Lake To Lake
By Lone_Star on 6/5/2013
Distance: 28.00 Miles Duration: N/A
My hike of the Trail Between The Lake took me 2 days and was bittersweet. On the upside, this hike put me over the 1,000 mile mark for miles hiked in Texas. In that light, it was a celebrated accomplishment. On the downside, it was a miserable and grueling hike and it highlighted some mistakes I made and the need to shore up my long-distance thru-hiking skills.
I started the first day's hike late in the afternoon (around 3:30pm). My goal was to hike as far as I could before sunset and then camp. I hiked around 4 hours and managed to get 9 miles under my belt. That is a slower than usual pace for me on relatively flat ground, so allow me to explain.
First, the trail was HORRIBLY maintained in many areas. The trail is marked by small yellow arrows and aluminum blazes nailed onto the trees, but the trail was so overgrown with vegetation (often much taller than me) the blazes were hard to find. At some points, I had to stop and slowly turn in a 360 degree circle to find where the next blaze was. To be blunt, in some parts there WAS NO TRAIL. It was simply blaze to blaze navigation. This, combined with the fact that the trail was so overgrown and almost required a machete, led to my slow pace.
Second, I got lost on a few occasions and was forced to backtrack. In some places, the trail follows some of the dirt roads running through the area. There is a tendency for your mind to disengage a bit and relax, but if you don't pay attention the trail abruptly leaves the road and heads off into the woods. If you miss the blazes marking the turn-off (like I did), then you'll end up walking some distance before you've realized your mistake.
Third, this trail is a little scary. Since the undergrowth prevents you from seeing the ground, you are wide open to be bitten by a snake and this area is filled with venomous water mocassins (i.e., cottonmouths). You remain at a hyper state of vigilance, especially knowing that if you are bit, you are screwed. Help and medical facilities are nowhere nearby and the trail traffic is extremely low. In the 2 days I hiked this trail, I was the only person on the trail. So, if you are bitten by a venomous snake, chances are you will die on this trail. What also makes this trail a bit scary are the creek crossings. Many creeks can be crossed on foot, but some require that you either ford them and get wet or, alternatively, that you cross over a log. When you're backpacking a 30 lb pack, your center of gravity changes and it throws your balance off. Even with trekking poles, I found the log crossings challenging.
One other note is worthy of mention. Aside from the numerous snakes I saw, there are a number of wild hogs, too. A whole pack of them surrounded my tent at dusk to check me out. While they seemed fairly docile and scattered once they heard me move, I was later told by one of the locals that there are some wild Russian boars in these woods that can attack and take you down. Not exactly a comforting thought. But aside from the animals, this place is infested with ticks, chiggers, lice and mosquitos. The DEET I applied didn't help very much, mostly because I only applied it to the exposed areas of skins (neck, face, and forearms). Much of this came off as I sweated and.or was brushed off by the overgrowth. The result is I was bitten all over and I found about 10 ticks on my legs, butt, and back.
If you decide to hike this trail, DO NOT wear shorts. I was wearing long pants, but this was not enough. You need gaiters or boot blouses at a minimum. I would also wear a long sleeved shirt to cover your arms. Still, I would advise that you do a through inspection of your body when you camp to remove anything that has latched onto you.
Back to my hike, the second day I hiked the remaining 19 miles to the campground on the shore of the Toledo Bend Reservoir. It was a grueling hike, not just because of the distance involved or the unmaintained state of the trail, but also because the terrain becomes hilly in the "Seven Canyons" area as you get within a few miles of Toledo Bend Reservoir.
At this point, I should mention a few of the mistakes I made, so hopefully future hikers won't make the same ones.
First, I ran out of water. I started my hike with a full 3 liter platypus and 3 additional quarts of water, but it was not enough considering I used some to cook and bathe with. I realized about half way that I was running low on water, so I went into water conservation mode and only drank when absolutely necessary. This was difficult because the temperature was in the mid 90s. At 5 miles out, I was completely out of water and parched. After hiking 23 miles, I figured I could "man up" and complete the last 5 miles without water, but after one mile I realized that was a fantasy. I noticed I wasn't thinking clearly and making stupid little mistakes. Fortunately, I had my water filter and Steripen, so I stopped at a creek to get some water. The water in the creek was dark brown, stagnant and teeming with mosquitos, but I had no choice. I was in survival mode. The scooped up a liter and it looked like the color of beer. Fortunately, I was prepared so I filtered it (twice, lol) and then used my pen to zap anything else. It still didn't look too refreshing, but it helped me rehydrate. By the time I finished the trail and stumbled into the campground, I went straight for the water faucet. I was thoroughly whipped.
Some of the people camping in the campground wondered where the hell I had came from. When I told them I had hiked in from the trail, they looked at me in disbelief. "It's 28 miles, isn't it?" "Yeah..." "Geez!" I was so exhausted and not thinking clearly after being so dehydrated that I accidentally deleted my track file before I saved it. There is no un-do function on my GPS, so 28 miles of tracks were gone forever and there was nothing I could do about it. I was pissed! So, I set up my tent and crashed, completely intimidated by the thought that it would be another 2 days and another 28 hard miles back to my car.
When I woke up the next morning, I tried to figure out a plan of attack. I knew I did not have enough water storage to make it back, plus I had chunked one of my quart containers that I had use to scoop up the contaminated water. I calculated I could carry enough water to make it halfway back. This is when I realized that most of the water sources were on the first half, with far fewer on the second half. I also realized I would be completely infested with ticks again and I would have to press Lady Luck and hope that I did not get bit by a snake. To say the least, I was NOT motivated in the slightest. I could not call anyone and ask them to pick me up because I was over 150 miles away from Houston, on the border of Texas and Louisiana.
To make matters worse, the weather began to deteriorate and some rain clouds were moving in fast from the EAST. This was a bad sign since weather usually moves from West to East. Then, I started seeing flashes of lightning off in the distance and the wind started picking up. As I was breaking down my tent and frantically trying to pack and cover myself and pack with raingear, the winds started whipping up around 30 mph or so. The swells were coming in off the lake and it looked like a serious storm was about to hit. Now, the idea of hiking back took on an even more ominous tone, since I would have to endure rain, the threat of lightning, the possibility of falling trees (i.e., widow makers), plus the water level in the creeks would be much higher. I was now completely out of my league...
I had only one option left. I asked/begged one of the campers there to allow me to pay him to give me a ride into the nearest town (Yellowpine). Instead, he offered to take me all the way back to my car and, despite my repeated offers, he declined to take any payment. I will always be indebted to this man, David, for his kindness and generosity. I think it is fair to say that he could have saved my life.
I learned a lot of lessons. It was good that I had invested in good gear and equipment so I could travel light and filter/purify water. It was also good that I had a lot of hiking experience prior to taking on this very long hike. It prepared me to deal with a lot. However, this hike also made it painfully clear that I did not do an adequate job of planning and that, despite all of the preparation I did, STUFF HAPPENS! In all, it was a humbling experience and made me realize that I have a lot more to learn before taking my hiking to the next level.
I salute those other members that have made this hike prior to me. For those planning to hike this trail in the future, please be prepared. This is not a trail for beginners.