Ingredients for next Fit City adventure: One stubborn burro plus a steep trail

Pam LeBlanc will team up with Little Jonah to run the Gold Rush Challenge race in Victor, Colorado, next month. Photo by Susan Paraska

I’ve never raced up a mountain with a pack burro at my side, so on Sept. 8 I’ll do that, with a four-legged little beast named Little Jonah.

I’ve rented Jonah from donkey matchmaker Amber Wann in Idaho Springs, Colorado, who loans out animals so (crazy) people like me can participate in a series of pack burro races in small towns around Colorado. And no, I won’t be riding the burro – runners lead their partners up steep mountain trails in races that honor the gold mining history of the area.

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Wann paired me with 17-year-old Little Jonah, a resident of Laughing Valley Ranch in Idaho Springs, Colorado, because she thinks our personalities match. I looked up his results for previous years, and, well, let’s just say I’m not expecting to win this year’s race, not that it matters. Jonah’s track record makes me think he might just screech to a halt.

I’m fine with that. Plus, it’ll make a more interesting story if Jonah decides to pause to take in the scenery for a few hours.

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“He has come in last ass on a time or two , but that is because the folks running him were not speedy people to begin with,” Wann told me. “Burros like Little Jonah could go either way, speed wise, depending on the person navigating and encouraging him to keep going.”

Just chalk it up to this Life of Adventure.

What’s the latest camping trend? Elevated pop-up tents, and we’re testing one tonight

I’ve got the Woolly Bear set up at McKinney Falls State Park. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I’ll be sleeping in the treetops tonight here at McKinney Falls State Park, where I’ve successfully wrangled open a borrowed Woolly Bear elevated tent.

I wouldn’t describe it as “easy” to deploy – rather, it took a couple of phone calls and some extra hands to do the job. I’m confident I’ll shave half an hour off my time the next time out of the gate.

Here I am, wrangling open the pop-up, elevated tent.

Reinforcements are coming – brats, beer and company. It’ll be a race to see which arrives first, those supplies or a storm that’s apparently headed my way. Perhaps I’ll get to test the rain fly.

Stay tuned for a full review …

Next adventure for Fit City? Paddle racing – and she started Saturday with Kanoe Klasika

Pam LeBlanc, front, and Sheila Reiter, back, paddle a canoe at Saturday’s Kanoe Klasika race on the Colorado River. Photo by Patty Geisinger

 

I’ve learned this about myself in 54 years: I feel most alive when I’m trying new things.

That’s one reason why I’ve taken up paddling in the last year. It’s also how I landed at the start line of the Kanoe Klasika canoe and kayak race on the Colorado River on Saturday morning.

Pam LeBlanc, left, and Sheila Reiter, right, prepare for the start of the Kanoe Klasika on Saturday. Photo by Patty Geisinger

I started paddling for fun about a year ago. Since then, I’ve taken leisurely day trips on the San Marcos, Colorado, Llano and Pedernales rivers, and loaded up my boat with a tent, sleeping bag and campstove for multi-day excursions on the Devils and Pecos rivers.

 

Heather Harrison, Sheila Reiter and Pam LeBlanc at the start of the Kanoe Klasika race on Saturday.

But now I want to figure out how to go fast. After spending five days following paddlers in the Texas Water Safari in June, I’ve set a huge goal: I want to finish that grueling race, which starts in San Marcos and finishes at Seadrift on the Texas coast.

 

Two veteran paddlers – Sheila Reiter and Heather Harrison – have invited me to join their three-person team for that epic adventure. In less than a year, I’ll set out on a huge, sleep-deprived river of craziness populated by alligator gar, log jams and hallucinations.

I can’t wait. Also, I’m scared out of my straw cowboy hat.

Saturday’s Kanoe Klasika race marked a first step in my mission to get to the start line, though – my first paddling race. (Technically I participated in the Texas Winter 100 back in January, but I only paddled a portion of that course and stopped for a picnic along the side of the river, so I don’t count it.)

Saturday’s race started at Riverbend Park in Smithville, and finished at Plum Park about 16.5 miles downstream.

Racers at the start of the Kanoe Klasika race on Saturday. Photo by Patty Geisinger

Reiter brought the boat – a 23-foot tippy craft that’s more narrow and streamlined than what you’d probably picture if I told you we were racing a canoe. She sat in back, steering us into swifter moving water and around obstacles like low hanging branches and gravel bars. I sat in front and just paddled, focusing on drawing as much strength as I could from each stroke and not flipping out (of the boat, that is.)

Thoughts? A morning spent outdoors, on the water, with like-minded people and getting exercise always ranks high on my list of great ways to pass the time. Along the way, I thought about how far I’ve got to go to prepare myself for the Texas Water Safari. Sixteen miles on a placid, flat river is a lot different than 260 on a narrow, twisty one supercharged with rapids, alligators (yes!) and a notoriously choppy bay.

 

Sheila Reiter, left, and Pam LeBlanc, right, race down the Colorado River on Saturday. Photo by Patty Geisinger

Even in the two hours and 45 minutes it took us to reach the finish line on Saturday, my wrist hurt and my back got sore. What will happen when I multiply that by 20 or so?

I’m going to find out. I’ll get there. And it’ll all be a new experience.

Pedal all the way to Alaska? These students did – for a good cause

This year’s Texas 4000 riders will roll into Anchorage on Friday. Photo courtesy Texas 4000

 

Sixty-nine University of Texas students who pedaled out of Austin earlier this summer are expected to roll into Anchorage tomorrow, wrapping up their 70-day quest to raise awareness about cancer.

A documentary about their venture, “Texas 4000,” will air at 8 p.m. tonight on the Longhorn Network, Channel 677 on AT&T Universe and Channel 383 on Time Warner. The network will also livestream the documentary at http://www.espn.com/longhornnetwork/.

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Each year for the past 15 years, a team of students has made the bicycle trek. They train, raise money, volunteer in the community and serve in leadership roles to help plan every aspect of the summer ride.

This year’s group started June 1 and broke into three groups, which made their way separately to Alaska. Along the way, the cyclists presented $450,000 in grants to cancer research and treatment centers and visited with patients.

Back in Austin, the community will honor the cyclists at the annual Tribute Gala Aug. 24 at the Hyatt Regency, 208 Barton Springs Road. The gala includes dinner, live music, silent and live auctions and more. Tickets are $200 per person. For more information or to sign up, go to https://asbidding.com/register/106.

Since 2004, 751 students have completed the ride, raising more than $8.4 million.

For more information about the 2018 Texas 4000 team, donate or read the riders’ blogs, go to www.texas4000.org orhttps://www.facebook.com/texas4000/.

How many days in a row have you run? Bill Schroeder’s logged 20 years

From left, Bill Schroeder, Jodi Ondrusek and Wing Ho run on a trail at Brushy Creek Park on Wednesday, February 24, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Bill Shroeder hasn’t missed a run in years.

He’ll celebrate 20 years worth of running – calculated by combining two separate running streaks – with an easy cruise through Williamson County Regional Park at 6 p.m. today.

Streak running is a thing, in case you didn’t know, and different people do it different ways. (It’s also completely different than streaking, as in running naked through a public place.) Some streak runners count any run over at least 1 mile. For Schroeder, a workout doesn’t officially count unless it lasts at least 25 minutes.

Bill Schroeder is celebrating two running streaks – and a combined 20 years of daily runs – with a run tonight. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Tonight, the public is invited to join Schroeder for a 25-minute run starting at the pavilion near the tennis courts. The group will run or walk out 12 and a half minutes, then turn around and come back. No matter what your pace, everyone should finish together.

RELATED: Streak runners get their daily run come rain, snow, heat or travel

The streak-iversary happens to coincide with Schroeder’s 56th birthday. Kona Ice will serve 100 free snow cones from 6:30-7:30 p.m. There will be cake, too. No glass containers are allowed at the park. Alcohol is permitted, but please drink responsibly.

To pre-register for the free event, go here.

Swimming’s free – and so’s the guitar solo – before 8 a.m. at Barton Springs

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I almost always start Wednesday mornings with a swim at Barton Springs with a few friends.

Besides getting in a good workout, I always see people I know. Runners gather there after logging their morning miles, to cool their legs in the cold water. My lap swimming friends show up in force, too.

I started this morning with a swim at Barton Springs Pool.

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I also love the creatures – you won’t find them at a chlorinated cement pond. But at Barton Springs, birds dive in to snatch up breakfast, fish swirl in schools, crawfish trundle across the bottom and aquatic plants undulate in the current.

This morning I got a special treat. As I hung at the far end, just above Barking Springs, a guy strolled by playing his guitar. I rested on the edge for a few minutes just as he walked by. I smiled up at him and he stopped, sang for a few minutes, then moseyed along.

Austin. It’s the best.

And did you know it’s free to get in Barton Springs before 8 a.m.? The pool opens at 5 a.m., and you can swim for free until 8 a.m. Admission is charged from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and then it’s free again until closing at 10 p.m. (Note that no lifeguards are on duty during the free swim times.)

For more information go to http://www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool.

Bid summer farewell with Splash Bash at YMCA

The YMCA TownLake will host a Splash Bash from 1-3 p.m. Saturday. Photo courtesy YMCA

Bid summer goodbye with the annual Splash Bash at the TownLake YMCA this weekend.

The free community event is scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Saturday and will include a pool party with free snacks, games, giveaways, music and a bouncy house. The Y is located at 1100 West Cesar Chavez Street.

The event will also highlight YMCA Camp Moody, which is being developed along Onion Creek, 15 miles south of downtown Austin. The project’s initial phase will include an eight-lane natatorium that the Y is building in partnership with the Hays Consolidated school district.

When the facility is complete, all district first-graders will participate in the Y’s Project SAFE program, which provides free swimming and water safety instruction.

Tired of trash at Mansfield Cut? Pitch in at Saturday’s cleanup

A cleanup of Port Mansfield Cut is set for Saturday. Photo courtesy Kathie and Miller Bassler

A few months ago, I spent a long weekend camping at Mansfield Cut along the Texas Coast.

We pitched tents in the sand, fished and surfed along the channel between North and South Padre Islands. I loved the place, but couldn’t believe the quantity of trash that littered the dunes and filled every crevice of the jetty.

So I’m happy to make note of an upcoming beach cleanup organized by Miller and Kathie Bassler of Rockdale.

Volunteers have hauled off as much as 25 tons of trash during the annual cleanup. Photo courtesy Kathie and Miller Bassler

The 10th annual Port Mansfield Beach & Cut Clean UP, rescheduled from March due to weather, is set for Aug. 11. In past years, volunteers have collected as much as 25 tons of trash at the event.

To participate, report to the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce pavilion for signup at 6:30 a.m. After a safety briefing and breakfast, you’ll get your assignment for which area to clean. Volunteers get a free T-shirt, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Boats, captains and workers are needed, and out-of-town participants can get free lodging if they notify Kathie at kathieb@basslerenergyservices.com by Aug. 6.

Boats and volunteers are needed for the cleanup. Photo courtesy Miller and Kathie Bassler

The Basslers started the cleanup in 2009 after arriving at the usually pristine Padre Island National Seashore and finding it trashed in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ike and Dolly. Their efforts have earned recognition from Field & Stream Magazine, the Coastal Conservation Association and others.

“We have gathered as much as 25 tons, cleaned up to 5 miles of Padre Island National Shoreline and relieved the jetty trap of thousands of plastic bottles, while also picking up the banks of the Mansfield Channel on the 15-mile journey from port to the island,” Miller Bassler says.

Tons of trash collects on the beach and between the boulders at the jetty each year. Photo courtesy Miller and Kathie Bassler

For more information email miller@basslerenergyservices.com or kathieb@basslerenergyservices.com.

At Camp Gladiator Stadium Takeover, join a group workout where the Longhorns play

Camp Gladiator will host a free public workout at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 11. Photo courtesty Camp Gladiator

If you’ve always wanted to train on the field where the University of Texas Longhorns play, head to Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 11.

Camp Gladiator will celebrate a decade of group exercise with a free, open-to-the-public workout at the stadium, and thousands of participants are expected to attend.

Camp Gladiator is celebrating a decade of group workouts. Photo courtesty Camp Gladiator

It’s part of a nation-wide CG Stadium Takeover series that includes events at stadiums all over the country, from Mile High Stadium in Denver to Minute Maid Park in Houston and Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi. The Austin event starts at 6:45 a.m. and wraps up at 12:30 p.m. and is designed for all ages and fitness levels.

Ally and Jeff Davidson founded Camp Gladiator in 2008 in Dallas.

The Austin event is one of a series of Stadium Takeovers taking place around the country. Photo courtesy Camp Gladiator

“We are really beyond excited to be celebrating 10 amazing years of Camp Gladiator and the impact made on hundreds of thousands of campers across the nation. We can’t wait to host our loyal campers and everyone in our amazing communities that have supported us through the years at stadiums across the nation,” Ally Davidson said in a press release.

Attendees can sign up as a spectators or competitors. In Austin, participants will be released in waves to run between 10 workout stations throughout the stadium. The full-body workout combines strength and cardio exercises. It’s based on the CG camp experience, which focuses on endurance, strength, agility, and interval training suitable for all fitness levels.

The event will also feature food, retail, and fitness vendors and other fitness activations such as a slamball slam contest and a battle rope station.

To RSVP go here.

Participants will be released in waves to run to exercise stations around the stadium. Photo courtesy Camp Gladiator

Camp Gladiator began in 2007, when Ally Davidson tried out for the NBC show “American Gladiators” four hours before her wedding. She qualified her for the show, and producers invited both Ally and her husband Jeff to compete in a couples’ episode. After their honeymoon, the couple spent four weeks in Los Angeles competing on the show. Ally won the grand championship, and the Davidsons used their winnings to start Camp Gladiator.

Camp Gladiator, which is now based in Austin, operates more than 3,500 locations in Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida and Tenessee.

Am I crazy? Maybe – I’m training for Texas Water Safari 2019

Pam LeBlanc and Sheila Reiter, in canoe, center of photo, paddle on Lady Bird Lake on Thursday, Aug. 2. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

 

Chalk up Day 1 as a success.

A couple of years after I told a friend that I’d never do the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile canoe race from San Marcos to Seadrift, I’m hereby declaring that I’m in for 2019.

Yesterday, the training began.

I’ll be competing as part of a three-person team, alongside veteran paddlers Sheila Reiter and Heather Harrison. They’ve both completed the race several times, but I’m a newbie. My paddling experience consists of recreational paddle camping trips down the Devils and Pecos rivers, plus a bunch of leisurely day trips on the Colorado, San Marcos, Guadalupe, Llano and Pedernales rivers. I did part of the Colorado River 100 last winter, but packed a lunch and picnicked on the side of the river.

But I’ve always believed that the only way to keep living is to keep trying new things. That’s why I learned to run a slalom water ski course at age 40, ran my first marathon at 44, hiked the John Muir trail at 52 and rappelled down a 38-story building at 53. It’s why I do all kinds of stuff that makes me a tad uncomfortable.

Pam LeBlanc paddles on Lady Bird Lake. Photo by Sheila Reiter

 

Besides, I love spending time on the water, and yesterday’s first run meant a couple of hours gliding down Lady Bird Lake, dinner at a lakeside restaurant and glimpses of turtles the size of beer trays, the emergence of the Mexican free-tail bats from beneath the Ann Richards-Congress Avenue Bridge, lots of smooth green water and some rare moments of quiet in the middle of the city.

I’ve got to work on my form. I know already my stroke is choppy and slanted. The paddle should enter the water almost vertically. The photo at the top, taken by Chris LeBlanc, shows me and Sheila heading home after our practice session. I can see my position needs work.

Goals. I’ve got nearly 11 months to get there. I can do it.