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Rural Missouri Magazine

Ron & Rosie
On the trail of togetherness

by Jim McCarty
Rosie and Ron Koskovich say they get along better while hiking the Ozark Trail than they do at their home in Springfield. The two recently completed backpacking all of the continuous sections of the trail.

Adversity can test any marriage —or make it stronger. Ron and Rosie Koskovich discovered that fact while hiking the Ozark Trail.

“If you can go backpacking with your spouse for 10 days straight and you come out happy, you’ve got a good marriage,” Ron says.

The Springfield couple says they get along better on the trail than they do at home. And they’ve had ample time to test that theory. Recently, they finished backpacking every completed section of the trail, backpacking more than 250 miles.

The two started backpacking in 1999 with an ambitious hike on the rugged Taum Sauk Trail. Ron had just returned from backpacking in New Mexico with their son’s Boy Scout troop.

“When we got back from New Mexico, she decided she wanted to backpack and I thought, let’s do this Taum Sauk thing,” Ron recalls. “We had no idea what we were getting into.”

The Taum Sauk Trail traverses some of Missouri’s most rugged terrain, crossing the state’s highest point and then continuing to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in a landscape pockmarked with granite boulders. But it was the weather that challenged Ron and Rosie on that trip.

“We had a little bit of everything,” Rosie says. “Part of the week was hot, and then the last day we were on the trail we had snow. And then it rained some coming out. So I got to be in a little bit of everything.”

Undaunted by the fickle weather, the couple started backpacking every chance they got, which in those days wasn’t often. They had four children to care for, and as the kids grew into their teenage years, that became a challenge itself.

“I’d say the backpacking kept our sanity with the kids growing up,” Rosie says. “We had three teenagers in the house at the same time. We went through several years of chaos around the house, and backpacking kept us sane.”

Once their oldest daughter was old enough to care for her siblings, Ron and Rosie escaped to the Missouri wilderness as often as possible. They became lifetime members of the Ozark Trail Association. They studied maps and guidebooks in search of places to go. They tested different equipment and learned what was essential and what could be left at home.

Hiking the Ozark Trail provides a chance for solitude among some of Missouri's most beautiful landscapes.

They hiked in the spring, summer, fall and winter, sometimes waking to snow-covered trails. And they developed a philosophy they continue to practice whenever they hike: to spend as much time on the trail as possible.

“A lot of people want to hurry in and hurry out,” Rosie says. “They try to see how fast they can do it. Our goal is to spend more time on the trail.”

Adds Ron, “We don’t want to see civilization. We stay away from the campgrounds. We want to pitch our tent in the boonies.”

They say the Ozark Trail is one of the best trails in the country for getting away from it all. They compare it to the better-known Appalachian Trail, with its hordes of through-hikers wanting to walk the entire distance.

“It’s like being on a highway,” Ron says of the East-Coast trail. “And then you hike in Missouri and you have this wonderful solitude.”

Now that they have their kids raised and are retired, Ron, 66, and Rosie, 55, can hit the trail whenever they want to, timing things to take advantage of better weather. Not that they don’t still get caught in a cloudburst.

In fact, on two occasions they have spent 24 hours together in a small backpacking tent waiting out a steady rain. “It was halfway through our hike and we had plenty of time,” Rosie says of one extended period of togetherness. “It was raining, but we managed to get set up, eat and get in the tent before it started. It rained all night. And then the next day we decided we had plenty of time, so we just stayed in the tent.”

In their many years of hiking, the two have never been injured and they don’t worry too much about dangers that might be lurking along the trail. “You’re safer in the woods than you are in your own house,” Ron says. Adds Rosie, “We know when we go in there together that if one of us gets hurt, the other one can go for help.”

They do pay attention to the trail surface, help each other over obstacles and use walking sticks to prevent falls. “There’s dangers out there,” Ron admits. “But we study something out and if we think it’s a little on the hairy side, we’ll find a better way to do it.”

The couple averages eight miles a day on their hikes. If the weather is bad they stay put, and if it’s cold they sleep late. They’ve become so efficient in their packing that they can carry enough supplies to last 10 days. They start the day with breakfast bars, snack on trail mix and beef jerky for lunch and eat dehydrated backpacking meals for supper.

They bring one change of clothes and three pairs of socks. Their only luxuries are a folding camp chair each and a pair of lightweight sandals for crossing streams and letting their boots air out at night.

Rosie and Ron Koskovich keep in shape for hiking the Ozark Trail by hiking the trails at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.

Their packs weigh about 40 pounds. To get in shape, they fill their packs with kitty litter and hike the trails at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.

Having hiked so many miles of the Ozark Trail, they are hard-pressed to pick a favorite spot. For them, every hike has been an adventure and every section has been beautiful.

They didn’t set out to do all of the Ozark Trail. After retiring they just decided to fill in the sections where they hadn’t yet been. As the trail’s miles grow, they plan to do the new sections, too. Eventually the trail will extend from St. Louis to the Arkansas line where it will connect to the Ozark Highlands Trail, a distance of more than 700 miles.

Ron and Rosie delight in the fact that there are so many miles of trails waiting for them.

"We’ll never run out of trails in Missouri,” Rosie says. “We are planning to hike as much as we can in Missouri and maybe once a year take a trip somewhere else.”

“We figure we’re doing the things we like to do,” Ron says. “As long as our legs work, we’re going to keep working them. We’ve got a beautiful country, a beautiful world. God did good when he made all this stuff. We’re going to take advantage of it and enjoy it.”

For information on the Ozark Trail, log on to www.ozarktrail.com. Ron and Rosie recommend the “Ozark Trail Guidebook.” It is available in bookstores, by calling (314) 707-4422 or at www.ozarktrailguide.com.

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