This past September, my sister & I took a backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail. We brought my dog Nike along as our guard dog, along with a can of bear spray. The trail is quite long, so we just hiked the first bit of it. Our original plan was to hike about 12 miles a day, covering 36 miles in total.
We packed up our gear the night before & weighed our packs – 35 lbs each (plus about 8 lbs for Nike).
We started out at a great pace, about 3 miles an hour. The map showed very little elevation change in the first 9 miles, so we were expecting a light hike for most of that first day, with a steep climb at the end. What the maps didn’t show was the near-constant small ups and downs during those first few miles. Since it was about equal parts up and down, the overall elevation change was minimal, but the toll on our bodies was much higher. To top it off, we’d gotten on the trail over an hour after we originally planned, so we tired ourselves out trying to make up time. After stopping for lunch at mile 5 it took us 3 hours to cover the next 3 miles.
We started to realize that the original plan hadn’t been realistic, especially if we wanted to be able to enjoy some relaxing down time with the books and hammocks we’d brought along. We reached a nice, peaceful campsite right next to a creek (added bonus: not having to lug water uphill to our camp, per the original plan), and we decided to go ahead and stop for the night.
There wasn’t a good way to shorten our original route unless we wanted to make people drive very out of the way to come pick us up. So we ended up deciding to just hike back out the way we’d come, which meant that we had only 8 miles to cover over the next 2 days. Much more relaxing!
We had a lazy morning cooking breakfast & reading by the creek. We packed up around 11 and made it back 3 miles to our next campsite (we’d had lunch there the first day so we knew it was a great place to stop) in just an hour. Being well-rested made a big difference in our pace!
We had a cold lunch, hot drinks and set up camp. We spent the afternoon reading and dozing in the hammocks. It was so restful and peaceful, it did our souls good. We built up and fire that we enjoyed in the evening, and we played games in the tent after dinner.
On the third day we had another slow morning. Breakfast was by far the best meal we packed. Dehydrated eggs & bacon bits, dehydrated hash browns, and powdered gravy mix. The eggs might sound gross, but they were really good, especially covered in gravy.
We did some more reading & then packed up and headed out. We made it the 5 miles back to the car in about an hour and a half.
It was a great trip. My sister and I live in different states, so I loved getting to spend so much time talking with her. We also spent a lot of time in silence just resting and soaking in the beautiful fall colors around us.
There’s something to be said for being fully present (no phones or screens, alerts or reminders) for all the little inconveniences of life. It’s nice to sit and wait for water to boil, to watch the coffee dripping into your mug, to walk down to the creek to wash your dishes in the freezing water after every meal. I’m grateful for the chance to be reminded that I’m only human. And to fully appreciate my dishwasher…and my toilet.
I hope this is the first annual trip of many.