Bike Log October 13, 2007
Updated Feb 29, 2008
It is illegal to ride bicycles on the Turkey Creek Preserve in the Big Thicket in southeast Texas. That is precisely why I don't tell anyone about these trails. It is also why I emphasize that anyone who wishes to break the law, in this land of the free, do so responsibly. How would one do that? By NOT using knobby tires, but by using the widest, smoothest tread you can find on your bicycle. Tires cause damage to trails just like hooves or feet do. Wide smooth tread tires, like the ones used on beach cruisers, will do the least damage to the trails and ironically will give the best ride over roots and ruts. There are no extremes on these trails, so control will never be an issue. Stay on the trail, deviation can cause damage to small plants. The ultimate goal is to leave no trace of having been there.
The experience that I am writing about is a third person experience that is being written about in the first person. I laid on the floor, eyes closed, listened, imagined, experienced this ride as the story was being told to me. It was as if I were there in person. Here's "my" story about the ride. Enjoy.
I had a terribly difficult conflict, personally, when I was faced with a decision: sit and stew, get mad, get sad, do some sort of drug (chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, fat, etc.). Those choices didn't even sound good to me, so I loaded my bicycle and regressed. As a child I spent many hours riding and sorting out my problems on a bicycle. I knew rite where to go.
The goal was to surround myself with Gods creation rather than manís creation. It was mans culture, customs, moréís, religion, laws, etc. that had caused me all the problems I was having. Inside I needed to surround myself with Godís creation and ground myself once again.
The Turkey Creek Trail is awesome. I have ridden upon a herd of white tail deer every time Iíve visited the trail. Perhaps this would be no exception. It was late in the evening, I had no special ride clothes, in fact I was wearing all cotton (known as the death fabric among outdoorsmen) and that really made me nervous. It was a cool evening and I knew it would be dark when I returned. I knew I was taking a chance but decided to chance it, I had plenty of water, but not enough warm clothing. I needed to get away.
Again, let me emphasize the fact that it is illegal to ride bicycles on this trail. If one gets caught, the fine is only $50. - BUT - they can take your bicycle away and make you walk home, or even arrest you. That's a suck. To get this changed would literally take an act of congress. More on this to come.
Why are we always greeted with rules? In a country where people are rewarded millions of dollars by the legal system for spilling hot coffee in their laps, I guess the signs are necessary. I just resent them.
Whenever I tell anyone about the trails, I emphasize the need to sign in, register your visit, so the powers that be, know we have been there using or mis-using the park.
As I remembered, there were park benches facing one another the first mile or so of the trail. Their presence there always made me feel like a bus was just going to woosh by at any time...
Another of my memories is of a lush wooded forest. This place where I was riding looked nothing like what it once had. In the 25 months since Hurricane Rita hit our area I had been kept very busy. At this time, life was returning to normal, but on this day it was turning to sh-t which is what brought me to the park today. I had heard the areas north of us had been hit much harder than Beaumont had, and from what I saw that evening, let me tell you, I counted my blessings using all ten fingers and another ten toes. The area was wiped out! I could see evening lite instead of a canopy of pine needles and oak leaves. I'm telling you, the last time I was here the sky was not visible, only forest canopy.
Then saddest of all was to witness the tree killing damage done to one of the few remaining living trees by a beaver. I don't know if they are hungry and eat the bark and leave the tree to die, planning to use it later, but this tree pictured would weigh tons and would be too heavy to tote to the nearest waterway. So this tree, one of the few remaining live ones was a meal or two for a hungry beaver. What a costly meal! What a great fur coat.
On a recent visit to this park (on foot), we spotted two more trees that had been gnawed by this needy beaver. A Park Ranger visited our store and commented that the standard east texas answer to animal problems usually involves killing... the beaver eats four inch wide circle of bark all the way around what few trees are left because he is hungry, blah, blah, blah. The beaver is killing trees... isn't that also killing? Feed the beaver or retrain him...!!!
I also know that when there is a thick canopy and trees are removed, sunlight kills more of the remaining trees. Why? I'm glad you asked. A number of reasons. First, if youíre a tree and you live in the shade, your bark is thinner than if you are out in a field surrounded by lite. When surrounding trees are suddenly removed the thin bark allows more water evaporation from the trunk, water that the tree needs to remain flexible and alive. I have seen pine trees literally bleed (sap) on the side of the blistering afternoon sun, trying to use a salve of sap to coat the thin bark in an attempt to stave off eminent death from dehydration. The attempt is always futile because at the same time the shade is lost to protect the trunk, shade is also lost to cover the ground. Without shade on the ground, water levels drop and itís harder for trees to get enough to drink with the root systems they have in place at the time.
On this day, the ground that used to be spongy with moisture was hard and had shrunken considerably exposing lots of roots. These roots were never noticeable before the storm. A clear demonstration that the water source for the trees struggling to live, was diminished because of the lack of canopy.
Another of my memories, one of the less pleasant ones, is of spider webs across the trails. I had popped thru the several of these banana spiders webs already, usually careful to cross under where the spider is NOT. They are huge spiders and are easy to spot. So are their webs because they have to support these huge beasts. Banana spiders make their webs their homes as opposed to building a new one every day like some spiders do. At one point, before creating my ďweb catcher,Ē I had this sneaking suspicion that the last web that I had passed thru had netted me a passenger.
I have large hands, I wear XXL gloves. My pinkie, is larger than most womanís index finger. An adult banana spiderís torso & abdomen are the side of two digits on my index finger. They are long, slender thick critters, juicy. They are relatively, HUGE. All spiders are venomous. Most spiders mouths are not large enough to bite humans. Banana spiders canít bite us so we shouldn't fear them, right?
While I was still bumping along the trail I snapped the tip off a Youpon bush tip about 3 feet long and began to slap my back with it like a monk in prayer. Satisfied that I had chased any unwanted guests off my person, I relaxed but did not let the foliage go. Within seconds after hitting a particularly ruff bump, an adult banana spider dangled off the visor of my helmet, two legs still clinging to an edge, six legs- seeking...
Can you imagine a big, fat, meaty, yellow spider with long black legs that can span the palm of an average persons hand, dangling 2 inches from your nose while you are trying to ride a bicycle and forget about the troubles youíve seen?
Earlier I mentioned that I laughed and played in the woods. I failed to mention the dance that I did when that spider dropped in on me. I call it the spider - expletive dance. I may be the inventor of that dance, but somehow I donít think so. In fact you may have done a similar version of it at some point in your life. I donít think my variation was even unique, but I am spry and believe I nailed all the moves, arms flailing, torso writhing, legs kicking and hopping. I didnít forget any of the lines either. A microphone would not have been necessary for a substantial audience to have heard me, clearly. I did the lines in German as well. It was an encore performance!
At that point I chopped a 6 or 7 foot section of Youpon with my little, airline threatening, Swiss Army Knife with its menacing 1.5" blade. That was a chore. I wedged the branch thru my basket so it was mounted to the front of my bicycle, arching forward. It was designed to dangle and clear the air in front of my bicycle. I just didnít know how much more violent gyrating my body, my spinal column in particular, could take. It was quite effective altho I had to tend to it constantly. At one point three ďbig oldĒ banana spiders were passengers in the branch with me.
Two roads diverged in a wood and I... to the left is the pitcher plant savannah, to the rite, the trail continues.
To the left you will experience a boardwalk that is a mile or more in length extending over carnivorous pitcher plants. Tell your kids to keep their fingers to themselves! Notice the sky lite visible on the horizon where once a thick canopy existed! The extent of damage to this area is truly unbelievable!
These are neat plants, that use a foul odor to attract insects. Insects easily enter, but there are ďhairsĒ inside that point down and prevent anything that flies or crawls in from getting out. Scary! When the insect tires, it falls into a pool of digestive enzymes and becomes food for the plant. Who ever said life was easy? Who said life was fair?
To the rite... this to me is where the trail begins. Where there is death, there is also new life. Sometimes rebirth comes slowly, but it always comes. Along this trail, among the fallen trees, I came upon a heard of white tails. Itís always amazing to watch them jump and land so silently as they flee my presence. There was also a huge black pool that I later came to find out was probably the top or the spinal area of a 500 or 600 pound hog. At the time I was simply amazed at itís massive presence and how it seemed to glide thru the greenery in the diminishing lite. It moved in the same direction as the deer. I was not alone, but Iíll tell you, all the noises in the woods made it perfectly clear to me that I was far from alone.
Along this branch of the ďYĒ is the Turkey Creek. It had been a while since it had rained so the creek was low.
This flower was a reminder of the new life that abounds among all the carcasses left behind by the storm. A beautiful red bloom was growing in the moist creek bed of the Turkey Creek.
The bicycle wheel in the picture below is 28 inches tall. Look at the size of the tree that has fallen here. In a preserve, trees are left where they fall with little exception. They are certainly not hauled off or burned. So when a tree falls across a trail, the park rangers will cut a segment out and just roll it to the side. The idea of a ďpreserveĒ is to let nature be; to let the chips fall as they may; it is Not to build a garden. This is an ugly period in the life of this particular national park, but it up to each of us to see the beauty that abounds.
The deeper I traveled into this preserve the more reminders I saw of the absolute devastation of the storm.
This sunset was one of the saddest I have seen in a long time. Here is a skyline of evergreens with no needles. These were trees who had survived the storm but suffered death because of sudden overexposure to the sunlite from the loss of all the other trees surrounding them after the storm. A tragedy of epic proportions.
As it turns out, packing my bike, grabbing some water, a helmet and heading for the Turkey creek preserve for a couple hours in the woods, alone with the Caney heads, did this body good.
As in my youth, a bicycle ride was the perfect prescription. It helped me keep things in perspective. I feel closer to God when I surround myself with things He made for us rather than with the things man has made. His presence cannot be denied for those who are open to it. I laughed and played, took pictures and marveled at all the destruction Hurricane Rita left behind. This place had really changed since my last visit.
Let me tell you, when I got home and looked at me in the mirror, I was covered with yellow strands of web loaded with so much pollen that it was literally yellow against my black shirt, and a web that was so thick and tuff that it was clearly visible. Spider web, specifically banana spider web is amazing stuff- you can hear it pop when you ride thru it! The webbing on my shirt survived a multi cycle laundry process, a testament to itís durability.
The Turkey Creek Preserve is a large unit that extends from just north of Kountze Texas to Warren Texas. Because it is illegal to ride the trail with a bicycle, I always start at the north trail head. You access the north trail head, from Beaumont, by taking Hwy 69 north, after crossing an enormous, 4 lane bridge, with shoulders, that goes over absolutely NOTHING, but was built purely to WASTE tax payers money, just south of Warren (this bridge is a speed trap by the way), you would take the very first rite hand turn on Hwy 1943 which ultimately goes to Fred, Tx. You might travel 3, 4, 5 miles to get to the north trail head. it's just on the other side of the Turkey Creek Bridge. It's marked by a brown National Park sign. It's about an hour north of Beaumont.