Ouachita Mountains backpacking, or why I will never hike East of the Rockies again, Part II

Photo fail.

We spent a soggy evening coaxing a fire along, if only for something to do. The sun slipped behind the mountains early and left us in a dreary haze for the late afternoon and evening, which made photos crummy, even if there had been something to interest me. I wandered around the camp with my Nikon d7100, looking at bark. Nah. The stream. Nah. Spiders. Ugh. 

Trail Day 2.

Breakfast was delicious, and it is always my favorite meal when camping or backpacking. Mostly because of the coffee. I spent an entire afternoon packing our meals into compact packages, and was so pleased with myself that I gloated about what an awesome, brilliant, efficient backpacker I was. Meals had vitamins, protein, carbs, and fats. I picked up some of the Starbucks VIA's  specifically for the trip, but could only find the strong french roast. I also scored a great find for bacon infused jerky links. This will be important later. 

Camp breakdown was quick, but still soggy. Everything was soaked from the day before with sweat and the periodic rain showers. Nothing had dried overnight and our packs felt extra heavy as we hefted them on and headed back on the trail. There was no warm up, since we had camped beside a stream the next section of trail was straight up another mountain, because that's all this trail did. Straight up. Shitty summit. Straight down. Stream. Repeat.

We quietly marched onward. It was so.... quiet. Weirdly quiet. The birds stopped chirping. There was no wind, making the thick woods feel even more close and suffocating as we sucked in the hot, soupy air. There was a crash of a large branch behind us, followed by this overpowering wafting smell that seemed to roll over the trail- it smelled like a litter box and rotten meat. 

Big kitty cat. 

We never saw the cat, but the smell lingered and small twigs broke behind us for some time. My husband and I eventually came down from "we are being stalked right now" heightened awareness to the mundane plodding along that defined the trip, and summitted  four more peaks along the way. 15 miles in the book for the day and we finished up the horrible north-south trail, and were making good time on the east-west section of the trail that would loop us back to our jeep.

Trail Day 3.

The map was examined. Distances were estimated. Times estimated. Weather and levels of irritation taken into account. We figured we had close to 17 miles back to the jeep, over what looked like pretty easy terrain. A few more pointless river crossings at near flood stage, a gander at an unimpressive waterfall, and a road march on an equestrian trail would get us back to the jeep by dinner. Screw this trip.

We were machines. We ate up the trail. It rained, a lot. The rain gear was pointless, since it was like wearing a steamy wet trashbag. Our new rain pants stayed dry in our packs totally unused. But who cares! We were going home! Nothing could stop us! A coffee break would be great! 

Lunch.

Lunch was a terrific break. The sun was out! Coffee break! I couldn't feel my feet anymore! Whatever! The map was re-examined, and we ate close to a bridge that was an easy landmark on the map. Re-fueled by coffee, jerky, crackers, and dried fruit, we began our road march. Only about 8 miles back to the jeep. We had this in the bag. Arkansas was not going to win; and we decided we were never going to come back. Our Arkansas disdain fueled us with super human hiking speed.

Kill Me Now.

If this were a movie, this is where you as the viewer would go, "well this is going too well. Remember how they focused on those coffee packets earlier? Wasn't that slow motion coffee drinking sequence kind of forced and obvious? Someone is going to get it". And you would be completely right. Unfortunately, I don't tend to watch those kinds of movies and missed all the signs.

A quarter mile down the road, things... were not going well in my stomach. You've had that feeling before. Your gut gurgles painfully and swirls around and you realize that your spouse is going to bear witness to things that they can't un-see or un-know about you. Your stomach contents are coming out one way or another, but your body just hasn't decided on an avenue yet. 

Mine decided on the southerly route. It decided on that route 8 times every quarter mile.  I was  downing the chew-able Imodium from our first aid kit like it was candy, but with no relief. This went on for 6 hours, and our machine road march slowed dramatically. 

On top of my stomach being in a full revolt against what I can only assume was a bad reaction to the strong coffee and fatty jerky, the trail just wasn't right. The road gradually deteriorated into a muddy track. More water crossings. I felt uneasy about the route, but hoped for the best. My poor sick brain could only worry about two things, 1) I hope we packed enough toilet paper to get me through this, and 2) I hope I don't get dehydrated and die in Arkansas. 

Death March.

We hadn't seen a single good trail marker since lunch, and I hadn't been able to keep anything down since then either. Life was not looking good with the 6:00 pm sun slanting through the insufferable trees. 

Eventually we stumbled into the flood plain of the confluence of two streams,  and we found out the horrible truth- we were back on the north-south trail roughly 7 miles north of the jeep. Unknowingly, we had taken one of the logging roads that had taken us gradually north west, instead of south west, because nothing in this damn place was marked. 

This revelation was pretty terrible. We had already done about 18 miles of hiking, and we had 7 more to go. One of the things we had used to keep our spirits up over the course of the day was repeating, "at least we don't have to do the horrible north-south trail again!"  but with more cursing thrown in for emphasis. 

Ha! Joke's on you, dummies!

But we did it. The headlamps were strapped on, and  I ate sugar packets to keep something in my system until my body eventually stopped revolting. We made plans together about what we would do for self rescuing in the event one of us went down and pussied out. We're romantic like that.  

We dragged ourselves to the jeep by 10:15 pm. 25 miles down in one day on our least favorite trail. 

Shittiest hike, ever.