Trudging Through Texas

From Leesville, Louisiana, I found myself 25 miles from the Texas state line. To ensure my friend Gary (who put me up in Leesville for the night) got his money’s worth, I ate my fill of COVID compliant to-go breakfasts, drank plenty of coffee, watched some ESPN, and reorganized PJ before resuming my walk at 10 AM. It was December 20th.

I walked six miles north on the Shreveport Highway before following a few county roads to Highway 111. A few Louisianans made my last full day in their state memorable with several gestures of kindness.

Just north of Leesville, an older gentleman in a pickup pulled over and handed me a crisp 20 dollar bill. He didn’t tell me his name, or ask where I was walking or why, he just said “Merry Christmas and have a nice walk.” Another man pulled over and gave me two slices of piping hot pepperoni pizza from an untouched pie.

I munched on the slices of pizza as the sun came out around noon. I couldn’t resist sunbathing next to picturesque Lake Vernon off Highway 111 a few miles later.

I walked another 10 miles after leaving the lakeshore and camped off an ATV trail in the woods. Louisiana sent me off with a sky full of stars.

I approached the Texas state line at sunrise the follwing morning and crossed the Sabine River as the sun illuminated mist rising from the valley.

PJ took the ceremonial picture of me next to the Texas state line sign. I certainly have a lot to learn about Texas, but I know two things with 100 percent certainty – it’s a big state, and I will NOT leave a Dallas Cowboys fan!

My walk across Texas will be between 700 and 900 miles, depending on which route I take. For better or worse, I will get to know The Lone State State very well.

I had some company at the state line after snapping photos. Two men, RJ and John, who work on the nearby dam, stopped as they were driving by and visited with me for a bit.

“We weren’t sure if you were a lost mailman, selling ice cream, or out walking to talk about Jesus,” John said with a laugh. The two wished me good luck, and once again reminded me how big Texas is, as if I didn’t already know!

From the state line, I followed Highway 255 for the next 40 miles. I was admittedly nervous about the road because I knew it didn’t have a shoulder. My other option, Highway 8 to the south, didn’t have one either. Considering the lack of towns and services, I banked on 255 having very little traffic. Fortunately, I guessed correctly.

Many of the vehicles on the road were logging trucks. I didn’t appreciate the prevalence of the logging industry in this part of Texas. For whatever reason, logging trucks seem more sinister to me than the typical semi, so I have taken to calling them “toothpick trucks” to make them seem friendlier. The other challenging aspect of the stretch was the 75 mile per hour speed limit, which I have never encountered on a two lane road. I learned a few key lessons about Texas within the first 50 miles. People drive FAST, and Texans love oversized pickup trucks with big tires.

Highway 255.

On day two of my walk down 255, PJ and I hit impressive Sam Rayburn Dam and Reservoir. The walk atop the dam offered great views of the lake and provided a rare shoulder on the highway.

This was a dam fine walk!

After another five miles on narrow 255, I hit Highway 69, which I followed northwest towards Lufkin. At that point, I was in the middle of the Piney Woods region of East Texas, which includes four National Forests – Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Sabine, and Angelina. I was able to camp in Angelina National Forest outside of Zavalla after following a forest service road into the woods. Storms were forecasted to move into the area the following afternoon, so I went to sleep early and started walking before daybreak the next morning, hoping to hit Lufkin before the rain moved in.

Cowboy camping in Angelina National Forest.

I was walking by 5 AM in the morning and hit Lufkin mid-afternoon. Mother Nature cut me a break, too – it didn’t start raining until I checked into a room at Motel 6. In the morning, I walked another five miles and hit 1,001 miles for the trip, just in time for Christmas!

My sister, Katy, made the long drive south from Kansas City and picked PJ and I up near Highway 130. We spent three nights together in Galveston, TX, and celebrated Christmas together. One of the main reasons I got a hotel room in Lufkin was so I could shower and eliminate the chance Katy would leave PJ and I on the side of the road in Houston because we stunk!

Galveston was a great place to spend the holiday! The 10 mile long, 17 feet tall seawall was built in 1902 after the devastating Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 (it killed approximately 8,000 people). The seawall was built to prevent the storm surge from future hurricanes from flooding the city. The sidewalk next to the seawall is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world, and the murals painted on the seawall itself comprise the world’s longest mural!

Katy and I also enjoyed several walks through historic neighborhoods closer to downtown Galveston. Many of the houses dated back to the late 1800’s. I call this one “Pretty in Turquoise.”

Katy dropped me back off near Highway 130 at noon on December 27th. I gave her a big hug, reassembled PJ, and just like that, we were back to walking!

I felt like I was “home” within minutes of resuming my walk. It always amazes me how comfortable and at ease I feel with myself and the world when I’m on the road, like I am exactly where I need to be.

I pushed PJ 17 miles down the ample shoulders of Highway 130 and Highway 7 on December 27th, ending the day with a camping spot in Davy Crockett National Forest right next to the welcome sign.

I checked the forecast the following morning and a big storm was supposed to move into East Texas in 48 hours. I decided I wanted to push myself, physically and mentally, and attempt to make it to Fairfield, 80 miles west, over the next two days.

I started walking before sunrise and reached Ratcliff as the sun illuminated the surrounding national forest. After a pint of milk at a gas station, I turned right onto TX Farm Road 227. There, I saw something unusual – a woman walking down the highway shoulder with an orange vest and fanny pack. I don’t come across many walkers in rural areas. I caught up to her after a few hundred yards and said good morning. Jean was out for her regular morning walk. She follows 227 north for a mile to a dirt road, then turns around and heads home.

On October 5th, 2019, Jean tragically lost her daughter in a car accident. She turned to walking as a way to grieve, calm down her racing mind, and connect with God. Sometimes she listens to gospel music while she walks. Other days, she walks in silence, letting the sounds of the forest soothe her soul.

Jean and I walked together for a mile and talked about what walking means to us, and what role it plays in our lives. Although we were only together for an hour, we formed a meaningful connection. Jean admitted she was lonely and doesn’t have many friends in town. I encouraged her to call me if she needed someone to talk to. Three days later, my phone rang with a Texas phone number I didn’t recognize. It was Jean. I am grateful for the newfound friendship.

The walk north on 227 was peaceful and beautiful. The road meandered through pine, oak, and dogwood forests before passing by quaint farms and ranches.

My serene and relaxing walk ended once I reached Highway 294. With no shoulder, more traffic, hills, and plenty of blind curves, 294 gave me all I could handle.

I walked another six miles before dark, bringing my total miles for the day to 37, and reached the small town of Slocum at dusk. I pushed PJ into some woods next to a creek for the night just west of town. Fairfield was still 43 miles away.

I would have liked to start walking before dawn the next morning, but walking a narrow road with no shoulder in the dark wasn’t a good idea. PJ and I started at first light and slowly made our way through the next 20 miles on 294. PJ preached patience. We had to constantly move off the road for logging trucks, semis, and Texas-sized pickup trucks.

We reached the smooth shoulder of U.S. 84 at 2 PM after the difficult stretch. I celebrated with a series of Tiger Woods style first pumps as I pushed PJ down the massive shoulder. Drivers shot curious looks in my direction. I was still 25 miles from Fairfield, but the difficult portion of the day was over. It took until 10 PM, but PJ and I rolled into town after a 15 hour, 45 mile walk. My dogs weren’t barking – they were howling – and I was only moderately incoherent. We did it!

A friend of mine from back home – Dicko Greenwood – graciously put PJ and I up in a hotel for a few nights to recover and stay out of the rain. Thank you, Dicko! We will get back on the road New Year’s Day and begin the walk to Waco.

Favorite Three Pictures

I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas gift. Three days with my little sister in Galveston!
Highway 111 on my last day in Louisiana, right before dark. Don’t worry mom – I looked both ways before I snapped this photo!
Big, beautiful skies in East Texas.

Trip Recap

Days – 50

Miles – 1,101

Jars of Peanut Butter – 37

Roadside Change Count – $3.51

Miles Per Shower (Total) – 64.76. That’s 17 showers total since leaving Jacksonville!

Favorite Roadside Find – A Texas License Plate!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year and blessed 2021 – I am thrilled to be ringing in the New Year in East Texas!

Walk on!

-Ben

5 thoughts on “Trudging Through Texas

  1. Ben you are astonishing!! Good job. Your journey has been so uplifting. You are really working your tail off. Wow!! What a beautiful trip. Your endurance amazes us. And such good people along the way. Happy New Year!! All the best to you and PJ! We’re with you in spirit and thoughts and prayers. Pump those arms high!! We love you!

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  2. What an amazing ending of 2020 and a great beginning to 2021. Ben it just amazes me with your strength and ambition on your journey. As you write about it, I can actually feel myself on these walks. The peacefulness must be wonderful to just get lost in yourself and the beauty the world has to offer. I think that it is so cool that you have a new friendship with Jean. Hope you stay connected. My favorite picture is Lake Vernon. Oh and Pretty in Turquoise, what an amazingly beautiful house. Happy New Year Ben. May God be with you and keep you safe & strong on your journey. Walk On

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    1. Thank you for the kind message, Bonnie! I do love the solitude and being outside all day. I always feel at home when I’m on the road, even if I am somewhere I have never been! Jean and I have talked several times since we met. Our friendship is certainly a blessing. Happy New Year to you and Clyde! I hope you’re staying warm in sunny Arizona! Thank you for your continued support 😃

      Ben

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