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Ouachita Trail Day 4 – Walmart

We woke up in the shelter and peered out the opening to see a fog-filled landscape. Clouds surrounded our three-sided shack. The only way to summon enough motivation to walk out into the spooky landscape was to make coffee and eat granola… so we did. With caffeine coursing through our veins, we packed up and hiked out into the fog. It looked worse than it proved to be. Compact, we leaves covered the trail but also provided a tempur pedic like feel to every step. The rocks were slick but the hiking was comfortable. Three miles in the ambiance was completed: as the fog cling to our ridgeline we passed an old pioneer cemetery. The only thing missing was a black cat. The goal for the day was sneaking in a trip to the Walmart in Mena. Maggie needed a sleeping pad and a new headlamp and we just knew an Arkansas Walmart (home state of Walmart) was the place to get it. Trudging through the misty air we got to test our rain gear without the presence of rain. By the time we got to Queen Wilhelmina we were ready for a hot cup of coffee. Expecting the prices to be high, we walked in the gorgeous lodge, plugged in our electronics, used the restroom, and finally entered the dining room. All the breakfast foods were very reasonably priced and our plans quickly changed. Maggie has a full breakfast with orange juice and pancakes and I had an Omlett. The food was great and a welcome break from the dreary fog. After an hour of fine dining and stinking up the place we made our exit. The weather was still soggy but we still wanted to cover some miles before making the short side trip to town. We crossed Highway 88 and slipped and slid our way across moss covered rocks. No falls were had but the close calls were a plenty. FINALLY, we descended towards Highway 59 and Maggie exclaimed, “It’s like we are in a new world!” It’s true, the colors were more vibrant and we were below the clouds. The walk to the Highway was perfect and full of color for even my color blind eyes. It was finally our time to hitch to Walmart. Traffic was light but Maggie was as my secret weapon. A woman clothed in all blue with her rain jacket cinched down to her eyelids. Hopefully her smile would convince a truck to pull over. It took a while but we finally got a ride. He took us to Acorn. Yes, Acorn is a real town in Arkansas. There is a muffler repair shop that may or may not still be in business and a highway intersection, nothing else. We hopped out, received a short speech on Jesus being our lord and savior, and stuck out our thumbs again. A small black SUV drove by us, but then they turned around and came back for us. We hopped in to meet a woman and her father. Maggie made small talk by telling them about our hike, but they didn’t care. While fishing for common ground, the father was frantically scrolling through his phone, not saying a word. Then he turned around, showing us a photo of an MRI that in which there was a circle of dense matter and then a black spot that covered nearly half the photo. “This is my brain,” he told us. Our mouths dropped and he continued to tell us he had a brain tumor, defied any prognosis that was given to him and survived a massive brain surgery. If anything he was understating the story. If you had seen that MRI of his brain you wouldn’t have believed he could walk or talk, but here he was telling us about the impossible. The father and daughter were getting gas and then heading to Walmart themselves, so we waited while they refilled the car and then ride the two blocks to Walmart. Right before we went in they offered a ride back to where they picked us up. We gladly accepted and then scurried in to get the bare necessities. The bare necessities included tuna, goldfish, tortillas, and cheese for me. The bare necessities for Maggie were a massive Walmart sleeping pad (to replace her $200 one she had stabbed with tweezers), a new headlamp (to replace the one she had with 1 hour of battery life), and a pound of donuts. We make a great team! We hustled back out to the car and jumped in with our hosts to hear the rest of the father’s story. On the way back to Acorn he told us he literally broke a study that 100 physicians had been working on that theorized brain function by the size and location of tumors. Multiple doctors had cried when telling him about the malignant tumor in his skull only to cry with happiness when he walked in their offices fully able to speak months later. He was quite a walking miracle. They dropped us off with a “We will pray for you,” and then we had one last hitch to get back to the trail. Before the hitch we needed to repackage all of our purchases, so we sat on the side of the highway and Maggie gave a quick “Walmart Sleeping Pad Review” (coming soon to YouTube). When everything was finally packed we stuck up our thumb and within minutes an older truck pulled up. The conversation went like this: Maggie: “It’s ok, I can hold the welders mask on my lap.” Driver: “No I will put it in the back.” He slams on the breaks while pulling over to the shoulder with his knee. Then he hops out and stashes the mask in the back. Maggie: “So are you a welder? Do you have lots of work around here?” Driver: “Yes I’m a welder, but it’s hard to find work as a convict. I spent nine years in prison and missed both my kids childhood” So our ride went this direction. We spent 15 minutes talking about prison and how his 12 year old son was very lazy, and weighed 240 pounds. Maggie and I sat speechless, just hoping to get to the trailhead safely. I wanted so badly to ask what he did to land in prison, but with Maggie the driver and I all sitting on the front bench seat, I didn’t want to cause any frustration. He took us right back to the trail, was cordial but possibly over shared both his life story and the second hand smoke. We got out and started hiking. Maggie took the lead and I spent the remaining daylight staring at the Walmart sleeping bad rolled up and strapped to the top of her pack, obscuring any possible view of her head. The new piece of gear is at least a foot in diameter and about as large as the rest of her pack. She needed a sleeping pad, we went to Walmart, and this is what she got. Darkness crept in and we ended the day on a long climb. Creating 2,000 feet in elevation the clouds of the morning reappeared. They were thick and visibility shrank to 10 feet. We trudged up to where our camp spot was supposed to be, but couldn’t find it. The fog was too thick to see anything. Trudging around for ten minutes I finally stumbled over a fire pit. We had made it! We cooked dinner, Maggie made me her famous cream cheese and bacon bits wrap and I made us a small fire to enjoy in the damp weather. The jam packed day came to a close!

The trickling streams on the Ouachita Trail Thru hike

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