Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Northeast Texas Trail

Months ago, turns out last December, actually, my Dad and I rode The Chapparall Trail from Farmersville to Paris TX. We kind-of did it on a whim. Not much planning at all. No good idea what we were getting into, etc. Turned out to be a great adventure.

It also turned out that The Chapparall Trail was just the west half of the larger Northeast Texas Trail, and that the east half appeared likely to furnish a prospective rider with the same kind and amount of adventure. We put it on our to-do list, and wouldn't you know it, two weeks ago we were able to get out and ride it.

I drove over on Saturday and slept in Sunday. We rode a couple of laps at Goat Island later in the day, which it turns out is my Dad's new favorite spot. Monday we worked, but on Tuesday, we hit the trail.

We got extremely lucky with the timing too. In East Texas, this time of year, if it rains, you pretty much can't ride, almost anywhere, for at least 2 days. The soil is this weird black clay, and in one revolution, it can cake up so badly that it stops your tires. In the middle of the hottest part of the summer, if it rains at night, then you can sometimes ride late in the day, but during the fall, winter, and spring, there are only a few trails that are even remotely rideable if it's rained any time recently. The forecast called for rain, all day, Wednesday through Friday. It had not called for rain Monday night, but I woke up at 2 AM to thunder and a massive downpour. Looking at the radar though, it was moving east, and, north of I-30 at least, it appeared to peter out right around Paris. Also, it was alleged to stop raining by 8AM.

We were set to get up at 5, and my Dad knocked on my door at like 10 minutes to. I checked the radar again. Same situation. He didn't seem as confident as I was that things would work out, but we got up and hit the road anyway. When I say "massive downpour" I mean MASSIVE downpour. It wasn't bad at my folks' place, but it really picked up a little bit north of Forney, and on I-30, I could barely manage 60mph. It gradually eased up as we headed east, and about 60 miles west of Texarkana, it stopped. If you were to draw a line from that point, due north, it would have intersected Paris. Ha ha! Just what I'd hoped for.

It did rain, a little bit, here and there between there and the end of the first leg of the drive, but only a tad, and never for very long.

We dropped my truck at the T and P trailhead in New Boston (just outside of Texarkana), I jumped in my Dad's car, and we headed back to Paris. For most of the drive over, it looked like it hadn't rained at all.

We stopped at a gas station in Detroit for some snacks and a bathroom break. A lady there was frying up some breakfast for a guy, and after a few minutes, everyone in the place started clearing their throats and coughing slightly. Turns out he always orders jalapenos in whatever she was making, and jalapenos release something that you can't really smell, but man, your lungs sure know about it. We all laughed and joked about it. My dad was in the bathroom for the whole discussion, but he started coughing as soon as he walked out, which caused all of us to laugh and explain the whole thing over again.

Good times.

At the Trail de Paris Lot...

Trail de Paris Kiosk appeared that it had rained a bit, but the first 10 miles or so are paved, so we hoped this wouldn't present a problem.

Trail de Paris Lot

It want to say it was 9AM-ish, so there were lots of folks out enjoying the trail - walking, jogging, walking their dogs. Some lady was running, and I don't mean jogging. Kenyan marathon pace. My Dad joked that everyone in Paris must be fast because the last time we were there, we saw some guy running at about the same pace. We've only been there twice, and both times we saw people running, super fast.

I had to use the facilities, and it was just my luck that there were some facilities available like a block away from the start.


Note the "MEN" sticker on the door. I thought maybe the port-a-potty was just repurposed from some other site that had men's and women's, but it turned out there was another one about another block down with "WOMEN" on the door.

Ok, with the screwing around complete, we headed east.

Dad on Trail de Paris

My Dad had his Go-Pro on, and recorded a bunch of little 2-minute-or-so clips. I think my Mom had been concerned about the remoteness of the trail, and maybe about the trail conditions themselves. IDK. Later we watched all of the clips together and she seemed very reassured. I'm not sure that reassuring her was my Dad's specific intention, but it definitely served that purpose on the back end.

We rode out through Reno and Blossom, and eventually the trail became gravel.

Dad on Gravel

Nice, tiny, pebbly Texas gravel too. Not that bulk-chunk 57 stone Georiga gravel.

There were many nice, well constructed bridges.

Nice Bridge

As we rode through Detroit...

Downtown Detroit, TX

...we passed the only other cyclist we'd see all day. It was a guy on a cruiser, with no shirt, wearing all sorts of oxygen tubing. We only saw him as we passed him though, and I didn't get a really good look at him, so I'm not totally sure what was going on. Very interesting though.

Outside of Detroit, there was more glorious gravel.

More Gravel

We were making really, really good time at that point, like averaging around 14mph. At that rate, we'd be done in 5 hours. But, we'd had a similar experience on the other section, so we joked about it, but knew better than to develop any actual expectations.

Sure enough, on the run into Clarksville, the trail became less and less manicured.

Less Manicured Trail 
	Even Less Manicured Trail

It looked like maybe it was presently being worked on.


Yes! It was.

Manicure in Progress

There was a guy with an excavator, and a guy with a bulldozer. They'd grade the trail with the bulldozer, then dig out the gutter on either side and dump it in the trail, then regrade it with the bulldozer again. Just past where they were working, it appeared that the trail had already had such attention paid to it some time ago, and the surface was really great to ride on.

Previously Maicured Trail

Looking back at that photo, it reminds me of something else too. Does your Dad ride? My Dad rides. It's so great to ride with my Dad. I have so many hundreds of good memories that look kind-of like that last photo, in my mind. So many. So MANY! From everywhere! If your Dad rides, go ride with your Dad.

A lot of the trail paralleled Hwy 82. In fact, most of the time, you could see the road through the trees to one side or the other. It had diverged a bit for a while, but we eventually ended up crossing Hwy 82 on on old train bridge.

Old Train Bridge Over 82 
	Hwy 82

There were giant piles of gravel on the west side of the bridge, and we wondered if maybe after all of the machine work, they intended to use it to surface the trail like it had been surfaced to the east. I don't really know how much gravel it takes to surface that much trail, but there was soooo much gravel, that intuitively, it looked like enough.

Somewhere in or around Clarksville, we passed these cool old abandoned Gulf Oil artifacts.

Some old tanks.

Old Gulf Oil Tanks

And an old building.

Old Gulf Oil Corp Building

At first they seemed like they were just way back in the woods, but that was just because of how dense the foliage was. It turned out that they were right at the back of some other oil-and-gas-related facility.

Not terribly far down the trail, we passed a factory where they were making pallets. The saw was just screaming, and I swear it made more than 1 cut per second. It was confusing at first, even. It sounded like a saw, and it sounded like a saw cutting wood, but the regularity and rapidity of the cuts made my mind try to match it to some other pattern. I eventually decided it must be a saw, just cutting stuff really fast, and when we passed by, I could see into the building. I still couldn't tell what was being cut, or why, but my Dad noticed that it was pallets.


Actually, it was funny. In Paris, Reno, Blossom, and Detroit, the trail was very "trail" - it's own entity. There was signage, parking lots, mile markers, improved road crossings, etc. But, to get into that part they were working on earlier, we'd ridden through some random gravel parking lot, and the trail just led out of the back of the lot. Around Clarksville, there was more of that. The trail was less well defined, completely unmarked, and led through or alongside various lots.

You really just had to know what an old railbed could look like, and stay on that.

The trickiest spot was another crossing over Hwy 82. The old railroad grade was about 10 feet above the land surrounding it, and when the highway was built, it and a side street cut right through the old grade. At first glance, it seemed to just end there. It didn't though. Across the highway, up a slope, we found it again. But, it didn't look like that bit got very much traffic.

Tall Grass Trail

I could, sometimes, barely see a slight division in the grass as if maybe someone had ridden there the previous weekend, but I couldn't be sure, and sometimes felt like maybe I was imagining it.

Tall grass is sketchy. While it was unlikely that there were any rocks hiding in the grass, it was very likely that there were holes, branches, chunks of wood, and garbage hiding in it. It limits your speed, and you really have to pay attention. It can be nervewracking.

The grass went on for miles.

More Tall Grass Trail

Miles and miles.

Every so often we'd cross an old train bridge.

One looked good until we got up onto it. It had about 1 foot of gravel and dirt on top of it, but there were some pretty big holes where one of the timbers underneath had rotted out and the dirt just poured through.

I was able to kind-of pedal kick over the last, fairly big hole, but my Dad, probably more wisely than me, bailed upon seeing what the end of the bridge looked like, and walked it.

Dad Crossing Old Bridge

Farther down, we ran into the sketchiest bridge yet.

Sketchy Old Bridge 
	Sketchy Old Bridge Wide View

The far end of it was really torn up.

I'm not sure if it was worse than the sketchiest of the bridges we'd crossed on the western section, but it was no good. If the highway hadn't been 100 feet to the right, I might have scouted it out, but with the road right there, we didn't even consider it.

It turned out though, that the railroad grade was about 20 feet above the level of the road there, and the grass was super tall and thorny. The best spot to get through was where a limb had fallen off of a tree and crushed it all down. This provided numerous opportunities to get your leg wedged, so we ended up having to proceed very cautiously. Still, it was safer than crossing that bridge.

The scramble back up from the road was less sketchy, but there were lots of thorns.

Dad Bypassing the Sketchy Old Bridge


A ways down there was paving equipment parked on the trail.

Paving Equipment

Maybe we were about to enter a paved section!

Turns out no. It was just a convenient spot to park the equipment. The next section of trail was not only overgrown, but also soft and damp.

And the NEXT section was so soft, damp, and overgrown that it looked like someone had tried to take a tractor down into it, given up, and struggled to get back out.

Overgrown Trail

At that point, we were approaching the community of Annona, and just past Annona, lay Kickapoo Creek, and a completely burned-out-and-collapsed bridge that we were going to have to bypass. The map on the NETT web site indicated that we should begin our bypass at the intersection that we were presently at. We'd hoped to push farther on and maybe even get a look at the bridge, but there was just no pushing through that brush. It was garbage.

It seemed that the NETT folks knew exactly what they were talking about, and so we began our bypass there.

We passed a sign for Annona (population 323) and stopped at a Texaco on the highway for a break. As we rode in, we heard a car alarm going off. Not a siren though, just the horn blaring every second. An elderly gentleman was behind the wheel, driving the car around in circles in the lot. He'd apparently managed to set off the alarm, couldn't get it to turn off, and was hoping someone would help him out. Some guy ran up to him right as we got there, but neither of them could figure it out. He drove away, came back later with the alarm still on, drove away again, and finally came back a second time with it off.

So random.

We grabbed various items to refuel ourselves with and struggled to find some shade. It was right about noon, and the sun was directly overhead. At first we tried just standing under the awning over the pumps, but eventually noticed a line of trees along the west edge of the property that looked shady.

Ahh. Shade tree picnic in Annona.

Shade Tree Picnic in Annona 
	Picnic in Annona 
	Dad Picnicing in Annona

It was amazing how many people came and went while we were sitting there. My Dad joked that all 323 people who lived there must have come by.

That last section had been a big of a slog, and had gotten old after a while, but we weren't especially tired, and we didn't stop for all that long.

Back on the bypass...

Bypass on 82 
	Me and Dad on 82

...we rode a mile or two down the road, before picking up a side street and then picking the trail back up past the bridge.

Back on the Trail

It looked fairly overgrown in the other direction. We probably could have made it to the burned-out bridge, but at the time, it really didn't occur to us to even try.

At first it was more lovely doubletrack, but then we got right back into the Adventure.

Bypassing More Mud Holes

My Dad had read some write-up about the trail, or maybe some info that was on some website... I don't know. But a lady had mentioned deep ruts that she couldn't ride through, or something like that, and every time we'd get into some ruts (like earlier when they were working on the trail, or when it was overgrown and soft, or a few times going through Clarksville) he'd say "ok, maybe THIS is that section of ruts that so-and-so was talking about on the web..." (he remembered the lady's name, but I don't now).

We both agreed that, in fact, THIS was probably that section. If it wasn't, then we couldn't imagine what lay ahead of us.

What ended up being ahead of is was some fairly diverse trail.

We were in some deep woods for a while, then we popped out into some little town, and there were beautiful little sprinkles of flowers everywhere, but the trail itself was grassy and slow.

Spring in Texas

Then the trail went back into woods for a while, and it kept threatening to become nice doubletrack again.

Dad on Doubletrack

But, it never really did, and just kind of kept becoming grassy again.

Dad on Some Grasstrack

We passed pasture after pasture, and a million cows.


I mean... it is Texas.

And there was more doubletrack

Some Doubletrack

But, it never really cleaned up. We kept hoping for more of what we'd seen west of Clarksville on the run into New Boston, but it never really materialized. Not that it wasn't a good section though. It really felt like "riding in East Texas" if that makes any sense. Like, by riding there, I got to experience a summary of the terrain, natural environment, and small towns that compose East Texas. It's very different from Georgia, and I love that I got to take in so much of it all at once like that.

In DeKalb, we stopped again.

Welcome to DeKalb

I think my Dad would have been happy to push on, and we certainly didn't NEED to stop, but I felt like taking a break. The day had definitely transitioned from fun to work during that last bit, and my instincts said that if there was more work ahead, I'd feel good about it if I hit it refreshed.

I'm kind-of glad we stopped and got refreshed, because from there on, it was pretty tough going. For miles, and miles, it was rough grasstrack. Like, look past the ditch on the side of the highway, see that grass? It was just that. Ride through that. In fact, on the way out of New Boston that morning, we knew the trail paralleled the road, and could kind of see it sometimes, but then didn't see it any more, and figured it must be in the woods behind the houses that bordered the road. Nope. We'd seen the trail the whole time. It was just that grass. It seemed so unlikely to us that it was the trail though, that we'd dismissed it.


It wasn't horrible, it was just slow and rough. Like trying to ride your BMX bike across your front yard when you were a kid. You have to keep a certain pace, but it's a little harder than you want to go.

The most difficult part, really, was looking down the trail. It was pretty flat, and we could see for like 10 miles, and I could see on the GPS that the trail doesn't turn, and there was no woods in sight. We could just always see how much more we had to go.


Every now and then, it would tease us and improve. Like this bit was proper doubletrack.

Doubletrack Out in the Open

And this bit was actually very nice gravel.

Dad on a Little Bit of Gravel

But it would never last more than a few hundred yards.

A lot of it felt like we were riding in people's front yards too. There was always a fence to our right, between the trail and the house, but we had to cross their driveways, and the grass on the trail was clearly cut by the various homeowners. We joked that people living there might not even know the trail was out front of their houses. Like every couple of years they're just baffled by some strangely dressed people on bikes riding across their yard.

We knew that the trail was paved leading out of New Boston, and we assumed that maybe at I-30 it would become paved.

Turns out it becomes paved a few blocks before I-30.

Paved Trail Near New Boston

Ahh, what luck. It felt so good to leave that grasstrack behind us. Like 10 miles of it. Maybe more. So much grass.

As we approached the T and P trailhead there was one last road to cross, and we had to wait for a car that was kind-of booking it through the intersection.

T and P Trailhead

Heh. Don't want to get hit by a car crossing the very last road. That would be so embarassing.


That last bit of pavement had been nice, but after that long drag through the grass, we were both ready to be done.

We loaded the bikes onto my truck. I've got a 1-Up hitch rack now (thanks to my folks!) but it only accommodates 1 bike. I still have the roof rack though, so I threw my bike up there and put my Dad's on the back. On the way out of town, we marveled at just how indiscernible the trail was from the highway. It just looked like the side of the road. You'd never know it was there unless you knew it was there.

Back in Paris, we got dressed in normal clothes, and grabbed some pizza just down the street. We'd gotten a bit sunburned and our waiter was like: "Where'd you guys get all that sun?" "Out riding bikes!" "Oh yeah, where?" "From here to New Boston. 70 miles?" This was amazing to her, as she "...doesn't even like to drive 70 miles." We joked about it later. When you tell someone you've ridden under 100 miles, it seems amazing, but they believe you. Like, it doesn't seem impossible that you did it. When you tell someone that you rode more than 100 miles, or that you've been riding for days you get a very different reaction. It doesn't always seem possible to them. Though you may appear to be dirty and tired enough, it just doesn't strike them as believable. They tend to act more confused than amazed.

The drive home seemed to take FOREVER, but we got there eventually.

Per the forecast, it rained for the next 3 days straight, which was fine with me. I didn't feel like even looking at my bike. I ended up getting my oil changed, running to a local thrift store, and working, before driving back here that Saturday.

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