Although our first trip there didn’t go so well (check out my About Me page to learn why), Will and I decided to try visiting Colorado Bend State Park again. After all of our research, we just couldn’t get over the beautiful views on Google Images and the iconic Gorman Falls. It had to be one of the top ranked parks in Texas for a reason. So after checking the weather for rain and the park’s website and social media pages for any updates about park closures, we hopped in the car and headed out.
Even though it was a beautiful, sunny day, we couldn’t help but feel nervous about the bridge over the Cherokee river at the entrance to the park. After our traumatic experience last time, with flooding so bad not even a car could make it across, we wondered how the path could possibly be dry and passible. But when we arrived at the feared overpass, we found just that: a concrete bridge, dry as a bone.
After parking, applying sunscreen and loading our backpacks, we hit the trail, much quicker and more confident than our first hike. We started on the Gorman Falls Trail, wanting to see for ourselves if this waterfall really lived up to the hype. Walking along the rocky path, we soon heard the unmistakable sound of falling water. The final stretch of trail down to the scenic point was challenging, the dirt turning to a slippery, solid rock at a descent of about 45 degrees. But upon arriving at the bottom and seeing the full view of the waterfall, our efforts and struggles were rewarded.
Clear, blue water slid down the rocky cliffside from all angles, crashing into the pond below. The air filled with fresh droplets that cooled our face, and the sound of the falling water was like music to our ears. What an unforgettable experience to sit at the small picnic tables beside the Colorado River, rehydrate and refuel after our trek, and watch and listen to the natural wonder before us.
After letting out feet recover, we planned our route back to the car. And it was here that we made our biggest newbie hiker mistake. We decided to double the distance of our last hike, planning on taking trails that would create a five and a half mile round trip. After learning from this major screw up, I’ve made this one of my most important tips for beginning hikers: always start small.
The second part of our hike started strong. The views of the Texas hill country were magnificent, the first hints of summer were springing up around us and a herd of butterflies were always nearby, seeming to guide us on our path. And of course, the trip was made more enjoyable by talking and laughing with Will.
During the first half of the Tinaja Trail, we learned how long a hiking mile truly is. This first section was about 1.4 miles, but by the time we made it to the famous Tinaja, we’d been walking for over an hour. Although the area was beautiful, we were feeling a little discouraged. The route we planned on taking back to the car would be another two and a half miles, and fatigue was starting to set in.
But we continued on, hoping to fight through the exhaustion and stick to the course, connecting with Gorman Spring Trail and taking the Gorman Falls Trail back to the start.
I am starting to believe that each new hiker has a specific moment where they learn the most important lesson on the trail: if nothing else, wear the right shoes. We were fortunate that our first hike wasn’t long enough to feel the effects of our mistake, but on the fourth mile of the Tinaja Trail, the Chacos on Will’s feet and the tennis shoes, two sizes too small, on mine were beginning to look like the dumbest decision we had ever made.
And on top of that, we had been on the same trail for what felt like hours. Where was the Gorman Spring Trail we would turn on to head back north? With each approaching turn, we were sure that there would be a sign leading us that way. But it only led to another long stretch of rocky terrain. As our hopes began to diminish, we finally saw a trail marker in the distance, pointing towards a new trail.
We shouted with glee and hurried that way, but upon reaching it, we stopped dead in our tracks. The sign wasn’t for the Gorman Spring Trail but another one, about one mile south of our connecting point. Somehow, we had missed our turn. We were now about three and a half more miles from our car and so weak that we could barely move. Rocks had caught in Will’s sandals, leaving blisters all over his feet, and my toes, scrunched into the front of my shoes, were swollen.
I sat on a nearby rock and rested my head on my hands. My feet were throbbing in pain. How could I possibly get back to the car? “Will.” I looked up at him as he studied the map. “I don’t think I can make it.” I didn’t know if I could even stand back up for that matter, and walking for another three miles seemed virtually impossible.
He looked back at me, determined. “Well, you’re going to have to.” He circled around to survey the area. “There’s no one here to take us back. And with the state of my feet, there’s no way I’ll be able to carry you.”
He was right. With limited park rangers on duty due to the Corona Virus pandemic, we couldn’t even call for help if we wanted to. There was no other option. We would have to fight through the pain and keep walking.
Pretty soon, Will had come up with a new plan. We would stay along the new trail, the Cedar Chopper Trail, connecting to Old Gorman Road Trail, and then take the shorter service road back to the car. Although I didn’t know if it was possible, I stood up and started walking again.
The first few trails were agonizing, but nothing compared to the pain we felt along the service road. Our speed had diminished to under one mile per hour, and each step felt like needles poking through my toes. My legs were so exhausted that I could barely get them to move at all. The final mile was so agonizing that I had to encourage myself, out loud, to take each step. Over and over again, I would say “you can do this” and “don’t give up” and “you’re almost there.”
With each turn, as we anticipated to see our car and only found more dirt road, I swallowed my disappointment, put my head back down and kept willing my feet to move forward. Finally, after almost eight miles of hiking, we made it back. Eight miles of rocky, unstable terrain. Eight miles of ill-suited shoes and blistered toes. But we’d made it. We had walked the whole way and lived to tell the tale.
It wasn’t until we’d collapsed into our seats and freed our damaged feet that I realized how incredible our achievement truly was. We had walked much farther and in much harsher circumstances than we ever thought we were capable of. But it was knowing that failure wasn’t an option that made us unstoppable.
If we had the choice to quit before the end, it was no doubt that we would have taken it. But because we didn’t, we were forced to push our bodies past what we thought was our breaking point. We didn’t quit. We kept going because we had to. And because of it, we redefined our own abilities.
When you strive to reach a goal, whether it’s physical or mental, never let yourself give up just because it gets hard. When failure ceases to be an option, you can surpass your wildest dreams. So always keep going, remembering that you are capable of more. Push through the pain that seems unbearable, because after pushing a little longer, you’ll realize that it’s not. It may take you more time and you may have to slow down. But don’t stop until you get where you want to go. Because whether you think so or not, you can and you will get there.