Monday, April 12, 2021

Day 9: The End of the Lone Star Trail!

March 3: The night got a little cold. Not freezing--it wasn't that cold--but probably close to it, and it was definitely my coldest night on the trail. My sleeping bag kept me plenty warm, though.

I started hiking immediately as soon as it was light enough for me to take photos. I wanted to finish and get off this trail as quickly as possible. I had 11 miles to do to reach the end, and I figured there was a good chance I could finish by noon. Awesome! 

Early in the morning, steam rose from the rivers and puddles along the trail--just more evidence of how cold it got during the night--and I enjoyed watching the clouds of condensation swirling around the water.


See the steam rising from the puddle?

The first half of the today's hike was basically more of the same as yesterday, but the last half through the Winters Bayou section had a lot of swamp walking. I probably walked through more water in these 5 miles than I did the entire rest of the trail combined. It wasn't problematic--just different and reminded me a lot of the swampy sections of the Florida Trail.

Near the end of the trail, I crossed paths with four day hikers who had a few questions about the route and seemed delighted to find a real thru-hiker to ask.

And then, I was at the end of the trail. I tried asking the day hikers--who had just finished their own hikes--for a ride a few miles into the small,. nearby town of Cleveland, but they were actually headed in a different direction and not toward Cleveland. I was a little disappointed that they wouldn't go out of their way--Cleveland was only five or six miles away. It wouldn't have been a huge burden to drop me off in that direction, but I understood.

It was still much more than I wanted to walk, however, so I pulled out my phone and tried to see if I could get an Uber or Lyft to pick me up with the little bit of power still left on my phone, but alas, neither of them reported any vehicles that were currently available. I installed both of those apps when I was hiking into Forks on the PNT last year and it didn't do the least bit of good for me then, and it didn't do the least bit of good for me now. I idly wondered if I should just uninstall those apps. I have yet to successfully use either of them.

I celebrated my completion of the Lone Star Trail with a selfie. That was pretty much it. Just this selfie. =)

So then I resorted to my usual tactic at a trailhead with no service--I stuck out my thumb and tried to hitch a ride.

I spent about a half hour doing this with without any luck. The traffic on the road was good, but it seemed likely that none of them were hikers or would be the least sympathetic toward my plight. I didn't know how much longer I would have to wait before someone eventually offered a ride so I gave up. Screw it! I'd just walk into town. It wasn't too far to walk. Maybe it would take longer, but at least I knew I'd eventually get into town in a couple of hours.

And I started walking. The road walk was utterly miserable. It was a busy road with fast-moving traffic and didn't include much of a shoulder to walk on. At least dogs running loose generally weren't an issue, although several did bark to me from behind their fenced-in yards. The road walk also did not provide much shade, and it was a warm in the sun. A little bit of shade would have been nice.

But I covered ground quickly and crossed the San Jacinto River near the city limits of Cleveland a couple of hours later. The river was considerably larger than it was when I forded it 25 miles back, and I was really glad I didn't have to ford it now! 

The San Jacinto River was much bigger than when I forded it about 25 miles back!

I had made a reservation with the Motel 6 in town the evening before and asked about running water and hot water before committing to it. I wasn't going to make any reservations online while I was in Texas. No, I was going to call them up on a phone so I could ask about water, and especially hot water!

So I followed the road into town toward the Motel 6, but veered off at a Taco Bell along the way. It was past lunch time and I was ready for food that I hadn't carried on my back. The restaurant was open and even allowed limited dine-in seating which I took full advantage of. Being after the main lunch rush, the restaurant was empty of other customers which suited me just fine.

After lunch, I continued onward to the Motel 6. I checked in and plugged in my phone to start it charging up with only 7% battery power left. Then I jumped in the shower with hot water and took my first shower in 11 days--back in the days that I was still in Seattle.

My walking days were over.

I'm not going to blog about the next several days I spent in Texas--this blog is called Another Long Walk, after all! But for those you curious about the rest of my stay, Amanda came out later in the evening. The next day, we drove down to Houston to explore the Houston Space Center which was enormously interesting and fun. The day after that, we headed out to Waco to check out the Mammoth site and the Dr. Pepper museum

Mostly, we were just killing time until Saturday when there was the 18th Texas Annual Letterboxing Event just outside of Meridian, after which we drove back to Houston to fly back to Seattle. The end of another adventure!

'Twas another beautiful, clear day!

I passed by this designated camp. I wondered if the two hikers I met yesterday had camped here, but if they had, they had already left before I arrived.

The trail clearly followed an old railroad bed along this section.

The Winters Bayou section had a lot of water on the trail!

The trail crosses the San Jacinto River again, but this time there was a bridge to get across it. No fording this time!

Even when there were boardwalks along the boggy sections, they weren't always useful....

This river is Winter Bayous and what this section of trail is named after. And, fortunately, there was a bridge across this river because it would have been a deep one to ford otherwise!

The last mile of the trail, I started seeing a hint of the arrival of spring! =)

'Twas a long, miserable road walk into Cleveland.

There's just never enough pipelines in Texas!

These tracks look like they're about to undergo some maintenance soon.

The beginning of the end of my road walk!

And I stopped at Taco Bell for a late lunch. =)

Friday, April 9, 2021

Day 8: The Day the Weather Turned.... for the better!

March 2: It rained heavily and steadily all night long, but started to tapper off by around 7:30am. I had expected this--I checked the weather report. Along this trail, every site where I camped, I was able to get a signal on my phone allowing me to get up-to-date weather forecasts each day. The downside, of course, was just turning on my phone, checking the forecast and occasionally checking in to let everyone know I was alive and well--my phone had now been run down to a 4% charge.

I lingered in camp a bit late since I didn't plan to hike far. The weather was expected to clear up significantly later in the day and I had about 20 miles to the end of the trail. I decided to split the mileage more-or-less evenly between today and tomorrow and use the large quantities of sunlight later this afternoon to finally turbo charge my solar power panel. =)

Notice the dry spot where I camped? It was actually wet when I set up camp the evening before due to raining all day, but my body heat alone was enough to dry the small patch of ground I slept on despite the heavy rain all night long. (The part under my tarp where my body didn't lie didn't really dry, though--it really needed my body heat to actually dry!)

So I didn't break down camp and hit the trail until closer to 9:00am. Before leaving the campsite, I did walk over to the other two backpackers and introduce myself. I could hear them talking to each other through their tents so I knew I wasn't waking either of them up. I was surprised to learn that not only were they other thru-hikers, but they were hiking in the same direction as me! They had started the trail a couple of days after I had but were moving at a faster pace than myself. Presumably, they passed me yesterday when I got off trail at Double Lake for several hours. They must have spent some quality time hiking in the rain, though--a fate I had managed to avoid.

Neither of them were even getting ready to hit the trail, though, so I waved goodbye and continued onward. Perhaps they'd catch up to me later in the day and we could chat some more. I hoped so, at least. I didn't ask where they planned to camp since I figured that would probably make me sound like a stalker. (I think I forgot to mention that they were both young women, so I really didn't want to put out that creepy stalker vibe, but I was still lonely and desperate for company to chat with!)

The day's hiking was generally uneventful. I stopped for two considerably long breaks lasting a couple of hours, and both times I set my solar charger out to collect all that beautiful sunlight. The first break was next to a bench on the trail overlooking a small river. It was a nice place to rest and relax, and about an hour after I arrived, the two girls passed by with nothing more than a "hi." I guess they didn't feel like chatting. Oh, well.... They still had each other to chat with and probably didn't experience the loneliness or boredom that I did.

Instead, I spent the time reading my Kindle. I was surprised to notice that I had been reading my Kindle so much, even the battery level on that device was beginning to run low. Usually a single charge will last me for weeks! At the pace I was going, it would be dead in a couple of days. Fortunately, I expected to finish the trail tomorrow.

That's not how boardwalks are supposed to work....

The trail was quite pleasant, following alongside small rivers much of the time, or up on an old, former railroad bed that was flat, dry, straight and easy.

The weather was absolutely prefect as well. Not too cold, not too hot, not too humid. There was plenty of sun and plenty of shade when I didn't want to be in the sun. The best day of weather so far on the trail!

I finally called it quits for the day by a creek near mile marker 85--barely 9 miles from my last campsite leaving me with just 11 miles left to do tomorrow. I set out my solar panel again to collect what light I could before sunset, but at the end of the day, it was still blinking a red light which indicated it was between 10% and 50% charged. I had really been hoping to pass that 50% mark, but nope. At least, I hoped optimistically, it was at the higher end of 50%. With as much sunlight as it got today, I felt it had to be closer to 50% than 10%.

But now was the moment of truth and I plugged in my phone to see how much more power I could get. If it were sufficient, maybe I could watch a short episode of something on Netflix.

But the charger died when my phone reached a mere 17% charge. That was it?! I was devastated. I expected to be back in town and have all the electricity that I could want later tomorrow, but I still wanted to keep a small charge on my phone in case I wanted to call for an Uber or Lyft or something at the end of the trail. And pull up maps of Cleveland to find my way around and orient myself. And to tell everyone I finished the trail. And... whatever else I needed to do before I could plug into an electrical outlet. A 17% charge still wasn't very much--certainly not enough to be watching Netflix videos.

So I turned on my Kindle and continued reading for the rest of the evening before falling asleep.

The weather called for clear skies throughout the night and the next day, so I didn't bother to set up my tarp. I really enjoyed cowboy camping and was a little disappointed that I couldn't do it more often on this trail. As it turned out, only my first day and last day on the trail was I able to cowboy camp. The rest of the time, I needed to sleep under the trap.

And that was the end of another day.....

Beautiful, blue skies! I didn't realize how much the overcast, grey weather had been getting me down until it cleared up today!

I very much enjoyed the shadows that the trees cast across the trail! And everything just seemed to have more color in it. Or at least more shades of brown! =)

And the trail followed alongside several creeks and river for miles! Which is always nice. =)

And the trail included several benches to sit on! The first benches I'd seen on the entire trail.

And, at times, the trail followed these elevated humps which were old railroad beds and a pleasure to walk on.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Day 7: Hanging at Double Lake

March 1: There were only light sprinkles during the night--not the heavier rain that I had been expecting. With daylight, I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, then broke down camp. I took a look at the San Jacinto River so see if the river level had risen during the night. Given how light the rain was, I didn't expect it to have changed much--and it hadn't. At least the hassle of fording it was already done, though, so I didn't have to worry about it today.

I hiked for a couple of hours--maybe 4 or 5 miles to Double Lake. Occasionally it sprinkled ever so lightly, but it was never so bad that I bothered to pull out my umbrella. More noticeable was that temperatures were considerably cooler than the previous few days when I felt oppressively hot and humid by my standards. Today felt like Seattle weather! =)

I veered a bit off trail to head toward the developed area of Double Lake. A grand pavilion sat not far from the shore, and I headed toward it to get out of the rain.

As soon as I stopped, the colder temperatures started seeping into my body, so I pulled out my fleece jacket, rain pants and rain coat to stay warm. Then I slipped a buff around my head under my hat to help keep me warm. Plus a light pair of cotton gloves. A man has to stay warm!

I checked out the area. The bathrooms, I was sad to learn, were locked--so I ended up peeing behind the pavilion. Fortunately, absolutely nobody was around so privacy wasn't a concern. The park personal who run this place should just be glad that I didn't need to do a #2. ;o)

I spent most of the afternoon hanging out under this pavilion, nice and dry!

I tested the drinking fountains, and they were still running. I wasn't sure if they had been shut off during the freezing weather the previous week or if the pipes were broken. Double Lake did have primitive campsites available, but for $20 a site, I had no intention of staying--and the backpackers I talked to yesterday warned me that the hot water for the showers weren't working anyhow due to the previous week's storm damage. I expected that the water was running, however, since they did say that the water had a chlorinated taste to it--but it was nice to confirm that the drinking fountains were still working. The pressure in them was enough to arch water high through the air that I could catch in my Nalgene bottle easily. And, when I tasted it, it had only a very mild taste of chlorination in the water--nothing near as bad as the church water from yesterday. I decided to fill up all of my water bottles with this stuff.

And, I could throw out my trash. I hadn't seen a trashcan anywhere on the trail since I started and now had seven days of trash to dispose of--which I was finally able to do.

The big thing I was hoping to find--I prayed and crossed my fingers--was an electrical outlet. I hadn't been able to collect much sunlight with my solar charger since the skies had largely been overcast the last several days and my phone was now down to about a 25% charge. I checked the pavilion and area around the restrooms but found nothing. No electricity. Drats. 

My hope was not only to re-charge all of my devices, but also to watch Netflix and Curiosity Stream for hours on end. It was my intention to spend almost the entire day at this park, protected from the rain under the pavilion. Through this area, hikers aren't allowed to wild camp anywhere they want--they must stay in designated campsites. The campsite at Double Lake was a no-go for me due to the $20/night charge, but there was another primitive campsite 0.7 miles further up the trail where I could camp for free. That was my goal for the night. With only a total of 4.6 miles of hiking today, I had a lot of downtime to rest, relax and stream movies. Except without electricity, I couldn't watch movies. I didn't need a wi-fi connection--I had downloaded hours of content before I even got on the trail. I just couldn't watch any of it without electricity.

Double Lake

Without that as an option, I spent hours and hours reading my Kindle instead, and finished reading the latest Tom Clancy novel. (Yes, I know he died years ago and other people have been writing his books, but they're still "Clancy books" in my eyes.)

At one point during the afternoon, two women with a small boy wandered by, but they didn't really stop to chat. I imagine they probably thought I was some homeless person trying to turn the pavilion into a home.

I also cooked one of my dinners for lunch--a good, time-consuming activity to do. There was unlimited safe and clean water to use for cooking and cleaning and it gave me something to do other than reading my Kindle. And it's a lot easier to cook under this nice pavilion than from under my tarp.

Hours went by, but finally--by around 4:00 in the afternoon--I felt it was time to hit the road and set up camp. The rain went on and off throughout the day, sometimes quite hard, but it had temporarily let up and was no longer raining at all. My plan was to rush the 0.7 miles to the campsite and get my tarp set up before the rain started again.

So I packed up and hit the trail, walking at a good clip. I reached a sign marking the turnoff to "Lone Star Campsite #1", turned up the short side trail and came out to a clearing. On one side of the clearing was a massive tent with gear and trash sprawled across the ground. They looked like car campers! Obviously, they hadn't come in from very far.

On the other side of the clearing were two small tents, set up side-by-side. Those are my people, I thought. I had no idea who they were, but after I set up my tarp, I was going to go over and introduce myself.

I quickly settled on a place for my tarp and started setting it up. While setting it up, it started to sprinkle lightly, which encouraged me to set it up even quicker.

Once it was up, I dived underneath, spread out my groundsheet, then changed into my camp clothes. By the time I finished, the rain was coming down in torrents. I wondered who my companions in the tents were, but I decided to hold off introducing myself until the rain stopped. If it stopped....

I went back to reading my Kindle. An hour later, a vehicle drove into the campsite. I had no idea that the campsite was accessible to vehicles! But when I identified that giant tent as a "car camper," I was more right than I realized. The car pulled up to the giant tent and parked. I had assumed whoever was camped there were inside their tent--it never occurred to me that they were off driving around in a car somewhere.

I saw the driver and passenger exit the vehicle with cigarettes dangling from their mouths, and a pitbull jumped out after them. They didn't linger in rain and soon crawled into their tents. I definitely had no interest in introducing myself to them. They might be fine, friendly people, but they didn't seem like "my kind of people."

The rain continued to pound loudly against my tarp the rest of the evening and late into the night, and I never got a chance to meet the two backpackers at the other side of the campsite. I was a little disappointed about that, but I wasn't going to lose sleep over the matter either.

Shortly after sunset, I curled up and went to sleep. Good night, Texas!

Warm and dry, despite the pounding rain on my tarp!

It seems like ants are stock-piling leaves around this anthill. Hmm....

Double Lake trailhead

Finally! I could throw out all my trash from the last seven days!