Texas Travel

The Guy Who Walked Across Texas

By Peter Simek 11.27.18

In 2009, S. Matt Read set out from his native Corpus Christi on a journey quite unlike any that had ever been attempted before. Reed, 32 years old at the time, wanted to hike the perimeter of Texas.

Over the next year, he would trace the state’s borderline from Corpus, up along the Gulf Coast and through East Texas, along the Red River, into the Panhandle, and back through West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.

The trip would require walking some 3,200 miles along backcountry roads, beachfronts, and blue highways. Unlike other long-distance hiking adventures, Read’s journey wouldn’t follow an established route. He wanted to create his own Texas version of the Appalachian trail, which he’d hiked in 2003.

But as he set off on the first leg down the beaches near his hometown, Read questioned what he had set out to do.

S. Matt Read walked the entire perimeter of Texas in 2009.

A Wild Idea

Read first got the idea to hike the perimeter of Texas on the Appalachian Trail. When he first discussed the idea with fellow hikers, they were intrigued by the simplicity and daring of the journey. Texas’ iconic shape would bring a hiker into contact with a vast and endlessly diverse landscape. However, family and friends, including Read’s then-girlfriend, were less impressed by his plans.

“It is an inexplicable thing to want to do,” Read says. “For some people, their weird thing they want to do is more approachable. You’d hear a guy a guy who wants to motorcycle across the US. You might not want to do it, but you can understand it. But walking around Texas, no one can sink their teeth into it.”

The idea lay dormant for six years. Still, it stuck with Read, even after he had moved to Montana with his girlfriend and tried to settle into a sedentary life.

“It was one of those ideas that, even several years later, still had some sort of glow to it, some sort of appeal,” he says. “It is hard to explain the appeal.”

Read packed light on his journey across Texas.

Difficult Beginnings

Read spent about a year preparing for the trip. To fund it, he called around 500 Texas newspapers looking for anyone who might be willing to run a self-syndicated column about his adventure. He found 17 that would, which was enough to ensure that he could earn enough to eke out a living on his trip.

A Port Lavaca family took him in along the way.

But when he said goodbye to his girlfriend and finally got underway, things did not go smoothly.

“The first few months, they were brutal,” Read says. “It was hot; it was lonely; people looked at you weird. That probably lasted three months or so, and then the nice things started to happen.”

The nice things included finding a family with seven children in Port Lavaca who took Read in, fed him, and gave him a little of the company and comfort he was missing during life on the road alone, sleeping in his tent on the side of the road. “I was blown away by the trust and that amount of unwarranted love,” he says.

The Lion’s Call

Before he set out, some of his friends and family were concerned about the dangers Read might find along the way. But the hiker says the only time he really felt threatened was when he encountered a man on a lonely stretch of road near High Island who followed him menacingly in his Bronco. Other than that, he listened to the coyotes at night and ran into the odd rattlesnake. He also came face to face with a Javelina in West Texas who was curious about his Snickers bar.

Along the Southern border, he rescued a dog along the way. It was his 33rd birthday. He named her Raisin, and she became his traveling companion. She’s still with him today.

Read rescued a fellow wanderer along the Southern border. He named her Raisin. They traveled the rest of the perimeter together, and she lives with him to this day.

The most impressive — and frightful — encounter with the wild occurred in the Piney Woods of East Texas just north of Orange. Having set up his camp for the night, Read heard an incredibly loud scream outside his tent.

“I felt intense fear; I felt like I was in the last moments,” he remembers. “This sucker was maybe within 15 yards of me. I had never heard a mountain lion, but I had been walking and reading a book by J. Frank Dobie and I was reading this chapter on mountain lions; I had probably finished it a day or two prior. It was exactly like it was described — like a woman screaming — and it twists you up on the inside. It was so loud, and the adrenaline kicked in, and I didn’t go to sleep for six hours.”

Wide-Open Wonder

It is impossible to walk the exact border of Texas. Too much of it runs through private land or is inaccessible. To make his way around the state, Read wandered along roads that cut as close to the border as possible, making sure the borderline was close by. But navigating through Texas wasn’t the only difficult part of the journey.

“When you are walking, you don’t have anything occupying your time except one foot in front of another,” Read says. “It is a wonderful space to talk to a walking partner. Minus that, it was a lot of self-reflection. It can be a little tough.”

For Reed and Raisin, the Texas landscape was often their only companion.

Read’s only companion for much of the hike was the landscape. His favorite were the mountains of West Texas.

“I’m from a flat place that’s great if you love the beach,” he says. “But I’m a mountain guy, and West Texas is glorious.”

Read was also struck by the friendliness and sense of community he found in the Texas Panhandle. As he was walking, people would stop their trucks and engage him in conversation. They gave him food and books, and sometimes invited him back for dinner. Read was amazed by how tightknit areas of the Panhandle were, even though people were living anywhere from 30 to 50 miles apart.

“I met a community of people who were so hospitable to me,” he says. “But what was crazy when you look at a map was none of them lived close to each other, but it was a tighter network of people than I had in my neighborhood here in the Boston area [where Read now lives].”

Homecoming

Read says the adventure is one of the highlights of his life.

Read didn’t hike straight through. An injury waylaid him in the first month; he also took a break from the trail at Christmas and wintered in Caprock Canyon in 2010. With a few months of downtime along the way, he completed his journey in August of 2010. Coming home, though, was more difficult than he imagined. By the end of his trip, he and his girlfriend had gone through a breakup. And once the singular task of making his way around Texas was over, it was difficult to figure out what to do next.

“It is a slippery slope with the whole outdoor adventure lifestyle,” he says. “You start to realize that you’re the only person you need to get permission from to do anything. That’s exciting. But it can also be a little scary. You can take off and the sky’s the limit.”

But along the way Read discovered things about himself and the people of his home state. He read books about Texas while he walked, but also learned about the state through the people he encountered along the way. He found that after people got over the novelty of the lonely Texas hiker, they were more willing to open up to him. They told him stories about their lives, their children, their histories, difficulties, and struggles.

“I was a witness to their story,” he says. “Maybe that just comes with the territory. You put yourself out there. I was vulnerable, and some people open up in such a way to be vulnerable themselves.”

Since the hike, Read has cycled across the U.S., earned two masters degrees, and settled down in Boston. He still says his Texas adventure remains a highlight of his life, when he risked it all to do something a little different.

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