Apologies for taking a while to get this post out, but day 5 on the Lone Star Trail was arguably one of the most physically and mentally taxing days in recent memory. But now – two days later and writing from the comfort of my apartment – I am generally recovered and composed enough to recount the events of my final day on the Lone Star Trail.
The day started off great. The cabin we rented afforded us all a great night’s sleep and refuge from the storms which rolled through during the night. These storms heralded the arrival of a major cold front – or as the news described it, a polar vortex. Yes, a polar vortex had arrived to the swamps and bayous of East Texas and with it came 40 degree daytime highs and sub-freezing nighttime lows. Dry air and gusts of wind exceeding 20 miles per hour were also expected. Goodbye comfortable cabin.
With 24 miles to go, we were fully prepared to spend one more very cold and windy night out on the trail. The plan was to hike 18 miles to a campsite, sleep, and wake up early to finish the last 6 miles on Sunday morning. And for the better part of the day, this plan remained quite attractive. For the first 16 miles or so, the trail was absolutely beautiful – probably the most beautiful stretch of trail yet. Additionally, the cool, crisp air rejuvenated our spirits and quickened our pace after spending days slogging through muggy, preposterously humid conditions.
We were making great time and soon realized we would reach our campsite well before sundown. So we floated the idea of just finishing the trail that evening – after all, none of us really wanted to sleep in a freezing swamp. So we pressed on past the campsite and were immediately greeted by that which we had feared since the beginning. Bayous. The last portion of the trail passes through two bayous and because of the recent rain trail conditions were – in scientific terms – less than ideal.
The trail underwent a transformation. Once a beautiful, leafy footpath through the woods, the trail now became a slog through indiscernible bog and marsh. To make matters worse, the water was quite cold as you might expect with the onset of the biggest cold front of the year. And we had 8 miles of this to go. 8 miles of wading through frigid ankle deep swamp and mud.
But a fire had been lit. We were so close to finishing and night was fast approaching. None of us were exactly thrilled about trudging through this quagmire in sub-freezing temperatures the next morning so there was only one thing to do. With my dad taking the lead at an insane pace, we pressed on. Feeling the fatigue of having already hiked 18 miles I brought out my secret weapon – a 5 hour energy. Fueled by a single bagel, caffeine, and no small degree of summit fever, I pushed myself harder than I really ever had before on a hike. At times we were making a sub 20 minute mile pace through some of the worst possible conditions. Mentally I was feeling strangely zen-like despite having a quarter-sized blister painfully reminding me of it’s presence every muddy step. However, in fortunate irony, the nearly-icy water numbed the pain in my arches so I was able to walk in surprising comfort.
Maybe comfort is the wrong word. In the weird flow-state I had entered for this final slog, I simply ceased to care about the little aches and scrapes and discomforts which would earlier have nagged at me. I’d never experienced a runner’s high before but I now have a sense of what that feeling is like. It’s amazing what you can do physically when your mental space is in good form. At times I even found myself laughing internally at the absurdity of what the trail had become and the speed at which we were flying through such awful conditions. Call it a cope, but choosing to see the trail in this way helped me to brush aside those things which would have otherwise put a mental and physical strain on my hike.
When we made the decision to finish the hike that evening, our estimated time of arrival was 7:30 PM. That would have put us at 12 hours of nearly non stop hiking for the day.
After 24 hard fought miles, we finished the hike at 5:45 – almost two hours ahead of schedule and just before nightfall. We were all shocked at our pace and sheer determination to finish. Even having to contend with busted up boardwalks for our last two miles we made faster time than we ever had on our hike.
Finishing the hike was a big moment for all of us. I don’t want to speak for my dad and brother but I’m going to do it anyways. For my brother, he finally had the satisfaction of having completed the thru-hike of a trail which had taunted him for so long. For my dad, it meant getting to spend quality time with us accomplishing something pretty impressive (Despite always being initially iffy on doing these difficult hikes with us, I think the type 2 fun – fun in retrospect – outweighs his reservations and memories of the more difficult parts of these hikes). And finally, for myself, this hike showed me I’m capable of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This is why I set out to do it. I’d never before hiked a trail of this distance and I went out there and did it – all 100 miles. Sure I had plenty of moments of struggle and strife but I overcame them in the end and had a great time. I learned a lot about how I hike, both in a mental and physical sense. I learned everything from the simple things like how I probably need better insoles and that cheap tortillas are terrible, to the more complex things like the power of making a conscious choice to have a positive perspective when conditions are rough. I definitely feel more confident now – in myself, my gear, and my approach to long distance hiking.
Thank you for following along with me on this little journey and I hope it gives you a good idea of things to come!
Bonus picture of my shoes and socks after the hike: