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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Wanderlust and Arkansas Dust

Photo courtesy of Lacey Yoakem

Columnist Lacey Yoakem and her children on Fern Trail eight years ago.


Lessons in finishing the hike

By Lacey Yoakem

The very first memory I have of a “hard” hike was with my aunt Vicki Hughes. She is THE wilderness woman in my opinion. All I could remember about that trail while growing up was how much my brother and I complained with every step we took, or didn’t want to take rather… and that constant uphill climb. Have no mercy, take no prisoners type of climb. Or so it seemed to an 8 year-old me.

The most vivid memory of that trail was the last rock we sat on to take a break. The rock was elongated with this neat little sitting indention where a moment was just meant to be taken. A breath meant to be caught.

It was seemingly shaped specifically for a tired tuccus. Pioneers had certainly taken a break on this rock. I laid my whole mashed potato down on its cold surface and regretted my life choices. The choice I made to hike with THE wilderness woman. At that rock was when my Aunt accepted that we were not happy hikers, it was time to admit defeat. It was time to head back to the vehicle.

My brother and I were so relieved.

Throughout the years I never forgot about that rock. It was etched into my memory as a saving grace and also a symbol of defeat.

What trail were we even on?

When I became a mom, my kids and I would walk the trails at the information center on Rich Mountain regularly. The Natural State has limitless, inexpensive, family friendly outdoor activities and being a single parent, inexpensive was my love language…. with the bonus of effortless nap time afterwards.

When my kids were barely able to walk, we’d wander the .5 mile, paved self-guided Orchard Trail. This trail has an old pioneer cellar, and 2 separate wells. If you look beyond the paved trail, you can faintly see where fruit trees were once planted. There are also information posts about the vegetation and the terrain surrounding the trail.

As my kids got older and more independent, we moved onto a less accommodating .6 mile trail, Fern Loop. Fern Loop has a natural spring that flows along the length of the trail, the trail that’s plentiful with various kinds of moss and ferns. It also has some immediate switchbacks and ventures you down then you wind back up the hillside.   

The spring, however, is not always flowing during the summer months so do NOT rely on it to cool you off as my son and I discovered one hot, humid, awful, sweltering jungle type of day.

Fern Loop also intersects with other trails, plus an old logging road. Make sure you do your research. As many times as I’ve been on these trails, I have most my sense of direction more than once. And. Let. Me. Tell. You. There is a special sense of urgency when the sun starts to disappear over the horizon, and the owls start whooty whooting. Then there was this one time at dusk when I carelessly meant to take a step over a broken limb and that limb was actually a copperhead.

You live. You learn.

Hike smarter, not harder.

Eventually we moved on to more challenging trails such as Southern Loop and Settlers Trail. Both these trails intersect with Fern Loop and both my kids didn’t care much for these trails, but this momma loves em.

Southern Loop is my favorite.

Southern Loop has a man-made watering hole that flows directly out of the mountain side. As you saunter further down the trail, this is when you should embrace the wanderlust. Allow yourself to wonder, to wander; what was, what is, what could be. If you search hard enough you may stumble upon a weathered hole in the ground with an underground spring. That, in my past experience, flows all year round despite weather conditions. And that is why it’s my favorite trail.

I’m a simple hiker.

At the information center they provide pamphlets that map out most of the trails on Rich Mountain. The hardest to the easiest. The longest trail to the shortest. At 2.3 miles, Earthquake Ridge was amongst the more challenging trails simply because over a mile of the trail is an immediate incline that eventually leads you up and over highway 88 to the other side of the road where you finally start to descend down the mountain.

My friend and I knew Earthquake Ridge was a more strenuous trail but a new trail nonetheless. So we did what any responsible adults would do, and we brought five preteens to hike it with us. Another example of those good choices I regret making.

But to my surprise, all five kids had a real Can Do Attitude. They all took off ahead of us, being jolly and carefree, really connecting with nature… Then we watched them get slower, and slower… and slower. By this time we were maybe a quarter of a mile in when we ALL started to complain.

No one brought enough water, everyone’s thighs were chafing, one kid blew out a flip flop. Abort mission. So we propelled ourselves back down the mountain to the car where we gave thanks to the good Lord for air conditioning and a water fountain.

When we came down off the mountain that day, I reminisced back to when my aunt tried to hike that uphill climb with me and my brother. I thought about how disheartening all our complaints must have been for my aunt. The feeling of frustration  and defeat with the five preteens lingered with me for days. I was not gonna allow another unfinished, “hard” trail to settle into my memory again.

A few days later, with better preparation and yoga pants, my friend and I made a second attempt to hike Earthquake Ridge. We had our hiking sticks, hydration packs, Merrell footwear, and a Can Do Attitude!!!

After about our 18th break to catch our breath, I wanted to quit but I knew we were almost to the highway crossing due to close noise of passing vehicles. Fueled by the anticipation of the downhill relief that was soon approaching… Until I saw it… The very rock that’d been etched into my memory 25 years prior. The symbol I carried around as a reminder of defeat and the very principle behind why I made the second attempt to finish this trail, not knowing it was THAT trail.

I. Was. Thrilled. That excitement trumped any exhaustion I’d felt. I was ready to run the trail. I was ready to swing from the branches like the primal wilderness woman I became that day. Twenty five years later, I finally finished the one trail that I could never shake off my mind.

Since the day I finished Earthquake Ridge, I’ve made it a goal to finish any adventure I start. Whether its finding a landmark, finding a waterfall, making it to the summit, whatever goal I set for whatever trail I hike, I make sure to accomplish that goal. If I don’t reach my goal the first time, guarantee there will be a second time.

My name is Lacey Yoakem, and I’m a determined tree hugger with many more adventures to be had. For more photos, stories, information and trails follow me on Facebook or Instagram at “Wanderlust and Arkansas Dust.” Happy Hiking!

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