Bring on the dehydrated meals – I’m off to backpack the John Muir Trail!

Pam LeBlanc loves trees - and tents and backpacking. She's headed to California to backpack the John Muir Trail. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc loves trees – and tents and backpacking. She’s headed to California to backpack the John Muir Trail. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

This is it.

I’m winging my way to California on Saturday and will take the first steps on a long-awaited backpacking trip on Sunday.

If all goes well, I’ll spend the next 16 days backpacking most of the John Muir Trail, which starts at Yosemite National Park and finishes at Mount Whitney.

Want to follow along?

LeBlanc will be eating lots of dehydrated food, including these fruit from Crunchies. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
LeBlanc will be eating lots of dehydrated food, including these fruit from Crunchies. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

My husband and I will carry a DeLorme inReach satellite communication device, so we can let friends and family know we’re safe even when we’re out of cell phone range.

We’ll make daily updates on a map here, so you can track our progress.

I won’t be able to blog until after I get off the trail on Sept. 5, although I may be able to post a few words to the Fit City page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FitCityAustin using the DeLorme, so check there.

Other than that, I’m out of here.

Bring on the dehydrated meals, the tents, the water filtration straws, the 11 mountain passes, the snuffling black bears, the skinny dipping and the dirty clothes.

Be good, people. And stay fit!

Cyclist Lawson Craddock talks about his first Tour de France

T

Lawson Craddock returned to Austin this week after competing in his first Tour de France. Photo by Graham Watson
Lawson Craddock returned to Austin this week after competing in his first Tour de France. Photo by Graham Watson

hat’s one Tour de France in the books for Lawson Craddock.

The 24-year-old professional cyclist returned to Austin this week after finishing what’s been called the hardest endurance sporting event in the world.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Craddock, 24, who lives and trains in Austin during the winter months. “It was humbling. It’s a very difficult race.”

Iron Works Barbecue, 100 Red River Street, will host a party to celebrate Craddock’s accomplishments starting at 7 p.m. Saturday. The public is invited to the free event.

craddock 2
Lawson Craddock relaxes with his family after a stage of the Tour de France. From left are father Tom, fiance Chelsie, Lawson, and mother Ellen Craddock. Family photo

The Tour de France spans 21 days and covers more than 2,000 miles. Craddock calls competing in it the fulfillment of a lifetime dream.

“The race itself is on a whole different level,” he said. “There’s a reason it’s the hardest endurance sporting event in the world. There are a lot of highs and lows over a three-week race and I definitely experienced some of that.”

The cyclist started off well at the Tour, but crashed about halfway through it. “I landed hard on my knee and finished the last person on the road one day,” he said. “After about two weeks, a crash takes a toll and your body stops recovering.”

He says suffered through the last week of the race, but expects to return to it in the future.

“This year was a big step for me, getting to the race, making it through and finishing,” Craddock said. “They say you’ve got to ride the Tour once before you can really truly race it. I’m happy to get my first Tour under my belt.”

He’ll train in Austin for the next few weeks before heading to Canada to compete in the Tour of Alberta, which starts Sept. 1. Central Texas, he says, offers some of the best training in the country.

“During the winter, Texas has some of the tamest weather. It allows you to be on the bike almost every day and not get snowed in. It never gets really too cold to ride,” he said. “And the cycling community in Austin is incredible.”

During winter training, he rides an average of six days a week, pedaling 80 to 100 miles a day. One of his favorite routes? Pedaling to Wimberley to get breakfast tacos.

Iron Works to welcome Tour de France cyclist Lawson Craddock back to Austin

welcomebackLawson

Iron Works Barbecue will host a party Saturday to welcome professional cyclist Lawson Craddock back to Austin after finishing his first Tour de France.

The party is set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Iron Works, 100 Red River Street. The event is free and open to the public and will include giveaways from Austin B-Cycle, Shiner Beer, Real Ale and Go Texan.

“Lawson’s a great kid and I really wanted to do something to show him some love from his current hometown,” said Aaron Morris, general manager of Iron Works Barbecue. “He’s a fan of the restaurant and I’m a fan of his.”

Craddock, 24, grew up in Houston but now lives in Austin. (Look for him tonight at the Thursday Night Crit series at The Driveway Austin.) He’s the first Texan to race the Tour de France since Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven wins because he cheated.

Craddock rode the tour with Cannondale’s pro cycling team. Before the race ended, he had finished in the top 20 in several stages, got into a breakaway but also got dropped. Not bad for a Tour rookie.

“When I was growing up, we shut the whole city down for Lance,” said Morris, a life-long cycling fan who used to race road and mountain bikes. “I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something for this guy.’ I think it’s great we have a cyclist back in the race.”

John Conley returns to Austin, preparing for skin graft surgery

John Conley, shown here Monday with his wife Stacey at the airport in Hilo, Hawaii, is back in Austin and will undergo surgery Thursday. Photo courtesy John Conley
John Conley, shown here Monday with his wife Stacey at the airport in Hilo, Hawaii, is back in Austin and will undergo surgery Thursday. Photo courtesy John Conley

 

Recently retired Austin race director John Conley, who spent three weeks in Hawaii fighting a case of necrotizing fasciitis, returned to Austin this week and is preparing for more surgery.

Conley was vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii when he came down with the rare bacterial infection, also known as flesh-eating bacteria, after swimming in a shallow tide pool near Hilo. He underwent two surgeries at Hilo Regional Medical Center in Hawaii to remove affected tissue, and nearly lost his leg.

Necrotizing fasciitis, a serious bacterial skin infection, spreads quickly and kills the body’s soft tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2010, approximately 700 to 1,100 cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by group A strep have occurred each year in the United States, according to the agency.

Conley will be admitted to Brackenridge Hospital for surgery on Thursday. Doctors plan to remove skin from his right thigh and graft it to his lower leg.

“The body will do the rest,” Conley said.

If the surgery goes well, he may be released as soon as Friday. But if the grafts don’t take or another problem develops, he may need additional surgery.

John Conley, center, spent three weeks at a hospital in Hawaii recovering from a case of flesh-eating bacteria. Photo courtesy Hilo Regional Hospital
John Conley, center, spent three weeks at a hospital in Hawaii recovering from a case of flesh-eating bacteria. Photo courtesy Hilo Regional Medical Center.

“I’m looking at about five or six weeks post surgery before I’m up and around in physical therapy,” he said.

Conley, who spent 19 years as race director of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon and 20 years working with the 3M Half Marathon, said Wednesday that coming back to Texas felt like “a flight to liberation.”

When we flew over Austin, I literally had tears in my eyes I was so happy,” he said.

Conley says the lower portion of his left leg, which has no fat or fascia, looks like he stepped on a landmine, or a page from an anatomy lesson. He should know; he used to be a nurse. But the muscle looks good, from many years of running.

Conley has been exercising the best he can while he’s in the hospital, doing dips on his walker, squats on his good leg, and a modified version of lunges.

“I’m trying to get my heart rate up, because I’m concerned about being de-trained,” he said.

He’s also drawing inspiration from his friend and local running coach Gilbert Tuhabonye, who was nearly burned to death in a massacre in his homeland of Burundi in 1993. Tuhabonye, who was best man at Conley’s wedding, had skin grafts all over his body.

“If Gilbert can do it, I can do it,” Conley said.

Support prostate health at 1400 Miles community bike ride on Aug. 27

From left, Eric Hess, Bryce Randle, Josh Hare and Davis Tucker on their bike journey from Austin to Denver to raise money for prostate cancer education. Photo from @1400_Miles.
From left, Eric Hess, Bryce Randle, Josh Hare and Davis Tucker on their bike journey from Austin to Denver to raise money for prostate cancer education. Photo from @1400_Miles.

Davis Tucker is gearing up to pedal his bicycle about 1,400 miles from Austin to Denver to raise awareness about prostate health.

Davis Tucker is the owner of NXNW Brewing Company. Photo from @1400_Miles.
Davis Tucker is the owner of NXNW Restaurant and Brewery. Photo from @1400_Miles.

Tucker, owner of NXNW Restaurant and Brewery in Austin, made the ride last summer, alongside a small group of cyclists riding to encourage men to get a prostate cancer screening.

This year’s ride departs Redhorn Coffee House & Brewing Company, 13010 West Parmer Lane in Cedar Park, on Sept. 18 and pulls into Denver on Oct. 2, a few days before the start of the Great American Beer Festival. When they reach the festival grounds, the 1400 Miles crew will park their 74-foot Beerliner, a Bluebird bus that will offer men’s health screenings to festival participants.

Tucker created 1400 Miles after his friend and craft beer pioneer Don Thompson was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which affects one in seven men in America.

“As prostate cancer rates continue to skyrocket, we’ve taken a unique approach at 1400 Miles, using beer and bicycles to break down social barriers and create real conversations surrounding the fatal disease,” Tucker said.

Pam and Chris LeBlanc participated in last year's community ride sponsored by 1400 Miles. This year's ride starts at 8 a.m. at Twisted X Brewing in Dripping Springs. Family photo
Pam and Chris LeBlanc participated in last year’s community ride sponsored by 1400 Miles. This year’s ride starts at 8 a.m. at Twisted X Brewing in Dripping Springs. Family photo

Austin cyclists can take on a shorter version of full 1,400-mile ride here in Central Texas on Aug. 27. Participants in the supported, one-day community ride can choose from routes of 24, 46 or 60 miles.

I did the 46-mile version of the ride last year, braving the heat and hills for the fully-supported, rolling ride followed by a barbecue lunch. This year’s ride starts at 8 a.m. at the brewery, 23455 West RR 150 in Dripping Springs.

Registration is $45. To sign up, go to 1400Miles.com.

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local/nxnw-brew-pub-owner-davis-tucker-pedaling-for-pros/nnSw8/

More backpacking prep: Shakeout hikes, satellite communications and a haircut

I climbed over the pass at Mount Whitney at the end of a week-long trip on the High Sierra Trail. I'll be there again soon - the John Muir Trail overlaps for a few miles at the peak. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
I climbed over the pass at Mount Whitney at the end of a week-long trip on the High Sierra Trail in 2013. I’ll be there again soon – the John Muir Trail overlaps for a few miles at the peak. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

 

My husband and I spent the weekend making last-minute preparations for our upcoming backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail in California.

We loaded books into our backpacks and scampered up and down the River Place Nature Trail, the best place in Austin to train if you’re planning a hike someplace mountainous.

The River Place Nature Trail offers lots of elevation change, if you're training for a backpacking trip. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The River Place Nature Trail offers lots of elevation change, if you’re training for a backpacking trip. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

We zipped by REI to pick up a few things we needed, including some Injinji toe socks, my secret weapon against blisters. (That and 2Toms Blistershield powder, which I’m also packing.) We packed the Deuce of Spade, a trowel that weighs about half an ounce, that we’ll use for digging cat holes when nature calls.

We also set up a satellite communications device called a Delorme inReach, which will allow us to send short text messages to keep family members apprised of our progress, or let them know if we have a problem, even when we are out of cell phone range.

Finally, we handed over a bag of clean clothes to the friends who will meet us at the trailhead, after we finish our hike. (Thanks Ron and Leilani!) A clean pair of underwear, fresh jeans and fluffy new socks are going to look mighty good after 16 days of wearing the same things.

Tomorrow I’m cutting my hair really short. I won’t be able to use soap or take a shower while we’re on the trail, so it needs to be low maintenance. Besides, it’ll grow back eventually.

I’m excited. I’m nervous, too.

I woke up in early this morning, freaking out a little about the 11 mountain passes we’ll have to cross. I’ve got a healthy fear of heights, and sheer dropoffs make me want to belly crawl. I’ve also been battling a nagging case of plantar fasciitis, and hope that won’t slow us down too much as we make our way along the route.

We sent buckets of dehydrated food to a resupply point at the half-way point of the John Muir Trail. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
We sent buckets of dehydrated food to a resupply point at the half-way point of the John Muir Trail. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

We checked the weather reports, too. It looks like highs in the 70s and lows in the 30s at the lower elevations, and colder than that higher up. Mount Whitney, at the end of the trail, is the highest peak in the lower 50 states, and last time I was there (at the end of a week-long trip on the High Sierra Trail) it was build-an-igloo cold.

We’ll start our hike at the Rush Creek Trailhead, about 10 miles off the John Muir Trail. (It’s difficult to get a permit to start at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite, where the JMT officially begins.)

We’ll merge onto the JMT at Thousand Island Lakes in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. From there, we’ll follow it all the way to Mount Whitney, and down to the Whitney Portal on the other side. There, with nearly 200 miles behind us, we’ll celebrate with the best cheeseburger of our lives.

I can’t wait to get started…

Pocket Adventures ATX: We hiked, we ate tacos, we jumped in Barton Springs

Pam LeBlanc, center, leads a group plunge into Barton Springs at a Pocket Adventure event on Aug. 11, 2016. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman
Pam LeBlanc, center, leads a group plunge into Barton Springs at a Pocket Adventure event on Aug. 11, 2016. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

We wrapped up this month’s Pocket Adventure yesterday morning with another collective leap into Barton Springs Pool.

That chilly jump, the perfect start to a hot summer day in Austin, sums up the “get your hair wet” philosophy that Pocket Adventures co-founder Meredith Walker, executive director of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and I share.

George Cofer, right, leads a hike down the Violet Crown Trail, which will ultimately run 30 miles from the trailhead at Barton Springs to Hays County. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman
George Cofer, right, leads a hike down the Violet Crown Trail, which will ultimately run 30 miles from the trailhead at Barton Springs to Hays County. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

It bums us out to see folks sitting on the edge of the pool, hesitant to take a head-first dive into the water for fear of looking silly, smudging their makeup or mussing their hair.

We say do it anyway! Live life, create adventure and get dirty as often as possible.

That’s why Walker and I launched our series of potent, pint-sized adventures. We want you to explore your city, learn a little something – and get your hair wet.

Yesterday’s event featured a short hike on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, led by George Cofer, executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy. Cofer talked about the Violet Crown Trail, a 30-mile route that will eventually lead from the parking lot at Barton Springs all the way to Hays County.

Marcy Stellfox explores the rocks at Campbell's Hole during a Pocket Adventures hike. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman
Marcy Stellfox explores the rocks at Campbell’s Hole during a Pocket Adventures hike. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

We scrambled down the trail for about a mile, paused to scamper over some rocks and admire the scenery at Campbell’s Hole, then headed back to the springs, where we lined up on the edge of the pool and counted down for a group splash-in.

Thanks to J.J. Langston, executive director of The Barton Springs Conservancy, for letting us enjoy that cold water for free.

Afterward, we munched on tacos donated by Tacodeli, which I love not only for their tacos, but because they’re such strong supporters of the city’s cycling community.

My favorite part about yesterday’s event? When a woman who attended our first Pocket Adventure – someone who had lived in Austin for four years but never been in Barton Springs – told us it inspired her to start swimming there three times a week.

Yes!

Walker and I are already plotting our next adventure. It’ll probably take place in late September.

Look for updates in the Austin American-Statesman and on the Fit City page on Facebook.

pocket adventure 2
Participants in Pocket Adventures hike along the Violet Crown Trail near Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

Later this month, I’m backpacking the John Muir Trail

Pam LeBlanc is heading to California, where she'll backpack the John Muir Trail. The very last part of the trail overlaps the High Sierra Trail, where she took this photo Looking down on Guitar Lake while climbing toward Mount Whitney in 2013. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc is heading to California, where she’ll backpack the John Muir Trail. The very last part of the trail overlaps the High Sierra Trail, where she took this photo Looking down on Guitar Lake while climbing toward Mount Whitney in 2013. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Permits, check. Dehydrated meals, check. Tent, camp stove and sleeping bag, check.

Chris LeBlanc mailed this bucket full of supplies to a resupply point along the trail. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Chris LeBlanc mailed this bucket full of supplies to a resupply point along the trail. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

I’m about to disappear.

Later this month, my husband and I will head to California, where we’ll begin a 16-day backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail. The 200-plus mile route begins at Yosemite National Park and finishes at Mount Whitney. In between stand 11 mountain passes, countless streams and a population of black bears.

I love backpacking, and we’ve been dreaming about this adventure for several years. Permits are tough to come by; so is enough time off to do the trip right. Now we’ve got both, and the long-awaited trip begins.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” John Muir wrote. “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

I can’t wait to get out there.

We’ll hike between 12 and 15 miles each day, taking time to soak up the beauty along the way.

Pam LeBlanc will wear these Dirty Girl Gaiters while she is backpacking. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc will wear these Dirty Girl Gaiters while she is backpacking. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Last weekend, Chris mailed two plastic buckets full of food, camera batteries, fresh underwear and other miscellaneous items to our resupply point at Muir Trail Ranch. We’ll pick those buckets up after we’ve been on the trail about a week.

We travel light. We’ll wear exactly the same shorts and shirts the entire trip. (No decisions!) We’ll eat freeze-dried meals and an assortment of snack foods like dried fruit, beef jerky, trail mix, energy bars and nuts.

Right now, I’m in eat-as-much-food-as-possible mode. It’s nearly impossible to carry and consume enough calories on a trip like this, and I’m trying to get ahead of the game.

Yesterday, I tried out my new gaiters, stretchy cuffs of fabric that attach to my hiking boots to keep out dirt, burrs and pebbles.

This weekend, I’ll stuff, unload and restuff my backpack to get things just right.
And before I know it, I’ll be lacing up my trail shoes, swinging on my pack, and striking out on what I’m pretty sure will rank as one of my life’s biggest adventures.

Zilker Relays kick off fall running season Sept. 9

Runners make their way beneath the starting arch at the 2015 Zilker Relays. Photo by Chris LeBlanc
Runners make their way beneath the starting arch at the 2015 Zilker Relays. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

You know the end of summer is approaching when it’s time for the Zilker Relays. This year’s 14th annual event is set for Sept. 9 at Zilker Park.

I love the grass-roots vibe of the race, which features four-person teams of all skill levels, from blistering fast, might-as-well-be-running-in-the-Olympics, to folks just out for a leisurely run. I fit closer to that last category than the first, and since September in Austin is still notoriously hot, the Zilker Relays are always a humbling experience.

Team Statesman jumps for joy at the 2015 Zilker Relays. Chris LeBlanc photo
Team Statesman jumps for joy at the 2015 Zilker Relays. Chris LeBlanc photo

The nice part? It’s just a 10-mile race, so each runner tackles a completely doable 2.5-mile leg.

The race is open to all ages and is considered the kickoff to the fall racing season. Participants get food, drinks and live music.

The event, founded by Paul Perrone, has grown in size the last two years; in 2015 registration reached capacity the day before the race. This year’s event is capped at 1,200 runners.

“I believe people are motivated by being part of a team, being part of something bigger than themselves and being part of a community,” Perrone says. “With the relays, rather than compete against each other, runners unite for a common purpose and sense of camaraderie. And even if the race doesn’t go well for someone, there is always the post-race party, dinner and festival.”

To register, go here.

Bicycle Advisory Council seeking new members

Alan Westwick rides his bike on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail to his job at Silicon Labs on Friday September 6, 2013. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Alan Westwick rides his bike on the Butler Hike and Bike Trail to his job at Silicon Labs on Friday September 6, 2013. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

The City of Austin’s Bicycle Advisory Council is looking for new members.

The council, which advises city staff on bike-related matters, is made up of nine voting members and up to 10 alternate, non-voting members. Three full voting members and five alternates are needed.

Any adult resident of Austin is eligible. Members serve two-year terms.

To apply, complete the membership application online here.

http://www.austintexas.gov/online-form/bicycle-advisory-council-bac-membership-application

Applications will be accepted until Aug. 28. Elections will take place Oct. 18 at the regular Bicycle Advisory Council meeting.

For more information, go here, email Emily.Smith@austintexas.gov or call 512-974-2358.