At Fit City Campout, we paddled, ran, swam and tried Dutch oven campfire cooking

Katie Shea and Jess Jackel relax inside their tent at the Fit City Campout. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I barely had time to chill out in a hammock between the standup paddleboarding, swimming, trail running, wall climbing and star gazing this weekend at the Fit City Campout at Pedernales River Nature Park in Johnson City.

A camper enjoys lunch after setting up her tent at the Fit City Campout. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Roughly 100 people turned out for our campout, a partnership between Fit City, REI and the Lower Colorado River Authority.

We went for a run as the sun set. Chris LeBlanc/for the American-Statesman

And boy, that park! It’s normally reserved for day use, but LCRA allowed us to pitch our tents alongside the river, where we watched fish jump, deer graze and birds roost as the stars popped out.

We got to look through telescopes at the planets. Chris LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Looking at Venus. Photo by Chris LeBlanc/for the American-Statesman

The best part? Meeting lots of folks who love the outdoors as much as I do. We wrapped up the day with a Dutch oven cooking demonstration (green chile tamale pic and pineapple upside down cake), a night trail run, live music from the J. Abram Band, a barbecue dinner, s’mores and star gazing.

Star gazing and s’mores! Chris LeBlanc/for American-Statesman

Thanks to all the sponsors, including Austin-based Packit Gourmet, which served up the best grits, corn souffle and oatmeal breakfast; Subaru, which showed us the ultimate in car camping; Nuun, which kept us hydrated; and Kammok, which set up a village of hammocks.

Pedernales River Nature Park features a developed area, and a stretch of wild river, where some folks set up chairs and cooled their heels. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


Chris LeBlanc naps in a hammock during the Fit City campout this weekend. Pam LeBlanc/Austin-American-Statesman

Too broke for a trainer? Try these free classes by Dancers Shape

Dancers Shape will host a free four-week fitness series. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape


I say it all the time: You don’t have to pay a lot of money to get in shape.

Every Monday for the next four weeks, Dancers Shape will offer free outdoor workouts at Bee Cave Central Park,

13742 Bee Cave Parkway in Bee Cave.

The free four-week fitness series, Pilates in the Park, starts with a mat class at 9:30 a.m. April 30 and continues at the second time the next three Mondays.

The classes will take place at 9:30 a.m. Mondays at Bee Cave Central Park. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape

The one hour, full body classes will combine traditional elements of pilates, yoga and barre into a quick-paced flow on the mat, according to a press release. The classes will focus on functional movement to build core strength. Bring your own mat, water and full length towel. The group will meet under the pavilion at the park.

The park is next door to the new Dancers Shape studio at Hill Country Indoor. For more information go here.

The free series focuses on core strength. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape

Fit City: Don’t miss these four upcoming sweat-inducing events

Award-winning climber Maya Madere, 17, boulders in the cave at Crux Climbing Center in 2016. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Looking for some cool, fitness-oriented events in the comings weeks? These caught our eye:

  • Crux Climbing Center, an indoor climbing center, celebrates its second anniversary with Come and Send It Fest from 9:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. May 5. Watch world-class climbers including Alex Puccio, Nathaniel Coleman, Keenan Takahashi, Jon Caldwell, Michaela Kierch, Maya Madere and Ben Hannah, take on intricate bouldering problems, and enjoy local eats and drinks, poster signings, live T-shirt screen printing, vendors, face painting and more. Tickets are $37 to $50. Prizes and awards for all skill levels . For more information and for tickets, go here.
Runners take off at the start of the 2014 Silicon Labs Sunshine Run. Photo by Kreutz Photography.
  • The fifth annual Silicon Labs Sunshine Run gets under way on May 6. The race, which raises funds for Austin Sunshine Camps supporting low-income Austin Youth, unfolds on a certified course beginning at Vic Mathias Shores, 900 West Riverside Drive. Events include a timed 10K, timed and untimed 5K, a Kids K (free for kids 12 and under) and Fastest Dog 5K. K. for more information or to register, go here.
  • Waller Creek Conservancy will host a Field Day from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. May 12 at Palm Park, 711 E 3rd Street. The family- fun health event includes yoga, cooking demonstrations, performances and live music. Children can participate in games, from javelin throw to ring toss and sack races, are designed to make physical activity easy and fun. Wheatsville Co-op, YMCA, Austin Nature & Science Center, Capital Metro, We Are Blood, Think Bilingual Austin, Mexican-American Cultural Center and the League of Women Voters will all operate information booths. Admission is free. For more information go here.
The Color Run comes to the Travis County Expo Center on May 19. Photo courtesy The Color Run
  • The Color Run is coming to Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane, at 9 a.m. May 19. This year’s theme, The Color Run Hero Tour features new course elements, including a trampoline photo. Participants walk, run or dance their way through four color zones and end up covered in colors. It’s not timed and there is no winner.  To register go here. Tickets range from $14.99 to $37.99.

Considering paddling the remote Pecos River? Check out our photos

Collis Williams takes a dip in the rapids at Painted Canyon, during a five-day paddle trip on the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


If you follow this blog, you know I’ve fallen in love with paddling.

In the last year I’ve explored waterways all over the state by canoe and kayak, from the Llano to the Pedernales, the San Marcos to the Colorado, and the Devils to Medina Creek.

Colton Moore fills his water bottle at a spring in a canyon along the Pecos River. We had landowner permission to visit the site. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

RELATED: Dip a paddle in these five Texas waterways

Last week I added the remote Pecos River to the list. I’ll be writing about my five-day adventure down the stretch of river between Pandale and Comstock in an upcoming article, but first I wanted to share some pictures I took along the way.

RELATED: The Devil made me do it

The group enjoys sunset along the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Our group of five camped along the riverbank, fished for bass, shot small rapids, explored a natural spring and visited an emerald green pool inside a magical amphitheater created by Mother Nature (all with landowner permission) as we eased down the river.

Gearing up after a night of camping along the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Water flow was low, and we had to pull our boats over a stretch of bony fingers of rock called The Flutes, a cold front turned out last 10 miles into a blue-lipped, freezer fest of a day, and, yes, my legs were dappled with tiny black leeches at one point, but it was good.

Really good.

This pool of water is tucked in a canyon along the Pecos River. We had the landowner’s permission to visit. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


To whet your appetite for more, I’ve attached some of my favorite pictures here. Look for a story in the Travel section of the Austin American-Statesman in the next few weeks.

We encountered a small herd of horses on Day 3 of our trip on the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Houston Dobbins tows his kayak – and his dog Oso – over a stretch of shallow water known as The Flutes. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Colleen Gilbreath relaxes at the side of the river during our five-day paddle trip on the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Collis Williams draws water to filter from the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Colleen Gilbreath and Colton Moore snuggle in a hammock along the Pecos River during last week’s paddle trip. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
The sun sets on night two of our paddle trip along the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

What’s the most dangerous stretch of road for bicyclists in Austin?

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Anyone who has ridden a bicycle around Austin on a regular basis knows the feeling of a near miss.

In my 15 or so years of pedaling to work, I’ve come close to getting hit by a car several times. I’ve also been yelled at, spit on and flipped off, but that’s another story. I still love to bike to work, and it helps keep me fit and happy – two things I don’t get from getting stuck in traffic when I drive my car down MoPac Boulevard.

Andrew McKenna rides his bicycle on Guadalupe Street in January 2018. (Stephen Spillman /for American-Statesman)

A law firm based in Chicago recently compiled statistics on the most dangerous stretches or urban roads for cyclists. In Austin, Guadalupe Street between West Cesar Chavez Street and North Lamar Boulevard ranked as the most dangerous roadway.

The list was based on bike collisions, injuries and fatalities, and is based on somewhat stale information – data circa 2015 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for cities with populations of 500,000 or more. It also considered hazards like narrow shoulders and roads without bike lanes.

Still, it’s worth a look. Nearly half a million bicyclists are injured or killed on American roads every year, according to the study.

Albuquerque recorded the most cyclist fatalities, with 8.94 deaths per million people, followed by Tucson, with 7.52 per million. Dallas and Indianapolis had the lowest rates – 0.77 per million people and 1.17 fatalities per million. (But perhaps that’s because fewer people in Dallas ride bikes? No context in this study.)

Austin comes in 20th, with 2.15 fatalities per million. And remember, this is for a few years ago. Here’s a complete list:

Fatality Rate per 1 million

  1. Albuquerque 8.94
  2. Tucson 7.52
  3. Las Vegas 6.41
  4. Phoenix 5.12
  5. San Jose 4.87
  6. Columbus 4.71
  7. San Francisco 4.63
  8. Memphis 4.57
  9. Philadelphia 4.47
  10. Los Angeles 4.03
  11. Jacksonville 3.46
  12. Louisville 3.25
  13. Portland 3.16
  14. Denver 2.93
  15. San Antonio 2.72
  16. Chicago 2.57
  17. Charlotte 2.42
  18. Houston 2.18
  19. San Diego 2.15
  20. Austin 2.15
  21. Fresno 1.92
  22. Milwaukee 1.67
  23. Baltimore 1.61
  24. New York 1.52
  25. Washington 1.49
  26. Detroit 1.48
  27. Seattle 1.46
  28. Fort Worth 1.2
  29. Indianapolis 1.17
  30. Dallas 0.77
  31. Oklahoma City 0
  32. Nashville 0
  33. El Paso 0
  34. Boston 0

To see the most dangerous stretches of roadway in cities across America, go here.

Bicycle World unveils slate of free weekly triathlon workouts

Bicycle World Austin has unveiled a slate of free weekly triathlon workouts. Photo courtesy Bicycle World


Once again, proof that you don’t need a lot of money to get fit.

Bicycle World Austin has unveiled a slate of free weekly triathlon workouts led by local coaches and pro triathletes. The six weekly sessions take place at locations across the city and are open to all, from beginners to veteran athletes.

RELATED: Thank four drunk Swedes for your swimrun challenge

“We want to help those who are new to the sport, which can be intimidating and very confusing at first,” Natasha van der Merwe, a professional triathlete and coach who is spearheading Bicycle World’s community outreach program, said in a press release. “It’s daunting to tackle one sport, and triathlon requires athletes to take on three at the same time.”

Here’s the schedule:

  • Monday – 6:30 p.m. Speed and strength, led by Coach Steve at Lamar Middle School Track, 6201 Wynona Avenue.
  • Wednesday – 6 a.m. Weekly triathlon swim hosted by Coach Steve at Rattan Creek Pool, 7617 Elkhorn Mountain Trail; 6:15 a.m. track at Austin High School, 1715 Cesar Chavez Street, hosted by Big Pistachio and BW Racing Team.
  • Thursday – 6:30 p.m. – Triathlon focused cycling workout hosted by Coach Steve at Coach Steve’s house in Northwest Austin (email for directions).
  • Friday – 6:30 a.. swim workout the final Friday of each month hosted by the Austin Triathlon Club at Barton Springs, followed by coffee at Austin Java.
  • Saturday – Bicycle World Saturday Bike Ride, various routes, start times and meet up locations posted on Bicycle World Austin FaceBook page by Wednesday.
  • Sunday – 7 a.m. Long run hosted by BW Racing Team. Meet at Bicycle World Austin parking garage, followed by a social at Austin Java/Whole Foods and other locations.

Along with the free community workouts, Bicycle World also offers twice monthly triathlon workshops that cover everything from basic bike maintenance and equipment needs to nutrition and swimming tips and tricks.

Details about both the weekly workouts and the workshops are posted on Bicycle World’s Facebook page here. Bicycle World Austin is located at 300 South Lamar Boulevard.

The Bicycle World Racing Team includes Natasha Van Der Merwe, “Barney” Paul Matthews, Quincy Arey, Kate Braybrook, Carly Conrad, Haley Koop, Melissa Miller, Padre Mora, Doreen Redenius, Chris Reynolds, CP Ross, Todd Sapio, Aaron Shapley, Alan Smith and Brandi Swicegood.

At Urban Axes, celebrate Four-Twenty with hatchets and beer (but no pot)

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To mark what’s becoming, for some, the newest national holiday, Urban Axes will host a Four-Twenty Party.

No, pot will not be provided. And, in case you’ve been buried in a hole for the last century, marijuana is illegal.

Still, participants will get to fling axes and drink beer at the event, scheduled from 5-8 p.m. April 20.

Jon Crowley prepares a throw during Sunday night league at Austin’s Urban Axes. Julia Robinson/ FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

RELATED: Want to run naked? Head to Star Ranch for Bare Buns 5K this weekend

Cost is $20 and includes admission to a one-hour axe throwing session, plus beer from Victory Brewing Company. For more information, go to

That 4-20 terminology? It apparently comes from five California high school students who met at a certain spot on campus at 4:20 p.m. every day to smoke weed. They used the term “420” as code for marijuana.

Urban Axes is located at 812 Airport Boulevard.

A league competitor takes aim during a warm-up session on Sunday January 21, 2018. Austin’s Urban Axes offers corporate events, walk-ins, and weekly axe throwing leagues. Julia Robinson/ FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Pedal for prizes in upcoming Love to Ride Austin Biking Challenge

Pam Leblanc leaves her home to ride her bike to work in this 2014 file photo. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


About 15 years ago, I signed up for a city-wide commuter challenge. Teams earned points every time they rode a bike someplace, whether it was to work, to run an errand or just for fun.

That challenge worked its magic on me, and I got hooked on riding my bike everywhere. To this day I pedal to work three or four days a week.

RELATED: Want to run naked? Try the Bare Buns 5K this weekend

After a long lapse, the city is once again hosting a commuter challenge this year, with prizes for participants who log the most trips and record the most miles, and for companies who get the highest percentage of employees to bike to work.

The city of Austin is partnering with Love to Ride, a biking encouragement platform, to put on the 2018 Love to Ride Austin Biking Challenge.

Cyclists gather for free breakfast outside Whole Foods on Bike to Work Day in this file photo. Kelly West photo.


The free workplace challenge is designed to get people on bicycles miles by giving them a chance to win prizes including bicycles, saddlebags, helmets, backpacks and more.

The competition targets businesses and organizations in the urban core and runs from May 1-31, and is open to riders of all skill levels, even those who haven’t pedaled a bike in years. Participants can cycle anywhere they like, anytime they like, during the month-long challenge period.

Sign up at Organizers hope to register at least 100 businesses by April 30. For more information, email

Free goat yoga, dance classes and more at Domain Northside’s Fit Fest

Free goat yoga classes are on tap Saturday at Domain Northside. Photo by Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman


More free fitness, people – and this one includes goats, classes by Dance With Me (the dance studio opened by pros from the TV show “Dancing with the Stars”) and fitness classes from several Austin studios.

Domain Northside will host Fit Fest from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. this Saturday on the Rock Rose Lawn at the shopping center, 11700 Domain Boulevard. DJ Cameron will spin music.

RELATED: Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy, Tony Dovolani promise fun with ‘side effect of fitness’ at Austin dance studio

Classes are on a first come, first served basis. Here’s the schedule:

• 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Corepower Yoga Class

• 11 a.m.- 12:00 p.m. Dance With Me Class

• 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Orange Theory Class Round 1

• 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Orange Theory Class Round 2

• 3 p.m.- 4:15 p.m. Goat Yoga Round 1

• 4:15 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Goat Yoga Round 2

Dancing with the Stars professionals Val Chmerkovskiy, left, adjusts a tie worn by Tony Dovolani as Maks Chmerkovskiy looks on during the opening of Dance With Me, a dance studio in the Domain Northside, in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Throughout the Day

• 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. SoulCycle Demos and Peloton Demos

• 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Hair Refresh / Braid Station

For more information call 512-672-8222.

The latest race craze involves swimming in shoes, running in wetsuit, and we’re all in

Amy Bush shows off the outfit she’ll be wearing this weekend for a swimrun race in North Carolina. Photo courtesy Amy Bush


I could turn into a popsicle this weekend.

I’m heading to Red Top Mountain State Park in Georgia to try a crazy new sport – swimrun – that started in Sweden.

Teams of two alternate between running and swimming over a pre-marked wilderness course, staying within 10 meters of each other during the entire race. They wear shoes while they swim and they run in wetsuits. Some races unfold between islands; others between lakes.

At SwimRun Georgia, my race partner Gretch Sanders and I will run through a pine-studded state park, swimming across 10 or so coves.

Conditions are not ideal. The water temperature, I am told, is hovering in the mid-50s. The weather forecast calls for a low of 43 and a high of 59, with partly cloudy skies.

Coincidentally, another Austin athlete is headed to a different swimrun event – SwimRun Lake James in North Carolina. Conditions for her race are even worse. The forecast there calls for a low of 26 and a high of 55, with periodic rain.

I’m not a fan of cold water, as you can see by this photo of me at Barton Springs last winer. Photo by Chris LeBlanc


Good grief. What have we signed up for?

The whole swimrun thing started as a bet between four drunk guys (of course) in Sweden. They challenged each other to race from island to island, stopping at restaurants along the way. The last team to finish had to drink and pay what the team ahead of it had ordered for them.

In 2006, a version of the race went commercial in Sweden, attracting 11 teams. Only two teams finished within the time limit. CNN has ranked the Swimrun World Championship there as one of the toughest races in the world.

I love to swim: I swam around Manhattan Island (yes, in New York) a few years ago with Sanders, my partner on this race. But the water was way warmer. I did jump in the Hudson River once, when water temperatures were in the 50s. I think I lasted about 2 minutes.

I had an entertaining online conversation this week with Amy Bush, the Austin athlete doing SwimRun Lake James. She’s racing alongside Trista Mennen, a former Austinite.

Bush was initially excited about the event, which she describes as the perfect combination of sports – “no bike. Just swimming and running.” Then she saw the forecast. Now we’re both freaking out about the cold.

“I’m just … trying to ignore the whole cold thing,” she wrote me. “For a long time we were like, ‘Well, sure, the water’s going to be in the 50s. But as long as the sun’s out, we’ll be fine!’ And now it’s supposed to be in the 40s and raining.”

I know from swimming at Barton Springs in the winter, where I always wind up shivering in the 70-degree water even if I’m wearing a shortie wetsuit, that bright sunshine mentally makes me feel warmer, even if it’s still cold. That’s not going to happen this weekend. And even if it was sunny, there is a limit to what my brain can do.

“I mean, it’s already completely ridiculous, what we’re doing,” Bush wrote me. “Why not have it be terrible weather, too? Better story, right? I mean, if we live.”

Then she sent me a photo of her race outfit, which looks pretty identical to what I’ve got planned: shortie wetsuit, pull buoy strapped to thigh (to counter the weight of soggy shoes worn during the swim), swim paddles (same story) and swim cap.

“The people walking around Quarry Lake on Saturday morning think I’m a complete nut job as I run around in this,” she wrote.

Well, it’s true. We are nutjobs. But in a good way, right?

“We just have to live through it and then a couple days have to pass, and then we’ll be able to talk about how fun it was.

Once our limbs thaw enough to type,” she wrote.

Look for a recap coming soon. And enjoy the warm weather in Austin this weekend, people.