Thirty Miles & Thirty Pounds: Three Days on the Ozark Trail
9.5 miles the first day and found a level spot to camp beside noisy Rocky Creek. It was late spring, and the temperature fell in the evening. Perfect sleeping weather. Ozzie said it had been 15 years since he'd slept in a tent two nights in a row, and fell promptly and happily to sleep.
Elizabeth was new to backpacking and the outdoors. She claims to have never seen a tick before moving to Missouri. Chiggers and poison ivy, she reminded me, do not thrive in New York City, or on the paved grounds of Public School #28 in Jersey City, where she grew up.
A lack of outdoor experience, however, didn't inhibit Elizabeth's observations. Her perspective was skewed, but never dull. She often was the first to smell something pungent, hear an eerie bird whistle, or wonder aloud how early settlers figured out which wild mushrooms to put in the stew, and which were lethal. Even with wet feet, she was a steadfast hiker and always ready for whatever lay around the next bend.
On the second day we hiked a set of switchbacks that left us winded and sweaty. It was the steepest part of this 30-mile section of trail and took us to the top of Stegall Mountain. We stretched out on the rocks for a rest, wrung out our socks, and talked about how quickly the landscape could change: sometimes we stalked through pine forest, sometimes oak; minutes later we squirreled through dense, weedy hollows, then opened our stride through the shady, roomier forests on high stretches; sometimes the temperature kept us cool, sometimes it left our shirts soaking wet beneath our pack straps.
Part of the trail looked like it was used by more deer than people. These narrow stretches made us itchy and kept us on the alert for ticks. Even so, the route is well-marked with small, rectangular signs bearing the Ozark Trail logo - intertwined green and white letters, O T.
We didn't see any garbage, and best of all, we also didn't see any other people for three days; at the backpacker registration boxes located at the beginning and end of this 30-mile section, we noted that the last hikers on the trail had passed by five days before us, and 14 days before that.
In the evening, Elizabeth found revenge against crawling ticks by dropping them into the hot wax of a burning citronella candle. She