Blazing the Northeast Texas Trail
The Northeast Texas Trail (NETT) is a partially completed rail-trail conversion, stretching 130 miles across six counties and 19 towns, from Farmersville to New Boston, Texas. Over a three-day weekend from October 26 to 28, 2012, Steve DeBauge and I completed a “thru-bike” of the entire NETT corridor. The challenge was as much logistical as it was physical -- but well worth it.
We came away convinced that the NETT vision will ultimately yield a recreational treasure and tourism draw for Northeast Texas. That said, there is a reason this end-to-end trip had never been accomplished before. While the right-of-way legal battles have been won and the user base is building, there are still several segments that are overgrown and/or illegally fenced off. It will take even more hard work, passion, and, yes, some money to get the entire route ready for regular cyclo-tourism.
On the trail between Wolfe City and Ladonia.
THE PLAN. Given the overall distance and the unknown condition of some segments, our plan was to split the trail into three manageable riding days. Our daily mileage divided up almost perfectly: Day 1, 48 miles, Farmersville to Roxton; Day 2, 44 miles, Roxton to Clarksville; Day 3, 39 miles, Clarksville to New Boston.
This was going to be a credit-card tour, meaning that we would carry only clothes, water, bike tools, and a credit card -- no food and no camping/cooking equipment. Using tips from other trail users and extensive Internet research, we carefully mapped out all breaks, meal stops, and overnight lodging we would need along the way.
The fact that we ate well and slept comfortably along the NETT is one of the most important things I have to report. Although the NETT is still a work in progress, we showed that it is feasible to make the entire trek without worrying about the next meal and whether or not you'll find a comfortable bed/hot shower.
THE TRIP. My wife dropped us off at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, October 26, in downtown Farmersville (about an hour northeast of Dallas). Two more friends, Travis Jeakins and Austin Arnold, joined us for that first day only. They would ride with us until Pecan Gap, and it was great to have the extra company. The early riding was steady on the generally good segments between Farmersville and Wolfe City.
One of many old rail bridges along the NETT (Austin Arnold, Travis Jeakins, and author Joseph Pitchford).
Along the way, we took a short break at the Celeste Exxon, and later made our first full meal stop about 22 miles in, at El Arbol Mexican Restaurant in Wolfe City. Fueled by a tasty lunch, we felt strong heading to Roxton for our first overnight stay. En route, we made a quick stop in Ladonia to say hello to Mayor Jan Cooper, whom Steve and I had met in September 2011 on our first overnight NETT trip.
Steve DeBauge, Travis Jeakins, Mayor Cooper, and Austin Arnold.
Upon reaching Pecan Gap, locals strongly warned against riding the illegally fenced trail segment just northeast of that town (from CR 3550 to the town of Ben Franklin). We reluctantly detoured around it on FM 128. Finally arriving in Roxton, we checked in with proprietor Ronnie Rhodes at the very comfortable Roxton House Guest Cottage.
We cleaned up, then walked to the Roxton Grocery & Café for dinner. The Friday night special was catfish, and we demolished our fair share of the perfectly prepared filets.
After a very restful night, we started out Day 2 in Roxton with a big breakfast at Big A’s, personally served by proprietor Allen Hughes. Later, after navigating the notorious overgrowth and fences on the Roxton-to-Paris segment (averaging about 4 mph!), we met up with NETT board president Earl Erickson for a personal tour of the Trail de Paris, which runs for six perfectly paved miles through that city. Earl then drove ahead to meet us for lunch at Weezy’s in the town of Blossom.
Okay, the trail is a little overgrown here.
Energized by good food and great company, we said goodbye to Earl and pressed on to Clarksville. Our lodging for the night in Clarksville was the truly beautiful Courthouse Inn B&B, owned by Cheryl and Perry O’Brian.
The Courthouse Inn B&B.
After checking in, we made our way to the town square for dinner at The Italian Bistro. Again, a very satisfactory meal. The next morning, Perry pulled out all the stops with a hearty breakfast, and sent us very well fed on our way to the finish line in New Boston.
We were extremely disappointed by the segment from Clarksville to Annona -- completely overgrown and impassible, and even worse than the Roxton–to-Paris segment. Fortunately, US 82 offers a wide shoulder as an alternate route, nearly parallel to the trail. A few miles east of Annona, the trail returned to rideable condition, particularly after the intersection with Garland Chapel Road/CR 3312. This occasionally rough trail segment took us to Avery, where we enjoyed a break at the Clark Gas Station/7-11.
We could have had a nice pizza lunch at the Avery 7-11, but our plan was to make it to DeKalb. The trail from Avery to DeKalb was beautiful, and we were rewarded for our decision with a terrific meal at the famous Front Street Junction Café. The Sunday-after-church crowd did not seem to mind two cyclists in their midst, as we devoured a few rounds of good country cooking.
After lunch, we had only about 12 miles to go from De Kalb to New Boston. These were some of the easiest miles of the entire trip -- very well-maintained trails, absolutely ready for cyclists of almost any experience level. We finished up exactly on schedule in New Boston, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 28. A good friend picked us up at T&P Trailhead Park in downtown New Boston (with appropriate beverages), and another great bike trip was in the books.
Steve DeBauge (left) and the author enjoy a victory beverage in New Boston.
Highlights. Adventure! Great people in great small Texas towns! Fresh air, beauty, and sunshine! Good food, and surprisingly good lodging.
Lowlights. Bad/fenced/unrideable segments, including Roxton-Paris, Pecan Gap-Ben Franklin, and Clarksville-Annona. The angry (and unfenced!) bull outside of Roxton. Some old rail bridges, while picturesque, may be intimidating for the inexperienced rider.
Equipment & Technology. Prior to the trip, I mapped the entire NETT route in the online program Ride with GPS. I then loaded this GPS map into my iPhone, using an app called Cyclemeter. This turned out to be very helpful. In a few locations where the trail grew faint, I could determine the way to go by zooming my imported GPS map in Cyclemeter. The Cyclemeter app was running constantly in the background, giving us a complete record of our trip, including speed, mileage, and more. I also used my iPhone for all photos and video, shot from a handlebar mount. As for our bikes, Steve rides an older 26-inch-wheeled Trek, while my steed is a Salsa El Mariachi with 29-inch wheels -- my new favorite bike. Both bikes have front suspension, which is helpful on much of the NETT. An extra accolade for my Viscacha seat pack, made by Revelate Designs. It held all the gear needed for three days, and because it attaches to the seat rails and seat post without the need for a rack, my bike was considerably lighter than Steve’s -- something we noticed while hoisting our bikes over numerous fences! I used WTB Nano tubeless tires, expertly installed by fellow NETT cyclist Kevin Campagna at BicyclesPlus, Dallas. Great tires and no flats! Steve had just one flat with his Slime-brand tubes (on the Roxton to Paris segment, of course).
Conclusion. The Northeast Texas Trail has the potential to become Texas’ own version of Missouri’s incredible Katy Trail -- a spectacular recreational amenity and economic driver for northeast Texas. While the NETT is not truly complete yet, our trip showed it is ready for the more intrepid cyclist -- with all due care and caution. For more information, visit the NETT Facebook page.