I found my rhythm and was making great time at a fast pace by shuffling my feet and using my trekking poles like a cross-country skier. Then I noticed I hadn’t seen a trailblazer in quite some time. I checked the map and found my mistake.
When I crossed Hurricane Creek on the way to Chancelor I just went straight across onto a dirt road. The trail was right beside it but I didn’t notice. I saw the trail blazer just before the creek crossing and quickened my pace to make sure I could get to Fairview the next day and make my food drop on Friday before noon so I wouldn’t be stuck over the weekend trying to ration instant oatmeal. It cost me two miles and too much time.
I backtracked to the creek and ran into two gentlemen I had seen when I was packing up that morning that kindly gave me some instant coffee packets after I just made my last cup. I asked if they had seen where the trail was. They pointed behind the campsite they had just settled into. I walked back and there was a very big sign pointing the way to Chancelor and the Ozark Highlands Trail.
Then it got dark and I was still on top of the mountain. I was determined to get to a water source before I set up camp. I was using a crescent moon to guide me. I rounded a corner and had the moon to my back as I descended the mountain. The moon lit up the trail markers in the dark and I continued without a headlamp as I descended the mountain. I heard flowing water and quickened my pace. It was pitch black by the time I got there. After a nine mile hike I was exhausted. I set my pack down against two trees, got out my headlamp, and had a look around for a decent hammock spot. It turned out there was a great campsite nearby on the creek and some wonderful person had left firewood already stacked up and broken down from kindling to logs. I was so grateful to whoever left that. I was able to get a fire going right away and enjoy a meal before going to sleep.
When I got up in the morning I saw what a beautiful place I was in. The wind kicked up and made the trees rub together and sing like a chorus in beautiful swaying notes. Different pitches from the low baritone of a cello to the higher notes of a violin blended perfectly with the flowing waters over boulders.
Journal entry: Day 22, 10-26-17: Sometimes the trees would play a song in creaking sways like two lovers swooning under the weight of wind and moon. The creek spoke in languages unknown as leaves change color to match its ominous tone. Green fades away as the trees celebrate in amber shades and the wind carries the songs of yesterday. Ancient voices that speak to us all in the gentle rustle of fall.
I wished I could have stayed, but I had to get to Fairview that night if I was going to make my food drop on Friday before noon. I was low on food and didn’t want to have to ration out two packs of instant oatmeal over the weekend. I marked the spot on the map as a point of interest to come back and visit.
I took my time and enjoyed the creek while I had coffee and breakfast and checked out the map. I met another thru-hiker with his dog and two men with chainsaws clearing the trail of fallen logs. After talking with them about what lay ahead I knew it was going to be a long uphill climb all the way out. I packed up and got going.
Along the way I came across a strange room. I was on top of a boulder field looking down into it. It looked like stone stairs descending and disappearing around a corner far below me. I looked for a way in, but it was walled up on all four sides. You could see where one of the walls had collapsed and green moss clung to the rocks above. The rocks below looked like a tetris of stones ready to collapse if any were to shift from my weight. I appreciated the view from above and decided it would be a problem for another day.
When I finally got to Fairview campground after five miles, all uphill, I still had some daylight left and set up camp in the trees. The concrete benches and tables had all been removed leaving only the stumps with rusted re-bar sticking out. Why anyone would go to the trouble of removing them I have no idea. The fire-pits were still there however and I searched for firewood. There wasn’t much to be had, but I gathered what I could to last the night and was covered in burs and brambles. I had cell phone signal and when I turned on my phone I was bombarded with messages all telling me it was supposed to get below freezing the following night, 23 degrees. As alone as I was on the trail, it was nice to know there were people who cared and I appreciated the warnings.
I had a little daylight left. There was another camper there that Thursday night and I ended up sitting with him at camp for a bit and having conversation about the trail and life. His name was David Jackson and he was just out for a quick weekend retreat and would be leaving the following morning.
I was saving my firewood for the following Friday where I could hole up for the drop in temperature. David kindly drove me to the post office in Pelsor (sand gap). I picked up my next food drop and David let me dig into his hot coals and extra firewood before he left. I had just finished the last of my fuel making breakfast and coffee in the morning. The timing was perfect and I had fresh batteries for the headlamp, a full fuel container, and an assortment of food and goodies. I laid everything out to appreciate a fresh start.
I had enough warning about how cold it was going to get and changed campsites to a spot that had a wind break. People started slowly filing into the campsites for the weekend. A truck came up and rolled down the window. It was an older gentlemen warning me it would get below freezing. I told him about my trip and all the warnings I had on my phone and that I was prepared for a rough night.
I had a heavy pack and whenever I told other thru-hikers how much it weighed when full they were shocked and would tell me how light theirs was. When I told this old veteran he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hell, I’ve jumped out of a plane with more than that.” It made me smile. He gave me a chocolate pie and some advice. He also gave me his number and said if it got too bad I could call him and stay at his place. I appreciated having that option. He told me about a trick to cover the ground beneath me with hot coals and cover it back up with my sleeping pad. I was in a hammock, but it gave me an idea.
I met another camper on his own and told him about the adventure so far. We took a shot of Vodka and he said he wished he had more to give me. As we were talking late that night a car pulled up to my campsite. My hammock was low to the ground and pretty hidden at the back since I needed the windbreak. I had no car to mark my spot. I said my goodbyes and ran over to defend my site from intruders. The car realized the spot was taken and circled around for another.
I took everything I had that could serve as a windbreak in the hammock to put my sleeping bag on. I neatly folded all of my clothing into the trash compactor bag and kept it flat. I opened the emergency poncho and spread it out. I had the two fleece blankets inside the sleeping bag and ready to go. I dug out a pit with the smaller of my two pot mess kit and put the hammock low to just slump to the ground. I kept a good fire going for most of the night. When the time came I gathered the hot coals and put them in the ground with small rocks and covered it back up with a thin layer of dirt and put my half yoga mat over it. The rain-fly was pulled down as low as it could go. Then I tried to sleep.
Two cars pulled up late at night and shined their headlights directly in my face. A woman in one car was just staring at her cell phone as they prepared to unload their gear in my site. The other one saw me when I pulled the rain-fly up and covered my eyes in annoyance. The man had to go over to the other car to get her attention since she was the one blinding me. I heard, “I didn’t see him.”
“Well, I can see you.” I said casually, squinting with a hand over my eyes. They left and found a spot further down.
I had an eighteen hour body warmer packet that I shoved in my sleeping bag before I ever got in. My toes were searching for it all night to keep it perfectly placed, otherwise it became ineffective. For the first few hours I was alright, then it got colder and colder and the coals died. I didn’t really sleep. I just shook and shivered in the fetal position to keep my toes warm. I learned how to pee out of the hammock without getting out, a tricky process requiring good balance to avoid peeing on myself or my gear. When I went to get a drink of water I realized both of my water bottles were frozen solid.
It was tough getting out of bed in the morning. I stayed cuddled and warm and waited for the sun to come up over the trees. I had new food and supplies and could go back to just loafing it. There was full sun in the morning and I put out the solar charger and moved it little by little to keep it out the shade of trees as the sun rose. The couple that had drove up on me that night were wandering around for firewood. I traded them the rest of my firewood for a cigarette. They were a nice husband and wife couple out for the weekend and they gave me a small can of deviled ham and some crackers. It turns out those cans are tough to get open without a can opener. I still haven’t opened it and as of this blog posting almost a year later, it is still sitting in a cabinet for a special occasion.
I re-filled from the water pump nearby and packed up to get back on the trail. My morning bathroom break in the camp bathroom led to an interesting and humorous surprise. Someone had left an unopened package of fudge pop-tarts in the corner of the bathroom on the floor. I had to appreciate the humor in the situation. I inspected the package thoroughly and decided I wasn’t too proud. That’s right, I packed that bathroom fudge into my pack and set out for another great journey into the Ozarks with curiosity and excitement for what would come next.
Between hiking at night and trying not to freeze, I was in such a rush to make my next food drop that I missed some good photo opportunities along this stretch. Check back for the next installment with more photos when fall brought a new array of color to the landscape.
Check out johnozmore.com for artwork, sculptures, writing, and photography from the author or to purchase the Dark Fantasy novel, “The Blood of Winter” from Amazon available in paperback and Kindle versions.
Ebook versions of the Dark Fantasy, “The Blood of Winter” are also available for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Scrib’d, Angus & Robertson.
If you want to find out more information about the OHT you can check out the Ozark Highlands Trail Association website at ozarkhighlandstrail.com. They have some basic information and tips as well as any changes in the trail such as reroutes from landslides and other information that may change the trail experience. You can also check out ultralightbackpacker.com for some really great tips, advice, and recipes for any thru-hike whether you decide to go ultra-light or want to loaf it and take your time. Check back for more stories and photos from the trail.