The Urge for Going

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High ridge on Hare Mountain

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And all the trees are shivering in a naked row
….
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown

~ Joni Mitchell, excerpt from the first verse of her song, Urge for Going

Winter is such a wonderful time for hiking in the Ozarks! I like it so much, I wrote “Walking Through Winter” for Do South Magazine.

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Frost flower on the Ozark Highlands Trail

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Hiker-dog at the base of Senyard Falls

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McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

Lessons From the Landfill

Detour – A roundabout route to visit somewhere along the way. Forgive this detour from my typical hiking posts, but writing this story allowed me to explore my father’s character. This story is in response to the prompt: Lessons I learned from my father. I wrote it while a student in Marla Cantrell’s short story class at Chapters on Main in Van Buren, Arkansas.

Lessons From the Landfill
by Jim Warnock
January 29, 2019

On a sunny spring morning, I hopped out of bed looking forward to the freedom of riding my bike on the rolling hills of Highway 167 in south Arkansas. I easily pushed aside concerns for homework or the next week’s busy tenth-grade schedule. While pulling on my favorite frayed bluejeans, I heard dad from the hallway. “Jim, we need to make a trip to the dump this morning.” I sighed as my Saturday freedom faded.

We lived in “the country” as we defined it because we were outside the city limits. There was no trash pick up. We had a concrete burn barrel I tended every couple of days, but we hauled the trash that wouldn’t burn to the landfill or “the dump.”

Daddy let me help him hoist the full trash trailer onto his Chevy truck hitch. He’d built the trailer from an old truck bed someone gave him when he came home from the Korean War before I was born. He used it to move my mom to south Texas for one year, then back to Arkansas. He worked as a chemist in an oil refinery and could have bought a nicer trailer, but we’d lose the entertainment of fender-less wheels wobbling and dancing at highway speeds.

I started to smell the landfill from memory while climbing into the cab of the truck. Daddy’s hands rested easy on the steering wheel, his bare arms rippled with muscle. I noticed a couple of scabs on his knuckles, ever-present trophies from doing physical work with his hands.

“So, Jim, how are things going at school?”

I said, “fine,” knowing that response wouldn’t prompt follow-up questions. Dad was a quiet man and I’d learned that teenager sentence fragments were enough for most adults. After that, there was only silence between us. Not an awkward silence, but very familiar.

When we drove up to the entrance of the landfill, an elderly man with dark wrinkled skin came out of a small wooden stall. “That’ll be $1,” he said.

Dad handed him a dollar. “Yes sir,” he said. Then Dad said, “I appreciate your help, sir. It’s a beautiful day.”

The man smiled and gave us a friendly wave as we drove into the landfill.

Dad stood with one foot on the trailer wheel and the other balanced on the rusty-blue trailer wall while tossing sacks of trash toward the roaring bulldozer working nearby. His slim body swayed easily and his biceps swelled as he tossed heavy trash bags as easily as I might have thrown my basketball against our garage. I stood inside the trailer and pushed bags of trash toward him so he could toss them out. I took shallow breaths to reduce the stench in my nostrils. It didn’t work. The front of my head ached from the musty charred smell.

Soon we were pulling back onto the paved road. I cranked the window down and leaned my face into the wind. As we drove, I looked across at Daddy’s hands and those scabbed knuckles. Then I glanced at his face. He had a distant look in his eyes and a slight smile.

I cleared my throat. “What was the Korean War like?”

“It was cold,” he said.

His answer, suddenly, wasn’t nearly enough. “Is that all, just cold?”

Dad rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand and stalled for a second. “No,” he said. “sometimes it was dangerous, but mostly it was just doing patrols, checking boundary lines, and trying to stay warm.”

Just then we were passing an old wood-framed house converted into a bar. I’d wondered about that old joint for years. I was sixteen, five years from being able to order a beer, but I’d have given a month’s allowance just to go inside.

Dad seemed to read my mind. “Let’s stop in here for a Coke.”

He turned into the dusty parking lot with our truck-bed trailer bouncing lightly behind.

As we entered, a cloud of cigarette smoke floated just above my head and glowed silver in the dim light seeping through pulled curtains. A lady sat on a stool behind the bar, so I assumed she was the bartender. Her bleach-blonde hair was piled up like a Viking helmet and her red blouse was cut low enough to be distracting. I remember thinking she’d probably been pretty at one time, but years of cigarette smoke and bartending must have worked against her beauty. Still, she had a broad smile.

“What’ll you guys have?” she asked.

“Just a couple of Cokes.” Dad said.

She smiled and winked at my dad, “You sure this kid doesn’t want a beer?”

I felt the blood rise to my cheeks. It was a joke, of course, and Dad shook his head no as he laughed.

I was glad mother wasn’t there.

The lady returned with two 10-ounce bottles and glasses of ice and Dad said, “Thank you, ma’am,” in the same respectful manner I imagined him using when a coworker brought him a lab report. She smiled and cocked her head to the side as if startled by his kind tone.

So there we were, a Baptist deacon dad sitting next to an under age kid, in a smoky bar. After a couple of sips on our Cokes, dad said, “I was kinda lucky in the Army. There was a lot of combat in Korea before I arrived and a lot after I left, but while I was there things were pretty quiet.” He said this as if he needed to apologize.

I’d been thinking about what he told me in the truck. I knew there had to be more to the story. After another sip, I asked, “What was the most dangerous thing you saw?”

He stared at his glass. “I was leading a platoon through a minefield when the point man froze. Frozen solid with the whole platoon behind him! He wouldn’t move so I crawled to his position and told him to crawl directly behind me so the others would follow.”

“So you led the whole group through the minefield,” I asked. I looked at my hands. Both were gripped around my glass, the condensation wet against my palms.

My Dad nodded yes.

I wanted to ask more but just then a stooped man in a loose-fitting flannel shirt put a quarter in the jukebox at the end of the bar. When the music started I felt the vibrations through the brass foot bar rails. Merle Haggard’s twangy guitar intro to “I’ll Leave the Bottle on the Bar” broke our conversation.

We each took a last bite of ice, mouthed a thank you to the bartender, and left our bottles at the bar. As we opened the door to leave and dad’s eyes squinted against the bright sunshine, I remember thinking we probably wouldn’t mention this stop to mother.

As we drove home, I considered asking about the war again, but somehow I knew the moment was meant to stay in that smoky bar. But then, I looked again at my father’s strong scuffed hands on the steering wheel. They were still the hands of a quiet man who loved and provided for his family, but now they seemed much more complex.

I looked at my father. He had a dimple in his chin. Already his whiskers were growing out, something he fought every day. He seemed like every dad I knew.  

But he was not. My father was a war hero who spoke with the same respect to a man of a different race working in a landfill as he might use with his boss at work. There was respect and kindness in his voice, whether addressing his pastor at church or a woman working in a smoky bar. There was a fearless quiet confidence at his core that viewed all others as equals.

I rubbed my chin. I wouldn’t need to shave for another year but at that moment I was anxious to. When I was five he put lotion on my palm so I could pretend as he shaved. It seemed like something that would connect me to my dad, that would say I was at least a little like him. 

As I grew older, I heard that if you lack qualities you admire in someone, pretend to be that person and do as they would do. It made me recall that day in the landfill and our visit to the bar. On more occasions that you can probably imagine, I’ve pretended to be my father. I’m happy to report that each time, I’ve met with good results.

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Note to reader: For this short story, I took a scene (trip to the landfill) that was factual, then added some details and embellishments. My cousin, dad, and grandfather once stopped at a smoky bar for a Coke after installing some ornamental iron. I was jealous. I pretended daddy and I went to that bar which gave us a location for our conversation and the character of the bartender.  I learned of my father’s minefield Army experience in little bits over time. For this story I condensed it down to a single conversation.

Recently my sister found the following letter, written in October, 1951. Sharing just a portion here.

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Food, Fellowship and Healing: Blessings of a Zero Day

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Disclaimer: This is not a typical hiking post but it is about subjects important to most who travel by foot.

On Saturday, January 12, 2019, my father’s 91-year old body died. He was a remarkable man as I shared in an earlier post, A Father’s Influence Along Life’s Trail. Today’s post recognizes the importance of food, fellowship, memories, and time in coping with heartache and loss.

Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado, Arkansas was my parents’ church from the 1950s until 2016 when they moved to Northwest Arkansas to be closer to us. Members provided a family luncheon prior to my father’s funeral service.

Mother had served as church librarian for many years, so when we arrived Librarian Joy Godwin gave us a tour of the new church library. The entrance and a stained glass window from the original sanctuary were highlights in the new church lobby.

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Historical stained glass preserved

The stained glass window might have been disposed of when new windows were installed in the 1970s, but my parents felt the need to preserve one. This window spent several years in our garage behind a freezer.

In the early 1980s, the church built a new family life center that would house a large library. This window was cleaned and framed by a carpenter named Buddy Lewis, (our next door neighbor) and displayed against a wall in the library. In 2018, when the church was moved to Hwy 82, west of El Dorado, this window was placed in the lobby where it continues to provide a visual connection to the original sanctuary.

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A special dish.

When we entered the room where church members had prepared a wonderful lunch, my eyes immediately rested on a glass bowl filled with fruity jello and cream cheese.

I was having severe deja vu when Brenda Robertson approached and said she’d bought the bowl from mother’s estate sale. Mother had given her the jello salad recipe, and that was what she made for this day. We were all touched by her thoughtfulness and the tangible connection with family memories. The kindness of all who prepared this meal allowed us time to share family stories and memories.

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View from my front door after a rainy day.

Recently I was on the Ozark Trail in Missouri. Because of rain and approaching cold temperatures we decided to take a “zero-day,” the term distance hikers use to indicate a day off from walking.

While relaxing in my tent, thoughts went to family and those who provide encouragement and love in my life. I thought of the struggles my parents have experienced due to aging. I thought of my father and the influence he has had on my life and the lives of others.

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Father and son hiking with daughter, Martha, taking the photo

As it turned out, the trail provided exactly what was needed and that “zero-day” was timed to prepare me for future events. During that day I thought of Jim Barton’s poem, “Faith of My Father.” I didn’t have the text but remembered that it captured how I imagined my father might approach death when the time came.

He didn’t have to polish it
when company was coming;
it never had to hang outside
to air out or dry.
It was nothing he could tear or muss,
or stain or ever lose;
it was invisible, it was visible
in everything he did.

And, when at last, he faced the end,
on linens white as snow
He filled his lungs and straightened out,
then slipped into the pool,

         a lone and graceful swimmer
         backstroking through the waves,
         smiling with anticipation for
         those waiting on the other shore.

Excerpts from “Faith of My Father” by Jim Barton, poet from Huttig, Arkansas From his book, For the Animals Who Missed the Ark 

Thank you to Pastor Jimmy Meek for comforting and wise words and Peggy Hargett for beautiful music.  Thank you to all friends and family who provided encouragement and shared stories of my father.

Below are a few photos from the dinner and visitation.

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Missouri’s Ozark Trail: 76 (all-weather) Miles

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John Roth Memorial

After doing our first 88 miles of the Ozark Trail during a week in November, I was hooked and wanted to hike every mile of trail built so far. The Ozark Trail Association website has a trip planner that helped determine the first leg of our journey. For this trip, we started from the last hike’s ending point and continued north. In the process, we’d complete the Blair Creek, Karkaghne, and Middle Fork Sections of the Ozark Trail, traveling south to north from Powder Mill to the Hwy DD Trailhead.

On Friday evening, we camped near the DD Trailhead so we’d be ready for a Saturday morning shuttle to Powder Mill. We were impressed with the John Roth Memorial and read about his life and his hope that the Ozark Trail would eventually connect to Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands Trail making one continuous walk from Lake Fort Smith State Park in Arkansas to Saint Louis, Missouri. Sadly, his life was cut short in an accident, but his vision for the trail continues.

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Day 1 (Saturday, December 29) The morning began with a cool 27-degrees. Shortly into our walk north of Powder Mill, we came to a special location high above the Current River. I couldn’t resist asking Bob to take a photo of me on this same bluff where Hiker-dog and I once paused while working on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. The photo I took of her on this bluff became the book cover as you can see below. We laughed that Hiker-dog would be upset if she saw the picture and realized she missed a trip, but carrying seven-days of dog food wasn’t possible for this outing.

After walking just over eleven miles, we made camp north of Harper Spring and remnants of an old springhouse. Water was never a concern during our week as we followed creek drainages and crossed many lesser streams over the route.

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springhouse

My chicken and rice Knorr meal with added veggies and chicken hit the spot. The broccoli was especially good! We were off to a good beginning. 

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Day 2 (Sunday, December 30) Good walking day! We passed an old root cellar that had held up well against the elements and time. 

Rain was in the forecast for Sunday night so we were hoping to make camp before it started.  It was dark by 6 p.m., so I got under my quilt wondering how I was going to get by on just 12-hours of sleep! My body uses the time of rest and recovery since most of the daylight hours are spent walking. I’m always surprised at how well I sleep while camping.

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Small stream flowing toward Blair Creek

Day 3 (Monday, December 31) I woke to mild temperatures and constant rain. We hoped to begin hiking when the rain stopped because the next day was supposed to be very cold and we wanted to avoid having wet clothing and shoes, but the rain continued so we decided to take a zero-day.

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The luxury of time… After a few hours of nothing but think-time, where do your thoughts go? I found that they drifted toward those I love. I thought of my wife’s care and commitment and our beautiful daughters and their many gifts. I thought of my new grandson and how we look forward to watching his growth and learning. I thought of my aging parents and their positive influence and life-long love for each other.

I then turned my phone on (in airplane mode) and read a portion of Ron Carlson Writes a Short Story and drafted some notes. After a day filled with intermittent naps, I still slept through the ushering in of 2019 without any fireworks.

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View of the last 2018 sunset from my front door

Day 4 (Tuesday, January 1, 2019) The morning was warmer than the expected teens, probably in the upper 30s. We had light rain and occasional snow and sleet during the day, so we just walked! As Bob said, “What else are you gonna do?”

We were fired up about being back on the trail and made 18 miles before camping. My typical day with a loaded pack is 12 so this was quite a pull but made easier by the relatively flat route that followed a historic railroad bed once used in logging operations.

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Historic rail line bed that now functions as part of the Ozark Trail

Day 5 (Wednesday, January 2)

At the end of our long walk on Tuesday, darkness dictated that we camp near Bee Fork, so we woke at a low elevation with damp tents. Our first task was to cross the cold and slightly swollen Bee Fork followed by 11 miles before camping at 3 p.m.

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Bee Fork

Day 6 (Thursday, January 3)

We passed through Sutton Bluff recreation area which included a low water bridge across the Black River. The campground was closed but included RV hookups and attractive facilities.

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Small bluffs close to Sutton Bluff Trailhead

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We hiked 12.5 miles through some beautiful and open woods before making camp at 3:15 p.m.

I paused in the middle of Brushy Creek for the following photo to capture the clear rushing water. I used only Aquamira water treatment drops for the duration of the trip.

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Brushy Creek

As we approached Strother Creek, we noticed an odd sulfur smell. Water from this creek runs through lead mine tailings and hikers are advised not to use this as a water source. It looked pretty but smelled funky.

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Strother Creek

A word about campsites: Our final campsite was on a low bench near the Barton Fen Trailhead, an excellent site! We passed several fire rings over the seven days of hiking but chose to avoid those few high-use spots. We didn’t build fires and left nothing more than a small tent-shaped impression in leaves where we camped.

Psychological resources in the Ozarks: We passed several log cuts that reminded us of inkblots. The Rorschach inkblot test was developed in 1921…Funny what you’re motivated to look up after a long hike. Bob took a photo of the star and I got another one that was more random. I thought some of the fungi we saw could also fit with psychological testing…maybe “Ozarks Fungi Assessment of Psychological Associations (OFAPA).”

Day 7 (Friday, January 4)

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Packed and ready to go except for rainfly

Woke to a light rain that must have begun around 4 a.m. Loading the pack under my rainfly went well.

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Light rain began to be mixed with sleet and then became fairly strong sleet. With the high humidity, temperatures probably felt colder than they measured, but we were trucking across a series of small creek crossings at a pretty good pace.

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Bob crossing one of many intersecting streams

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Wet creek crossing and refreshed feet. (photo: Bob Cable)

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Wolf Pen Hollow Waterfall

I thought it was probably noon and was surprised when we arrived at the Hwy DD Trailhead to learn it was almost 2 p.m. Time flies when you’re having fun! We paused to pay respects to John Roth and the many volunteers who make this trail possible. 

It felt great to now have approximately 160 miles of the Ozark Trail completed, and we’re looking forward to more! 

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To read our first Ozark Trail report: Coloring Our World: 88 Mile on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

To read our report of Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands Trail trek: Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail

 

Top Ten Posts for 2018

Thank you for letting me share my love for the Ozarks. I sometimes describe this blog as my online scrapbook. I enjoy looking back at previous trips, sometimes to check my memory or relive the joy of the trail. In one of these posts, I reflect on the loss of a friend and the positive impact of his life.

Below I’ve listed the top ten viewed posts from 2018. I hope you’ll sample some of these posts and be inspired to take a hike.  – Jim Warnock

1. Hiking Rush, an Arkansas Ghost Town Photo Tour

2. Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail 

3. Loss of a Friend A tribute to Roy Senyard

4. How to Prepare for a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip

5. Rock House on the Ozark Highlands Trail

6. Buffalo River from Boxley to Pruitt in “Typical” Arkansas Weather

7. Ouachita Trail Completed

8. My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail

9. Coloring Our World: 88 Miles on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

10. My book – Five Star Trails: The Ozarks

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Slideshow for the 223-mile Ouachita Trail

Previously, I did a slideshow for the first 160-miles of the Ouachita Trail. When we completed the 223-miles, I never updated the slideshow to include the last 63 miles. It was a wonderful experience so please enjoy traveling along with us for 223-miles on the Ouachita Trail in five minutes.

If you’d like to read the reports of our hike, begin with Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)Perfect Time.

 

How to Prepare for Multi-Day Backpacking Trips

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Short break with a light pack.

A reader emailed several good questions while preparing for a backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail. I enjoy responding to these type of inquiries and decided to write this post. 

Many trip failures can be traced to the planning process or something overlooked in preparation. Even on the best of trips, I usually learn of things I should have done differently, often related to travel distance, packing, or food.

What follows is not intended as an all-inclusive guide, and there’s no “right way” to prepare and pack, but some of the lessons I’ve learned and resources shared here might inform your preparation. I include links to some items mentioned, but am not endorsing products or sources. I prefer to use my local outfitters, suppliers, and bookstores for most backpacking purchases.

Planning the route: Since a good friend, Bob, and I recently completed 88 miles on the Ozark Trail and we’re presently planning our second outing on the trail, I’ll use it as an example. After determining an overview of the route, usually looking at online resources, I order or print maps. The Ozark Trail Association website is very useful for this. Most long trails have associated websites that are helpful in planning.

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Online overview map of the Ozark Trail

I printed Ozark Trail maps but purchased section maps because of ease of use and durability. To be sure I ordered the right maps I used this map that labels the sections.

Since portions of the Ozark Trail haven’t been built yet, our goal is to walk the finished sections. We began working our way from south to north with the Eleven Point, Between the Rivers, and Current River sections. For this hike, we’ll continue north on the Blair Creek, Karkaghen, and Middle Fork John Roth sections.

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Portion of Ozark Trail Association map

For me, planning campsites involves guesswork and looking at topographical maps. I cut post-it notes into strips and stick them to the map where I think we might camp. I move them around while planning, sometimes even after changes are made while on the trail. I sometimes enjoy not knowing exactly where we’ll stop to spend the night.

Determining when and where water will be available is part of route planning. Sometimes you have to make informed guesses. Monitoring rain in the area you’re going to hike and contacting locals can help you determine if smaller creeks might act as water sources. Last fall when hiking dry sections of the Ouachita Trail, we planted water caches for insurance, but this involved driving to pick up empty jugs after the trip.

How many miles to travel each day is a common question. When in doubt, go short and enjoy the views. It’s easy to bite off too many miles and end up injured and having to leave the trail. With a pack between 18 and 26 pounds, 10-12 miles is a good distance for me, but there’s nothing wrong with a 6-mile day. I occasionally do 14 and might go longer after I correct my foot issue (see the next topic). Update: The foot-fix worked making 15-20 mile days a possibility.

The feet: The most common saboteurs of multi-day trips are down at the end of our legs. Feet are so far away that it’s easy to ignore them. Things we hardly notice on dayhikes, become serious problems when walking day after day with 18-35 pounds on our backs.

On our first 88-mile section of the Ozark Trail, the third toe on my left foot was a problem that reared its ugly head beginning about day four of eight. This same toe was a problem earlier on the Ouachita Trail, but I tolerated the discomfort on both trips.

After the Ozark Trail experience, I found a good podiatrist. He used a spacer and small lifting device to correct this wayward toe’s position, the result of a childhood injury. If something hurts, check it out. It might be an easy fix.

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Comparing worn and new shoes

When hiking, doing gentle stretches each morning and evening can avoid problems. Using some lotion on the feet each night after cleaning also helps prevent blisters. Pack a file for smoothing the toenails during your trip.

Wool blend socks help prevent blisters. I use Darn Tough Socks. They last! Comfortable shoes are also essential, and I go light as possible with footwear as in low cut hiking or trail running shoes. No need for heavy boots!

Resource: My favorite (and only) book about this subject is Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof

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Packed for the John Muir Trail

Packing light: Pack weight is a challenge, especially for multi-day trips when the addition of food increases weight. Looking at the “big three” has helped me. Shelter, sleep system and the pack itself – These three are the big weight items. If you swap a 4-pound tent for a 1-pound tarp, that’s huge! Sometimes I’ll use a tarp, but I have a 2-pound tent I also use depending on anticipated conditions. Moving from a heavy sleeping bag to a down quilt and silk bag liner has reduced weight for me.

Many never think about the actual weight of the pack, but some are close to 5-pounds. Having a fancy suspension system doesn’t reduce the weight your feet and knees are feeling so go as light as possible with the pack. Most ultra-light packs do fine with loads of 15-30 pounds.

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Next, I go through the pack to see what I can leave at home. Example: toothpast and toothbrush – I don’t need them. I take floss and use a green twig to clean my teeth as I walk in the morning. I’m veering into the “too much information” category here, but this was the first example that came to mind. I consider Wet Wipes a luxury item but worth carrying. Cleaning up before getting in the bag liner reduces the stink and makes sleep easier.

OT small containersI pack needed items in small containers when possible to save weight. No need for a tube of foot cream or sunscreen, so I estimate what might be needed and pack that amount. As you can see from the photo, I still had foot cream, sunscreen, first aid cream, and Dawn Soap at the end of eight days. The floss is for size reference, but I’m looking for smaller floss containers. I despise plastic floss picks when I see them in the woods. Whatever you use should be placed in your trash bag and carried out. I use an empty coffee bag for trash because it’s light and can be folded down to the size needed. At the end of the trip, the bag goes into the trash. 

Clothing: I wear one outfit for the duration of the trip. Layers are added depending on the expected weather. I use a silk weight base layer for cold hiking and an even lighter layer for sleeping. I like to carry a down vest and, if temperatures in the low 20s are forecasted, I’ll add my down pants for sleeping if the quilt needs extra help. A hat for the sun is essential. For a warm hat, I use a stretch-fabric tube (brand isn’t important). Beanie hats work well too, but they tend to be heavier and aren’t as multi-use.

Deciding what needs to remain dry is essential. I pack my clothes and personal items in a waterproof stuff sack, then place that along with my down quilt inside a trash compactor bag. The compactor bag fills cracks and crevices in the pack to utilize space and has kept items dry on rainy days.

OT umbrellaWhen I expect rain, I pack an ultra-light umbrella. This is a personal choice because I’d rather have some wetness on my lower body and not be sweating and cold all over. I sweat under the best of rain shells when hiking hard in moderately cold temps.  The umbrella gives me a little roof to walk under, but it’s not for everybody. I’ve also used a poncho which kept my upper body dry, but I still get clammy.

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Esbit stove, windscreen, cup and pot

Fire, Food & Water: Like most backpackers, I have a varied collection of stoves. My hiking buddy carries an MSR WhisperLite. It’s great, but I need something simpler. I’ve used a PocketRocket when at higher elevations (like the John Muir Trail) but for the Ozarks, I like my Esbit Stove that uses two Esbit fuel tabs per day. Sometimes I’ll build a fire for cooking if there is an existing fire ring.

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Meal in homemade cozy

Food can get heavy! I avoid freeze dried meals because of their saltiness, expense, and packaging. I prefer using powdered soup mixes, instant potatoes, and Knorr side dishes as a base with my own dehydrated vegetables and meat added. I purchase dried chicken from Mountain House and add it to most meals. I repackage all in ziplock bags. Results are best if I place the chicken and vegetables in water when I first arrive at camp to increase their hydrating time.

In the Ozarks, bears aren’t usually a concern. I never carry bear spray and only used a bear canister once in the High Sierras of California where it was required. I use a bag for food and tie it in a tree, but mainly to keep the little critters out.

Water is heavy! One liter is just over two pounds. Its storage and treatment can add even more weight. I avoid Nalgene bottles because they’re heavy and bulky. I use a Platypus 70 oz. pouch for water storage and it doubles as a pillow filled with air and wrapped in fabric. I use one-liter Vapur collapsible bottles while walking. They’re light and fold up when not in use.

OT AquamiraI typically use Aquamira drops for water treatment but carry it in smaller bottles with a tiny bottle for mixing.

Sawyer filters are light and effective. They’re cheap, so I usually carry one in my daypack even though I rarely use it on multi-day backpacking trips.

IMG_0127rrI must interject a note about coffee here as I consider it essential! I sometimes use Mount Hagen instant, but you end up with a small wrapper to carry out. My tastiest morning brew involves using espresso grind coffee and leaves no trash to carry out.

Here is a link to my Backpacking List. It’s a working document that I update from time to time.

Resource: Ultra-Light Backpackin’ Tips by Mike McClelland – I love this book!

Physical preparation: The best way to prepare for backpacking is to walk with a backpack. I put magazines in my bear canister and place it in an extra pack for this purpose. I love my rowing machine, but biking, running, or any similar exercise will be helpful in preparing for backpacking. Lunges, squats and toe raises are going to be helpful but be careful not to start a new activity in the weeks before a long trip because an injury will interfere with preparations. Rest, nutrition and safe stretching are all important to general health and in helping you avoid illness prior to your trip.

Resource: The Stark Reality on Stretching by Dr. Steven D. Stark – This book shows safe stretching techniques and points out the dangers of some common stretches.

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Eleven Point River in Missouri

I’ve shared what I think are important things to remember when preparing for a multi-day backpacking trip. I’ll update this post as questions reveal other areas to include.

Enjoy your planning! If things go well, you’ll gain lifelong memories of indescribable beauty and the satisfying sense of personal accomplishment. If things don’t go as planned, you still might have great memories of your time in the wilderness, but with the addition of new learning to apply on your next trip.

Five Star Trails at REI

Five Star Trails: The Ozarks in REI, Dallas

While I love the long trails, I enjoy a good dayhike! If you need a great guidebook for the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri, check out my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Coloring Our World: 88 Miles on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

IMG_1147rrWhile working on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, I scouted several trails that followed portions of Missouri’s Ozark Trail. Those experiences left me wanting more.

IMG_1562Using the Ozark Trail Association website trip planner, I entered how many days were available for the outing and decided on a south-to-north trek following the Eleven Point, Between the Rivers, and Current River sections for a total of 87.6 miles. I rounded our total trip mileage up to 88 since we poked around in the woods a couple of times where the trail became difficult to follow, mostly around the Peck Ranch section.

On Friday, November 2, I drove up to Fayetteville and picked up Bob, then drove about 5 hours to Powder Mill, east of Eminence, Missouri. Jerry Richard (Richard’s Canoe Rental) met us promptly the next morning and shuttled us to the Western Terminus of the Eleven Point River section close to Thomasville. Our itinerary was simple from there. Just walk 88-miles back to my truck at Powder Mill (AKA Owls Bend on the Current River).

IMG_1138rrAs we set foot on the trail Saturday morning, we were immediately captured by the fall colors. The first day flew by, and we arrived at Bockman Spring early in the afternoon.

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Bockman Spring

The cave is closed, but a photo could be taken from the door frame to the bluff built by earlier inhabitants. I used my headlamp to “light-paint” the cave’s walls during a 15-second exposure. We filtered our water from the PVC pipe that carried water from the cave to a metal catch basin in front of the spring.

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Bockman Spring

While preparing our evening meals, several friendly locals on four-wheelers drove up, and we visited about our itinerary. They had many questions about the trail and the distance we would travel over the next few days. The first day for gun hunting would be November 10, but we had hunter orange for the final days of our trek.

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Coffee, eggs and bacon bits

After a rainy night, I woke to the silhouette of trees against a dull morning light. Drops of water falling from nearby trees sounded like hundreds of little animal steps. I prepared egg crystals and bacon bits with coffee while warming under my quilt.

Packing lightweight food that would satisfy and provide fuel for the miles took some planning, but I was pleased with the results.

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Chicken, rice, and veggies

Mountain House dehydrated chicken combined with Knorr meals or instant potatoes made excellent dinners! The addition of selected dehydrated veggies added flavor and balance. I’m looking forward to including examples (and samples) from my backpacking menu during my March 3rd, 2019 presentation for the Friends of Hobbs State Park.

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My small umbrella was put to good use as drizzling rain fell on and off the next day. I began to walk a familiar trail included in my guidebook as we passed the McCormack Lake spur. We stopped for a break at a view of the Eleven Point River I’d looked forward to seeing again.

IMG_1310rrAfter passing Greer Recreation Area, we followed the upland route. We toured the well maintained Bristol Cemetery that contained grave sites from the 1800s and early 1900s.

After thirteen hilly miles, we made camp four miles into the Between the Rivers Section. As the sun went down, coyote howls echoed through the surrounding woods with a stereo-like high fidelity purity.

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The tarp combined with bivy sack as a groundcloth, air mattress, and down quilt kept me dry and warm. I like the closeness I feel with surroundings when using a tarp. If strong thunderstorms had been in the forecast, I might have carried my tent instead.

Monday began cold! Rain started around 11 a.m. and continued throughout the day, slacking up around 6 p.m. My camera was safely stowed inside my waterproof stuffsack so no photos from that day.

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Cotham Pond

Tuesday treated us to more water than we’d expected on this typically dry section of trail. We found good water and sunshine at Cotham Pond. A starry night and strong coyote songs followed that evening.

The next few days sailed by as we covered miles and found water plentiful along the trail. Mint Spring was a special place with its soft green color.

 

We didn’t see any elk in the Pike Ranch Conservation Area, but saw more deer than we could count. The trail got sketchy at a burned out area, but we found our way. Trail markers were sometimes plentiful but more often spaced so that they reassured us we were on the right path. As part of our planning, we passed through Peck Ranch a couple of days before the route would close for hunting season.

The trail became easier to follow once we got north of Peck Ranch. Climbing up Stegall Mountain was exciting as distant views revealed themselves while we walked through stunted, windblown oaks. We spent a few minutes on the glade mountaintop taking in the beauty then continued toward the Rocky Creek section.

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Rocky Creek held wonderful water. I treated it lightly with some Aquamira drops. Our seventh and last night on the trail was our coldest yet. The next morning was a delightful chilly walk to Klepzig Mill followed by several cold creek crossings. Bob said, “The cleanest parts of our bodies are definitely our feet!”

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The water of Rocky Creek and adjacent creeks was clear and cold! I enjoyed watching this small leaf dance on the surface of the water and follow its shadow on the rock below.

We walked across a field of frost flowers on this sunny morning. I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a bite from one of the large ice formations.

As we approached our final Current River crossing over the Hwy 60 Bridge, a pickup truck pulled up and one of our deer hunter friends from day one at Bockman Spring greeted us. We enjoyed a short visit before continuing to Powder Mill Trailhead and our trip’s end. The only backpacker we met in eight days was Joe B. going the opposite direction early in our hike.

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Current River from the Hwy 60 Bridge

We looked forward to a good meal but drove east for a while before stopping at Mountain Grove to have a delicious dinner at Grove Family Restaurant. Great service! Great food!

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Bob and Jim

We were thankful to conclude our colorful trek on the Ozark Trail still feeling healthy and strong. Maybe we’ll return and explore more miles of this beautiful trail in the future. Like my dayhikes from three years ago, this first longer walk on the Ozark Trail left me wanting more. Check out the links at the end of this post to read of our other long hikes.

A note of thanks: We passed hundreds of cuts, old and new, that cleared our way on the trail. We saw areas recently maintained and the white tree blazes were essential to following the trail. Bob and I have adopted sections of the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas, so we appreciate the work it takes to keep a trail open. Thank you to the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) and the many volunteers who give their time to Missouri’s Ozark Trail!

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Evidence of volunteers with the OTA

Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail of Arkansas

A Few Steps in Paradise – The John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California

Ouachita Trail’s First 51 Miles at the (Im)Perfect Time (Includes links to posts that complete the 223 mile trail)

Writing Through The Ozarks

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A wet Hiker-dog waits patiently as I photograph a waterfall in Missouri’s Hercules Wilderness

In November of 2012, I began this blog as an online scrapbook to record my adventures on the trails. I hoped it would help solidify memories of good times and lessons learned. It has more than fulfilled this wish. Sometimes I skim back through posts to relive the joy of previous trips and get inspired to explore some more.

An added benefit of writing is that others have chosen to virtually travel with me on the trails. Some have been inspired to hike as a result of this blog, and that gives me great satisfaction! This site is now approaching 150,000 hits and has more than 1,600 subscribed followers.

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A couple of months before beginning my blog, I wrote my first article for @Urban Magazine, now Do South Magazine. That portion of my writing journey is in a post entitled “When in Doubt, Write.”


In October of 2014, my blog opened another door. I received an email from Tim W. Jackson, an acquisition editor with AdventureKEEN/Menasha Ridge Publishing. He said they were looking at adding an Ozarks guidebook to their Five Stars series and asked if I was interested in authoring the book. I quickly did a Google and Twitter search and confirmed that Tim was a real person. I then realized I owned several Menasha Ridge publications. Tim began to answer my questions and thus began our long-distance work on a guidebook that would consume every extra moment of my time for the next two years.

At first, writing this book felt daunting. My mother says, “When in doubt, take a step” so I began. There was research, hiking, recording GPS tracks, writing, and photography, then the cycle continued, building in ever-expanding layers. There was also lots of driving with Hiker-dog in her crate. She loved exploring the new trails and revisiting the familiar ones.

Even at its most difficult stages, I found great joy in this work. The team at Menasha Ridge Press was wonderful and helped make Five Star Trails: The Ozarks an amazing resource for exploring the very best trails in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. I take great pride in this book’s accuracy, readability, photographs, maps, and the wonderful routes included.

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After the book’s publication, Marla Cantrell shared some of my story in an article entitled, “When in Doubt.” Marla had been a coach and mentor to me ever since my first published article in Do South Magazine.


I hadn’t anticipated how much fun it would be to share adventures and backpacking skills while promoting Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. Presenting at the Arkansas Literary Festival was a treat as well as various state parks and hiking groups.

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Presenting to a group of 90 at Hobbs State Park

After the Arkansas Literary Festival, I learned that my book was included in the 2017 Arkansas Gems List. It was a thrill to see Hiker-dog’s cover photo on the poster.

Arkansas Gems poster 2017

  • If you love hiking or know someone who does, get Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.
  • If you’ve used Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, write a review on Amazon. I’m proud of that this Five Star Trails guidebook has a five-star rating. screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-7-58-59-am
  • If you have a group that would enjoy hearing about the Ozarks, John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California, or Grand Canyon of Arizona, please pass along my contact info. I can be reached at OzarkMountainHiker@gmail.com

It’s been a fun ride with Five Star Trails: The Ozarks and the journey continues. Enjoy your trails! Jim Warnock

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While it’s a pleasure to see The Ozarks on bookstore shelves, the real thrill is seeing it in use! These young hikers shared this photo from one of their Ozarks trips. Thanks Trey!

Watch for the November issue of Do South. It includes my article, “Walking Through Winter,” one of our best seasons in the Ozarks.

Five Star Trails at REI

REI in Dallas