Need to brush up on bicycling law? Take a free City Cycling class

Cyclists park their bikes in the bike corral at Austin’s new Central Library on Oct. 29, 2017. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

Laws pertaining to bicycling can get complicated.

That’s why Bike Austin, through a partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation, is offering free classes to help people bike safely to work, the store, around the neighborhood or around the state.

Think of it as Driver’s Ed for cyclists, but useful to help motorists understand the rules of sharing the road.

League-certified instructors teach the classes, which cover bicycle specific laws, bike selection, simple maintenance, fixing a flat, and strategies for riding a bike safely and confidently. Classes are designed for anyone who wants to become more comfortable on their bike.

The classes start in December and will be offered through September 2018. Two of these sessions will be conducted in Spanish.

Employers who would like to schedule City Cycling classes for their staff, or commuters who want to sign up, should email education@bikeaustin.org.

For more information about Bike Austin Education Fund, go here. To learn about the Education Committee, go here.

Tennis mixer raises money to fund ‘cancer vaccine’ trial for Austin woman

Kristin Peabody and her son celebrate Mother’s Day. Peabody has a rare form of cancer. FAMILY PHOTO

A year after she and her business partner opened the Hiatus Spa in Dallas, Kristin Peabody was diagnosed with a rare form of parotid cancer, which affects the head and neck.

Peabody, who lived in Austin at the time, was pregnant with her son, so doctors designed a special crate to protect him during her treatment. Heaton was delivered early, and today is healthy.

But Peabody’s cancer came back in February, and she is no longer a candidate for chemotherapy and radiation. Today she lives in California, where she is undergoing treatment.

She’s been invited to participate in a trial study at the University of California San Diego called the Cancer Vaccine Project. Through the project, at least 10 patients will receive a personalized vaccine based on individual genomics and specific cancer mutations. (Read more about the cutting edge cancer research here.)

A tennis mixer and social on Friday will raise money to support the clinical trial, where she and nine other patients will receive experimental DNA-specific cancer vaccines.

The event, organized by her Austin friends and neighbors, starts at 7 p.m. Friday at Lost Creek Country Club, 2612 Lost Creek Boulevard.

Players and non-players are encouraged to attend. Anyone can bid on a silent and online auction of sports memorabilia signed by Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and Andy Roddick, merchandise from the U.S. Open, spa retreat certificates, mandala art and Restore Cryotherapy gift certificates. The online auction closes at 5 p.m. Dec. 3. To bid, go here.

Tickets to the mixer are $20. For more information go here.

Go early, check our pro tips for best Enchanted Rock experience

Pam LeBlanc takes in the view of Enchanted Rock from the top of Turkey Peak. Photo by Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

 

Too much sitting around makes me grumpy, so I struck out for Enchanted Rock State Natural Area yesterday to stretch my legs and admire my favorite pink granite batholith.

I’m working on a longer story, but until then, some pro tips in case you plan a visit yourself:

1. Go early. Rangers told me the park fills up between 9 and 11 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays when the weather is nice. When parking is full, park officials close the park for up to 4 hours. It takes about an hour and 45 minutes to get there from Austin, so plan accordingly. The park office opens at 7:30 a.m.

The main granite dome isn’t the only attraction at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Take the Loop Trail to see these big boulders. Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

 

2. Watch your step. When you’re hiking the main rock, avoid the vernal pools. These shallow weathering pits hold water for a few weeks each year, and they’re fragile ecosystems. Cool creatures like freshwater fairy shrimp live in them, and an errant step from a hiker can do damage. So can letting your dog drink from one.

Enchanted rock is a pink granite batholith. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

3. Don’t just hike to the summit of the main dome. This park gets crowded, but most of those visitors are concentrated in the parking areas and the trail to the top of the main dome. Do that first, then walk back down and catch the Turkey Pass Trail. From there, you’ll see Turkey Peak to the right. Scamper to the top, where you get a great view of all the ant-sized people scrambling over Enchanted Rock.

4. Go the back way. Want to avoid crowds? Take the Loop Trail, a 4.25-mile circuit of the park. Fewer people, nicer views.

Catch this view of Enchanted Rock from Moss Lake, on the back side of the granite dome. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

5. Camp at Moss Lake. It’s prettier than the car camping spots on the front side of the main rock. Depending on your route, it’s between a mile to a mile and a half to the Moss Lake primitive camping area. You’ll get the best sunrise and sunset views of the rock. I often recommend the spot to readers looking for a beginner friendly backpacking route. Do it before a big trip to make sure you’ve got your gear in order. There’s even a compost toilet.

Look carefully and you’ll see climbers scaling the back side of Enchanted Rock. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

6. Try trail running. The wide gravel paths and smooth granite outcroppings make perfect terrain for off-road running. Pack your trailers and hit the 4.25-mile Loop Trail for a great workout.

Pam LeBlanc goes airborne at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Photo by Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

7. Drive carefully. The park is located at 16710 Ranch Road 965, about 17 miles north of Fredericksburg. When it’s busy, park officials only let motorists who are driving south on RR 965 turn into the park entrance. That means if you are heading north on the highway from Fredericksburg, you’ll have to pass the entrance, turn around and come back from the other side. It’s not an ideal situation.

8. Unless you want to incorporate a shopping trip into your excursion, avoid the congestion of Fredericksburg. From Austin, take Highway 71 to Llano, then head south of Highway 16 to RR 965, or take U.S. 290 West, head north on U.S. 281 toward Johnson City, then turn left onto RR 1323 through Willow City to U.S. Highway 16 and RR 965.

The Valero in Johnson City sells Mexican pastries. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

9. Stop for cookies at the Valero gas station, 500 S. U.S. Highway 281 in Johnson City. They’ve got the best Mexican pastries, the perfect post-hiking snack.

Fling hatchets, raise money for men’s health at Urban Axes event

Patrons of Urban Axes toss hatches toward a target. Photo courtesy Urban Axes

 

Because nothing says “charity” like flinging an axe and drinking beer…

Urban Axes Austin, where customers sling hatchets and sip beer for fun, will host an axe-throwing tournament, spiced up with locally-sourced snacks and beer, to benefit men’s health issues. The event is set for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at the axe-throwing venue, which opened recently at 812 Airport Boulevard.

RELATED: Forget nightclubs – toss hatchets instead at Austin’s newest club

The Nov. 30 event benefits the Movember Foundation, which raises awareness about men’s health issues. Photo courtesy Urban Axes

 

Half of all proceeds will benefit the Movember Foundation, which raises awareness for men’s health issues, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer and suicide. (If you’ve noticed a lot of mustaches this month, you can thank the organization. It encourages men to grow a mustache and raise money for the organization each November.)

RELATED: This November, grow a mustache, raise awareness

Sponsors of the tournament include include Independence Brewing Company, Lagunitas, Austin East Ciders and Via 313. The event is open to ages 21 and up, moustache or no moustache.

Tickets are $40, and include axe-throwing, food, beer or wine and prizes. A spectator-only ticket that includes food and drink but no axe throwing, costs $20. Tickets must be purchased in advance online here.

Best way to see the Trail of Lights? By running through it!

Light tunnels dazzle visitors at the 2015 Trail of Lights.
MARY HUBER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

We know – it’s only Thanksgiving. But Austin’s beloved Trail of Lights opens soon, and you can get a sneak peak if you lace up your running shoes for the Trial of Lights fun run.

You won’t even have to run far. The route takes you 2.1 miles under the stars, starting at the Zilker Tree, with a dash beneath the more than 2 million twinkling lights of the Trail of Lights, and finishing at a finish line festival in the center of Zilker Park.

Visitors explore the Trail of Lights at Zilker Park. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

Participants get a post-run beer or cup of cocoa. Local food trucks will sell food, and vendors will set up a fitness expo and activity tents.

Even better, don a holiday outfit for the run. Organizers are planning a costume contest.

The run takes place on Dec. 2, a week before the trail opens to the general public on Dec. 9.

Runners can chose from two start waves, one at 6:30 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. Entry fee is $32 for adults or $20 for children. Or go all out and get VIP treatment with an upgraded shirt, a snack bar buffet with cocoa and cookies, and three drink tickets with access to a full bar ($75 adults or $35 for children.) Parking is $15.

For tickets and information, go here.

The Trail of Lights itself runs from Dec. 9-23 at Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Road.

How much will you have to exercise to burn off that turkey dinner?

Plan on a lot of exercise if you hope to burn off that Thanksgiving meal. (Stephen Spillman for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

 

How many burpees does it take to burn off a dollop of gravy? How far must you run to negate a slice of holiday pie?

The Daily Burn tallied the caloric cost of a Thanksgiving feast, and the results might make you second guess that decision not to sign up for the local turkey trot.

TINA PHAN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Most Americans gobble up between 2,400 and 4,500 calories in a single sitting on Thanksgiving Day, according to this article in the New York Times. That includes turkey, stuffing, a buttered roll, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, some green bean casserole, and slices of pecan and pumpkin pie. That’s more than an entire day’s calories, especially if you add a glass or two of wine to the mix.

We’re all for overindulgent feasting on such a special occasion, but it does help to balance out all the calories with some exercise.

Nell Carroll/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

According to the Daily Burn’s helpful infographic, the turkey trot will take care of one slice of pie. That’s it. You’ll have to walk for 35 minutes to equalize a single 6-ounce glass of red wine, dance for 14 minutes to negate half a cup of green bean casserole or play flag football for 20 minutes for that hot buttered roll. And you’ll have to run the stairs for 10 minutes to make up for that half cup of stuffing.

Want dark? Go to Big Bend Ranch, which just earned dark sky status

Campers enjoy the sites on Guale Mesa at Big Bend Ranch State Park. Pam LeBlanc/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

When the sun sets on a moonless night at rugged and remote Big Bend Ranch State Park, the night wraps around you like a black velvet cloak.

This week, the 315,000-acre park announced its designation as an International Dark Sky Park.

Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, with a combined area larger than the state of Rhode Island, now form one of the largest contiguous areas under dark-skies protection in the United States.

That’s big – and blow-out-a-candle-in-a-cave dark.

RELATED: Camping at Big Bend Ranch State Park? Bring two spare tires

“Big Bend Ranch State Park is known for its remote location and the feeling of being in the wilderness. Preserving the dark sky is key to that experience and something all visitors treasure,” Mark Lockwood, Region 1 Director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said in a press release.

The group camps at Pila Montoya III campsite during a bike trip through Big Bend Ranch State Park. Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

 

Artificial lights can turn night into day for animals, plants and insects, with deadly affects. Light can cause birds that hunt to fly into buildings, act as a “fatal attraction” for insects, disrupt mating behavior of frogs and toads and confuse birds’ migration patterns. Plus, don’t you just sleep better when the skies are their blackest?

RELATED: For a much-needed dose of solitude, head to Big Bend

Big Bend Ranch State Park will host an event to celebrate its new designation, but a date has not been set. It also will launch a Dark Sky Steward program, so the public can help monitor the park’s night skies over time. Volunteers will observe and photograph the sky from different parts of the park.

It’s the fourth park in the Texas State Parks system to receive the coveted status from the International Dark-Sky Association. The others are Copper Breaks State Park, South Llano River State Park and Enchanted Rock State Park.

RELATED: Oil field flares creeping closer to McDonald Observatory

Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and community outreach. To earn the certification, Big Bend Ranch State Park inventoried all its outdoor lighting and created a plan for current and future lighting installations. It also started a program to educate park visitors and area residents about the importance of dark night skies and quality outdoor lighting.

Currently, 16 communities, 57 parks, 11 reserves, three sanctuaries and four Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction are recognized with International Dark Sky Places designations. The Big Bend area, part of the remote and rugged Trans-Pecos region of far West Texas, holds some of the darkest night skies remaining in the lower 48 states, according to the International Dark-Sky Association. Big Bend National Park received its dark-sky status in 2012.

For more information about the International Dark-Sky Association, go here.

This Black Friday, #OptOutside instead of exercising your wallet

Several parks, including Inks Lake State Park, shown here, are hosting events on Black Friday. Mauri Elbel for American-Statesman

 

Here’s a suggestion: This Black Friday, instead of going shopping, go outside.

Head to area parks, trails or greenbelts to stretch a leg, instead of giving your credit card a workout.

Several state parks are hosting special events on Friday:

  • Buescher State Park is hosting a Giving Thanks Guided Hike. Guides will explain the origins of the park, who built it, why they built it and the enduring legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Meet at the Lakeview Pavilion at 10 a.m. for the hour-long hike. For more information go here.
  • Bastrop State Park will host a Selfie Scavenger Hunt. Meet at playground at 1 p.m. to get list of objectives, then explore the park taking photos. Regroup at 4:30 p.m. to go over your findings. For more information go here.
  • Park hosts will set up telescopes and a laser pointer from 6-8 p.m. at Inks Lake State Park for a Night Sky Party. For more information go here.
  • Guides at Bastrop State Park will lead a Leave No Trace from 2-3:30 p.m. Meet at the playground for the 1-mile hike. For more information go here.
  • Learn the basics of fishing during the Fishing With a Ranger program at Inks Lake State Park. Participants will learn how to cast, ethics, and rigging your pole with tackle. All equipment and bait provided. Meet behind the park store at 4 p.m. For more information go here.
  • Bring your own lantern or borrow one for the Lantern Hike at McKinney Falls State Park. Meet at the playground at 6:30 p.m. For more information go here.

Texas State Parks aren’t the only parks around, either. The Lower Colorado River Authority operates several parks in the Austin area, and its waiving entrance fees at most of them on Friday. (See a list of all LCRA parks here.)

If you do #OptOutside, give a little salute to outdoor gear retailer REI. For the third year in a row, REI is closing all 151 of its stores, pausing online sales and giving its 12,000 employees a paid day off this Friday. (The stores are also closed on Thanksgiving Day.)

“It’s as much about what we’re doing and our enjoyment of it as getting the public outside,” says Cody Ackerman, outdoor program and outreach manager at REI Austin. “Our goal is really for people to take a break from what had been becoming a very stressful day to enjoy the outdoors together with friends and family and discover something outside.”

REI started the Opt Outside movement in 2015. This year, the outdoor retailer is launching an online search engine to help people plan an activity. To check it out, go here and click on an image. That will lead you to information about that activity, plus directions, reviews and advice from REI.

Need a pre-feast calorie burn? Do one of these six area turkey trots!

The annual ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot takes place Thursday. Runners make their way across the First Street Bridge in this 2012 file photo by Alberto Martinez AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Before you sit down to a Thanksgiving feast, we recommend some pre-emptive calorie burning. One of the most fun ways to do that? A turkey trot, of course. Check out the following Central Texas options:

  • The Georgetown Turkey Trot includes a 5-mile run/walk, 1-mile walk, and a Kids Fun Run. The kids’ race begins at 7:45 a.m., followed by the other races at 8 a.m. All events start and finish at the corner of Main and Seventh streets in downtown Georgetown. Proceeds support Meals on Wheels of Williamson County, Friends of the Georgetown Parks (Park Pals) and the Caring Place, which will collect canned goods. Entry fee is $35 through Nov. 23; $40 on race day. Register here online through Wednesday or in person on race morning.

What’s up with this lemon-lime colored bike?

Caen Contee, vice president of marketing at LimeBike, poses with one of the dockless bikes at the Austin American-Statesman building on Thursday. PAM LeBLANC/Austin American-Statesman

What’s up with this lemon-lime flavored bike?

It’s one of a fleet of bikes that a company called LimeBike may disperse over Austin in coming months.

The bikes are part of what’s called a dockless bike sharing system.

Yes, Austin already has a traditional bike share system, called B-cycle Austin, with dozens of stations around the city. Customers can check out a bike from a B-cycle station, use it to ride to another station, and check it in, for a small fee.

RELATED: Fit City hits the road to test Austin’s B-Cycle bike share system

Dockless bike share systems like LimeBike work in a similar way, but no stations are needed. Customers use a phone app to locate and unlock a bike. They can ride it anywhere they want, then park and leave it for the next person when they’re finished using it. It costs $1 for 30 minutes, or 50 cents for students.

A fleet of LimeBikes has been dispersed in Dallas. Photo courtesy of LimeBike

The no-station-needed system gives dockless systems farther reach at less cost, proponents say. Because no infrastructure is required, the system makes bikes accessible to people in areas, particularly low-income areas, where traditional bike share systems don’t have stations.

But not everyone agrees it’s a good idea. Opponents worry about the bikes cluttering sidewalks, and in Washington, D.C., bikes from dockless systems have been illegally parked, blocking walkways and building entrances. (Some pranksters have even “parked” dockless bikes in trees. Someone wrote a blog to record odd places where people find them.)

RELATED: Abandoned, vandalized and illegally parked bike share bikes now a DC problem

LimeBike, which is based in California, was founded in January and already has planted thousands of brightly painted bikes in 27 cities around the country, including Dallas.

“For the first time, mass consumers get access to bike share,” says Caen Contee, vice president of marketing and partnership for LimeBike. “Bike share has been limited to the footprint the city can afford. Even the most extensive systems are restricted to a limited downtown area. Dockless changes that because there are no infrastructure costs. We can offer a system that’s free to cities and maintains itself based on the usage of customers.”

The city is considering expanding into Austin.

I test rode one of the bikes, a three-speed model that weighs 36 pounds. It’s equipped with a front basket. A solar panel in the basket charges a battery that links the bike to a GPS system to track the bike.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth story about LimeBike in coming days.