OHT Pre-Trail: Leaving Home, The Solar Eclipse, and Caching Our Food

Pre-Trail Day One: Saturday April 6, 2024

I wake up, excited, and ready to go. I take my last shower in a month. We put the last remaining things in our car. It is so full with all the food caches. It is a good thing we are both small people.

Washerrr and our Prius Milie. Just about packed and ready to go!

We finally get on the road at 9:05 AM Eastern Time.

We drive through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and into Mississippi.

On our way through Alabama we see the longest sunset ever. We drive into it for over an hour. I did not know that Alabama has so many mountains. We think the sunset will finally fade into night behind the mountain in front of us, but then we ascend over the hill and then, boom, the sunset still graces us with its light. So beautiful, lush, and soft. Thank you, Alabama.

The never-ending sunset in Alabama. Bless.

When it gets dark, we both promptly get sleepy. We find a travel stop in Mississippi to make home for the night. It’s funny how easy it is to slip back into one outfit for every thing. I was worried about sleeping in my driving clothes, but we were in a public place and I didn’t want to change in the car. None of that matters as my head hits the pillow and I snuggle under my sleeping bag to hide from the fluorescent lights outside. I wake a few times to my feet touching the trunk of the car and the lights shining in my face, but for most of the night I sleep more soundly than a baby. My body remembers this routine and for that I am grateful.

Departed at 9:05 Eastern Time, Florida

Landed 21:35 Central Time, Mississippi

A special shoutout to our 18-going-on-30-year old friend, Buzzkill. Happy Birthday, buddy!

Pre-Trail Day Two: Sunday April 7, 2024

I awake to Washerrr next to me, wide eyed, and already offering to start driving. I am slow to wake up, so I ask what time it is before we get going. He says its just about 6am, so we decide to get up for the day and begin the next leg of our journey.

After a quick teeth-brushing, a stop inside to the facilities, and filling the car up with more gasoline, we find ourselves back on the road. With 4.5 hours left to our first destination, Washerrr asks me kindly if I preferred silence this morning or if he could put on a podcast. I reflect a moment and ask for silence.

My morning wake-up routine at home is simple but more time consuming. I wake up, snuggle whichever cat that is in my bed, then I practice yoga for 10-30 minutes, followed by 5-15 minutes of meditation, depending on how much time I have. After my inner reflection time, I make breakfast and get ready for the day. I don’t know how others spend their early morning hours,but this is the routine I have built which helps me stay grounded and centered for whatever the day has to offer.

So this morning, despite not having time or space to do yoga, I get to sit in silence as we make our way towards Arkansas. I cherish this moment now, as it will be harder to come by this time and space when we begin hiking. The colder weather deters me from staying in one place for too long and that is ok. My meditation on trail begins with my feet anyway.

We are greeted by a gentle sunrise. Mississippi has its own beauty. 

Sunrise in Mississippi. Blessed again.

7:51 CT- We make it to Arkansas, the scenery a luscious green that I was not expecting. There are water ways everywhere. Cypress swamps line the edges of the highways. Absolutely stunning.

We made it to Arkansas!

The sky is turning grey- there are drops of rain starting to fall. We know this may happen, we just hope that it’s not too often.

The rain holds off for the rest of the day. We land at the campground at 11:30 to many waves, smiles, and hugs from our friends. It is a perfect ambient temperature, in which one can relish pure silence. For the first time in weeks there is absolutely nothing to do other than be present right here. I know we are supposed to try and be present in all that we do but dang it, sometimes it’s hard when my mind is going a million miles an hour thinking of all the things left to do for trail. But that was finally behind me as we pull into the camp ground and into a true vacation.

This park is right on Lake Ouchita, tucked away in the mountains. Most of the spots are taken, as folks came here for the eclipse, just like we did. Our friends had been here for a few days already. The previous night they saw a huge bonfire up on the hillside near the camp. We go for a walk up that hill to scope out a spot to watch the eclipse. The leaves are just starting to develop on the trees, and the dogwood trees are already in full bloom. Their white flowers hang like clouds amongst the rest of the naked forest. There is beauty all around us.

Crystal Springs Campground in Royal, AR. The hill on the left side is where we watched the eclipse.

Departed: 6:30 CT, Mississippi

Landed: 11.30 CT, Crystal Springs Campground, Arkansas

Pre-Trail Day Three: Monday April 8, 2024

We awaken to colder temperatures, but nothing so freezing that either of us felt uncomfortable. It was the kind of cold you can get used to with the right layers- and oh yes we brought many, many layers.

Our morning is filled with various walks around the campground, then on less worn trails, and then on manicured trails that lead us up a gentle ridge line. Everything is beautiful when seen for the first time and, dang, Arkansas is beginning to steal my heart. Winter has not departed fully just yet, and the hopeful buds of spring are still small upon the trees. This means that it is easy to see through the forests, just as the sunlight gently filters through the new leaves. An openness that leaves little to the imagination and gives our eyes much to take in. A season not found in Florida and one I have missed very much.

After a few hours of meandering, we pack our lunches, and head to the spot we found to watch the eclipse. The spot is at the top of a hill on a bluff overlooking the lake.  We can see the campground down below, as well as more of the lake from up here. We wait. I set up my phone to take a time-lapse during the totality.

A screenshot from my time lapse of the eclipse. This is roughly 30 minutes before totality.

14:49- The world around us becomes silent as the bright blue sky gives way to dusk. The birds stop chirping, and the wind stops blowing. For 4 minutes and 30 seconds, the world is still. No one speaks. We all stare in awe as we embrace this incredible experience. I feel so blessed to share this with friends. It feels like a good omen at the beginning of our adventure.



A screen-shot from my eclipse time-lapse at the darkest moment. A photo I took of the eclipse through the special glasses- after totality.

17:45- We finish getting our food caches ready. I tape a note to each bucket with our mission statement, and my phone number, just in case. We bought rolls of tape for each cache, so we can tape it up before we leave it again. We do not want to risk animals smelling the food or getting into them while we are on trail. It is time-consuming, but I think it will be worth it.

Washerrr diligently taping our food caches shut. We left tape in each bucket so we could tape them up again later. We’d rather be safe than sorry!

Washerrr proudly standing next to our 7 food caches! The final cache would remain in our car for us to scoop near the end of trail.


Pre-Trail Day Four: Tuesday April 9, 2024

We leave the campsite at 11:00 to arrive at Morgan Fields trailhead at 14:20. This is where we are putting our first food cache. There is poison ivy everywhere, foreshadowing challenges to come. It takes us 40 minutes to figure out where to the bucket. This is our first time caching food, so we spend extra time figuring out the best place- one right off trail, but close enough to the trail head that we could easily pick up the bucket after our hike. We find rocks and sticks and leaves to pile on top of the cache- to keep it hidden from passersby. I take pictures at a distance, pointing with my finger where we put the cache. I also mark a waypoint on FarOut so we can find the exact location again. 

My first strategy to remembering where we put our caches. There is a distinct tree on the left, indicating where we left trail. My finger points to the location in the background where we ended up hiding our cache.

We depart Morgan Fields TH at 15:00, to arrive at the Ozone TH at 15:50.

We spend all afternoon and evening caching our food. It sprinkles on and off, creating a gloomy atmosphere. It does not rain hard enough to feel hindered, but it still cultivates an ominous feeling. The second, third, and fourth caches go smoothly as we get the hang of finding a distinct object to demarcate our departure from trail, and then a downed tree to hide our food behind. Once we find a good spot for the cache, we return to our car with a little more space inside and much more optimism. The drive between caches is on a mixture of paved and gravel roads. I can tell we are in the mountains as the roads worm their way through dense forests and open pastures, any houses around have plenty of space in between. I get dizzy sitting in the passenger seat, so eventually I swap with Washerrr to take over driving.

We drive in and out of towns so small their cemeteries seem to have more people in them. Most of the downtowns we drive through are a block long, containing not much more than a gas station or a church. At one point, we wind our way through Marshall, the largest town we’ve seen for miles. It has several restaurants lining their main thoroughfare. A particularly large building (compared to the others) hails the sign “Los Locos”, a hispanic restaurant in the middle of rural Arkansas. I comment to Washerrr, “OOOO! Look! I’d love to eat there one day!” thinking about all the town food we can eat when we pick up our caches on the other side of this venture. Two minutes later, we are on the other side of town and the clustered buildings give way to rural pastures once again. 

It is about 19:30 when we stash our final cache for the day at Grinder’s Ferry. It works out beautifully as our next step was finding a place to sleep. This trailhead is on the Buffalo River and there is free camping along the gravel bank overlooking the river. It is a gorgeous evening as we sit and eat dinner to the sounds of the rushing water and the sight of the setting sun. A gentle end to a busy day.

Pre-Trail Day Five: Wednesday April 10, 2024

We wake up at 6:30 get on the road at 7:15. It is a grey and misty morning.

Grinder’s Ferry on the Buffalo River in the morning. Misty and stunning.

We finish caching our final two food buckets and then check out Matney Knob. This is the TH where we will leave our car for the duration of the first part of trail. Once we eventually hike back through Matney Knob, we will have more sections that have yet to be connected. We decide to figure that out later. For now, our main objective is to finish the continuous part of trail. We know the next stretch over by the Norfork Dam is reachable by road walk. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association website has a suggested route, though we see on the map that there are two different options. We want to check out both options in the car before we make a decision.

As we traverse our way through both routes, we see that the suggested route is much safer than its alternative. The suggested route takes us on a gravel road along a river for most of the walk. The roads have wide shoulders and plenty of space for walking. The other shorter route goes along county roads which have steeper inclines, sharp curves, and no shoulder to walk comfortably and safely. It feels like it would be dangerous for both thru-hikers and drivers to walk this way to the Norfolk Dam TH. I am glad we are checking this out in advance. There is even a restaurant along the suggested route that we can stop at for a hot meal later. It is 2.5 miles longer, but I find solace knowing we will be safer.

13:00- We arrive in Mountain Home, the closest city to Matney Knob. We find a tex-mex place for lunch and enjoy our last non-trail meal for the foreseeable future.

We are immediately greeted with chips and salsa. A thru-hikers dream come true- snacks before the main event! I am so hungry, I eat half the bowl before we order food.

After lunch, we finish running a few errands in town. We head back to the TH to take a nap in the car. We wake up around 17:30 and decide to have dinner at the Norfork Dam park. It is a beautiful spot overlooking Norfork Lake and the huge dam that creates the lake. There is a pavilion with outlets! So, we charge up our phones and battery packs one last time while we eat one of our famous dehydrated meals of beans, rice, peppers, and tali sauce. It is absolutely delicious, just like every other time we have eaten it. I take some time to sew up the holes in my fanny pack rather than spend money on a new one. 

photo credit: Kenny Samsudean aka Washerrr. used with permission. find more on his IG @washerrrhikes Me and my newly sewn up fanny pack. I am so proud of this one. Simple and effective.



Screenshot of the pavilion at Norfork Dam Park from a video I posted on IG. You can see how big the lake is behind it.



Our last photo together before trail! I have waited so long for this moment.

19:30 We head back to Matney Knob and get ready for bed. Our shuttle driver is supposed to pick us up at 7:00 tomorrow morning. I want to wake up at 5:00 so I have time to pack my pack, make breakfast to go, and to give myself time to soak in the fact that it will be our first day of trail! The rain begins to fall as we brush our teeth. I am grateful to have shelter in the car tonight. I try to go to sleep but the excitement keeps me awake longer than I would like.

After 4 months of planning, dehydrating food, and training, we have finally made it to the starting line. 

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