LSHT Day 5

The pitter patter of rain drops woke me. I felt no rush to get up. I wanted to lie there, content forever. Today was my last day on the Lone Star Hiking Trail and after those 13 miles I would be going home. I hadn’t expected the rain so I had a few challenges ahead of me. How was I going to take down the tent without getting the inside completely saturated? I slowly began gathering my things when I noticed a puddle at the head and feet area of the tent. I hadn’t staked out the rain fly the night before. Luckily, it wasn’t a huge deal but I took mental notes for my future trips. Cutting corners always comes back to bite you as I figured out.

I concluded that the best way to take down the tent was to remove the pole and stakes and roll up the rain fly and tent together. The concept kind of worked but the whole tent now weighed twice as much, barely fit into its bag, and was essentially completely soaked. I thought today was going to be the easy day but I was wrong. It turned out to be the longest of all, not because I was slower but because time passed at a sloth like pace. After a few miles, my socks and feet were completely saturated. My boots are great at being waterproof for small instances of submersion but they failed me at walking through continuous puddles. With four miles left to go, I sat down and rested. My feet were beginning to ache and I needed to get my feet dry. I pulled out my crusty but dry socks from the beginning of the week and put them on. I instantly felt relief. I knew I couldn’t put my feet back into my boots, the socks would immediately absorb the moisture. Then I remembered the versatility of ziploc bags. I had two unused gallon size bags that fit my feet perfectly! I slipped each foot into a ziploc bag and put my boots back on. Nothing was going to stop me from finishing this trail now.

With a mile and a half left, I started to loose what appeared to be my sanity. There were wooden walk ways and bridges that can be walked on when the trail is swampy and I continuously slipped on them and landed sideways in the mud. Not even my trekking poles could’ve saved me. Each time I fell, I just let myself lie there for a second. I was exhausted. My pack held me to the ground and left me turtled (my legs were flailing in the air and I couldn’t flip back over). My technique of escape was to roll to my side and gradually get one limb underneath me at a time until I could throw the pack weight back on top of my back. I looked like a mess every step of the way. When I wasn’t face planting off of bridges I began singing “Carol of the Bells.” The thing about me singing is that I’m lyrically challenged. I maybe had the chorus down but mostly I was busting through the woods screaming, “Diiiiinnnngg, dooooonnnngg, diiiinnnngg, dooonnnngg,” in a really high pitched voice. This continued on until I began to feel winded. At the half mile mark, I just had strange animal noise erupting from my mouth. I truly felt unstable. My good friend Chris was going to pick me up from end and the thought of having actual human interactions energized me. Finally, I was going to be able to have a full conversation with sentences! During the week I never felt deprived of human interaction but suddenly I was ecstatic at the thought. I popped out at Trailhead #15 and no one was there. I hobbled over to a spot where I could rest and after about ten minutes Chris arrived. He brought me a Clif Bar, candy, and a gallon of water. Before I managed to formulate logical sentences, I just giggled. He was weirded out by it and basically was questioning my sanity as well. Thankfully he was still willing to drive me and my stank back to my car. Thanks for being a great friend Chris!

LSHT Day 4

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.

Making friends

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.

An entry in the log book from a previous hiker

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.

LSHT Day 3

Halfway Point: Mile 48

The high temperature of the day was around 65°F, a drastically warmer temperature from the near freezing morning from the first day of the trail. It was going to be a good day. Today, I would exceed the halfway point, 48 miles. Everything was going according to plan. By noon I had already killed ten miles and was stoked at the progress I was making. Then, thanks to Murphy’s Law, I managed to get off trail. Somewhere after mile 49 I lost track of the white, metal markers on the trees and began following red tape (in some areas the red tape was used in addition to the markers to help draw your attention to the correct route). I knew something was wrong after the markers completely disappeared and my guidebook kept describing things I never saw. I was following some sort of logging trail through the woods and it seemed to be taking me in the right direction so I kept following it. It popped me out at a pipeline clearing which was good and bad. I knew the trail also popped out at the pipeline but I had no idea where. I walked a little ways in both directions and nothing. I went to plan B. The pipeline eventually intersected a road I would at some point have to walk on and there I could pick up the trail again. I just wasn’t sure what this detour would cost me in regards to time and resources. After about a half mile of walking I found where the trail intersected the pipeline. I was relieved but frustrated. My following thoughts took me to the word “lost.” I did not once consider myself lost but rather off trail. I think it is important to think in a calm manner in these situations. In my experience, the word “lost” incites a panic that can drive a negative spiral. Therefore, my thought is that you’re not lost until you give up.

The increasing temperatures mixed with blatant sunshine caused a few points of discomfort I either hadn’t thought about or figured I would be able to avoid because of the colder temperatures I started out with. One such discomfort were the effects of humidity. “Life thrives in hot and humid,” my dad always said to me. One of those forms of life being spiders. Spiders that build webs across the trail I was walking on. Spiders that sat in the middle of that web and are, at minimum, the size of a quarter. It started out with a single strand of stray webbing across my face. It was annoying but not debilitating. As the temperature continued to get warmer, I began to get more and more face fulls of spider webs or a mini heart attack when I dodged the spider a split second before I ran into it. It was unsettling. I tried to solve my problems by swinging my trekking poles in the air ahead of me, providing me with a nice triceps workout, but I’d let my guard down for a second and immediately get another spider web to the face. The other humidity discomforts were chafing and rash related. WARNING: if you are uncomfortable with the conversations surrounding female hygiene and bodily functions then please skip to the next paragraph. My period came earlier than I’d expected and I only had pads on me. Pads, if you didn’t already know, are a relative of the diaper family and therefore can cause diaper rash. This becomes a problem when you factor in a hot, humid environment and long, black, non-breathable pants. It began to burn when I peed and as I walked. I knew I had to find a way to effectively keep that sensitive area of my body dry. The problem, I didn’t have toilet paper. My solution, I would need to sacrifice an absorbent article of clothing. The best I had available was a wool glove that I no longer needed. Also, on a side note, your belly button chafes too.

Water source for the night

About a mile before I reached camp for the night I would need to refill my water at a pond. The pond looked questionable to say the least. It was covered in green algae and impossible to extract any water without floaties of some sort. The sun was setting so I had to move quickly. I plunged two of my nalgene bottles into the water, hoping to get the least amount of debris. I then poured three capfuls of iodine treated water into the bottles. The water was murky so I had added extra. I then took off into the woods to find my primitive camp site. Once I arrived, I was nervous. It was an open clearing off of a forest service road. I felt exposed. I heard gunfire go off in the distance and I worried that hunters were going to drive by on their four wheelers and see that I was a lone female. As I quickly ate dinner, I was able to answer the question I had posed to myself the night before, “Was I more afraid of people or wild animals?” My answer: people. I understood I held this unnecessary prejudice against hunters based off of a false stereotype. My wild mind created hunters that were big, burly dudes wanting to shoot things and cause mischief. Logically, I knew this wasn’t the case. I have family and friends that go hunting. The man from the day before was hunting and it was a lovely interaction. Hunters are people that enjoy the outdoors, same as me, and just want to go about their business. That is what I knew logically however, emotionally I was concerned.

LSHT Day 2

Hounds alerted their owners in the distance as I woke, stiff and sore. Multiple gunshots went off, I knew a hunter was having a good morning. However, it disheartened me for I knew each time I heard gunshots a life was ending. I pushed the thoughts aside and convinced myself that I wanted to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. After about ten minutes of halfheartedly packing things up, I got to business. I had an additional mile to walk today and my body felt weaker than the day before.

With everything packed up, I thought to check the bladder to make sure nothing had leaked. I pulled it out of the pack and there was one liter in it. I did a double take and looked closer. Yep, there was a liter in there. I was dumbfounded. The night before there were three liters in there! Where did it all go?! I thought to myself, “Am I going crazy? I swear there were three liters in here last night.” None of my stuff was wet. There was nothing wet when I packed up my sleeping bag. Everything was out of the tent and nothing had been wet. What happened?? I wasn’t even mad, I was just confused. Finally, I looked inside the tent and there the mystery was solved. A giant, two liter puddle was in the middle of the tent. “How did nothing get wet?” I questioned myself with thankfulness that nothing did. I drained the water out of the tent and began flipping and squeezing the bladder to try to find the source of the leak. Nothing. Nothing was leaking but how? My best guess was that there was a small, slow leak at the mouthpiece over the course of the night. With precious daylight burning, I had to eat breakfast and continue moving. The rest of the day I would have to be in water conservation mode. I had one and a half liters of water to last me twelve miles until my next reliable water source.

Around 8:00am I finally started hiking. I got on the trail and there were fallen trees that I had to dodge and hurtle over. There was a turn I almost missed and then there were more gunshots. I nervously walked along the trail with my neon orange safety vest wrapped around my pack. The trail was leading me towards the gunshots. “Make lots of noise and move fast.” I thought to myself as a crunched the leaves underneath me with every step. It was a solemn morning and three miles into the day I realized I was missing something. “Where was my bear spray?” Disappointment ran through my body as I reached for the side pocket it had been resting in. “How did this happen?” I mentally retraced my steps and thought about the last time I had seen it. “I had it this morning… Right?” “It must’ve fallen out when I was hurtling over the trees.” I wanted to go back and look for it but I was in a time sensitive situation. I was quickly losing sunlight and I couldn’t afford to lose an hour or two looking for it. A couple things bothered me about losing the bear spray. The disappointment I knew my father would hold crushed me more than the disappointment in myself. It had been given to me as my source of safety and I he had warned me to find a way to safely to secure it. I had not heeded his warning. The other thing was my increased state of vulnerability. In the coming days, my trail notes warned me of areas to watch out for dogs. I was now at the mercy of these dogs.

The only interaction I had with another human was a hunter and that conversation lasted maybe thirty seconds. The few people I had passed the day before were indifferent to my existence on the trail. There was zero interest on where I was going or what I was doing. I guess everyone was out there to get away from other people. This was why I was so excited with my thirty second conversation. I finally ran into someone who didn’t shy away from my hello! I found out that there was a guy hiking about a day ahead of me and I wondered if I could catch up to him. The hunter told me that the guy had been planning to hike thirty miles that day. THIRTY MILES!!! My chances of catching up to him were slim to none but the idea helped give me motivation to keep moving through the throbbing I felt in my hips.

Phelps Primitive Camp

I found myself racing the sun as I tried to reach camp before the shadows engulfed me and the forest around me. Just as the last light disappeared, I found camp, Phelps Primitive Camp. It was a great relief but this time I was truly alone. Glimpses from horror movies popped into my head as I looked into the forest with watchful eyes. “Was I going to see eyes reflecting back at me?” “When I turned around was there going to be something waiting for me?” I tried to focus on the task at hand and currently that was dinner. This campsite was complete with a designated tent spot and then a fire pit. It was nice and secluded among the trees. My thoughts for the day surrounded mostly the disheartening morning but I tried to find something positive out of the events. I realized how fortunate I was to not have had anything get wet from the water leak and then how losing the bear spray technically made my pack lighter. The universe gave me the opportunity to experience a drastically lighter pack without the consequences of death bearing over me. The water that leaked from the bladder did not get anything wet which mean’t I could still sleep warm. The loss of water itself was not a huge deal because I was travelling in cooler weather and could manage with less water. Overall, those events led to important learning points.

I worried about the next day. My mileage increased yet again but this time I had twenty miles of ground to cover. Logistically, I wanted to be reasonable and give myself realistic goals. I decided that I would wake up at 5:00am and begin hiking at first light. I told myself I would see how the day went and then adjust accordingly for future events. I had to will myself to have more mental fortitude than physical. My body was hurting but I knew what needed to get done.

LSHT Day 1

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.

Richards and Montgomery Fire Departments

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.

Entering Section 1: Wilderness

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.

Sunset at Stubblefield Overflow Camp