And sometimes there's a thread already going, a trail already waiting for someone to report having finished, but no FKT yet posted. I looked around the internet here and there, found a few trip reports from hikers who took 3+ days to complete it, and figured, well, maybe someone has run the whole thing in one go, but maybe not. Why not give it a shot myself.
It's called the Lone Star Trail, something I had not heard of before this year. 96.5 miles from end to end, starting in the middle of nowhere, passing a couple parks I'm familiar with, traversing several creek systems, and ending in the middle of nowhere. I don't know why it's there, but I'm very happy that it is.
I had one shot at this, one weekend that worked without overly affecting other racing and training. My left Achilles wasn't quite sure it was ready the day before, but I slept on it and it decided it was fine. Well then, let's do this thing. Or at least make an attempt.
All photos - and lots and lots of support - courtesy of John. He met me at every trailhead plus several road crossings. He helped me swap water bottles, get a drink of SPIZ and a bite to eat, switch from a fanny pack to a backpack and back multiple times, and several other things that I'll detail below. Hugely helpful!!
The starting point, trailhead #1:
As close as I got to an armadillo that day (as far as I know):
A whole series of pictures of me getting ready...
Chrono is cleared and ready to record:
I started on Friday evening to maximize the amount of weekend we had to work with, not being really sure just how long this might take me. Also hoping to be back in Austin for a pie gathering on Sunday...
A bit of makeup...
Modeling our new InReach tracker which sent points to an online map every 10 minutes so folks could follow along at home:
Geez woman, are you ever going to get going? Start the watch already!
I did it! I started the watch!
Well, now I better run...
Down the trail, legs getting settled, walk a bit, run a while, everything feels OK.
The first thing I noticed was that this trail is beautiful. Well-maintained. Very runnable. Nice, flowing curves through the woods. Little dips through drainages, but otherwise just gentle climbs and descents. Lots of lovely trees.
And the trail markings! Frequent silver reflective markers that not only provide confidence but also indicate directional changes, with double markers for sharper turns. Huge props to the Lone Star Trail club for all the work they have obviously put into this trail (and this website, with an amazing number of maps and a detailed trail description):
Doing good so far:
The next section was a bit longer, 5.4 miles. It traversed the Little Lake Creek Wilderness, starting with a long run along the edge that dipped through several little ditches. Then across Little Lake Creek and through a section with some recent trail work (maybe some little reroutes). Vegetation closed in on the trail, still providing plenty of room to move but also plenty of proximity for the spiders to work their web magic. Yep, spiderwebs, I wonder how many of those I will encounter?
I crossed a dirt track and encountered a mile+ where there had been a recent prescribed burn. It was 8 days old but still smoldering. So it was a tad smoky in there, not so exciting. I had read about two recent prescribed burns but didn't know to expect that they would still affect the trail air after this many days. Lesson learned, something to try to avoid in the future.
I'm really not sure what the heck this pose is all about, but it's all I've got for Trailhead #3, so here it is:
The next short (2.5 mile) section looked level and fast on the map, and it really was. After a quick pit stop at the mile 9 marker - oh! There are mile markers! This was even more amazing. Many of the miles (not all, but I may have missed some) were indicated with a signpost that had the mileage on it. Later I saw some trees with the same info, although those were harder to spot unless I was really looking.
Talk about motivation. After my pit stop, I took a time check and started running. With a few speed-walking breaks interspersed into some easy running, I was averaging around 12 minute miles. I had no idea how long I would keep that up, but it did keep me interested and moving as well as I could.
I popped out at Osborn Road and told John, "that was fun!"
Trail trash (plus a wrapper I brought in with me) - I saw very little trash on the trail, so it was quite easy to pick up the once-in-a-while litter:
A warning for the next burn section, with an attempt at a joke? I really have no idea how to hold an invisible cigarette, as is obvious:
Off she goes. The first half mile was clear of smoke, and the Caney Creek lowlands were completely mud-free (this section apparently can be bad when it rains).
Then I had a couple more miles of smoky haze. I didn't want to run too fast and start breathing hard, nor did I want to lollygag. Keep moving, get through it. I'm such not a fan of smoke in any form. At least this would be done soon, and it was all front-loaded so the rest of the run would be free and clear.
One odd occurrence - walking up the trail I heard a "woof" and a slight growl. Two white dogs appeared (one medium size and one smaller), looked at me, and took off into the brush. I said things like "hi doggies, whatcha doing?" and walked past where they had disappeared but didn't see them again. I thought they were with other hikers, but I didn't meet anyone else on the trail (pretty much the whole time, actually).
Nothing to do but move along. The bright side (?) of the burned areas was that there were almost no spiderwebs across the trail there...
Finally there was a dirt road, a short road run, and a trail back into the woods - woods that had not been burned. Yay!
John came down this road to get a photo of the hazy trail before it got dark:
John moved on to our next meeting spot, but we both made note of the guy with about 14 citronella candles burning around his campsite. He was not taking any chances with those mosquitoes, plenty of smoke of various kinds to drive them off.
1.5 miles of smoke-free woods and I was happy again. I crossed FM 1375, found the trail off to the side, and followed it around to the next trailhead (#6). 57 minutes for 4.5 miles and part of it in the dark, still running well after 16 miles.
Next I had a really nice run along the west side of Lake Conroe. It even started spiderweb-free due to recent hikers passing through. A quick view of the lake where a guy was playing music at his campsite. A fast and fun trail with little twists and turns, a couple recent reroutes but still very well signed. More mile markers and incentive to keep moving well as long as my legs were happy.
It was relatively early in the evening when I trotted through Stubblefield campground, nice that I didn't have to worry about waking up the campers with my lights. I briefly debated veering over to use the one real bathroom along the whole trail but didn't really need to go and didn't really want to take the time.
I jogged up the road to where John was parked. Another sub-hour split for a 4.5-mile section, that's pretty sweet. I wondered if I was actually moving faster overall compared to my recent long road run - due in large part to carrying very little and getting a lot of help from John in quick refueling and resupply. Supported runs are fun :)
It took a couple extra minutes here to swap to my backpack for the first longer section (7.6 miles). John provided a second bottle with more SPIZ, which I discovered later was a full bottle like I had written on his sheet instead of half like I had intended. So I carried an extra 10 oz through this section, but since that's one of only a handful of small mishaps I'm not at all beating myself up over it.
Back to the woods, on a trail that felt like it went gradually uphill for several miles (although I'm not sure that's true). It did drop and climb through a few larger drainage systems, so it was more work for a while. Plus the footing initially was kind of crappy. Oh well, the trail had been so great up to that point, no promises that it was going to stay that way.
Eventually it returned to being quite runnable, although still hilly. I had a couple slower miles in here, feeling like an occasional speed-walk was good for me as a bit of active recovery. A couple mile markers may have been missing, but when I saw mile 25 I decided to kick it back up a notch and see how my running pace was doing. Back to a 12-minute mile to mile 26, not bad!
Oh, a couple bags hanging from a branch over the trail, oh I see, there's a tent. And a couple more. All spread across the trail, which I guess makes sense since the underbrush looks rather dense around here. Not to mention - who would ever expect to have someone come running through their camp in the middle of the night?? Especially since I had seen exactly zero people on the trail in the whole 26 miles so far. I might have woken them up before I realized I should stop shining my bright light around to figure out what I was looking at. Sorry about that.
My first road run - 1.5 miles of gravel heading up Bath Road. It was a nice break from wiping spiderwebs off my face.
I saw a bright reflector on the road up ahead. As I got closer it launched itself upward and flew off into the trees. A bird, oh I see! But still weird, with the one glowing eyeball that would take off and drift away. This happened several times. What kind of bird just sits on the road at night? And why were the eyeballs glowing? I guess my headlamp (which was on a low setting for map reading) was enough to light them up even with my bright handheld light pointed away. I reported these "glowing eye birds" to John when I found him at the top of the road and he was like, "OK then, here have some SPIZ."
I corrected the 10 oz/20 oz error I had made in the instructions, kept the rest of the extra SPIZ with me, and started off on the next long section (7.1 miles). I was still going faster than 4 MPH overall including breaks, so I was pretty stoked about that. Originally I thought maybe I could complete this in 30 hours but now I was wondering if I might be able to finish before sundown on Saturday. Or not, whatever, I was most interested in just getting to the end eventually. For now, it felt great to be moving at a good clip.
John drove around to the other side of Huntsville State Park and took a nice picture of Big Sam on the way:
I continued up the road, made a couple turns, heard a dog bark but it was contained, and soon I was back in the woods. This next section was the most overgrown of the whole trail. Parts of it were fun - zigzagging through the close brush, feeling "fast," making turns based on the reflective marker directions, enjoying that it didn't seem as hilly as the last section.
Then there were the blow-downs. Several trees to climb over or make my way around. I verified that there were markers up ahead so I was clambering the right way. The process slowed me down, but it kept things interesting. More spiderwebs, of course. Those were much less interesting. Sigh.
I heard the water treatment plant off to the right, then another mile later I found the dam and spillway. I had brought a trekking pole to help with the spillway because of reports that it could be slippery. It was a complete non-issue, almost no water on it and plenty of good footing between a couple green algae spots (I didn't even need the pole).
I sat for a minute to finish my bottle of SPIZ, then found the trail heading away from the subdivision and had another good mile of running up and over a small hill. The trail was back to its normal "clear and runnable" self, yay!
Down in the Alligator Branch drainage I heard several creatures rustling around - pretty sure they weren't alligators, guessing they were pigs based on all the dug up ground around the trail. Go piggies go! They slipped away and I never saw one, just lots of evidence of them.
I started hearing the highway and eventually popped out at trailhead #7 where John was waiting. This section was a tad slower, at 1:44, but not bad considering the occasional obstacles. Yay for reaching mile 35!
John hooked me up with a reflective vest for the next road section and I was on my way again. There was a bit of pavement, a couple turns over to Evelyn Lane, then I was back on the trail. If I remember right, I missed seeing a couple mile markers in here but it still felt like I was running at a good clip.
On the next short section of road, I stirred up a couple loud dogs. That got me hot-footing it back onto the next trail and I took off away from the house. One dog just - would - not - shut - up, howling on into the night even as I was moving quickly away. I could still hear it for several minutes, geez dog, go back to bed.
I found John parked along the next main road, discovering that I had run 7 miles in 1:35 even with a couple stops (pit stops and drinking SPIZ). Nice.
He helped me swap back to the waistbelt, handed me a trekking pole, and made sure I had my pepper spray. Reports talked about dogs on the next road and I figured it wouldn't hurt to be ready just in case they were awake tonight.
Yep, as soon as I turned onto Four Notch Road I saw a small figure in front of a house. It seemed to think for a second and then decide it should come investigate. Two dogs came running out barking, but taking enough time to wake up that I was already past the house. I waved the pole at the one that seemed serious, and told them that everything was fine, nothing to see here. They weren't so sure but at least they didn't charge me. So I continued on.
I tried to run as stealthily as I could, but down in the next valley some canine sensed something was going on. This time I was quite a ways past by the time the barking started. I didn't see another animal - except for one old dog standing at the end of a driveway, just watching me go by. I thought its eyes were mailbox reflectors until they moved slightly. Hello doggie, whatcha doing up in the middle of the night?
Oh, and I saw a few cows. They didn't seem quite as perturbed as the dogs.
So the barking actually got louder, that was disconcerting. Different dogs got into it, maybe they were barking at each other? Was the first dog coming down to follow me? All I know is that there was a lot of noise for quite a while. I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled.
While all this was going on, I was looking for the turn-off onto a side road for the next trailhead (#8). I assumed there would be some kind of marking, and it was supposed to be at the top of a hill. I saw lots of driveways. Not wanting to wake any more dogs, I didn't stand and stare at any of them. I got out the map a couple times, but it seemed like it was too soon to be at the trailhead.
Then it was getting to be past time to be at the trailhead. Hmm, I never really saw the top of a hill and it didn't really feel like I was going downhill. It turns out the contours are pretty dang shallow around here. Finally I decided I must have missed it. Yep:
On the way back I saw our truck coming toward me - hi John! He wanted to know if I was trying to get in some bonus miles? Yeah, no, not really on purpose. He had figured out that I was overdue and came looking for me. I asked him to park at the turnoff so I wouldn't miss it again as I ran back.
I see! I had missed the reflective road number (213) on a post - it looked like a house number and I didn't think to check which road I was looking for. More than that, I had missed the stop sign where the road came out. Ooops. It was about a 16 minute, mile-ish detour.
OK, get the brain back in the game and shake it off. I told John I just wanted to get back on the trail where there were no dogs, just lots of familiar spiderwebs. And also, thank you for coming to look for me!
The next section started a bit slower, regrouping and paying attention at a couple trail intersections. There were a bunch of dips through little drainages. Then one very brief moment of missing a turn but immediately T'ing into the trail again. I backtracked a few feet, figured it out, and was on the right path again. One hiking report had mentioned going in a circle somewhere in this section and I really didn't feel like doing that about now.
I was starting to lose patience with the spiderwebs. For a while I had built up a tolerance, letting the little strands collect on my face for half a minute before wiping them all off. It was the large webs that kept throwing me for loops - especially the ones with spiders on them. I never saw them until right at the last minute as I was plowing my face into them, watching spiders out of the corner of my eyes. Then I'd have to stop, furiously claw at my face, head, neck, arms, everything to try to remove any living creatures from my body. I ended up with a slight scratch below my nose at the end of it all, wonder how that happened? It's amazing it was just one.
I tried turning up the intensity of my headlamp but still didn't get any advance warning, even when running slower. Oh well, just keep running faster then (to get it over with quicker). I suppose more than one spider hitched a ride for a mile here and there.
One thing that might help with a future FKT attempt = people prerunning each section to clear the webs before the runner got there :)
Boswell Creek was a slightly larger crossing, but still no wet feet! It was something of a climb out of that drainage system, then the trail got faster and more fun. This might have been the section (can't recall exactly) with the lopsided bridge that was kind of but not really still intact and actually quite interesting to cross. The alternative was going down into the drainage and back up, no big deal, but the bridge was a cute little challenge.
I was moving better by the time I saw John again, but my general pace drifted to around 15 minute miles by this point. Which was still way better than I had predicted with my time splits. My notes had me turning in my lights and picking up my shades - not yet I'm not!
Another short section of trail, running close to Karolyi's Gymnastics Camp - yes, those Karolyi's! I had seen an interview with them during last year's Olympics, and this is the ranch where they were (probably still are) living - very cool!
John got a photo of the sign as he was driving by:
There was a primitive "Karolyi Campsite" along the trail in this section. And a bunch of very strange graffiti, I don't think I was hallucinating but maybe someone else can independently confirm that.
Thank goodness, another road, this time a quiet dirt road with zero sign of any dogs. Or spiders. I trod through wet grass a couple times when transitioning from road to trail or vice versa, so somewhere along the way I picked up a couple chiggers. I found this out a couple days later and it took me too long to figure it out - but yes, it's now chigger season in Texas, good to know.
The sky was finally starting to get lighter. I was surprised to see John so soon, but it turned out he was waiting at a confusing (i.e. not on the map) intersection. He directed me to the right at the fork in the road. Thank you sweetheart, that was awesome! Another mile onward to the real stop.
Time for the Big Woods, and it was just light enough that I didn't need any lights. My detour at least had one positive side, keeping me from carrying extra weight on this next 8.6 mile section.
First light of morning - adding a jacket and gloves since it was slightly chilly - and reapplying some Butt Paste... nothing to see here...
It was light, I had a long way to the next trailhead, not much to do but follow one trail as it went south, then east, then south, then east. I didn't even bother trying to follow along on the map this time, even though I now had a sunrise to help me figure out which direction I was running. Instead, I finally turned on my iPod and started through a backlog of podcasts. Hidden Brain, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, I was happy to zone out for a little while.
I was also happy to find that parts of the trail were much more open which = fewer spiderwebs, yay!
I don't remember much about this section, just lots of woods and the same things I had been seeing for miles (just more of it now that it was daylight). There were a few mile markers and I idly watched my splits, pleasantly surprised that I was still easily in the 13-15 minutes per mile range.
John was surprised to see me arrive so quickly at trailhead #9! It took me just under 2 hours to get there, not too shabby. I was breathing a bit harder this time, a sign that I was finally starting to get a little tired. This actually turned into one of my longer breaks, as John worked on mixing up SPIZ, getting everything organized, helping me remember things like my waistpack and a trekking pole. Like I said, I surprised him with my quick arrival. I might have woken him up.
One last road run, and it was a bit long (4.6 miles) with quite a bit of pavement. OK, I'll take my shades now.
John Warran Road was a doggie doozy! It started with five (5!) dogs running out toward me, and I brandished my pole like Zorro (I think I drew a "Z" in the air) and told them "not today!" (add an appropriate swear term on the end of that as you see fit). Their owner came out and told them to quit it right now, and they mostly did. One growled again and both the owner and I yelled at it, and it eventually behaved. It was nice to have some backup.
Then around the corner, two more dogs running from a long ways over. I had plenty of time to pull out my backup plan and yell at them that "this pepper spray says you will NOT mess with me today!" That seems like an appropriate thing to let an owner know, if they happen to hear the ruckus. I was beyond annoyed by this point and I wasn't taking crap from no dog, no how. That did the trick and they stopped to bark from the yard.
Thankfully, the paved section on FM 945 was dog encounter-free (at least any unfenced dogs). There were a few passing cars and the owners were smart enough to not let their pets run loose. So, yay for that. There was also plenty of grassy shoulder and no issue avoiding the cars. I wasn't running nearly as quickly at this point, but still moving OK. My split was just under an hour, well that works just fine.
Trailhead #10 and mile 67.4!
The next section includes a river crossing (because the bridge is out), which has been reported sometimes as a fording at various water depths that you wade across - or take a long detour around. I was prepared with my secret weapon - John Beard. He parked at the next dirt road and hiked a mile to the river to scout it out and spot me for the crossing. Have I mentioned how awesome he is?
I was motivated to run to meet him, following a little creek for a while and then climbing up to the road crossing (hi Tug! That's our truck's name). Bonus time! One mile completely spiderweb free, at least for me. Have I mentioned how wonderful John is?
Mile marker 70, courtesy of John's hike to the river:
He hid behind a tree and got a shot of me running, and it actually appears like I was still running:
Action shot of my downclimb to the river...
...where there's currently a large log across the water - water that would be super easy to cross even without the log. But I was more than happy to avoid wet feet, nice surprise there. Good to go!
Easiest river/log crossing ever.
The low-lying section in here seemed rather mosquito-y, so I kept moving "quickly" until the climb out of the swamp. The next couple miles had some larger drops and climbs, slowing my pace, but I was listening to a good This American Life episode so I didn't mind.
I reached trailhead #11 after 1:36 (6.4 miles), happy with the 4 MPH pace but starting to feel a little warm. John had pulled out a chair for me for the first time, and I was happy to sit for a couple minutes. Ooh potato chips, a couple of those tasted good. I was mostly on an all-SPIZ diet by this point, actually pleasantly surprised at the number of bars I had managed to eat overnight before my stomach politely started declining them.
Oh look, lots of cars which should mean plenty of hikers heading toward Double Lake. Good news on the spiderweb front! I didn't even mind one lick having to wait for a couple nature-inspecting hikers to make room on the path so I could go by. My face was strand-free for a couple miles, yay!
More hikers, a nice path up to the Double Lake area. I saw where the recent detour had been, now brush-covered and well marked. I was pretty psyched to be getting the exact (current) trail experience, now that the detour was no longer in place. I popped out briefly at the lake, veered around the signboard, and started south. The overall trail direction changes from "mostly east" to "south-ish" in this area, eventually heading more west. Who knows why this trail was routed where it was, but I sure appreciate all the work done to create and maintain it.
Wow, more well-traveled trail (i.e. no spiderwebs), a camper with a couple dogs, several hikers coming toward me. In the span of an hour I saw more people on the trail than I had since I started running. It was definitely a nice morning to be out in the woods.
The trail meandered along a creek, traversing some deep gullies on wonderful bridges (thank you bridges!). Shade from the trees kept me mostly cool and it was nice running near the stream. I went over a "tramway" (a raised path), saw a few trails going off to the right in the Big Scenic area, and soon I was at trailhead #12. Hello again, John! Is this getting old yet?
That was the last section of 15 minutes miles, but I was pretty sure as long as I kept speed-walking I could still finish before dark. From then on, I just needed to keep the heat under control. I swapped to my waistpack and got up after a shorter-than-normal break to go knock out the last short section (2.6 miles).
I think this part was mostly uphill, gentle enough to alternate fast walking and light running. My breathing started to elevate with much uphill exertion so I was getting a bit limited on pace, but no big deal. It was clear that I wasn't going to break 24 hours, but that was never a goal, just something I projected in my occasional number crunching. Back to the podcasts, that was more fun to pay attention to.
John met me on the trail coming into TH #13:
Not as many trees up here and definitely starting to feel warm:
OK, that was good, what's next? Yeah, sitting down for a couple minutes was really nice. Only 14 miles to go!
This next section is pretty long - 8.4 miles. I pondered how much water I should carry, and John offered some extra help again. I could wear my waistpack for another 3 miles and then he'd hike in a short ways to meet me at a dirt road crossing and hand me my backpack and a water bottle swap. Why yes dear, I most certainly will take you up on that offer!
John pointed me across the road and I was on my way again. The next mile and a half had very little shade so I kept the pace lower to manage the heat. When I reached the Tarkington Bayou there were many more trees and the shade was quite a bit more comfortable. I settled in with S-Town podcasts to pass the time.
My pack was waiting for me just past mile 86:
John was waiting there too, but he didn't take any pictures of himself, too bad. I was always happy to see him! It didn't always look it, but there might be a little smile on this face:
A couple turns and then a paved road crossing. I brought my trekking pole in anticipation of dealing with one more canine encounter, but all was quiet, happy days.
One last trailhead (#14) before the end! I was almost to 91 miles, only 5.5 miles remaining. I figured I could do that with the waistpack, especially since John offered to add an unscheduled water refill at the final road crossing.
There wasn't a whole lot of running remaining in my legs, but I did manage some sort of a trot down to the next river bottom (the east fork of the San Jacinto River). There might have been a large downed tree or two through here, and I didn't mind sitting for a couple seconds while swinging my legs over. Happy not to have any cramping issues through that process.
Oh, and I saw an actual backpacker going the other way in here, that was nice to see. I had hit a few more spiderwebs in recent miles, nothing too bad, but now they were completely dismantled by other hikers. One less thing.
There's a very nice bridge over the river, thank you bridge. I met a woman going the other way who wasn't sure we were still on the trail, so I got to help locate the next turnoff from dirt road back to singletrack. Then - another John sighting, yay! Well, you get to see me again, but trust me, it was great to see John:
Our truck at the last road crossing (FM 945 at mile 93):
A quick water refill, one last shaka, and I was back on the trail:
The last section went well, I managed to pick up the pace slightly as it was quite flat and nicely shaded. And I was ready to be done (as I imagine you are, if you're still reading this). I was engrossed in the S-Town story, almost slightly sad that this would all soon be over and I'd have to turn the iPod off.
Then I got bit by a mosquito in the Winters Bayou area and that was enough of that. You got to move it, move it.
John was out clearing branches off the trail, thank you John! There's another section back near Huntsville State Park if you want to do some serious trail work :)
Nearing the end:
I think I'm gonna make it!
Final trailhead (#15):
And... stopping the watch:
I finished! But I can't hold my arms any higher than this! (one shoulder was actually very tired from holding the bottle all night).
A more accurate pose:
Final time = 24:27:43 for 96.5 miles:
First half of the InReach track that was following my position as I ran:
And the second half:
Converted to Google Maps:
And if this works, you might be able to open the Google Map of the track:
Much love and gratitude to John for all his help! Big thanks to the Lone Star Trail club for this beautiful trail in the middle of Texas!