Arbaugh to Ozone: Section 3 of the Ozark Highlands
Journal entry: Day 12.
Hiked twelve miles. Chased the sunset up a steep mountain. Chased trailblazers under the light of a crescent moon to get back down. Got to Hignite Creek well after dark. Was lucky enough to find one great piece of wood that could easily be torn into smaller pieces and was able to make a quick fire. Nights are cold without the fleece blankets and the sleeping bag alone won’t do the job. Staying warm as long as the blankets don’t move. Will pick up food drop soon.
There were some large trees that had fallen all along the trail. The red oaks were the main problem. There were other trees that were split in half and left curling strips of wood where part of the tree was attached to it’s previous partner still standing tall and proud. One of these trees formed a ramp and I climbed up with Spalding. The picture doesn’t do the height justice.
The fallen trees were great for firewood at the campsite if they weren’t rotten, otherwise they were an obstacle course. There were a few sections that I had to reroute completely to get around five oaks in a row and then try to find the trail again. Some I couldn’t walk around. Then it became a matter of whether or not I could do it with the pack on. There were a few intense moments of having to get my pack to the other side of a fallen tree over the trail while also trying to keep from falling off the edge of a drop-off, or losing the grip on my pack and having it fall over the edge. I met some guys down the trail doing volunteer work to help clean it up and they were doing great job. It’s a momentous task to take care of hundreds of miles of trail. Thank you to all the volunteers who help keep the place clean and natural while still letting us hobos, hippies, and adventurers have our fun in the outdoors.
I had every intention of using the land for sustenance from time to time, but many of the plants I studied could only be recognized safely by their flowers and it was too late in the season. I studied the manuals, but I didn’t get enough hands on experience, especially in the Fall, to feel safe about it. There were two mushrooms I was on the lookout for. One of those was the Lion’s Mane. It looks like a white beard. I found the edible mushroom under a fallen log, sliced off a section, and put it in a ziplock bag.
Lion’s Mane is being tested to treat Alzheimers and Dementia and increase short term memory. It can provide neuro-protection and is good for the brain. The extract can be removed with sugar alcohol. I had honey and rum, close enough. I got a fire going and filled my pot with the rest of my flask of rum and added a small amount of water with honey and brought the Lions’ Mane pieces to a boil, feeding the fire small sticks and used a piece of folded aluminum foil to move the pot. I left the lid on and let it simmer. I poured my new mixture of rum, honey, and Lion’s Mane into a cup, added a lemon tea bag filled with vitamin C, and let it steep. I poured my strange concoction back in the flask and used a dash for night time tea as a sweetener, and sometimes just took a healthy swig after a rough hike.
I grilled the remaining filet of Lion’s Mane in a pot, rolling it constantly and adding some seasoning. I don’t like mushrooms, but at that moment the Lion’s Mane was like a steak and tasted like beef brisket.
Anytime I took my pack off, I knew I had to get it back on. I only took off the pack at watering holes and scenic vistas until I got to the next campsite. Otherwise, I only got off my feet on good sitting logs and rocks so I could rest without having to remove the pack.
I hiked to ozone campground the next morning. I had to hike two miles into town and be at the Post Office before they closed at 12:30 pm to get my first food drop. I indulged and ate the rest of the trail mix and peanut butter. Eighty-five miles down and I had hiked through an entire map. It felt good and I wanted to get going in the morning to enjoy my new food drop and relax by a creek.
Sometime around 2 am a truck pulls up to my campsite. There was no vehicle to park in the spot and claim it, so I just set up the hammock in a corner. I had my pants hanging out to dry on a post. I am watching closely. The driver points to the pants and the passenger gets out to grab them.
“Can I help you?” I say curtly.
Without a word he jumps back in the truck and shuts the door, but I could still hear and see them under the interior light.
I see the driver’s confused look before the passenger points at me and says, “There’s a f#^ing guy right there!”
“Yeah!” I yell. “There’s a f#^ing guy right here!”
The truck drives away and leaves the campground. I knew I had to get up early to make it to the P.O. in time and didn’t sleep well. Hiked along the highway to very little traffic, an occasional vehicle every few minutes. My trekking poles created a rhythm as I inched along in time with my foot falls. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was getting a food drop. There were signs for the Ozone Burger Barn along the highway and my hopes were raised. I didn’t have much, but I had enough for a burger. I made it there with excitement and after a quick glance of the menu was ready to place an order.
“Bacon Cheeseburger.” I say smiling.
“We only take cash.”
My heart sank. I didn’t have any cash on hand, just a debit card. I was still excited to get my first food drop. I grumbled to the Post Office just down the road.
“Hiking the Trail?” the woman behind the counter asks with a smile as I open the door at the Post Office.
I slide through the doorway and try to keep my pack from tipping things over, “Yes.”
“Where did you start?”
“Lake Fort Smith. I’ve gone eighty five miles. Halfway there.”
“How far are you going?”
“To Woolum and maybe further, depends on how I feel then.”
“Wow, well good luck to you.”
“Thank you. It’s been a great trip, and I’m ready for new food. Do you have a pick up for me?” I tell her my name and she hands over my package. “I don’t suppose by any miracle you do cash back? I was really looking forward to a cheeseburger.”
She smiles, “buy a stamp and I can do up to $20”
My smile grows. I go back to the Ozone Burger Barn for a bacon cheeseburger. I set out my solar charger in the sun, and chill out with a soft drink while I wait for my meal. I also have to completely repack. The new food drop is quite a load. There is plenty of room in the shade with long picnic tables. I open the box like a kid at Christmas and spread everything out. Nutella, Peanut butter, and a whole variety of instant meals plus a great selection of snacks. A fresh bag of coffee and home made trail mix.
I ate my bacon cheeseburger and took my time in great weather. Then I started to organize my entire pack and figure out if I wanted to change anything. I had everything laid out across the table when the first park ranger showed up.
He smiled and we got to talking about the trip. He went to get a burger and was told it was cash only and was suddenly disappointed. I told him about the cash back. He smiled, jumped in the truck, and was right back within minutes when the next park ranger arrived. The two met like old friends and the new guy went in for a cheeseburger with a credit card. We told him about the cash back and he left. Then the next park ranger showed up and the words “cash only and Post Office.” The previous park ranger was back and said “the lady at the Post Office doesn’t want us telling everyone about it.” Park rangers are showing up at regular intervals now and the Cash Only rule and where to get cash back is immediately established to save the new-comer some time. They all start having conversations like they haven’t seen each other in quite awhile and need to catch up. They were preparing burn ban signs and all seemed to be from different counties.
“How come your county hasn’t put up the Burn Ban yet?”
“We’re supposed to get some rain over the next couple of days. No need to panic. You’ll just be taking it right back down.”
“Well, you got to be careful out here.”
All agreed and started sharing stories. I had fun listening while I packed.
I was quite the spectacle with all of my gear spread out. They asked me about my trip and suddenly I had a sizable audience of Park Rangers in the middle of the Ozarks. I told them about it while I packed. I was trying different methods to see if I could gain some room so I didn’t have the pack up so high over my head that it would drag on overhanging branches. I asked if I would be able to make a fire. I could get far enough to be out of the Burn Ban, but we needed some rain, bad. I was worried before I left that many of the creeks would be dried up, and I was right to worry. It was all working out so far, but I wanted to have a day by a real flowing creek, not a distant puddle I had to travel to for water.
“I’ll be doing my rain dance tonight and pigging out to lighten my pack.” They laughed. I put the pack together, and it was a monster again with a new food drop. I get it settled on the bench and strap in. I hear one of the Park Rangers, “Whew, now that is a load!”
I smile as I hoist myself up with my poles, say my goodbyes, and get back on the trail.
I hiked to a great spot along a creek and set up camp. I had a new batch of food to choose from and freshly charged batteries for my ipod and speaker. I got a fire going and cranked up the tunes. Having been alone for so long on the trail it was nice to have some conversation and a burger. Having music was also a great comfort and it wasn’t often I could get enough of a charge with the solar charger, so I was always happy when I could finally just chill out and enjoy the scenery.
The next day I only planned to go to Owen’s Creek, but it was completely dried up. I carried on and ended up hiking into tall forests of pine. What looked like a baby Christmas tree hatchery was on top of the mountain in bright green.
I had very little water and pumped from blackish water and boiled some with an instant coffee. At Bear Skull Falls I found some water dripping into a puddle from lichen wrapped black cliffs. It was late and getting dark fast. I made a quick camp and a small fire just to cook. There were dry pine needles everywhere and I didn’t want to be responsible for burning the place down so I put the fire out immediately and made sure it wouldn’t simmer any hidden coals.
There were great boulder fields all around me and many looked like they had caves or overhangs for shelter. I figured I would explore the place in the morning despite my dehydration. That night I had a very graphic dream. I like heights and walking along an edge and balancing over a great height doesn’t bother me. I also don’t dream much, so when one comes with such timing as this, I tend to listen to what it’s trying to say. In the dream someone had fallen and we heard a loud pop and crunch as their skull cracked. I will spare you further details, but the realism of the dream was intense.
In the morning I decided to skip exploring the boulder fields and find a good water source so I could enjoy myself again. That’s when I got to one of my favorite campsites and waited out the storm.
Next Installment: Cedar Creek and Hobo Falls
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.