Five miles of road walking, warnings about dogs, the bridge along the San Jacinto River being washed out, and 23 miles of total walking. These were the perceived obstacles for the day and I had no idea what any of them entailed or how I would overcome them. I woke at 4:30am to allow myself to start hiking by 6:30am. The shadowed woods of the a.m. frightened me far less than the woods of the p.m. I decided that it would be advantageous to potentially get lost in the woods when the sun would rise rather than when the impending doom of complete darkness was upon me.
Road walking along roads can be a struggle because of the extra impact your joints take from the unforgiving cement, the extra sun exposure, the cars that have to be constantly dodged, and the dogs that are protecting their owner’s property. The five miles of road walking were not nearly as terrible as I thought they would be. That’s not to say there weren’t problems. The sun beat down on the right side of my face and I felt like my skin was cooking. I drank adequate amounts of water but I wasn’t just battling dehydration on the exposed streets. I was battling to keep my body temperature cool and I could only do that by moving at a slow pace or taking breaks frequently. The humidity tore at me. The next thing is that the properties that I walked passed had dogs. Because I no longer had bear spray to protect myself with, I thought about what my options were if a dog did try to harm me. A) I could try to “out alpha” it which meant that I’d get big and make loud noises B) if it attacked, I’d have to fight it meaning punching it in the nose and/or stabbing it. I knew I would never be able to out run a dog so that was never an option. The best course of action, I decided, was prevention. I would be alert and aware of what properties had dogs and I would do my best to stay as far away as I could and talk calmly to them. That was really all I could do. Thankfully, the dogs that I ran into were all bark and no bite. I did my best to read their body language and all of them came towards me with loud barks but wagging tails.
Without the bridge across the San Jacinto River it can be treacherous to try to cross which leaves taking an unmarked detour through the forest. I took a gamble. From the water conditions I had seen on the trail thus far, I felt that the water level would be low enough I could either wade or hop across dead trees to get across. I got to the river around noon and planned my acrobatic moves across the logs in the water. I slid down the muddy hill to reach the edge of the water and removed my socks and boots. I rolled up my pants as high as I could and prepped my trekking poles. The trekking poles were the heart and soul of the operation. Without them, I would surely lose my balance and face plant into the water. I tested the security of the first log and it held. The trekking poles held firmly in the water as I took another step. I wanted every move to be static and controlled. There was no room for error. One step after another, I made it to the bank on the other side, perfectly executed! I was clear of the water but I now had an uphill battle in mud. Permanent hand lines were set up and gave me something to grip onto as my feet tried to escape from underneath me. Nevertheless, I made it to the top.
23 miles. “How?” I thought to myself every single day leading up to this one. When I woke this morning there was doubt in my mind but I told myself, just as I did every day previously, that I would take it step by step and monitor my progress. I had a plan B. After 15 miles there would be a campsite I could stop at for the night but deep down I knew I wouldn’t stop. I kept a constant pace of roughly three miles an hour and didn’t stop. The only break I had given myself was the time I needed to cross the San Jacinto River. I had Clif and Power Bars energizing me as I frantically moved hours upon hours across the forests of Magnolia and Pine trees. Around 1:00pm, I realized the progress I made and was astounded. I was proud but then I realized I still had eight more miles to do before it got dark. Doubt crept back into my mind and dulled my confidence. I needed to keep going but I wouldn’t be able to do it half-heartedly. I made peace with the fact that I may have to travel in the dark but that didn’t seem so scary anymore after I saw how well the trail markers reflected light from the morning. In addition, I began playing mind games with myself. I told myself, “Only four more miles and then I can get water.” That is what I focused on. I made it to the water and filled up the bare minimum of what I needed for the following day. I kept going. “Four more miles and then I’ll be at camp.” I thought to myself while feeling betrayed. The last three miles were awful. I shuffled through the forest, barely aware of the beauty around me. I didn’t stop to witness the beautiful Double Lakes Area and I didn’t appreciate the Big Creek Scenic Area either. I was not present in these moments but rather thinking of when it was going to end. I was caught up in the destination rather than the journey and I didn’t want to live life on those terms. I took note of these thoughts but accepted them for this adventure. I was testing my limits and finding out what I was really made of. That was my goal.
I eventually stumbled into the Tarkington Bayou Primitive Campsite and was pleased with what I saw. It was hidden by brush and trees, held a tent area, and a fire pit. What I was most excited about though was the log book that I found in the mailbox. Finally, I could write my story and become part of the trail’s history. I dropped my pack and felt like I was dizzy and floating as I limped around camp. I liberated my feet from the confines of my boots and began making a rewarding dinner, tuna mac. I only had 13 miles the next day. “Easy,” I thought with content.