Ozark Highlands Trail: Trip 1

Last winter, we hatched a plan to backpack the whole Ozark Highlands Trail with our friends Britt and Debbie. While we’ve all hiked a ton, none of us has spent much time on the OHT. One weekend trip each spring and one each fall should be enough to finish the 225-mile trail by the time Mandy graduates from high school.

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We want to do the trail sections in order, from west to east. We started walking at Lake Fort Smith State Park.

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Britt is super-active and very strong – he hikes a lot, and runs half marathons. But a stroke six years ago left him more or less unable to feel what the right side of his body is doing, so everything he does requires a lot of concentration. This is the first backpacking Britt has done since the stroke, and he had to adjust to the additional weight of a pack. One little moment of inattention resulted in a nasty spill that nearly knocked me down, too, and he cut his hand badly where he landed on a rock.

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It’s really too early in the spring for creek crossings to be pleasant, but we swapped to water shoes and got across. On the other side of the stream, we had lunch while we waited for our feet to dry out enough to put socks and boots back on.

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There were lots of little silly moments too. Mandy’s new trail name is ‘seventeen’ because of the shape of the scratches on her left leg from a serious altercation with a bramble bush. Debbie injured herself while pooping – actually, the injury was incurred by some complicated problem with her folding shovel, but this is an unimportant detail. Someone got lost outside their tent semi-naked in the dark. We won’t tell you who. (Here’s a hint: it wasn’t me.)

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Mandy did a great job of being independent this weekend. Even just a year ago, she had to be prompted to do nearly everything when we camped with her. When her tent was set up, we had to tell her to put in her pad, and then her sleeping bag. She had to be reminded and helped, a lot. But this weekend, suddenly, she was almost completely autonomous. We’d look up from setting up our own tent to find that hers was already standing. I’d finish changing into my warmer evening clothes, and realize that she’d already changed, too. It’s nice to watch her being capable and independent.

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We had a good weekend, doing good things with good people. Sometimes I wish I could take a snapshot of a feeling, the way we capture pictures of trees and waterfalls. I wish I could save those memories in a scrapbook, to remember feeling cheerful and content and loved and at peace.

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