Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Day 4: The Construction Mess

February 26: It rained on and off throughout the night, often times quite hard, but it didn't bother me as I was safe and dry under my tarp. No mishaps to report!

The rain started tapering off by 7:00am, and I was up and ready to start hiking by 8:00.

The trails were particularly slick with mud today given the large amount of rain from the night and morning, and I managed to slip in two different places while crossing small streams, much to my annoyance. As I've mentioned before, the steepest part of the trail was always going into and out of a stream crossing. The banks were always steep, and with the fresh rain, they were even slipier (slippier? slipiest? more slippery. Yes, more slippery...) than normal. I wore a lot of mud on my clothes and my backpack today.

Evidence of my slipping and sliding in the mud along the trail.

The trail soon came out to a road which I followed to a dam and, I was surprised to learn, the official trail actually crossed over the dam's spillway! I've crossed a lot of dams along a lot of trails, but never did it actually go directly across the spillway.

The water only appeared be less than an inch deep, but it appeared that moss was growing on it and that it could be very, very slippery. Fortunately, if I slipped and fell, I'd only slide maybe 10 to 15 feet down the slope into a pool of water at the bottom. Not exactly a death-fall, but it would have been enormously inconvenient if it happened!

I stopped to wrap my camera in a buff then stuffed it into a ZipLock bag to protect it in case I did slip, then proceeded to slowly walk across the spillway.

I made it across without any problems--thank goodness for that!--then pulled out my camera and resumed the hike.

The trail crossed this spillway! And that concrete is slick!

While taking a break, I saw my first hiker since starting the trail! He was a day hiker, or rather, a jogger, out with his dog for a little exercise. I was genuinely shocked to see him on the trail. Just seeing anybody on the trail seemed like a novelty. He stopped to chat for a few minutes and asked if I was from the Houston area. Apparently, I look like people from Houston. The dad with the two kids at the beginning of the trail had asked me the same question. Once was just a curiosity. Twice is a pattern! I told him no, I was from the "Seattle area." I kind of giggled at the phrase. I wasn't just from the Seattle "area"--I was from the actual city of Seattle. Nothing "area" about it! 

He eventually continued onward, as did I until the trail came out at a parking lot overlooking Interstate 45. To the north, I spotted an absolutely enormous statue--it towered over the vehicles on the highway like they were Matchbox cars. Later I would find out it was a statue of Sam Houston, which makes a lot of sense. Everything in the area is named after him, and his grave is a bit to the north in Huntsville.

That's a BIG statue in the distance....

More troubling for me, however, was the closed road to the south. At this point, the trail was supposed to follow a 2-mile road walk toward the south, under I-45, then back to another trailhead on the other side of the highway before diving into the woods again.

To the south, I could see a major construction project happening. The reason for the road closure was obvious. What was not obvious, however, was if the road was also closed to pedestrians. There was nothing to indicate if I could continue along my route or needed to find an alternative around the closure.

I set down my pack and considered my options. Eventually, I decided to pull out my phone and turn it on to see if I could find any information about this construction project online. I really didn't want to turn on my phone--I'd be using precious electricity which was in short supply--but if this wasn't a time to use it, then what was? I had been trying to limit its use early in the morning before the sun rose. I could keep the screen as dim as it would display and check the hourly weather forecast for the day before turning it off until the next morning. Turning it on in the middle of the day and using it when I needed to brighten the screen (which used battery power even faster) had not been on my to-do list.

At least I could be pretty certain I'd get a strong signal along I-45.

What to do? What to do...?

I checked the Facebook page for the Lone Star Trail as well as their website directly but couldn't find anything about a detour around this section, so I guess that meant there wasn't a detour and it was safe to continue through the construction zone? Nothing I found said it was okay.... just that it didn't say I couldn't.

I made a couple of calls with my phone since it was already on and I got a single--I could talk without the screen being on--and I may as well check in with everyone while I could. Once I turned the phone off again, I wouldn't turn it on again until the next morning. (If all went well.)

Soon, a construction vehicle was leaving the construction zone and I flagged it down to ask if it was okay for pedestrians to walk through. He said something in a thick Spanish accent that I had trouble understanding, pointed in the opposite direction and said something that I just couldn't understand. "So can I go that way?" I asked again, pointing down the closed road. He shrugged and said, "Yeah. Okay." I almost detected a "why not?" in his tone of voice.

I have to say, it wasn't a very convincing "yes", but a yes IS a yes! =)

I wound up walking underneath this crane.

I walked through the road closed signs and toward the construction zone, where another construction vehicle approached me, then started slowing down as he got near me. I really hoped he wasn't going to stop and tell me I couldn't be there. *fingers crossed*

He stopped and rolled down his window, sticking out his hand which was holding a Gatorade. He didn't even say anything, just held it out waiting for me to take it.

I stepped over and took it, thanking him, and he rolled up his window and drove off. Well, I thought, that went really well. =)

And... I got trail magic! What a shock!

He seemed to know exactly what I was doing, hiking through, and not only didn't have a problem with it, but even wanted to support the hike in his own small way.

I put the Gatorade in my pack for later, then continued onward toward the construction site.

The closer I got, the more nervous it made me. The road, eventually, had been completely torn out and I was walking on gravel. Large trackers and cranes were moving quickly and efficiently all over the place, with giant buckets of dirt being moved all over the place. I didn't really feel comfortable approaching too close to them. None of the workers I had talked to (including a pick-up truck with about 8 men in the back just before the pavement stopped) had used radios to call ahead and warn the workers ahead that a hiker was coming through. I didn't know how visible I was to them, or if they were keeping their eyes open for hikers going through, and it made me nervous.

It really felt like I shouldn't be here....

Eventually I reached the scariest part of them all. There was a giant crane on the left side of the road holding a container of something obviously very heavy, as if it was going to place it on the ground on the right side of the road. Steep, slick, mud-lined banks lined both sides of the gravel road so there wasn't a practical way to walk around it. The only way I could see through was by walking directly under the crane with its heavy load.

I slowed my pace as I approached, not sure if the crane operator knew I was there and definitely not wanting him to swing the heavy container in my direction. Another worker with a hardhat was standing on the ground, ready to move the container to its proper place and he saw me approaching.

He held out his hand, indicating that I should stop, and I stopped. At least one person knew I was out there and was looking out for me!

He seemed to pause for a moment, trying to decide what to do, then made some sort of hand single to the crane operator. The crane was so loud, talking over it seemed impractical, but they seemed to have their hand signals all sorted out.

Then he motioned for me to continue through, and I did. As I walked passed him, I told him that it felt like I really shouldn't be out there, and he nodded agreeably. "Yes."

Crossing under Interstate 45.

Hmm... Okay. Did that mean I wasn't supposed to be hiking through this construction zone?

In any case, once I made it past the crane, there was no more heavy equipment ahead of me anymore. I had made it through unscathed! I was still in the construction zone--just that the heavy equipment and the active part of the construction zone was now behind me.

I continued onward, marching under I-45 and finally left the construction zone behind me on the far side the highway.

Whew! Made it....

I took a short break and drank the Gatorade. I felt extraordinarily tired and started to fall asleep. It was still the middle of the afternoon and I couldn't figure out my sudden tiredness.

But I wasn't going to set up camp along the frontage road for I-45, so eventually I picked up my pack and continued onward, eventually re-entering the comfort of the woods.

Initially, I had planned to camp somewhere near mile marker 39 but decided to stop about a mile earlier when I reached a break in the trees due to powerlines passing through. The sun, remarkably, had come out late in the day. Well, it was partly cloudy, but patches of sun came out and I figured it would give my solar charger a chance to work to leave it out in the sun. My phone was down to a 50% charge and my solar charger was clocking in with absolutely nothing. If only I could plug it directly into the powerlines! Power, power everywhere, but not a drop was accessible!

So much power, but with no way to access it, it was dead to me. The clearing, however, gave me space to set out my solar charger!

I set up camp in the trees at the edge of the powerlines, and by the time the sun set, my solar charger was showing that it was at least 10% powered. I had some power in it! Not much, but 10% was still better than nothing!

I went to sleep with the distant hum of traffic from I-45 in the background. And I wound up falling asleep at about 7:30 in the evening. I was just too tired to stay awake until a more reasonable hour. Oh, well....

Home, sweet, home. Rain was expected during the night, however, so before going to sleep, I would set up my tarp. But for now, it wasn't necessary.

More evidence of my falling into the mud. At least my pants provided good camo for the mud!

The banks of Alligator Branch were so difficult to get up and down, someone set up this rope to help get across. (And I still nearly slipped and fell!)

Much of the trail was severely waterlogged from the rain during the night and the morning.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Day 3: The Detour

February 25: It was about 1:00 in the morning when I woke up suddenly to a light sprinkle of rain. Drats! I had known this was a distinct possibility, however, and had planned ahead with my location for the campsite and had my tarp, tent stakes, trekking pole, Crocs and a headlamp at the ready. I leaped into action!

First, I wanted to keep all my stuff dry so I spread out the tarp across everything, then quickly staked out the corners. My gear was exposed to the slight sprinkle for probably less than 60 seconds before I got it covered. Staking out the tarp and getting it off the ground took a few minutes more, but I dived back under the tarp still mostly dry. I gave myself a virtual pat on the back for a job well done.

Almost immediately, the rain stopped. Mother nature seemed to be toying with me, and the rain faucets of the sky stayed off the rest of the night. If I realized that it would be so little, I would have just thrown the tarp over myself like a blanket instead of setting it up. Oh, well....


And the detour begins!

I soon fell back asleep, secure in the knowledge that if it did start raining again, I could sleep soundly and wouldn't have to wake up again to deal with the matter.

The morning eventually dawned to a cloudy and gloomy day. I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, and broke down camp. Today was one of my longer days of the trail--about 15 miles--but I didn't linger in camp. I knew the weather forecast called for rain later in the afternoon and I hoped to get as much of the 15 miles done before the rain started. If I was really lucky, maybe I could even finish the day's hike before any rain fell. That would be wonderful!

So... no lingering. No long rest breaks.

My shoulders felt particularly sore at this point. The heavy weight of my pack felt excruciating--more than I would have expected considering how easy the terrain was and how slowly I had been walking. My waist where the waist belt of my pack connected was more than a little sore as well, but it was the shoulders that were the most tender. It was also worse in the morning. Once I got walking, the pain numbed itself a bit, but getting my pack on in the morning--ugh!

Anyhow... I was ready to hit the trail. I only had to cover maybe a quarter-mile until I reached Farm Road 1375 and the start of the detour. Normally, the trail would head north and up and over Conroe Lake, but since the bridge across the San Jacinto River was washed out, I'd be walking primarily on roads and motorbike trails, adding an extra 5 or so miles to the official trail mileage, and walking across Lake Conroe.

FM 1375 was no pleasant walk either. It was a busy, paved road with fast-moving traffic and often times did not include much of a shoulder to walk on. The good news, however, was that it was fast and easy. I trod along at a quick pace, eager to get off the road.

Farm Road 1375 isn't a fun one to walk....

The maps I had included two possible detours. One was longer than the other, so naturally I was inclined to the shorter route, but the shorter route apparently required a small bit of bushwhacking which I had no interest in doing and I decided to do the longer of the alternates. Just because it was shorter in distance did not mean it would be faster! But it would certainly be more difficult! I went with the slightly longer option.

Conroe Lake

That had me turn up to the road to the Gulf Coast Trades Center, which sounds like a shipping empire but seemed to be more of a summer camp for kids as far as I could tell from walking by it, and I didn't see any kids. It was February, though, so maybe the camp wasn't running now?

Along this stretch, the traffic wasn't as busy, but there was still traffic and I heard one car slowing down as it came up from behind me. I rolled my eyes. I just knew they were going to be trouble. I don't know why I thought that, but I suspected the kind of people who often drove this road probably weren't hikers and probably didn't appreciate our presence.

The vehicle was a small, four-door sedan, and the driver rolled down her window. She was a middle-aged women and told me in no uncertain terms that camping was not allowed in the woods there. There was a camp nearby where 11-year old children (children! she repeated, in case I missed it the first time) played.

I got the distinct impression that she thought I was a pedophile. It was also 9:00 in the morning and the idea of setting up camp along such a busy road had never even occurred to me. And frankly, she ticked me off with her wild assumptions and implied accusations.

Gulf Coast Trades Center

"Well, ma'am," I said--deliberately using "ma'am" more as an insult than a sign of respect. "I have no intention of camping anywhere near here. I'm just hiking the Lone Star Trail."

I thought about not telling her what I was doing at all, but I really just wanted her to leave me alone and I figured if she knew I was just passing through with no intention of stopping anywhere nearby, she'd let me go with less of a fuss. I also wanted to give her the finger. Or mess with her in other ways. "Oh, thanks for letting me know that camping wasn't allowed. I'll be sure to be careful in choosing a good hiding place."

Or even tell her all the illegal things that she shouldn't be doing (and wasn't). "Hey, you know, you shouldn't be killing people and burying the bodies in your backyard." If she claimed that she'd never do that, I'd point out, "Well, you looked suspicious. I can't be too careful!"

Anyhow, I stayed polite, never-minding the passive-aggressive "ma'am" I threw at her earlier. I could imagine her reporting me to the police. "He called me ma'am! The scoundrel!"

I continued the hike. The paved road finally turned to gravel which I much appreciated, then turned onto a gravel road that had a barrier to block vehicles which I appreciated even more. At least I didn't have to worry about idiots driving along the road anymore.

I took a quick snack break at this point--I am only human, after all--and it was a pleasant place to rest.

But I soon picked up my pack again and marched onward. I was on a mission to get done with this detour and set up camp as early in the afternoon as possible.

The route soon turned onto a smaller trail, but this one appeared to be used by motorbikes and was badly eroded in places with lots of slick mud and puddles. I often had trouble getting around them without slipping in the mud--very annoying! I couldn't get mad at the bikers that did this, however, since I felt like I was invading their territory with my detour off the main trail, but I sure didn't enjoy it either.

Motorbikes seemed have really tore up this trail!

Then the route kind of reversed itself, turning onto bigger and busier roads as I neared the end of the reroute. First it turned onto a little-used gravel road. Then onto a busy paved road. I did pass a few people actually on foot--but they weren't hikers. They were workers tagging trees with ribbons marking a boundary for cutting the trees.

The last bit of the detour took me back onto a gravel road blocked to vehicles and I finally reached the primary route of the Lone Star Trail again. The detour, thank goodness, was over!

I took another rest here and ate a few snacks. At this point, I would have been happy just to stop anywhere. Getting through the detour had been my primary goal for the day and mission accomplished! But... I needed some water. I continued hiking until I reached a creek with a slightly milky color in it. Not the best-looking water I've ever seen, but at least it wasn't horribly muddy either.

As I was filling up with water, a few light sprinkles started to fall. Yep, I really needed to set up camp soon!

Filling up with water.

I got the water I needed--which took much longer than I preferred since I was treating it--then hit the trail. My guidebook reported some good places to camp not far ahead, so I set out to hit that.

Perhaps 10 to 15 minutes later, I found a decently large and clear area for a campsite. The rain, which had largely held off during the walk, started up again a few minutes before I found the site. If it hadn't been raining, I might have pushed on a little bit more looking for an even better site, but once the rain started, I took the first place I found that would fit me.

I dropped my pack, ripped out the tarp and set it up within a few minutes before diving under it for cover. I was wet--no two ways about it--but at least I wasn't soaking wet. My clothes were wet the to touch, but there wasn't enough water in them to wring it out if I tried.

Under the tarp, I spread out my groundsheet and relaxed. I kept my wet clothing on for the next half hour or so hoping my body heat would help dry it out. There are few things worse in life than putting on a cold, wet shirt in the morning. Eventually I got tired of the wet, clammy clothes and changed into my dry camp clothes.

Safe and slightly wet under my tarp! =)

I had reached camp by 2:30 in the afternoon. I still had a lot of daylight hours to kill. And, for some inexplicable reason, my electronic devices were extraordinarily low on power. My solar-powered charger was completely dead and with the overcast skies all day, I had been unable to recharge any of it. The fact that it was completely dead concerned me a bit. I had started the trail with it fully charged and hadn't used much of it. It shouldn't have been completely dead.

My phone was mostly charged... for now. But I needed the battery to last until I finished the trail nearly a week later. Have you ever tried to use a phone without recharging it for a week?

So I was a little disappointed when I realized that I couldn't pass the time watching Netflix like I often liked to do in the evening. Instead, I mostly read my Kindle. It was still fully charged and at least that device typically lasts for weeks between recharging! I could read it for hours every day and not run out of power for that.

I hadn't seen a single hiker all day on the trail, although with the two alternate routes available, it was possible we could have passed each other going in opposite directions without knowing it. But as far as I knew, I was alone on this trail. Where were all the other hikers?!

So I read a lot. The rain continued all afternoon and into the evening--a steady moderate rain. I cooked dinner later in the evening at the edge of my tarp. And wrote in my journal. And listened to the rain.

Uhhh... okay.... Good to know, I suppose.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Day 2: Howls in the Night

February 24: It was about 2:30 in the morning and I was dead asleep. Then.... HOOOOWWWWWLLLL! An ear-piercing howl echoed through the dark woods. I woke up immediately, the crap officially scared out of me. The howl sounded like it was coming from maybe a hundred feet away. I didn't think wolves were out here, so I wasn't sure what it was. Coyotes? A wild dog? Bigfoot?! It was nearly a full moon. Maybe it was a werewolf?!

Somewhere, something howls in the darkness....

If it was properly scared of people--and why wouldn't it be? Hunting was allowed in these woods, why did it sneak up so closely to me?  Maybe it didn't even realize I was here and just happened to howl. I looked through the dark woods but saw nothing. It was dark, but a nearly full moon filtered through the trees so it wasn't pitch black either. I held my breath and listened some more, but heard nothing but the wind filtering through the trees.

I wondered if I should shout at it. Let it know I was here and maybe scare it off--whatever it was. On the other hand, if it didn't know I was here, maybe that was the better option? Hmm... I wasn't sure what to do. I kind of wished I had my bear spray from the PNT. If I had that, I'd certainly make sure it was prepped and ready.

After the heart-attack-inducing wake-up call, I had trouble falling back asleep and pulled out my Kindle to read. About a half hour after that first howl, I heard another one, although this time is was much further away, and even more howls that seemed to answer in reply that were barely discernible. What was causing them?!

While reading my Kindle, I noticed a large shadow moving just in front of me. It was the moon casting the shadow from behind me, and I distinctly remember thinking, "I hope that's a tree overhead blowing in the wind."

I turned around and looked over my should and saw... nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was the wind blowing the trees. I went back to reading, but the moving shadow was still disturbing. It reminded me of something from a horror movie.

In all, it took me about two hours before I could finally fall asleep again, but I didn't sleep well after that.

The sun eventually rose and I had survived the night. Well, actually, the sun didn't rise per se. Grey clouds had blown in leaving the sky overcast and gloomy. I slept in late, though. Having only planned to hike about 10 miles for the day, I was no rush to get moving early and I needed the extra sleep! So I slept until about 8:00am.


When I finally woke and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I noticed that my sleeping bag was inside out. It was quite warm the evening before and I hadn't actually pulled out my sleeping bag until long after dark, and I totally didn't notice the difference in colors from the inside and outside in the darkness. No harm done, but I was amused. After getting out of the bag, I pulled it through the opening by the head to make it right-side out again.

As I broke down camp, a few drops of water hit me. It wasn't rain, exactly. More like a thick fog that feels a little wet, but it wasn't foggy either. I assumed that maybe water had condensed on the tree branches and leaves above me and that's what was falling.

Anyhow, I finished breakfast and breaking down camp, then hit the trail.

Later in the afternoon, temperatures warmed up to something that I found uncomfortably warm. Not hot per se, but hotter than I preferred! Sections of the trail had puddles of water and one particularly swampy area required that I get my feet wet. There was no avoiding it! 

I took a couple of two-hour long breaks. With only 10 miles or so scheduled for the day, I was in no particular rush and took my time.

The day's hike was uneventful, though. I didn't run into a single hiker on the trail. Not a day hiker, not a backpacker. Absolutely nobody.

I finally set up camp shortly before a road at mile marker 16. I deliberately stopped short of the road. There was a bridge out ahead and I knew I'd have to follow the road for several miles on a detour around the closure, and I felt much more comfortable sleeping in the woods than along a potentially busy road.

I could hear traffic from the road in camp so I knew it was fairly busy, and I was glad not to be on it. =) But I was also far enough away that the noise from the road wasn't particularly bothersome.

The weather forecast also called for a chance of rain during the night. I wanted to cowboy camp, though, so I didn't set up my tarp. I did, however, select a location that was next to a tree I could use to tie a tarp over my campsite quickly and wouldn't pool water. I wasn't going to set up my tarp unless it started to rain, but at least I was prepared to set up my tarp quickly if needed.

And that was the end of the day. A nice walk in the woods.... =)

This bridge as a pretty big defect....

I find palmettos to be so fascinating! Like little palm trees without the trunk.

Caney Creek

Texas wants to hurt people!

Through this area, I had to get my feet wet for the first time. Very swampy!

You'll find quite a few pipelines across the trail.

This tree needed some iron, so it ate a blaze. =) (Unlike the AT and many other trails, these blazes are metal rectangles nailed to the trees rather than painted on.)

Setting up camp for the night again!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Day 1: The Beginning of the Lone Star Trail

February 23: It took me some time to pack up my pack in the morning. I don't know why, but it always seems like setting up my pack for the first day of a trip is particularly arduous. Should I take this? Should I leave that? In the end, I decided to take enough food for the entire trip, a slow, relaxing 10 day stroll through the woods. I left my fancy camera behind, though. There just wasn't room in the pack for it.

Just before leaving, I counted the days until my expected finish date and realized I had made an error--it was only 8 days, not 10! I pulled out two breakfasts and dinners from my pack that I wouldn't need after all, but even with 8 days of food, my pack felt excruciatingly heavy.

Once everything was settled, Amanda drove us to... prison! Well, to the Texas Prison Museum. We've visited a number of prison museums across this fair land, and since Huntsville was the prison capital of Texas, we figured we should stop at another one.

Site of the Texas Prison Museum. Amanda is trying to break into the prison after we discovered that the doors were locked. =)

The doors were locked when we arrived, and I looked through the windows to see if there was any activity going on. It was supposed to have opened a few minutes ago. An employee showed up a minute later opening the door, apparently filling in for the person who usually opened the door. She hadn't realized that the door was locked until she saw us locked outside.

We paid our entries fees then spent the next hour or two exploring all of the museum exhibits. It was very interesting. It even included the electric chair which was used to execute 361 people between 1924 and 1964. Executions, of course, still take place in Texas, but now they use lethal injection. And it's performed right there in Huntsville--although not at the museum, of course. It seems a little sad to think that people are legally murdered right there in this town. The people who committed the premeditated murders walking around free just because it was legal. Not that I feel especially sympathetic towards cold-blooded killers, but it also feels so barbaric and medieval to me. Executions really haven't evolved much since the guillotine. (Fun fact: the guillotine was invented to make executions more 'humane.' Same reason people justified the switch to the electric chair and now lethal injection.)

Old Sparky was used to execute 361 people over the years.

Anyhow... I don't really want to turn this into into a political post, and whether you're for or against executions, it's still a fascinating museum to visit. And that was when we discovered that there were actually multiple prisons in the area--not just one! The exhibits often mention one of several prisons in the Huntsville area. We had no idea which one was which. Which prison was it that we saw off the side of the highway? Which of them is where executions are carried out? How many prisons are in the vicinity? We never really did find out.

Amanda was under the impression that there were hundreds of Buc-ees across the state, but I was convinced that they were more rare than she thought. She later looked up that there were about 30-odd Buc-ees in Texas, and was surprised to find that there were closer to 100 prisons in Texas. "You mean there are more prisons in Texas than Buc-ees?!" She seemed distraught at the thought. 

"On the bright side," I told her, "with only a few dozen Buc-ees, it makes it easier for you to visit them all!" =)  

Another fascinating aspect of Texas prison history was the Prison Rodeo. Starting in the 1930’s and only ending in the 1980’s,  there used to be a Texas prison rodeo every year. (They go to the Prison Rodeo in the movie Urban Cowboy)  Only prisoners with good behavior were allowed to participate and the prisons did everything from providing the concessions to cleaning up afterwards. Prison shops would make the tickets and posters, and they made their own saddles and leather goods. At first the rodeo was a moneymaker for the prison system, but they discontinued it after citing that it cost more to organize than it brought in revenue  

Prisoners carved this chess set (and face) out of soap. I've started carving soap figures this past year and was impressed with their work! =)

After our prison visit, Amanda wanted to drive out to the site of an old prison. Well, actually, I'm still not entirely sure if the prison is currently in use as a prison--but it was an old building that, at least at one point, had been part of the prison system. ( Yes, it is still in use ) The museum was never a prison (as far as we know, at least), but she wanted to drive out and see a brick one that some of the exhibits described.

Along the way, we drove by an Ace hardware and I told Amanda to pull over so I could jump out and look for some denatured alcohol. I still had no fuel for my stove. She had already driven a block past it and had pulled over on the wrong side of the road, but I said not to worry about it. I'd just cross the busy street at the light.

I ended up finding the brick prison she was looking for a block away--neither of us had any idea it was so close--but I left my phone in the car so I couldn't even call her to let her know!

This is the "Brick Academy", a prison (or maybe a former prison? I'm not sure!) that Amanda we checked out.

I continued onward to the intersection with the light where I realized that there were absolutely no crosswalks or pedestrian access. There was no way the lights would change so I could cross unless a vehicle came up to the cross street! I started scoping out gaps in the traffic so I could run across Frogger-style when Amanda pulled up at the light, rolled down her window, and said that that brick building a block away was the one she wanted to see. "I know," I told her, "but I couldn't call and let you know!"

She also triggered the light to change for me which was nice, and I crossed the street leisurely asking that she please not hit me since I wasn't in a crosswalk because, you know, there was no crosswalk.

I put on my mask before I entered the Ace and headed to the paint section which is typically where I can find denatured alcohol. The place was crazy busy with customers. Several signs had been put up that they would not accept refunds of plumbing supplies and such related to the winter storm--that people should take only what they need and not hoard materials that were in short supply.

Stupid hoarders....

An older gentleman near the denatured alcohol carried a large can of kerosene, and nodded at me with a knowing look and made a comment about everyone needing kerosene to heat their homes now. Of course, that was not the reason I was there, but clearly his home had suffered some sort of damage from the storm a few days earlier. And, apparently, I looked like a local since he thought I was suffering the same problems that he was.

I grabbed the denatured alcohol I needed--glad it hadn't been pilfered by others who needed to heat food on a soda can stove. (Fun fact: the hits on The Soda Can Stove skyrocketed during the Texas storm--much to my surprise!) Then I headed to the rather long line of people waiting to make purchases.

I couldn't help but noticed then that every single one of the employees was not wearing a mask. Every one of the customers were, but not a single employee was. Obviously, they did not require masks here, but it seemed a little odd that the employees themselves were so careless. Or even that Ace, a national brand, wouldn't have higher standards. (I realize that the stores are probably franchises, but still, you'd think they would prefer to avoid having their brand associated with a potential outbreak and at the very least require employees to wear masks.)

Well, I should make a correction--there was one employee with a mask, but it was wrapped around the bottom of his face as he coughed and hacked into his hand. I was gobsmacked. I couldn't believe it. Seriously? He's coughing for Christ's sake! When he finished his bout of coughing, he pulled up his mask to cover his chin. Not to cover his mouth or his nose, but his chin. I wanted to shout at him, "That's not how masks work, dumb-ass!" I could only shake my head with disgust. If I wasn't so desperate for denatured alcohol, I would have walked out and bought it somewhere else. At least the customers at the store had more common sense, and even maintained proper social distancing within the line.

I eventually paid for my purchase, then dashed outside to the mini-van Amanda had parked in the lot.

"Give me hand-sanitizer! I need hand-sanitizer! I need it now!" I yelled at her as I rushed toward the vehicle.

I felt so dirty coming out of that place. I wanted to change my clothes and take a shower if I could. Of course, a shower wasn't possible since the hotel had no hot water. *rolling eyes*

After that hair-raising experience, we headed to H-E-B for a few last-minute items for the trail, and again saw large sections of shelves devoid of water, bread and toilet paper. The place had been cleaned out! I had flashbacks back to the beginning of the pandemic, except these shortages weren't caused by the pandemic but rather the storm from a few days earlier. Happily and much to my relief, masks were required here. In fact, that Ace hardware was the only location I saw where masks weren't required. (Or at least weren't being enforced.)

Shelves at H-E-B were bare....

Have you ever noticed that limiting supplies doesn't really seem to be effective at working?

One last stop on our way out of town was to grab lunch for the road. We stopped by a Chic-fil-A. The line for the drive-thru was quite long, but we also knew that Chic-fil-A was a model of efficiency. The line might have looked long, but we felt relatively confident that it wouldn't take long--and it didn't. We were in and out in all of about 5 minutes. Amanda and I were both a little amazed by their efficiency. We expected it, but it's a little scary how fast and efficient they can be.

Amanda parked nearby in the parking lot where we ate lunch in mini-van. That done, she drove out to the beginning of the Lone Star Trail.

In the parking lot, as I added the last-minute additions of food and denatured alcohol to my pack, I noticed that my pack had a rip in it. It was a small rip, but I hadn't even started the trail yet and I needed to repair my pack! But I decided to do that later in the evening after I had stopped for camp. Hopefully the hole wouldn't get much larger as I hiked during the day.

To the trail!

Almost immediately, I noticed something that smelt suspiciously of dog poop and found what looked suspiciously like dog poop on my Croc. Argh! Seriously, people?! I hadn't walked 20 feet in the parking lot and already stepped in dog poop?! I tried to wipe it off on some nearby grass and used the water from a mud puddle in the parking lot, but it was sticky and earnest and did not want to come completely off. Eventually I put on my hiking shoes and asked Amanda if she would work on cleaning the poop off my Croc while I finished packing my backpack. She was kind enough to work on the problem. =)

Eventually, we got everything settled and I hefted on my pack to start the hike. It felt excruciatingly heavy, but I only planned to go about 5 miles for this first day. It was already after 2:00 in the afternoon by the time I would start hiking, and today was never supposed to be a full day of hiking.

My first steps on the Lone Star Trail....

The information board at the trailhead had a sign warning about bigfoot roaming the area, and that there had been 42 sightings so far. There was a detailed description about what to do if one spotted a bigfoot (don't run from it, don't chase it, don't yell at it, don't feed it, etc... but DO take photos!)

I got the impression that it was some sort of game the forest service set up. Like there was a wooden bigfoot moved around and hidden on local trails for people to find. Kind of like letterboxing or geocaching, but on a much larger scale! But I don't really know what was going on with the bigfoot, but I wasn't too terribly worried about it. I should definitely keep my eyes open for it, though.

Watch out for bigfoot!

And then... I started hiking. Amanda started her long drive back to Dallas-Fort Worth, and I started hiking.

Maybe a mile up the trail I ran into a father with two children. We had actually seen them when we first arrived at the trailhead, and he had asked me about advice about what areas would be best for hiking with children. I didn't think anything in this area would have been off-limits, but I demurred an answer by saying that it was the first time I was there was well and didn't really know the area, but that anywhere was probably fine.

I stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes. The kids seemed excited at the idea of finding a bigfoot. One of them reported seeing bigfoot tracks--the prints were HUGE! I hadn't noticed any unusually large prints myself, but I went along with the story. "Wow! Really? Did they look fresh?"

He kid reported, that yes, they did look fresh. And, he thought, that bigfoot was friendly because he liked to dance. "Dance?" I asked, confused.

"Yes," he explained. "It looked like the footprints had been dancing on the trail, and if he likes to dance, then he must be friendly."

"Of course!" I agreed. "I think you're probably right. That would be something! To catch bigfoot dancing on the trail!"

The dad had asked how far I was planning to hike, and I told him the entire trail--all the way to the other end.

"How far is that?" he asked.

"About a hundred miles," I told him.

The little girl's mouth dropped open in shock. "A hundred miles!?" she exclaimed. It was so adorable. I don't think she would have been less in shock if I had said that I was hiking to the end of the world, or at least as far as New Mexico which--for Texans--is often considered the end of the world. ;o)

I enjoyed our little chat, but then it was time to continue onward.


The trail was a little muddy in parts, but the weather was warm and clear. I took a few long breaks just because I could and I was in no rush. And anyhow, the weight of my backpack was crippling. Any excuse to get it off my back and eat a few snacks to make it lighter before continuing on was a good use of time, in my opinion.

After 4.6 miles, I officially called it quits for the day. I stopped just past a small, clear, slow-moving creek on a nice layer of pine needles in the woods. The campsite didn't have any views, but it was comfortable.

I filtered a couple of liters of the water from the creek with my new Sawyer filter. The kit I bought included a bag that allowed me to hang it and let gravity do the work of pushing the water through the filter, and I was happy to let gravity do my work for me. =) It didn't go fast, but I was in no rush. I'd be here all night! (In fact, it took less than a half hour to treat the water.)

Some of the these trees would have been a LOT of fun to climb!

The steepest part of the trail was going into and out of creek beds, and this particular one was very slippery as you can see from previous hikers who slid down the mud!

Camped for the night.

I know I have a reputation as someone who "never" treats their water, but that's not true. It just depends on the trail and the water! And on this trail, surrounded with agriculture and civilization, I was going to treat all of the water I consumed!