Backpacking Arkansas Hosts Nimblewill Nomad in the Ouachitas

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Meeting Nimblewill Nomad was an honor!

Would I like to schedule a book signing in Northwest Arkansas on October 22 or drive into the Ouachita Mountains and meet Nimblewill Nomad? The answer was easy! Saturday morning, Hiker-dog and I hopped into the Jeep and drove the 125 miles south, arriving at Shady Lake by 10:00 a.m.

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Pavilion at Shady Lake

Backpacking Arkansas (BPA) began as a web forum where hikers share knowledge, serve the trails, and draw inspiration. Once a year, an event is held where a portion of members of the forum meet and greet and share educational sessions.

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First aid demonstration

When we arrived, Gerry helped get me sign in. He recognized my forum name and asked about Hiker-dog. Turns out he has followed our trail stories, so it was fun to put a face to a blog name. Nimblewill was scheduled for the afternoon. We enjoyed a first aid session before breaking for lunch.

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Randy and Nimblewill enjoying lunch in the sun.

Randy, a fellow board member of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA), was present, and so we sat in the sun and had lunch with Nimblewill, who’d driven down from Independence, Missouri.

Jackson Spencer, who completed the first 165 miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail in 4 days and change, shared some of his experiences on the trail and the mental aspects of hiking 18-20 hours a day. He and his girlfriend enjoyed visiting with members before and after his session.

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Jim Woolly and Jackson discuss long distance hiking

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Nimblewill sharing his vision for the future

Nimblewill began his session with a challenge to those present. He began to describe the beauty to be found in the Ozarks and Ouachitas while questioning the most recent addition to the list of eleven National Scenic Trails in the eastern United States.

He said the beauty of Arkansas and Missouri is on par with mountain regions anywhere in the United States and that a combined Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas and Ozark Trail in Missouri, or Trans-Ozark Trail (TOT) would meet the requirements for a National Scenic Trail. He even mentioned that the Ouachita Trail could eventually be tied into the long trail leading to Saint Louis Missouri. He mentioned that many of the great trails in the country involve some road walking to follow so connecting the Ouachita Trail would be a possibility.

Nimblewill’s session was laced with poetry. He used poetry to express ideas that might have been more difficult in narrative. In the following poem he describes the wanderlust many distance hikers feel.

Watch Nimblewill deliver his poem, “Home of the Free.”

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I won one of his books, Ten Million Steps! It’s his journal of his trek from the Florida Keys to Quebec, Canada, laced with poetic interludes and a real pleasure to read. My book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, was presented as a door prize at the end of Nimblewill’s session. It made me feel good to know that we were both published by Menasha Ridge Press.

Nimblewill is in his late 70s and still planning long walks. His next goal is to walk Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angles. One of the big challenges is getting waivers to walk some sections of Interstate Highway that cover the old route. Some states have laws forbidding foot traffic. Over morning coffee Sunday I suggested he get some type of slow vehicle permit. He walks around 3.5 miles per hour and is powered by two legs.

Nimblewill described the contents of his ultra-light pack. He said the task has been to bring your wants and needs together so that only what is necessary can be found in his pack.

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Nimblewill’s loaded pack weighs in at about 8-10 pounds.

Sunday morning, I was up early and had the pleasure of some time with Nimblewill. He shared some of the logistical challenges of his Route 66 trek planning. I have no doubt that he will walk the length of Route 66. I hope the states he passes through facilitate his travels because they’ll have one kind soul walking their roads while he’s passing through.

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Paul with EtowahOutfitters visits with Nimblewill while waiting for coffee to brew.

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Hiker saying we must hit the trail

Sunday, after breakfast, I thought of heading back home, but my little buddy had been so patient the day before, and now she was urging me to take the  3-mile trail around Shady Lake, one I’d not hiked in more than 20 years.

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As always, following Hiker-dog’s lead was wise. We both felt much better from the after-breakfast exercise, and we saw some of the beauty of the Ouachitas. The old trail around Shady Lake had some spots that were hard to follow. I started down what I thought was trail and noticed Hiker-dog up above me. Once again, she was right, so I backtracked and followed her lead.

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Early morning on Shady Lake enticing us to walk the trail

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Hints at Fall color and deep green moss along the stream flowing into Shady Lake

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Another scene along the creek entering Shady Lake

A big thank you to Backpacking Arkansas for putting this event together. Thanks also to Duane, Paul, Gerry, and others who worked to set things up and sponsor the weekend. All presenters were excellent, and the Saturday night potluck alone was worth the drive. I’ll definitely put this event on my calendar for next year!

Luxurious Ouachita Trail Base Camp

 

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Mountain Thyme B&B, a beautiful base camp for the Ouachita Trail

Mike and Rhonda, owners of Mountain Thyme Bed & Breakfast, probably didn’t select their property specifically because it was two miles south of the Ouachita Trail’s intersection with Scenic Highway 7, but I think it was a brilliant choice! If Becca and I truly want to get away for relaxation balanced with exercise, the Mountain Thyme “Base camp” is ideal. Rooms are reasonably priced, and the best part is that there’s nothing to do there but relax and enjoy the woods, delicious breakfasts, and afternoon cookies.

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Yogurt and granola to be followed by omelet and sausage

A future trip on my to-do list involves covering the Ouachita Trail from it’s beginning in Oklahoma and concluding the extended backpacking trip with a stay at Mountain Thyme for some post-hike pampering. I’ve told Rhonda and Mike they could hose me off in the yard before letting me inside. This visit was for the celebration of our wedding anniversary and a chance for some early morning day hikes.

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Short Mountain overlook on Hunt’s Loop

Hunt’s Loop Trail begins at Iron Spring on Hwy 7 and climbs Short Mountain before intersecting with the Ouachita Trail. Hunt’s Loop has become a favorite over the years and is one of those trails you enjoy doing in all seasons and conditions.

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Stream running through Iron Spring Recreation Area with remnants of an iron water gate installed by the CCC.

I’ll hike Hunt’s Loop in different directions to add interest. If I have a little extra time and want some more miles, I’ll tack on the 1-mile out-and-back to the Moonshine Shelter on the Ouachita Trail. No evidence of a whiskey still but a nice place to take a break and read a few entries in the shelter journal.

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Moonshine Shelter

I like to walk Hunt’s Loop early and then make it back to “base camp” in time for breakfast. At 6:15 p.m. on our most recent trip, I surprised a black bear a few yards off of the trail, or as I said later, “the bear surprised me.”  I heard a low huff and looked toward a pine sapling thicket to see the back side of a black bear’s head and shoulders as it tromped quickly out of sight. I’d never heard that type of stomping on the ground before. I was pleased to have seen my first Ouachita bear! No photos. Barely got a look with the two lenses in my head!

Iron Spring is a great place for a family picnic or a restroom break when driving down Scenic Highway 7. There are pit toilets, but no drinking water unless you filter out of the creek.

GPS for Mountain Thyme B&B “Base Camp”

34°45’05.7″N 93°03’35.0″W

GPS for Iron Spring Recreation Area and location of Hunt’s Loop Trailhead

34°45’44.5″N 93°04’15.4″W 

Just to clarify, I don’t do product or service endorsements. I just like the place!

A few more scenes…

No Cookie Cutter Accommodations Please: If not a tent, then a B and B

Walnut Street Inn Bed & Breakfast

Walnut Street Inn Bed & Breakfast, built by Charles McCann in the 1890s at a cost of nearly $6,000

One of my hiking buddies always opts for a mom and pop restaurant over chains when possible. I’ve picked up this practice and have now applied this approach to selecting overnight accommodations. When not staying in a tent, I prefer a bed & breakfast over one of the chain hotels.

Becca and I recently made plans to celebrate our 36th anniversary, so something a little nicer than a tent was in order. We had never visited Springfield, Missouri and wanted to explore a little of the Missouri Ozarks.

Because of our wonderful experiences during repeated stays with Mike and Rhonda at Mountain Thyme B&B just outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, we decided to look at the bed & breakfast options in Springfield. Pricing of bed & breakfasts are comparable to hotels, but the food, fellowship, and personal attention far exceed even the nicest of hotels.

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Mountain Thyme B&B, off Arkansas Highway 7, two miles from the Ouachita Trail

We were pleased to find Walnut Street Inn, located right downtown on historic Walnut Street. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and then explored Springfield by foot. A short drive put us in the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, with a variety of hiking trails.

We stayed in the Cottage, part of the Walnut Street Inn two doors down the street. A third building, The Carriage House, is located behind the Walnut Street Inn.

The Cottage B&B

The Cottage B&B

Here are a few photos from the Walnut Street Inn.

Walnut Street Inn

Walnut Street Inn

Inside the Walnut Street Inn

Inside the Walnut Street Inn

Outdoor dining area

Outdoor dining area

Antiques in the main house

Antiques in the main house

Porch columns in Victorian style

Porch columns in Victorian style

Detail of a window in the Walnut Street Inn

Detail of a window in the Walnut Street Inn

Walkway outside of our room

Walkway outside of our room

One benefit of staying in Springfield is hiking beautiful trails at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center and Lake Springfield. The Walnut Street Inn owner, Gary Blankenship, gave good driving directions to these areas. I would rise early and hike before breakfast, then have the day to explore the area with Becca. We walked several miles each day and had some wonderful meals together!

The Walnut Street Inn Bed and Breakfast – No cookie cutter accommodations, but a wonderful place to stay!

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center