I completed the 96.5 mile Lone Star Hiking Trail in 21 hours 46 minutes 48 seconds traveling West to East, beginning on 12/14/19 at 3:15 AM and finishing on 12/15/19 at 1:01 AM.
I had a great time on the LSHT this weekend. I feel I could not have asked for better weather and trail conditions The trail is in great shape,well marked, well maintained, and sparsely populated (I only saw three people on the whole trail). I got off course once, and it was completely my own fault, and experienced a few technical difficulties with my tracking device (more details on that in the trip report). Other than those minor set backs things went about as smoothly as can be for this kind of distance, and it was a great adventure.
Huge thanks to my one man crew and all the volunteers that maintain the trail!
It was an early morning on I-10, heading east back from El Paso. I had just completed the Franklin Mountains Trail Run 50k the previous day. I had already forgotten the pain, and was left with some minor aches and good memories. My Dad was at the wheel (I have drug him into being my one man crew for these ultra trail adventures) and we were discussing future plans. I had already expressed to him earlier this year that I had an interest in chasing the FKT on the Lone Star Hiking Trail, and the conversation drifted that way. I believe we threw around March 2020 as a possible time for an attempt. We didn’t talk seriously or make any plans, just kind of brought it up, and thought we would both check our calendars when we got back.
After returning home the work, life, and training cycle continued as normal. Checking the forecast for the upcoming week I noticed almost all sunshine. Strange I thought, it seems to rain every other day recently. I checked an extended forecast, and it showed a whole month almost of sunshine and little rain plus cool temperatures. The Lone Star Hiking Trail came to mind, so I checked the calendar and saw that I had two free weekends in December. I called my one man crew and confirmed a clear weekend for December 14th-15th. It was on! I was excited, I think we both were. First attempt at an FKT, so epic. One question though. Where to begin? With about a month to go until the chosen weekend there was so much preparation to be done. Gear checks, trail recon., road and trailhead recon., mapping, tracking devices, nutrition, hydration, waypoints, and all the tiny detail it takes to pull off an FKT . The list goes on, and not to mention we found there was also a bridge that’s out. Fast forward a few weeks, it’s 1:30 AM, December 14th, in a hotel room, in Conroe, TX, and the alarm goes off. It’s time!
Throw on my gear, do a quick foam roll session, and grab my coffee and oatmeal to go. We drive to Trailhead (TH) #1 in Richards, TX. the western terminus. We arrive a few minutes before 3:00 so we push our start to 3:15 AM. I grab my UD Vest and start running though checks to make sure I have everything. We organize the back of the car a little better and again go over the details of our plan for the day. Another check of the gear I’m carrying. I start to feel that race mode come over me where everything seems far off, distant, and quiet. I become focused. We approach the trailhead. The clock ticks down and boom, 3:15, the arbitrary chosen start time. I click go on my watch, click go on the tracker, and I am off.
It’s a little over 3 miles to the first way point (TH#2). I focus on keeping what feels to be a ridiculously slow pace, but what I know is necessary for the day ahead. I may have been a mile in when suddenly a bright light zips directly over head in the direction of my travel, a meteor. Turns out I began my run during the Gemini meteor shower and was lucky to see a few through the tall pines. At the first aid station I grab a few gels give a thumbs up to my crew and quickly move along. I’m warming up nicely and things are feeling great. I quickly move through waypoint 2 (TH#3) shortly followed by waypoint 3. The going is easy, the trail is well marked and easy to follow, even in the dark. I click off these early miles smoothly. My Dad surprises me at the 1375 road crossing right before mile 16 with a PB&J which I scarf down appreciatively, and move along.
I move into the Stubblefield area as dawn breaks. I’m excited to get a peaceful early morning view of Lake Conroe, but a little nervous about coming up on wild hogs down by the water. Most of the time I have come across pigs in this area they seem to be on there way to or at a water source, but I must press on. I did not notice any primitive campers in the area surprisingly. I came across a large downed tree that obscured the trail and ran into minor mud just before Stubblefield Campground. There were plenty of people camping here and a few were already up moving around that I wave and say good morning to. I come out and hang a right on 215, and am surprised to see at least 4-5 cars parked at the bridge. The Stubblefield bridge has been closed for some time, and as mentioned on the FKT website, I am swimming this portion. I chose to swim in order to not violate any closures set by the Forest Service, stay true to the route of the LSHT, and avoid a lengthy detour. I come to the bridge, throw my electronics and a few other items in a freezer bag in my vest, and approach the shore. There is a fisherman where I plan to enter, and I asked him to point out his lines and tell him I have to swim across. He actually reeled in one of his lines and was kind enough to remind me that the water was going to be cold! I see my one man crew on the shore opposite and after confirming that the camera was rolling, I want to be sure to get this on video, I make the plunge. No gradual entrance here. I almost immediately sink into my waist, and with no time to lose I take off swimming. There were multiple kayakers fishing in the area. I got some strange looks, and even some words of encouragement from a couple men in a small boat I swam near. They had time to inquire what I was doing, and my Dad explained from shore what was going on. I exited the water and heading up the bank heard one of them shout, “God bless you.” I turned around, said, “Thank you” and made my way to the car to change into dry clothes, waypoint 4.
I used a trash bag poncho to change into dry shorts and threw on a dry shirt and my running belt. Overall the dip in the lake was not too bad, but it was having an effect on fine motor skills and tying my shoes was difficult. Not sure why I didn’t think to ask for help with this. Grabbed some water and gels and hit the road with a hand full of Pringles. My dad shouts to me, “The trail goes left as soon as you enter the woods.” I’m moving down the road, but I notice my fingers have gotten stiffer. I have difficulty bending them at the joints. I rub them together to get some blood flow and turn to enter the woods. I look down and blow hot air on my fingers to try to bring them back a little quicker. The trail is well defined and I keep moving. About 12 minutes goes by. My fingers are feeling a bit better, but something feels off. I look around and think to myself, “You know what? When was the last time you saw a blaze?” A quick scan of the area reveals none of the silver rectangular blazes that have marked the trail so well this entire morning. I pull out my phone and with my clumsy finger open my GPS map confirming what I already knew. How could this happen! I take off down the trail retracing my steps. I was so busy paying attention to my fingers when I entered the woods that I blew right past the LSHT turn off. I make it back to the fork, and can’t believe I missed such an obvious turn. I continue on my corrected path and pick up the pace a little to make up some time. Moving quicker brings my fingers back to life, but I lost 20 plus minutes here. Adding insult to injury a few miles later, my first face plant of the day when I came out of the woods to cross 1374 at about mile 23. Luckily no cars around to see.
I continue across the street and into the woods. The miles are ticking off easily, but I am hard on myself for making such a stupid mistake. I can’t seem to let it go, 20 minutes down the drain. I try to move on, and come across the first of three people I will encounter on the trail today. A backpacker stopped, bent over messing with what I can’t tell. I smile and nod good morning and keep moving right along. I reach waypoint 5, and my Dad wants to know what took so long. I quickly relayed that I took a slight detour, and tell him I’ll see him down the road.
Slogging down Bath Rd. I am still down on myself and feeling a little groggy. I have not gotten the best sleep leading into this attempt which was out of my control, but I am surprised to start feeling it this early on. My Dad is parked at the intersection of Bath and Ball Rd., and I shout for him to grab me a Red Bull from the ice chest at the next aid station. He takes off and I keep shuffling onto Cotton Creek Cemetery Rd. I come around the corner, and see my Dad’s red SUV stopped. As I approach I realize there is a large tree removal service truck blocking the roadway. I get to the car and tell my one man crew this will have to work. Welcome to waypoint 6. I restock on water, gels, a handful of peanut butter M&M’s, and the Red Bull, and I am pushing on. Moving thought this area I come to a pond on my left, then signs for a primitive campsite, and bam the trail dead ends. What did I miss now. I didn’t waste time. I backtrack and quickly found the trail. This isn’t like me. What’s going on today? I need to get my head in the game.
Then, the Red Bull kicks in. I pick up the pace and feel more aware of my surroundings on the trail. A few miles of moving good and I am out of my funk.
I come out on to the road that leads to the Elkin Lakes spillway. The water is very shallow here, and by using some piles of leaves I crossed with nearly completely dry feet. I make my way down and pick up the trail again. During this time I strangely get the song Frosty The Snowman stuck in my head, for the first time. We had tried to watch the movie a few nights before with my daughter and now it’s resurfacing, lucky me. Moving good it’s not too long before I hear cars and arrive at waypoint 7 (TH#7) next to interstate 45. This was the first real road section, and to make it a bit safer on these roads where people are traveling very fast, my Dad stayed a ways back in his car with the flashers on. This one was not too bad though, and many people slowed and waved as they passed. I turn on to Evelyn Ln and my Dad pulls up beside me to hand me his phone. There is a video message of my 2 year old daughter running around the living room shouting, “Go PAPA, GO PAPA!!!” She is the cutest, and this lifts my spirits even higher. I head off into the woods for this short loop feeling great. It goes by quickly, and I come upon the second person I will see on the trail. This guy is heading the opposite direction of me, but the strange thing is, he’s on a teal mountain bike. The Lone Star Hiking Trail is for foot traffic only, and there are lots of signs indicating such through out the trail. It would seem impossible to miss all the signage, but I really just wanted to keep moving so I say hello and kept slogging along. I come out of the woods on Evelyn Lane, and turn left seeing the red SUV in the distance at Waypoint 8.
When I reach it the dogs at the house across the street are going wild, but they’re fenced in. I resupply and grab some oranges heading back into the trail. I know this next section is some trail followed by another road run, but I can’t remember how far, so I open the Earthmate app on my phone. The map loads and shows my track/ location. I zoom out a little and WHOA!!! What the heck is going on? This was when I realized something was really messed up with the GPS. I can easily see the bright blue blaze of my trail cutting straight across huge pieces of the trail. According to the track I ran through a very densely forested area, straight across interstate 45 and through some private property. I have no idea what’s going on with my tracker much less how to fix it, so I do the only thing I can and forget about it. Worrying about it isn’t going to do any good. I contacted Garmin support a few days later and got some help with a few questions I had. This one went unanswered though. It turns out that I wasn’t running the most recent software on my inReach Mini, but the support guy said, “It should not have affected satellite acquisition.” Either way it’s not too long before I hear cars in the distance, and I pop out on the road.
I jog over and take a right on Four Notch Road where a Chihuahua runs to the side of the road barking like he is about to tear me up. This is the closest any dog got to me all day, and luckily the encounter was not very intimidating. He never left his yard, and I continue over the railroad tracks. I’m on my own for a little while taken in the country on the road stretch when suddenly I feel a rumbling in my stomach. Oh no what was that? A desperate need for a restroom break is coming on fast. My Dad pulls up in the Jeep with windows down and some classic rock blaring and relays I have about a mile and a half to Four Notch Parking. I tell him about my situation and request TP and the shovel on standby. He speeds off, and now there’s nothing left to do but keep it together. I come into Four Notch, Waypoint 9 (TH#8), doing a strange shuffle. My Dad is laughing and pointing to the parking area where to my disbelief stands in all of its magnificent glory, a porta can! How lucky can you get!?! I snatch the toilet paper, take care of business, and exit to a Gopro in my face. This old man thinks he is so funny. Double up on the hand sanitizer, restock, and off I go.
I feel confident about this section having hiked it before. I plug into my headphones and listen to a podcast to pass the time. An hour goes by. I really do not remember this section having so much up and down, how much further, I am starting to drag again. Around mile 49.5 I get off trail, but quickly realize it and get back on track. Cue Frosty The Snowman for round 2. What is going on with me? I am back in a funk. I exit on to the road at Waypoint 10 after what feels like an eternity. Where is the car? The Jeep is nowhere to be seen. I start heading down the road planning to figure this out on the move. I check my phone, and see a text from Dad. We sort things out and he gets there quick. Driving beside me he reports he got a call from a strange number and thought possibly I was trying to activate an SOS or contact him from the Garmin. Having spotty cell service he had circled back and checked a few road crossings before heading back this way when I texted him. He is majorly relieved and we have an impromptu aid station at the intersection of FSR 200 and 207. The old man congratulates me on making it over halfway. I can’t believe I’m barely over half way. It’s hard to motivate myself in this next road section, but I keep pushing in a desperate attempt to get through it. I have to get over this if I am going to make it through.
Reaching our Waypoint 11 I grab a Red Bull, nothing a little caffeine can’t fix. I grab some goodies from the back of the car, and my Dad walks down the trail with me for a little bit and we chat. I tell him I’m having a hard time and being a wuss and that I’m not sure how this whole thing is going to end. We walk a little further and he takes my trash. Before I continue on though he puts his arms around me and gives me a firm hug. It may have been partially from the caffeine and the fresh calories onboard, but combined with that hug things really started turning around for me. Knowing that he was out there to support me all the way no matter how this turned out had an insanely positive mental boost, and I was off. I passed mile 55 and never looked back. I shortly came across the third and last person I would see on the trail. A hunter heading in the same direction. I let him know I was coming up behind him not wanting to spook the guy with a gun. As I passed, I asked him if he had any luck yet and he reported not yet. I moved right along and was feeling great. I came out of the woods at our Waypoint 12 (TH#9) nearly right on schedule.
Here I checked my Garmin and saw it was at 31% battery. I turned off the bluetooth to conserve battery and plugged it into my portable power bank to charge during this long road section. It felt hard on the feet, but I just kept clicking off miles to get it over with. The sooner the better, people were flying down FM 945 in their vehicles. I pulled into Waypoint 13 (TH#10) feeling awesome, and happy to have the last of the road runs behind me. I switch into my UD Vest, stuff my jacket in the back and put my headlamp on in preparation for the oncoming night. I stock up on provisions and check the Garmin battery. Sweet, over 60%, should be more than enough to finish this thing. I unplug the battery bank and BEEP. What was that? It hadn’t beeped all day. I check the screen, and see that it has stopped tracking. No way! I check my Earthmate app, and it shows tracking all the way up to my current location. Nothing I can do about it, so I hit start tracking again, and pray it all works out in the end. I also switch the log interval from 30 seconds to 2 minutes at this time to save more battery.
Happy to be back in the woods and moving swiftly darkness overtakes me. Around mile 71 I come to the east fork of the San Jacinto River, and quickly locate the most conveniently placed downed tree. The bridge here has been washed out, but during low water conditions 30 feet upstream is a tree bridge spanning the river making the crossing easy and dry. Round 3 with Frosty The Snowman, I’ve really just embraced it at this point, and I arrive at Waypoint 14 (TH#11). Wow, only 3 Waypoints left!. I’m surprised to hear I was a little slow on that section. I was feeling good, but I am almost 74 miles in and I guess it’s starting to show. Time to crack open another Red Bull. It’s getting chilly, so I throw on my running jacket and head into Double Lake area.
I was concerned that this section might be confusing because you criss cross a few other trails. However, all intersections were well marked and it was easy to find my way even in the dark. During the next section, heading into Big Creek Scenic Area, I adopted the mantra mind over matter. I believe I’ve seen it on birthday cards referencing old age, and that if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter. However, I felt it fit well to my current situation. Who cares if you’re tired, hurting, hungry, bonking, losing your mind, or dying a little with every step. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter, and I didn’t care one bit. I was ready to send this thing home. My inherent stubbornness, disguised as persistence of course, was getting me through.
I pull up to Waypoint 15 (TH#13), and my one man crew loads me up with resupply. We walk down the trail for a while and hatch a plan for him to hike in around mile 86.5 to deliver my secret weapon, the final Red Bull. I head off into the darkness trying to run, but this section is seriously overgrown, the worst of the whole trail. Vines are hanging across the trail grabbing my clothes as I run by. Brush is getting tangled around my legs, and I have to stop multiple times to remove the vines I am dragging with me. Finally the trail begins to clear, and the going gets easier. Then a gunshot rings out. A few minutes later and two shots back to back. Must be some serious hog activity. Best to keep moving. Soon I see a light heading up the trail. Hey, the old man made it, glad he didn’t get lost out here. I chug the Red Bull down. Noticing my cell battery running down to the single digit percentage I ask him to meet me at the next road crossing with the battery bank, I feel so needy at this point. We walk a short distance to his turn off and then I’m on my own again, chugging along with my mantra. Mind over matter, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter. I feel the energy from the Red Bull kick in, but my head feels cloudy, and my mental clarity is starting to fade. I hear several more gun shots off in the distance. I come to a straight away and I put the hammer down. I’m sure I was barely moving, but it felt fast. I pass a large structure in this area to the left of the trail, and I can’t figure out what it is. Thinking back, I’m still not sure what it was. A while later I pass a tent on my right, but no signs of life. The trail jogs over and I come to a road crossing where my Dad hands me the battery bank, and I continue on. It’s only a mile till I see him again at Waypoint 16 (TH#14).
Wow #16! Only one more section to go. I can’t believe I am so close. Quick resupply, and I head back into the woods. In this area I find it hard to get moving fast. The trail seems to be rutted up by hogs making it difficult to run and a little harder to navigate the correct path. Moving slow I come to a nice bridge, and shortly after that I come out on FM 945 where my Dad is cheering me to the finish, and making sure I don’t unintentionally play a game of Frogger while crossing the road. Back into the woods, and the going feels tough. Rutted up trails, my mental state, and now the trail seems covered in leaves. I’m relying heavily on the reflectors, and moving so slow. I finally check my Earthmate app and see I’ve barely covered any ground. That’s it. Enough is enough. I put the hammer down hard, and decide I’m not stopping until the end. I’m genuinely surprised at how fast I am able to move. I come to another nice bridge that looks eerily similar to the last one. A flash of devastation and horror. Have I been going the wrong way? Quick reference to the Earthmate finds me all good and I press on. It’s not long until I see the headlights of the car through the trees. I exit to Trailhead #15 Winter’s Bayou and tap the sign signaling I’ve completed the trail. I stop my watch, stop the Garmin tracker, pose for pictures, and take some videos. A wave of relief, happiness, joy, comfort, and excitement comes over me. We spend a little more time at the trailhead in disbelief at what I have managed to accomplish. The feeling is incredible. My Dad asks, “Well, what do you want to do?” I look at him and say, “I want to get out of here.” We laugh and head to the car. I get in and loosen up my shoes. This day has been awesome.
I completed the 96 mile Lone Star Hiking Trail in 21 hours 46 minutes and 48 seconds ending December 15th at 1:01AM. The going got tough a few times, but I was able to push through and secure a spot on the FKT boards. Now a week out the recovery process has gone well, and I’m bouncing back much faster than my previous 100 miler. I would like to thank all the volunteers that have spent so much time keeping this trail great. A huge thanks to my One Man Crew, without his support and own exhaustive effort this would not have been possible. Also, thanks to Marcy Beard for going the distance and setting the first LSHT FKT, and to all the others who are helping to pioneer the FKT world. This experience has truly satiated my soul, and I’m looking forward to my next adventures.