"What?" I look over at Harold, our camp ground host. He's been talking to me for over 30 minutes. My girlfriend and I are in Talimena State Park, 3 days into our New Year's road trip.
"Yes sir. There are signs of his existence everywhere."
"Well, maybe I'll be the one to finally catch him."
"You might just be." Harold says in a very serious tone.
Alrighty....I had choosen the Winding Stair Mountain and Ouachita Mountain recreation areas that sit between Talahina, OK and Mena, AR as the destination for our annual road trip. There were many reasons for my choice. Here are 3.
1) I grew up in Moore, OK just 4 hours down the road and had never explored this particular area of the state.
2) I have this unexplicable desire to see parts of the Ouachita Trail, a trail extending over 200 miles from Oklahoma to Arkansas that begins in this region.
3) There is a very difficult Fat Ass-style trail marathon in Mena, AR the first weekend of January called the Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon.
We started off our trip with a quick detour to the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve. I had read that there are 40-ish miles of backcountry prairie trails on the preserve. Luckily for us, the day we got there it was 18 degrees with violent gusts of 25 mph wind. Lyssa and I started our run wearing two pieces of head gear and four shirts.
"See! This isn't that bad. This is what I grew up running in everyday!" I yelled as a gust knocked the wind out of me. After splitting up, I realized the map I had tucked into my waistbelt had blown out and I ended up getting lost in a sea of prairie field sameness for an extra 30 minutes. Lyssa and I both agreed that was one of the most surreal terrains we'd ever run through.
After talking with Harold, I stepped onto mile 1 of the Ouachita Trail and did a quick 6 miles on the first bit of the trail. It was highly technical, hilly and very secluded. I didn't end up doing the race for numerous reasons, but I was still looking for some satisfaction. Something I hadn't had with my running since my 100 mile attempt. On the last day of our trip, as I ran back to the car off the top of Winding Stair Mountain, I felt a sense of play I hadn't felt in awhile. As we drove away I knew I would be back here again someday. There was a lot more playing to be had in this area...and I still hadn't seen Big Foot.
-Mena, AR is in a dry county! We didn't know this and had a snarky checkout lady at a grocery store brag to us that there were no liquor stores in the area. "You gots to go 2 hours in any direction if you want alcohol". Luckily, someone was watching over us and the box of wine in the backseat of our car still had some gifts.
a trailhead marker along the Tall Grass Prairie trails
the high point of the Prairie Fire Loop
Potato Hill vista 2.5 miles into the Ouachita Trail
the god of boxed wine saves us on New Year's Eve in dry county, AR
a white blaze marking the route along the Horsethief Spring Trail
running up toward Snake Mountain
Atop Snake Mountain on the Horsethief Spring Trail
Traversing from Winding Stair Mountain to Rough Mountain
climbing back up Winding Stair Mountain
Rough Mountain to the left