Repeated Walks

IMG_4084rrWe should hike some trails over and over again, especially when they’re in our backyards. This little 4-mile trail is a 3-minute drive from my home. On this recent morning, I had the trail to myself.

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When you walk the same trail many times, you begin to notice the smaller things. Repeated walks on the same trail are never boring. They’re new every time!

IMG_4121rrHere’s a short video message I shared with students while Arkansas schools are closed due to the spread of COVID-19. I wanted to share a local trail and remind students that their vision for the future can have an impact on our community. Enjoy your trails, especially your home trails.

 

Somewhere in the Ozarks

IMG_4013rrA simple long walk in the woods can heal the spirit, and it doesn’t hurt our physical side either. The photos in this post were taken on a Monday walk in the Ozarks, but not on any particular trail. It was a treat to hike with Steve and Chris, both trail enthusiasts and maintainers. I’ll describe our location simply as somewhere in the Ozarks.

Hiker-dog made a full day of it. She must have run twenty miles to our eight walked. I’ve only seen her chew wood out of a log one other time. Must have been something good hiding in there!

I never get tired of looking at rocks. That’s a good thing because we see quite a few in the Ozarks.

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Ten-foot tall boulder sitting alone next to a bluff.

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Redbuds showed their color down below the tree canopy and this long bluff.

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We often see rock walls and old footings from historic structures built by earlier residents.

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Old homesite footings

We saw some tall trees during our walk.

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Water adds another layer of beauty in the Ozarks. This creek was flowing strong enough that we studied it for a few minutes before crossing.

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Water flowing over rock is always special! As we crossed a small drainage, I paused for a photo using a log for my tripod.

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The soft gurgling of water made for pleasant hiking next to this stream. My hot feet thanked me for spending a few minutes with this small cascade.

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If you’ve ever heard the roar of a waterfall inside a hollow in the Ozarks, you understand how it draws you toward the sound, wondering what you’ll find. These falls looked to be about ten feet high. Nice spot for a break.

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Hiker-dog was thrilled to spend a full day exploring the Ozarks, and she appreciated all of the positive attention.

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Watching her grooming made me long for a hot shower. After a tough climb, we made it out of the woods and I got my wish.

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I completed the day feeling good and thankful for my health.

Rock, wood, and water. How amazing that these elements combine to form such beauty for us to enjoy! When in doubt, get out there somewhere in the Ozarks.

Stronger Than We Know (guest post)

The following was so relevant to our current situation, I asked permission to share. Wisdom born of experience! – Ozarkmountainhiker

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By Rick Spicer, Guest Author

A few words on taking control of your own mind. Each of us as individuals are the sum of our life experiences, and of the relationships we’ve built with those close to us.  For my part, I can only weigh in based on my own challenges and those certainly seem insignificant to me in light of our current issues which I evaluate not based on what our media tells me I should think, but rather what friends in other places around the world are living with as I write this.
IMG_4371rrAs I look back on my life, there are moments that stand out like a distant campfire in the darkness.  Each of those moments required me to make a choice and in that moment there is an opportunity to accept responsibility for my actions.  Having spent much of my life traveling to remote places, I’m reminded of my recent time in a swamp and the mantra that my brother @jasonleesurvival and I would repeat to each other.  “We just have to do today.”

As time went on and food supplies ran low, I felt lighter and heavier at the same time.  Lighter due to the twenty pounds I had lost, and heavier from the weight of uncertainty.   I learned that sometimes small changes in your efforts can lead to positive changes in your situation.

I hand-wove a fish trap from willow twigs and reeds and baited this trap with leftover alligator meat.  We moved the trap around for days but had no luck catching anything.  Eventually Jason killed a cottonmouth which we ate and then used the fresh entrails as bait in the trap.  I realized that it wasn’t a problem with my trap but rather what we were using for bait. I suppose the point here is that seemingly small decisions can have big consequences.  

We will look back on this moment in time and I believe it too will stand out.  What small decisions will we make in the coming days, weeks, months that will have larger than expected results?  I’m reluctant to offer advice, except to say go forward gently.  Be mindful of others and if you find yourself in the dark, know that even the smallest ember is capable of kindling a flame that can light the way.  We are all stronger than we know. Be well. 


Rick is a part owner of Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He teaches bushcraft outdoor skills and applies those skills on his personal travels. Follow his adventures on Instagram @packratbushcraft

Mount Magazine Trail to Lift the Spirits

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It had been too long since I walked the Mount Magazine Trail from Cove Lake to the top of the mountain.  Saturday’s day hike was a great chance to practice “social distancing” in the woods.  With the concerns over CORVID-19, a hiking trail is the perfect place to get some exercise and safe conversation with others.  We only encountered one couple hiking on the trail.

Becca and I camped at Cove Lake in the truck.  All was quiet in the campground, and temperatures were cool, perfect for sleeping.  I fired up the small propane heater for a few minutes on Saturday morning while preparing eggs, bacon, and potatoes for breakfast.  I wanted plenty of energy on this 10-mile hike that would test the progress of my right knee.

Becca drove the truck to the top of the mountain to meet me in about seven hours.  Steve, Roger, and I began what would be a demanding climb but in perfect weather conditions.  Water wasn’t going to be a concern. Every intermittent stream was flowing.

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We saw several big pine trees next to the trail. Steve slowed down so I could get a photo showing the size of this tree.

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When we arrive at Rock Creek, we spent a few minutes finding places to cross safely. I sat next to the creek and then tromped through in my hiking shoes. The cold water felt good!

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I spent a few minutes after lunch enjoying the large canopy of a pine as bright sunshine warmed my skin. Crisp air and sunlight poured new energy into my body as I sat staring at the sky.

IMG_3528rrSmall flashes of color whispered that we’re on the front end of spring.

Reflections on a wildlife pond caught my attention.IMG_3587rr

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IMG_3661rrSometimes little things next to the trail remind you of the complexity and symmetry in nature.

The final three miles of this hike to Cameron Bluff is one of the great climbs in Arkansas. When you get to the stone steps, you know you’re close to the top!

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As the minutes go by, you begin to wonder if someone’s adding more steps on the far end. It’s a heart-pounding climb!

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Top of the steps

Finally, the stairs twist and lead to the road that follows Cameron Bluff. An overlook is nearby and well worth a few extra steps. A short, and thankfully, level walk brings you to the campground. From the campground, it’s a quick trip to the high point of Arkansas at 2,753 feet. I include the Signal Hill (Highpoint) Trail and others in Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

I always enjoy seeing the historic water fountain at the campground. The fountain is no longer in use, but reminds me of earlier camping trips before the mountain became a state park.

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I need to do this Cove Lake to Mount Magazine hike again soon. It gives a great physical workout while lifting the spirits, too!

Edgar Whitney’s Challenge

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Pre-dawn hike on Hunt’s Loop (Ouachita Trail)

When I met Edgar Whitney over thirty years ago, I was immediately captured by his passion for life and art.  Later I found a copy of his book, revisiting it many times over the years.  The words of Edgar Whitney apply to other crafts like photography, drumming, writing, and even walking.

After twenty-five years as a commercial artist, Edgar Whitney told his boss he was going to pursue watercolor painting.  With the boss’s laughter ringing in his ears, he worked and studied, eventually becoming a leader in the watercolor world.

This morning I felt strength in my careful pace while walking in darkmess on Hunt’s Loop Trail in the Ouachita Mountains.  Edgar Whitney’s words came to mind and challenged me again as I realized my time on trails had led me to new thoughts and much more than increased skill.

Each step now holds a depth and richness that my once mindless and hurried trudging through the woods lacked.  I’m thankful that my concerns today are not “precisely what they were five years ago.”

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Early morning stream on Hunt’s Loop

A few of Edgar Whitney’s words:

“There are certainly differences in students’ potentialities, but the differences are very rarely because some can and some cannot; more often they are because some do and some do not.”

“Thoughtful production and sincerity will put qualities into your work which trained eyes can recognize.”

“No talent can survive the blight of neglect.”

“There are no gimmicks in the learning process. You sweat, digging deeper, or your knowledge is superficial.” 

“The artist practicing his craft sometimes understands the most profound truth of all: results are unimportant.  The value is in the activity.  Are these things the craftsman learns worth knowing?”

The answer “none” to the question “What words have I been thinking with?” means you are making a thoughtless painting.”

Smackover, Arkansas – Historic Jail

This isn’t a hiking post, but it does involve some exploring in the southern part of our state where my father grew up. A couple of years ago, my dad and I made a visit to his hometown, Smackover, Arkansas. Since my dad died last year, the memory of that short visit to Smackover has increased in importance.

The photos I found most interesting were of the old jail. Daddy remembered the location but never had to make a visit there himself. He said it was conveniently located close to the busy downtown area where men often got into trouble during the oil boom of the 1920s. The concrete jail is on the back ally of South Broadway Street. South Broadway Street has one of the only pedestal traffic lights in our state. It is pictured here with the public library in the background. IMG_9039rr

When my dad said there used to be a jail close by, I was eager to see. We walked to the ally behind the commercial buildings on South Broadway and looked around. I was fascinated when I saw the old concrete structure that looked like a cooler at first glance.

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The lock on the door was the only evidence of anything “new.” My dad said if a guy started misbehaving from consuming too much alcohol back during the oil boom, he could easily be thrown into the jail to sleep it off.

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IMG_9068rrThe windows were reinforced with rebar and expanded metal.

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After our visit to the jail, we drove past the little house where I spent many weekends with my grandparents. Each evening my grandfather and I would stand on the front porch while he cleaned his pipe. We’d watch steam from a sawmill in the distance before going back inside to watch The Lawrence Welk Show followed by James Arness in Gunsmoke. A TV antenna on the side of the house brought the signal from one of two channels back in the 1960s.

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On Sunday morning, we’d load up Grampie’s black ’57 Chevy and head to church. As Grampie was shaking hands after a service, the pastor smiled and said, “Arch, it really hurts my feelings when you doze off during my sermon.”  Grampie said, “Well preacher, it just proves I trust ya.”

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Warnock Arch Sudie Jimmy

In this old photo, my father and grandfather are on the upper right. My grandmother is on the far bottom right.

 

Backpackers’ Hot Chocolate Recipe

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I haven’t been happy with the weight or flavor of packaged hot chocolate. After a little experimenting, I settled on the following recipe. Just as with my coffee recipe, this might not be for everyone, but if you want a healthy hot beverage to sleep on, this is the ticket!

Mix the following ingredients in a bowl and measure into ziplock bags for the trail. Pictured above are three servings in the ziplock. Weight is less than 1.5 oz. 

Pour a small amount of hot water in the cup and stir in 2 rounded teaspoons of the mix. My titanium cup is small (8 oz.), so adjust your mix to taste. After stirring thoroughly, add remaining water. Disclaimer: I like my drinks dry, so you might prefer that second cup of powdered sugar if you like a more traditional flavor. I find that the coconut milk powder mixes well and I like the flavor.

In the photo above, I used a Wendy’s spoon, similar to the one I found in a Ouachita Trail shelter several years ago. There’s a story behind this spoon I now carry in addition to my titanium spoon for good luck. It reminds me that the trails provide. I hope you enjoy your Backpackers’ Hot Chocolate! Let me know if you find good variations that I might want to try.

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When in Doubt, Go! Walking the Marinoni Again

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Five-foot (approx.) waterfall in Briar Branch

If you ever feel hesitant to hike a location because you’ve done it many times before, go! My afternoon day hike proved again that a trail is never the same twice. I’ve hiked the Marinoni Scenic Area many times. I’ve written about it in Do South Magazine, shared it on Exploring Arkansas, and in my guidebook, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. Still, this hike was special because of water flow, winter views, and an unexpected tour guide.

As we drove, I saw cars at other trailheads but didn’t see another human on our trail. This was one of several hikes planned this weekend to compensate for my decision not to do a longer multi-night trip out of regard for my knee.

Treat Your Own Knee Robin McKenzieWhenever something hurts, I check with a trainer friend. She gives me good advice. To avoid future problems, I bought a book. Treat Your Own Knees, by Robin McKenzie. It has sequential stretches and exercises based on types of pain and loss of mobility. After experiencing a lack of motion in my right knee in the past, I feel like every stretch break is celebration time.

My occasional knee stretches seemed to confuse Hiker-dog. She’d run up and bark if I didn’t finish up pretty quickly and get back on the trail.

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Stretching time

When we got out of the truck at the Indian Creek Canoe Landing parking lot, Hiker-dog spotted another dog up above on the highway. I leashed Hiker, and we started toward the road. The black and white dog led the way through the opening in the fence and headed down the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail with confidence that startled me.

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Lucy and Hiker-dog getting aquainted

IMG_1172rrShe had a bright hunter orange collar and was easy to approach. On one side of the tag, it said Lucy, the Adventure Dog, much loved, and there was a phone number. On the other side was the message to leave her at Indian Creek on the Mulberry River.

Lucy had a low key personality and seemed to enjoy our company. She and Hiker-dog got along just fine and occasionally took turns coming back to check on me or walk with me, one in front and one behind.

The trail was beautifully moist from recent rains. Small streams all held water, perfect for dogs. I found myself wishing I’d packed less water and just filled up as I walked.

When we passed a long-abandoned road crossing, I turned to the southeast and headed toward Briar Branch. I wanted to see Briar Branch Falls since the creek was flowing strong. The sketchy old roadbed had mature trees in the middle so it had been many years since it was used, probably to access timber and/or water. I headed upstream on the creek, stepping carefully on this unplanned bushwhack.

IMG_1107rrA large boulder reminded me of the even larger boulders you’ll see upstream in the bluff-filled scenic area. My wish was granted when I saw the water flow after traveling a few hundred yards.

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Briar Branch Falls

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Briar Branch Falls from downstream

After spending a few minutes with the waterfall, including a couple of photos that included dog legs, I started to move back uphill toward the trail.

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One of two campsites next to Briar Branch

We passed the campsites and approached Briar Branch crossing, usually containing water but almost always an easy crossing to rock-hop. I always pause here and enjoy the view up the hollow, especially nice in the late afternoon sunlight.

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We passed through the high bluff sections and came to a favorite waterfall. Here’s the view from above as you pass over on the trail. It’s an easy scramble down to the waterfall for a look from below. A smaller waterfall up above the trail takes on various ribbon shapes, depending on the flow.

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view from below

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upper falls

A small colorful cave is close to the Marinoni Scenic Area sign.

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I love seeing the massive bluff-lined hollow in different seasons and light. Today’s walk as the sun moved lower and temperatures dropped was a real treat.

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It’s difficult to do the scene justice with a camera, but seeing the evening sun reflecting on a distant Mulberry River was beautiful through the trees.

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I paused for a photo at what I like to call “lunch break bluff” because volunteers enjoyed food and fellowship seated along this bluff back in 2012 when the spur was built and named for Dawna Robinson, a wonderful volunteer who’d passed away during the provious year.

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“lunch break bluff”

We bid farewell to our trail guide, Lucy the Adventure Dog, and then crossed Hwy 215 to load the truck, still not having seen another human. I felt the urge to feed Lucy but decided against it, knowing I wouldn’t want a stranger feeding Hiker-dog anything other than the food she’s used to.

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Hiker-dog admiring the Marinoni Waterfall

The Marinoni gave much more than I expected on this beautiful day. Waterfalls, winter vistas in late afternoon sun, and our very own tour guide named Lucy. I was thankful I had decided to do the Marinoni again, a trail that always gives something special to those who walk it.

Pack Weight Revisited

Carry as little as possible but choose that little with care.
~ Earl Schafer

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Carrying 14 lbs. with food and water

I have an obsession with pack weight. I got it honest early in my backpacking days while carrying a base-weight that must have been in the 45-pound range. After a few trips with a 3-pound sleeping  bag, 4-pound pack, heavy stove, heavy leather boots, and lots of extra stuff I didn’t need, I began to make different choices when it was possible to replace or eliminate something. I have an older post, “Preparing for Multi-Day Backpacking Trips”, that was well received. For this post, I’m focusing specifically on pack weight.

Over the last twenty years and after a lot of trial and error, I’m carrying a base-weight of 9-10 pounds when I’m using my lightest options. Base-weight is your pack-weight before adding food and water. The photo above shows my pack with food for two nights and water included.

Going lighter is all about personal choices. I’m sharing the following, not because this is how it should be done, but giving ideas and possibilities for going lighter. If you have a trick that works for you, please share with me through the contact page. I love to pick up good ideas from readers. I will mention brand names for clarity in this post, but I’m not endorsing any company.

The big three: 1 Sleep System, 2 Shelter,  3 The Pack – Reducing weight in these three areas has the most significant impact on pack weight.

1 Sleep system: Rest is essential to your trip’s success, so this is no place to skimp on cost, but a good down quilt is less than a sleeping bag. I use an Enlightened Equipment 20-degree down quilt and a silk bag liner for a weight of about 1 lb. 4 oz. Twenty-degree sleeping bags weigh in around 2 lbs. 6 oz. to over 3 pounds.

I’ve used air sleeping pads with good results except for the occasional leak. There are lighter and more rugged options.

Thermarest pad labeled.001

If I’m going my lightest, I prefer a Therm-a-rest foam pad with two extra foam cutouts to avoid cold spots where most of my weight makes contact. I’m a side sleeper, so one extra 6×8 inch pad goes under my hipbone, and the other goes under my shoulder. I cut the two extra pieces from a full-sized RidgeRest to make it a 2/3 pad after cutting another piece for Hiker-dog. She loves her foam sleeping pad! In cold weather, I place my pack under my feet to get up off the ground.

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Platypus pillow

For me, a pillow is essential. I now use a Platypus water pouch filled with air inside a small pillowcase along with extra clothes. During the day and in camp, I use the pouch to store extra water. If there’s water in the pouch in the evening, I pour it into my cookpot for the next morning’s eggs and coffee. I like double-use items.

2. Shelter: Lots of options here, and I’ve tried several over the years. Right now, I’m using a Big Agnes Silver Spur 2-person tent (2 lbs. 12 oz.) when I expect cold temperatures and want to keep Hiker-dog in the tent with me. When I want to go my lightest, I use a ZPacks tarp. Love the tarp because it’s flexible, lightweight, and I can feel close to my surroundings. If it’s bug season, I pitch a screened Enlightened Equipment bivy sack under the tarp. I sometimes use a piece of plastic under the foam pad in non-bug season. A backpacking tent can easily weigh 4 lbs. The tarp, stakes, and plastic ground cloth add up to 16 oz. With a bivy sack it’s 21 oz.

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ZPacks tarp, Enlightened Equipment quilt on Therm-a-rest foam pad

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Crown 60 pack packed bear canister for the High Sierras

3 The Pack: On the John Muir Trail and for many Ozarks trips, I use my Granite Gear Crown 60 pack. Love that pack, and it handles a bear canister well. If I’m going my lightest and a bear canister isn’t required, I use a ZPacks Nero that is super light.

Packing the pack (my way) – Place all items that must remain dry in a trash compactor bag. Both the Zpacks and Crown 60 packs area simple tubes. Pockets, compartments, and zippers are nice but add weight. The foam sleeping pad is placed against the pack walls adding structure to the lightweight floppy pack. I press the tarp into the bottom so any moisture will move down from there. Then I press the trash compactor bag into the tube containing the down quilt, silk sleeping bag liner, and extra clothes. Last, I pack the food/kitchen bag. 

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Loaded pack next to Hiker-dog who is policing the campsite for any crumbs

Lightweight hacks: Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up from other hikers and reading.

OT AquamiraHydrating light – If I use a filter, it’s the Sawyer mini squeeze filter. If the water is cloudy, I sometime pre-filter with my bandana and then the Sawyer filter. If I’m going my lightest, I use Aquamira water treatment drops, rebottled in small plastic bottles. I prefer the drops and leaving the filter in the bag or at home. Sometimes I carry both drops and a Sawyer, depending on what I expect to find out there.

Cooking light – Sometimes, I cook on a fire if there’s already a fire ring and it’s a high impact campsite, but the stove I carry is a titanium Esbit stove with two fuel cubes for each day. I have a pocket rocket type stove that works well, and sometimes I carry that, but it’s heavier, and I despise giving pack space to fuel canisters. I have a Jetboil and would use it for a large group where we wanted to boil lots of water quickly without having a bunch of stoves. A Jetboil could save weight for a group, but it’s heavy for an individual. One of my main trail friends uses a Whisperlite and he’s masterful with it, but it is a slightly heavier option.

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Gourmet coffee and eggs with bacon bits

My cookpot (Toaks 550 ml) and cup are titanium. Some prefer a larger pot, but this one boils water for coffee and scrambled eggs though it does get close to the rim with evening meals. I made a pot cozy using foam and Gorilla Glue that extends the cooking time and keeps the food warm while I eat it. I love coffee and have a somewhat unique coffee recipe. I sometimes wish my mug were bigger, but it fits nicely inside my pot.

Food is generally heavy. I rarely use commercial freeze-dried meals, preferring to pack my own using soups, instant potatoes, and Knorr meals as a base. Add dehydrated vegetables and freeze-dried chicken to make good meals with less packaging and weight. I carry trash in an empty coffee bag. It’s light, durable, and I don’t have to look at my trash as with a plastic bag.

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Black Diamond trekking pole & titanium tarp stakes

Trekking Poles: Hiking poles aren’t a necessity, but I find they improve my stability, especially going downhill. They can also serve a dual purpose as tarp poles. Lightweight and simple are my favorite features. I don’t care for fancy adjustments/shock absorbers and sometimes see hikers playing with their stick lengths to the point of frustration because of tricky mechanisms. I use Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles (non-adjustable).

Shoes and socks: I wear lightweight, low top hiking shoes or trail running shoes. I use crocs for creek crossing and around camp. I carry two pairs of Darn Tough socks with one pair on my feet and a backup pair in my pack. Everything adds up, so wearing lightweight clothes makes a difference in the weight your knees and feet will feel on the trail.

Personal items…what do I really need? I used to tweak around with toothbrushes, trying to lower the weight. I settled on tooth powder for a while instead of toothpaste. Now I just carry a roll of floss, that’s all. I floss each evening. Each morning a snap off a green twig and “brush” my teeth while walking along. After a few minutes, my teeth feel as clean as ever.

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Luxury Item: Give yourself one. It might be an iPod or some other item that adds to your enjoyment.  I love my double wall titanium mug, but it would qualify as a luxury item, so it never makes backpacking trips. My favorite luxury item is a package of wet-wipes. It feels good to clean up before sleeping, keeps the silk bag liner cleaner, and keeps down the stink.

Speaking of stink…. Proper pooping is important! There’s a whole book on the subject! For the Ozarks, bury your business away from the trail or water and pack out any toilet paper. I like to use leaves when possible to reduce the use of toilet paper though I still carry a little.  I like what Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland has on this subject and many more.

Life is all about nuanced choices, and the same is true of packing light. Experimenting with your gear can be fun and add to the anticipation of a trip, or it can drive you crazy and annoy those around you.

I think maybe “closet ultra-light backpacker” is the way to go. Quietly make decisions that reduce your pack weight, but don’t initiate conversations about subtle differences between the Toaks titanium cookpot over the MSR Titan Camping Kettle. Better to have campfire conversations about the trail, scenery, and life.

Enjoy your light pack, and the places your happy feet will take you!


If you want to hit some beautiful Arkansas and Missouri trails, pick up my book, Five Start Trails: The Ozarks.

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Happy feet on the John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California

Hometown Memory Walk

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Our room deck was at the upper right side of the photo

We stayed at the Downtown Guest Quarters in El Dorado, Arkansas, a while back for my high school reunion. We didn’t know what to expect but were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed being right downtown. Several walks punctuated our days as we enjoyed seeing both historic and new aspects of my hometown.

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As you can tell, we enjoyed our little deck and the bird’s eye view of the area where we spent so many years while living and working in El Dorado. Our room was situated above the House of Wylie Coffee Bar and Cafe, a great little place I’d visited many times. It was nice to see them still going strong after more than twenty years.

Downtown El Dorado is made for pedestrians with sidewalks, wide roads, and lots of shops. Artwork featured guitars and music themes, probably a nod to the annual Music Fest that began in the early 1990s and has expanded as the Murphy Arts District had developed. At one time, there were oil barrel sculptures, but I can’t remember seeing them on this trip.

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Becca leading the way toward the Union County Court House and square

We were impressed with the outdoor performance facility that is part of the new Murphy Arts District (MAD). This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it’s a huge stage with an expansive lawn for seating. The MAD includes a beautiful restaurant, indoor performance area, and ice skating rink.

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The Longest Day posterRenovation of the old Rialto Theatre is part of the Murphy Arts District development plan. This made me very happy. I saw lots of great movies in that theater, most memorably, The Longest Day that I watched with my father when I was seven.

Years later, after the theater was in dilapidated condition, the South Arkansas Symphony performed there to help raise funds for repair. By the end of the night, we thought the place might be haunted. One of the temporary lights illuminating the stage fell for no apparent reason. A violinist fell on the stairs next to the stage, breaking her leg and damaging her violin. I remember her being more disturbed about the violin than her leg.

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I found a gap in the construction screen and captured a view of the theater entrance, bringing back lots of memories.

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A newspaper spread for the 1929 opening of the Rialto Theatre is on display in the Downtown Guest Quarters. The Rialto was built for live performances with a stage and orchestra pit. I remember seeing a pipe organ in the pit that I’m guessing was once used to accompany silent movies or cartoons. 

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Across the street from the Rialto is one of several historic monuments commemorating the significance of the oil industry in El Dorado’s past.

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Many of the historic buildings serve different purposes today. The Union Furniture Company with “easy payment plans” isn’t a furniture company now.

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Walking in the early morning light is always a treat and avoids the crowds.

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Denise Taylor has Taylor Jewelry and is known for her masterful jewelry designs. I grew up with her husband, Gerald, a talented craftsman, and great person.

If you want to walk among the trees, El Dorado has what I think must be the smallest state park (12 acres) in Arkansas, South Arkansas Arboretum. One of our reunion events was there, so Becca and I enjoyed walking the trails.

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South Arkansas Arboretum

IMG_8325rrI thought of Carl Amason, who was instrumental in the development of the South Arkansas Arboretum, from design to plant selection, identification, giving tours and digging in the dirt.

As a child, I visited Carl’s 40-acre home in Calion several times with my parents. Walking the property and listening to him share his plants made me realize how passionate someone can be about the natural world. Having known him personally, I found it interesting to read his obituary and learn a little more about his influence. His name also appears at the entrance to Garvin Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs for his contribution and expertise.

Just a few blocks from downtown we walked past the old Warner Brown Hospital, no longer in operation. I wanted to stop by and have a look while it’s still standing. I was born there, but the reason I wanted to revisit the location was a memory I have from childhood.

I had strep infection that turned into rheumatic fever on Christmas morning of third grade. Dr. Cooper was concerned about me because I was pretty down after two weeks in the hospital. Then, one afternoon he entered my room and couldn’t believe the change in my mood. He asked my mother what had happened.

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Long deserted Warner Brown Hospital

Earlier that day, D’Arcy Stephens, a good friend had come to see me at the hospital…from a distance. Children weren’t allowed on patient floors, so my parents gave him one of my walkie talkies and brought the other one to my room. He stood on the lawn below my third-floor room while I sat in the window, and we had a great time making up childhood games to explain our situation, something to do with military spies, I think. After that special time with my friend, the emotional depression was lifted.

Several years later, D’Arcy’s family moved, and we lost touch. Many years later, I visited with him on the phone. He was a school principal in Louisiana, and I was a principal in Arkansas, which surprised us both since we preferred being outside rather than inside classrooms. His sister was also a school principal.

I lost track of him again until making contact with his sister, Jane, a few months ago. She let me know that D’Arcy had died. He’d led a great life, but I felt some regret at not having kept in touch.

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D’Arcy on the far right with me second from right. Behind us is Bill Colvin our Scout Master and a great mentor to all of us.

I credit D’Arcy, my father, and the Boy Scouts with helping me feel confident in the outdoors as a kid. Our Scout Master, Bill Colvin, was patient with us and always set the highest example of integrity, whether completing the requirements for a merit badge or following through on a promise.

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Light fixture from my childhood church

That evening, we visited the family church. It was a fitting end to this memory walk day and a reminder of how memories can be conjured up by an image or sound. It was also a reminder of the importance of a sense of place for children. I’m thankful for my hometown. I’m proud of what it has become and look forward to seeing its future.