Regarding COVID-19: Please recreate responsibly and practice social distancing. Closures and travel restrictions are changing rapidly, always check and respect local regulations.

Lake Conroe or Bust

Two Guys, One Trail, Thirty Miles

            Just a college student and his camera, and his buddy Jonathan of course, wanted one last adventure before the spring semester started. I had been thinking about this one hike I had planned a few months back through the Sam Houston National Forest. Planned right, we would end up on the banks of Lake Conroe right as the sun was setting. I brought it up one night: two days, thirty miles round trip through whistling East Texas pines. Jon was in. A week later, Jon and I set out on our two-day excursion through the pines on what would be our longest hike to date.

Day 1

            We set out on the hour drive from College Station, Texas to the trailhead in Richards around eight in the morning. After a quick stop for breakfast we could finally see the massive, towering pine trees that make up the Sam Houston National Forest - breathtaking. We rolled into the trailhead parking lot amid a few other day hikers starting their adventure much like we were about to. After sorting out our gear and stashing a few more water bottles into our packs we began long walk to Lake Conroe.

            Wandering amongst the trees and carrying on a good conversation has to be the best part of any hiking experience. Due to some early morning fog and the likelihood of rain, most of the wildlife the forest is known for was nowhere to be found. Despite that, the scenes of creeks winding through the pines were stunning. Around mile five or six the wind started to pick up and the sky began to darken, within minutes it began to drizzle. After a quick panic to try to keep the camera equipment dry we kept moving forward. Completely soaked we reached the trailhead on Bethel Road. Soaked and with two thirds of the trip left to complete, we set off on what would be the most scenic - and longest - leg of the journey through Little Lake Creek Wilderness. Halfway through we came across a small bamboo and palm tree jungle which had both of us surprised as to why there was wild bamboo and palm trees growing in a Texas pinewood forest. The winding trail lead up over and through creeks and through the bamboo until finally reaching FM 149.

            By the time we made it to FM 149 we could feel the burn. The miles were adding up, leaving us with cramped calves and sore shoulders. Still we pushed on. Soon we found ourselves at a crossroads both literally and figuratively. We decided to take one of the multi-use trails to Stubblefield Lake Road to cut a half mile off the total trip. Once we reached the road we didn’t have to walk very far before hitching a ride in the bed of a truck to the next waypoint saving time and energy. We started the next leg excited by the fact that we just hitchhiked for the first time and Lake Conroe was close. The last couple miles blew by and as we stood on the banks of Lake Conroe right as the sun was setting we knew it was all worth it. After making camp, we sat around the fire and talked about the game plan for day two while enjoying a delicious Cheezit dinner.

Day 2

            We woke up early Sunday morning due to the fire going out leaving us cold and shivering. After getting the fire going, I set up the tripod to get some shots of the sunrise and talked about the game plan with Jon. The hiking trail was 20 miles but the road system back to the start, where my truck was, was only eight. Having luck the day before with hitchhiking we decide we’d walk along the road and see if we could get lucky again. We packed up, put the fire out, took some last minute shots of the lake and headed out. After a mile and dozens of passing cars we began to lose hope in the hitchhiking plan thinking we’d have to walk another seven miles that day to get back. That all changed when we happened to flag down the van that we saw while leaving camp.

We over excitedly piled into the van and told him where we were going and he was happy to take us all the way back to the trailhead where my truck was parked. Along the way we got to know the driver. Originally from Venezuela, Jose was a nomad traveling for adventure to adventure living out of his van. He had been traveling through Texas after arriving in Houston a few years back. We told him about our trip and he called us crazy for attempting 20 miles in one day, but was blown away that we finished. We began talking about how he got to Texas and why he began to travel and he offered some words of wisdom that left me pondering my own future. “Life is like a story and you’re the writer, make your story worth reading.” Weeks later I can still hear them in my mind, putting me back into the little blue van cruising down some two-lane, East Texas black top.

We pulled into the trailhead lot about 15 minutes later. We thanked him for the ride and wisdom and watched him pull out onto the open highway off on his next adventure. We loaded up our gear and set off down the road, hungry and smelling of sweat. We sat in silence as we chased that long white line back to College Station thinking of the man in the van and of the adventure we had just done. 

Conclusion

            I set out on this journey to add to my photography portfolio and cross it off my bucket list, but what I got was an unexpected education. I’ve always been a people person, so I find it easy to meet and talk to people when I’m out and about and to meet and hear the stories of people is my favorite part of every trip. The forest wasn’t as scenic as I was hoping, there’s no mountains or cliffs, wide flowing rivers, or unique landforms that make it special. However, the secluded feeling of the forest, absent of cars, people, and the sounds of the city, leaves it up to you to make it special and that’s what it’s all about. It’s your story, make it worth reading.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Braden Wallis

Travel photographer and adventurer