December 18, 2012

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Hiking the Ozark Trail

On our third day of hiking the Ozark Trail, we trudged along a rocky ridge on the side of a hill.  The four of us marched in a single file line which was all the space the trail allowed. I could only focus on Dave's feet plodding along in front of me. That was until he turned abruptly shouting, "SNAKE! SNAKE! THERE'S A SNAKE!"

My fear of snakes is so severe that I have issues watching them on television. If they show up in a commercial, I casually leave the room and occupy myself until it goes away. This rattlesnake completely freaked me out, but it was like a train wreck. No matter how much anxiety I knew the snake would give me, I had to see it.

Knee-high grasses lined the sandy, rocky path. I peered over a small hump in the trail and saw the creepy black and gold rattlesnake coiled in the middle of the path just four feet in front of me. I darted back to safety as the dreaded rattling began.

Throughout the past three days, I had slept on rocky ground. I ate only freeze-dried food or oatmeal. I had massive blisters on the backs of my heels that rubbed against my boots for every single one of the 25 miles we had hiked so far. The rattlesnake brought me to the brink of a panic attack. The only thought in my mind was: Why did I decide to do this?

My three friends, Dave, Jim, and Matt, go on a long hiking trip every summer. They come back with hilarious stories and amazing pictures. I knew that I wanted to go with them; they just had to decide if a girl was tough enough to do it. They finally conceded because of my persistence, and we planned to hike the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail.

Long hikes aren’t about being comfortable. In fact, it was probably one of the most uncomfortable experiences I have ever had, and the infamous rattlesnake day was the worst. Yet, I would never trade those days spent hiking through the Ozarks with my friends for anything.

Our trip started in Black at the Bell Mountain Wilderness Ozark Trail trailhead. We planned to hike through to Taum Sauk Mountain, where we had left my car. Once we parked the second car, it was time to gear up. My beloved fl ip fl ops were traded in for wool socks, sock liners, and an old pair of hiking boots. To don my 30-pound backpack, I held a shoulder strap with one hand and swung the pack around to my back by holding the handle at the top.

Hiking packs have a belt strap that anchors all of the weight on your hips as opposed to across your shoulders, which makes it easier to carry. Naturally, I buckled my belt and chest straps immediately to keep from falling backward.

“No belt strap for me,” Jim joked.

“First one to use their belt strap is a loser,” Matt replied, as Dave ran around the empty parking lot in his  brand-new synthetic hiking underwear, “Just to test it out,” he said. It was clear to me that I would be the wuss in this group of “manly” hiking men.

The Taum Sauk section began with a crawl up a mountain. The Ozark Trail pulled out the big guns against us right away. We hiked upward on switchbacks for at least a half hour. This was my fi rst what-am-I-doing moment—my legs began aching, but I kept going. Only one of my two water bottles remained when we made it to the top of the first mountain.

December 18, 2012


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