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  • Archive for November, 2013

    Final Thoughts:

    • This trail is a great concept, just not ready to be fully executed yet.
    • To be ready for hikers and bikers alike, there needs to be some organization in regards to trail maintenance. I’d venture to say that even the width of the railbed doesn’t need to be cleared, and really hikers only need a nice singletrack. Of course the bicyclists will desire more room to ride so more clearing will be needed. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that the trail alliance is as organized as other long distance trails, yet, and either the local cities or highly motiviated locals and trail users are the only ones who keep what is currently open, open. This is aside from any landowner issues, which I think will be resolved sooner than later.
    • If any kind of section maintenance groups can be set up, coming in twice a year to maintain would be great. Open dumps could potentially continue to be a problem, too. Working to create some kind of local ownership/pride of the trail would attempt to discourage the open dumping.
    • Blazes or signage that is more inconspicuous and less open to damage by delinquent individuals is needed. While it is rather obvious that the trail is following an old rail bed, blazes every quarter mile and some kind of mileage markers every so often would help. We found a couple of broken wood markers outside of DeKalb–great idea until the stray ATV user finds it.
    • Designated campsites. While stealth camping is most likely what’s going to be the norm for backpackers, it would be helpful to have campsites located every 10 miles or so, that are known to be good for setting up a tent and somewhat secluded from view. The bicyclists aren’t going to appreciate this as they will be able to push larger miles and get into towns with a motel or B&B, but the backpackers are going to be doing 15-25 mile days and won’t always hit a town with any amenities. Camping next to the road is sketchy at best, but having ‘safer’ areas to camp would be appreciated.
    • More information on town amenities. I had printed out a spreadsheet with information on what each town had but I don’t believe it actually said if it was located in town or on adjacent street. Hikers aren’t necessarily going to go out of their way if it is more than a quarter mile off trail. Two towns we went through supposedly had a gas station and yet only one was barely in view from the trail and still a half mile off the trail. We did not stop there, but had been planning on getting water there. It would have been nice to know so we could filter water on the trail prior to getting into town.
    • I’m concerned about the construction along U.S. 82. Based on some stuff I read online, it seems that it may be progressing further along the road, west into Red River county. If this is the case and they continue working how they were in Bowie county and removing the vegetation buffer between the trail and the road, there will be no opportunity for camping from New Boston to Avery, and then maybe from Annona to Clarksville. And who knows after that. Not only that, it would be visually polluting to be walking and biking next to a roadway….why not ride and hike the roads then? It seems the trail alliance should have some kind of input if the roadwork continues. There were piles of debris still smoldering in the section just west of I-30 until DeKalb. It wasn’t pretty.
    • This trail could be great for those in north Texas looking for a local adventure, but I think it is a good 2-5 years from being open and ready to use. I think the clearing that needs to be done on the ‘bad’ sections (and you don’t really see the bad in the photos or the video), will be rougher than people imagine. But, get it open…and it could be good.

    And now for the photos:

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    The eastern terminus of the trail in New Boston.

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    Weird worms covered the pathway leaving town.

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    Found the mud.

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    Cows and horses followed the fenceline any time we came along!

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    Faux-scenic….there’s a house 200 yards down the way and behind me is the highway.

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    But still rather pretty.

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    We passed a lot of these fungi along the trail.

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    Dinner!

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    Sunday morning in Avery.

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    A good section of trail.

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    The old cars in the ditch west of Annona.

    We didn’t take any photos after this, too busy battling brush. I really wish we would have thought about it, but I think we were assuming we’d be finishing the trail and could take video of other thick parts later on.

    And here’s the video…this was my first time adding in music, so I hope it isn’t too loud or annoying.

    On Sunday morning, though we had spent plenty of time in the tent already over 12 hours, we struggled to want to get out of the warmth of the sleeping bags. We hopped out, packed everything up, emptied bladders, and threw down a bar or two into our stomachs. We were around 2 miles from Avery which boasted a gas station that had a cafe and we hoped to stop there for a quick breakfast.

    The sun was out, which was an optimism booster, and though I was feeling sore from the day before I was ready to go. At this point in time I was still feeling that we would finish the trail. It was about 20 miles to Clarksville and while I didn’t know much about the upcoming section, I didn’t have any reason to believe it was going to be bad. My plan had been for us to camp just outside of Clarksville, stealthing somewhere on the otherside of town.

    As we arrived closer to Avery, houses lined the north side of the trail and U.S. 82 veered off to the north a bit, diversing from its adjacency with the railroad bed. Avery was very quiet, a one-horse kind of town. You could tell that in the railroad hey-day that there had been some activity in the area and even the modest ‘downtown’ might have once been fairly busy. No one was up yet, well, maybe a couple of folks, but it was Sunday and chilly. The trail opened up wide into big fields and as we approached town it was prety evident the gas station wasn’t directly in town and was likely located somewhere on U.S. 82.

    We stopped by a painted window on an old building that announced a tomato festival, took a few pictures, and then kept on walking. We were planning on using the gas station to buy some water to get us to Annona for lunch, but without the gas station we were out of luck. Just passed downtown we saw two churches and it was early enough that no one was there yet. Using a trick we did on the Florida Trail, we found a spigot on the outside of one of the churches to fill up our bottles. I was just hoping we weren’t going to get the burpy/barfy sulphur filled water we got at the church on the FT. I sipped it, all was good.

    Finally on the west side of town we saw barbed wire and I thought this would be our first foray into barbed wire fence jumping/crawling through on the trail. Luckily there was a gate that had been left open just to the side and we went through that way. The gate led to a higher, cleared and mowed buffer strip next to the property owners barbed wire to the north of the trail. The railbed was sunk lower into the terrain and was overgrown but a snail-trail, a very narrow singletrack, wove through the brush.

    We’d been following bicycle tracks over the last day, as I had seen that three guys were attempting to bike the trail too. Somewhere along the way the tracks went from three to two and the two tracks had continued on through the brush. Chris and I walked through the brush, crawling over downed logs, through thorny vines until we came to an even more overgrown area and we stopped for a minute.

    The debate and our beginning frustrations with the bushwhacking began. Chris argued that we could viably use the mowed area to the side, as it was still within the old railroad right of way, just not on the old rail bed. I argued that he had been wanting to follow the trail exactly and to be the first person to do it and it seemed sketchy to deviate. It was largely semantics. I should mention that just to the south about fifty feet was a farm road. We could have easily walked on that, too. It was decided that we should do our best to walk along the actual railroad bed and if at any point, other than using a road to get around a water feature if a bridge was out (ie: the road had a bridge), we weren’t going to walk on any road. I hadn’t come to hike the trail to walk on roads. This wasn’t like other developing trails that didn’t have trail access and rights through private property, where a road had to connect the trail between properties, there *was* a trail here—it just hadn’t been maintained properly. If it ever got bad enough that we had to roadwalk, we were done with the trail. That was our decision.

    We forged onward and this small section of overgrowth ended at another gravel road, us ducking under the barbed wire, crossing the road and then hopping a metal fence to another property. A sign posted the Original Texas Land Survey information (Texas’ version of the PLSS) for the property and we kept on going. The trail was overgrown to some extent but not as bad as the last section. We weaved through shrubby trees and for the most part it was pleasant. We hopped a couple of other barbed wire fences as we crossed property lines and entrance roads, and at one point walked in front of someones house.

    There were a lot of open dumps along the way, areas were locals had dumped trash. There would be a lot of cleanup needed if this trail was ever going to be decent looking in the future, aside from the brush clearing that is. We stopped mid-morning for a snack and estimated we had about four miles until Annona. To our south was pasture for the most part, to the north the same gravel road, though it had switched sides from being in the south to the north.

    After our break we walked again until the gravel road turned and the trail stopped paralleling. Up ahead we spotted two dogs lazy walked around the trail, in-and-out of the brush. By the time we caught up to where they had been there was no trace of them. The trail got began getting wet here, large pools of water where the trail sunk into the terrain around the general topography. We weaved around them, hunching up along the sides to keep from getting wet. There would have been good campsites in this area, on the top of the right-of-way, and would have been relatively peaceful since no road was nearby.

    Ahead, the trail had been rerouted around a really wet section, likely the work of local ATVers, and then the trail began wide and open and very nice. Being semi-remote, I wondered if the adjacent landowners kept it up or what. I was enjoying this section so far, in the woods, open and clear. Quiet. We crossed a couple of old bridges, peering down into the creeks below. In the future they would need some repairs, this could definitely be a problem for this trail in the later on, finding the money to keep the bridges in good condition.

    Eventually we found ourselves on the east side of Annona and in a clearing, a very overgrown and weedy clearing. The temptation to walk on the road that had appeared on the side was great. To be frank, this was a shitty area. And then I threw my hands up and wondered how the hell this wasn’t clear when it was so close to a road and right at the town? A weed-eater, a lawn mower, would easily keep a single-track open for walking. Oh, I was annoyed.

    Houses abutted both sides of the trail, and barking dogs were alerted to our passing by. We made it through the brush and onto short-grassy areas that passed old warehouses. This was appearing to be another one-horse town and again we were hoping to hit up a gas station for lunch. At the main road in town, where the railroad crosses, we looked up and down and saw no gas station, until out of the corner of our eye and hiding behind some trees we saw the tell-tale red of a gas station pavillion. It appeared to be about a half mile walk up to it, located on U.S. 82. We opted against walking to it and instead would eat the lunches we had packed.

    The otherside of the roadway led to more of the same crap we’d just walked through. I was hungry—hangry—and sore and wanted to stop. Chris, like always, wanted to find somewhere decent to sit for lunch. My leg was acting up more since I was having to lift it up and over piles of tall, dead grasses. I had spotted a pile of declaying logs, already covered in a bit of vegetation and moss. I ducked under the eastern red cedar that was providing cover right there and sat down, pulling out my sandwich round and a Justin’s almond butter packet. Reluctantly Chris came over and we ate lunch. I looked at the GPS and it was about 7 miles to Clarksville. Hoping that this grass crap didn’t last too long, that maybe we’d find good trail on the other side, we could get to Clarksville in about 2.5 hours, 3 tops. As we were sitting there Chris decided that perhaps we would even just get a room in the motel there for the night, to stay warm and out of the impending bad weather, and to wait out any ice storm that may await us the following morning.

    After lunch we found more of the same on the trail. It was nearly impossible to stay along the railroad bed and instead we went up on the grass once again, wading through the river of the stuff. Finally we reached the end, at an industrial facility. The railroad bed behind the facility had been kept cleared here and despite a few puddles, was ok. Towards the end we saw a pile of very old cars pushed into the ditch to the south of the trail. The cars looked to be from the 20s or 30s, rusted out, relics of days passed.

    We’d been hearing the traffic for U.S. 82 get closer and then we found it—below us. The road had been carved out down below in the hill, the old railroad would previously been a bridge over the road, but that was gone. We had to hike down the hill, dash across the road, and then climb a hill as if it was the only mountain around. From the east side of the hill looking across the road, we saw two impressions of bike tracks climbing up the hill. The bicyclists had made it this far too.

    Once up the hill the trail wasn’t too bad, the nasty grass was gone and it was semi-clear. We passed a group of houses on the south side of the road, junk yardish with barking dogs, but we kept our head down and walked on. The good trail on the railroad ended and we jumped up to the top of the right of way where it had been cleared and it was evident this was used as a pathway. This was all well and good until it ended and we thought we lost the trail. I crossed some thick vegetation to the south and looked down and could see the distinct pattern of the railroad, only this time it was over grown.

    This was the beginning of the end. We began walking, sometimes it was just bad, other times it was bad-bad, and then other times, like the first time we crossed an area with bamboo that was threatening to take over an old bridge, that was nasty-bad. I lost track of time as we wove around the thick vegetation, trying to escape the claws of Smilax, blackberry, and rose vines. Of course there were thorny trees—I’m not sure what those were as they were defoliated. Trifoliate orange? Crataegus? Maybe locust? They were nasty too.

    We walked and walked and while frustrating, we weren’t through yet. In one thick area we saw that the ditch next to the railroad to the north looked relatively clear, so we climbed down to it, only for it to narrow later as it approached a creek, forcing us back up the slope. I about lost it as I climbed up the slope, fighting with vines and trying not to poke myself in the eye with tiny tree limbs that whipped back in your face. I’m all for bushwhacking if there’s a good purpose, but the purpose of bushwhacking here was quickly losing its appeal.

    Back on the trail we found ourselves facing yet another bamboo thicket. We’d passed a couple of others since that first one we saw, but this one was particuarly nasty. It appeared inpenetrable. We hadn’t seen evidence of the bicycle guys in a long time and figured there was no way they had made it through here. Even the bamboo didn’t seem to have much in the way of movement, broken sticks of bamboo or anything like that. We found a small hole in the middle which we crawled through, getting us to the south side of the trail. I saw the road and a bridge across a creek so I told Chris we could go across that to get to the other side. He agreed and as we started making our way down the slope I heard what I thought was the rustling of the tops of the bamboo. I stopped for a second and realized it was sleet.

    We got down and crossed the bridge, the sleet coming down with a smidge of rain drops, bouncing off of us and melting as they hit the ground. Avoiding the bamboo that was on the other side of the railroad bridge, we found an area to go in a bit further down. I’d asked Chris what time it was when we’d come down the slope, only 2:45 and he said we were nowhere near Clarksville. I knew, I told him I figured we had at least four miles left, to which he agreed. We were not making good time at all in this crap. With the clouds building up, and darkness setting in earlier now that we were fast approaching winter, our hiking time of the day would be reduced.

    With the sleet I wanted to put on my rain jacket but Chris basically said that unless I wanted to rip it to shreds that I couldn’t. That went for the down jacket as well. I was pissed, I didn’t want to be wet and cold, I hated the #*%@tastic overgrown trail, and wanted to set up the tent. I told him we should get water at the creek now so we could just find a place to stop. And then he threw back that if we stopped now we’d still have to hike in the same stuff, plus more of it, tomorrow in the rain or wintry mix.

    I had been mentally up for spurts of bushwhacking, not miles and consecutive miles of it, without the ability to keep warm and dry. I told him I was done, that I wanted to quit, that it wasn’t fun anymore. Why hike something when it wasn’t fun? I started crying into my poles, my gloves clenching the tops of them. He said we could quit now, but if we continued hiking that we weren’t going to quit after this. Chris isn’t an easy quitter, but I don’t think he was having fun either. I didn’t really want to quit, I did indeed want to hike, had been envisioning finishing the damned trail up until it started sleeting.

    That’s why it was so hard for me to make the call. Chris got out his phone, making me be the one to dial his mom so his step-dad could come get us. I handed the phone back and forth to Chris twice, bawling at the same time. Meanwhile, I put my rainjacket on and packcover and tried to keep dry as we stood there. Finally, I dialed. It was over. I felt relief to be going somewhere warm, and then anger at myself—for quitting but also for agreeing to hike the trail in the first place—knowing that it was overgrown–, if we’d done the Lone Star Trail, I know we would have finished that hike—not completing the trail felt so stupid. But, not enjoying it was also stupid, too.

    I gave his step-dad the town we were headed to and said we would be walking along the shoulder of the road and would likely make it to Clarksville, now that we had an easy walking terrain, before he arrived in about two hours. We’d find somewhere to eat and get warm while we waited.

    As we walked along the shoulder of the road, I thought about what was needed for the trail to be actually enjoyable. How much work was going to be needed. There were few people willing to bushwhack it, and thus far no one had made it on the length of the trail by bushwhacking the crap sections. Our mood lightened as we walked on, wishing for the water tower in town to magically get closer a lot faster than it did. Finally we did make it to the edge of town and instead of continuing to parallel the trail we took a turn down Main Street to see what we could find to eat. It was another mile before we passed a Dollar General, then a closed Mexican restaurant, and finally we saw the Golden Arches and decided that was where we were going to go. The tall M seemed closer than it actually was, and we found it on the far end of town, beyond the old town square.

    I had already broken my vegetarian rules that weekend so I kept at it with getting a Big Mac. It’s been years since I had one and while it was delicious at the time, upon reflection and without 20 miles of hiking on me for the day, it sounds completely disgusting now. But, that’s what hikers do when they get to town, they gorge on the crappy food and we did that as we were piled up in a booth at the back of the Clarksville McDonald’s.

    Night did come at round 5:15 with the aid of the cloudy sky. I wondered if we’d have even made it to town or not with the continued bushwhacking. As it was we rolled into town at 4:45 having left the spot we were deliberating at a little after 3, and that was by walking on the shoulder of the road.

    I have some final thoughts and then photos/video to come. But that concludes the 40 miles in two days we did on the Northeast Texas Trail.

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    Well, I debated writing this or not. I mean, it is a fail, and after all, who wants to write about their failures?

    Earlier this fall Chris and I decided we were going to thru-hike the Lone Star Trail. I did some research and it seemed some sections were closed because the Forest Service is being asinine and calling these sections ‘dangerous’ due to dead trees along the length of the trail. Nevermind that the rest of the forest immediately adjacent to the trail, in the forest, was open. Silly, silly, silly. We were going to hike it anyway. That us until we received our Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine in the mail and it chronicled the recently developed/still-in-development Northeast Texas Trail, a 130-mile rails-to-trails corridor in NE Texas. Hm, this sounded interesting! No one had thru-hiked it and the author who write the article wasn’t able to finish the trail due to overgrowth and landowner issues.

    I got online and researched the trail out and it seemed someone was about to start a thru-hike, Tracy Rumsey, a native to the area and with experience around the trail. I followed and joined groups and tried to figure out as much as I could in case she didn’t finish, so we could attempt the trail, too. Plenty of bicyclists ride what they can and then take county or farm roads around to cleared sections. Anyway, Tracy didn’t end up finishing the trail completely, skipping some sections that were too thick or had landowner issues. That led us to finalizing our hiking plans.

    To prepare I looked at the available maps online, which are fairly poor information-wise. Google Earth and a set of .gpx tracks for a GPS provided the best hints at the trail. Though it would be fairly easy to follow an old rail bed, there were a few turns around the town of Paris that we wanted to be mindful of and also so we could stay within the trail corridor in case we were going through farmlands. I read up on her reports and other’s reports of the trail to figure out which sections we would be doing some bushwhacking through and where fence jumping may have been necessary. You see once the railroad had been removed from the corridor many landowners inaccurately (or protestingly) assumed they could retrieve that land back. Some landowners have been more receptive than others.

    As it came down the wire we noticed that we were going to be expecting rain and/or a wintry mix late Sunday evening and Monday. We figured we’d just go with the flow and maybe only get 10 miles in one day if that’s what we had to do. So, we left Saturday morning with Chris’ step-dad taking us to the eastern end of the trail in New Boston, Texas. The first three miles were pleasant starting off on a paved ‘trail’ through a residential area before turning into a wide, cleared trail as it headed out of town. Another mile or so past that we ran into a construction zone for U.S. 82, where the trail paralleled. I’d read about this but hadn’t expected the mess that we found the trail in—completely destroyed and muddied up. The strip of trees that had lined side of the trail between the trail and the road, providing a buffer to the traffic, had been razed, some in piles still smoldering. This went on for about 9 miles until we reached the town of DeKalb.

    Mud, mud, mud. Slipping, sliding, sticking, hip-aching, annoying. I knew it was going to end so we tolerated it.

    We arrived into DeKalb, about 12 miles into the trail, about 12:45 on Saturday afternoon. There were plenty of places to eat at along the stretch and we chose Dairy Queen to have lunch. The guy taking our order seemed to understand somewhat that we were backpacking and had a bit of an idea about the trail. Not wanting to linger too long, we ate quickly, and walked over to a gas station to get some water for the next stretch of trail. That’s probably one of the good things about this trail, you don’t necessarily have to carry much food or water as there are plenty of places to stop at along the way. At the gas station another guy in his truck asked us if we were hiking the trail, he’d seen us in New Boston that morning.

    Back on the trail after lunch, this section leaving town and onward was much nicer and well maintained. We were almost to returning to the treelined portion of the trail, but still walking adjacent to U.S. 82, when we passed a lumber yard. Two guys were out front working but we kept on passed them until one of them yelled at us and asked if we were walking to Dallas. We turned back around to talk to them and it turned out one of them was friends with the girl Tracy who’d attempted to thru-hike recently. We chatted for awhile and he remarked that Annona had liquor—which meant we were currently either in a dry county or town. Annona was two towns away.

    Sometime after this my hips started hurting pretty bad, particularly my right hip. I must have pulled it in the mud, and then of course I could feel blisters beginning to rage on my feet. Not cool.

    We kept walking, passing houses and making decent time though I was in pain. While planning this hike I’d uploaded the .gpx tracks into the GPS and also estimated 20 mile campsites and placed them on the GPS. Somehow when Chris went to clear the tracks that had accumulated during our drive to New Boston he deleted everything! Though we had a couple of maps, we now had to estimate based on the GPS. Towards the end of the day on Saturday we started noticing short, green pillars that had a number on them. Initially we hoped they were miles left to the town of Avery. Since we had been making decent mileage we were hoping to move our 20 miles to a 22 mile day and camp just outside of Avery. But, my feet and hips were getting worse, to the point that the slight uphill from the trail to a road that itersected the trail, and I’m talking like two feet here, was incredibly painful to raise my leg up to. Gently swinging my leg as I walked was mostly fine, if I didn’t twitch the leg in some way.

    At the last green marker, that had no number on it, I thought perhaps that it was supposed to be a half-mile marker. And then I looked over to the road and saw that the markers had actually been counting down to the county boundary. The sign for entering Red River County was off to the north of the roadway. It was there I told Chris there was no way I was making it to Avery with the pain I had and I immediately took my shoes off to find one blister had busted and another was needing to be popped. I fumbled through our medicine bag and couldn’t find the safety pin we kept in there for sterilizing with a flame and popping blisters after so I made due with fingernail clippers to pop them open. It was instant relief, getting the goo out. We weren’t in a good spot to make camp, so I put my boots back on and we hobbled another half mile past a house and searched for a flat spot next to the trail that was semi-concealed behind the trees from the road behind us. We’d made about 21 miles that day.

    As we set up camp, we were in the middle of making dinner when Chris looked over to the adjacent field and saw a hunting blind. Not a good spot to be camping in. I asked him if he wanted to move up a bit but he said no. Of course a little while later after we’d wrapped up dinner we heard an ATV coming our way. I first saw the orange tobogans and then the three people on the ATV. Yep, they were making their way for the blind. Crap.

    Chris approached the fence to make our presence known the man that was, I guess the dad to the two kids on the ATV, walking over and I heard him say “How am I supposed to hunt with you sumbitches camping here?” Well, then. I started gathering things up knowing we were going to have to move, but voices calmed and I couldn’t even hear them talking after that. Chris came back and he said that they were going to hunt elsewhere and that was it. Ok. Next time we knew to check for hunting stands before setting up a tent!

    It was a long night, over 12 hours in the tent. Tossing and turning, hips and knees hurting, huddling up to get warm, cars and trucks driving by. At one point I was ready to get up and go, but it was still the middle of the night. That’s what happens when you go to bed at 5:45pm.

    Part II, photos and a movie to follow.

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    Zoe and I hung out down by the pond while waiting for her dad (my brother) and Uncle Chris to get back from their canoe ride around the pond. Chris bought a canoe off of Craigslist last Friday and it was the canoe’s first spin around our pond.

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    The pretty fall foliage behind them is the awful Chinese tallow. Its color in the fall is probably its only redeeming quality.

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    When we first told Zoe about the canoe she wasn’t interested in going. Well, she wanted everyone, all six of us, to go in the canoe at once. She didn’t quite understand that it wasn’t really feasible and got upset about it. Finally, she came around and her interested grew. We had bought both her and Grayson life jackets just in case, but only Zoe was able to go this time around.

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    Her excitment showed as Curt pushed the canoe into the water!

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    Getting situated.

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    They let her figure out how the paddle worked…

    canoe3
    and she could have become an old pro if she was out there longer!

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    canoe1
    I see more canoe adventures in our future!

    garden11
    You can see what Zoe thought about harvesting potatoes. Luckily she changed her tune a few potatoes in!

    garden18
    Our harvest this year was not nearly what it was last year. I bought slips of ‘Beauregard’ and ‘Purple Passion’ and only the ‘Beauregard’ produced potatoes. It was a big failure for the ‘Purple Passion’, which unfortunately took up probably half the bed.

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    I think my brother was in hog heaven as he assisted Chris in digging up the potatoes. A chance to garden?? Sure!

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    See? Only about half of a five gallon bucket full. Not like last year’s harvest. Oh well. Live and learn—only ‘Beauregard’ from now on. I think Curt, my brother, is going to try a white variety. I told him if he succeeds with those then the following year I’ll try them. He can be the guinea pig, hah!

    garden4
    Zoe modeling the most rotund potato.

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    garden14
    After that, she was done and wanted to sit on the sidelines for a bit. She pulled up the clay label for the tomatoes and proceeded to read what it said. Though, now that I think about it she may have known what it said based on the fact it was by the tomatoes. But, maybe not. She stared at it contently for a minute and sounded it out pretty clearly. Her reading skills have sped up fast now that she’s in kindergarten.

    garden17
    Next it was time to put in the onions. Chris and I picked up two sets of onions, Texas 1015 Super Sweet and Red Creole. I think after they counted it was determined about 200 onions were planted!

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    Now we just need to plant the leeks we bought, too. It was a great weekend for gardening!

    zoe1

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    zoe3

    My niece, Zoe, is a little over 5 years old now. It is hard to believe that she’s now really just a tiny adult. Of course she’s not really an adult in knowledge and mannerisms yet, but she’s definitely beyond the baby and toddler years and has her own personality and opinions. Girl has attitude. She, her brother Grayson, and her mom and dad came down over the weekend for one of our multiple-times-of-year ‘Whitlock Weekends’. Or at least that’s what I like to call ’em, the times when my family comes down to visit, or I go up to visit them. It was a great adventure this weekend, full of playing outside, pulling sweet potatoes as the last photo illustrates, canoe rides, and other fun and games. I really loved the last photo up there, catching her in a moment of what I can only guess is her thoughts. It took her a few minutes to warm up to the idea of pulling sweet potatoes with her dad and Uncle Chris, and then she jumped right in. Of course she was D.O.N.E. after and didn’t want to assist in putting in onions directly afterwards. Five going on fifteen.

    I have a lot more photos from the weekend—the sweet potato harvest, the canoe rides, fun around the yard, Grayson playing, planting of the ‘Grayson’ tree to go with the ‘Zoe’ tree. Good times!

    staghorn
    +Plant sitting an old favorite, staghorn fern, for Chris’ dad. Not that we’re much warmer here in Houston, it is a bit better than Dallas over the winter.

    socks
    +Digging out the long, patterned socks is one thing to look forward to in winter. I found the patch of leaves that were the greatest around the yard—don’t mistake that we have a yard of leaves.

    moon
    +Twilight moon. Probably taken at only 5:30ish pm.

    gall
    +I did a doubletake at an oak leaf and found a gall. Love them.

    daikon
    +Daikon radishes are growing in thick.

    basil2
    +African blue basil prior to being chopped down and turned into pesto.

    Chilly temperatures here, by far not as chilly as other places right now, but cold enough for my warm blood.

    On the agenda: digging sweet potatoes, buying a canoe, fall garden cleanup, finishing the laundry room renovation, nearly 90,000 words in my book and keeping on writing, a longish hike in the plans.

    You?

    Part I in case you missed it.

    waterelmslough
    After scoping out the fungus I saw a very interesting swamp area, an area that reminded me of Little Slough, substituting water elm for pop ash and pond apples. And of course no epiphytes covering the tree branches.

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    It also reminded me of months of tromping around the Big Thicket 2.5 years ago. I’m definitely a wetland and swamp person.

    slough

    waterelm

    ilexopaca
    Ilex opaca, American holly. I love, love, love to see these plants when they become well-formed trees. Their trunks are so thick and sturdy, they look like they’d be a good tree in a landscape.

    inland oats

    aster

    creek
    After meandering through the wetland for a little bit I hopped back onto the pipeline right-of-way before ducking back off on another trail on the north side of the wetland. It headed east before turning alongside what I later realized was the perimeter barbed wire fenceline for the property. I crossed a small creek that was flowing pretty quickly beneath the culvert that went under the trail, taking runoff downstream to Spring Creek.

    ants
    I’m not sure what kind of ants make these piles, but I didn’t want to find out.

    purple

    rye

    trifoliate3
    I’d just stopped to take a photo of this trifoliate orange when I noticed a man and woman coming from the north down the trail. I asked how far it was to the creek and they replied that they had not actually seen the creek because the path eventually turned and was flooded in that direction. I opted to continue on and see how badly flooded it really was.

    trifoliate2
    Not twenty yards further down the trail I saw orange balls on the ground. My first reaction was WooHoo! Citrus like in Florida! and then I whipped back into reality and knew they were trifoliate orange fruits.

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    Curious because I had never seen trifoliate orange fruit before, I opened one of them up. It was quite full of seeds and not much pulp, but despite knowing it might not taste good I gave it a few licks. It really wasn’t that bad and wasn’t as bitter as I was expecting. I probably could have juiced them and added a bit of sugar and the whole deal would have been a tasty treat. Instead, I left my discovery on the ground for the forest critters.

    springcreek
    After my taste test, I continued on down the trail. The trail took a steep (relatively speaking here, this is southeast Texas after all) jaunt downhill and it was very clear I was not going any further. The creek had overtaken the trail along the bank and this was as far as I was going to go. I backtracked and immediately nearly ran into a jogger. I warned him of the water but he didn’t hear me due to the earbuds in his ears. He turned around quickly and then detoured to another trail that I’d bypased about fifty feet beforehand. I followed it around until I saw him returning, blocked yet again by flooded trail. It looked like I’d be heading back the way I came.

    When I arrived back at the creek I’d passed a bit ago I noticed a small singletrack that went along the edge of the creek. It faded somewhat as I continued west, brush and downed trees keeping most people from allowing the trail to remain open. The path was still visible though and so I made my way over the logs and brambles and found yet another right-of-way. Not quite ready to head back yet I decided to go back towards Spring Creek only to be stopped by flooded trail that I didn’t feel like wading across. As I pondered my next plan I heard loud thumps echoing in the forest.

    Woodpecker. Somewhere.

    I listened a few more seconds and determined the direction it was coming from. Cautiously I eased over to where I could get a glimpse of it. Ivory billed woodpecker—haha, I wish. Just a good ol’ pileated woodpecker going to town on a sweetgum limb.

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    pileated1

    I took a short video. I apologise for the shaking. It was difficult to keep the the long lens straight and I was starting to get shaky due to lack of coffee and the need for something to eat as it was already lunchtime.

    The pileated sealed the deal for the end of the hike and I turned back to head down the right-of-way to try to catch the pipeline I’d walked on earlier and head south. Eventually I made my way out but I know I will definitely head back sometime in the future to explore again.

    Life has been full of doing other things besides hiking or outdoor adventuring lately. Mostly we’ve been working on projects around the house. Recently we started working on renovating the laundry room. I hated the floor, the walls were crap, and there was no hot water running to the washing machine. Now there’s hot water, 3/4 of a new floor, the wall painted with touchups needed, and a few other items to do such as install cabinets. We’re waiting on the cabinets to come into the store we ordered them from so that we can finish the painting and the flooring. But, the whole room already looks much better.

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    After almost a year of having compost on the left side of the compost bin, we finished it up yesterday.

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    The bin is empty, the last bits going into the vegetable bed to ammend for late fall and winter vegetables. We’ll be eating greens until our skin is the shade of chard, kale, spinach, kohlrabi, and bok choi! I guess we will get to counter balance that with sweet potatoes we’ll dig up here in a few weeks, so maybe we won’t be a weird shade of green. Hah!

    IMGP0096
    I started working on redoing this corner shelf that I’ll eventually put in my studio. The shelf had been at my grandmothers until my mom took it sometime in the 90s and painted it blue. It was then relegated to my parent’s garage until they asked if I wanted it. Ever the hoarder and memory keeper, I said yes. Taking the blue paint off is a real pain. I’m mostly now chipping it off with my fingernails and pulling it off in sheaths if I can. I’m bought a small can of ‘Sixteen Candles’ or maybe it was ‘Sweet Sixteen’ pink—it is girly girl pink, you get the picture—to paint the shelves and the doors and the rest will be white. I haven’t decided whether to put new door knobs on or just paint the old ones. Hobby Lobby had a bunch of sweet looking dresser knobs and I bought several to replace on another storage dresser I have in my studio that was missing some handles, so that is always an option if I decide to replace them on the cabinet too.

    studio3
    Speaking of my studio, I rearranged it a bit again. I wasn’t feeling the writing jive where I was sitting so I moved the sewing machine from beneath the window and replaced it with my computer and writing desk. I also finally got around to hooking up my second screen and it is now so much easier to toggle back and forth from looking at the Florida Trail online map, my Flickr photos, and other internet resources, and then look at my Word document on the other screen. No, I’m not a new-school writer with a fancy writing application like Scrivener or some such thing.

    Eventually the corner shelf will go where the hanging fish is and I will have to relocate the fish elsewhere in the studio.

    As for writing, it is coming along. I managed about 5,000 words last week and am inching closer to be done. Currently I’m at the point where we have just entered St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. My interest in writing has gone up some, mostly because the next bit of the trail was so interesting and different from the previous miles. I love that after an hour or two when I look back and see how much I’ve written or how many days I’ve written about, that the feeling is good. I can pat myself on the back for at least coming this far.

    Non-creatively I spent about three weeks getting through seasons 1-5 of Breaking Bad on Netflix. It took a few episodes to get used to all the murdering, but after awhile I started enjoying the show. Though, let me tell you, in season 5 I wanted someone to off Walt for his sheer idiocy. Now I’m just patiently waiting for the final season to come out on Netflix so I can figure out how it all ends.

    And that’s really about it. Aside from work, home improvement, gardening, and some creative endeavors, that’s what’s going on right now. We’re hoping for some long distance backpacking over Thanksgiving so I’m looking forward to that!

    What’s up in your world?

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