As our departure date of March 2nd 2013 approached it was time to prepare my gear and assess my fitness levels to see where I was in comparison to last year’s trip.
I had been training as hard as I could with the Kettlebells and I went on three practice hikes – one overnight trip to Guadalupe Peak (the highest point in Texas at 8,751ft), and two 8 mile day hikes in Caprock Canyons State Park. I was in far better shape than last year, and I was confident that I would be able to achieve our stated goal this year of hiking the 38.2 miles of sections 2 and 3 of the Ozark Highlands Trail.
My backpack had weighed over 50lbs last year and I was determined not to make that mistake ever again. I spent a lot of time and money upgrading my gear for this (and future) trips, replacing a lot of my gear with newer, lighter, and more packable items that would go a long way towards making this trip a lot more enjoyable and successful than the last one.
For example, I replaced my older Hilleberg Akto tent with a much lighter Tarptent Notch, and I purchased the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir X-Therm sleeping pad to sleep on. My wife bought me a Sawyer Squeeze water filter for Christmas, and I added an Evernew bladder to go with it. My ridiculously large and heavy Osprey Aether 70 backpack was replaced with a much lighter and smaller ULA Circuit, and I replaced several items of warm clothing that I had taken “just in case” last year and never used with an uber-warm Montbell Alpine Light down jacket that kept me toasty warm in camp. The only thing I added was an Exped air pillow as I was worried about my neck after the spinal surgery. As it turned out, this was one of my favorite pieces of gear and I will never go on another outdoor adventure again without it.
The net result was that my base weight had come down to 17.4lbs, and my total starting weight with 5 days of food and 32ozs of water was less than 30lbs. For a cold weather trip I was happy with this base weight although I hope to lower it further in the future.
I will now turn my attention to lowering my warmer weather gear and hopefully lower my base weight to around 11lbs for 2013. I know that for some this will still be heavy and too much, and for others it will be a good target to aim at. I am going to keep chipping away at my gear, but always keeping the goal of safety and a degree (for me) of comfort as my main aim. I learned a lot last year and paid a heavy physical price for carrying such a large, heavy pack, and I feel like I am liberated this year with my new jet black ULA Circuit on my back.
Jeremy was unable to make the trip this year as he and his wife were the proud new parents of a very handsome baby boy, so it was going to be just Cesar and me this time. We arranged a shuttle from the Lick Branch trail head to White Rock Mountain (our starting point this year and ending point last year) with Paula White, the caretaker of the White Rock Mountain Resort. We got to know Paula last year and she is a lovely lady who is very helpful and full of knowledge about the Ozark area.
With everything arranged, Cesar came into Lubbock on Friday, March 1st 2013, and the next morning we set off together on the 550 mile trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas. We made the uneventful trip in about 9 hours, and stayed at the Motel 6 in Fort Smith. After a good dinner and an early night, we were ready and eager to get on the trail when our alarm went off at 5.45am on Sunday, March 3rd, 2013. Our adventures were about to be resumed.