I follow various Facebook pages that support the Ozark Trail. In November last year, as I was scrolling my newsfeed, a status update by Illinois hiker Jed Olsen immediately caught my eye.

Jed, along with two of his friends, completed the Ozark Trail in its entirety by dividing the trail into nine sections, which they hiked over a four-year period. 

What started in 2013, ended in 2017 with a celebratory Facebook status that was shared on multiple Facebook pages and ended up in my newsfeed.

I knew I had to know more about this hiking adventure and that Jed’s story was one I wanted to share with the readers of the River Hills Traveler.

Thankfully, once I contacted Jed, he was more than happy to answer my questions.

 

MT: What possessed you and your friends to tackle the Ozark Trail?  

JO: We completed the River to River trail in Illinois from Grand Tower to Elizabethtown in the spring of 2013 for a total of 160 miles. It is easier to plan trips on established linear routes. You know where you end, making it easy to know where you start.

After completing River to River trail, it was only natural to keep the same program with the Ozark Trail.

Again, it made it simple to plan. We drove two vehicles. We would drop a vehicle at the end of our planned trip, then drive the second vehicle to the beginning of the trailhead.

 

MT: You mentioned on social media that there were a few trips to UrgentCare thanks to chiggers and poison ivy. Even with those setbacks, what kept you going back to complete the trail?  

JO: Setbacks are all part of the experience, adding excitement to the trip and the stories to tell. I’ve not had a bad backpacking trip since I started in 2006.

Each trip has its own challenges and triumphs. Fortunately, there were no broken bones, although there were certainly sore feet, knees, and legs after a handful of the trips.

We were fortunate the only real challenges were weather. The trips consisted of sleet, snow, all-day rains and cold weather, but we managed.

A few times water was scarce, but we planned properly so that the next day water was available.

MT: Which section of the trail sticks out to you as the most memorable?

JO: Each section had its own beauty, in addition to the enjoyment coming from the season. I’m sure that if we were to switch to where we started in the spring instead of the fall, that each trip would be very different, but if I had to choose one section I would choose the Eleven Point with its stunning views.

MT: How did you and your friends celebrate reaching that final step to end your adventure?

JO: It’s not like running a marathon when the winner breaks the tape or running track with a crowd cheering when the race is over, it’s the internal feeling of, “We backpacked 240-plus miles with everything we needed on our backs.”

Tradition, though, is stopping at Waffle House to carb up. I made it special with an extra waffle.

There will be a get-together for the three of us, and our families, at a later date. When finishing the River to River trail, I had a celebration party with food and a slideshow in the background showing pictures from the trip.

We reminisced, although I am not sure the wives enjoyed it as much as we did.

 

MT: Looking back, would you do it again? Why or why not?

JO: I would do it again if it was the only option, but because there are other sections that are not linear on the Ozark Trail, we have another 150-plus miles to complete. 

This is the next goal — complete ALL sections of the Ozark Trail.

 

MT: What tips do you have for anyone who is wishing to tackle the Ozark Trail?

JO: Be prepared! Also, choose good hiking buddies that enjoy it as much as you do. No complainers among my buddies!

Let your family know your starting and end points, along with a time deadline to call for help if they haven’t heard from you. This was not an issue, but friends and family need to know where you are.

When hiking the River to River trail, the city police showed up at my house in Illinois at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning because a Giant City State Park Ranger noticed my truck was parked in a hunting parking lot.

It was opening weekend and my truck hadn’t moved, increasing concern that I was a hunter in trouble and unable to hike.

Fortunately, my wife had my itinerary.

(Michelle Turner lives in Union, Mo.)