Redding Loop Plus

Shane checking out a waterfall on the Pig Trail Loop

As summer approaches, backpackers look for that last bit of cool weather in the Ozarks. Selfishly, I wanted to see a piece of the bushwhack route that is the Pig Trail Loop. This route was created by Steven Parker. Some of us who accompanied him on a few of his scouting trips call it the “COVID Route” because it gave us good hiking opportunities last spring when many things were shut down.

Steven’s dog, O.D. (for Only Dog) is a 2-year old who had not been on an overnight trip. We enjoyed her enthusiasm, and she was a well-behaved hiking partner. My Hiker-dog took this trip off, which involved me sneaking out of the house in plain clothes and then changing into hiking clothing in-route to the trail. If she had seen me leaving with a backpack and hiking shoes on, she’d have been very unhappy. I’ve been doing some lower mileage hikes with her to help heal her aging joints. I like to tell folks we have the same hitch in our step, and we’re both taking Glucosamine. I’m seeing some improvement in her gate, and she still loves hiking!

Steven and Shane pausing at the largest bluff along the side of Bowden Hollow

Early in the hike, we went off-trail to see a portion of the Pig Trail Loop. We zigzagged up the creek in Bowden Hollow past a couple of bluffs toward the waterfall. Rain was on and off but not as heavy as we’d expected. It was warm enough that we didn’t worry about getting wet.

O.D. loved the wet conditions, taking dips in every puddle we passed.

Over-nighters are good times to try something new since the pain doesn’t last long if things don’t go well. I don’t normally do freeze-dried meals but tried Peak Refuel Beef Pasta Marinara. It was a hit! I’ll insert a few of these in multi-day trips in the future to add variety to evening meals. I also tried a new nutrition bar for use while walking. The ProBar Meal On-The-Go worked well. It has healthier contents than most bars I’ve seen. I don’t have stock in these products but would like to see them succeed since they work well.

After rejoining Redding Loop, we took the spur to the Ozark Highlands Trail heading east and found a nice campsite in time for an afternoon nap. The occasional drizzling rain lulled me to sleep. When I woke, I worried that I might not sleep well that night because of the nap, but my concerns were unfounded. I slept well after a good dinner and cup of hot tea.

Before preparing the evening meal, I went for water at a clear drain we’d passed earlier on the trail. Down the path came Jessie, a thru-hiker from New Orleans. She would be the only other hiker we’d see over the two days. She’d already hiked from Ozone east to Woolum and was returning to Lake Fort Smith. When we met her, she was on mile 23 for the day. Impressive distances!

After breakfast, we backtracked on the OHT and the spur back to Redding Loop. Then, it was an easy, mostly downhill hike past two foliage-covered waterfalls to the trailhead. Walking Redding Loop is like getting a foot massage. Some of the pine needle-covered sections seem to soothe the feet as you walk along.

O.D., Steven, and Shane on the last section of Redding Loop

Catalpa Cafe provided the perfect ending to this over-nighter. The PattyMelt Burger and okra followed by key lime pie were perfect. If you haven’t sampled Randy’s backwoods gourmet cooking, take the three-mile drive east of Oark and have a great meal where the pavement ends.

Mother’s Guitar at Mountain Thyme

This is the last of five posts about the building of a guitar as a keepsake from my mother who died in February of 2020. My father died the year before in 2019. My continuing task is to try to become worthy of this beautiful instrument built by Clayton Pledger.

On a recent visit to Mountain Thyme B&B, I enjoyed playing before breakfast at the same table where we enjoyed fellowship with my parents a few years ago. I asked Rhonda and Mike to continue making breakfast preparations in hopes that clanging pans might cover wrong notes.

Rhonda visiting with my parents a few years ago at Mountain Thyme B&B

Having something tangible to remind me of my parents has been more special than I expected. It is a joy to practice on this guitar. I think of my parents’ love and commitment every time I touch it. I appreciate Randy Soller’s patient instruction as he teaches a drummer to play guitar.

Below are links that show how the idea of having a guitar built came about and Clayton Pledger’s work in making this beautiful instrument.

1 Mother’s Guitar on the Builder’s Bench: Beginnings

2 Mother’s Guitar: A Work in Progress

3. Mother’s Guitar: Calling Our Best Self

4. Mother’s Guitar: The Fretboard, a Lifetime Project

Walking With Scott Cook’s Songs

It’s nice to find a new song or poem to think on while hiking. Recently I learned about Scott Cook‘s music, and what a joy it has been. “Pass It Along” was the first song I heard and it immediately became one of my trail-walking hits as he moves from passing down an instrument to passing down this world we occupy.

Pass it along, pass it along
May it land in careful hands when we’re gone
You carry it for a moment
But time won’t loan it to you for long
You don’t own it, pass it along

I like having tangible objects that hold someone’s songs and rarely purchase sound files, preferring a CD with liner notes. I download the artist’s recording onto my player for walking and listening but treasure having the physical CD in my home. Scott Cook adds richness to the liner notes experience by packaging CDs in a book, a nice book…a well-written book!

I’m looking forward to walking many miles with Scott Cook‘s music singing in my head, and I appreciate his words for edification and meditation.

Dr. Dockery’s Cure on the OHT

Water was beautiful in Jack Creek

I was excited to get out on my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT), which runs from Dockery’s Gap west toward Lake Fort Smith (miles 5-9). It was a sunny, cool day, and I was ready to release a little stress while getting some exercise and checking my section for trail maintenance issues. We only saw two backpackers heading east, hoping to complete a thru-hike.

Hiker-dog was glad to hit the OHT. We’ve been working out on the Lake Alma Trail, which never gets old, but new scenery and the longer hills of this section were a welcome change.

Hiker-dog enjoyed the many water breaks on this section of the trail.

I consider trout lilies the official ushers of spring in the Ozarks. Their unique bloom is fun to see along side the trail. I like getting down low to have a look at their beauty.

Sometimes I stop to scribble notes. Today it was a little poem early in our walk. It’s nothing close to being a Nimblewill poem, but I thought of him as these couplets quickly came while standing in the middle of the trail.

Dr. Dockery doesn’t prescribe any pills,
But what she gives will cure your ills.
Take a sunny day and flowing streams
Add eight good miles to fill your dreams
A rest for weary mind and eyes
Wind through oaks will hypnotize
My heart pounds a “thank you,” and lungs pant praise
We walk this peaceful trail today

Mother’s Guitar: The Fretboard, A Lifetime Project

Fretboard and a chart showing corresponding notes

As a teenager, I found a guitar at Bill’s Pawn Shop in El Dorado, Arkansas. I strummed a few chords while in high school and figured out the introduction to Fire and Rain by James Taylor. Drumming became my focus, so guitar fell by the wayside.

Years later, while teaching elementary music, I picked up the guitar again and strummed some chords while the kids sang, but never got out of the first position on the fretboard.

While looking at the neck of his guitar, John Prine said, “Most of this is virgin territory.” I could relate. It seems appropriate that another definition for the word fret is “to cause or suffer emotional strain” because the frets of a guitar can be intimidating.

When I retired from education, I decided it was time to grab my 1991 Yamaha guitar and try again. I found a great teacher, Randy Soller in Fayetteville, and we do distance lessons using Facetime. His degree was music and guitar, so he’s helping me explore all that virgin territory up the guitar’s neck while relating it to what I know about music and past keyboard percussion experience. Frets continue to be a challenging precess, but I’m encouraged with progress, and the fun increases as skills grow.

Watching my Pledger Guitar take shape has been fascinating, but nothing excited me quite like seeing the fretboard construction, knowing I’ll spend the rest of my life exploring that challenging landscape. When I pass this instrument down to a grandson someday, he or another family member can take on the fretboard challenge.

Mother set the example as a lifelong learner. I think she’d be pleased to see her gift motivating me to continue my musical learning.

In February, with frets firmly installed, Clayton Pledger tuned the guitar and let it “settle in” for a while as he checked the function and tone of the instrument. He sent the following photos showing the instrument essentially complete and almost ready to ship to Arkansas.

This is the fourth post about this instrument. Earlier posts can be found at the following links.

1 Mother’s Guitar on the Builder’s Bench: Beginnings

2 Mother’s Guitar: A Work in Progress

3. Mother’s Guitar: Calling Our Best Self

Just Add Ice! McWater Falls

McWater Falls on a warm afternoon (24-degrees)

Hiker-dog and I were excited to return to McWater Falls today, but I was not prepared for the difference just two days made in the scene. Ice formations had grown, and it was a pleasure to snap a few shots. It was noticeably warmer than it was on Monday when it was 12-degrees. On Tuesday morning, the temperature dropped to 4-degrees below zero, a record for our twenty years in Alma. On Tuesday afternoon, it warmed into the low 20s, and we got another couple of inches of snow.

I enjoyed finding different perspectives around the ice formations. Hiker-dog was calm and posed with a former student who was hiking with his family.

A Rare River Valley Snow

Alma, and the surrounding area, received a rare snow on February 14, with more expected around the 16th. On the morning of February 16, we broke our personal low temperature record at four below zero. It had been several years since our last pretty snow, and Hiker-dog was eager to play outside, so we walked down Hwy 71 to where we knew a small path led to the Lake Alma Trail. For most of our hike it was around 12-degrees. I never broke a sweat but felt comfortable while moving.

We were the first to walk the trail coming from the west side of the loop going clockwise. Hiker-dog pranced across the snow pausing often to sniff. I remembered our first snow walk, shortly after she joined my family during a thru-hike on the Ozark Highlands Trail. I anticipated more health problems since she was starving and sick when we found her, but she’s done well over these last seven years. She has acquired a little hitch in her step, but that hasn’t slowed her down.

I was surprised to see a glaze of ice well out over the surface of the lake. I’ve only seen small sections of ice on the lake in the past, and the snow on top of the ice added another dimension.

What locals call “Leaning Rock” is a familiar landmark on the trail. Not far beyond is the little rock field where I did a not-so-graceful tumble into the snow. Foot placement involved some guess work in the dusty 3-4 inches of snow. We passed a small stream that flows into Little Frog Bayou where Hiker-dog never fails to stop for a drink.

We enjoyed seeing the rock walls and historic structures along the trail, their forms accented with snow.

Rock wall along the trail west of Little Frog Bayou
Hexagon House east of Little Frog Bayou next to the trail

We walked out on rocks across Little Frog Bayou and looked downstream, admiring the way water weaves shapes through the snow.

Little Frog Bayou looking downstream

When we arrived at the spur trail to McWater Falls, we saw our first footprints in the snow. Jeff was busy taking photos of the frozen falls. Hiker-dog greeted him before I arrived, but he noticed her name tag and continued exploring the falls as she explored. My camera battery was low, so I only took a couple of photos, pleased with the size and beauty of the icicles.

Frozen McWater Falls
This view of broken icicles gave me new respect for the hazards of their weight.

Jeff joined Hiker-dog and me for the walk to the park. We came across Richard, another regular hiker at Lake Alma. I hadn’t been standing still long before I felt the chill of 12-degrees. I’m always meeting great folks on the trail. With COVID-19 limiting our gatherings, trails are a great place to get a little positive social interaction.

After leaving Jeff at the park, Hiker-dog and I rushed across the dam against a cold crosswind and then kept a warming stride back into the woods and out of the wind. She became interested in sniffing everything we passed, and I was keeping her leashed since we’d be heading up and out to Hwy 71 soon. I tried to match her pace by pausing and looking around every time she felt the urge to nose into the snow for a sniff. Once we were back on the highway, we pushed fast and furious to get home. I only stopped for a quick photo of the little church where we access the trail. I remembered how pretty it was in the last snow a few years ago.

Church on Hwy 71 close to where we enter and exit the woods

Soon we were back inside a warm house with a dog biscuit for Hiker and hot tea for me, thankful for the snowy images floating around in our heads.

Hiker-dog happy with her icy chin

Packing the Small (and important) Stuff

While preparing for an upcoming backpacking trip, it dawned on me that I dread packing the little stuff. Preparing the big items like sleeping bag, tarp, and clothing is fun and fast, but there’s something tedious about going through tiny items to be sure they’re in place.

Since this is a pesky task, I decided to make a post for future reference if I need to be reminded of what to pack. I spread the small stuff out for a photo to share before tossing into a ziplock bag. I’m sharing in hopes that others have ideas on how to save weight and still have what I need out on the trail.

Let’s start with the first aid kit. I’ve always found first aid items annoying because they’re never used. Then, on a recent trip, an expert backpacker suffered a burn from boiling water. We were both glad to have our first aid kits and some past training. Pouring a container of cold creek water sitting close by over the burn helped reduce damage that continues after initial contact with boiling water. His Ibuprofen and my gauze reduced pain as we walked out to a pickup point. My wife drove us to an emergency room for proper treatment. We hesitated to walk out but learned that burns can be more serious than they may appear at first. Don’t take them lightly. From now on, I’ll just be thankful for the unneeded first aid items I carry.

Small single-use antibiotic ointment packets are perfect for backpacking and easy to find. After my experience with the burn, I added single-use burn cream. I never carried QuikClot until after a “Stop the Bleed” training I attended. It’s a worst-case item, but weights little, and one person in a group should have it.

Repackaging saves bulk and weight. The items below are repackaged in small containers in the above illustration. On one of my early backpacking trips I noticed someone carrying a tube of toothpaste. I knew he wouldn’t use that tube in a month of backpacking trips, but seeing that taught me a good lesson that I’ve tried to apply across the board.

The next little ziplock holds my personal care stuff. I’ve tried tooth powder and a toothbrush, but eventually downsized to floss at night and a twig in the morning. I also like to carry one “go-between” brush in case something stubborn gets stuck between the teeth.

I add place one wet wipe for each day into an old container used only for backpacking. I consider these luxury items but it sure feels good to sleep clean.

The repair kit is important and will vary depend on the equipment you carry. The lens cleaners are for my glasses and camera. Tenacious Tape is essential to me for many applications. The patch kit is for my air pad I sometimes use for winter trips on top of my foam pad.

As always, I’m just sharing what I do. If you have ways of handling the “small stuff” that works well, please share! I love to swipe good packing tips from fellow backpackers.

Here’s my backpacking list that is probably going to be revised in the near future.

Mother’s Guitar: Calling Our Best Self

After six coats of finish

Watching this guitar take form has given me a new appreciation for those who dedicate themselves to a craft. Looking at recent photos sent by luthier Clayton Pledger, I thought of something poet Amanda Gorman said in a recent interview. “Poetry and art means showing up with your best self, whoever that might be, and that in itself is beautiful.” 

Those who create art in any form do their best work when their “best self” shows up. I’ve had the experience of my “best self” playing percussion and, on occasion, my “not-so-good self.” Whoever shows up is evident in the performance or product. A benefit of making music, or art in any form, is learning to call on your best self when needed.

My mother gave her best self to her family and teaching. Reading her journals, I realized she felt inadequate as a teacher. This surprised me because many have commented how much she meant to them as a teacher. Her peers said she was the go-to person if something needed to get done. At my last high school reunion, a friend who is now a doctor and leader in his community told me her class made medical school a possibility for him because she helped him increase his reading speed and comprehension.

Mother’s journal taught me a lesson. I think maybe part of bringing our “best self” to any task is the courage to continue doing a hard thing in spite of inner doubts. I need to remember this when I get frustrated trying to learn something new on guitar.

Clayton did multiple coats of finish on the back, sides, and neck recently. He’ll be spraying coats of finish onto the spruce top, then doing the final sanding and polishing later in the week.

Sanding to level off the finish on back

After the finish on the back is leveled, he’ll spray two more wet coats, level that off with 1500 grit wet sandpaper, then polish it under a buffing wheel. As beautiful as these photos are, the finish isn’t complete.

I knew there were many steps in building an instrument, but following the process gives me a better understanding of the skill and work involved. Clayton said, “It’s always exciting getting the finish done, but once it is, there’s still a lot to do!” I thanked him for putting his “best self” into the work of making this special instrument. Seeing it take form is exciting, and I look forward to playing this musical symbol of the gifts Mother shared during her life.

Still much work to be done

Previous posts #2: Mother’s Guitar: A Work in Progress

Previous post #1: Mother’s Guitar on the Builder’s Bench

Next post in the story #4: 4. Mother’s Guitar: The Fretboard, a Lifetime Project

My Personal Trainer

Hiker-dog at the beginning of the bike trail after a good run.

Sometimes Hiker-dog fills the role of personal trainer for me. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. I had already done my rowing machine and spinning on the exercise bike, so I was enjoying guilt-free rest in a warm house. Hiker began barking at the door. I opened the door to invite her in, but she backed up and continued barking. She only barks when she’s communicating something. She was giving me her “let’s go” bark, so we went to Lake Alma and did a brisk walk in the cold. She did her typical running, and I enjoyed pushing my knees in the cold temperatures.

I’ve seen great improvement in my knees. I’ve been spinning more, doing stretches, and added 1,500MG of Glucosamine Sulfate. I don’t know which one or more of these strategies did the trick, but I’m not stopping any of them. I have to keep my knees strong, so I can keep up with my personal trainer.

Most weekdays, we take our walks in the morning after my rowing and spinning. A benefit of walking early in the winter is the chance to see frost flowers. They sometimes form in moist areas after a freeze. You have to get out early because they melt away at the first touch of sunshine.

Morning frost flower on January 9, 2021