What a great, adventurous weekend! I have never been backpacking before but after hearing all about John's experiences and looking at pictures I was pretty stoked to try it out. There were a few essentials that we needed to get before we left. John had some leftover birthday money and wanted to splurge on a couple of things. A friend of mine was kind enough to let me borrow a pack so I didn't need to buy a new one. John already had one so he was set. We ended up buying a new 2 person backpacking tent, a miniature stove, a head lamp, and some pants for John. It all came in handy!
We started out the weekend by packing the boys and heading over to Grandma and Granddad's house. (Thanks for watching them this weekend!!) Bags packed, kids dropped off, a few more stops and we were on our way. Unfortunatly we had some incorrect directions so we ended up on some random dirt road in the Ozark mountains that led to nowhere! The anticipation of getting on the trail was getting to us. We stopped, found a gas station with a map, and found our way to the trail head. By this time it was already 4:00pm!!! We had hoped to be on the trail before noon. But that didn't dampen our spirits. We hosed down with bug spray (100% Deet to be exact!), hitched up our packs, and set off on the Big Piney Wildlife Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest. It was beautiful and we quickly realized why they must call it "Big Piney."
After dinner we crawled in our tent and attempted to sleep. I say attempted because you wouldn't believe how noisy the great outdoors is. Between the bugs/crickets, the constant falling acorns that hit the ground like mini bombs, animals, and the various thunderstorms that passed by throughout the night, it was quite loud! John even tried to make earmuffs to block it out. We agreed that next time we might bring ear plugs. At one point we even HEARD a spider on our tent. It was massive. We named it Kong and we were super grateful that Kong only explored the OUTSIDE of our tent.
In the morning we decided against a fire as the ground was pretty wet. So wet in fact that our tent was wet inside. We apparently were in a little dip and the water collected below us. For the most part, we were dry in our sleeping bags. Our pads took the brunt of the water. We used the stove and made ourselves some pancakes and of course - COFFEE! John tore down camp while I made breakfast. The sky was begining to clear. It was going to be a beautiful day!
Thirsty and hungry, we stopped for lunch. The creek was the perfect place to refill our water bottles. Yes - I DRANK CREEK WATER!!! We used special tablets to kill any bacteria and then my wonderful hubby gave me the water bottle with the carbon filter to filter out any debris. It actually tasted good. I was so impressed! We brought crystal light packets just in case but we really didn't need it. For lunch we ate cheese and crackers, various snacks, and another round of coffee. That stove was so nice to have!
At this point it was about 2:30 and we still had not come to the actual campgrounds that marked the half way point. We probably should have turned back but we were determined to finish the loop. I really wanted to see the waterfall that was toward the end. So we pressed forward. There were many points that we came to where we had to make a choice which direction to go. For the most part, I think we stayed on the trail - it just took a LOT longer than we expected. When we finally came to the campgrounds I was relieved to find an outhouse. While John did not mind going number two in the woods, I was very nervous about it and held it until we found the campgrounds! After that we came to a bluff that stuck out through the trees and got some breath taking views of the Ozarks. Unable to stop too long because it was getting late, we pressed on.
By the time we made it down this ridge it was nearing 7:00pm and we weren't sure how far we had left to go. We were both pretty tired at this point but secretly excited to do a little night hiking. That's when we came to a sign that pointed the direction we were headed saying "7 miles." Seven miles? Our pace, even pushing it, was only 2- 2.5 miles per hour. A little discouraged we just kept going. We could no longer stop to enjoy the view, we had to book it. John realized the trail looked familiar. It was the one we had veered off onto earlier that day! Eventually we came to the same crossing we were at that morning. The map and directions told us to go one way, but we knew if we went the other way (the way we had come and the way back to our original campsite) we could be certain we would not get lost. Besides, there was no way we would be able to see and enjoy the waterfall at this point.
It was past 8:00 and completely dark out. With four miles to go still we were looking at another two hours at least. We were really feeling it by then. Especially myself - my legs were so sore that I knew if I stopped to take the pack off I would not be able to continue. We had little to no cell coverage and what we did have went in and out frequently. Too frequently to make a call. So we texted John's parents hoping they would not be too worried. We had planned on being back home by this time and we still had a four hour drive ahead of us. Both his parents had to work in the morning and while we did have our tent and enough food that we could have set up camp, we knew it would REALLY worry them if we did not make it back that night.
The rest of the trip back was a battle of will. In no way did it ruin our trip, but at that point all we wanted was to be back home with our kids in a comfortable bed. We were looking for the gate at the beginning of the trail like we looked for water towers in the next town on BAK last year. We were testing our limits and it HURT like heck but boy was it satisfying to see our Jeep. There was a field between the trail head and the parking area that we had to cross. It should have been the easiest part of the trail but by that point every fiber of my body screamed with every step I took. It was very slow going and we finally made it to our Jeep at about 11:00. The ride home was tough. I kept falling asleep though I tried very hard to keep John awake. We got back to John's parents house around 3:30 and completely crashed there. No way we could pack the kids up and go home at that hour. (Ron and Teresa: We are SO sorry we made you worry so much!)
What a trip! While the end was a little rough, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was so much fun! I think it's time for me to get my own pack. : ) It will be awesome someday when we can take the whole family. Aaron is going to love it! John tracked our hike on the GPS. Here are our stats:
21.7 miles total
Almost 20 miles in one day
7 miles in the dark
13 hours of hiking on Sunday
The actual trail map with our route overlay:
Someday we will go back and do the actual route. I'd love to see the whole thing. I think it would be pretty to go later on in the fall when the leaves have turned. They weren't quite ready yet so it was still pretty full of foliage. Maybe in a few weeks for my birthday... : ) I'm hooked.