Marble Creek trip
It was the Wednesday before 4th of July weekend when a coworker asked how I planned to spend the “3 day weekend”. Until that moment, I had no idea we were gonna be closed. Even better, I already had Thursday afternoon off. This was a golden opportunity to strike out into the unknown.
I’ve always wanted to bikepack Marble Creek, and now I had the opportunity. The ozarktrail.com website lists Marble Creek trail as “lightly used”… so hopefully I’d find some solitude. I loaded my gear, pointed the truck South and started ticking through the mental list of things I may have forgotten.
Printed maps and Compass: Wow, I can’t believe I forgot those….but I’m not turning around for that shit.
2-3 hours later, when I drove across the Marble Creek bridge entering the campground, I knew this was gonna be a good time.
The Ozark Trail (OT) Trailhead is across the street from the campground, so that gave me a relatively safe place to stash my truck. Normally I try to stealth-stash or hide my beautiful 2006 Chevy Colorado, but on this day I stayed legal…paid my money and left the truck. If the moss growing on the collection area was any indication, I didnt need to worry about a ton of people peeking in the windows. There was a warning posted about bears being in the area. Guess I better take the pepper spray..
Thanks to some bikehacks I learned on pedalingnowhere.com, my bike was loaded out with 90% of the weight spread across the handlebars and a rear seatbag. I had a few things in a backpack, but I was really only taking it along as a security blanket, “just in case.” I’ll go into my bike setup in a future post when I’ve got it completely ironed out, but for now let’s just say I’ve ‘almost’ got it figured out.
The trailhead was easy to find, and a hiker was coming out of the trail just as I was going in. Hopefully that meant there wouldn’t be any spiderwebs for a few miles. Awesome.
The planned route can be seen at this link and below. Basically, I was gonna ride about 9-10 miles to a glade overlooking Crane Lake. Once there, I’d set up camp and watch the sunset with my good friend Jim Beam. It seemed like a pretty straight-forward plan at the time.
Entering the trailhead, it was obvious that basically noone uses this trail. It definitely had a “Cedar Creek” feel to it, if you know what I mean.
About 30 feet into the trail, I began a long hike-a-bike which was an absolute beast. I thought it would never end, and pushing that heavy-ass bikpeacking rig was no picnic. There was a lot of loose rock and downed trees, but I was hopeful the conditions would improve as I got further into the ride.
It didnt take long to figure out this was going to be a hard-earned ride to see the sunset. I was never on the bike for more than a minute or 2 before I’d be lugging it over another woodpile or downed tree or some kind of bullshit. It was exhausting. The layout of the trail looked like it would be a blast to ride if it werent for all the litter.
But even with all the extra work, there’s something I love about being on a neglected trail. The thought that maybe noone else has been there for months or years, and it could be just as long before anyone is there again. After all, who would actually want to ride through this shit?
Eventually I got to a gravel crossing with enough cell signal to check the map on my phone. Signal was shitty so I took some screenshots and went on my way. The trail just never got better, and it was really kicking my ass. For such a short ride, this was one for the ages.
Finally, FINALLY, I came to the next road crossing. By the map, I was only about 3 miles from the glade. I was definitely going to miss sunset, but whatever. The “trail” became a fire road and suddenly I could ride. A short climb lead to a long, magical downhill and I was loving it. It felt good to finally be covering some ground. I began to notice the absence of OT trail markers, but like a fool I rode on. The fire road turned into a chunky, rutted-out shitbag of an atv trail. By now I was fairly certain I’d gone the wrong way, but just kept riding anyway, somehow convincing myself that the trail I was on would intersect the OT. So stupid.
At the very bottom, I popped out onto a nicely groomed gravel road. Crane Lake was to the West, so I turned right. By now it was completely dark, and I was almost out of reasons to give a single shit about seeing Crane Lake. A little while down the road, I ran into a MASSIVE pile of trees and brush covering the road, making it impassable.
I shoved my way through the treeline next to the road, (which sucked) and went around it. Coming out of the other side, I looked up and saw this:
Well shit…what now? The road turned past the gate and looked to be going North. I rolled the dice and followed it. Surely there was a trail crossing somewhere, right?
The road dropped down into what seemed like a flood zone of some kind. It dawned on me this was probably the overflow stream for Crane Lake. Everywhere I rode, there was between 3-6 inces of water over the road. Luckily it was solid underneath. The realization that I was lost and “deep in the shit” began to take hold. Then the road started climbing. And climbing and f*cking climbing, until I saw this:
**BTW, that’s a photo of a gate when it’s barely illuminated by a dying headlamp**
There comes a time when a man has to admit he’s failed. I mulled over my options and decided to go back to the first gate. The road had seemed flat there, and it was dry…which was the opposite of what I had to ride through *again* to get there.
I may have felt a little bit defeated, but that quickly faded as I set up camp. The beauty of bikepacking is the absence of urgency. Everything you need is strapped to your bike, so you can eat or sleep anytime you want. It was July and I’m obese, so I’d sweated through every piece of clothing on my body. It wasn’t hard to rig up a clothesline and hang my stuff., and I figured it didnt really matter if I was sitting around naked while cooking dinner…given the fact that I was completely lost in the middle of nowhere.
After the food was gone, I noticed a small amount of hot water left in the stove. Realizing I’d be a fool to waste it, I put it in a cup, dumped a Gu pack in there and topped it off with some Jim Beam. I’m not gonna say it was delicious, but it wasnt terrible either.
Then I crawled in the tent and spent the rest of the night trying to sleep.. with a knife in one hand and pepper spray in the other…suddenly convinced that every sound I heard was an approaching bear.
I made a point of waking up early since there was no telling how far off-course I’d gotten. The morning was vibrant and I felt pretty good. Standing bare-assed looking at my laundry line, I noticed something peculiar in the tree above.
Somewhere in southern missouri, there’s a guy with a game-camera on a remote gravel road. And now he’s got pictures of my fat naked ass setting up a tent and eating rehydrated sweet & sour pork. All I can say is I’m sorry and I didn’t know.
Heading out, I pushed back up the steep atv trail I’d descended the night before. It was a real bitch to be honest, and I’d become disenchanted with the shitty trails of Marble Creek. One highlight was arriving at the spot where I’d made my massive navigational blunder the night before:
But now I was on a hilltop and Google was with me once again. Google maps showed a *road* going North that wasn’t too far away. I went for it…and rode past it up a giant hill. Doubling back, I found the “road” which was clearly not a road, but a thorn infested corridor of pain through the weeds.
The alleged road was super sketchy and paved with grass and fallen rees. Google maps was clearly wrong. One might say that Google was really starting to piss me off with all its broken promises. I followed along, trying to follow the most northward path along the non-existent road.
This part was particularly challenging, but I was grateful it was mostly down hill:
Eventually I came to creek crossing.
Directly behind the creek was a mud bluff and a tall barb-wire fence. By then, I was moderate-to-severely pissed off. Looking back now, it was a really epic trip. But in that moment, I was just really annoyed with Google and their shitty “road” maps.
Eventually I decided that bushwacking boldly was my only option. Fences were jumped, and I may have trespassed a bit but I can’t be sure. After all, according to Google I was on the road.
When I finally made it back to the road, a bald eagle flew right over the road ahead of me. Totally badass.
Making my way into the campground, I had to stop for a “holy shit I made it” photo:
Back at the campground, it was time for my victory celebration. I found a nice spot along the creek and slid right into the water. After all the struggle from the “trails” and “roads,” the cold spring water felt amazing.
I’ll admit that during this ride, there was a significant amount of time that I just wasn’t enjoying myself. But now that I look back on all of it, (and all the shit I’m leaving out of this post), I realize this was a true adventure. I’ll definitely do this trip again. I hope to see that sunset, but I don’t know if it’ll match the joy I felt sitting in that cold water after such a hard overnighter.
Oh, and fuck you Google maps.