Trail Foundation announces plans for new span beneath Congress Bridge

The Trail Foundation officials have announced plans for a new over-the-water section of trail beneath the Ann Richards-Congress Avenue Bridge. This rendering shows what it will look like. Courtesy The Trail Foundation
The Trail Foundation officials have announced plans for a new over-the-water section of trail beneath the Ann Richards-Congress Avenue Bridge. This rendering shows what it will look like. Courtesy The Trail Foundation

A year and a half after the opening of the boardwalk, a stretch of the Butler Trail along the north shore of Lady Bird Lake is preparing for a makeover.

A new 264-foot section of the hike-and-bike trail will extend over the water for 184 feet. The span will eliminate a blind corner and make that portion of the trail accessible to those with disabilities. It will include a jutted-out viewing area where people can watch residents of the city’s famous bat colony emerge on summer nights.

The $2.5-million project is expected to open in about two years. A concept design is finished and contractors are working on construction drawings. When they are done, The Trail Foundation will select a contractor. Construction will take another nine to 12 months.

“It’s not going to be a mini-boardwalk,” said Susan Rankin, executive director of The Trail Foundation, which works to enhance and protect the Butler Trail. “It is over water and it is 14-foot wide, but it’s more streamlined and simply curved. This is designed so it doesn’t compete with or distract from the historic Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.”

The existing trail, shown here, is narrow and has a blind corner. Photo courtesy The Trail Foundation
The existing trail, shown here, is narrow and has a blind corner. Photo courtesy The Trail Foundation

A local donor, Robert F. Smith, founder and chief executive officer of Vista Equity Partners, has already committed $1.25 million to help fund the project. The Trail Foundation will raise another $1.25 million in a matching campaign.

No tax money will be used for the project, and city of Austin Public Works, Parks and Recreation Department and Watershed Protection officials will collaborate to review and approve all plans.

Foundation officials looked at factors including safety, trail user input and funding sources when they selected the span as its next major project.

“In this instance, what’s key is safety,” Rankin says. “(The existing trail) is only 6-feet wide and has a blind curve – you cannot see who’s coming.”

The plank construction of the existing path in that spot also makes it inaccessible to those with disabilities. “This is the most unsafe place on the trail from our perspective,” Rankin says.

The improvements are needed because as the city’s population has increased, so has trail usage. A 2011 study found that about 2,400 people used one part of the trail between 9 and 11 a.m. on a busy Saturday morning. New automatic counters being installed along the trail later this year will allow officials to determine more current usage, but Rankin says it’s up since the boardwalk beneath Interstate 35 opened in June 2014.

For more information about The Trail Foundation go here.

Learn how to climb Colorado’s 14-ers at free class

 

Hikers make their way to the top of Capitol Peak, one of Colorado's 54 14,000-foot peaks. Photo courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative
Hikers make their way to the top of Capitol Peak, one of Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot peaks. Photo courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

 

Tackle one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks and you’ll get views that stretch for miles – plus a pretty fantastic sense of accomplishment.

But don’t head out unprepared.

Hikers can learn the basics about climbing Colorado’s 14-ers at a free session at 7 p.m. Wednesday at REI Gateway, 9901 North Capital of Texas Highway.

Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, will speak Wednesday at REI Gateway. Photo courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiatvie
Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, will speak Wednesday at REI Gateway. Photo courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiatvie

Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Golden, Colorado, that works to protect the state’s 54 peaks with an elevation of 14,000 feet or more, will talk about preparation, hiker safety and Leave No Trace practices to employ while hiking in the mountains. He’ll share advice about what it takes to get in shape to climb, what gear to bring, where to see the best wildflowers, when to hike for the best weather and how to take the best photographs once you’re there.

Crews from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative work to improve trails on Colorado mountains. Photo courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.
Crews from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative work to improve trails on Colorado mountains. Photo courtesy Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

It’s probably not as hard as you think. I’ve made it to the top of a handful of 14-ers, including Quandary, where I watched a guy snap on skis and leap off the snowy backside in the middle of the summer, and Mount Evans, where I pedaled a bike up a long, zig-zagging road and hoisted my bike over my head when I reached the top.

A few years ago I rode a bike to the top of Mount Evans. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
A few years ago I rode a bike to the top of Mount Evans. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

“You can fly to Denver, drive an hour into mountains and be within a few miles of four peaks over 14,000 feet,” says Brian Sargeant, development and communications coordinator for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. “Then it takes three or four hours of hiking to get to top and into an environment you can’t see anywhere else in the country.”

Besides Quandary and Mount Evans, some of the most accessible 14-ers in Colorado are Mount Bierstadt and Pike’s Peak. “It’s a really great feeling to climb one of them,” Sargeant says.

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative builds trails, restores eroded areas and provides community education about the peaks.

To register for Wednesday’s event, go here.

For more information about the Colorado Fourteener Initiative, go here.

Registration open for 2016 BP MS 150 bike ride

Riders make their way down FM969 past some flowers during the BP MS 150 bike ride in this 2013 file photo. (Austin American-Statesman / Rodolfo Gonzalez)
Riders make their way down FM969 past some flowers during the BP MS 150 bike ride in this 2013 file photo. (Austin American-Statesman / Rodolfo Gonzalez)

Want to pedal your bike from Houston all the way to Austin next spring?

Registration has opened for the 2016 BP MS 150. The two-day ride, a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is scheduled for April 16-17.

The ride resembles a rolling party, with a nearly non-stop stream of cyclists pedaling for a good cause. When I rode a few years ago, I spotted folks in costume, bikes equipped with boom boxes blaring music, and one fluffy white dog who rode in a handlebar carrier.

Babs Thomas, of Georgetown, who has muscular dystrophy, looks across the finish line searching for her husband and daughter, who rode in this 2013 BP MS 150 ride. (Austin American-Statesman / Rodolfo Gonzalez)
Babs Thomas, of Georgetown, who has muscular dystrophy, looks across the finish line searching for her husband and daughter, who rode in this 2013 BP MS 150 ride. (Austin American-Statesman / Rodolfo Gonzalez)

More than 2.3 million people around the world have multiple sclerosis, which affects the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. More than twice as many women than men are diagnosed with the disease; most are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.

Travis Parker, 31, of League City, runs towards the finish line carrying his damaged bike during the BP MS 150 in this file photo. (Austin American-Statesman / Rodolfo Gonzalez)
Travis Parker, 31, of League City, runs towards the finish line carrying his damaged bike during the BP MS 150 in this file photo. (Austin American-Statesman / Rodolfo Gonzalez)

The first day of last year’s ride was cancelled due to rain and mud at the overnight camping spot in LaGrange. Still, they raised more than $20.3 million. Over the ride’s 31-year history, the event has raised more than $224 million. Proceeds fund research, programs and services for those living with MS.

This year’s event is expected to draw nearly 13,000 cyclists who, hopefully, will remain dry. Participants must raise at least $400, but the average rider contributes more than $1,200.

BP America has been title sponsor of the ride since 2001. Earlier this year it renewed its sponsorship for another three years.

To register for the 2016 ride, go here.

Beeline Bikes expanding its fleet of mobile mechanics to Austin

Beeline Bikes, a fleet of mobile bike mechanics, is expanding to Austin. Photo courtesy Beeline Bikes
Beeline Bikes, a fleet of mobile bike mechanics, is expanding to Austin. Photo courtesy Beeline Bikes

Don’t want to hassle with dropping your bike off at a bike shop for repairs? A California-based fleet of mobile bike shops that’s expanding to Austin will make house calls.

Pete Buhl, a former tech industry executive who likes to cycle, started Beeline Bikes out of frustration. Traditional bike shops either wouldn’t service his brand of bicycle or couldn’t get the job done in a timely manner.

He envisioned an alternative – a van loaded with bike parts that would drive to a bike owner’s home or office to make repairs. In two years, that idea has grown into 15 mobile Beeline Bike shops that serve customers in the San Francisco Bay area.

The vans are stocked with parts and accessories. Photo courtesy Beeline Bikes
The vans are stocked with parts and accessories. Photo courtesy Beeline Bikes

The mobile mechanics offer tune-ups and maintenance for kids’ bikes up to pro level racing bikes. They also sell bicycling accessories.

“Our goal is to get more people riding bikes,” says Peter Small, director of marketing and programs for Beeline. “We’re trying to make that as convenient as possible.”

Company officials are traveling to Austin Monday and Tuesday to meet with people interested in owning one of the mobile shops. For more information email Todd Haavind at todd@beelinebikes.com or go here.

Company officials chose Austin for an expansion because of its population and cycling density. “Austin’s a very fit city and a growing city as well,” Small says. “Austin’s a great cycling community with a really passionate group of cyclists.”

He said he expects the first vans to hit the streets here in early 2016.

For more information about Beeline, go here.

 

At Collings Guitars Inc., break time means a game of four square

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Employees of Collings Guitars Inc. take a break every work day to play four square. Photo by Kelly West/Austin American-Statesman
Employees of Collings Guitars Inc. take a break every work day to play four square. Photo by Kelly West/Austin American-Statesman

At exactly 3:15 p.m. every day, work grinds to a halt inside a high-end guitar shop between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs.

Artisans spill out of the offices of Collings Guitars Inc., where they meticulously hand-craft instruments used by some of the world’s top musicians. They grab a rubber ball and take position on a four-square court painted on the asphalt parking lot. And for the next 15 minutes, they sling balls and holler during a raucous game of four-square.

“It gets pretty intense,” says Steve McCreary, general manager of the company.

Nobody’s really sure exactly how long four square has been a thing here, or who started it. McCreary does know that they used to play basketball, but this became a lot more fun.

About 20 players show up most days, rotating in and out of the game. Photo by Kelly West/Austin American-Statesman
About 20 players show up most days, rotating in and out of the game. Photo by Kelly West/Austin American-Statesman

On a typical day, about 20 players show up – a quarter of the company’s workforce. The rules are simple: One bounce per square. Hit the ball out of bounds or hold it and you’re out and someone else rotates in. The games get rowdy.

“It’s awesome,” McCreary says. “The nature of what we do – very high-end woodworking production – is tedius, and to get out there and yell and laugh, it’s a little bit of a release. ”

Collings makes acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins and ukeleles. Lyle Lovett’s been playing one for years; Robert Earl Keene, Rodney Crowell, Charlie Sexton, the Police and the Eagles also play them.

So far, no playground fights have broken out, although the competition gets heated.

“It’s big fun. It’s kind of a nice release, a break from the business and manufacturing world and stuff we do all day,” McCreary says.

Andrea Fisher: Top seed in this year’s Flotrack Beer Mile World Championships

Andrea Fisher chugs a beer on her way to a second place finish at last year's Flotrack Beer Mile World Championship. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Andrea Fisher chugs a beer on her way to a second place finish at last year’s Flotrack Beer Mile World Championship. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Chug, run, repeat – four times.

That’s the idea behind the beer mile, and the sport’s best will convene in Austin on Dec. 1 for the 2015 Flotrack Beer Mile World Championships.

Among the competitors? Local triathlete and former University of Texas swimmer Andrea Fisher, the top-seeded athlete in the women’s elite field. She placed second at last year’s championships, held at Circuit of the Americas, with a time of 6:28 – the second fastest women’s beer mile in history and a master’s world record.

And step back, beer milers, because unlike last year, she’s actually training this time.

Fisher just returned from the Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Kona, where she placed eighth in her age group. Now she’s focusing on running short distances and hitting the occasional happy hour to hone her beer drinking skills. She hopes to run a 5:20 pace on race day.

“It’s pretty funny and comical and flattering at the same time,” she says of her number-one seeding.

Chris Kimbrough, a top master’s runner (and mother of six), is also returning for the event, although she no longer lives in Austin.

“If Chris learns how to drink better, we’ve got a race,” Fisher says. “She’s got the leg speed and I’ve got the drinking.”

Competitors at the Beer Mile World Championship make four loops on a track, chugging a 12-ounce beer each time. Photo by Julia Robinson for Austin American-Statesman
Competitors at the Beer Mile World Championship make four loops on a track, chugging a 12-ounce beer each time. Photo by Julia Robinson for Austin American-Statesman

Long held unofficially, under cover of darkness at school tracks around the world, the sport went official last year, with professional meet standards, automatic timing, referees and a $2,500 cash prize for winners. More than 200 runners came from as far away as Sweden and Australia to compete, and a Canadian postal carrier sloshed away with the men’s elite trophy. (He clocked a finishing time of 5:00.23.)

Expect the same this year, when the race moves downtown, to the east parking lot of the Austin American-Statesman.

“It’s crazy,” says Mark Floreani, co-founder of FloSports, an Austin-based company that live streams running, softball, wrestling, gymnastics and other fitness events, and creates video programming and stages competitions. “There’s a lot more people doing it now and trying for the record.”

For the competition, runners must down a full 12-ounce can of 5 percent alcohol content beer. This year’s sponsor is Resignation Brewery, which will pour its KCCO line of beers. Excessive spillage means disqualification; so does vomiting.

Vomiting means automatic disqualification from the Beer Mile World Championships. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Vomiting means automatic disqualification from the Beer Mile World Championships. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Elites can bring their own beer, and brand choice is critical because foaminess plays a key role. So does temperature. Too cold and it’s tough to chug, too warm and it gets frothy and unpleasant. Experienced beer milers will tell you that you don’t feel drunk until the running part’s over.

Divisions at the 2015 FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships include  open heats, a sub-elite heat where runners must submit their times and qualify to participate, a corporate relay, and elite heats for both men and women to crown the beer mile’s 2015 World Champions. Last year’s winner, Corey Gallager, along with U.S. Olympians and dedicated beer milers from around the world, are planning to compete.

Admission is free to the public. Expect a beer garden, food trucks and music.

Race registration is $35. To sign up, go here.

Storms wash out parts of Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake

 

The trail near Auditorium Shores is washed out. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The trail near Auditorium Shores is washed out. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Last Friday’s deluge wreaked some havoc on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake.

Heavy rains eroded stretches of the bank and created bicycle-tire grabbing ruts. Gravel is washed out all over the place, and several trees are down.

The storm knocked down trees downstream of Barton Springs. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The storm knocked down trees downstream of Barton Springs. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

This morning, crews were out, working hard to replace gravel carried away in the storms.

All that means a bumpy ride for bicyclists, and some hop-scotching over gullies for runners and walkers.

Take care, especially on stretches of the trail downstream from Barton Springs Pool, where downed trees are piled on the sides of the trail and part of the 20-foot bank down to Barton Creek has slid.

On the bright side? I noticed this morning that the Zilker Tree is already going up. Elves have attached the first strands of lights to the moonlight tower in Zilker Park, and it won’t be long before more go up.

The lights are going up on the Zilker Tree. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The lights are going up on the Zilker Tree. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

And crossing the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek today, I spotted these two kayakers out for a paddle.

You don’t see that when you’re stuck in a car on Mopac…

Kayakers paddle up Barton Creek on Tuesday morning. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Kayakers paddle up Barton Creek on Tuesday morning. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Fundraiser Saturday to buy handcycle for paralyzed triathlete Laurie Allen

Laurie Allen stands in a standing frame as she works with Nicole Thompson at Project Walk, a spinal cord injury recovery facility, in August. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Laurie Allen stands in a standing frame as she works with Nicole Thompson at Project Walk, a spinal cord injury recovery facility, in August. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A fundraiser this weekend will raise money to buy two custom handcycles so Austin triathlete Laurie Allen can return to racing.

Allen, 44, was soaking in a hot tub with friends last February when she got out to cool off. The side was icy, and with no railing behind her she fell 10 feet, fracturing a vertebrae and tearing ligaments in her neck.

She underwent neck surgery the morning after the fall. Initially she couldn’t move anything below her shoulders, but now she can move her arms and has sensation in her right leg and trunk.

Matt Allen lifts Laurie Allen into their vehicle after an appointment with her neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Webb at the NeuroTexas Institute in April. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Matt Allen lifts Laurie Allen into their vehicle after an appointment with her neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Webb at the NeuroTexas Institute in April. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The accident has meant an abrupt change for Allen, who has finished about 75 triathlons, including nine Ironman distance events, plus a slew of ultra distance runs, cyclocross bike races and adventure races.

Despite the challenges, Allen radiates positivity. She’s back at work at a software company. She makes laps around the track at Anderson High School in her wheelchair and has taken a few tennis lessons.

Allen had another surgery last week, but already she’s thinking about returning to racing.

Proceeds from the Grill and Chill for Laurie Allen this Saturday will raise money to buy her two customized handcycles. The event is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Travis County Exposition Center, 7311 Decker Lane, outside the expo for the Ironman 70.3 Austin triathlon.

The menu will include hamburgers ($4), sausage wraps ($3), hot dogs ($2) and chips or drink ($1). A $50 donation buys the Laurie Combo – a meal with chips and a drink.

Those who can’t go to the expo can support Allen via a virtual cookout. The menu? A virtual hamburger for $100, a virtual sausage wrap for $50, a virtual hot dog for $25 or a virtual drink for $10. To donate go here.

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