To begin my Lone Star Hiking Trail thru-hike review, the first thing I’ll say is it was hot. Blistering July hot. It was so hot I was the ONLY hiker on the trail. And for good reason I presume. I’m a native Texan, so I wasn’t surprised, but it was still hot. One of the reasons I went out in the summer heat is that if I could make the hike in the heat and humidity, then I should be able to make it in just about any conditions.
Friday, June 29
Jodi dropped me off at trailhead #1 on Friday afternoon and I started hiking around 1630. At the last minute I had made the decision to leave my camera tripod behind. That shed another 2 pounds off my pack weight and I was actually relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with. It was going to be strapped to the top of my pack and I came to the conclusion that it was just going to be a nuisance on this trip. By that night, I knew that I had made the right choice.
I started my hike after the worst heat of the day had abated so the temperature was relatively pleasant. I was a little nervous beginning as this was going to be my first ever multi-day long distance hiking/backpacking trip alone. Soon, the weight of the pack, the rhythm of the march, and the cadence of the swinging trekking poles put an end to the nervous verve. All my energy was going into walking. It felt good. I was going at a modest pace and was stopping occasionally to play with the video functions on my camera as I wanted to practice capturing video. There is a campsite between mile 6 and 7, but that was a little short of the distance that I projected to make for the evening. Unfortunately, the next designated campsite was somewhere around mile 13, my target, but off the LSHT down a loop trail. I gambled that I would be able to find a decent place to pitch the tent somewhere around miles 12 or 13 on the LSHT itself.
Around 1930 I was only at mile 8. Now, this sounds like a fair pace, but it was still hot and sweat was pouring off me. All the stops for videoing, filtering and drinking water, and short breathers meant that my actual hiking pace was higher than my standard 3 MPH. I realized that I needed to pick up the overall pace if I was to make 12 or 13 miles. Furthermore, I really didn’t want to be looking for a site and pitching the tent at night. But, it’s a training hike, so might as well make it challenging. I kept hiking, resolved that regardless of the distance, if I stumbled on a decent place for camp, I was ducking in. I remember hiking and counting steps just to keep my mind off the havoc that my speed and the heat were doing to me. I eventually made it to a dirt trail that crossed the LSHT. It was not marked on my maps and I had the feeling that it had to be a dirt bike trail because it had whoops in it . . . or at least what appeared to be whoops. I was about to keep hiking when I came to the realization that I was absolutely beyond exhausted. The small pause to check my maps and get a bearing was just enough time for my body to fall out of the muscle memory rhythm that was propelling it forward.
“Lord, I’m out of shape,” I remember thinking as I could literally feel my body making its own decision to shut down for the night. All this despite the fact that I had done numerous other day hikes of 15 to 16 miles. I slid the pack off my back and rested it against a large pine tree at a corner of the intersection of the two trails. I slumped down and joined the backpack. I thought, “I think I can sleep right against this tree tonight. It’s not too bad here.”
Within a few minutes, I regained a scant second wind and walked down the dirt trail. Within 25 yards, I found a nice clear area to pitch my tent. By 2130 I was on my sleeping pad. I was too hot, sweaty, and filthy dirty to soil my brand new expensive sleeping bag, so I just slept in my shorts in the tent.
I don’t recall what time it was in the middle of the night, but severe muscle cramps awoke me. Both legs from the knee down were in 100% full on cramp mode. My calves, the bottoms of my feet and the muscle at the front of the leg along the shin were ALL cramping. “Oh 5*!7 !!” I thought, “I forgot to bring salt.” So, I drank water in gulps and fetched 4 aspirin from my first aid bag hoping that the magic liquid would help alleviate the intense torment.
Lesson #1: I started out way too fast. Even though this was a training hike, all my other single day training hikes were at basically 3 MPH and with packs lighter than I had for this one. I didn’t really think about or realize this until much later, but I was making the same mistake that I had made during my first marathon: starting out at a pace much faster (relatively) than I had trained at and my physical ability wasn’t able to keep up with it.
Lesson #2: Don’t forget the freaking salt. Or some other form of electrolyte to combat the massive salt loss due to sweating when it’s bloody hot out. I “learnt” this lesson on my section hike on the LSHT, but apparently not well enough. It is now part of my psyche. I will NOT forget again. Nothing like doubled excruciating pain to make you learn a lesson.
Saturday, June 30
The dirt trail I was camped next to was indeed a motorbike trail. That’s all that I need to say about that. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I found it pretty awesome that the Forest Service had one there. It’s just that around 0700 there was no doubt what type of trail it was.
I crawled gingerly out of my tent and began making my breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. I wasn’t hungry, but I knew that I needed to replenish my now depleted energy reserves. I added a little extra honey to the mixture and took a squirt of the golden sweet liquid in my mouth for good measure. On was back on the trail around 0830.
Today was the day that I would hike my detour around the closed Stubblefield Bridge.
It was a short hike from my camp site to FM1375 along which I would cross Lake Conroe. The road walk was uneventful and I actually lucked out and happened along a completely clean (and fresh smelling, too!) purple washcloth. This was a bit of trail magic, though you may not fully understand why.
Along with my salt, I had forgotten to pack a wipe down cloth. Suffice it to say that after two half days and a night of being on the trail I really needed something that I could use to wipe stuff clean and dry. AND I found this clean little gem on a farm road that crosses a lake essentially in the middle of a forest. Major score!
Once across Lake Conroe, I turned north to bushwhack a short way through the woods to connect with some trails, roads, and utility easements that I was using to get me back on the LSHT
There’s a creek that I crossed, Brown Branch, that made for some nice water filtering. I set up my camera and made sure that the framing was correct for videoing a filtering sequence. All was good. I hit record and went to filtering. When I was done, I went to the camera to stop the recording. It was unresponsive. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I turned the camera off and then back on. Nada. Battery died in the middle, I concluded. I put a fresh battery in and went to check how the video was. Again, nada. 20+ minutes of filtering and setting up the camera and testing and checking and nothing was on the SD card. I could only presume that if the battery dies before the camera is able to finalize the writing of the video to the SD card that everything that was “filmed” is lost.
Well, the filtering was a success and that’s pretty much all that mattered.
After the filtering video debacle, I followed the creek up to a trail that got me going on the right track to connect back up with the LSHT. My marked and planned detour didn’t go exactly perfect, but it probably couldn’t have gone any better. I was back on the LSHT by 1315.
I continued on through the heat and halfway through the day, I actually stopped and took a 1.5 hour nap. I was severely overheated. I had sweat raining off me. It was dripping off my shorts, pouring off my arms, and running down my chest. My shirt was absolutely drenched and drops were falling off it wherever the material ended. My hat was so soaked that it was acting as a steam oven for my bald head. I had to take it off it to cool down. It’s also surprising how much heat the pack traps on you on days where the heat index approaches 110F and the humidity is, let’s just say close to, 100%. That guideline about taking 1 gallon of water per person per day on super hot days . . . well, you better double it to be safe. I downed over a gallon of water through the course of the day and it was not enough. Of course I was limited in my ability to actually store water (4.5 L total for this hike) and then I had to find sources from which to filter. Most of the creeks along the LSHT were dry, though there were probably 4 that ran pretty clear along my trek. I filtered as much as I could from each one of those.
Luckily, despite the massive leg cramps I had the night before, my muscles had recovered well and I had minimal cramps through the day. There was the occasional spasm, but for the most part, my muscles treated me well. All of them actually, given the ridiculous, brutal beating I had put them through.
Once my nap was done, I felt refreshed and energized. Like a toddler even, raring to go. It did a very small wonder for my appetite and allowed me to consume a granola bar and a trail mix bar. I slung on the pack and marched on down the trail.
I made it to the campsite at mile 29 at 1900. It was a 17+ mile day through some bushwhacking and quite a bit of road walking. I wasn’t really hungry, though I needed to eat something. I simply pitched my tent, downed a liter of water, consumed a trail mix bar, a few aspirin to hopefully fight off any soreness, and went to sleep. The cramps occurred sporadically through the night, but a single muscle at a time. Those were very manageable.
Lesson #3: I confirmed that attempting to make video while hiking/surviving is difficult. Les Stroud is indeed a bad4$$.
Lesson #4: I also confirmed that July Texas heat is no joke.
Lesson #5: A good map and compass are really all one needs to find their way. Assuming one can use them. I did not use any electronic type of map, GPS, or my phone during this whole trip. I relied on the topographic maps, the compass, and the actual landmarks (creeks, hills, roads, etc.) around me to find my way. This really only mattered on the detour as the LSHT is well marked for the most part.
Sunday, July 1
I woke up around 0600 and just laid on my mat until 0700. It was taking time for my body to get going.
I knew I needed some sodium and calories and I wasn’t in the mood for oatmeal. I broke out one of the shrimp ramen noodle soups, got 2 flour tortillas, and my small bottle of olive oil. That was breakfast. And it was damn good!
I had gone through about 1 liter of water for breakfast and that left me with about 1.5 liters.
On Saturday, I had to hike through a section of the LSHT that was pretty overgrown. It was worse than the bushwhacking I did on my detour. But, it wasn’t all that bad. As I had exited the overgrowth I heard the familiar sound of an empty plastic bottle being grabbed and mildly compressed.
“Crap! Something grabbed a water bottle and pulled it out of my pack,” I thought.
I turned around and scanned the trail and the bushes. I saw nothing. I paused for a few seconds looking around. I saw nothing, turned, and continued hiking. I never thought to ACTUALLY check my pack. Heat delirium clouds a hiker’s mental capability I suppose.
The bushes had indeed pulled one of my empty water bottles free. And one of the 1 liter bottles. I had three 1 liter bottles and two 0.75 liter bottles. I was now down to two of each for a total of 3.5 liters.
Based on my Saturday hike, I wasn’t going to make it on 1.5 liters. Right by the campsite was a pond. A dirty looking pond, but the water was clear-ish.
“I swam in worse as a kid,” I commented to myself.
I filtered as much water as I could and stored water in my “dirty water bag”. This water did not come out of the filter clear. I concluded that the Sawyer Mini does not filter natural coloring from wild pigs, turtles, deer, and such.
“Maybe there’s some natural salt that got through the filter,” I hoped.
With my water supplies topped off, I went back to camp, broke my tent down, packed everything up, and got back to the march of madness.
By 1200 I had reached the section of the trail where the I-45 road walk begins. I had enough wisdom now to know that I didn’t have enough water to complete this road walk section in this heat. I stayed in the shade, forced down an energy bar, and took a nap until around 1430. By this time the sun had gone down enough that I could walk in the shade of the trees along the feeder road. That would still leave some long walks along Park Road 40 and US 75 in the sun, but it would be later in the day and not so intense.
I finished the road walk section and was back in the forest in about an hour and a half.
By 1600, I concluded that the rations that I packed were absolute and utter crap. Granola bars, pop tarts, and trail mix bars for mid-day snacks in this heat? WTH was I thinking? I had eaten some of each, but it finally came to the point where the thought of anything “sweet” just rolled my stomach and made my mouth parch up. Yeah . . . parch up. It’s a new phrase that means make your mouth go even drier at the thought of putting any moisture robbing agent in it. I rued the day that I saw those YouTube videos where ultra-hikers had packed this stuff to eat. They were hiking in freaking cold weather up north. “Bring that crap down here to hike, and you’re gonna be upchucking,” I mumbled to myself and the fly buzzing around my sweaty legs.
It was at this point I realized that I had learned enough lessons on this training hike. It was time to call it before I did some real damage to myself. The new shoes that I purchased were absolutely killing my left arch even though I had done quite a bit of walking in them before this hike and they had felt fine. Due to the pain in my left foot, my left knee started aching because I had changed the mechanics of my walk. It also felt as if it had been twisted, which it probably had more than a couple of times as my left foot kind of dragged and got caught on some ground vines and got yanked around. I was down 1 liter of water storage capability. I hadn’t been eating properly and my energy was waning. I was attempting 17+ miles per day, and though I had achieved it on Saturday and was on schedule to achieve it this day, my body was being severely punished. If there was something to achieve here, like the Barkley Marathons or finishing the PCT, it would be worth it. But, for a training hike, it was pretty pointless.
Jodi had Monday off from work and it would be way more convenient for her to drive up on that day versus coming to get me after she got off work on another day. We agreed that Monday morning was probably a smart time to stop.
I hiked into the campsite at mile 38 and set up camp. As my hiking this day was fairly relaxed, once I got there, I wasn’t quite as overheated and my appetite had started to come back. I pulled out a pouch of sweet and spicy tuna, the olive oil, and 2 flour tortillas. I ravaged those tuna wraps like nobody’s business. “I wish I purchased a few more of these,” I thought.
No muscle cramps to speak of that night.
Lesson #6: Food matters. The type of food matters more. I packed entirely the wrong type of rations for the conditions.
Lesson #7: With all the misery, I want to do it again.
Monday, July 2
My eyes opened around 0700 according to my phone. And everything was a dewy wet mess. Not bad, just damp. The tent had no condensation, so I figured that something in the atmosphere had changed and we were at the dew point over night. Made for a pretty crappy morning as nothing really dried out overnight. Better than being soaking wet I had told myself as I pulled my damp and sandy socks back on, slid my shoes on, and crawled out of the tent.
Jodi, in uncharacteristic fashion, was up at the crack of dawn and texting me that she was on the way to get me. Unless it’s due to work, the girl is never, I say never, up before 0900.
I consumed a trail mix bar, a granola bar, and drank some filtered hog waller pond water for breakfast. I then broke camp, packed up, and hiked the few miles to where the LSHT exits onto FM 2296. I sat on a log and attempted to make a video. I couldn’t get the camera situated on the opposite log so that I was completely in the frame and the camera stayed on the log. I abandoned the project, not quite sure what I was even going to talk about.
I did break out another package of tuna and eat some more tuna wraps while waiting. And I reflected on the hike. I was feeling better and wondered if I had made the right decision to stop. Well, my foot and knee were still pretty tweaked, but I could have worked through that, I thought. No, I would have pushed hard to finish the whole thing by Wednesday. A very real and possible undertaking, but I would have really had to perform at my current physical limits and I didn’t have the right preparations for that kind of endeavor.
So, I simply sat there. Not feeling like a failure, but not considering myself a success either. I had just hiked close to 50 miles. That’s all there was to it and I just . . . was. The “goal” was no longer a matter of consequence. It’s not often in life that I’ve been that way. It felt good.
My mind turned to Church’s Chicken tenders. Yes, I’m vegetarian (pescatarian really), but the salty, crispy, juicy goodness was infecting my mind like an addict’s next fix. It had been since Sunday when I was hiking down the I-45 feeder road in the sweltering heat and saw a chicken box as trash in the ditch.
Jodi arrived around 1000. I put my pack in the trunk of the car and proceeded to laughingly tell her about my all consuming thoughts of chicken tenders.
“I’ve been wanting some chicken for some time now. I just didn’t want you to get mad about it,” she said. “We’re stopping to get some,” she continued.
I don’t really get “mad” about stuff anymore and who was I to argue?
I recounted some of the times on the trail as we headed to our chicken stop on the way home. As I sat in the A/C, my shorts and shirt began to dry out. My shorts became stiff as a board. There were white salt lines on them and my shirt.
And those chicken tenders . . . they were just as hot, and juicy, and salty as I remember them being in high school when I worked there.
I did manage to get some video. I will try to make something of it and get it posted.
Lesson #8: Sometimes, and I mean ONLY sometimes, salty meat is dee-lish-shush!!
Lesson #9: I was finally able to get my ULA Circuit to kind of fit right. I never had the massive shoulder pain. I still need to do some hikes to get a better idea of how to pack it to distribute the weight and how to get it to ride a little better on my body. I’ll leave you with this final thought: I’ve found that choosing a pack is kind of like choosing a spouse.