Hiking in Central Texas lately feels like walking across a hot griddle with a blow torch aimed at your face.
That’s why Texas park rangers, who encounter lots of park visitors suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, want to share some tips to keep hikers safe during the hot summer months.
Number one? Drink plenty of water. Hydration makes it easier to tolerate heat. Carry extra water and drink periodically, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And if you’re bringing your dog, make sure it has water, too. A good rule of thumb is to turn around and head back once you’ve consumed half of your water supply, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say.
Second, make sure you know how long the trail is before heading out. Hikers sometimes underestimate how long it will take them to hike a trail, especially when they’re tackling rugged terrain. Trail maps are available at the visitors center of all Texas State Parks, and online at the department’s website.
Third, plan hikes for early in the morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler and the sun isn’t as strong. Take frequent breaks and know your limit. Rest under shade when you can.
Fourth, wear appropriate clothing – light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing works best. A hat keeps your face shaded, and a bandana can be dipped in water and worn around the neck to keep you cool.
Finally, park rangers say, check the weather before you start your hike so you’re prepared for conditions on the trail.
If you start to experience a heat related emergency, call the park headquarters or 911.
The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mount Rainier in Washington, and most people who see it carry loaded backpacks, sleep in tents and stop periodically to snap photos or soak their feet in streams.
Not Allison Macsas or Mallory Brooks.
The two Austin runners hope to set a new women’s time record as they cover the 93-mile trail, without outside support.
Time records are kept in three divisions – supported, in which crew members can help a runner by providing food or shoes or anything they need; self-supported, in which a runner can cache food or mail packages to him or herself; and unsupported, in which a runner can only carry his or her own supplies or eat and drink what they find in the wild.
Macsas and Brooks would like to break the 30-hour barrier, and they’ve got a good shot of doing it. They’re aiming for a 15- to 16-minute-per-mile moving pace; stops to put on or take off layers, filter water, change socks and do other maintenance will drop that speed to between 17 and 19 minutes per mile.
“We definitely want to push that bar as low as we can, so we set a harder bar for the next people to leap over,” says Brooks, 33. “We don’t want to barely shave it off – it’s better to really push it to a new level.”
Macsas, co-owner of Rogue Expeditions, and Brooks, co-owner of Spectrum Trail Racing, knocked out 56 miles of the Wonderland Trail last year, so they know what they’re in for. That run featured 17,000 feet of climbing. They’ll face a new challenge this time out, though: Permanent snowfields, which they’ll likely hit at night.
“The trail, if you were to take it away from the mountain, looks like a pie crust – one circle that goes up, down, up, down with very little flat,” says Brooks.
Macsas, 32, who has raced the marathon at the Olympic Trials, and won the 2017 Austin Marathon and 2011 Statesman Capitol 10K, is relatively new at ultra running, although she has finished 50 and 100-milers in Leadville, Colorado, and completed the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim twice.
“Trail running so much slower than what I’d do on road,” Macsas says. “It almost feels like hiking to me.”
The women will fly to Washington on Aug. 13, and plan to start the next day, as long as the weather is good. Since no one can aid them along the way, they’ll stuff peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and peanut M&Ms into their packs and bring water filters to draw water from streams along the way.
“What’s more important than speed here is, I don’t want to say craziness, but are you bold enough to try it. I’m like a metronome, I’m slow but I keep going. And I’m OK with pain,” Brooks says.
The women say they’re in it together.
“We’re both in agreement. We both want to do this, but it’s not life or death. If someone gets hurt, we’re definitely sticking together,” Macsas says.
Brooks agrees, saying that she won’t be broken hearted if they don’t get the record on their first attempt. “It’s more than that – it’s to go see what we can do,” she says.”If we did it and didn’t make the record, we’d probably just go back and try again.”
I’ve been spending every spare hour lately writing.
When I’m not working here at the Austin American-Statesman, I’m chipping away at a book I’m writing about the conservationist J. David Bamberger.
A few weeks ago, I took a week off from the Statesman and put myself in (almost) solitary confinement out at Bamberger’s ranch, Selah, near Johnson City. The rolling hills and waving grasses there speak to my soul, and when I look out over the land, or talk to Bamberger about how he brought this once-overgrazed corner of the Hill Country back to life, I just want to hug a tree or roll in the dirt or scream “thank you” up at the sky.
Mostly, though, I want to jump in a small spring-fed lake at the ranch. It’s the swimming hole of my dreams – green-blue water, a floating swim platform, cypress trees and clear, clear water. Most days I get the entire lake to myself.
Swimming works magic on me. I sort out problems, stretch my body, crank up my heart rate and revel in the feeling that Mother Nature is cradling me in her arms. It’s bliss, especially at sunrise or sunset, when the light turns everything golden, and it helps put me in the right frame of mind to write.
My husband Chris recently used his new drone to take video of me swimming at the lake.
Just watching it makes me happy, and reminds me how important exercise is not just physically, but mentally as well.
I jumped into an Oregon lake last week with water more than 30 degrees colder than the Austin swimming hole. My feet ached, my lips turned blue and I couldn’t stop shivering. (That’s me on the right, in the video taken by Ann Baumann.)
I made the dip during a “run-cation” in Oregon with Rogue Expeditions. Over a five-day period, we ran trails up mountains, through forests, alongside rivers and next to waterfalls. One of those days took us along the McKenzie River Trail, past a cliff-rimmed, blue marble of a lake called Tamolitch.
The lake forms where the McKenzie River resurfaces from a lava tube below Carmen Reservoir. Native Americans named it Tamolitch, which means “bucket.” They should have named it something that meant “freaking cold water.”
To jump in the lake (which I had to do, considering I’ve declared 2017 my Year of Adventure), we had to scramble down a steep embankment to the pool’s edge. Then we had to wade out onto a ledge covered with about 4 inches of water. The pool dropped from the ledge into deep blue water.
Three of us decided we’d take the plunge together, but we knew we had to do it quickly. Cindy, Becky and I took off our shoes and socks, grabbed hands and waded forth. My ankles hurt from the cold, and I hadn’t even submerged myself yet. At the count of three, we stepped in.
The cold took my breath away. My skin felt like I’d been locked in a Yeti cooler overnight. I wheeled around, grabbed the rocky ledge and hoisted myself partly out of the water, like a walrus at the seashore.
I’ve never experienced water this cold, and I’m a lifelong swimmer. I’ve dunked myself in 48-degree water in Lake Michigan. I’ve dumped a bucket of ice water over my head.
This is different. It’s shocking. It jolts you awake, it burns your skin. It reminds you, in a very loud voice, that you’re alive (!!).
I should note here that water this cold can cause hypothermia in less than 10 minutes. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
Instead, I hauled myself out of the gin-clear lake, squeezed the water out of my hair and laughed with my running buddies. Then we laced up our shoes and continued our run.
Youens flew his drone downtown to capture the image, which is actually a collection of 34 photographs stitched together.
The company makes the images to help architects designing buildings. With a spherical panorama, they can see what a building looks like from different altitudes. Architectural animators can also build virtual reality views of huge skyscrapers using the same type of technology.
If you haven’t been to NLand Surf Park yet this summer, expect some changes.
The liner at the bottom of the park’s lagoon started leaking at the end of last season, after fins on the underside of surfboards scraped it up. Crews added a reinforced mat, reconfigured berms around the edges of the man-made lake, and added some shade structures along the perimeter.
So yes, the place looks different. The water flows around the lagoon differently too. That’s by design, to lessen the impact of wave action.
A boardwalk bisects the lagoon at the NLand Surf Park. A huge metal foil glides up and down the waterway, creating a consistent wave with each pass. Depending on where you catch what rolls off, you can ride a beginner-friendly wave, a slightly larger intermediate wave, or the big kahuna.
t took a few tries, but I got my body position right and felt pretty comfortable on the medium wave. The biggest difference? More waves to catch, because instead of starting at one end of the lagoon and catching every other wave, I started in the middle and caught (or attempted to catch) every one.
I’m stoked. Now I want to learn to surf for real. I’ve made the executive decision to attend an all-women’s surf camp in Nicaragua called Surf With Amigas next summer.
Camping in Texas this time of year means sun-baked days and stifling tents. Unless, of course, you sleep in a hammock at night.
Hammock camping, I’ve discovered, extends the camping season in places where you need hot pads just to touch the steering wheel of your car. No, camping here in July will never equal camping in Colorado or Michigan, where you actually need a sweatshirt at night, but a hammock allows air to flow beneath you, which eases the inferno.
Saturday marks National Hammock Day, and Austin is headquarters of Kammok, which specializes in high-end hammocks suitable for camping.
I’ve got a couple of Kammoks myself. I first tried hammock camping in West Texas in January. A small group of us slung brightly-colored hammocks from trees in the Davis Mountains, about 30 minutes outside of Fort Davis. Temperatures dropped below freezing, but we attached under-quilts to our hammocks and I put a Therma-rest sleeping pad inside mine to keep me warm.
Since we’re still talking about that new bike and pedestrian bridge that crosses Barton Creek and Highway 290 alongside MoPac Boulevard (we are, aren’t we?), I tracked down someone who is using the bridge to ride to work.
Terry Bowness, who lives in the Travis Country neighborhood and works as a design engineer at Cirrus Logic in downtown Austin, started commuting by bike the week via the new route a week after the bridge opened last month.
When he worked at Silicon Labs, Bowness occasionally rode his bike on the Barton Creek Greenbelt to get to work. That root-and-rock studded route, appropriate only for mountain bikes, took more than an hour. He couldn’t feasibly do it very often.
The new pedestrian bridge, though, makes biking to work on a regular basis possible. His 7.3-mile ride takes between 30 and 40 minutes, and he showers once he gets to his office.
“It’s good exercise, I hate traffic, and I can actually go during peak rush hour and get here in the same amount of time,” Bowness says. “It’s better than sitting in a car and burning gas. Plus, I just like to ride.”
Bowness, 47, has been making the trip once or twice a week since the bridge opened.
“The only thing to be careful about is on the ride home. It’s definitely more uphill than downhill, and it’s full blast sun,” he says. “If you’re not used to that, make sure you’re ready.”
Bowness says he sees other bicyclists and pedestrians using the bridge every time he crosses it.
“I know it’s expensive and I’ve seen stories in paper with people complaining about tax dollars going to this,” Bowness says. “But if people can use this to get into work and it takes cars off the road, I think there should be more stuff like this, not less.”
A jump into Barton Springs Pool raises goosebumps and turns lips blue. That’s what 68-degree year-round water does to a body, right?
Not so fast.
Despite T-shirts that proclaim it, websites that tout it and a Wikipedia entry that boasts it, the water temperature at Barton Springs isn’t 68 degrees, and rarely has it been.
We headed to the pool this week with David Johns, a hydrogeologist for the City of Austin, and his assistant, Walker Stone, to dunk a multi-sensor probe into three locations at the spring-fed swimming pool and let science do the talking.
Our results? At the fault line next to the diving well, near the main spring, the temperature read 70.6 degrees. But at the surface by the downstream dam, it was 71.6 degrees. It was even warmer at the shallow end of the pool, where it measured 74.9 degrees.
Myth busted, then? Sort of.
The pool has, at times, measured 68 degrees. But it’s not all that common, and certainly not during the summer, when most people are taking that polar bear plunge. The temperature varies slightly, depending on time of year and discharge volume. Mostly, it depends on what season rains fall.
The 68-degree myth has been propagated by the City of Austin website which long stated that the pool water hovered around 68 degrees year-round. Today it reads “average temp of 68 to 70.” Still not quite accurate, but closer than the Wikipedia entry for the pool, which boldly states, “The pool is a popular venue for year-round swimming, as its temperature maintains a stable 68 °F (20 °C) in the winter and summer.”
Want more evidence? The USGS monitors a probe placed in a small opening at the bottom of the pool where spring water comes out, taking temperature measurements every 15 minutes. That’s typically the coolest spot in the pool during the summer, and the temperature there has held a consistent 70.5 degrees there during the last few weeks.
“Some people say it seems colder than that, but it’s still 30 degrees colder than body temperature, so it’s cold,” Johns says.
Still get goosebumps when you leap in? That’s OK. We do too.
“For you and me, it’s still bracing,” Johns says.
Read more about the pool’s temperature in an upcoming story.