Looking Back on 2019

The past two years have definitely been the most adventurous years of my life. I’ve been so many places and seen so many amazing things. I’ve met the greatest friends I could ask for and spent a lot of quality time with family on vacation. Specifically in 2019, I have spent more time outdoors than the past several years combined. My love for exploring has grown and the search for myself has just begun. I believe each trip changes you, even in some small way. You learn something, you forget something, or you figure out something you’ve known but couldn’t grasp. Nature has a way of setting our mind straight.

So let’s take a trip down memory lane and talk about all of the overland trips I have taken in 2019.

To start the year off on the right foot, the second weekend of the year was the first of many overland trips in 2019. After trying to rally a team for a trip, no one could make it, so I had set my sights on having my first solo expedition through the Ozarks. At the last minute, my good buddy Cody decided he could make it but would be rolling in late Friday night. I took the day off work on Friday and headed west from my home in Northeast Arkansas towards the southeast section of the Ozarks. I had several trails I wanted to explore and I was anxious to get the truck muddy.

I started off near Hector, AR and explored several trails east of the small town including Blue Hole Road and East Fork Illinois Bayou. After a quick trail side lunch of hot dogs in my brand new cast iron skillet ,which of course, I would soon after learn to love, I set my sights further west towards Byrd’s Adventure Center and the surrounding area to secure a great campsite that Matt and I had found several weeks before in the fall. It was right along the Mulberry River and had plenty of space for Cody and I. I setup the tent, awning, and started a fire. Cody rolled in around 9 PM, and we both crawled into our RTTs and awoke the next morning to a slight mist which quickly turned into a steady rain. Our plan was to explore one trail I had done before and then take a longer trail over the mountain that would dump us out right by Oark Cafe to have lunch before making the trek to Spainhour Falls, which neither of us had been to before. We were in for a terrible surprise, but that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say that I now have a huge dent in my bed side and a great respect for winches, which neither of us had. Here’s a few snapshots of that trip.

Next up in February, I traveled over to the Ouachita National Forest for an all day expedition across the mountains with Justin and Chris. This was a much more relaxed drive with the Ouachitas being much less technical, yet with some great views along the way. This was only the second time I cooked chili on the trail, and we enjoyed bowl after bowl at what would turn out to be the most epic campsite in the forest we’ve ever come across. The next day we got unlucky and the trail I decided to take became extremely narrow and made for a terrible exit from the forest, with only one small break of the pine tree car wash with a stretch of power line. Although the second day wasn’t all that enjoyable, this was another trip I’ll never forget. Check out these pictures:

A month later, it was back to Spainhour Falls on a Sunday afternoon to camp one night with Matt and his two daughters. Cara brought her Jeep along but headed back home before dark. Spainhour is hard to beat for a campsite beside a waterfall. It might just be the coolest waterfall in the Ozarks because of its stair step rocky face and large pool at the bottom. After settling into my tent, we got a startle that led to yet another nice surprise at this waterfall. A group of older Subarus bounced their way through our camp, and after hearing car doors open, Matt and I quickly hopped outside to see what was going on. They were nice enough but it was still an unwelcome surprise after dark in the middle of nowhere. This marked night #4 in the tent for the year. The next day I set out to explore some new areas and and enjoy the great weather.

In April The Crew set off on our first true overland expedition together. Our goal was to start at Hector and make our way across the forest to Byrd’s Adventure Center taking only dirt roads and trails. Ben and I set out one night early to do some exploration after dark before finding a campsite. Little did we know, we’d take some epic trails with deep ravines to flex through and more water crossings than planned for. We ended up turning around at the Illinois Bayou crossing, and making our way around to the Bayou Bluff Rec Area for the night, which actually turned out quite nice. The next morning we met up with the rest of The Crew in Hector to stock food and gas before the caravan took off. Winding our way up Mill Creek, we hit some of the deepest water most of us had been through. Springtime in the Ozarks is no joke. Surprisingly, we never had to turn around. Heading over to Indian Creek, we ventured north towards Car Wash Falls where we would make camp for the night just before crossing Hurricane Creek. This was truly an epic spot to camp. Early Saturday we packed up and continued to explore west towards Haw Creek. Unfortunately, one of our rigs had a brake malfunction and had to be left there to await a tow truck, but we all hammered on towards Byrd’s. Once we arrived there, we said our hellos at the bonfire and quickly said goodbyes as we had planned to camp down near our favorite waterfall. Driving through creeks and rocky slopes after dark is extremely exhilarating, and one of the most fun nights of driving I’ve ever had. Leaving on Sunday capped off the perfect weekend to what was more or less the first full on overland trip I’ve ever taken. 3 nights, 4 days, camping somewhere different each night, with scenery on both sides of the trail the whole way to our final destination. You simply can’t beat it. A few more pics this time, for the longer weekend.

A month later, I met up with Brandon, his wife Haven, and their buddy for a couple nights of relaxed camping at Byrd’s Adventure Center. It’s a good thing the camping was relaxed, because on Saturday I got the scare of my life. While driving down to Spainhour Falls to meetup with Nathan Aycock and his friend, the bank along the creek gave way and my passenger front tire was completely off the ground hanging over the water. Luckily, with a couple of tow straps and a hi-lift jack, we were able to secure my truck to a tree to prevent it from tipping over, and using the front and rear lockers, I was able to climb in reverse fully back up onto the bank. Needless to say I turned around and headed out. We got back to base camp a little earlier than normal and enjoyed a warm evening by the Mullbery River. A day I won’t soon forget, that’s for sure. The next day I decided to set off solo to visit White Rock Mountain before heading home.

A few weeks later, I returned to the same campsite for a solo one night stay to explore some places, take some pics with a nice camera I borrowed, and relax. It was a busy weekend at Byrd’s, but it didn’t phase me too much. Although the goal was to have an adventurous weekend alone to clear my thoughts, it was nice to people watch for a night and drive to the beat of my own drum with no plans in mind. Every once in a while it’s good for us to get out alone in nature and just look around at what there is to offer in the forest. You get to notice everything in front of you as you go as well as anything you pass. You get to stop whenever you want, and there’s no agenda to follow. Although I do love exploring with The Crew, I’ll always take a chance once a year to be alone in the woods.

In August, the heat started to really set in. It never cooled off at night and stayed 90+ during the day. Camping kinda sucked, but we went out anyway. It was a great chance for me to make some new lifelong friends. I met Ryan on this trip as well as his buddy Nick. Justin and I met up the night before, and I can’t remember when we rolled into camp, but we enjoyed the campfire and sounds of the river rushing by until after 1 am. Bright and early we had breakfast and Ryan and Nick rolled in soon after, as we headed down towards the falls to let Ryan and Nick truly test their rigs. As mother nature would have it, we enjoyed lunch while standing under the hatches of Ryan’s and Justin’s 4Runners in the pouring down rain. It had not rained all morning, and shortly after it stopped again. The rain made things pretty slippery, but all in all everyone had a great time.

I thought the time would never come, but finally my wife gave in and let me take my son Kellin on his first ever camping trip. It was still hot in mid September, and the mosquitoes didn’t cooperate. It wasn’t the best of times, but we got to be outside for a night and that’s what matters. Coincidentally, this was shortly after we brought home our adventure pup, Shadow, who went with us too. The next morning, Kel got his first camp award from me as he helped make bacon and eggs. It was a success, and I look forward to more adventures as he grows up.

Three trips in September? Yep. At the end of the month, Shadow and I sat out on our first overnight adventure in the Ozarks. At this time he was only 3 months old, but I really wanted him to get accustomed to adventuring with me. I plan to take him everywhere, and hopefully Kel too if he wants to. On this trip I had two goals. I wanted to accurately map out 3 of my favorite trails with way points, pictures, and video, as well as make sure Shadow wasn’t going to hate overlanding. Both goals were met. Hundreds of pictures, a couple hours of video, and one tired dog later, we camped at Byrd’s and enjoyed the evening with steak and kibble.

The 2019 Rendezvous in the Ozarks presented by Natural State Overland was one for the books. Much larger crowd and way more vendors and rigs. These were also the most consecutive nights I spent sleeping in my tent so far. I arrived solo on Wednesday night after dark and quickly popped the tent open and crashed. Thursday morning there were very few rigs there, and it looked like a normal weekend. Matt rolled in first with his Jeep and trailer then Justin and Chris setup camp shortly after in their 4Runners. Later that afternoon the campground starting filling up to capacity, and soon the camping area and the vendor area were both full and booming with activity. Friday was more of the same with trail rides in the morning and vendors and classes in the afternoon. I finally put the tent away for a night ride down to the falls as is Rendezvous tradition. With the full group finally arriving on Saturday, we had a nice big ring around the fire filled with laughter and good times. You just can’t beat it. Seriously, there are few things better in this world than sitting around a campfire with your best friends.

The Crew’s annual birthday bash ended the 2019 overland season for me on a high note. We explored the area north of Hector again but traveled down some trails we’d never done before with some epic water crossings. We found a few campsites along the way. You can read more about this trip in detail here: https://ozarkoverlandadventures.com/2019/11/27/the-crew-goes-overlanding/

I’ll never forget the memories I’ve shared with the friends I’ve made. I’ve explored so much of this state that I would never have been able to do before I purchased my truck. I’ve learned how to be self-reliant, yet also learned how to work as a team to accomplish a goal. Camping is slightly new to me so I am still gaining the knowledge required to make it easier and more efficient. Learning how to drive off road was something I have always wanted to do since I was a kid, and when I’m out there, it feels like the pinnacle of success being able to conquer the unknown.

I’m looking forward to 2020 and the adventures that await!

-Nathan

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