PCT Prep: Shakedown Hike on the Lone Star Trail
I recently attempted a thru-hike of the Lone Star Hiking Trail (LSHT) in East Texas. I got my butt kicked for four days, and I was ultimately derailed by weather after 42 miles.
About the Lone Star Trail
The trail runs about 100 miles through East Texas, stretching roughly from Richards to Cleveland. It’s the only long-distance trail in Texas, and I planned it mainly as a gear test. I didn’t know much about the trail, so I ordered this guidebook and ended up carrying it on my hike. I emailed Badger with questions after he mentioned the LSHT on Backpacker Radio‘s first episode. I messaged a few people on Instagram who’d hiked it before or would be on trail just ahead of me. I found a trio of LSHT thru-runners who were starting the day before me, which was cool (finding their labeled water cache trash later was less cool).
The Lone Star hike takes most people seven to 10 days, although I’d read about several people who didn’t finish or hiked it in a couple sections. Overall, I’d heard the scenery would be mostly flat and boring, there would be snakes and spiders, and that the weather might get weird. The only real hazard I’d heard of was a dangerous bridge near Stubblefield campground. It had been damaged by Hurricane Harvey, and was closed to all traffic. Some people online mentioned a hefty fine for attempting to cross it, although I couldn’t find the fine amount posted anywhere. I’d mentally prepared to cross it in the predawn hours on day two. This was a mistake for a few reasons.
I began my thru-hike attempt on Thursday, March 15. I stayed with family nearby the night before. Tammy, Jeff, and my cousins generously offered logistic support for my hike, although none of us quite realized how much that would entail (yet). When I started my LSHT hike, I left a bag of food with them in case I needed to resupply beyond six days. I also left my car at their house. Tammy dropped me off at the western terminus about 10:30 Thursday morning. I’d planned to hike as close to the closed Stubblefield bridge as possible, in case I needed to sneak through while it was dark.
After a few initial hours of hiking through dense forest on mostly level ground, I decided to push on and see how close to the bridge I could get. I knew it was a rookie mistake to attempt big miles on the first day, but I couldn’t find a reason to go slow on flat ground. I overestimated my ability because I didn’t consider the strain of my pack weight. With three liters of water and six days of food, my Osprey Atmos was approaching 30-plus pounds. I hiked 16.5 miles to the edge of Lake Conroe.
I only had to refill on water once during the day, but I had clogging issues with my filter because I hadn’t back-flushed it after a previous overnight trip. Another rookie mistake. After I set up camp at Lake Conroe, I started working on back-flushing the filter with clean water. I could tell I was making a very slight improvement, but it really wasn’t usable. So I took down my tent, packed up, and backtracked a half mile in the dark to a road where Tammy picked me up. I ended my first day of hiking at mile marker 16, after hiking 17 total miles. My muscles and joints weren’t very excited about that, but I was mentally stoked.
Crossing the Bridge
My second day on the Lone Star Trail felt like it involved more hobbling through town than hiking. I was sore and I was starting to get blisters on my toes, despite wearing toe socks to preempt friction. My hips were sore in a new way that I’m still confused about. I bought a new water filter, ate some fast food, and lazed my way back to the trail around 4 p.m. I hiked just 3.7 miles to Stubblefield Campground at mile marker 19.7, just before the closed bridge at mile 20. I asked around and found out the bridge was apparently no big deal, and campers had been walking up to fish from it all day.
I finally set out to cross the Stubblefield bridge on the morning of hiking day three, completely unalarmed by its reported closure and fine. It was a hazy morning, but there were several cars parked at the bridge barricades on both sides, and lots of people were out fishing. There was one place on the bridge that was tricky to cross, but it was basically safe for a pedestrian. I was right in the middle of the bridge before I was able to see the sheriff and state trooper markings on the cars on the far side. There were four law enforcement SUVs and six to eight guys standing around waiting for me when I approached. I said “good morning” and just kept walking, trying to be cool. They said good morning and kept on with their conversation! No issues whatsoever.
My hip joint was still pretty achy throughout the day, and it worried me to think about healing a new injury this close to my PCT hike. It felt mostly just overworked, like I’d popped it out of socket too many times. I hiked 12 miles that day, hoping to loosen it up. It hurt to sit still too long or lay on it sleeping in my tent, and honestly it weirded me out a little to be hurting so early on. I texted my Aunt Tammy and she picked me up so I could sleep in a bed again. Not proud of it, but it happened.
Road Walks, Trail Magic, and the Quick End
I planned to hike 13 miles on the fourth day, still trying to put myself on track for a completed thru-hike in under ten days. The morning started in a swampy area reported to have alligators, though luckily, I didn’t see any. Then I had a couple miles of road walking along highways. I could the feel the asphalt heating up an area on the ball of my foot, so I stopped and put on a fancy blister Band-Aid, some cushioning medical tape, and a layer of duct tape for good measure. I kept walking, it felt OK, and I was distracted by awesome trail magic!
I met Callie on Instagram, and we’d messaged a few times. They’re a fellow 2018 PCTer with a start date close to mine. One of my first days on the LSHT, I checked my phone and found a DM from them that basically just said, hey I’m passing through Sunday, can I bring you trail magic? I was shocked. I hadn’t even made it to the PCT yet, I was feeling lame for going into town and sleeping inside, and this person I’d never met was offering me trail magic just to be kind. As long as nobody killed me in the woods, this trail community I’d heard about seemed to be coming through already. And sure enough, Callie and Diane met me on a dirt road near Huntsville with iced coffee, just to say what’s up. Callie’s probably the third thru-hiker I’ve ever met, and we got real nerdy with gear spread out in the woods, and it was fantastic. I picked Callie’s brain about blisters, and all their previous trips, and the PCT. All while casually sipping iced coffee and leaning against a tree in the middle of nowhere.
The longer I hiked, the bigger my blisters felt. After ten miles for the day, I was headed into another three miles of road walking. I stopped to check on the blisters and decided I should probably learn how to treat them and buy new shoes if I intended to keep hiking 10-plus miles a day. I decided to ask Tammy to take me to town, again.
In the moments before Tammy pulled up, the sky turned green and the wind roared in. She picked me up as a sudden storm hit. Seventy mph winds and large hail downed trees and closed roads all around the Huntsville area, the section of the LSHT I was hiking. Road closures were preventing my return to the trail, and I didn’t know how passable the trail would be.
Stuck in a time constraint and with new gear issues to resolve, I was forced to abandon my thru-hike attempt. I bought new shoes and took them on a few day hikes instead. Still working on sock and shoe combos, but I think I’m on the right track.
If I Hiked the LSHT Again
I made a few obvious mistakes on this hike. But I’m glad I had the chance to make them now instead of on the PCT. Here are things I should’ve done differently:
–I should’ve planned two days to get to Stubblefield bridge at mile marker 20. I should’ve built myself up to longer days instead of trying to start out with big miles.
–I should’ve driven parts of the route to scout out potential campsites beforehand. I could have also checked out Stubblefield bridge.
–I should’ve tested all my gear before I left. I had a lot of preparing to do and eventually ran out of time to retest my older gear. I never knew my water filter had gotten clogged.
–Ideally, I think hiking the LSHT with a partner could’ve been beneficial. After my first day, I saw almost no other hikers. I learned that solo camping in the backcountry will take a little getting used to, which I wasn’t anticipating. I didn’t think I’d miss being around people?
–I treated my hiking clothes with permethrin bug repellent, and it worked great. I assumed I’d only be wearing my sleeping/camp clothes in my tent, so I didn’t treat those. Unfortunately, I wound up with lots of mosquito bites on my knees and ankles from wearing leggings around camp.
I learned a lot on my Lone Star Trail hike. I’m very thankful to have had the chance to make mistakes and try new shoes before I leave for the PCT. I’m also glad to have a few days off to heal before I head out again. Can’t wait to keep learning things the hard way.
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