How to Outdoors in Katy, Texas
Longtime blog readers have heard me complain more than once about being an “outdoorsy” person living in the Houston area, and Katy specifically.
It’s flat, hot, humid, and so suburban, you can’t even believe it. Just miles and miles of gridded houses and big box stores and the exact same fast food/pharmacy/cleaners combo of retail center, over and over again, as far as the eye can see.
For a while, I hated it with a committed passion. I would never love this place, so help me God, as long as we both shall live. It felt like the opposite of the kind of place someone “like me” should live, and I wanted nothing more than to leave.
Fast forward a few years, though, and I’m back in Katy by choice — as are many close and, believe it or not, outdoorsy friends. And we’ve learned a few things! We’ve carved out our own space and community here in this unlikely place; and after a swim-climb-trail run extravaganza with a group of friends this weekend, we agreed that while it doesn’t make a ton of sense, we’re actually kind of thriving. I think I’m spending more time outside than I ever have before; and in a way, it’s more rewarding, since I have to work for it a bit.
It turns out, “the outdoors” doesn’t actually mean “a beautiful place.” It just means, literally, outdoors. Like, walk outside. Just because it isn’t stunning doesn’t mean it’s not there, and not worth exploring.
For those of you who live in Katy/Houston or similar suburbias, too, and want to get out there on your own, here’s some easy ways I’ve found to “outdoors” in a decidedly indoorsy place:
Make it a game. I’ve tried to run every road in my neighborhood, which is more than you’d think once you count side streets and random cul-de-sacs, and want to figure out the most efficient way to hit every one in a single go. I did the same thing with my apartment complex in McKinney, and then the neighborhood behind it. Trying to find routes to your favorite places if also fun, especially in a town where car travel is considered all but mandatory. See if it’s possible to bike somewhere, instead. Even if the routes have to be really weird in order to be safe, you’d be surprised where you can get. (And really, in this situation, the weirder the better, right?)
Take your elevation where you can get it. The first time I went running with my friend Sara, we left her apartment and crossed a bridge only to turn sharply and descend underneath it. I was confused, then alarmed, as I followed her further across and down a concrete drainage ditch, towards the shallow water it held. She lifted her knees high and jogged across; and because if all of my friends jumped off a bridge I would, too, I did the same, trying not to think about the quality of the water splashing onto my legs. We hoofed it back up the concrete on the other side, made our way down a flat, grassy path back up top, and plunged back down yet another drainage a mile or so later.
“Is this safe?” I finally yelped, bewildered, when Sara began running across a giant pipe between the sharply angled walls.
”I do it all the time,” she hollered back, which is not the same thing as “Yes!” but was good enough for me because of who I am as a person. I followed, at a much more cautious walk.
And so we went, up and down and around. By the time we got back to her complex, I had used more muscle on a quick, two-point-two mile run than I had on any longer effort in the Houston area, ever. The point? Hills don’t have to be actual hills. Take em where you can get em. Use what you’ve got.
Use your local parks to the fullest. I resented Katy parks for a long time, because I wanted to be outside in a non-planned-out environment — a place without landscaping or playground equipment or, God help me, sidewalks. Where were the trails? Where were real outdoor places?
Nowhere, it turns out. So quit yer whining and go to your parks even if they don’t meet your wilderness-craving-heart’s-desires. The Houston suburbs have spent loads of money developing and maintaining parks and paved trail systems for the people that live in them, and they’re A) free and B) better than nothing. Oh, and C) great for helping find/link routes to places you love, as mentioned above! Get to know them as well as you can, one at a time.
Also worth noting — keep your eyes peeled for sneaky trails other outdoorsy people in the area have gone rogue and forged for themselves within these pristine local parks. Once I started looking for them, I noticed these rough-cut diversions all over the place, whether from mountain bikers looking for rougher terrain or simply neighborhood-dwellers cutting more direct paths to parks through barrier trees/brush. They usually lead to nowhere, but they’re always worth a look!
Prepare to sweat. In order to be outdoorsy in Texas in general, but especially in the muggy Houston area, you’ll have to get hot. And be okay with it. Consider your timing — mornings and late evening are your best bets, temperature-wise — and arm yourself with water, electrolytes, and creative ways to stay as cool as possible. Sunscreen is also a good idea.
Bring friends! Sometimes, the biggest hurdle to doing outdoorsy things in Katy is feeling like I’m the only one doing them, and maybe self-conscious that everyone in their air-conditioned houses or passing cars are looking at me like I’m a crazy person as I roll by on a mountain bike. It can feel a little lonely-losery, trying to outdoor adventure all by yourself in a very un-outdoor adventure place, okay?! But if you get a friend or two to join you, then suddenly, by some magic of psychology, you are not a lonely loser doing some weird thing. You are a cool group of friends, doing something other people have never considered before, but it must be a thing, because look, there are more than one of you simultaneously doing that thing. Plus, you will have people to talk to and share in the fun/misery depending on how the chosen activity goes! Way better than always going solo.
Embrace the bayou. Is it full of reptiles, suspicious substances, and possibly dead bodies? Yes. But it’s also the only water we’ve got to work with here in greater Houston, and it’s a pretty intricate, weird little ecosystem worthy of affection and capable of looking like a perfectly nice river if we would all just stop judging it so hard. When I finally gave the bayou a chance, it proved to be an adventurous respite from the rest of Katy; its meandering banks perfect for running and biking, the surrounding trees and vegetation keeping it unexpectedly isolated, and weaving through the whole of Katy to a surprising degree. I haven’t reached the point of appreciating the water itself to where I’ll, like, kayak on it — maybe one day, in a hazmat suit — but I appreciate its presence in my city and the outlet it provides, even if winds between planned communities and major roads.
Find a swimming pool. Any swimming pool. It’s important.
Consider your indoorsy options. Despite being entirely inside, my climbing gym is a refuge of fellow outdoorsy folks. Even though I’m a couple hundred miles away from the closest climbable rock, I can get a similar physical, fun experience and the community that climbing and similar activities provide right here in Katy just by walking through Momentum’s doors. Whatever your favorite outdoor sport or pastime is, try thinking of other places people who share your love for it might be, and go there. Even if it’s inside.
Instead of being negative about how unoutdoorsy Katy is, I’m increasingly gratified by the little bit of extra work and dedication it takes to carve out that kind of lifestyle in a place that doesn’t cater to it. There’s a little extra satisfaction to a trail run when you had to sort of blaze the trail yourself; and a layer of whimsy in showing up to my local Kroger covered in climbing chalk and enjoying weird looks from other shoppers. Finding others who enjoy the same things make for fast friendships, and it’s easy to deepen those bonds when you’re sharing some type II fun together.
Wherever you live, whether it’s in the Houston area or another suburb somewhere far from it; figure out what you can do where you are, how to make it fun, and who can join you. Getting out there doesn’t have to mean actually going far at all.