Hiking with puppies

I hiked with puppies! Excited, yipping, furry balls of fun. Or so I thought.

I was on a solo overnight backpacking trip in the Kelly section of the Lone Star Hiking Trail. The Kelly section is in the Sam Houston National Forest, roughly 90 miles north of my home in southeast Houston. My hike had taken me down a singletrack trail littered with logs, many from trees felled by Hurricane Harvey, into an expansive forest of 100-foot-tall pines, and now I was in a muddy, swampy section with totally different vegetation. I intended to camp at a designated site on the Little Lake Creek Loop Trail, a side loop that branches off from the Lone Star, but at the juncture of the two trails I was walking in ankle-deep puddles and mud that sucked my feet down; I tried to move ahead anyway, but the blazes pointed in two different directions, so I gave that plan up. Just as well because looking at the map later I saw that there is no designated campsite on that loop.

The sky had that late afternoon glow that signals the time to set up camp before it’s dark. It was hard to find a proper tenting spot among the clusters of palmettos and pervasive mud. I was getting a little panicky. Other than a couple who were parked at the trailhead and the driver of a lone car on a forest service road I had crossed a couple hours before, I had seen no sign of humanity all day. Finally I found a small clearing close to the trail, near a footbridge over the Caney Creek.

I got in my tent after sunset and did not leave until morning. My mind was thus free to roam all night, to have dark imaginings about every sound outside the tent walls. (The sound of snapping twigs…are those really from footsteps? It is a never-ending mystery.) I calmed myself enough to fall asleep, only to wake up a few hours later to the sound of puppies. Puppies? My sleepy brain was trying to process this – where were the puppies? Was there a house right off the trail? Why were the puppies in the backyard yelping? Eventually they stopped and I went back to sleep.

The next day I mentioned the puppies to a colleague and he gave me a quizzical look.

Those were coyotes, he said.

What? Coyotes howl; well-known fact.

So I went to YouTube and found a video that demonstrates the different sounds coyotes make. Among the growls and howls there is a sound that kind of resembles puppies yelping.

No, that night I did not camp with puppies. In fact, I camped so close to coyotes I could have sworn they were in a backyard half a mile off the trail.

And so went my first solo backpacking trip in Texas.

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Categories: Backpacking/Hiking