Rik's complete report is below. A note about his crossing of Courtois Creek near the end of the run. The creek was flooding when Rik arrived alone, and he was unable to cross. He said, "I waded halfway into the middle of the creek during flash-flood stage. Without seeing crew on the other bank I was concerned with becoming hypothermic/swept away. I turned around and hiked back 2.5 miles to a trailhead to meet my crew. We then went by truck to the other side of the creek at Lil St Louis. With my crew spotting me, I again waded halfway back to where I was in the creek before and then turned around and began to finally make my way along the last 5 miles to the finish."
Tuesday morning, March 26th 2019, at 5:30am CST I began my FKT attempt of the Ozark Trail from the western terminus at FR4155 headed NoBo.
My wife Shelby and father in-law Bob were my full-time crew following throughout the attempt. They were amazing; keeping me going in the worst of conditions, laughing, helping, constant encouragement (and coffee).
The dark early miles ticked off nicely. I had a small part of my brain nursing some minor muscle/tendon issues that I’d invented the couple weeks building to the start, but those thoughts dissolved as the night transitioned to a misty Tuesday morning. It had been cold in the morning with temps having dipped into the 30’s overnight but before long I was shedding layers and began to feel some warmth as I trotted into the first stop near McCormack Lake. Trail conditions were great with only a bit more standing water than what I’d seen in the past and I knew the next day or two were forecasted dry and warm; a great combination with so many stream crossings!
We made a ridiculous amount of food for this trip, vacuum-sealing empanadas, breakfast burritos, crepes and all kinds of sweet and savory foods for the run so i quickly changed into shorts, grabbed a burrito and was off again.
Out of McCormack Lake I came upon a small group rigging up to rappel the bluffs down to the Eleven Points – a really nice group who had seen Shelby and were now offering encouragement for our miles to come. I wished them a safe transit down the bluff and headed out again.
This section along the Eleven Points River is filled with some tough vertical gain and loss as the trail leaves and comes back to the river. Through the rest of this section, I was either going straight up or straight down. This being one of the main reasons I chose to do the trail S-to-N, thinking I’d get the early climbing done with fresh(er) legs.
I kept my pace fairly even through this section. Though I didn’t give myself a true timeline for finishing the FKT, Shelby had a schedule in mind and she let me know I was maintaining about 25 minutes ahead. For me, I had “under 4 days” in mind and whatever it takes to get that done…but my main thoughts and what I said repeatedly was that, “I’m going to let the trail tell me how fast/slow I would go.” It took quite a lot of stress off and allowed me to focus on the ‘here and now’ as it were.
My soft goal for day 1 was to simply get through some crux areas that I had experienced in my attempt the year before…namely a couple of logging sections and a stream crossing that caused me to lose a ton of time. This year, instead of hitting those sectors at night, I wanted enough pace to get me there in the daytime to get through clean, then see how much more of the Between the Rivers sections I could finish before dark. By the time I had cruised through the stream at Big Barren Creek, I still had about 2 hrs of daylight to play with…a fantastic feeling for sure.
I finally rolled into the Hwy 60 TH stop a little after dark where I picked up my first pacer, Jason. He had been with me the year before on this section (Current River) so it was great to team up with him again on this roughly 30 mile stint. Again, last year, we had navigation issues at the Pike Creek crossing and then some logging and navigation issues near Hunter’s camp and later inside of Peck Ranch. I had scouted this section a few weeks before so felt comfortable sticking to the trail for the first 8-10 miles.
We came into Peck Ranch with only a small issue of climbing through huge trees that loggers had dropped over the trail. This set us back maybe a total of 15 minutes or so and though we couldn’t see the actual trail, I knew the direction of travel and we eventually crawled out of the downed canopy of a huge oak to find a streambed and an OT blaze. Once into Peck Ranch, we cruised for a mile or so but then had to slow down and pick our way through overgrown trail full of briars…our legs looking like a mini Rat Jaw took after them. Overall though, we did a decent job of navigating through the night, enjoying an awesome encounter with a herd of elk near Stegall Mtn and a couple of times unplugging…turning off our headlamps and just staring into space with the moon climbing overhead. It was dead-calm that night and clear as can be; a wonderous place to be on such a night.
North of Peck Ranch we had a crew stop before Rocky Creek where the plan was to get a 30-minute nap. Jason coined something last year that’s stuck with me…a ‘nappuccino’…basically slamming coffee and going directly to sleep. It takes 25-30 minutes for caffeine to take effect so in that time, we could actually get some shuteye and reset before the go-juice had its chance to rev us up again. As usual, it worked perfectly and though it took every ounce of determination I had…I took off my huge warm coat and headed out into the cold in my running gear. This was one of three times where I’d be shivering uncontrollably and worried about hypothermia. I knew I needed to warm quickly but the terrain was rocky and my legs stiff, so it was tough to get a rhythm and build heat in my system. It was all I could do to hold onto a muffin I was eating because of the shivering…but eventually, just as we got to the Rocky Creek crossing at the mill, I felt some warmth in my core and knew I’d be OK. Water was up a bit from last year so no way to rock hope at all…at least not for me with 60+ miles in the legs…so this was a longer, wet crossing and we still had a few miles until we’d see Shelby and Bob near Owl’s Bend.
The sun came up nicely on the second day. We were coming upon some great opportunities to view the Current River with mist rising from the valley and deer wading in the shallows…cows lowing in the fields. I wasn’t running all that well but as I had said throughout the night…my pace was ‘adequate’ and that’s about all I cared. It was better than just hiking/walking so I took every running step I could. When we came out of the hills next to the river, we again saw another herd of elk playing in the fields, running back and forth from herd to river and shortly after, we rolled up on the truck and found Shelby and Bob with hot coffee and food. Jason was finished with his pacing duties and planned to roll out the sleeping bag near his jeep and sleep. I changed shoes and socks, grabbed food, rolled out my legs and was off again to start the Blair Creek section; having then completed 3/8 sections: the Eleven Points, Between the Rivers and Current River.
The Blair Creek section starts out from the highway near Powder Mill after a short walk on pavement over the Current River bridge and immediately gets quite heavy with hills going along the river bluffs. Spectacular views abound here and on this, a nice day, it was tough to focus on the narrow trail when such sights are present. I really love this section. The trail has quite a bit of climbing early but I knew there were also a few decent chances to get in some running…unfortunately, by the time I got to those sections, I was so sleepy I could hardly muster a shuffle.
There are several crossings of Blair Creek along the trail (4 I believe) and each are wet, coming up to mid shin or just a bit higher. My feet were taking a hit with this long section but as I say, the thing that was wearing on me was the need for some actual sleep. At any six-foot long section of flat ground, I’d fight the urge to take a dirt-nap…I knew that if I could just get to the crew stop, I’d get dry shoes, good food and a solid nap that would be more comfortable than out in the bush, so I kept plodding along. A couple of times, the trail edges right along a decent drop to the creek below and I’d have to focus on each foot step lest I became part of the scenery below.
Somewhere along the Blair Creek, I came upon Josh Letner, midway through his own thru-hike, headed SoBo. We had a short, nice chat though I felt completely detached from reality. I swear I felt as if I was just giggling because of lack of sleep and felt a bit feral as if I wasn’t sure how to speak with another human; I had this numb, floating feeling taking over that I can’t readily explain and can only attribute to sleep-deprivation. We parted ways with good lucks to each and my solitary moving continued.
My toes were really getting to me at this point as well. I couldn’t get an efficient running stride going as I could no longer drive off my big-toes. I’d muster a decent clip now and again, but fatigue and pain slowed me quickly and in the last couple of miles before the stop outside of Midridge, I was reduced to a kind of frustrated zombie walk. Adding to the frustrations, I either misunderstood or misread the map of where the stop would be and had my sights set on a dirt-road crossing a mile before the actual stop. I was so relieved to get to where the stop was, only to find I’d got it wrong and still had to drop down into a steep hollow and climb back out again before I saw my crew…demoralizing and it didn’t help to continue kicking rocks under the deep leaf litter. To my surprise, Shelby decided to walk out from the stop and I saw here coming toward me with about a half mile to go. She was such a great sight and lifted my spirits. I was still a bit disgruntled and exhausted, but we made it back to the stop where a cot was waiting for me.
I pulled off my wet shoes immediately to check the damage and sure enough, my nails were a wreak. My right big toe had so much fluid behind it we had to drain it. After which, I immediately fell asleep. Shelby has a pic of me asleep on this cot and one can see how my leg was draped across the end of the metal frame. Significant because when I finally got up and started going again, the pain I had in my achilles was significant! I hadn’t moved an inch the 30 minutes I was asleep, and I think the constant pressure on that sight maybe bruised the area. For the next short section, it was like a thorn in my leg so once again, I was reduced to a power hike.
My goal for daytime of day two was to just complete the Blair Creek section so that I could enter the Karkaghnee section before night fall. Just like a highway sign, the blazes in the northern sections of the trail have a strip of high-visibility tape on them that shine brightly when light hits them. It makes night-navigation easier by a factor…an absolute blessing when sleep was again going to be an issue and night settling in. I picked up my second pacer, Ryan here and we set off into the second night of the run.
I was still nursing my achilles but moving well. I had been eating and drinking as planned and no issues with my stomach had befallen me. Again though…as the night wore on, sleep became my only thought and after our first stint together, I said that I needed at least another 20-minute nap to recharge. The plan was to get to Sutton Bluff during the night sometime and get in an actual sleep of maybe an hour or two, so with this ‘sleep-carrot’ dangling in front of me, we set off again into the dark. The terrain here really begins to change elevation with long, unforgiving, loose climbs and equally long, off-camber descents. It a tough section and the exact place that brought me down during last years’ attempt. I was cognizant of this during the entire section with this odd feeling in my leg where the pain had been last year…but nothing came of it. This is also, the exact starting point of the OT 100 race that takes place each November. I ran the race in 2017 so knew the trail all the way to the finish. This became a huge confidence boost for the rest of the run.
We came to the Bee Fork stream crossing just as some drizzle started to fall and this deeper crossing was good for waking me up a bit. The climbs dragged on and we had another couple of short-lived showers but finally dragged into Sutton Bluff, cold and tired. The temps had dropped quite a lot in the valley by the river but Bob had the heaters glowing and there was a tent and sleeping bag waiting for me. I ate a bit and quite literally passed out.
Shelby slowly got me out of my coma a couple hours later. I had no idea how long I’d slept but there was just the faintest hint of light, though with cloud cover. The temps were still cold enough where plumes could be seen with each breath. I extricated myself from the bag and tent and slowly got on a fresh pair of socks and shoes, prepped for what sounded like a strong chance of rain throughout the day. I was stiff heading out of camp to begin my third day on trail. The first mile or so is on pavement as I came out of the river valley and so got back onto singletrack feeling a little better; my stride getting less stiff as my muscles warmed. From there, I held a steady pace of power hikes and a couple of trotting sections but as the morning wore on, I began to have twinges of pain in my left quad/IT band. I tried unsuccessfully to ignore the fact that this is generally a death knell for me (and most ultrarunners I’d imagine). I’ve had ITB issues in the past and once they manifest, there’s just nothing I can do to keep any kind of pace, especially on such technical descents and terrain. I kept on after trying to stretch things out a bit but with around 90+ miles to go, as I crossed a dirt road, my leg all but seized to where I literally had to drag it, limping across the road and back to the single track on the other side…there, I sat down on a log and had to figure out what to do.
I had trekking poles with me so used one to systematically go through the muscle groups of my left quad. Dr. Brian Laiderman at OPC has worked on me for a few years now and I adopted his techniques a bit, trying to find any knots or adhesions that could be the culprit. Sure enough, I found a spot just below the IT band and knew that if I could get it to loosen up, I might have a chance. After some excruciating digging around and rolling, plus some more comprehensive stretching, I stood up, took a step or two…and felt an amazing, warm, flushing feeling that actually made me stop in my tracks. I somehow felt taller and extremely fresh. I took another couple of steps…they were absolutely pain free, with a normal stride and not even a twinge. And that was it…I was back in the game. I could actually shuffle along at a normal-if-faster pace but from that moment on, I had to be laser focused on form and alignment with my stride. Laiderman would text me many, many times throughout the rest of the run, giving much needed encouragement but also tidbits and pearls upon which to focus.
For the most part, the rest of the morning went by with little worries. It became warmer and it looked like the rains were going to hold off after all. By the time I got to Gunnis Creek I was feeling a bit more confident that all of this was going to come together (though with a healthy respect for what remained!). I came down the hill into Brushy Creek with a decent pace and had a nice short rest with the obligatory shoe and sock change that was needed nearly every stop. The creeks were definitely a bit higher than I was use to and rock-hopping wasn’t always an option. I knew there were some larger creek crossings still to come but again, the rain was holding off so I just hoped I’d get far enough down trail before any more precipitation fell.
Shelby hiked out of Brushy Creek with me as I ate a burrito and then began climbing into the Middle Fork section, leaving the Kark behind. A few climbs tested me here but generally I just kept everything together as best I could and kept it rolling. I needed to drink a bit more here in the middle of the day and I had to focus on getting as close to the Trace Creek section as I could before night fall. It would turn out that I wouldn’t get very close at all and that the weather that held off previously would turn very ugly indeed.
I met Shelby and Bob again at a nice spot off trail at Barton Fen. Great little meadow with the famed Emerald Dragonflies buzzing about. I had to doctor the toes a bit here (now both right and left big toes!) and once again roll out the legs and stretch a bit. I had a longer stint ahead and knew it would be a little hilly and I’d transition into night before meeting up again down trail and picking up my third pacer, Tim. I tried to push as hard as I could before it turned dark but as the light faded and I finally clicked on my headlamp, I still had a couple of hours before the crew stop and at least another 3.5 miles to the Trace Creek section after that.
This is were things got tense. Again, just as I was clicking on my headlamp, I had to yet again pull out my light rain jacket/windbreaker. I had been playing the jacket game for an hour or so; putting it on after a minute or two of sprinkles only to have it stop and off came the jacket…repeat, repeat, repeat. But as darkness enveloped me, the rain didn’t do its typical fade, steadily increasing instead. After 10+ minutes of ever-increasing rain, I finally had to stop and add a couple of layers and gloves…I could tell this was going to last a while. So, still with a couple of hours to go, I trudged on into the ever increasing rain and dark, slogging through now swollen creeks that only hours before had probably been dry. The temp had begun falling as well and though my clothing was OK for the moment, I knew that eventually I would begin to feel seeps here and there and that if I wasn’t close to crew at that point, I’d risk losing body heat at the relatively slow pace I was going. This was some of the longest miles I encountered before hitting the stop at CR72. Though I really love this section of trail (during a dry day!), these miles seemed to never end, with creek crossing, climb, descent, creek crossing, etc. and all the while rain increasing and temps plummeting.
I finally came to the crew stop in the late evening, completely drenched but still in relatively high spirits. I knew I was just a few miles from the Trace Creek section and from there only 16-17 miles separated me from the final Courtois section. But at that point, with the rain continuing to increase and after Shelby and her friend Katie drove out to a point where they could get cell reception, they saw that the Doppler was showing more and more storms for the foreseeable future.
I was still really cold from the last stint and with storms all around, we decided I’d try to get another extended sleep of a couple of hours. It took a while to get settled but I drifted off and was awakened by Shelby saying that most of the rain had passed and we had a great window to leave. The truck was mired in a huge puddle at this point and everything was wet so I put on rain pants and jacket, and headed out with Tim to tackle the last of the Middle Fork section. We met the crew just an hour or so down the trail at the DD trailhead to basically cut up the next sector, quickly eating a bite but not even taking time to sit. Back on the trail, it was obviously quite wet and again, rock-hopping across the creeks was not always an option. We cruised into the Trace Creek section and tried to keep rolling at an even pace. Admittedly, I was VERY slow along this sector. I was still pretty stiff from the rain and having a longer sleep but my brain was fully motivated.
We came to the next crew stop at HwyDD, still in the dark. There wasn’t really a safe place near where the trail crossed the road so we had to hike the shoulder and road a ways to the truck. Once there I downed my weight in breakfast burritos and coffee and then started out before Tim was ready. I was motivated to finally get finished with the Trace Creek section and get to the Courtois section. I hiked down the road and back onto the trail on the other side of the highway and at that point, started to feel much better. I was still a bit slower but light was again starting to creep through clouds and mist and I knew I was getting things done…getting closer to the goal.
I do really like the Trace Creek section with moderate terrain and areas of beautifully open forest floor in so many places. With the rains, every draw had myriad streams and waterfalls flowing in every direction. It made for wet travel but the sounds and sights were deluxe. This was about a 13 mile section between crew stops so it felt like forever before finally coming out to the lowlands along Hazel Creek. We hiked along trying to gauge the flow of this creek; me knowing it is a little deeper at baseline than other creeks along the route but with all the water we had on the trail, I was (as I always am when crossing creeks in Missouri), conscious of the threat of flooding or worse, flash-flooding.
It turned out that, though the creek was indeed up, we were able to wade without too much difficulty. It gave me (falsely) some confidence that the hopefully Lost and Courtois Creeks further down trail might just be the same despite the rain. The last bit to the stop was uneventful and I decided I really needed another short sleep before moving on. By this point, I still hadn’t accumulated more than 6-7 hrs of sleep in total and I was getting well into the morning of day number four.
Sleep served me very well on this occasion and I awoke feeling energetic and excited to finally be on the last section of trail. Though it’s almost twice the distance of all the others, the Courtois section is trail that I’ve been coming to for decades and know it well. This and the thought of finally breaking into the realm of 200 miles was enough to motivate me to get going. My next stop was going to be just after Lost Creek and just before climbing onto the Berryman, a trail that I’ve run/raced/paced more times than I can begin to count. It’s great trail and within an easy drive of my home so felt as if I was simply getting closer and closer to my own backyard.
I had a pleasant time on this first sector of the Courtois. I had no issues of note and my pace was reasonable. I even let my mind begin to work some cursory numbers on finish times but quickly quashed that for much further down the trail…there was still quite a lot to be done! The run in to Lost Creek is nice, with mild hills and valleys and on this day, it was peaceful and quiet. The sky was overcast and temperature was perfect for being out on the trail. The crossing of Lost Creek wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be…cold and a bit high but easy to cross and in no time I was once again doctoring my toes, drinking coffee and getting dry socks and shoes on. I stayed a bit longer at this stop because I wanted my feet to dry completely. They were starting to feel the effects of nearly 200 miles and I knew I had to push hard these last 35 miles to get any kind of decent time for the FKT. Shelby finally kicked me out and hiked with me just a ways and up to where the climb begins. The plan was to meet a couple of times within Berryman at trail crossings; short 5-6 mile stints with quick stops and then off again.
I got to the trail signs for Berryman CG and it was here that something unexpected happened. I was just crossing or had already crossed the 200 mile mark (for me, a full 60 miles longer than I’d ever gone) and I thought to myself, “I kinda feel like…running?!?!!” …and just like that, I took off down the trail at a run (albeit slow). But it was absolutely bizarre. I felt great! And as I told Shelby and Bob, I got my “37th wind!” As fun as it was to actually move down the trail at a running pace, I did have to reign myself in a bit because it was going to get dark soon and there were still 30 miles remaining with lots of climbs to come. Still, between the running and fast power-hiking, I arrived to Shelby and Bob a full hour sooner than expected. I literally cut minutes/mile off and felt like I was on top of the world. It was an amazing feeling, coupled with my knowledge of the trail to come, I downed a small cup of coffee and literally ran off into the night.
And then it began.
I heard a rumble well off in the distance but no flash at all and no rain as yet but just a few minutes later, I get a few drops on my face and knew it had all been too good to be true. I put on my jacket and just tried to keep the strong pace I had rolling. It didn’t matter what kind of weather was there, I had to finish. The intensity of the storm became much worse though and before I could reach the crew again, the wind was howling, lightning was beginning to drop ever closer and the rain was definitely coming down hard, later turning into little pieces of hail when I was holed up in the truck. Shelby had long said that if I was at a crew stop and the weather was dangerous (i.e. lightning/tornado, etc.) she had the call on if I was heading back out.
So, agonizingly close, I took another sleep until the worst of the storm passed. In hindsight it was probably a very good thing that I got rest for the next section. This final 20 miles would be so incredibly difficult mentally and physically, I had no idea how important sleep would be.
I left the rest stop with Bob hoping I still had my “happy feet” as he was calling it when I had finally found some pace in them again. I said to him that I figured the reason I could run again after so long was that I in fact, hadn’t run! in over two days and that those muscle groups were just finally recovered enough to get back at it! Either way, I needed to get down the trail to our next stop at Henpeck Hollow. Again, a quick stop with shoes and socks changed and a little bit of coffee. I had the infamous three sisters waiting for me…three legitimate climbs in rapid succession that stood between me and an easy mile road walk to the final 12-13 miles of trail.
After the first climb, I began to get sleepy and lethargic so kind of just trudged my way over the second. By the final climb, I was just simply putting one foot in front of the other, knowing what needed to be done to make it to the finish. I came down the climb and out into the campground at Bass’ River Resort just as daylight came. Clouds were ominous and yet there were hundreds and hundreds of people in the campgrounds with ATV’s of all kinds getting ready for an event. I trudged to the bridge over the Courtois Creek where we planned to meet and didn’t see the truck. What I saw was a HUGE Courtois Creek…flowing nearly 16 inches above the low-water bridge!!! It looked angry and fast and I couldn’t believe that people were driving across that bridge…then it dawned on me…I had to not only wade across that bridge but this is the same creek, I need to cross just 8 miles by trail and only a mile or two downstream!! I sent a gps message to Shelby to let her know where I was and waited a bit but was getting cold and rain began to fall a bit. After a minute or two, I figured I’d just begin the road hike toward the lodge and they’d pass me at some point before the trail went into singletrack again.
I stepped onto the bridge and again couldn’t believe how big and nasty it was. Even with only 16” of flow over the top, it tugged hard at my heavy feet and I had to stop thinking about what would happen if I lost footing and got swept into the log-jams just downstream. I got across and the rains began again in earnest, a sheet sweeping down over the valley. I put on another layer and hiked the road to the lodge, still no word from Shelby. I knew it took a long time for the gps messages to transmit going in both directions so didn’t worry at all. I knew they’d be along directly so I went into the lodge to ask around if anyone knew what the crossing would be like at LilStLouis. They were overwhelmed with the hundreds of people coming in for the ATV event and looked at me like I was crazy. So, with no information upon which to gauge, I headed back out to find Shelby and Bob who were now just pulling up.
We sat for a long time discussing what the plan would be. None of us knew definitively what the crossing would be like though after having just crossed it a mile before, I knew that it would be impassible. That said, to complete the trail, I needed to hike all the way into the river; I had to get this next section done. Worst case was that I’d then need to hike out again and find another crossing somewhere. Maybe it was possible to throw a rope across somewhere, maybe this, maybe that…but what we all knew was that I needed to get out into the driving rain and get to the creek.
On the way, I had the lowest of lows I started out on this 7 mile trudge to the creek with rain absolutely pelting me. The wind continued to howl, and the temperature was steadily falling with each mile. I slowly made my way until I was high on a bluff above the creek where I could see that the valley below was covered with water. The rain slowed to a drizzle but the wind began to pick up and the temp kept falling. When I finally got to the long, steep downhill to the creek, a huge rivulet had formed and inside which I had to hike. I climbed down off the rocky bluff and onto the bank and just stood looking at the flow.
Normally this crossing is shin/knee deep…even passable if it’s waist-high…but on this day, after all the rain it was much higher. The flow rate (normally less than 400gps was found to be more than 1400gps and rising on that day with flash flood warnings!!!) and debris coming down was intense. Nearly 4 days later, as I write this, the water remains nearly the 90th percentile of flow. So, with temps falling into the 30’s and my clothes already damp, 225+ miles on my legs and five miles still left before the finish, no crew around, we knew that attempting to have a go at this stream was crazy. I hiked into the creek so that when I came back to the creek on the other side, I would be starting from the same point on the trail, the creek, and finish the FKT.
I hauled myself out of the water, up the bluff and made the arduous 2.5 mile climb out of the valley to where Shelby and Bob were waiting. I was going in the wrong direction, I was beyond exhausted, it began raining yet again. Totally soaked and trudging with my head down, I missed the markers on the trail and went a half mile in the wrong direction, then had to return and still conquer the worst of the climb out of the valley. When I arrived at the truck, I was a shell of myself, nearly hypothermic, I could wring water out of my clothes and was shivering uncontrollably. I stripped down completely and got in the truck to put on dry clothes. Shelby and Bob had driven to the crossing to see what it was like as well and had asked around if there were any other ways across the stream but we knew there were none, so we drove back to the creek at LilStLouis. I put on all the warmest clothes I had and Shelby and I went back down into the creek. I stepped into the cold water as I’d done before, back to the place I’d left hours before, turned back toward Onondaga climbed out of the creek and finally got into the final stretch of the Ozark Trail.
I was so incredibly stiff at this point. I had a bit of a limp for the next half mile or so but once we climbed out of the valley again and rolled along, the worst behind me and a relatively easy stroll to the trailhead beyond, I felt my legs loosen and my mind more free to chat with Shelby and try to enjoy the last miles together as I’d wanted her to be with me on this stint. With just under a mile to go, the trail crosses a gravel road, a small bridge, then turns sharply onto the last stretch leading to the Northern Terminus at Onondaga. Shortly after this point, I was shooting yet another video (I have over an hour of iPhone video from along the trail!), my son Orion came running down the trail to greet us and hike the last bit. It was fantastic to see him and I knew that my Mom, my youngest son Keller and Bob were going to be there at the finish waiting.
The last few steps were, quite frankly, a bit odd and anticlimactic. I had done it. I’d finished the Ozark Trail at 4:38pm on Saturday, March 30th 2019 -- the first, single push effort ever, the fastest known time of 4 days, 11 hours, 9 minutes. 230.8 miles of intense wilderness in the heart of Missouri and that was it…I was at the end. Just a sign post and a country road. We all hugged and high-fived, took a few pictures, and responded to a couple of messages on the gps then loaded up the truck and headed home.
I can’t say enough about the attention and work that Shelby and Bob invested. They were there for me so many times and in so many ways. They put up with my infinitesimally specific requests (and always something that was buried at the back of the truck), they put up with me falling asleep while talking with them, they drove for hours to wait in the middle of nowhere, dealt with all manner of weather and their own lacks of sleep to see me safely through this journey. I cannot thank either of them enough, I simply owe everything to them. This effort, this FKT, is ours, not mine.
Huge thanks as well go to my pacers Jason, Ryan and Tim who sacrificed a long night each of trudging and bushwacking through the wilds of the Ozarks, keeping me on pace and making sure I wasn’t eaten by wild boar. To my Mom and mother-in-law Deehan for holding down the respective forts while we all played in the woods all week, thank you!!!
And though I mentioned Shelby above, I will single her out to say that she was the reason I was able to do any of this. Her fingers and brain touched every facet of this endeavor…and for the better. She worked tirelessly on logistics, maps, crew stops, food, equipment and so many other tiny details that made this a success. She put up with my training and racing schedule leading to this run and was there for me even though it drove her absolutely mad with anxiety for fear of what might happen to me. No amount of words could ever express my gratitude and love for her.
If you’ve made it to the end of this, thank you for reading! I’m happy to answer any questions that anyone might have about the trail. Just email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ozark Trail is an absolutely amazing resource for Missourians and those from around the world. It is a WORLD-CLASS trail that offers anything an adventure-seeker would desire. The Ozark Trail Association and the countless volunteers that help build and maintain this trail should be commended for what they’ve accomplished!
All the best and see you on the trail.