I drove to the first trailhead of the Lone Star Hiking Trail the night before I planned to begin. My goal, get an early start and find my hiking pace. Never before had I attempted a thru-hike but here I was, encompassed by darkness, planning the next morning to do that very thing. This was not as simple as my first thru-hike however, it would be my first solo backpacking trip. There was the part of me that was confident in my problem solving skills and believed in my capacity to overcome adversity but there was also the voice that wanted a way out. I thought with relief in mind, “Maybe something will go wrong and I won’t be able to start.” Nevertheless, I continued my preparation.
Oatmeal with raisins and textured vegetable protein (TVP) were on the menu for breakfast. I ate purposefully, eager to start the day despite my doubts. I knew the first obstacle was getting started and after that I’d take it step by step. The parking lot was empty until a women in an SUV drove up behind my van and called to me, “Excuse me.” I went to her and she asked me if I was aware of the smoke in the forest. I looked into the depth of the trees and could faintly see what she described. She lived up the road and had become concerned when she saw fire trucks pass by. I thanked her for the warning and decided to call the county sheriff to get further information on the unknown smoke escaping the trees.
I called the non-emergency sheriff line and they transferred me to the fire department. They had no idea what I was talking about. I was completely confused, “Who did the lady think was investigating the smoke?” To my relief, a fire truck turned into the parking lot as soon as the individual I was on the phone with started to question my location. I was confused and thought the firefighter in front of me could answer the upcoming questions better than I could so I gave him the phone. Turns out, I was near county lines and the Richards fire department was responding to the situation while I called the Montgomery fire department. They both responded. I waited at the trailhead for roughly thirty minutes, occasionally talking with the firefighters and answering their inquiries about what I was planning for the day. A couple of them seemed baffled at the idea of backpacking the trail. “Are you going to stay in a hotel each night?” I was asked. “Lots of people come to hike the trail but not many of them do it alone.” I was told. “You know its hunting season and the hunters don’t always pay attention to the campsites.” another cautioned. I became restless of waiting. If I wanted to stick to my schedule I needed to get moving. The question was, “How was I going to be smart about it?” I took to looking at the maps and decided to head to the second trailhead and bypass the first three miles. As I left the parking lot, one of the firefighters asked me if I was giving up. I heard relief in his voice, understanding it but also defying it, I replied confidently, “Nope, heading to the second trailhead.” After one last caution to be safe and a seven minute drive, I took off into the forest.
The trail blazes caught my eye telling me which way the trail veered. Huge mushrooms flourished near the trail and I tried to identify them, remembering what I’d learned in Washington about mushroom foraging. The goal was different today, observe and admire rather than consumption. The pine trees stood defiant, aimed to rid themselves of the foreign trail blazes. The bark bulged over the metal plates hoping to crush the invader. I examined purple berries that passed me by as I marched through the forest. After a little research, I believe they were American Beautyberries, a fitting name. Seven miles into the hike, I began to feel the discomfort of the 55 pound pack. I knew I was carrying too much water, five liters, but my fear of not having enough pushed me to bear the burden of the weight. I actively had to switch my mindset from pushing through the pain to taking preventative measures. This was going to be a vastly different adventure than what I was accustomed to. When I began to feel hunger, I listened and snacked. Food was no longer food, it was energy. I was fueling my body, my evolutionary adapted machine, to work hard and fast. My hips began to bruise and I listened. I adjusted my pack and distributed the weight differently. One thing was for certain, I had to keep going if I wanted to make it to camp before sunset.
Roughly an hour before dark, I entered Stubblefield Overflow Camp. It was a giant circular opening designated as a primitive hunters camp. One hunter had already set up his camping area and was gathering wood for his fire. I wondered how many others would show up. There was comfort in having other humans around but there was also fear. I could not decide if I wanted to set my tent in the open and make my presence obvious or to be discreet and blend in with the trees. I chose to be discreet. Hidden behind three trees, I set up my tent and made dinner, rice and tuna. As the sunlight dissipated, I withdrew to my tent and reflected on the day. I thought about being blissfully ignorant and false safety. I could see a pattern in my behavior of using my ignorance in my favor. I know there are evils in this world that I have not experienced and I listen to the cautionary words of those who have. However, I continue to fight the urge to let the fear of the unknown rule my life. In regards of false safety, my attention swiveled to the tent I found safe harbor in. I could not see the dark forest around me so it did not exist in my mind. The only things the tent could protect me from were bugs and weather and those are not guaranteed either. The tent is cloth that can easily be ripped through and the zippers do not lock but strangely it felt safer than staring the darkness head on. My thoughts then shifted to doubt. Today was a 17 mile day and the mileage only increased the rest of the week. I knew I could do the whole trail but could I do this 96 mile trail in five days? I decided to see how the next day, 18 miles, went. After deciding to take it step by step and day by day, I began to drift off into sleep to the sound of coyotes howling and hunters calling to the deer with mating calls.