Walking Toward Authenticity: Nimblewill Nomad

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It’s startling when you come across a human being who is authentic, demonstrating a congruence between thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Nimblewill is such a person. I’ve visited with him and heard two presentations, one after his Pony Express Historic Trail and the second time after he walked Historic Route 66 from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA.

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As he shared honestly and emotionally from the joy he experienced on Route 66, I pictured him walking mile after mile as little pieces of pretense and imitation fell to the ground. Finally, there was only the core person walking on, completely real, alive, and true. This is the person we see now, but he has been years and many miles in the making.

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On long walks, I’ve sometimes felt little flakes of my inauthentic self fall away. There might be a tinge of  pain or a gentle sense of loss, followed by a lightness of mind and spirit. Sometimes it’s a chunk of fakeness I’ve projected to others in seeking their approval. This dropping away can be a relief, even if I’m barely conscious of the change as it occurs.

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It will take many miles before I experience even a small measure of the trueness that Nimblewill has accomplished and maintains within himself.

Regardless of the distance, it is good that we walk. Step by step, the trail will perform her sanding and buffing as we approach our more genuine selves.

Walk on Nimblewill, and we will follow you toward authenticity.

Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)perfect Time

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It’s too dry, too warm, and a busy time with the job. It’s the im-perfect time for hiking the first 51 miles of the Ouachita Trail (pronounced: Wash’-i-taw). But, wait too long, and I’ll hear Jimmy Buffett in my head singing, “someday I will.” So, thru-hiking the Ouachita Trail has been on my to-do list long enough. Perfect time or not, now’s the time to do this!

Bob Cable completed the Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike with me, so I contacted him about doing this. He was ready to go, and we hoped others might join us for some of the sections.

The plan developed to do the first very dry 51 miles over a week in late November, planting water caches where needed. We’d continue our hike over Christmas break.

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Our first steps on the trail at Talimena State Park were met with a cool, sunny morning, and a pine needle carpeted forest floor. Early on, we passed through a glade-like area that reminded me of the Missouri Ozarks.

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Sometimes, mile markers were missing but usually shown with placards. Less often, we’d see USGS metal markers. 

Thanks to Michael Reed for his Ouachita Trail Map linked from his blog, The Compulsive Hiker. A portion is shown on the heading of this post.

We were surprised to see water pockets in a small creek as we approached Dead Man’s Gap where we’d stashed couple of gallon jugs the day before. I didn’t schedule Hiker-dog for this trip due to water concerns and my lack of familiarity with the trail. She was missed, but will join us on later sections.

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Small water pocket covered in leaves.

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I hadn’t planned to use the shelters regularly, but the modest distance between and the reputation of a rugged Winding Stair Mountain led me to schedule the first 51 miles around their locations. The novelty of experiencing these shelters was also a factor. It turned out to be a good plan because miles were just right and allowed some exploring time upon arrival each afternoon.

IMG_4136rrThe Rock Garden Shelter got its name honestly. The next several miles involved careful stepping. We were impressed with how different the Ouachitas felt from the Ozarks. Part of it was the increased number of pine trees, but I think the foundations of the differences stemmed from geology. The Ouachitas were formed by the colliding of geological plates while the Ozarks developed from a volcanic uplift, both followed by many years of shaping from erosion.

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The shelters included a fire ring and picnic table, luxuries by our standards. The fire ring grill and plenty of dry wood made cooking easy. I used instant potatoes as a base for each dinner. The biggest challenge was getting those handles without burnt fingers.

On a couple of mornings, I used my fuel tab stove for oatmeal and coffee since no simmering was needed.

We arrived at the Holson Valley Shelter in the early afternoon and watched the view into Holson Valley as darkness fell. Beautiful coyote howls and owl calls filled the cool night.

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We were puzzled by this lone rock structure a few yards from the trail. It appeared to be a smoker or grill, but there were no other indications of civilization in the area.

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It was smooth sailing on this old abandoned roadbed leading up Winding Stairs Mountain toward the shelter by the same name, placed close to the footings from a now absent fire tower. We enjoyed reading through shelter journals. What follows is one of the more artistic entries from this mountain peak journal with a popular quote by Shanti Devi.

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I woke during the night and could barely see the picnic table through the thick cloud that enveloped Winding Stair Mountain. The next morning we began our hike with soft lighting provided by a gently lifting fog.

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Red Spring got its name honest. The red of iron tainted water puddled around the PVC pipe. A covered concrete cylinder captured the spring water that trickled steadily from the end of the pipe.

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Rock gardens greeted us occasionally but less frequently than the miles earlier in the trail.

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We scouted Big Cedar Creek before beginning our hike and determined that no water stash was needed. The water was clear and easily filtered. We filled all containers and enjoyed lunch next to this beautiful creek’s rocky shore.

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Big Cedar Creek

Both signage and maintenance are impressive on the Ouachita Trail. We saw signs at important junctions and examples of recent work to keep the trail clear of trees. Thank you FoOT (Friends of the Ouachita Trail). The stone footings for this sign appeared to have been there for many years.

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The State Line Shelter was perched just below the trail shortly after crossing into Arkansas. There was just enough space behind the shelter for Bob’s tent. Powerful winds blew through the night.

The next morning we enjoyed stopping at the Pioneer Cemetery. Bill Hefley’s stone was the only granite marker.  All others were native stone with illegible lettering. We were interested in the coins and small rocks placed on many of the headstones. I later learned that it’s common for veterans to leave coins paying tribute to the deceased.

A sign at the entrance shares the legend that during the Civil War a young girl was collecting firewood for her family (other sources say water from a nearby spring). She never returned. Her frozen body was found in a tree where she sought refuge from wolves. It is said that her spirit continues to haunt Rich Mountain, evidenced by strange lights seen in the trees. I thought of the previous nights’ coyote howls and starlight peeking through stunted oaks on the high ridges of Rich Mountain. It’s easy to see how the story of haunting continues today.

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As we approached Queen Wilhelmina State Park, we passed several impressive rock walls on this fast level section of trail, hindered only by occasional green briers that arched across our path.

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Walking through the campground at Queen Wilhelmina State Park with the Lodge uphill in the distance was a joy, knowing a high calorie meal was in our immediate future.

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Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge

Our next steps will continue following the trail toward the east. This first dose of the Ouachita was a treat, so we’re looking forward more Ouachita Trail miles to come!

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An excerpt from Michael Reed’s map #13 east of Queen Wilhelmina State Park, our next section.

My Sometimes “Cheeky” Hiker-Dog

WordPress Photo Challenge: CheekyIMG_5175rrHiker-dog gave me this scoffing look on a rainy day in the Hercules Wilderness Area in Missouri. She gave me this same look moments earlier after I fell on a muddy trail.

On a sunnier day and trail closer to home, Hiker-dog looked back as if to say, “Are you coming or not?” This is a “cheeky” look I often get when she pauses to see if I’m still progressing down the trail. IMG_2542 Hiker’s curiosity is entertaining. img_8381rrBelow is a little resume I share at slideshows. I offer it here if you’d like to know a little of her story.

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Nimblewill Nomad in the Ozarks Dec. 10, 2017

Nimblewill Nomad posterI had the pleasure of hearing Nimblewill’s presentation two years ago and am looking forward to stories from his recent trek on Historic Route 66 from Chicago to the west coast. He’s an inspiration to all who meet him, so mark your calendar for December 10 so you don’t miss this opportunity!

Here is a pdf suitable for printing if you’d like to share: Nimblewill Nomad poster

Hiker-dog’s Adoption Trail

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The view over a landslide site next to Richland Creek Wilderness Area.

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In January of 2014, Bob and I met a black Lab close to mile 138 on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT). If you want to know that story, skim this little book I wrote for children at my school, Gift From the Ozarks.

Since joining our family, Hiker-dog has covered most of the OHT but still lacked the miles from Fairview Trailhead on Hwy 7, east to where we found her. Hiking buddy, Eric, is working his way through the OHT and needed this section. Bob completed our group, being the first to meet Hiker-dog a few years ago.

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Eric and I drove to Richland Creek Campground to leave my truck, then shuttle back to Fairview to meet Bob. Hiker-dog enjoyed the ride and seemed to anticipate some good hiking as we drove next to the Richland Creek Wilderness Area.

We laughed at how hyper she was in camp. I took her on a short out-and-back walk in an attempt to calm her down but she needed more, and there hadn’t been time that day with all the shuttle driving. Since others were camping nearby, I put Hiker-dog’s mat inside the tent and was thankful when she curled up and slept all night.

IMG_3689rrSaturday’s hike was pleasant as we crossed old oak bore and ice damage saying a word of thanks for trail volunteers who keep this section passable. The canopy improves after a couple of miles, and the beauty of the Ozarks is revealed as you pass several creeks. As we stopped for lunch, two of the only other backpackers we would meet stopped for a short visit.IMG_3706rrI’ve hiked through the remnants of the CCC Camp before but never spent the night. This was a treat, and water access was easy. We enjoyed exploring before selecting tent sites.IMG_3708rr

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Someone was impatient with tent setup and curled up for a short nap.

After supper, we played with our cameras while warming by a fast burning cedar wood fire. Popping cinders left orange streaks and sometimes caused alarm when they landed on a leg or foot. IMG_3731rrWe experimented with some light painting to bring out the foreground and trees. IMG_3745rrLots of cinder streamers fly during 15-second exposures. Perhaps the ghostly remnants from the CCC structures made us wish for visitors from the past. Looks like some spirits stopped by as we sat by the fire. IMG_3742rrIMG_3739rrEric experimented with some light writing. Who would think three grown men could be so entertained by a couple of small cameras and headlamps!IMG_3733rrThe next morning, we explored a bluff area next to the camp. The open woods surrounding the CCC Camp were a joy for a well-rested Hiker-dog. IMG_3767rrIMG_3762rr

We came to the place we first met Hiker-dog close to mile 138 (now near 137 with route changes on the OHT). A deer from the previous day’s hunt was lying about fifty yards away, and Hiker-dog quickly found what the hunter could not. I thought about Hiker-dog’s condition just under four years ago and what rich meals this deer would have provided.IMG_3806rrIMG_3822rrWe came across our backpacking friends from the previous day and had a nice lunch as Hiker-dog fought the desire for a nap in the warm sunshine.IMG_3831rrHiking along Falling Water Creek was a pleasure until we came to an arrow indicating the bypass up and over the site of an old landslide. We huffed and puffed along the steep hillside, but the bluff above provided scenic views into the Richland Creek Wilderness Area. From our thru-hike a few years ago, I didn’t remember this section’s steepness. It was probably blocked from my memory because of the pain.

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Thanks to Eric for catching Hiker-dog and me on the reroute 

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One of many views from the bluff.

As we arrived at Richland Creek Campground to complete our 20-mile trek, Hiker-dog was nowhere to be seen. I heard children’s voices next to the creek and thought she might have been drawn to the sound, but she popped out of the woods a few minutes later, still strong and ready for more. I thought about how fortunate we both were to cross paths at mile 137 of what would become our adoption trail on that cold January day.

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Hiker taking a break on Spy Rock, Hare Mountain.

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Enjoying fall colors on the Lake Alma Trail.

Happy Birthday, Nimblewill Nomad!

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Happy 79th birthday, Nimblewill and safe travels!

Nimblewill Nomad (M. J. Eberhart) is somewhere on the western side of the United States completing Odyssey 2017: Historic Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. His walk began in July and will end in late November, covering 2,300 miles.

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Nimblewill is kindhearted, a gentleman, and a powerful long-distance backpacker! After retirement, he began walking, and he hasn’t stopped. A few years ago, he did the “Triple O” the Ouachita Trail, Ozark Highlands Trail, and Ozark Trail in Missouri. He walked from the end of one trail to the beginning of the next. His book, Ten Million Steps, tells the story of his walk from the Florida Keys to Quebec, Canada.

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Nimblewill is tentatively scheduled to speak at the December 10 meeting of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, beginning at 6 p.m. He’ll share his Route 66 Trek and probably throw a poem or two in for good measure. His book, Ten Million Steps, will be available for purchase and signing.

You’ll not want to miss this!

Ozark Highlands Trail Association December 10 meeting

Where? 2536 N. McConnell Rd!  To get there from I-540 take Exit 66 south on AR 112 (Garland Ave), turn west at Drake Street stop light to reach McConnell Rd, turn south to Washington County Extension Service near the fair grounds. 36.098 latitude 94.180 longitude for gps users.

“Progressive Dinner” in the Ozarks – Hare Mt. Hike-In

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The Hare Mountain campfire felt good this year.

This fall’s first predicted freeze didn’t discourage hikers from gathering on Hare Mountain for the annual potluck meal and campfire fellowship that dates back to the 1980s. We were joined by fifteen hikers with a youth group from Oklahoma, so Hare Mountain’s population was up from zero to approximately fifty.

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Youth group from Oklahoma

I noticed the Oklahoma leaders discussing a cracked water jug and took pleasure in sharing extra water I’d carried in. I thought back to Joe who camped next to us on the John Muir Trail and gave me his Sawyer filter pouch when mine failed. It’s fun to play a small role in making trail magic happen for someone else. I enjoyed telling the Oklahoma leader that this jug contained Alma City water which won the Arkansas taste test in recent years.

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progressive dinner

The weather was beautiful for this year’s hike-in, and we were without last year’s forest fire down below the mountain. As food warmed on the fire, a “progressive dinner” ensued as more hikers (and food) made the trek up the mountain. 

It was a great time atop Hare Mountain this year!

Gathering in the Ouachitas

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Josh Hamilton makes fire from a bow drill

Each October, backpackers and hikers gather in the Ouachita Mountains to share outdoor skills, backpacking tips and reports from the trails.   The event, known as The Gathering, includes food, fellowship, and beautiful surroundings.

IMG_3391rrThis year I was honored to share Five Star Trails: The Ozarks and a report of the John Muir Trail from last summer’s trip. I like starting with the JMT to make the point that there’s no visual letdown when the mountains of Arkansas follow in the program.

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One of the views on the walk from the campground to the pavilion

Shady Lake is an ideal location in the Ouachitas. It’s a little out of the way which adds to the beauty and limits crowds in the campground. It has a homey feel, plenty of beauty, and great hiking trails.

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Sean Dupre demonstrates water purification techniques

Backpacking Arkansas (also known as BPA) is a true grassroots story. Tomas Trigg started a forum for backpackers and hikers several years ago. It gained many followers and eventually led to a desire for the online community to meet in person, hence The Gathering.

For seven years, this loosely connected community has “gathered” somewhere in the Ouachitas. Sean Dupre took the rains when Tomas relocated and wasn’t able to continue coordinating the event. Commitment to the group is reflected in the fact that that Tomas continues to maintain the website and pay for its domain. Backpacking Arkansas has now added a Facebook page so be sure to follow.

Sean did a great job coordinating The Gathering for two years, despite living in Texas. This coming year, the job goes to Mark Davis, and The Gathering tradition, seven years strong, continues.

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Hiker-dog enjoyed exploring the creek that feeds Shady Lake.

Join us next year on October 19-21, 2018. You’ll enjoy the fellowship, sharing of skills, and learning about new trails in the Ouachitas and Ozarks!

OzarkMountainHiker in Arkansas Life

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Johnny Carroll Sain included an excerpt from my OHT thru-hike post in his wonderful article about long trails in Arkansas. Made me proud and he was a pleasure to work with! A link to the article is below.
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You can find Johnny Sain’s entire article plus my recommended hikes at this Arkansas Life link: Over the River and Through the Woods