Braving the chill at Barton Springs Pool…

Jennifer Dillahunty and Chanda Spies wear knit caps to keep warm when they swim at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Jennifer Dillahunty and Chanda Spies wear knit caps to keep warm when they swim at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

The anticipation kills.

Just before I plunge into Barton Springs this time of year, I question my sanity. Surely that icy water will numb my fingers and freeze my toes. The shivers won’t stop until noon; the chill will drive so deep that no one will hear me scream.

The first step is the hardest. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
The first step is the hardest. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Then I just do it. And you know what? It’s always warmer than I think. Always.

I swim at Barton Springs almost every Wednesday morning, slipping into its chilly waters just as the sun rises. The first lap or so, I can barely see through the dark. Sometimes, that’s a problem. Today, I smashed face-first into another swimmer. (I’m sporting a nice bruise and a small cut on the side of my nose to prove it. Whatever.)

It sounds weird, but the pool feels warmer when it’s cold out. I think that’s because there’s less difference between the water temperature and air temperature. In the summer, that gap can stretch to 30 degrees or more. It’s a shock to the system to jump in.

This morning, though, the water felt warmer than the air. Getting in felt a little bit like taking a dive under the blankets on my bed.

A shortie wetsuit helps, too.

I never used to wear a wetsuit at Barton Springs. My buddy Brian Vance and I swam there year-round, and the cold didn’t bother me so much. Then I lost a little weight – and got older. The cold affects me more.

But if I wear a wetsuit and keep moving, I’m fine. Now it’s almost December and I’m still going strong.

Steam rises from the surface of Barton Springs Pool on Wednesday morning. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Steam rises from the surface of Barton Springs Pool on Wednesday morning. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

It’s getting out that’s tough. A cold breeze over wet skin turns me blue. I keep a thick deck jacket at hand, and make a beeline to the dressing room to change into dry clothes when I finish.

Today, though, I took my time.

I saw two women kicking across the pool, wearing knit caps on their heads to stay warm.

“It makes a huge difference,” Jennifer Dillahunty told me as she and Chanda Spies cruised toward the deep end of the pool.

Whatever it takes.

Kudos to Ortega Elementary for selling oranges – not junk food – to raise money for field trips

Ortega Elementary School sells oranges instead of candy or cookies to raise money for fund-raisers. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary School
Ortega Elementary School sells oranges instead of candy or cookies to raise money for fund-raisers. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary School

I’m a big fan of the annual citrus fundraiser at Ortega Elementary School.

Instead of peddling chocolate bars, cookies or caramel corn, students at the school sell 20-pound bags of organic valencia oranges from the Rio Grande Valley.

I’m partial. I worked in McAllen for seven years, and lived in nearby Mission, between an onion field and a citrus grove. I always had fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice on hand. It’s the best.

Students who participated in last year's citrus fund-raiser at Ortega Elementary School got to visit the Sustainable Food Center. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary School
Students who participated in last year’s citrus fund-raiser at Ortega Elementary School got to visit the Sustainable Food Center. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary School

More importantly, I heartily approve of the idea of selling something healthy to eat, rather than junk. It’s a philosophy that’s important to staffers – and students – at the school, too.

“We promote and model healthy living habits during school,” says teacher Alejandra Mireles. “Teachers give weekly health lessons and our campus participates in the national CatchUSA program to promote physical health. We wanted to create a fundraiser aligned with these values.”

The school partnered with the Sustainable Food Center, a community organization promoting healthy food in schools for the project. Deputy Director Andrew Smiley says the fund-raiser perfectly aligns with the center’s mission of cultivating a healthy community, and he hopes it serves as a model for schools throughout Austin.

Student Alex Rodriguez likes the idea, too.

“Chocolate has too much sugar, and we could make more money selling fruit because it’s healthier and better for you,” Rodriguez says.He hopes money raised through the fund-raiser will fund a trip to The Thinkery Children’s Museum.

The oranges sell for $10 a bag and the school makes 50 percent profit on each sack. Orders will be accepted through Dec. 2. Pickup is between 2 and 4 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20 at the school, 1135 Garland Avenue. To order online go here.

 

This Black Friday, don’t shop – go outside

The best way to celebrate Black Friday? Go outside. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
The best way to celebrate Black Friday? Go outside. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Don’t look for me lined up outside a big box department store before dawn come Black Friday. Any camping out I do will involve dirt, hooting owls and hiking boots.

Same goes for Valerie Salinas-Davis, co-founder and chief executive officer at EnviroMedia, an Austin-based advertising and public relations firm that focuses on the environment and health. The company announced this week that it’s following the lead of outdoor retailer REI: It’s closing for the day and encouraging everyone to get outside.

“I would rather run a marathon than go to one of those big box stores this Friday,” Salinas-Davis says. (Read her blog about the topic on Huffington Post here.)

I love the #optoutside movement championed by REI too. Don’t spend the entire day shuffling around a shopping mall like a zombie, spending money and buying stuff. Instead, lace up your trail runners, pitch a tent, paddle a kayak, pedal up a steep hill, or flop on a blanket under the stars. You’ll feel better for it.

Don't shop this weekend. Follow REI's lead and #OPTOUTSIDE.  Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Don’t shop this weekend. Follow REI’s lead and #OPTOUTSIDE. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

Salinas-Davis, who also hired a coach to lead a lunch-time circuit training program for employees, is shooing her staff out of the office this Friday.

“In addition to the fact that I hate shopping, this #optoutside program was really a great opportunity to nudge myself and all our 20 staffers to go outside on Friday,” she said. “It’s a really good nudge for all of us to get off the couch and do something active.”

Based on the office’s overall love of animals, she’s also encouraging them to participate in Subaru’s #MakeADogsDay promotion. Through Nov. 27, Subaru will donate $1 to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (up to $50,000) when you publicly post a photo of yourself with your dog outdoors on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and include the hashtags #OptOutside and #MakeADogsDay.

As for Salinas-Davis, you’ll find her biking a 12-mile route through Hays County this Friday. She’ll be doing anything, she says, but trudging around a shopping center with her wallet open.

“It feels great,” she says. “Everytime I go out, when I come back I have a lot more energy and I can get more things done.”

Need ideas on what you can do outdoors this weekend? Check the REI website for suggestions and event listings that cover everything from parks to mountain bike trails, hiking routes and climbing areas.

“We know stress is not healthy, and shopping is very stressful,” Salinas-Davis says. “I know there are studies out there that show kids who are more active and healthier and spend more time outside do better in school. I would think that would apply to us adults at work, too,” she said.

Back the Track raising money to resurface Austin High track

(USE THIS PHOTO ON JUMP) John Conley, former director of the Austin Marathon, caught a flesh eating bacteria while vacationing in Hawaii earlier this year. He's back in Austin and recovering from multiple surgeries on his leg by walking on the track at Austin High School, where he has been running for over 25 years. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
John Conley, former director of the Austin Marathon, has been training on the Austin High track for more than 25 years. A group called Back the Track is trying to raise money to resurface the oval. Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

The Austin running community is teaming with Austin schools to raise money to resurface and renovate the track at Austin High School.

The track, which is open to the public, has long been popular with runners, athletes and students eager to log mileage on its cushioned, quarter-mile oval. But organizers of a group called Back the Track say the poor condition of the track’s surface makes it unsafe for use.

The public/private partnership is looking for businesses and individuals to donate to help fund repairs. Group leaders already have enlisted an architect to begin the design process, but more money is needed to complete the plans and pay for construction.

The track’s location next to Lady Bird Lake and the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail make it a hub of fitness in Austin. Running groups, elite athletes like Olympians Leo Manzano and Lennie Waite, and former Austin Marathon director John Conley all use it regularly.

For more information or to donate, go here.

Fit and Fearless offers free self-defense seminars Dec. 3

 

Fit and Fearless will offer free self-defense classes on Dec. 3. Photo courtesy Fit and Fearless
Fit and Fearless will offer free self-defense classes on Dec. 3. Photo courtesy Fit and Fearless

An Austin krav maga studio is offering free self-defense seminars in response to what it describes as overwhelming requests from the community at a time when many feel vulnerable.

The 90-minute sessions, dubbed A Day of Empowerment, starts at 2 p.m. Dec. 3 at Fit and Fearless, 2800 Interstate 35 South, No. 100. Separate classes will be offered for adults, teen-agers and youth as young as 4 years old.

The 90-minute classes are open to ages 4 and up. Photo courtesy Fit and Fearless
The 90-minute classes are open to ages 4 and up. Photo courtesy Fit and Fearless

Krav maga, a self-defense system, incorporates techniques of aikido, judo, boxing and wrestling, along with fight training.

Register here.

“Krav maga is physically and mentally empowering, and we feel it is our duty to offer the community the skills they need to feel safe in their surroundings and the empowerment to combat bullying and hate,” a press release said. “This event is LBGTQ friendly. We provide a safe and welcoming training environment for those who need it most.”

Soothing the soul with a walk at Westcave Preserve

Water spills over the lip of a grotto at Westcave Preserve. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Water spills over the lip of a grotto at Westcave Preserve. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

For me, nature works like a salve when I’m stressed out.

So it felt good to spend a few hours at Westcave Preserve this morning, learning about its history, hiking its trails and standing behind a curtain of spraying water in its grotto and looking out at the bottom of a cypress-lined canyon.

Huge cypress trees grow in the canyon at Westcave Preserve. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Huge cypress trees grow in the canyon at Westcave Preserve. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

The 76-acre preserve, located off of Hamilton Pool Road near Dripping Springs, celebrates its 40-year anniversary this year. I’d never visited, and walking its trails soothed my soul.

Back in the late 1800s, the land operated as a farm estate for German immigrants. John Covert Watson, who had frequently sneaked onto the property as a young man, purchased it in the 1970s. He planned to use it as a weekend retreat he could share with friends, but quickly realized the community’s love for the place. He decided to protect it, putting together a board and raising the money needed to turn it into a preserve.

He hired John Ahrns as preserve manager, a job he held for 30 years. Ahrns pulled out mounds of trash left by people who ventured onto the property to swim and camp. That’s against rules now; preserving the unique geologic formation and the plants and animals that live there remain a priority.

Moss and ferns line the grotto, which opens into a canyon. Pam LeBlanc/American Statesman
Moss and ferns line the grotto, which opens into a canyon. Pam LeBlanc/American Statesman

Today the Lower Colorado River Authority owns the land, but Westcave manages the property and operates educational programs there. The focus? Connecting children to nature.

Ahrns’ daughter, Amber Ahrns Gosselin, now serves as Westcave Preserve’s director of land stewardship. She joined me, executive director Molly Stevens and board member Rebecca Benz for the walk. They showed me an education center built in 2003, and then we hiked to an overlook above the Pedernales River, which fronts a section of the property, and down into the canyon.

Why protect this corner of Travis County? Take a look at the subdivisions popping up along the roads surrounding it and it’s easy to understand why it’s important.

“Westcave is not only just a treasure because it’s a unique geologic formation, but it’s a wonderful example of healthy Hill Country land and what happens if you leave a place alone. It recovers,” Stevens says.

A quote by conservationist John Muir is carved into a rock at Westcave Preserve. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
A quote by conservationist John Muir is carved into a rock at Westcave Preserve. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

About 15,000 people visit Westcave each year, many of them school children on field trips. The preserve offers monthly star parties, along with educational programs about preserving dark night skies, reducing water consumption and more. Researchers are conducting studies on climate, golden-cheek warblers, dragonflies and butterflies here, too.

Westcave preserve offers guided tours for the public at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; cost is $10 for adults, $6 for children and $25 for families. Self-guided hiking on the upland portion of the preserve (not the grotto or canyon) is available Tuesday through Sunday.

For more information go here.

 

Free yoga – and a beer – at Hyatt Regency Austin on Wednesday

Free yoga classes continue at the Hyatt Regency this Wednesday. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency
Free yoga classes continue at the Hyatt Regency this Wednesday. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency

Need to de-stress after election season?

Pints & Poses participants get a free beer after the hour-long yoga class. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency
Pints & Poses participants get a free beer after the hour-long yoga class. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency

Catch a free yoga class – and a beer – at the Hyatt Regency Austin’s “Pints & Poses” series, which continues with an event this Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Classes move back to the second Monday of each month starting in December.

The event features a free hour-long

vinyasa flow yoga class hosted by Austin yogis Ferny Barcelo and Zuzu Perkal, set to live meditative music by local yoga DJ Trey Tarwater. Afterward, participants get a free pint of beer at the hotel’s Marker 10 bar.

The event takes place in the hotel’s Texas Ballroom on the hotel’s second floor. Participants are encouraged to bring their own mats. Nanga Yoga, a local yoga mat and towel company, will set up a pop-up shop.

“Pints & Poses” starts at 6:30 p.m. Attendees get free validated parking in the hotel’s parking garage. For more information, call (512) 477-1234 or go here.

Bike to East Austin Studio Tour with Bike EAST Art Attack

Cyclists will pedal from studio to studio during Bike EAST Art Attack. Photo courtesy East Austin Studio Tour
Cyclists will pedal from studio to studio during Bike EAST Art Attack. Photo courtesy East Austin Studio Tour

The best way to see the East Austin Studio Tour? By bike, of course.

Cyclists will pedal through the city on Sunday, discovering artists and artwork during the third annual Bike E.A.S.T. Art Attack. Think of it as a scavenger hunt on wheels – participants will earn raffle tickets for each checkpoint they visit, and can collect bonus raffle tickets along the way. Awards will go to the biggest team, best team costume and most pimped-out ride.

The scavenger hunt starts at 11 a.m. at the Bike E.A.S.T. Base Camp at Daily Greens, 979 Springdale Road. It finishes at the same place at 4 p.m., with an after party and awards presentation.

The Austin Chronicle is sponsoring the event, which is produced by the Austin-based health promotion non-profit FRESH.

Hannah Packard, director of development with Big Medium, the parent organization of the East Austin Studio Tour, says the event supports bike safety and offers a unique and family-friendly way to experience the tour.

“Big Medium has always encouraged biking during E.A.S.T. because it’s the most neighborhood friendly way to explore the many stops on the tour,” Packard says.

Bike E.A.S.T. benefits Big Medium and Bike Austin, Austin’s leading cycling advocacy and education organization.

Tickets are $15 per adult rider (free children 12 and under; discounts for groups, families and seniors.) To register, go here.

Crush Fitness presents Man Crush Mondays

Crush Fitness is offering special Man Crush Monday classes. Photo courtesy Crush Fitness
Crush Fitness is offering special Man Crush Monday classes. Photo courtesy Crush Fitness

 

Want to support men’s health?

A portion of proceeds will benefit the Movember Foundation. Photo courtesy Crush Fitness.
A portion of proceeds will benefit the Movember Foundation. Photo courtesy Crush Fitness.

Crush Fitness is offering special Man Crush Monday workouts all month.

All male participants get a $5 coupon to Finley’s barbershop, and a portion of proceeds will be donated to the Movember Foundation.

Classes are scheduled for 4:30 and 5:45 p.m. Mondays; the fitness studio is offering a special two for one deal.

For more information go here.

Entry free at Texas State Parks on Sunday

Reynaldo Rodriguez takes a walk at Pedernales Falls State Park on Wednesday Nov. 2. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Reynaldo Rodriguez takes a walk at Pedernales Falls State Park on Wednesday Nov. 2. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Getting outdoors can calm frazzled nerves, so consider taking advantage of the free admission to Texas State Parks this Sunday.

Daily entrance fees will be waived for all visitors in honor of both active and retired military, according to a press release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“This is our way of giving thanks to the service that veterans and active military personnel have dedicated to our country,” said Brent Leisure, director of the department’s State Parks Division. “We hope that Texans everywhere will make Texas State Parks part of their celebration this Veteran’s Day.”

Parks will host guided hikes, bird walks and other programs, according to a press release. Camping and special activity fees will still apply.