Day Three - Monday
I slept till after the sun rose. My hips ached a bit from sleeping on the ground for a third time, but I haven't felt so rested in a long time. Turning in at dusk and waking at daybreak is so great. I swear I'd add ten years to my life if I could manage to sleep like this all the time.
It was another perfect day, albeit a bit warmer than the two previous days. I packed the fleece I'd been wearing under my mesh riding pants (Klim Mojave) and wore a short sleeve shirt under my jersey and jacket.
After eating an all-American Egg McMuffin sandwich in Rusk, I fired up my GPS and hit the road. It wasn't long before the GPS track took me off the tarmac and toward Mission Tejas State Park.
Counselor isn't going to want to hear this, but I think Day three is the most scenic of the trip--it also happens to have the highest ratio of dirt roads to paved roads.
It also had the greatest number of errors in the GPS tracks. Day two had zero errors, even Day One only had the issue with Nine Mile Road. Day Three, on the other hand, has some serious routing errors that could potentially be a disaster for riders who opt not to carry supplementary fuel...like me.
Of course I had no idea there was stressful situation in the wings. I was ignorantly enjoying the tall pines, winding trails, and Texas wildflowers.
There were occasional mudholes across the path. Once I got a feel for them, they were a gas to blast through. I learned quickly to lift my feet as a barreled through. But the air was so nice that my wet socks dried almost immediately.
I was having such a fine time, in fact, that I barely noticed the miles going by--but they were. And no matter how fine a time I was having, my bike was burning through fuel at a constant rate.
Upon exiting Mission Tejas Park, the route dumps you out on CR7 for a few miles of tarmac before turning off road yet again. I was at about 65 miles on my tripmeter at that point, so I searched for nearby gas--which turned out to be about 15 miles east in Pollock, TX. I didn't want to make a 30 mile detour!
I was at the end of 3-1, and 3-2 (according to my Garmin) was only 33 miles. I've hit my reserve in as little as 96 miles before, though I usually manage 125 before the light comes on. I figured I could safely plan to drive 100 without refueling since my reserve would get me an additional 20 miles. What could go wrong?
So I made my first bad decision of the day. Instead of retreating for gas, I turned down a dirt road which a sign proclaimed was the property of the Soggy Bottoms Hunting Club. Another sign forbade anyone to continue down their road without permission from the Soggy Bottoms Hunting Club. I think that Two Wheel Texans must have obtained permission to ride their trails, at least that's the rationale I used to blow past the signs.
Incidentally, I went to the soggy bottoms website and noted that the area is especially popular for bear hunting.
I didn't see any bears. Which is a good thing considering how the hawk had responded to me. I must smell delicious.
The dirt roads were unimproved for the most part. I had to slow down to go around some felled trees or speed up to barrel through mud holes. Occasionally I'd have to get off my bike to move debris from the trail. Clearly these roads were very seldom used. I had to backtrack a few times when I missed turns.
I had gone 25 miles or so when I came upon this:
Now I know there's some trials riders and enduro racers who will scoff at my dilemma. Why don't I just drop a gear and bunny hop over the tree? Short answer, 'cause I don't know how and this didn't seem like a good time to learn. Besides, while the tree wasn't really that big, but it was suspended a couple of feet off the ground. Also, there was no way around--the forest was too dense on both sides.
What to do?
Yes, that's a hatchet hanging from my bag. Since I didn't have enough fuel to go back, I'd better get chopping!
After several minutes of chopping I was able to push the trunk closer to the ground (see above), but with this much time invested, I decided the tree simply had to go.
Success! I am KING OF LUMBERJACKS!
I was glad to be able to move the remaining portion of the tree, my hand was getting tired (since I'm more of a weekend lumberjack) and I was sweating like a faucet. I had long since ditched my jacket and would ride in my jersey for the remainder of the trip. It was in the mid 80's and getting humid.
After riding a few more minutes down the path, it occurred to me that the tree had probably lain across the road for some time. The trail was beginning to feel more and more remote.
My tripmeter said I was at about 90 miles. Clearly I did not have the fuel to reverse course. The trail went from seeming remote, to seeming abandoned.
Then it went from "abandoned" to "forgotten."
At 100 miles, the trail went from "forgotten" to "forsaken."
At 105 miles, the trail simply ceased to exist altogether.
But my GPS boldly proclaimed that the trail was alive and well, so I stood on my pegs, navigated the knee high grass, and kept alert for hidden bogs and fallen trees.
I was so alert, in fact, that I failed to note that I'd somehow deviated from the GPS track. I never saw a "turn." The forest was impenetrable on both sides. So I forged ahead until it became clear that I couldn't go forward any longer. I was at 110 miles. Damn.
I was beginning to sweat--and not because of the heat. I began an inventory of what gear I had in the event I ran out of fuel. I was glad I had my nearly empty backpack and that I was wearing hiking boots rather than MX boots. I had 64 ounces of water in two Nalgene bottles and plenty of means to make a fire. Heck, if worse came to worse, I could pitch a tent and start fresh in the morning. Of course, by that time my wife would have alerted search and rescue. I was fixated on the possibility of embarrassment when four or five boar came into view standing in the path.
This is a stock photo I found on a Texas wildlife webpage. There were four or five of THESE standing in my path. I didn't think about my camera. I didn't have long to think about anything. My arrival spooked the lead boars and they bolted into the forest--followed by about THIRTY or FORTY more pigs! They made a huge racket as they crashed through the trees. My heart pounded in my chest. I was NOT spending the night here.
I backtracked to the GPS route, only to find that the turn it advised did not exist. Not even close. Just dense forest and fencing. I most definitely did not have enough fuel to return whence I came.
I ended up following a game trail that headed in the general direction of the nearest paved road. To my relief, I intersected a hunting road, this intersected a larger gravel road just as my reserve light illuminated. I gently lugged my engine along the gravel road until it seemed deliverance was nigh. The paved road wasn't far ahead, and then...
Will ya look at the size of that fence? What do they keep in here? King Kong? I tried driving along the fence line, but it was clear that the fence went on for many miles. Dang.
White flag time. I rode back to gate, intent on climbing it and walking to the nearest gas station. When I came within ten feet of the gate, however, the gate slid open automatically! I looked around to make sure I wasn't being punk'd! Freedom.
So now I was on State Road 94, still 8 miles from the nearest gas. I babied my bike along. I've never run my bike dry, but I'd never been this close. I limped in to a gas station near Lufkin, TX. My bike was beginning to sputter. My tripmeter showed 137 miles. My three gallon tank took 2.93 gallons.
I got a coke, sat at a bench, and tried to stretch the kinks out of my neck. It was a very tense little adventure. My lesson is learned: I will never venture solo without my Rotopax again (say it ten times).
With my gas tank full, I felt very grateful. So grateful, in fact, that after turning down the dirt roads leading to Davy Crockett National Forest, I decided to stop and help a couple of colorful looking locals who appeared to be lost.
Billy and Coop were trying to deliver a horse, but were having a tough time on account of there being no road signs on the dirt roads. I gave them turn-by-turn instructions (compliments of my Garmin) and they went merrily on their way. At least I think they were grateful, they both spoke "authentic frontier gibberish," so it's hard to say.
I was on my last leg of the journey. I was sad that it was coming near an end. Crockett NF had immense bald patches devoid of trees due to the drought and subsequent logging operations to remove the deadwood.
But i did come across this:
To the untrained eye, this looks like a puddle, but NO...it's a river
Okay, okay...it's a small river. Very small. My grandmother would have called it a creek (though she would have pronounced it "Crick").
But I'm not above chalking up even very small victories. This was my first official river crossing. Despite being over in less than two seconds, I basked in the warm glow of my accomplishment.
But it had to end sometime. Not much later I intersected State Road 287 and returned to the starting point in Moscow, TX.
I had completed the East Texas 500. What a thrill. I've never been on an adventure ride before, and while I suspected that I'd enjoy it, I didn't know how much. I will say now that this ride was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing (with one notable exception) experiences of my life.
The hook is set. I can barely wait until my next multi-day adventure!