Big Jim Mac and I seized a weekday opportunity to beat the crowds on the OT Curtois section earlier this week. The impromptu "plan" was to explore south from Berryman base camp down to Hazel Creek camp (if possible) for an out n' back trip of about 26 or 27 miles...
The temps were moderate in the low 80's but the humidity was quite high. "High" as in it-started-raining-by-the-end, which made a not insignificant contribution to the overall epic-ness of the ride.
The section from Berryman down to highway 8 was generally similar to the hillier sections of Berryman proper including some babyheads, roots, pea-sized gravel, pine trees, and cool hillside rock formations. The Lost Creek crossing made for a good foot soaking and the sandy run after really put the grindies to our drivetrains. After that the trail generally climbs and descends some cool Ozark topography with a nice variety of lowland riding in lush valleys, and singletrack laced along the hillsides. There were some trees down here and there that killed the flow a little but we removed as many as possible (we were just going to have to ride over them again on the way back anyhow). Jim also spotted some flagging that looked like a re-route or two were in the works for some short steep and/or eroded sections.
In general, the trail surface itself had more duff and organic material on it than most of the trails that get heavier bike traffic but it was all quite rideable, just a bit slower and softer. Many of the hollows and north-facing slopes had awesome moss-covered rock outcrops and ferns lining the trail.
Progress was pretty slow overall, mostly because I was having persistent front tire trouble. I even violated one of basic mountain biking's more simple tenets: thou shalt always check thine tyre for offending objects before installing a new tube... lest ye pop it straight away. It was looking like it was going to be a pretty long ride either way so we turned around at Snapps Branch, about 2 miles shy of our original destination (not to mention one moderate hill + one huge hill, both to be repeated after reversing at Hazel Creek). It's a neat little stream that trickles over a nearly uniform rock surface.
Horses had been through the few miles leading to and from our turnaround spot and the chewed up trail surface made for some more slow going. It was kind of a bummer that I'd slowed us up so much that we fell short of the campground we were both curious to see, but it does leave me with an additional reason to make the drive to ride the rest of that OT section in the future. And even with a popped air mat, a headlamp that croaked in the night, a rainfly that self destructed into a sticky silicone mess, a dented downtube, multiple flats, grindy drivetrains, leg cramps, falling completely over into some manky sludge puddle, and rain on the ride back... I would definitely head back to get some more OT.