FKT: John Hardin - Ozark Highlands Trail (AR) - 2019-12-08

Route variation
"Old" Route (165 miles)
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
2d 9h 17m 0s
GPS track(s)

I started on 12/6 at 8:27am.  I arrived at Woolum on 12/8 at 5:43pm.  When I got to the river (end of the trail), I noticed it was unpassable to the parking lot where our car was. I had to stay in the area for a few hours for rescue as we could not cross the river to the parking lot which was just 50 yards away.

I completed the Ozark Highland Trail (164ish miles) at a new record time of 57 hours and 17mins. In short, the first 24 hours was great; the next day was excellent as well, but on the second night, I hit Hurricane Creek, and things changed. The trail became extreme, and getting a clip of speed was blocked by excessive rocks and vertical climbs. The key was to keep moving. I kept creature comforts to a minimal. "John, do you want to sit, change socks, change shirts, relax for a second?" I did but didn't. I slept a total of 25-30 mins, and I feel guilty about doing that, but without this rest, I felt, my performance would have dropped. The hallucinations were constant and in everything I looked at. To be honest, I loved and embraced it. I wish I would have them always as I did on the trail. I saw the world in beautiful patterns that, in our natural state, are filtered out. I was still very logical; I just had no filter over the patterns, images, and scenes that are always in front of us. At one point during the run with Jeff, it did become too much, and everything I saw was moving. This was dangerous as I had to concentrate on the rocks and cliffs. It lasted about an hour and never came back. After a hard night, the next morning came, and I did several rocky sections with Mike Lord. They were fine, but my body was in pain. Somewhere in there, I injured the tendons in my front right foot, which did not help with speed. The last section was 13 miles, all downhill with Becca Jones. I knew she was going to bang a drum and get after me. I was expecting this and gave her my all. We kept an overall pace of 17:54 on the downhill. I know that does not sound like a lot, but given the terrain and the condition of the runner, I felt it was a solid performance. The last 4 miles were country roads. Becca and I used time patterns to keep running. We began first by points of start and stop we could see ahead. Then it moved to time, and then it moved to me saying start and stop. This lasted for about three and a half miles until I could no longer function. I was losing control of my body, and Becca had to redirect me a few times from falling into the ditches beside us. After a short walk, we arrived at the Buffalo River. Instantly we realized that we could not pass. Our next thought was we must have missed one of the turns to the water crossing. In a panic, we backtracked to a few off turns. None of them offered any better options. The crew across the river was yelling with Becca and felt I was on the outside, observing them trying to figure it out. I came up with a plan in my head and got up to start steering the ship. "Becca, you have to leave me." She responded, "I'm not leaving you." I explained that I was not feeling well, in bad shape, and needed shelter soon. That there was nothing productive, she could do with just standing beside me. "Go run back down that country road and find a farmhouse. Tell them our situation and have them come pick me up. It's going to get cold, and I cannot produce enough heat. I will keep walking towards you to shorten the distance and keep my temp up. I have an emergency satellite beacon I can initiate if I need to." I then asked her to get the emergency blanket out of my pack. Unfortunately, the zipper it was in must have been opened at some point and fell out. Becca, knowing how tired I was made me promise not to go to sleep. I promised her I would keep walking but that I needed her to go. Jeff and Mike were asked to drive back and somehow find the road we were on. I estimated that it would take around 2-3 hours. With that, we had a plan, and off everyone went.
I was alone in the dark, having heart palpitations from the caffeine and lack of rest. Beyond that, I was in a panic of just collapsing from exhaustion. If I went down, things would go south quickly. I had to concentrate on keeping from falling into the ditches beside me as I walked. For about 45mins I was in a horrible spot, and in a sizeable yelling match with myself about pushing the SOS button. I thought about my kid and wife a lot. I thought about my happiest moments with them. I then told myself you should say those things out loud so you can hear them. And so I created a game of happy moments and things I loved and said them out loud, and with each one spoken into the darkness, I felt better for a time. I then stopped and rearranged my gear. I had to change out my shell to the top and wanted to put the beacon in my hand. With that, I remembered that I could easily text Jeff Howell and Mike Lord with the Bluetooth feature of the satellite and iPhone. I asked Howell for an update on how long till he got to me, and then came the bad news. He was told that there was no way to get to me by car from the rangers, which made no sense as I saw two deer hunters and their trucks on the way out to Woolum. He explained that he was working on it and getting back to me. I informed him of my condition and told him that I needed help soon. Then I gave myself 30mins before I would initiate the SOS. With a plan in place, I felt better and was hoping to see Becca soon. It was not long before I saw a light coming over the hill, but they were from a headlamp, not a car. We embraced each other, and I instantly felt remarkably better. "We can't get through that way. There is another river crossing at the end. I can't tell how deep it is. We could possibly pass it, but then we would be wet, and I don't know how far a house is from there." Just then, we got a text from Jeff telling us to hike back out. I told him there was no way I could do that. We were out of water and food, and a hike up that terrain could create a worse situation. He then asked us to come back to Woolum as the Rangers were getting a boat. I could not and still, don't understand why a truck like that deer hunters just used could not come across the crossing to get us. I assumed the Rangers knew best and went with their plan. We started walking back. Becca and I agreed to build shelter and stuff ourselves with grass for insulation. This whole time I was thinking about myself, but now I had Becca to worry about, which made me feel better. After a two-mile hike back, we stuffed our jackets with grass. It felt damn good to have all that insulation. We then made a decent bed on the side of a ditch that blocked us from the wind above. I held Becca and fell asleep. I don't know how much time passed, but I woke to being helped up by a ranger. He could tell I was not in the best shape. I was shaking badly, but I was communicating well. They dropped us off, and I thanked them. Becca and I went into the van and got into our sleeping bags immediately. God that felt so good. In the back of the van, we all sat there overcome by it all. We talked and laughed about the experience. I kept nodding off and felt sick from the self-inflicted abuse we went through. I gave a brief appreciation of them all, and to the screams of coyotes, we drove home.
With that said, I would like to give my thanks out loud right now.
To Mike Lord - I'm always amazed at your kindness and thoughtfulness. Your little gifts mean the world to me. I see how you are with your kids, and I become inspired to become a better dad myself. During the run, you listened to my preferences and did whatever it took to make my experience more manageable. I loved our first run up that steep hill in the darkness. You made that night easy. After everything we all went through, you stood up and drove us home. That is how awesome you are. You cast a tall shadow, sir.
To Jeff Howell - I will never forget the night section we went through. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I could not have accomplished it without you. You were a beast out there, and when things went south, you took the reigns and handled the rescue. I know that was stressful, but you navigated it well, sir. I always love our time together. Our jokes and conversations about life are some of my favorite moments. Thank you for coming out and being there for me.
To Becca Jones - I knew you were just what I needed for this trip. You had ever meal prepped and ready for me as I came in. You knew your way around the map and did an excellent job at navigating. With a stick in hand, you lead the charge downhill, and I followed to your drum. You're a no-excuses kind of girl, and that is just what I needed. I think this is the reason you have dominatrix clothing in your closet. I don't think we will forget out a little ending anytime soon. In a grass-filled ditch among the howling elk, you kept me alive. It amazes me how much better I felt with you beside me. Thank you for that.
To Steph - Thank you for your patience and understanding for me to follow this passion. I know it is overwhelming at times, especially since this is something that that is not one of your desires. You put that all aside and support me. This speaks volumes. I love you
In the end, I was proud of my performance. I stayed on it and never let up. You can ask the crew if I ever wasn't moving well. We gave it all we had, and with all that thrown at it, we barely made the FKT. That's how hard it was to overcome Ashley's awesome effort.
If you have any questions about my training or gear, I would be happy to answer them. Just put them in the comments below.

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