Silent Night on guitar

I’ve always believed we should share our learning at whatever stage we find ourselves. I’m a novice on guitar, but sharing will help me get better. Recording this short Christmas song was a good exercise for me.

I’ve been taking lessons remotely from Randy Soller of Fayetteville. Clunker notes are mine alone and should not reflect on Randy’s patient instruction. Merry Christmas!

Sochi’s YoYo on the OHT

I’m pleased to share an inspiring accounting of an Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike. Hiker-dog and I were out for an overnighter from Cherry Bend to Lick Branch. We met exactly one backpacker over those two days, but he was a special encounter.

After my short visit with Ethan Gehl AKA Sochi, I was several minutes down the trail before it dawned on me what he meant by yoyo on the OHT. He had already been to Woolum at mile 164 and was returning to his beginning point at Lake Fort Smith State Park. I would later learn that he finished his hike that day with fifty-five miles. To my old fella knees, fifteen miles is a long day and fifty-five unimaginable.

Below, he begins by telling of an earlier OHT attempt that didn’t accomplish what he intended, but he returned strong in October of 2020. Some great photos accompany his post. We’ll look forward to seeing Sochi in the Ozarks again in the future. Sounds like he’s smitten by the same beauty that attracts us to this region.

That one time back in 2016 when I tried to set an FKT (Fastest Known Time) with literally no physical training or logistical plan. “That sounds like fun,” I thought. And it (sorta) was. Finished 126 (of 164) miles in 53 hours before the chafe, blisters, and sheer exhaustion bested me. Not what I’d hoped, but still a personal best. Then I came back a couple times in the following months to close out my section hike and do a little scouting for my next speed attempt. Somewhere during that process, I fell in love with this trail. I’ve since completed a 2020 yoyo hike and still have plans to speed hike it in its entirety at some point. Something about it keeps drawing me back in. Continue reading… Sochi OHT 2020 YoYo

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

Me around a year old with my mother and father

I usually walk with a song in my head, especially on long trails. Since music is an important part of my life, I’ll exercise a little personal privilege in this first of several posts that will follow the journey of one guitar.

When I was three years old, my mother took out a small life insurance policy. I can just picture my 28-year-old mom making those quarterly payments of $15.24 in an effort to protect her family’s future. She and my father never made huge salaries, but they saved and planned carefully. At their passing, we were not left with expenses because they had planned and avoided burdening their children. My sister and I were surprised to receive notification of this small life insurance payment resulting from mother’s long-ago paid-up policy.

Mother always encouraged my interest in music. As her health declined, I would sometimes sit in her bedroom and play my guitar quietly during the night while thinking about her life and commitment to our family. I decided to put the small amount of money from her policy along with a death benefit from her teacher retirement toward purchasing a guitar as a keepsake to remind me of her life.

While listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s winter concert, my cousin, Sue, and I were impressed with the sound of one of Mary’s guitars. I found out that the builder was John Greven and emailed him to offer praise for his beautiful work. It was at this point that the thought of having a guitar built entered my mind. I was disappointed to learn that health and age had conspired to put a pause on John’s guitar building. He said it hurt for him to say he couldn’t build a guitar for me.

When I asked if there was another builder he might recommend, he had high praise for luthier Clayton Pledger, who had been his understudy years before. I visited Pledger’s website and listened to recordings there and at other locations before deciding to contact him.

Several large companies and shops build excellent guitars, but I determined that Pledger Guitars were excellent and competitively priced. Having a personal connection with the builder was important to me for this instrument. Clayton had just begun working on a cutaway OM-13 (Orchestra Model) with the qualities I wanted. Since an OM-13 connects the body with the neck at the 13th fret, I decided a cutaway would be best for reaching the upper range. My guitar teacher, Randy Soller, has been helping me learn to play up the neck as opposed to only using a few chords at the low end.

Clayton sent photos from his shop in Portland, Oregon. The Sitka Spruce top and Madagascar Rosewood back had just been cut. I loved seeing wood chips on the workbench surrounding the beginnings of this instrument that would become a reminder of my mother.

A few days later, scalloped Sitka Spruce bracing was in place and the top and back were firmly bound to the rosewood sides. I was pleased with the subtle ebony binding along the edges.

I look forward to Clayton Pledger’s next steps as this guitar takes shape. Below is part of a poem I wrote while thinking about how difficult it must be for John Greven to stop doing this work he loved for so many years. I’m thankful that he was a good teacher and that I’m getting to work with one of his excellent students.

The rest of this instrument’s story can be found at the following posts.

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

Two Extremes: Tarp to Truck Camper

Backpacking is a favorite way to travel, and I enjoy the challenge of reducing the pack weight. At the other extreme (for me) is traveling in my Four Wheel Truck Camper. I definitely eat better with the benefit of Becca’s meal planning. I keep wondering if there’s a way for her to cater our backpacking trips!

In this post, I’ll give a quick tour of the truck camper. It’s a Raven Shell model which means it doesn’t have any of the internal options that more expensive and heavy models include. The Raven fits this short bed truck. I was tempted to get a Hawk model but it would hang over the rear by six inches. We like the shell because it gives us more space and we can add what we need when we need it.

Four Wheel Truck Camper Raven Shell

A favorite feature of the truck camper is that you camp wherever you can park. It takes about two minutes to raise the top, and you’re set.

A sleeping pad comes with the camper, and we’ve found it to be comfortable. Rather than bedding, we use a two-person sleeping bag that stays in place on the mattress when we lower the top for driving. The Little Giant steps are added to make it easy to climb into the sleeping compartment. The steps also double as a nice chair.

The empty shell gives you bench areas for sitting or using as tables. We’ve thought of adding a table but the cover of the 12-volt battery compartment on the back corner makes a nice table. There are charging ports there and the solar panels we already owned plug into a jack on the outside of the camper. We’ve used the built in LED lights and the fan without draining the battery over a couple of days.

View from the sleeping pad

With a roof vent, fan, and lots of screened windows, the camper works well in all but the hottest months in the Ozarks. When summer comes, it’s time to go to higher elevations out west anyway.

Options: A canopy adds living space that is protected from rain and sun. One person can set it up and take it down, but it’s easier with two.

You can order the truck camper with a built-in stovetop, but I opted to use a separate inexpensive Coleman stove for outside cooking. Definitely the right decision for us!

Another option was on-board heat. I opted for a portable propane indoor heater (Mr. Heater). On extremely cold mornings, I can fire it up for a few minutes, and the space warms up quickly.

Last, but not least, is the Thetford Porta Potti. We place it inside overnight to avoid midnight walks to the campground toilets. It has a fresh water pump for the bowl and empties into a storage tank that is easy to empty at dump stations or pit toilets.

Popup top down and ready to drive

To tarp or truck camp? It depends on how you want to travel. When traveling distance by foot, the tarp is my preferred shelter. The truck camper is a great option for us, especially with family. The goal is getting outside and seeing the beauty of nature. However you travel and whatever shelter use, get out there and enjoy!

Becca at the Bennett Springs flow in Missouri

Peeking inside my pack #3: My “library” and resources

I can’t make it through a day on the trail without reading and/or writing something, so these 3.5 ounces are essential to me. Even more important is having a map and any necessary trail notes. I like a physical map and compass (not dependent on battery life). I like writing on paper rather than trying to text into a phone. The physical notes from some of my trips have become little treasures that I revisit from time to time.

Included items:

Map

Compass

Water-proof notebook, pen, and pencil

Pages for reading

I like visiting bookstores that sell used books, ideally in terrible shape. Paperback books with brittle bindings are the best. It’s easy to tear out a chapter and place it in your “library” for the trail.

On rare occasions, I’ll take my old Kindle if I’m not covering many miles and expect to have lots of time under my tarp. It comes in at a whopping 5.5 ounces, a definite luxury item! The paper pages from a typical chapter of text might weigh as little as .3 ounces, that’s less than one half of one ounce. As an added bonus, pages read sometimes become fire-starter.

A choice between .3 ounces and 5.5 ounces

Peeking in my pack #2: The all-important ditty bag

This little cotton bag weighs 12 ounces loaded. Those ounces are crucial to the success of my backpacking trips. My ditty bag includes the following in separate ziplock bags as pictured:

First aid stuff: medicine and/or vitamins / ibuprofen / Triple Antibiotic Ointment / gauze / bandaids / Quick Clot gauze / Benadryl

Personal care stuff: dental floss / foot cream / Blister Shield / emery board / deodorant / sunscreen / WetWipes (one per day) / toilet paper / small bottle of Dawn soap

Repair kit: Tenacious Tape / length of cord / lens cleaner / extra camera batteries / extra SD card / extra headlamp

To keep weight low, I use small containers so I’m not carrying whole tubes of sunscreen, first aid ointment, etc.

ditty bag items

It’s tempting to save weight and leave out something since some items are rarely used. I’ve sometimes felt this way about first aid stuff, but on a recent trip, a highly skilled fellow hiker spilt some boiling water on his ankle. We were glad we had first aid items.

If you have other essentials to include in the ditty bag, please let me know (as long as they’re not heavy).

Peeking Inside My Backpack – Water Treatment

There are many water treatment options. Some are heavier and there may be lighter techniques, but after years of trial and error, these work well for me.

My preferred way of treating water is Aquamira drops. It’s widely available and easy to use. I rebottle it in small plastic bottles as shown and use the third bottle for my A+B mix.

As a backup, I sometimes carry a Sawyer filter. Be sure to pack the backwash “syringe” in case sediment slows the flow. I use the freezer bag to scoop water from creeks and then pour it into the Vapur folding water bottle before adding Aquamira drops. It’s also easy to pour from the freezer bag to the Sawyer squeeze bag when needed.

I carry a Platypus 70-oz. water “bottle” that doubles as the base of my pillow at night. I blow it up and put inside a fabric sleeve along with extra clothing. It’s very comfy! I rarely use the Platypus for water unless camp is far from the nearest source or I’m hiking in dry conditions.

That’s about all I have to say about water other than be sure you have a plan for finding it on the trail. Little blue lines on the map don’t guarantee H2O will be there. Hikers who live in the area you’re going to walk can often give you an idea about water levels. When in doubt, cache water at road crossings before your trip. Just be sure to pick up after yourself following your trip.

If you have water treatment tricks to share, please comment or email me. I’m always open to new approaches.

Small stream on the Ozark Highlands Trail

Hiker-dog can do leashed trails, too!

Walking toward the CCC Lodge at Roaring River

Part of the pleasure of having written Five Star Trails: The Ozarks is revisiting the trails to look for changes and needed updates. The book currently has a rating of 4.8 stars out of five!

Since there will eventually be a second edition, we visited Roaring River State Park for a couple of nights in the campground and some good day hiking. The fall colors were beginning to pop in this southern Missouri location.

For these trails, Hiker-dog had to wear a leash, but she handled it beautifully as long as I gave her the chance to run off-trail before starting our “formal hiking.”

We walked the Tower Trail, Deer Leap, Devil’s Kitchen, and River Trails that combine to make an out-and-back figure-eight. We found it necessary to walk a different part of the Deer Leap Trail because of construction around the vent of the spring that feeds Roaring River. This was an easy adjustment and construction is a temporary thing, which was a relief.

View of fish hatchery, part of the area closed due to construction

I was impressed all over again by these trails, and it was a treat to see them in early fall colors.

Small overlook on Deer Leap Trail

I poured out water for Hiker-dog on a couple of flat rocks as we walked. Though the trails surround Roaring River, drains were pretty dry. We were pleased to arrive at a small spring. The water seeps from under the rock ledge above and is crystal clear.

Hiker-dog quenching her thirst

The area labeled as Devil’s Kitchen is a gnarly bluff area.

Devil’s Kitchen

Our hike’s last stretch included the River Trail and a walk along a beautiful bluff before arriving back at the end of this trail at the Ozark Chinquapin Nature Center.

After making the guidebook trail, I investigated Eagle’s Nest Trail to see if it might make a bid for inclusion in the next edition of my guidebook. It was a nice hike but included more road walking than I would expect to see in what would qualify as a most scenic trail in Missouri.

Eagle’s Nest Trail
Great location for a homesite

This trail’s destination is an old homesite location, but doesn’t include cabin footings or historic artifacts to explore. What I found was a beautiful location for a homesite. This is a great little trail just under three miles, but it won’t make the guidebook list. One of the hardest things about writing a guidebook to the Ozarks’ best trails is determining which trails make the cut.

While we hiked the trails, Becca enjoyed exploring along the Roaring River and reading.

Becca was a truck camper pro on this trip, having prepared food without need for refrigeration. Our Four Wheel Popup Camper gave us flexibility on accommodations and a light load. Ours is a shell model that is light and simple. The awning is essential and gives us a protected outdoor space for meals, reading, and resting.

We enjoyed camping and found our neighbors to be friendly and welcoming. We wished for more space between sites and found the highway noise unfortunate for such a beautiful river location.

If you want to hike some beautiful trails and or do some trout fishing with like-minded folks, Roaring River State Park is the place!

If you want to pick up a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, you can get it from Amazon, but if it’s available at your favorite independent bookstore, get it there. Chapters on Main in Van Buren, Arkansas, and Bookish in Fort Smith, always keeps copies on hand. While you’re there, have a cup of coffee and browse.

Lake Fort Smith to Fane Creek on the OHT

Packed and ready to begin – Approximately 18 pounds with food and water

With cooler temperatures and my recent retirement, I decided to try backpacking the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) during the week. A buddy, Steve, was able to join me and Becca ran the shuttle for us, which saved time getting going on Monday morning.

The trail passes two historic fireplaces and Shepherd Spring. The fire bricks in these fireplaces came from Saint Louis, MO, in the early 1900s. I’ve not seen the spring completely dry, but the waterfall early in the trail only flows during wet seasons. If you have the opportunity, walk the five-mile Shepherd Spring Loop Trail after some strong rains. It’s a beautiful waterfall when it’s running.

Waterfall during wet season

We noticed some recent trail maintenance and caught an Ozark Highlands Trail Association volunteer, Bill, doing some great work close to the Frog Bayou crossing.

Steve visiting with Bill

Hurricane Creek was our destination for the first night. Water was clear, and we easily found sites for our tarps.

Day 2 was sunny and cool. We walked about thirteen miles to Spirits Creek. During the approach toward Spirits Creek, I noticed some muscadines next to the trail. They were perfect. When I bit into one, I was transported to childhood sitting down to breakfast with some of my mother’s muscadine jelly.

Spirits Creek never disappoints! Water was modest but just right for filtering and rock hopping. One of the great camping locations on the OHT! A couple of wild plums were close to a bluff, nowhere near any trees. The plum trees were high above, dropping fruit over the edge. I found one not too damaged and enjoyed it as we walked away from the creek.

Spirits Creek

Walking the historic narrow-gauge railroad route on day 3 was a treat.

Steve recorded any downed trees so OHTA volunteers can return and cut these out in the future. None of the trees made the trail impassable but did slow our progress a little.

Steve recording gps for a tree across the trail.

We saw several remnants from earlier days along this section of trail. Footings for former bridges can also be seen down below the trail tread. Logging operations used this narrow gauge railroad to harvest timber in the late 1800s.

Wildflowers provided color accents throughout our hike. I enjoyed learning about the Indian Pipe that has a soft pink color and no chlorophyll.

Fane Creek

Once we reached Fane Creek, we walked down the road to meet our shuttle and begin planning our next hike on the OHT.

Bridge over Fane Creek

Sharpening Saws and Guitar Maintenance

Sue, Jim (me), Phyllis, and Mike watching Grampie sharpen a saw

When I was young, I watched my grandfather, Grampie, sharpen handsaws. One local carpenter kept sharpening his saws before bringing them to my grandfather. Grampie didn’t say anything about this the first few times. Finally, he told the man that if he tried to sharpen his saws again, he’d have to charge double because it was difficult to undo the flawed work. The carpenter stopped trying to sharpen his own saws.

My saw that Grampie let me practice sharpening when I was twelve years old.

I recently thought of this story while straining to play my guitar that has hung on my office wall for nineteen years. The string action was high with a slight bow in the neck. The tool for adjusting the truss rod was inside my guitar case, but I thought of that carpenter and his amateur saw sharpening.

Newly adjusted guitar neck

Today, I got my guitar back from the technician at Sunrise Guitars in Fayetteville. When I played the instrument, I remembered the satisfaction I saw on my grandfather’s face when he cut through a board with a newly sharpened saw. I smiled when I felt my properly adjusted guitar neck and new set of strings.

I was glad I put this little “saw” in the hands of a professional. Now, when a chord rings clearly, I can almost hear Grampie’s voice when he’d smile and say, “Now, that saw will cut!”

Related post: Sharpening Saws and Shaping Beliefs Tells about how my grandfather’s coaching shaped my beliefs about education.