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.


KuKu said...

At least you made it to a spot where they let you through, as it was too much to turn around and go back.

It was better to ask forgiveness than permission in that case.

Mud, yuck. Gatorade, yay!

Karolina said...

Sticky mud... all that redundant weight on your clothes and pack!