Last year I focused a lot on running, and while I don’t regret training for and running two half marathons, I was ready to take a break from it. But over the last month I’ve been feeling a little restless. While I don’t miss organizing my life around training runs, I’ve missed the long days of exerting myself in the sunshine and fresh air. So I’ve taken up a new hobby: distance hiking.
A few weeks ago I started at the ending of the Ouachita Trail at Pinnacle Mountain State Park and hiked 6 miles of it (out and back, so about 12 miles of total hiking). And yesterday I parked farther up the trail and completed another 5 miles of the OT (10 miles round trip) by hiking east to the point where I turned around last time.
I parked at a place called “Lundsford Corner.” Since it had a name and was searchable on Google maps, I kind of expected something more than what it was: literally just a curve in the road that formed a “corner.” There was at least a small gravel area where I parked my car by a wildlife management sign. I hopped on the trail early, looking forward to a long hike and a high of about 60 later in the day (and crossing my fingers that Lundsford Corner was a safe place to leave my car for several hours!)
I found the trail quickly, but once I entered the woods, I felt like I’d been transported a few states north. Despite temperatures above freezing for the last several days, the woods were shaded and cool with lots of ice and slick spots. I wasn’t exactly expecting an icy hike on this beautiful, sunny day! But it did make animal tracks more obvious.
The ice presented some challenges. I had to slow my pace to keep from slipping and sliding up and down the slopes of the trail. And at times the trail was difficult to find, since I would normally keep an eye out for a narrow dirt path to follow. There were several times I had to venture out in the direction I thought the trail went and just keep an eye out for the familiar blue blazes that mark the OT. Thankfully, I managed to find the trail each time I felt a little uncertain.
One of the first things I came across was this cute little bridge. There were SO MANY water crossings during my hike due to the melting ice and lots of small creeks that were fuller than usual. Later in the day I would wish I had a few more bridges!
Then, after hiking for quite a while through the ice, I came to a spot where it was suddenly summer time in the woods! It was so green and sunny. It was hard to believe it was just a few hundred feet down the trail from where sheets of ice covered everything in sight.
I started my hike close to mile marker 212 and was determined to hike all the way to marker 217 and back. Each marker I passed was cause for a mini-celebration! (And a picture.)
I warmed up quickly and shed some layers. It seemed I was constantly hiking between summer and winter as I went between shady and sunny areas, but I never got cold in spite of all the ice. It made for an interesting hike. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked in a T-shirt, surrounded by ice, and felt perfectly fine!
Like I mentioned earlier, streams were abundant. The first couple of times I came to a stream crossing, I stopped to listen. The woods were so quiet and still, and the sound of the water was such a soothing and beautiful sound. It did get old after about the 5,492nd crossing, though. With every water encounter I kept wondering, “Is this the time I slip and fall in?” (I’m happy to report I stayed dry.)
A “scenic vista” sign kept me on the lookout for a nice view, and it did not disappoint!
All this hiking made me hungry, so I was ready to stop for a lunch break and a short rest. I had the BRILLIANT idea of packing a hammock, and honestly I don’t think I’ll ever day hike without it again!
Right after my lunch break, I finally reached mile marker 217, my turnaround point. Yahoo!
The journey back was a lot warmer, and a lot of the ice had melted… which meant the streams were a little bigger! Everything was wet and brown, but I kept an eye out for anything that could make for colorful or interesting nature pictures.
I emerged from the woods after about six hours, hungry, dirty, and a little sore. But I was content. Long hikes in the wilderness are an immersive and restorative way to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and take a break from the demands of daily life. I highly recommend it.