In yesterday’s blog, I posted a photograph of a Lime electric scooter that someone tossed in Shoal Creek along the hike and bike trail near Fifth Street. I spotted it while riding my bike to work yesterday morning.
That post prompted a flood of photographs taken by people who have spotted abandoned dockless scooters and bikes around Austin. (Thanks for the crowd sourcing, people!)
Which now prompts me to post some of those pictures, and encourage everyone to send me pics of bikes and scooters buried in golf course sand traps, dangling from tree branches, clogging sidewalks, swimming in lakes, dismembered in dark alleys and what not.
Let’s see what we find!
And no cheating. I don’t want more people contributing to the problem. Let the record show that I want you to park your scooters and bicycles responsibly.
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.
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.
Don’t expect to take a flying leap into Balmorhea Pool in West Texas anytime soon.
But after nearly three months of evaluation, crews are set to begin making repairs to pool walls and a concrete apron beneath the diving board, which collapsed during the annual cleaning and draining of the facility in May.
The 1.3-acre, V-shaped oasis, located about 400 miles west of Austin, draws locals and visitors heading to the Big Bend region. It’s also home to two small, endangered desert fish – the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish.
Years of erosion caused by the flow of water from the springs caused the damage. Repairs are expected to take several months and cost $2 million. Crews will build cofferdams, temporarily remove the diving board, salvage existing brick around the pool edge, remove the failing wall and backfill behind it, then install new walls along the north and south sides of the pool.
Officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say they are working to protect the endangered species during the project. They have created habitats outside of the pool for the protection of the fish and other invertebrates, and say they are working to protect the species while work takes place.
No heavy equipment will be used; crews will demolish and remove debris by hand. Cofferdams will allow water to flow through the canals and cienegas while work takes place, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff will monitor water quality and flow to prevent downstream contamination.
“Our plan is to reverse decades of erosive impacts and restore public access to this oasis as soon as possible,” Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks, said in a press release. “It’s regrettable that the timing of this issue has prevented Texans from cooling off in their favorite swimming hole for most of this hot summer, but visitors will find an improved park after badly needed improvements are made to the pool, the historic motor courts and the parks’ popular campground.”
The site has long attracted people. Native Americans, Spanish explorers and U.S. soldiers watered up at San Solomon Springs, which pumps out about 15.5 million gallons of water a day, long before the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into a pool in the 1930s. Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over.
More than 153,000 people visited the park between Sept. 1, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2017. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and cars are turned away.
The pool measures 25 feet deep in places, with a natural bottom. Swimming there feels like gliding through a giant aquarium populated by fish of all sizes. It holds 3.5 million gallons of water, and water temperatures hover between 72 and 76 degrees year-round.
The 45-acre desert park’s day use and picnic area will remain open while the pool is closed. The park’s retro, adobe-style 18-unit motor court closed early this year for renovations and should reopen in 2019.
As the cyclists spin their way up and down hills, through picturesque villages and over stretches of rough cobblestone in France, Armstrong waves his arms, yells at the monitor and lets fly with the occasional cuss word. It’s all recorded and livestreamed for fans around the world through Armstrong’s WeDū portal.
“I get pretty animated when I watch,” Armstrong said Sunday, while driving from his summer home in Aspen to catch a polo match down the canyon with his fiance, Anna Hansen, and two of their children. “And I do slip up and say bad words from time to time.”
“With broadcasting, a lot of times you have a boss and you have a certain decorum and you’re beholden to certain sponsors or a governing body,” says Hager, who for years co-hosted, along with Sandy McIlree, the morning show on Austin radio station Mix 94.7. “(Armstrong) gives such a raw honest look at it because he’s not beholden to anyone. He can say whatever he wants.”
These days, Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner stripped of his victories in 2012 after a doping scandal, makes no apologies. He knows some people will tune in, and others, still angry over the cheating scandal, will never again listen to a word he says.
It’s all part of life post cycling for Armstrong, who launched “The Forward Podcast with Lance Armstrong” in June 2016. That program, available for free via YouTube, FaceBook and iTunes, features Armstrong interviewing an intriguing parade of celebrities, from musicians such as the Avett Brothers and Bob Schneider to retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., politician Wendy Davis, former Austin police chief Art Acevedo, billionaire businessman John Paul DeJoria, and free diver Tanya Streeter. Talk focuses on everything from current events to politics, family life and the arts, and it rarely touches on cycling.
But some fans still want Armstrong’s perspective on bike racing, so last year, he teamed with Hager to add a separate series of podcasts just during the Tour de France. The pair built on that idea this year, and have once again put “The Forward” podcast on hold while they spend a month producing “The Move,” which includes daily coverage of the 21-stage Tour de France, plus some other special features.
Hager, who’s done his own share of recreational bike racing, drove his trailer to Aspen, where Armstrong owns a home, parked it in the neighbor’s driveway, then plugged in a bristling array of audio visual equipment. He tees up questions for Armstrong as they watch, which helps listeners who may not understand the nuances of bike racing.
“He knows enough about cycling to be dangerous, but spent 20 plus years talking to people on the corner of Main Street and First, so if it starts to get technical or wonky he can bring it back to Every Man Jack speak,” Armstrong says.
“The Move” podcast lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, but real Armstrong fans can get more content. A $60 WeDū season pass allows members to observe Hager and Armstrong as they watch the last 20 kilometers of each stage of the Tour live, before they record their podcast.
“I always said last year I wished people could see him while he’s watching the Tour unfold. Whether it’s a climb or sprint, he jumps out of his skin, he’s losing his mind,” Hager says.
Members can also watch pre-production meetings and participate in special evening “happy hour” sessions, when they can email questions directly to Hager for discussion. They also get a WeDū Tshirt and discounts on merchandise.
“We’re legitimately having cocktails and fielding questions in real time,” Hager says. Former professional cyclist George Hincapie dropped by for a session last week; NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson is expected this week.
A season pass will include the behind-the-scenes coverage of other cycling races, too. So far, about 1,000 fans from around the world have signed up as members.
As for this year’s Tour, it’s particularly technical, according to Armstrong. Sunday’s stage included 15 sections of rough cobbled roads – the most ever in the Tour de France. Monday is a rest day, and coming days will include some short, explosive mountain stages.
“The first week was very hectic, with a bunch of nervous finishes. The guys are already tired,” says Armstrong, who picked a favorite – 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali from Italy – early on, but is backpedaling a tad on his choice. “I might regret picking him, but it’s too late.”
“There’s already been quite a shakeup, there’s been a team time trial, and some very technical stages in what almost looks like Austin that are real hilly but don’t have long climbs,” he says. “Now we have the rest day and three days in the Alps, culminating with Alpe d’Huez on Thurday, then some transition days where they basically have to ride across the country to the Pyrenees. It’s hard and hot. The Pyrenees are really the show this year, I think.”
After the tour ends July 29 in Paris, Armstrong and Hager will put together a “best of” podcast featuring edited versions of some of their favorite interviews from “The Forward.”
“We’ll edit it down, put those up, and then launch a new structure for ‘The Forward’ in the fall which will be more based around specific themes like fear or cancer,” Armstrong says.
Does all the Tour watching make him yearn for his racing days?
“Not at all,” he says. “I’m happy to be in Aspen, Colorado.”
Which is where he plans to stay for the summer, before returning to Austin sometime in September.
He has another bit of business coming up, too: a wedding.
Armstrong got engaged to Hansen last May, but neither one is saying when a wedding will happen, or exactly where, but they are considering both Marfa and Napa Valley.
For more information about WeDū, or to sign up as a member, go to www.wedu.team.
Chalk up another long-distance cycling accomplishment for Andrew Willis, who gets kicks out of riding a bicycle for hundreds of miles through fry-an-egg-on-a-sidewalk heat.
Willis won the World Ultra Cycling Association’s National Championship event, 24 Hours in the Canyon, earlier this month by pedaling 448 miles in a single day.
The race started at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon State Park at noon, when it’s nice and hot. Cyclists rode up to the rim, pedaled 100 miles, then dropped back into the canyon to complete as many 5-mile loops within the park as they could before noon the next day.
“I really get into the math behind it, trying to squeeze a few seconds out of every lap with less power and a lower heartrate,” Willis said from the phone this week, while spinning on a bike trainer inside his home. (Always training, that man.)
It took Willis about 16 minutes flat for each 5-mile loop. The hardest part? The heat. And then the cold. Temperatures rose to about 105 at the bottom of the canyon during the day, then dropped into the 40s at night.
“That was really hard on a lot of peoples’ bodies,” said Willis, whose company Holland Racing puts on the weekly Driveway Series of bike races each summer.
Willis spent a lot of time pedaling on his bike trainer, along with riding and working in the yard during the heat of the day, to prepare for 24 Hours in the Canyon. He also paced himself by starting slow and building intensity after the sun set.
“Everyone else went out hard and had huge gaps on me,” Willis said. “At the end of the 100 miles, I came into the canyon in third place. It was hard to not freak out and try to hunt them down then – I had to remind myself I still had 15 hours. Sure enough, they pushed it too hard in the heat and by hour 12 and 13 they were falling apart and throwing up, and I hadn’t pushed myself at all yet. That’s when I turned it on.”
Two years ago, Willis completed the Race Across the West, a 930-mile race from California to Colorado. He’s now considering competing in the Race Across America, a 3,089-mile race from the west to east coast of the United States.
I’ve never been a fan of sleep deprivation, so I’ve always grimaced at the thought of the Texas Water Safari, the notoriously grueling, 260-mile paddle race from Aquarena Springs in San Marcos to the town of Seadrift on the Texas coast.
That, along with the inevitable snake-infested logjams, alligators, clown hallucinations, and water-logged skin that “turns to tissue paper,” always sounded pretty horrible.
But I can feel my mind bending, just a tad.
This year I’m taking the easy first step of observing and writing about the event, which starts June 9. I headed to Palmetto State Park over Memorial Day weekend to meet some of the paddlers who gathered there to get in some training hours.
I knew I couldn’t keep up with them, so I brought along my husband and our Alumacraft canoe, and hitched a shuttle up to Zedler Mill, about 16 river miles above the park, to log an easy paddle myself while they sped down the river toward Gonzales. That would give me a taste of a beginner-friendly stretch of the course, plus time afterward to pick some of the racers’ brains.
It took me about three-and-a-half leisurely hours to make my run, including stops for a picnic and swimming. About 4 miles downstream of the Interstate 10 bridge, we encountered an obstacle dubbed “Son of Ottine,” a rocky drop in the river. We pulled off on the left side (avoiding a canoe-eating channel we’d been warned about) and lugged our boat partway down the little cascade, then pushed back into the flow. We eyeballed blue herons, dipped our paddles in water next to gar and drifted through a few clouds of dragonflies along the way, too.
And, yes. The thought of one day racing the Texas Water Safari, which started in 1963 and is billed as the “World’s Toughest Boat Race,” seems a little less crazy with every dip of the paddle.
If I can only get over that sleep deprivation part …
Ecology Action of Texas has landed a $29,200 grant to renovate a 9.7-acre park on the site of a former landfill in the Montopolis neighborhood in southeast Austin.
The grant, part of $3.38 million in grants to fund 19 recreational trail projects around the state, will be used to renovate the half-mile trail network, establish a new side trail, and to spruce up three trail heads, signages and a picnic area at Circle Acres.
Despite its history of destructive uses, the 9.7-acre pocket of urban parkland still holds traces of forest, wetlands and grassland.
The grants were funded through the federal gas tax generated by gasoline purchases for off-road motorcycles and four-wheelers.
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.
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.
You probably won’t find doughnuts at the top of anyone’s list of so-called health super foods.
But the University of Texas students behind Austin-based Elite Sweets have unveiled what they describe as a healthier alternative to those traditional breakfast pastries, and they say their “protein doughnuts” make the perfect post-workout snack for athletes.
The doughnuts come in cinnamon sugar, peanut butter, birthday cake and chocolate chip flavors.
Not to burst the runner’s high you just went out and earned, but don’t go expecting fluffy, puffy, yeasty rings of dough. These dense little numbers taste vaguely like the beefed-up version of a cake doughnut you’d buy from a vending machine, only less sweet and with a slight plasticky (or something) afterburn.
Still, they pack a powerful, 16-gram wallop of protein. That’s a good dent in the recommended dietary allowance of .36 grams of protein per pound of person per day – or about 56 grams for the average sedentary man and 46 for the average sedentary woman. Most regular doughnuts contain little to no protein.
Brothers Amir, who attends UT, and Amin Bahari, a UT graduate, co-founded Elite Sweets along with two former UT football players, Timothy Cole Jr. and Caleb Bluiett. The brothers lived near a doughnut shop just west of campus, and Cole and Bluiett spent a lot of time there, too.
“Being in college with a low budget, that was a lot of our meals – doughnuts,” Amir Bahari said. “That or Whataburger.”
Convinced that everyone likes doughnuts, the men decided to develop a high-protein, less sugary version that would appeal to athletes. They began working on the product almost a year ago, targeting health-conscious eaters, many of whom had eliminated doughnuts from their diets.
“We decided to make it healthier, because clearly all our lifestyles revolved around health and fitness,” he said. “Most of our customers are like, ‘We haven’t had doughnuts in years.’”
While a conventional doughnut contains about 300 calories and 20 to 30 grams of sugar, an Elite Sweets cinnamon sugar version, which is sweetened with stevia, contains about 200 calories and 2 grams of sugar. It also contains 15 grams of fat, mainly from the almond flour used instead of processed wheat flour to make it, and a good, 12-gram jolt of dietary fiber, nearly half of the recommended daily intake.
The doughnuts are gluten free. They last about two weeks in a refrigerator or three months in a freezer, Bahari said.
Bahari delivered a sampler pack to the Austin American-Statesman containing four frozen, individually packed “doughnuts” and tubs of pink frosting, chocolate frosting and colorful candy sprinkles.
In a blind taste test, you wouldn’t mistake an Elite Sweets doughnut for one of those famous, orange-hued patries from Round Rock Donuts. But if you think of it as a new kind of protein bar, well, maybe.
“We say go ahead and eat one in the morning with coffee or as a post-workout snack,” Amir Bahari said.
The doughnuts are baked in Austin, and you can buy them at two coffee shops – Cafe Creme, 1834 East Oltorf Street, and 360 Uno, 3801 North Capitol of Texas Highway in Davenport Village, and two fitness studios – Defiant CrossFit, 16801 Radholme Court in Round Rock, and Ignite Fitnez, 1005 East St. Elmo Road. They sell for $3.50 each. You can also purchased them online at elitedonut.com for delivery in the Austin area, with a minimum order of six.
Eventually, the company hopes to develop a line of sweets that includes brownies, cookies and cheesecake.
“We sincerely regret to inform you that due to extenuating circumstances, the Pursuit Series event at Reveille Peak Ranch in Texas, April 27-29, will be cancelled. Full refunds will be provided for those who have purchased 1 or 3-Day Pursuit Passes, Individual Camping Passes, or signed up for the Chris Burkard Photo Workshop. Refunds will be processed immediately and should post to your account within approximately 5-7 business days.”
Summer camp, it turns out, isn’t just for kids.
A California company is bringing an adult version of adventure camp – complete with small, expert-led sessions in everything from trail running to rock climbing, mountain biking, slack lining and standup paddleboarding – to Reveille Peak Ranch, a 1,300-acre Hill Country retreat near Burnet, Texas.
And did we mention the nightly happy hours and live music?
The first CamelBak Pursuit events took place in California and Utah last year. In 2018, the series will expand to New York and Texas, where organizers expect between 500 and 800 people to register for the Reveille Peak Ranch edition set for April 27-29.
In choose-your-own-adventure fashion, participants can plot out a custom schedule of activities ahead of time. Field sessions include night photography, outdoor first aid, back country meals, trailside mountain bike repairs, how to pack a backpack and basecamp cooking. For an additional fee, participants can sign up for a full-day photography workshop with photographer Chris Burkard, whose sessions will cover style, composition, gear, post production, the business side of a photography career and social media.
Some top gear manufacturers, including Marmot, Leki, Kuat Racks, Mountain House, Backcountry, Merrell, Rinse Bath & Body, Igloo Coolers, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Sufferfest Beer, are partnering with CamelBak to put on the event.
Participants can bring their own tent or pay an upgraded fee to stay in a tipi or safari tent. Organizers will bring in portable showers and toilets.
One and three-day passes are available, with cost starting at $225 for one day and $399 for three days ($850 with the photography workshop). A camping pass costs an additional $75, or opt to stay in a tipi with two twin beds for $1,299 or a safari tent for $1,599. All meals, classes, gear and drinks are included, and participants get gifts from vendors and sponsors.
Reveille Peak Ranch is located at 105 County Road 114 in Burnet, about an hour’s drive from Austin. For more information and a full schedule, go here.