Early Saturday afternoon we pulled into Mark Twain National forest. This area is over 2,200 square miles of rugged wilderness. Suddenly, all the planning and preparing felt real. I was finally here. The excitement was palpable in the air and I found it necessary to take a moment to breath and assess what needed to go onto the bikes. On my bike I’d be carrying everything I needed for a week in the Ozark. As it turns out, this made the bike extremely heavy and hard to pilot over our chosen terrain. The Ozark’s are not actually a mountain range but a massive eroded plateau. We would come to find that everything was rock either on top of the soil or directly underneath. It has made this region extremely desolate.
With bikes fully packed up, we ventured out to the trail. Handling, we quickly discovered, had become a touch impaired with heavy loads on the front and rear ends. Not even a half-mile in we came to our first creek crossing. I had originally planned on wearing my cycling shoes and thanked myself immediately for thinking better of it. Luckily the weather in the region had been nice for the past month and none of our crossings were more than ankle deep for the most part. The water was pristine and instilled the utmost confidence in our filtration system.
Down in the valley the peaks were visible all around us. Deep into autumn now, most of the trees were sparse with foliage and the trails were saturated with a deep coating of leaves. I loved the crunch of them beneath my tires but the labored breathing made it hard to hear. As the first day was coming to a close we spotted our home for the night and got to work filtering water and setting up camp.
The sun slipped behind the trees and sent a chill through the air. Within an hour the temperature had already dropped to 35 degrees and upon nightfall the low hit 25. Our meals for this trip were all “boil in bag” so we would not have to worry about clean up. All the meals worked out quite nicely and tasted great…although, just about anything tastes like the best meal you’ve ever had after a hard day’s work. With a slit in the bottom of my bag I slurped in the delicious cheesy potato and protein mixture and felt it warm my core. The fire was fed and stories exchanged of our labors during the afternoon. Nestling into my sleeping bag I heard the babbles of the creek nearby and the howls of coyotes on the move.
The morning sun woke me fairly early, as it would the entirety of the trip. I knew that it has been bitter cold the night before as I grasped for the zipper on my rain fly and felt ice. To my surprise nearly all of our water had turned into a hard slush. The sky looked threatening with rain so we hustled to get some oatmeal into our tired bodies and then packed and loaded our home onto the bikes. As soon as the last buckle to my dry bag had been clipped the sleet started to come down. Andrew and I exchanged a look that we both knew meant ‘Let’s get going.’ There was another creek that needed crossing so we motored our way to it and crossed, laughing off the sleet. Of course after that it started to come down harder and we decided to hunker down and wait it out. We played cards for about thirty minutes until the coast was clear and repacked the tarp up and headed back out.
We spent the majority of the rest of the day climbing the mountains in beautiful sunny weather. The final hill for the day had been crested and scanning our surroundings it was decided that we would stay at the top that night. The view was beautiful but the dense forest blocked much of its majesty.
This was the night that it dawned on me why the Ozark region is the way it is. When digging out a fire pit my knife struck nearly solid rock within half an inch. Driving through Missouri I had initially been surprised to see nothing but livestock farming. I had been wondering why this was the case but it became apparent that nothing can grow in this area. The soil is practically cement and we had a difficult time staking in. I took a moment to think about it and then moved on to the task at hand. The fire we had this night combined with the huge bright moon put quite the smile on my face. We were really out there now.
The following two days were spent in one spot where we had really dug in for a storm. It rained a total of sixteen hours from Monday well into Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning we woke to soaking wet tents and a chilled morning air. It was decided that the best thing to do before packing up and heading for home was to shred some more singletrack. There is nothing like a slog up a 20% grade hill to get your engine kickstarted. We got back to camp sweating bullets and decided it was time to pack up and retreat to more familiar pastures.
This journey ended with smiles from ear to ear and a lust for more.
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER: JONATHAN ROSENBERG
I grew up in Westchester county New York in a lush wilderness that happened to be thirty miles from New York City. While I loved Manhattan, I loved playing in the dirt much more. I learned to love being outside from a young age and that passion has consistently grown and transformed to this day. The woods have always felt like home to me and I think the bike is the perfect vehicle to explore the vast expanses of our land. Whether it be on foot or on bike, I just want to be out with the trees. I'm most comfortable with a knife in one hand and flint and steel in the other. Exploring the world around us really is the best way to explore yourself.
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