OKAY, Y'ALL. IT'S OZARK DAY.
So, we've been hearing scare stories about the Ozarks for a while. "Killer hills! Hardest part of the whole trail!" — and so on. After we'd gotten through the first chunk of our Day 34 ride, a crinkly old-timer in a pick-up at a gas station even pulled up to congratulate us: "You just did the worst part of the whole thing — there's nothing harder west of here!"
That was fun to hear, but here's the full truth: After Appalachia (and after looking at the upcoming elevation maps), we were skeptical about the Ozarks' reputation. And after riding them, we can say for sure — Appalachia is harder, y'all. It's longer, it's higher, it's switchback-ier, it's just harder. We started thinking of the Ozarks, both in difficulty and in personality, as Appalachia Minor.
Not that the 'Zarks aren't tough. They're a rollercoaster for sure. Not as prolonged and winding and full of cutting back-and-forth up mountains as Appalachia, but just up-and-down-and-up-and-down these short, very steep hills one after another. In fact, they do have the honor of contributing a late breaking new edition to Sara's Glossary of Hills. May we present... The Bacon Strip!
Miles and miles of the Ozarks just ripple out in front of you like, well, like bacon. Sometimes you're struggling up a crazy grade at 3.5 mph, and then zooming down the other side at 40 mph. Good Bacon yields some Friendly Johnnies. Bad Bacon is a special form of Vampire — the dreaded momentum sucker.
But let's go back to the beginning. We got up before the sun and were on the road by 6:30. We wanted to tackle the supposedly hardest stretch of the Ozarks, the 27 miles from Ellington to Eminence, as early in the day as possible. Still cool, less traffic, morning energy. (That energy slightly dampened by a rough night of sleep on our hostel cots — Beau is officially too tall for a standard cot.) The official Ozarks National Park sign, when we finally reached it, welcomed us to the region's "Scenic Riverways," and it wasn't lying. Part of what accounts for the hills is that you're always rolling down to a river and then shooting right back up again. We paused for some obligatory bike-porn shots and then kept climbing...
We thought we might be in Eminence for lunch, but we arrived early enough for a late breakfast. (In fact, we had the whole "hardest stretch" done by 9:30am. 3 hours, with breaks and photoshoots.) We rewarded ourselves for conquering the Ellington-to-Eminence ride with all-of-the-breakfast-foods.
Then we rolled on towards Houston, MO (rather hilariously located in Texas County), where we had plans to camp out in a city park — and also to receive our first trail package of the trip! (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) The Eminence-to-Houston segment actually felt a little harder to us than Ellington-to-Eminence... or maybe comparably hard. But what we're reaffirming daily out here is that "hard" is always situational. Some people have their roughest days in the Ozarks; some have them in the Appalachians. Some have them in Kansas where it's not the hills but the headwinds that get you. And sometimes tough days aren't a matter of terrain at all — they're purely emotional/mental/spiritual. So, fellow riders out there, if you can help it, don't stress too much over whatever someone else tells you is the hardest. Just be kind to yourself and keep pedaling. Also, always keep a look out for dinosaurs. They're out there.
We got into Houston and treated ourselves to some chips and salsa and beers. (There are two non-McDonalds food choices out here: pizza and Mexican. And not that I don't have ample room in my heart for both, but I would do terrible things to eat something green and raw right now.) And we picked up our package which, along with some warm clothes for the change of season, contained our absentee ballots. YES. VOTE, FRIENDS! And thank you to the city of Charlottesville for making voting by mail so doable.
We have to wait till tomorrow to send the ballots back, so we stowed them and headed over to the park, where we pitched our tent near one of several tempting but of course unusable pools we've encountered in our travels. This one was the most David Hockney-ish at sunset...
With electric sockets in the pavilion and one of those big porta-potty trailers nearby, we were practically in a hotel. So, soon after the sun went down, our Ozarks Odyssey came to a fairly peaceful close. Well, there are always more hills tomorrow, but you get the picture...
Day 34: Ellington to Houston, MO, 70.1 miles, 5150 feet of climbing, some very scenic riverways, some friendly dinos.