I was fortunate enough to have the day off Friday 5.18 and had a Middle Fork Loop planned. I watched the radar closely Thursday PM and Friday AM and despite torrential downpours in the Pacific area the panhandle of Iron County (which the Middle Fork traverses the width of) stayed relatively dry.
The drive from pacific to DD/32 trail head is right at 90 minutes for me (driving assertively). I arrived at 8:30a and hit the trail at 8:40a. The northern section of the route to Barton Fen has ~6 small-ish walk over dead falls. Not enough to ruin the flow, but enough to get annoying. Toward Barton Fen the feral hog damage is obvious and getting into the tread. These dudes are as dangerous as bush honeysuckles. Also, in this area there are some burn scars/logging scars where the extra sunlight has allowed copious wild raspberry growth into the trail proper. Ouch.
The Barton Fen bypass entrance at the eastern creek crossing is overgrown and difficult to spot if you don't know what you're looking for. It's about 100 yards east of the county road junction on the right. The creek crossing is deep (12") and wide. Shoes and socks off for me. Past the Barton Fen bypass the trail was a little dryer and the down hills seemed a little more "open." However, there are ~3 larger dead falls that are very recent (leaves on the trees). One in particular takes some creative route finding just to bypass.
Strother Creek stinks. As per the note on the Ozark Trail Map, the OT crossing of Strother is just down stream from a tailing's pond. Don't drink the water. I had to take off shoes and socks just to cross the sucker - it was 18" deep in the main channel. From Strother to HWY J is awesome trail - some of my favorite in Missouri.
The ride back to my car from Oates got interesting. I stayed on course for a while but missed the left turn to head back north along Neals Creek. These intersections are not marked and I don't use any kind of a bike computer, so I was essentially guessing. After a quick map study (I had two with me - the OT and a larger quad with Middle Fork Loop directions on it) I saw my error and ended up taking CR 69a (I think it changes names) all the way east to HWY 49 and picked a route back to 32/DD from there. ***MAPS AND KNOWING HOW TO USE THEM ARE REQUIRED FOR THIS ROUTE!!!***
During the trip I encountered 0 other cyclists, hikers, or equestrians on the route. I passed a Jeep on the Barton Fen bypass and every other human I saw during the ride was on either HWY J, 49, or 32. I was also chased by two German Short Hairs for a good mile. I didn't lose them until a big down hill. Crazy muts.
I would say the Middle Fork Loop is a classic route in Missouri and probably even in the Country. I recommend someone's first attempt at it be with another cyclist that has already completed the route. If you try it for the first time solo - maps, maps, maps. Cell phone service is only available at ridge tops and it's sporadic at that. I used about 4.5 liters of water in 5 hours 15 minutes and ate about 1,000 calories. I had two GU's left at the end and a half 32 oz. bottle. I took two tubes and two air shots with me, a quick link, chain breaker, multi-tool, basic first aid, manual pump, some cash, smart phone, ID, patches, boots, and basic MTB equipment for a kit. Rode my 1x11 hard tail MTB. 1x11 was fine until the last couple climbs. Had to lean on some trees and spend some time in the pain cave.
Have fun and be safe out there.