Our aim today was to find a suitable camping spot around mile marker 17. After checking the trail guide and finding that there were no more water sources until after White Rock Mountain, we filled up our water bladders in anticipation of a dry camp, adding what seemed like another ton of weight to my already overloaded pack. My knee was not happy with all this extra weight, and it protested every step of the way as I struggled to attain any rhythm whatsoever.
The weather was co-operating again as it had all week, and although I was looking forward to getting home to rest my weary body, another part of me wanted to continue on the trail. I spent the majority of the walking lost in my own space, cursing myself for carrying so much weight and making a mental checklist of all the items I was going to replace before I came back here again next year. I considered several different ways that I could attain better physical fitness within the confines of my obvious restrictions, and by the time we reached mile marker 17 I had a pretty good plan in mind for both my goals. As it worked out, I would be able to upgrade my gear without much problem over the course of several months, but in my quest for better physical fitness, disaster and major injury would strike me down yet again. However, this is another story for another day.
We started looking for a suitable camping spot after we crossed mile marker 17. As the guide book had stated, there were no water sources available, so we had done the right thing bringing it with us. Camping spots in this area are at a premium, and we could not find a suitable flat spot big enough for three tents. We still hadn’t found anywhere when we saw the sign for White Rock Mountain, so we discussed our options while we took a short break.
We decided to ditch the excess water and continue on to White Rock Mountain. From there we hoped to get a shuttle back to our vehicles and back to civilization. At worst we could use the campground that night and get a shuttle out the next day.
So we took the forest road up towards White Rock Mountain. A sign post said it was 1 mile ahead. So we climbed, and about an hour later we were still climbing when we reached a fork in the road. White Rock Mountain was signposted to the right, up the hill, 1 mile ahead!! About 6 miles later we finally walked into the White Rock Mountain Campground/Resort.
There is a beautiful little cottage at the entrance to the campground, and the host, Paula White, resides there. Fortunately for us she was home, and she agreed to shuttle us back to one of our vehicles. While she was finishing up some work, we wandered around the campground and looked at the views from atop White Rock Mountain.
It is said that these are some of the best views of the Ozark Mountains, and I found no reason to disagree with those sentiments. The views were simply breathtaking. Miles and miles of amazing scenery from all sides were visible, and if this didn’t make you want to come back again nothing would.
Paula told us she was ready, so we piled into her truck and headed off back to Lake Fort Smith where my car was parked. We learned a lot about the trail from Paula during our ride back to the start, and it was over before we knew it. We thanked Paula profusely for changing her schedule to accommodate us, and set about the task of retrieving Cesar’s truck and going into Fort Smith for a shower, bed, and food.
The next morning we set off on the long journey back to Texas. By this time my knee was double its normal size and I was limping quite heavily on it, so I was glad to be sitting down and resting it. The long drive home gave me ample time to digest the events of this trip, and I used my dictation device to record my thoughts. My gear would be unrecognizably different for the next trip, and many pounds lighter. I would be in much better physical condition to be able to walk further and easier without injury.
But most of all, my mind was filled with all the amazing experiences I had encountered the past few days. Once again I had been humbled by the sheer beauty of Mother Nature. The smells of the forest filled my senses one more time as I drove down the interstate, and I longed to be back there again. The company I had been blessed with was an experience I would hold dear to my heart for the remainder of my life. Cesar is a lifelong friend and hiking partner, and Jeremy had now joined that club. For what it’s worth, I would hike anywhere in the world with these guys, at any time. They are the best friends anyone could ever wish to have, and I felt humbled again as I drove behind them on the way home.
The Ozark Highlands Trail had beaten me into a pulp on this trip, and I had learned a lot from it. I couldn’t wait for the next time, when I would be much better prepared and equipped. Another adventure awaited and I couldn’t wait to get back out there again. Next time, I mused, I would fly over the trails in triumph and victory over my own limitations, knowing that I had learned some very harsh lessons and came back stronger, wiser, and better prepared. I couldn’t wait.