Spring in East Texas: First Overnight Trip to Bonham State Park

The purpose of this trip, besides having fun, was to prove out my method, packing, and fitness for longer trips later this summer.

We decided to drive and park at a friend’s house so we could keep the distance down to about 50 miles for this first trip. I was up at 5 a.m. getting breakfast and coffee and then heading out to get Jeff, a friend I met while doing a cycling tour of some breweries in downtown Dallas a few months ago. He’s a regular commuter and has done a few short tours in the past.

We then swung by to get another friend of mine, David, who I’ve worked with for the past thirteen years. David and I have done a lot of mountain biking together.

After loading up we drove out to Melissa, Texas, to a friend of a friend’s house, who had agreed to let us park there for the night.

The weather was gorgeous. High sixies, very little wind, and overcast. Once we got past Highway 121, we encountered very little traffic and hit some rolling hills that were just about perfect in length. We could pick up just enough speed on the downhills to almost make it up the next uphill. Spring in East Texas is just amazing; everything is green, with a small splash of wildflower color mixed in. The rolling terrain, mixed with all the green, made for a very enjoyable ride.

It didn't take long before we hit our first town, Blue Ridge. As we approached our turn, David and I looked back to check on Jeff. He was nowhere to be seen. So, we stopped and waited … and waited, and waited some more. We knew he had fallen a little behind, but at this point we were starting to worry a bit. So I tried to call him, twice. No answer. Now we were getting really concerned, but just as we got on our bikes to head back and look for Jeff, we saw him come over the hill.

As he was coming down the previous hill -- and it was a good downhill, on which I'd hit 33 mph -- his iPhone popped out of its holder and bounced off the road into the ditch. He then spent twenty or thirty minutes looking for the phone before finding it. A true test for the Otter box case he had it in; it worked as advertised, and his phone was okay.

On toward Leonard, along a section that was just a nice as the previous one, with rolling hills and very little traffic. But one new concern did arise to keep us on our toes -- dogs. Wow, these dogs were fast and didn’t seem to like people on bikes at all. Honestly, after all the reading I've done you would think I’d have taken the proper precautions. But I hadn’t, and I had no dog spray. After the first few canine encounters, Jeff mentioned that he read an article that said to yell “Good boy, good dog," or something like that, and they will stop. Amazingly, it worked on all the subsequent dogs but one.

A few miles outside of Leonard we stopped at a little wide spot in the road for lunch. I had packed a single serving packet of Starkist tuna creations and some Ritz Crackers for lunch. I’m usually not a tuna fan -- so maybe it was having spent three hours on the bike, but wow, it was a tasty lunch. Along with the homemade granola bars I’d packed, it didn’t take long before I felt ready to tackle the rest of the ride.

One of the events that I look forward to when touring is meeting new people. As we were sitting there eating lunch, a young lady in workout clothes came jogging down the highway. She ran past, checking us out like we were her, and then she shouted, “Where y’all goin’?” I yelled back, “From Dallas to Bohnam.” “Sweet!” she responded, with a thumbs up while continuing to run. We kinda chuckled and went back to eating. A few minutes later she came running back the other way, and told us to have a good ride. Hope she had a good run!

We finished up lunch, then rode into Leonard where we stopped to fill our water bottles and grab some Gatorades. I love the slow pace, friendly people, and overall laid-back feel of these types of towns.

Once we left Leonard, we sort of hit a groove as we found our “cruising” speed. After a few miles we decided on a place where we would meet up later, so we could have the opportunity to ride by ourselves. It was another one of the “touring things” I was looking forward to. Just me, my bike, and the gorgeous surroundings. It’s probably one of those things you have to experience to understand, but it was such a relaxing 15 miles. Just pedaling, thinking, reflecting, and enjoying the beautiful world God has given us.

Before we knew it, we hit the last stretch of road that took us into the city of Bonham and on to Bonham State Park, where we met up with our cooler of beer that was waiting for us. A woman I work with lives on Bohnam Lake. Earlier I'd asked her a few questions about the park and lake, and she offered to bring us beer. We couldn’t turn that down, so the Friday before we left we brought our beer to her. She was so sweet and good to us. When we arrived she had the beer on ice and three comfy lawn chairs loaded in her pickup truck. She even made us some snacks. (Thanks Paula!)

The campground was nice. Lots of sites, so it wouldn't be too fun in the full swing of camping season, but this early in the spring it wasn't busy at all. Bathrooms were close, and fairly clean with running water. Our campsite cost just $2 each, for a total of $6.

The rest of the night was spent enjoying snacks, sipping beer, and watching these tame squirrels trying get food from us. We were all in bed asleep by the time the sun went down. What a great day!

Paula had also volunteered to bring us coffee at 6:30 a.m. The biggest challenge after waking was staying warm; the temperature had dipped to 40 degrees, which I wasn’t prepared for. So, we started scrounging for firewood and got a small fire going. The warmth from the fire, along with the hot coffee, made for a really nice start to the day.

Once we all warmed up we had breakfast, then started packing up to leave. For the trip home I decided to roll my sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad all together and strap them to my rear rack, instead of putting just my sleeping bag on the front rack. I hadn’t liked all the additional weight on my front wheel on the trip up. I think my DIY front rack holds the weight too high.

We were on the road by about 9 a.m., making the short ride into Bonham to the McDonalds on the edge of town. Though we’d stopped there to grab some Powerade, I couldn’t resist also getting a Sausage McMuffin with egg.

The ride home was nice as well. The same beautiful countryside as the day before, but on this day the sun was shining. The greens of the grass and trees and the blues, yellows, and reds of wildflowers were just gorgeous.

It was also fun, until we got within a few miles of Melissa. We had forgotten about all the downhills we’d enjoyed after leaving Melissa; after having already ridden 40-plus miles, it was a challenge going back up these hills. I’m not sure of the total elevation gain, but wow. Once Melissa was in sight, it was a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I was really tired, my butt was in horrible pain, and my legs were hurting and sore. I was glad to know that the physical part of the ride was coming to an end. On the other hand, I was bummed because I knew my first weekend of touring and bike camping was about to end.

By the time we arrived at the car the temperature had reached 90 degrees, according to my bike computer. So, we got the bikes loaded and headed straight to the nearest RaceTrac Convenience Store to get some big Powerades, then headed home.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Be prepared to fend off a few dogs.

Favorite local bike shop: REI.

2 responses so far ↓

Mark Brown - Jul 26, 2016 at 9:26 AM

Hey Randall,
Sounds good, but, I'm no longer live in Texas, so I won't be joining, and neither of the guys I rode with are riding any more.


Russ Strawn - Feb 16, 2017 at 9:58 AM

I live East of Melissa and my wife and I have been talking about this trip even before we read your article. Thanks for the review.

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