Friday, December 12, 2014

5 -8 February, 2015---Exodus In The Piney Woods

Exodus In The Piney Woods

Perhaps the book of the Bible that best displays God's use of the Wilderness as a school for His people is Exodus.  The story of the Israelites 40 year wandering through the Wilderness is one of God's instruction and provision and the way he transformed them into a cohesive society built around the idea and practice of Worship.

The Wilderness Ministry is built around the idea that this instruction continues today, if we only pursue it through our trips into His Creation and open our hearts and our minds to the lessons He has for us there.

In the upcoming weeks, we will be exposed to popular culture's rendition of the Exodus Narrative, replete with special effects and dubious interpretations of scripture. Hollywood seems to be of the opinion that they can use the story of Pharaoh and the Israelites to further their greater glory and line their pockets.

But this is what Scripture tells us about that story: 

Romans 9:17New International Version (NIV)17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
On the weekend of 6 -8 February, we will attempt to follow God's interpretation of what he was doing during Exodus.

The locations and general hiking plan will be the same as was attempted at our second trip shown here.

We will focus on Exodus 15.

There will be a Fellowship Pot Luck Friday night at LSHT Parking Lot #8, followed by a hike to Neiderhoffer Lake. This time I have gotten confirmation from the Forest Service that we have the site reserved for the weekend. There is a limit of 20 people allowed at the site, so email me at sargevining at yahoo, PM me at Hammock Forums, or post on the Wilderness Ministry Facebook Page.

Now, I'm going to ask attendees to do something a little strange, take a Leap of Faith if you will, to help us understand a bit of what the Exodus Narrative is telling us: leave camp Saturday morning with empty water bottles. Those of us who own water filtration devices should carry them.

Exodus 15-27 tells us:

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.[f]) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
When we cross one of the several creeks that cross the trail between Parking Lot #8 and Neiderhoffer Lake, we'll filter the bitter water. When we arrive at Neiderhoffer we will enjoy the spring fed waters to be found there. There will also be a supply of bottled water and some snack food staged there.

We need a couple of volunteers to show up Thursday to help with set up at Neiderhoffer and shuttle people back to parking Lot #8 on Sunday morning. I will be going directly to Neiderhoffer on Thursday and will hike to Parking Lot #8 on Friday morning to meet folks arriving for the weekend.

This can be considered a beginners to mid level experience hike. The terrain is mostly flat, the distance is 4.2 miles. Friday night will be car camping, but on Saturday you'll need to pack everything you need (except water) for lunch and dinner Saturday and breakfast Sunday morning.


Yesterday's mail brought the final paperwork.  Its official now.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

So Here's The Plan

I asked LostAgain to do a scout of a couple of possible Friday night campsites that I'd located on Google Earth just north of Merit.  I asked him to check into pull overs, pull ins, or room on the shoulder where roads crossed or ran parallel to the trail.  To cut to the chase:

So, to summarize, no good places to pull over, the back roads are single lane, no shoulder, abutted by private land, tending to dirt and not well marked. The trail itself is easily accessed, but there really is no place to park one vehicle, let alone several, save one spot near the cemetery. And lastly, there just didn't seem to be any suitable trees to hang from, and the trees that did look good were all blocked at the lower end by heavy brush. The last thing too, is that the trail is immediately adjacent to private land. As in there is no buffer. If you pass between the brush and trees along the trail, you're on somebody's land. And I'm talking by steps, not yards. The roads are also not in the best shape, and like I said, narrow 1 laners that require you to pull over if approaching someone coming in the opposite direction (which actually happened to us). 
The trail IS in good shape if you're BIKE-packing. But for hiking (at least at the point we were looking) it's basically a dirt road with few places to pull over for parking a car. Like I said, if you're walking town to town and carrying plenty of water it's great. But, places to pitch a tent or hang a hammock are few and far between. In looking at it I think it was envisioned as a day hiking/biking trail, not a thru-hiking or hike/backpack/camp trail.
 I gave this a lot of thought and prayer, and here's what I came up with:

This trail is closer to the kind of walk Jesus and the Apostles would have made in the three years of His ministry than any we've walked before: a well worn path between towns traversing or going by homes, farms, and orchards----places where people live and toil.

The campsites Don scouted were near road crossings and he didn't hike down the the trail anymore than a hundred yards at the places he stopped---he didn't do any kind of extensive hiking of the trail along the points in between.

So we're going to what They did and trust God to find us a place to sleep Saturday night.  We won't do any Friday night camping, at least as an organized group (you're welcome to look at the maps and give it a shot, or sleep in your car in the parking lot in Celeste).

We will meet at around 0900 in Celeste in the parking lot of the Exxon Station on Hwy 69 right where the trail crosses the highway (click on  "View Map" on this web page: and go to Street View ).  There we will decide who's vehicle will be left there for the termination end of the shuttle, then drive down to the trailhead in Farmersville  with the goal of getting there by no later than 1200. We'll stop a couple places on the way where a road crosses the trail to cache water The trail from there to Merit is 5 miles long, which should take us about three hours. The trail from Merit to Celeste is 7.7 miles long.  Somewhere along that 7.7 miles is a place God will provide for us---and that's where we'll camp. Sunday morning we'll wake up and walk the remaining distance to Celeste.

Since we'll be waiting for folks to show, we should exchange phone numbers so we can know if anyone can't make it or needs help.  Contact me on HF or throught the Facebook page with yor number, and I'll give you mine.

Peace and joy be with you, and see you on the trail.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Weekend of Oct 4---NETT---North East Texas Trail.

Well, we're back to themes.

Fellowship and Service---that's what will make this one work.

The North East Texas Trail is a relatively new multi-use trail, a Rails to Trails project begun in the 1990's and still under development---although the part we're contemplating right now represents the first third of the most developed part.  Here's an article printed last year in Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine:

We're looking at is a 12.7 mile hike, divided into two days on a very easy trail.  We'd start at the trailhead in Farmersville and hike approximately 7 miles to a point along the trail twop or so miles north of the town of Merit, then the next morning hike into Celeste. This would require a hiker's shuttle. While everybody else hangs out at the trailhead, a couple of us would drive to Celeste and drop off one or two cars, then jump into another car head back to Farmersville where we'd all head out on the trail.  When we get to Celeste, we all pile into the cars there and drive back to Farmersville to pick up our own vehicles.

There are also a number of road crossings where water/food/gear can be cached to make our packs a bit lighter and give us the ability to cook a bigger, better meal for Saturday night.

Here's a short description of the trail from Farmersville to Merit:

Map to the trailhead here:,-96.359719,166m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x864bf6f363adb2e5:0xdd02fe6a2f5dcdba?hl=en

Here's the description of the trail from Merit to Celeste:

If you go to that map and then to switch to the satellite photo and follow the trail to Merit, you'll see where FM1101 crosses the trail.  In that area, there looks to be a lot of trees and a stock pond is nearby if water for filtration is needed.  Now, this trail is made on an old railroad bed, which means its likely higher than the terrain on either side, and there's likely to be barb wire fence on both sides.  What we can't tell from that satellite view is how far from the trail is the fence, and is the ground between the fence and the trail level enough for a decent campsite---although with hammocks this is less an issue that it would be if we were camping in tents.


We need to be of service to each other for the shuttle and for a pre-hike recon of possible campsites between Merit and Celeste, and to provide food and water for caching along the way.

Who's in?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Trip Report--27 June 2014

Its taken me a couple of weeks to put this post together.  Part of it was "busy-ness" with church, work, and life, and part of it was I was struggling with a way to digest and describe what I felt was a wonderfully rewarding experience that occurred in the context of several things going wrong. In a purely secular sense, some folks might even consider this trip as something of a failure in several respects.  But then, there IS a reason why these are not trips that are organized with any real secular intent.

The "theme" of this trip was to be "Faith".  The destination for the Saturday hike, Niederhoffer Lake, was chosen for several reasons that I thought might be illustrative of the concept. My plan was to give a short talk at the beginning of the hike explaining that the folks embarking on the trip should put their Faith in God, and not me, as I'd never been to that lake and I have been lost TWICE in the same area looking for another lake and then once arriving at the lake I would reveal that the distance traveled---4.2 miles---was the "best guess" estimate of the distance Jesus walked on the water to the boatload of Disciples, who had been in a terrible storm for that distance as well.  What happened was that God gave me a lesson about leaning on my own understanding and putting Faith in men to provide and not Him.
John Moore and I met at Riverpointe Church where we transferred his gear into my car for the trip to LSHT Parking Lot #8, then made a quick trip to Subway to pick up some sammiches to eat once we got there. An hour or so later found us in the parking lot of the HQ for Sam Houston National Forest where I was supposed to pick up the permit to camp at Neiderhoffer Lake---and where I learned my lesson about leaning on my own understanding and putting my Faith in the wrong place.

I'd first heard about Niederhoffer Lake on the Lone Star Trail Hiking Club's Yahoo group. There had been a discussion about a camp out they had had there for Trail Days. I made inquires to the Group about how one goes about securing the site and was told the process entailed going to the SHNF HQ and signing for it. I asked if I'd have any trouble getting the site if I went in the day I needed it and was told there'd be no problem at all. At least that was my understanding. Which I leaned on. You see where this is going, don't you?

So anyway, John and I walked into the HQ office, my understanding barely holding up under the strain it was taking from my leaning on it so hard, and were greeted by a courteous and cheerful staff behind a rustic counter. In answer to my inquiry as to the availability of Niederhoffer Lake, the young lady flipped open a day planner where we could plainly see that a group of 20 campers were already at the lake, had been for the last week, and would be for several more days. As I'm also involved in planning another hike that was supposed to have Niederhoffer as a destination campsite at the beginning of August I inquired about that date. As she flipped through the day planner to get to that August date, it became fairly obvious that Niederhoffer was not the rarely visited site that one could have by taking the time to wander into the office on a Friday morning and picking up the keys. The lake had bookings every weekend all summer long. It was at this point that my understanding completely collapsed due to its taking a load for which it was not designed.

God had not forsaken us, as there is an excellent alternate campsite convenient to Parking Lot #8, but the idea of a 4.2 mile hike to illustrate Christ's walk on the water and the distance/time the Disciples had been in a boat tossed about by a raging storm had gone right out the window, as had my plans for the little speech I'd planned on making. To make matters worse, the maps I'd posted had shown a clear trail to a well marked destination along with a narrative description of the trail and landmarks to look out for. The alternative site was a shorter distance, but on an unmarked trail that doesn't show up well on the map----and I'd gotten lost trying to find it before. Twice.
John and I arrived at Parking Lot #8 around lunch.  This was the first time he'd set up his hammock and tarp other than a quick familiarization and gear check we'd done at church one afternoon. We added a ridgeline to his Skeeter Beater to hold the bug net up off his face and to guarantee a consistent hang, and then added some quick shock cord line tensioners to his new tarp, then I hung the Big  Green Weenie and a new DIY tarp I'd traded an old ENO Doublenest for. We took a short jaunt down the first half mile of the 4 Notch Loop to judge trail conditions and to test out a rig I'd made to mount my Chrome Dome hiking umbrella to my pack harness so that I could use both hiking sticks while the umbrella is in use.  It met with marginal success as John had to do some quick stepping a couple of times to keep the umbrella out of his face.

The Big Green Weenie with a $5.00 gear hammock and DIY 13' tarp

John's Skeeter Beater and Hennessy Hex Tarp
Uncle Mike showed up shortly after our return, followed in quick order by Justin, Sooz Wells, Croaker Choker, and Lost Again (we're working on trail names for those without them). In short order, everyone had gone about the business of setting up hammocks and gear and started preparations for the Pot Luck dinner.
Uncle Mikes Home In The Woods

Justin's Dream Hammock

And his brand new pack

My HHDJ & Hex Tarp, loaned out to Sooz

Josh setting up his HH

Justin watches as Uncle Mike gets things going in the kitchen
Then came the bounteous repast
Charro Beans

John's Chili

Corn Bread 

Sausages and Taters

Nope.  Not a bucket of sand. 'Nanner puddin' with a topping of  crushed Vanilla wafers and Oreo cookies
See?  We eat healthy.  There was a salad.

Sausage and beef

The Corn Bread nicely browned

Some damage been done to that puddin'

After dinner, we engaged in a few hours of "campfire fellowship". It was noted that this Ministry has been set up to provide what could be described as a 'safe environment" to discuss our Faith. As we listened to the chirping of the tree frogs and the whine of the cicadas, it was noted that these were among the many sounds of Creation that God put in place to teach us music, and how feeble our attempts at recreating those sounds really are.  It was also noted that such things prove God's existence. Not the sounds themselves, but the fact that we have been created to appreciate them as beautiful.  Being able to appreciate the beauty of a sunrise or the songs of the forest, for instance, gives humankind no evolutionary advantage over other animals, it must serve some other purpose or hold much larger meaning. 

The next morning brought with it evidence of one of the drawbacks to camping in a hammock:  its hard to wake up early.  Waking up early is easy in a tent.  You're uncomfortable and haven't slept well anyway. Late rising made us change our plans yet again. We decided that decamping, to include packing and stowage of all the impedimenta associated with the Pot Luck would take too long and result in our having to hike during the hottest part of the day, so we decided to do an out and back to Hidden Lake.  Uncle Mike had to leave as he was giving a sermon on Sunday, Sooz and Justin decided to do some hammock maintenance, then head for home, leaving four of us to go on the hike.

Lost Again, John, Me, Croaker Choker

We followed an old logging road to the lake.  I turned on my Maprika and Backpacker GPS Trial apps on my tablet so that I could follow our progress on the maps posted to the LSHT website, and to record the track for future reference.  This would be the third trip I'd made on this track---and I'd gotten lost on the first two. The hike was interesting, if uneventful, except for our meeting a box turtle on the trail, and an hour and a half later we were negotiating the creek crossing just south of the lake.  The drought had left a lot of debris in the creek channels, and when the recent heavy rains came all that stuff floated down creating what was essentially a combination battering ram and scrub brush---God's way of altering the landscape to suit His desires.  Trees near the edges of the creek had fallen into the creek bed, the trunks and roots creating obstacles along the sides and creek bottom, while the leaves and branches created obstacles at the creek edge.  Choosing a route down, over, and up the creek was a challenge.


Arrival at Hidden Lake was just a minute or so after the crossing, and we were rewarded with a great view of the lake and a lot of cooling shade near the shore. We shucked our packs and set about eating lunch.  As I squirted peanut butter and jelly packets into my Ezekiel pocket bread slices, I glanced at the map and recorded track on my tablet.  The track recorded 2.1 miles from our departure point at Parking Lot #8 to our lunch spot at Hidden Lake.

Hidden Lake

Ezekial pocket bread, penut butter and jelly--the lunch of champions

Takin in the view

Our hike back was as enjoyable as the hike in, although we could tell it was getting a lot warmer and that storm clouds were coming in. With one eye on the trail and another on the clouds (when we could see them through the trees), we trudged on.  The last quarter mile or so was road march on the Forest Service road and we did not enjoy the benefit of any shade, although my umbrella did an excellent job of addressing that for me. The clouds were looking ominous and the wind was picking up so we hustled a bit to get to camp.  Just as we all reached our hammock set ups, the drops began to fall. As soon as I laid in my hammock, a cooling breeze came up and washed over me, as thunder started to rumble in the distance. Before too long, the wind had picked up to a respectable clip, and a flash of lighting and a thunder clap sounded, and it seemed as if it had happened just on the other side of the trees.  But we were all safe in our nylon cocoons, hammocks gently swaying as God played a symphony of raindrops on that tarp, wind in the branches, and thunder rumbling off in the distance.  Everyone enjoyed a long, cool nap.

As I lay there I realized that the trip out to Hidden lake was 2.1 miles, as was the trip back. God had given us that 4.2 mile hike I was looking for---but he did it on His terms, not mine. He even provided us with a storm.  But in that provision, he kept us safe and comfortable. The four of us pretty much agreed that nothing could be added to the enjoyment of this trip by spending another night---and I had the feeling that God had taught me all he wanted me to learn.  It seems to me that he was saying "Forget about the themes.  You came here to learn from Me through My creation. Let my creation do the talking." Then He forgave my lack of Faith and my leaning on my own understanding and rewarded us all with exactly what we needed at the end of that hike.
An even greater lesson, I believe, is that The Lord does approve of what we are doing, but He underlined the notion that it is He who is the Teacher, and his tool will be the Wilderness. So, from now on, no more "themes". God said yes to the campfire fellowship, yes to walk in the woods, yes to listening to Him through Creation, and I think He also said "Thanks for the help, but if you come to meet me here, I don't need any."

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Leap of Faith

Please note that the date has been changed to 27-29 June due to scheduling conflict with some Father's Day plans. Everything else remains the same.

Proposed next trip involves some bushwhacking through the woods.  We have a map and a narrative description of the route.  Nobody in our group has been there before. Other folks have been there and they left a marked trail---we have to trust that those trail markings are still there.  But we also have GPS and compass back-up.

Parking will be at the Lone Star Hiking Trail Parking Lot #8 northeast of New Waverly.  A simple mapr of all the LSHT Parking lots is here:

This will be a Friday night to Sunday morning trip--June 27th to 29th.  Arrive any time on Friday and set up camp there at Parking Lot #8.  Around 8:00 PM we'll start serving a pot luck dinner.  Bring something to share and we should have a good meal, especially if Uncle Mike breaks out the Dutch Oven.  I'll be bringing charro beans from my favorite Tex-Mex place.

Saturday morning we will decamp and hit the trail for a four mile hike to Niederhoffer Lake.  The first 3 1/2 miles will be on the well marked Lone Star Hiking Trail.  The last .45 miles we will be following some engineers tape marking a route previously explored and charted by members of the Lone Star Hiking Trail Club:

Here's the written directions, with the GPS coordinates of the lake:

NEIDERHOFFER LAKE N30 38.652 W95 23.225
 (from Four Notch Trailhead on FS 213)0.00 FS 213 trailhead and hunters camp.  Head northeast.
0.33 Four Notch Loop/Main Trail junction (0.33 mi). Turn to the right and go southeast. You will come to a camping area for hunters; in another 100 feet is FS 223.
1.52 Cross FS 223 (1.19 mi); in another 100 feet you will see the hiker's sign. Enter woods. Trail turns to the northeast. 
3.26 Cross Boswell Creek (1.74 mi)--prone to flooding during heavy rain. Watch for mushrooms in the Boswell Creek bottoms.  
3.45 Main Trail intersects Neiderhoffer Branch (0.19 mi); watch for hunter’s blind to right; head southeast. You will see a trail sign shortly. (This is not an official trail so we are hesitant to mark intersection officially). 
3.90 Neiderhoffer Lake (0.45 mi);  
The numbers in bold before each paragraph above are the cumulative mileage for the hike with 0.00 being Parking Lot #8, and they coincide with the little black circles you see on the map.  The numbers in parenthesis ( ) is the mileage between each point.

Normal speed on an easy trial like the ones we have in the Sam Houston National Forest is about 2 miles an hour.  If we take one break for water and slow down a bit in the off trail portion, we should make Neiderhoffer Lake about 2 1/2 hours after we leave Parking Lot #8.  This is a good strategy for summer weather hiking as if we leave not later than 9 AM, we can avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day.  We'll eat lunch, set up camp then each of us can have some alone time with God, fellowship with old friends, make new ones, explore the lake, and do some fishing if you want to carry the gear four miles.  I'm told there's good fishing in that lake.


~~Shelter for two nights.  If you don't have any, get in touch with me, or post on the Facebook page and we'll get you fixed up.  You can use a tent, bivy, hammock, tarp, or cowboy camp in a sleeping bag or blanket.

~~Food:  Something for the pot luck Friday night, and your own breakfast, lunch and dinner Saturday and breakfast Sunday, or make arrangements with a buddy to share, or make shout out on the Facebook page, e mail me, or get in contact somehow to share with somebody.  You can bring stuff that doesn't need cooking, but if you have stuff that needs to be warmed up, you should get a canister stove as there's no telling at this point whether or not a burn ban will be in effect. If a burn ban is in effect, the only cooking devices allowed will be a stove that can be shut off and won't spill fuel if it falls over, and there's a hefty fine if the Forest Service finds you with a prohibited stove or a campfire.

~~Water, and/or a filtration device.  I have a filtration bag that is designed for groups and will be bringing it, and other folks will be bringing pocket filters, but you shouldn't rely on these for all your water as failures do happen (in fact, it happened to my pocket filter not far from this lake last year).  I also carry bottled water with me along with my filters, and try to use that for drinking and the filtered stuff for cooking.  No safety issue there, it just tastes better.  The rule of thumb in this climate is one gallon of water per person per day. A gallon of water weighs 7 pounds.  I'll be carrying a gallon of water along with my filters.  Water is probably the single most important thing to bring along and have easy access to in this part of the world, especially after the first of May.

~~Bug Juice.  One thing you can do is go down to Tractor Supply and get some permethrin.  They sell it in spray bottles and mixes.  Its used to keep stables and barns bug free.  Its toxic to humans in its liquid form, but it dries quickly and stays lethal to insects after it has dried.  Spray the outside of your sleeping gear and it will reduce the chances of you being bothered by bugs.  Its long lasting---I only spray my stuff once a year.  You should also get some DEET for smearing or spraying over you body.

~~A simple first aid kit.  You don't need the platoon level trauma kit.  A couple of bandaids, some alcohol wipes, iodine, Mercurochrome, or other disinfectant, Neosporin, asprins, a few feet of gauze bandage and adhesive tape,  stuff to take care of scrapes and small cuts.

~~A compass if you know how to use it.  Print out the map and directions above (email me and I can send you a bigger PDF of the map) and put it inside a ziplock bag.  You can also print out one of these maps:

Each of those shows the same thing, just in different levels of detail.

~~A Bible or a device with a Bible app.

A note on electronics:  a phone can save your life, but only if the batteries are good.  Charge it before you leave the house, then shut it off once you get to the campsite and call your wife to tell her you made it OK, then don't turn it back on until you need it in an emergency or you've gotten back to the Parking Lot Sunday morning.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Little Lake Creek Loop And The Road Less Travelled

A man was walking in the woods with his Grandson when the young man asked him what Heaven was like. "Take a look around you." the man said.  "God spoke this into life in one day. Think about what he can do in two thousand years---that's how long he's been working to prepare Heaven for us so far."

John Moore and I met at Riverpointe Church at 0800 Saturday and I tossed my gear into his truck, then we shot over to Niners in New Territory for a quick breakfast.  The drive to Montgomery seemed to fly by, and as we pulled into Parking Lot #2, Uncle Mike was there to meet us.  No, he's not clairvoyant, he just needed to recharge his phone about that time.  We said our hellos and I introduced John, then John  and I headed down to the end of Forest Service Road 211A to drop off the possibles for dinner, then a slow drive down Bethel Road to see if the exit of an abandoned road I wanted to explore was obvious from what passes as the main road---it wasn't. We headed back to the parking lot and donned our packs then Uncle Mike joined us on the trail to the campsite, about 3/4 mile from the parking lot on the Little Lake Creek Loop, just south of where that trail crosses FS211A.

We set up camp and John took a look at our hammock set-ups. I think there may be a hammock in John's future.  The campsite was chosen because we'd be having a campfire to cook some hot dogs, and this site already had a fire pit that had been used recently. The recent rains had made things a bit soggy, but John found a good spot and of course Uncle Mike and I were off the ground.

John , Sarge, Uncle Mike

After hiking down to the end of FS211A to get the possibles for dinner, Uncle Mike said a prayer for the weekend, for the future of the Men's Ministry, and that we hear what God is saying to us out here in His Creation.

Since this was to be a weekend of beginnings, getting to know each other, and discussing what God has put on our hearts about this kind of Wilderness Ministry, we hadn't planned to do a lot of hiking.  The KISS principal does better service for beginnings and discussions about beginnings.  On previous trips to this location, a pond had been discovered next to a long abandoned road.  The USGS Topographical map of the area shows it as Forest Service Road 211E, and that it emptied out on Bethel Road---that's what John and I were trying to find before we parked. We were looking to see if there might be a better and more private campsite along that road---something with a bit more elevation that wouldn't turn soggy in the rain and be a bit convenient to that pond so that water might be filtered there, and close enough to Bethel Road that heavier camp gear could be dropped off for a short hike in.

The entrance to FS211E is just a few yards east of the Little Lake Creek Loop on FS211A and is actually pretty visible at that point.

It doesn't take long, however, for this road to become an object lesson in the temporary works of man versus the eternal works of the Creator.
Just a few decades ago, this road was part of a larger network  that existed in the area as the forest here was cut down to provide the wood for houses in Houston near the turn of the last century. Even the ponds that dot the forest here were created by Man to provide water for various steam apparatus used in that endeavor. All of them are slowly being reclaimed by the Maker.

The track pretty much melted into the woods after about a half mile, but I had loaded an ap to my tablet called Maprika that works with GPS on the tablet to show your position on the PDF maps of the LSHT posted to the LSHT Club website.  If you have an android device, its pretty handy.  We came upon some engineers tape tied to bushes and checking their location with the Maprika ap showed that someone had come before us, probably with a GPS, and had marked the track. After checking a couple of times, we became pretty confident that following those would lead us to Bethel Road.  After a short bit, the road became a bit more obvious again.

Even so, God is in the process of making it right in His eyes.  We found a good palaver log and set down to discuss our Faith and some of the things God had shown to us on even such a short hike. 

From the songs of the birds, to the sweet fragrance of the sassafras root...

to the pungent aroma of the fat wood created during the wondrous process He designed to replenish and reclaim Creation--and which can be used by sinners and saints alike to warm themselves and cook food...

to the deceptive simplicity of a tent spider's web...

to the hearts and flowers found in a bed of clover...

to dogwood blooms seeming to hover as a cloud in the forest...

or the intricate patterns traced on a pine tree trunk as sap forces its way out to close the gaps...

or the juxtaposition of delicate new flowers pushing their way through the charred remains of fallen trees....

The works of God are beautiful to behold, and a feast for all the senses he bestowed on us.

The works of Man?

Not so much.

But even here, we see a message:  

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[b]

Perhaps what we saw on this walk was God's way of using the comparison of His works and His Creation to those of Man to show us what treasures await us in Heaven, and what we can expect from this world.

When we returned to the campsite, we found that Jeff  (Cookiecoon) had arrived and was just about done setting up. He had arrived in time to make the hike with us, but explored an alternative route to the campsite which allowed him view certain portions of the Lone Star Trail not on the original itinerary.

Hands were shaken and introductions were made once again, then we went around the business of collecting firewood and getting ready to cook dinner. Sticks were cut to skewer hot dogs upon, the condiments and buns laid out and the fire set ablaze. Jeff brought a pie (!) which he warmed by gathering some coals between two small logs and placing the dish on them with a sheet of aluminum foil on top.

Apple pie with a wood smoke flavor---now that there is a dessert.

John got a bit jealous of the collapsible chairs the rest of us had brought and not to be out done, he dragged one from the forest over to the fire.

There's nothing in this world better than Campfire Fellowship. We sat around the fire for several hours talking about our Faith, our churches, our gear, camping, hiking, and where we go from here. We agreed to keep meeting at outings like this one on a somewhat semi-regular schedule, to work within our own churches to Create and Cultivate Wilderness Ministries, and to network between each other for information exchange and support. A Facebook Group has been created to help achieve that end.

Around 2200, we started feeling faint drops of the rain that had been promised for earlier in the day., so we each retired to our individual shelters. The rain held off until the wee hours of the morning when its pleasant and restful to hear it fall on your tarp or tent, and then stopped in time for breakfast. Jeffery was the first one up and out as his rig is the most lean and efficient, and history was made when I was not the last man packed and ready to go.

John and I had made two trips in to the campsite, one for our gear and another to bring in the dinner arrangements (except Jeff's pie), we had twice as much gear to pack out.

It was a great time. The weather held until the right moments, it was cool, but not cold. The Fellowship was fantastic, the food good, and we all slept great. Well, except maybe John---but like I said, I think there's a hammock in his future. Looks like we're going to do this again in June.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Hat Tip To Some Fellow Christ Hikers

Membership in the Lone Star Hiking Trail Yahoo Group comes with many benefits.  One can get all the latest information on road and trail closures, prescribed burns, new Forest Service Regulations, etc.  This morning I opened my email and found that one can also find other Christ centered men getting together to hike the Lone Star Trail.  These guys are an inspiration.

Here's a link to their website "Go Beyond" and the Facebook Page Lone Star Pastors that was used to daily chronicle their Thru-Hike of the Lone Star Trail.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Psalm 127:1 & 2

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Our First Trip

Here's the general plan for the first time we're getting together:

Saturday, April 5 thru Sunday morning April 6.

Riverpointe guys will meet for breakfast around O Dark Thirty in Richmond, either in the church parking lot or at a restaurant.

Folks coming from other points on the compass are welcome to meet us there, or head on out to Lone Star Hiking Trail Parking Lot #2 on Bethel Road approximately 8 miles North of Montgomery.

General map of Parking Lots for the Lone Star Trail is found here

Trail map can be found here

USGS topographical map with trails can be found here

We will hike West on the Lone Star Trail for about a tenth of a mile until it intersects with the West Fork Trail, then head Southwest until that trail ends at the Little Lake Creek Loop Trail, then hike about two tenths of a mile South in the Little Lake Creek Loop Trail until it crosses Forest Service Road 211A to an open area on the West (right hand) side of the trail a few yards south of the road.

Saturday's supper we will break bread together.  I will be providing hot dogs and buns, and you guys can bring anything else you wish to bring to share with others.  We can drop coolers, etc. at the end of FS211A and hike down to them to carry them up to the campsite after we've set up our shelters, etc.

You'll need shelter for Saturday night, lunch for Saturday, and breakfast Sunday morning.

After camp has been set up, we'll have some alone time for prayer and meditation, or join together for some exploration of God's Creation.

Saturday evening will be time for us to discuss what we think God might want this to be, where He might lead us from here, and getting to know each other.

May this endeavor be blessed by God to be used for His purpose and Glory.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Can I Bring My Son?

I can't think of any scenario where a Dad and his Son go into the woods to camp in a place where other men are discussing their Faith and modeling Jesus would be harmful to the boy or the other men.

We should keep in mind the following, however:

Your son should be able to walk up to 8 miles in a day.

You are responsible for his safety and well being on the trail and in camp.

Right now, this is primarily a Mens Small Group organized for the purpose of eventually reaching out to Youth Ministries and disadvantaged youth. 

God may will that it become a Father/Son Small Group, or that a Father/Son Small Group grows out of this.

In fact, I rather hope that it does.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I Want To Go Backpacking For The First Time

This is another post I did on another blog.  Its here if you've never been backpacking before

There was a post on Hammock Forums a couple of days ago:
Moving from car camping to backpacking
I'm looking to make the move from car camping to backpacking, but I really have no idea where to start. I love to do hiking, but I've never really trekked longer than a day hike, or very far away from the safety of a base camp.

Looking at all the vast array of gear, hearing all the talk of weight weenies, and figuring out what I actually need makes my head spin. Where did all you guys learn the ropes? Is there a backpacking forum that is as informative and supportive as hammock forums?

I know I have a far way to go from my current setup for it to be backpack friendly, as I'm currently using poncho UQ/TQs. I figure this will give me something to obsess over as I save up some money for gear.

There followed a couple of pages of very good advice---all of which missed the point. The guy didn't know where to start.

I'll have to confess right now that I really can't remember the first time I went backpacking, or camping for that matter.  My Grampa gave my Dad a half acre in the woods as a wedding present and he dragged an old line shack onto it, then built onto it until he had a fairly decent little cabin that we lived in during the summers.  I literally lived in the woods while I was in diapers.

My earliest memory of car camping is a trip my Dad took my brother an I on.  We slept on a mattress in the back of an old Nash Rambler Beachwagon.  I was probably 5 years old.

I remember a frying pan, eggs sunnyside up, and bacon.  We were camped at the base of a mountain in southern NH where Pawtuckaway State Park is now.  At the top of the mountain was a Fire Tower.  When my Dad was a boy he used to hike up there and visit the Ranger.  I remember that before we could eat breakfast Dad said we had to hike to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise.  It wasn't a long trip, we were parked in what was the parking area for the tower.  It was in that time of the day called "the gloaming," just before the dawn.  My brother and I were hungry and complaining a bit, but Dad told us we'd like the tower.

The sky was just turning purple when we got to the tower and climbed the stairs.  Dad was hoping to get into the observation room, but there was a padlock on the trap door, so we sat on the last couple of steps and I watched the sun rise for the first time in my life.  I remember Dad making a sound like "poop" when the last bit of the sun crossed the horizon on its way up and the sun formed a full circle.  The tower has now been refurbished and is a popular hiking destination at the Park.  I was surprised to find so many pictures of it on the web.  The one below is exactly the view I remember.

We went back down to the Rambler and Dad pulled out that frying pan and some eggs and bacon and made us breakfast.  I remember my brother and I saying that the eggs looked just like the sun rise.  I still think of that when I eat eggs sunny side up.

Now I'm straying off the subject, but Old Men are allowed to do that aren't they?

Here's my advice to folks who want to go backpacking for the first time:

Ignore all the advice you're going to get regarding equipment.  Don't worry about being a noob, and don't worry about going out in the woods looking like a noob.  Here's the ugly truth on that:  you're going to look like a noob no matter what you do gearwise, so don't even bother trying to find the "He doesn't look like a noob." gear before going out.

One of the most famous hikers of all time was a lady named Grandma Gatewood.  The first time she ever took a hike was when she just one day up and decided to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.  She was 67 years old and her equipment consisted of an old Army blanket, an old shower curtain for shelter, and a raincoat---she carried that stuff in a canvas tote sack.

She carried canned and fresh food, and wore tennis shoes the whole length of the trail---several pair.  Then she went and did it one more time before she died

Now I'm not saying you should do what Grandmam Gatewood did.  Its actually pretty insane, but I mention her just to make the point that the equipment is not the secret.  Its not about the gear, its about the journey.  You're going to be dissatisfied with the first gear you get anyway.  Once you get hit with the bug, you'll always be looking for improvement on gear, technique, destinations, and all sorts of variables impossible to think of ahead of time.  I've been hiking and camping since climbing that fire tower 55 years ago, and I still don't have my gear the way I want it.

So here's what you do:

Set an achievable goal: one night in the woods.  Let's plan for that, OK?

The watchword is KISS:  Keep It Simple Stupid.

First, we're going to go out in Summer.  We're keeping it simple and cold weather camping takes experience in using and selecting your gear for safety.

You will need one lunch, one supper, and one breakfast.  To keep things simple, lets not cook anything.  Lets go to the store and get one of those pre-packaged Lunchables for lunch, make a couple of sammiches for supper, plus maybe a can of mandarin oranges for desert, and some Pop Tarts for breakfast.  Bring about a half gallon of water, and a cup to drink out of.  If you want you can bring some Tang or other drink powders to flavor the water you drink with your meals.

Get a sleeping bag, almost anything will do.  You could get a cheap tent, but keeping it simple really means checking the weather and making sure there's little to no chance of rain.  You could also get a small tarp to put on top of you or to lay on.  You should get a small First Aid kit and a flashlight.  Get a good book.

Now put all that stuff together, look at how much room it takes up, then go to WalMart and buy a backpack that will fit all that stuff.  One good way to figure that out is to put it all in a box, calculate the cubic inches of the box, and buy a pack of roughly the same capacity.

Now.  Stuff all that stuff into the pack, go to a State or National Park that lets you camp on the trail, or has a parking area a mile or so from one of their developed campsites.  Sling the pack on your back and start walking.  If you're camping on the trail, don't go too far from your car, just far enough away that you can't see it, maybe out of earshot of the road. 

Toss your sleeping bag on the ground, lay down on it.  Eat your lunch.  Read your book.  Close your eyes and listen to what's going on around you.  Eat your supper.  Go to sleep.  Wake up.  Eat breakfast.  Walk back to the car and go home.

Congratulations. You've gone backpacking for the first time.

Now come the most important part:

Evaluate your experience.  Think of what you needed and did not have.  Think about what you liked and didn't like.  What mistakes do you think you made?  What did you do that you think you can pat yourself on the back for?

Now, do your research.  Google Andrew Skurka and Ray Jardine. Join Whiteblaze or Hammock Forums.  Look for meet-up groups in your area.  Get gear that will address the results of your evaluation.  One of the great things about hiking and backpacking is that it is an intensely personal experience and each individual tailors his gear to his own needs and desires.  If you really think that pink fur anklets enhance your experience, get some pink fur anklets and wear them on the trail  Criminy, you'll become a frikkin local legend.  (I'm not recommending anklets of any sort here, just making a point, OK?)

If you're like most people, you have set yourself up for a lifetime.  You will never be in want of something to do with your weekend.  You will meet wonderful people and you will see wonderful things.  You will be intensely uncomfortable, and will thank the Lord for the experience.  My worst night in the woods was better than my best day at work.

I'll leave you with two bits of advice that are probably the most important words of wisdom I could impart on you as a first time backpacker:

Get out into the woods.

Hike Your Own Hike.

See you on the trail.

The message here is KISS:  Keep It Simple, Stupid. 

I'm actually of the opinion that if you've never been backpacking before, you'll get more out of this program than somebody like me who has been at it all of their lives.  You'll not only grow Spiritually, but you'll learn how simple it is to get out into Creation to enjoy the most immense gift, in terms of physical size, that God has given us.  Keeping it simple will reduce the weight you carry and the impact on your pocket book.  Using some failry simple concepts you can also do your part in being a good Steward of not only those things that God has given you in your daily life, but also Stewards of His Creation.