in dry compression sack

Thin foam pool noodle: cut into two pieces to protect collarbone and shoulders from straps and keep circulation going (may not be necessary for most thru-hikers, but I was carrying quite a load with an old pack) It also made an excellent rain-fly squeegee after a rain storm.

Small dry bag for extra socks, shirt, and boxers

Seal Line baja bag 40L: It’s a bit bulky, but rugged. It held my fleece blankets and clean clothes so I always knew they were dry while packed. It smashes down flat to tighten to pack. Used it as a food protector from critters at night. I didn’t need it for water crossings, but knew it would do the job.

Inflatable camping pillow

Two small fleece blankets:  Now I only have one fleece blanket long enough to cover and wrap around me. But these two tiny blankets were all I had at the time. I had to cocoon myself with them in the cold to keep from shivering and there was always a gap that would instantly go through my hammock and sleeping bag when I moved. If you have a good sleeping bag and aren’t hammocking you won’t need one and can cut down the bulk and weight. I love wrapping myself in a warm blanket inside the sleeping bag at night by the fire and it was worth it, especially when it got cold and my drinking water was frozen.

Raingear: frog tog pants and rain jacket with hood.

Thin foam yoga pad

Two nalgene bottles, one camelbak reservoir, plastic foldable water container

Shaving kit bag and shaving kit tri-fold pack

One pair of black hawk pants with built in stretch strap

Board shorts

Beanie

Nunn Bush Hiking boots:  Make sure you break in your boots while you train. I prefer boots with a soft heel that don’t have plastic inserts sewn under. The rigid insert of most boots just gives me blisters. When you try on boots imagine your Achilles heel grating against the back like a cheese grater to simulate the thru-hiking experience.

Avia cross training insoles: Caution! Using Avia cross-training insoles will poke holes in your boot if they have the sharp plastic that ends before your toes. I had two holes in both boots at the same spot that I could poke my fingers through. Granted, they carried quite a load, but be careful and make sure your insoles don’t have any plastic.

 

One pair light weight shoes for camp. Taking off your socks and boots and setting up camp feels great, but you need camp shoes. Bring some lightweight slippers or flip flops, depending on the climate since your feet will be tender.

Headlamp

Knife and Compass

Ipod Nano and Lepow Madre rechargeable bluetooth speaker to cure the loneliness.

Renogy 10W foldable solar charger

Plastic USB charger for camera batteries

Book: “Secret Tactics” by Kazumi Tabata Which was the absolute perfect book to read on a  thru-hike. The hardback is small and lightweight Each chapter has a bio of the author, then one to three pages of advice from the masters of feudal Japan to ponder on while you explore.

Notebook, journal, and two pens

West and East topography maps of the Ozark Highlands Trail

Plenty of carabiners and some bendy ties

Most of the clothing I bought at TJ Maxx for a good price: three pairs smart wool socks, three pairs spyder nylon boxers with odor control, one pair polyester pajama pants, one long sleeve fleece shirt, two polyester wicking shirts. Stay away from cotton and look for nylon or polyester, synthetic fabrics that can dry out fast. I had the best luck with nylon and it dried faster than polyester, but nylon can be tougher to find on a budget.

Many people spend a lot of money to thru-hike, buying all kinds of new equipment and buying dehydrated meals. As much as I wanted to have delicious dehydrated camping meals, at anywhere from $6-12 a meal, they were just too expensive. It wasn’t an option.

I had two food drops that needed to be sent to the Ozone and Pelsor (Sand Gap) post offices, both of which are only two miles from the trail. *Send them as general delivery with a message that they will be picked up by a thru-hiker. Keep in mind that third party shipping companies will not ship perishable items, so just go straight to FedEx, UPS, or the Post Office for shipment.

I needed to split my food up into three sections, my starter pack and two food drops. I wanted breakfast, coffee, mid day snack, dinner, and a few treats. So I scoured the grocery store for a few hours, down every aisle, reading all the directions and comparing prices. I weighed the package in my hand and in my mind, measuring worth versus price. It really just came down to generic instant meals. Variety will keep you from getting tired of  the same meal.

OHT Food Drops and preparations

Here’s what I ended up with:

Instant oatmeal variety packs (fruit/cream, apple/cinnamon, maple/ brown sugar)

Instant Cream of Wheat (Maple/Brown Sugar)

Instant Grits (1 box)

Instant Mashed Potatoes (9)(individual small packs of every variety)

Coffee grounds

(2) boxes Carnation Instant breakfast packets (10 packets each)

(3) small jars peanut butter

(2) small generic Hazelnut spread

(2) 8 oz. squeezable honey

1 box Welch’s Vitamin C fruit snacks (22 packets)

3 boxes of generic breakfast bars (Strawberry, Blueberry, Apple Cinnamon)

Ramen Chicken 12 pack

Multivitamin Gummies

One box Emergen-C packets

3 boxes propel electrolyte packets

One container Whey Protein powder

3 Pack of Bic Lighters

Sleepytime tea 40 pack

Variety tea pack

2 containers CousCous

1 box beef bullion cubes

Ground Cinnamon

Ground Cayenne

Ziplock bags (Gallon, quart)

Unpack and get rid of all cardboard. Pack up everything in ziplock bags to organize and separate into three sections: starter kit and two food drops.

Ozmore’s Medley Trail Mix:

1 box Generic bran flakes (loaded with vitamins and minerals)

Pumpkin seeds (Protein)

Sunflower seeds

Black Walnuts (or your choice of nuts)

1 box fruity pebbles

Almond M&Ms

Peanut Butter M&Ms

Coconut Flakes

Welch’s Yogurt covered Strawberries

The grocery bill came out to around $175 for all of my food and some extras. My trail mix makes a lot and will split into three gallon size bags after mixing it all together in three large mixing bowls. One for each section of the trail. The Bran Flakes, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds get your vitamins and protein, whatever else you decide to add is up to you. I do wish I’d added an extra bag of peanut M&Ms.

Shaving kit filled with helpful tools:

gorilla tape

finger nail clippers

Gold Bond powder

Emu Oil and Beeswax tin for cracked heels

Tiger Balm

Toothpaste and ToothBrush

Small travel size vile of conditioner and camp soap

Insect sting with lidocaine treatment

Pencil Sharpener and two pencils

Paracord

Six small metal alligator clips (find in the automotive section)

Badger sunscreen with bug repellent

First aid kit:

Benadryl

Ibuprofen (or equivalent)

super glue

3M waterproof tape

Gauze

Small container Hydrogen Peroxide in squeeze bottle

10 Q-tips

Band aid variety

Tweezers

sewing kit and needle

Squeeze jet water syringe

Extra necessities:

Biodegradable wipes (I suggest Bob’s Butt wipes, or Dude Wipes which can be found at most outdoor retailers)

Perithrin bug spray for fabrics

Silicone water-guard spray for waterproofing fabrics

2 large Jet boil fuel canisters – one canister to start and one at the last food drop was enough for me. Three small fuel canisters that will fit in your jet-boil to pack down a bit more would work. I had a rule that I had to use a fire to cook at night unless it was raining. The fuel worked out just right where I used the last of the first container at Fairview the night before my second and last food drop when I got a full one.

Next Installment: Ozark Highlands Trail – Lake Fort Smith to Herrod’s Creek

The Blood of Winter

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the debut novel, “The Blood of Winter” Demons of Lost Souls from Amazon.

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.

 

 

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories from the trail.

Arches National Park, Utah

Ravens Call at Arches

It had been a great road trip from the start at Mount Rushmore to Devil’s Tower, experiencing Yellowstone in Winter, Zion National Park, Antelope and Grand Canyon. Arches National Park was our last stop before heading home. We were immediately welcomed by the local wildlife.

 

 

Through the arches

 

 

 

Daniel pose with binocs in ArchesMe balancing on fence at landscape arch

It was late in the day when we finally headed up to the Navajo Arch. Unlike the other arches, Navajo arch feels more like walking through a doorway into a hidden room. At the end of the room is a slot canyon. We walked through the canyon and found a spot to step up and out of it. Suddenly we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the entire landscape of canyons, arches, and ridges.

 

Navajo Arch Doorway

Panoramic over Navajo ArchMe over Navajo Arch

One side of the ridge was easy to get to and we hung out and enjoyed the view. Later, I found a way to get to the other side of the canyon and ran along the ridge. It took some stretching and ingenuity to get up there in the first place, and now I had to get back down. I realized the situation I was in. It was too big of a jump down into the canyon and the tiny pine tree wouldn’t support my weight to get down. I searched for another route and found nothing. I finally decided to just make a jump to the other side. If I didn’t land it right I would either go toppling off the edge, or bounce off my face into the slot canyon. I prepared myself while Daniel got ready to spot me and give a push in the right direction if I didn’t make it. I rocked back and forth, double-checked my footing, and went for it. I made the jump across the canyon safely and inhaled a breath of relief.

The view was too great to pass up and Daniel conquered his Acrophobia long enough to stand on the ridge and enjoy the view. It was the perfect end to a great trip.

Daniel over Navajo Arch

Daniel Over Navajo Arch with view of Valley

 

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

 

 

We arrived at Antelope Canyon and got a hotel for the night. We started doing some research online to figure out which canyon to go to: Lower Antelope or Upper Antelope Canyon. The upper canyon is more expensive but provides even more beautiful scenery and color. For the price we decided on the Lower Antelope Canyon. Prime viewing times are going to be crowded depending on the time of year you go. We didn’t have to wait long for The Lower Antelope Canyon. There were many Koreans waiting along with us for the tour. I was sure I saw the actor from Old Boy and Cast Away on the Moon and wish I would have taken a picture with that man whether it was him or not. A Navajo Guide greeted us and we began the tour.

When we arrived the landscape just looked like a flat lot of sand. As we started the tour we could see the crack in the ground where the canyon is. We descended into the rainbow depths of sandstone caverns hiding beneath the ground in Utah. We didn’t go at a prime viewing time for photos. I did what I could with my little point and click in dim lighting, but my photos don’t do the beautiful colors and contrast justice compared to photos you can find on the internet.

The tour guide told us the horrifying story of twelve hikers who were swept away in a flash flood in 1997. There are now rescue ladders installed.

The Antelope Canyon was a beautiful but short hike. We got back on the road and headed over to the Grand Canyon.

Me and Daniel at Grand Canyon

Arms out at Grand Canyon

Daniel at Grand Canyon

We started the hike along the rim that provides a geological tour with rock formations and plaques that break down how the canyon was formed over millions of years. The sun started to set, but we were too far along to turn back.

Daniel beneath pine tree at Grand CanyonGrand Canyon after sunsetTimed at Grand Canyon

We were able to catch a free shuttle on the other side of the rim and get back to the car. We had one more stop on our road trip before it was time to head home.

Next Installment: Arches National Park

 

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

After a crazy drive through a blizzard we managed to get out of Salt Lake City before all highway lanes were shut down. We escaped the foul weather and saw the sun again on our way to Zion National Park. We were able to get a room at the lodge inside the park. We took the riverside walk to the narrows as the sun set. It was dark when we arrived at the end of the trail. A barefoot hike through the narrows just wasn’t in the cards on this trip. We could see enough of the landscape to enjoy the scenery in the night before heading back to get some sleep for the next day’s hike to Angel’s Landing. It was a beautiful night and as the moon rose over the horizon it lit higher peaks and created a contrast of shadows from lower peaks that morphed and grew on a canvas of moonlight.

Zion after Sunset

We started at Emerald Pools in the morning. The sun rose and cast shadows on the bluffs in shades of red and orange over green pines. There was still ice in shaded areas and we had to hang on tight to keep from sliding across slick areas of trail hidden from the sun.

Daniel sliding down Emerald Pools in Zion

 

 

 

Daniel at Emerald Pools in Zion Peace

Emerald Pools Upper Falls

Daniel hiking below Emerald Pool Falls at Zion.jpg

Next, we started the ascent to Angel’s Landing. My travel companion has Acrophobia, a fear of heights, but he always tries to overcome it. The first time I realized his fear of heights was when I took him out to a 75 foot tall train bridge at night nearly twenty years ago. It was one of my favorite hangouts growing up. I love heights and have never had an issue. I walked out onto the train tracks and was talking to Daniel. I turned around and saw him hunched over, crawling hand over hand across the rail far behind me.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“Uh huh,” was the single syllable I received. He didn’t really hear anything I said after that and was purely focused on getting through it. He crawled out to the middle of the bridge under moonlight and stayed sitting. I have seen him lean from the wall of the Sear’s Tower, stretching as far as he could to catch the view without letting his toes from one foot leave contact from the wall. I have seen him rock climb up a vertical face, then down-climb the whole thing because he didn’t trust the rope. He is always willing to try and push that limit, despite his fear, and it’s admirable.

Angel’s Landing proved to be a bit too much for him. We made the climb along switchbacks, right up until it came time to hold onto the chains and walk the ridge. Daniel was gripped onto a piece of rock tightly. I asked if he was okay and received a mumbled, “uh huh,” while he held a death grip. I tried to give him some re-enforcement but realized he wasn’t going anywhere. “Uh huh,” was the response to most of my questions. I double-checked and made sure he was okay, then carried on to summit Angel’s Landing. We already had that conversation before the climb in anticipation of such an event.

 

Daniel almost made it up Angels Landing

Acrophobia Grabs Hold

Angels Landing Summit Photo

Angel’s Landing Summit

 

An Australian couple snapped a picture for me at the summit. I hiked in a jet-boil and made a cup of coffee to sit back and enjoy the view. The chipmunks are not shy and were scattered about the place looking for handouts, or something to sneak away. It’s a beautiful view from the top overlooking the valley between bluffs with strokes of white, brown, red, and orange scattered with green pines.

It turned out Daniel was still clinging to that piece of rock for some time until a couple came along to help get him down to a safer spot. The husband was familiar with a fear of heights, and recognized the symptoms. Anyone else who asked how he was or if he needed help likely received, “uh huh,” as a reply. It took someone with a little more empathy and understanding to look through that and get him down. I met back up with Daniel and we made our way back down to safer ground. We were back on the road towards Antelope Canyon and Grand Canyon.

Timed descending Angels Landing

Face Hugger view of Zion bluffs

Next Installment: Antelope Canyon to Grand Canyon

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

Yellowstone in Winter

After visiting Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Devils Tower Monuments, we arrived at Yellowstone. Most of the roads were closed because it was so late in the season. I have been to Yellowstone years ago in late September and the place was extremely crowded, despite the fact that it was technically the off-season. Although I was disappointed we wouldn’t get to see many of the sights the park is known for, experiencing Yellowstone covered in snow gave me a new perspective. Most of the time it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

Daniel in snow Petrified tree walk

 

Face-Hugger Mammoth Springs Road

 

 

Mammoth Springs Microbes

Close-up photo of the mineral and microbe deposits in the thermal waters of Mammoth Springs

Mammoth Springs Macro Moon Rise in Starry Sky Abstract

Yellowstone waterfall.jpg

 

Buffalo CrossingCoyote in Yellowstone

There was only fifty miles of road open to us, so we drove through the park, turned around and came back to enjoy a cheeseburger and beer in town. The next day we took one more trip into the park and stopped at a bridge to explore the Yellowstone River.

 

 

 

 

Yellowstone River in Contrast and Color

We headed into Grand Tetons and even less of the road was open to us. Thick cloud cover blocked our view. We were looking for the Grand Tetons and expected such a large mountain to be easily visible. Luckily the clouds moved for us just long enough to get a glimpse before the peaks disappeared for good.

Grand Tetons in cloud cover

Grand tetons in the cloud.jpg

We traveled through Teton Pass under cover of night with pine trees and snow covered mountains lit by moonlight. It was slow driving in a car on icy roads. We stayed in Jackson Hole and prepared for our next stop.

 

The Teton Pass had closed due to inclement weather and we would have to re-route. We drove to Salt Lake City Utah through a blizzard. It was a white-out and we followed semi-trucks at a distance. Chain law went into effect and all the semi-trucks pulled off the road to chain up. We were on our own. It was one hell of a ride and we white knuckled it the whole way. There were many wrecks and stranded drivers off the side of the road. We got lucky as three snow plows waited for us to pass and came out right behind us to create a buffer zone for any following traffic. Then the snow plows started to catch up. Any touch of the brakes and we started sliding. It was a long and terrifying ride, but we finally arrived in Salt Lake City and pulled into the first gas station to let our nerves settle. I laughed as I kicked and scraped all the ice off the headlights, only to look around and realize the storm hadn’t arrived here. The other cars were spotless.

P1320967

We found a hotel for the night and tried to visit the Salt Lake the following morning before we carried on. As soon as we left the city the blizzard and ice made the roads treacherous. We got off the exit for the Salt Lake and could only stare at the parking lot. Even though it wasn’t much of a hill, it was enough to know we’d be stuck there if we entered. “Well, there’s the Great Salt Lake.”

We got back onto the highway just in time. All six lanes of traffic had shut down and were blocked off. All traffic was being detoured onto a one lane exit. It was an absolute mess, and if we hadn’t gotten back onto the highway when we did, we would have been really stuck like the mass of traffic behind us. Several police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances were headed down into the part of the highway that had been shut down. We never did see the wreck, but after what we had seen already, a pile up was our assumption. It was a thrilling ride from Yellowstone to Salt Lake City, but we weren’t ready to do it again. Luckily the sun came back to greet us as we entered into Zion National Park.

Next Installment: Zion National Park

 

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

 

 

Mount Rushmore to Devil’s Tower

I was fresh off a 200 mile thru-hike and not looking forward to what would have to come next; getting back on my feet in a metaphorical sense. Luckily, an opportunity arose from a close friend. He was going on his yearly road trip and wanted some company. I warned him that I was almost out of money. He replied, “I have to get hotel rooms and food anyways, I’d rather have some company along the way.” It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Native American Monument Female

We started from Northwest Arkansas and headed to Mount Rushmore.

Arkansas MT Rushmore pillar

 

Next we headed down to see the Crazy Horse Monument not far away, which is still in progress. The tour guide told us the hair is expected to be completed by 2070.

The face of Crazy Horse

We were back on the road enjoying the beauty of South Dakota.

Rushmore OverlookMoon over Sunlit Mountains

Prairie Dogs and Deer

We stopped in at Deadwood and stayed at the famous Bullock Hotel. Then we wandered the graveyard where Seth Bullock, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok are buried. Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried together. A cast iron fence protects the monuments that are now scattered with tiny whiskey bottles. Seth Bullock’s grave is at the top of the hill on it’s own patch of land.

 

 

I looked out over Deadwood above the graveyard and took the Deadwood Leap before we jumped over to Devil’s Tower.

 

Devil’s Tower monument rises from the South Dakota landscape with flowing vertical hexagonal columns. We walked the trail through Ponderosa pines and bounced across boulder fields, soaking in the warmth of sunlight.

 

We were back on the road again and stopped to enjoy the beautiful sunset on one horizon and the moon over darkening skies on the other before heading to snow covered Yellowstone National Park.

 

 

Next Installment: Yellowstone in Winter

 

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praying Mantic prepares for a hug on yellow flowers OHT

toad by spiderweb on OHT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobo Falls trickling falls with orange reflection on OHT

 

Inch worm in orange camo on OHT

 

 

 

Superman emblem in nature with fall leaves on OHT

Tom Shanks and Spaldng ride the beast on OHT

Vibrant leaf trap on Hurricane Creek waterflow OHT

 

 

 

 

sneaking up on spalding on OHT

Giant waterbug shadow ripples on water

 

Fairview sunset on OHT

Candle light vigil on the OHT

 

 

 

Heart on fall leaves on OHTMoss stone steps and fall leaves

 

Re-route camp in rainSnail on a rainy day on OHT

through the trees as fall approaches on OHTYellow fall leaves on trees OHT

 

 

Buffalo River overlook with golden leavesBuffalo River Plank point overlook selfie

Fall over field on Buffalo National RiverBuffalo National River selfie on wading day

 

Floating fall leaves variety on water

Fallen leaf collection in creek on Buffalo trail

 

ozmore with pack on plank rock OHTSpalding face hug on Buffalo River Overlook

 

Dillards Ferry Sprint overlook with Spalding

The Blood of Winter Demons of Lost Souls

 

Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

 

E-book versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson, and other major retailers.

If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.