That rain delay the other morning sure was a blessing. Because we only reached Ozark that evening, it left us with two gloriously sunny days in which to cycle through the Ozark National Forest. The timing couldn't have been better.
We followed scenic highway 23 north, and the portion through the forest is known as The Pig Trail. The name's origins are uncertain, but a leading hypothesis is because the route resembles a wild pig's curly tail. Another harks back to Razorback fans who used the route as a shortcut to get to University of Arkansas games. Regardless, it is a twisty, twirly, steep and winding road through the forested Ozark Mountains.
Although we could have crossed the forest in a day, I hated the thought of rushing through this area. After all, it was one of our major sights for the trip, emblazoned on our jerseys. So we decided to camp in the middle and take time to enjoy our surroundings. The result was that wonderful feeling of having all the time in the world to enjoy a beautiful bike ride on two perfect days.
We knew this was our stretch to go up and over the main portion of the mountains. So we were prepared for some steep climbs. Just how difficult it would really be was in fact not really clear to us. Each mile was an adventure, wondering just what the trail would bring. Fortunately, the road was very good, although the shoulder narrowed into non-existence on the most windy bits. We counted ourselves very lucky to be cycling in the middle of the week in the off-season when traffic was light. Admittedly, we shared the road with a few logging trucks and semis but we could easily hear their noisy approach and hasten out of their way.
One of the main stopping points on the trail is Turner Bend. An old shop that has been there for ages serves kayakers, rafters and campers as well as every other traveler who feels compelled to stop by for a spell. It was easy to linger and swap stories with others as we sat under the shady front porch and enjoyed a break. Their fresh deli sandwiches were also an essential element, being the only option for dinner that night. We loaded up on those, took in the nearby waterfall and checked out the Mulberry River.
At that point we were quite pleased with our progress. We'd navigated the hills without much trouble, enjoyed cycling under the archway of leaves overhead and made good time. We were well into the mountains and had only five miles remaining to reach our campground.
The kicker was that we'd reached the final approach to the pinnacle of the road. Suddenly those switchbacks that we could see on the map became reality, and we faced our steepest challenges of the trip. That section was riddled with hairpin curves, continuous banked turns and amazing inclines. It was also beautiful. Even under the strain, I could appreciate the sun streaming through the trees and deep blue sky beyond. I didn't, however, glance through the trees to any vista beyond. I was too intent on staying on the road. It was a huge triumph to ultimately reach the top, and I prided myself in being able to cycle the whole way! Although in all honesty, I have to say that the Ozarks pale in comparison to the climbs we did in Gaspé. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing.
We camped at Mulberry Mountain, where they hold a huge music festival each June. We happened to meet the director of the festival who explained that the large grassy area filled with “30,000 hippies” for the annual affair. For us, the open space provided panoramic views of the mountains surrounding us. Making use of our extra time in the afternoon, we took a hiking trail down to a creek. And finally we took in the sunset over the mountains.
It didn't take long this morning to complete the Pig Trail. After a bit more climbing, it was mostly downhill. Soon we were shooting out the other side of the forest. While some hills still awaited us, we knew the highest ridges were behind us. We'd conquered the Ozarks.