What happens when live power lines come down in a campground? Now I know …

A high-voltage power line came down in the midst of our camp site last weekend near Cloud Croft, New Mexico. We evacuated to the highway for most of the night. Photo by Pam LeBlanc


Forget bears, widow maker trees and lightning storms. After last weekend, I’m moving power lines to the top of my list of things to pay attention to while camping.

During a (culinary) mushroom-foraging trip to the Lincoln National Forest, a small group of us convened at a group camp site not far from Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Some of us pitched tents on designated gravel tent pads; our leader wheeled up a travel trailer.

We didn’t give much thought to the power lines that cut through the small campground. We were camping on prepared sites, so we assumed they’d be safely positioned.

It had rained all afternoon, and as we zipped up our tent flaps and tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags to go to bed, light showers were still falling. I fell asleep right away, but woke up at about 1 a.m. to a bright flash and a weird buzzy, surging noise that sounded straight out of “Poltergeist.”

I sat up and blinked, but didn’t notice anything else, so after a minute or two I snuggled back down under the covers and shut my eyes. After a few minutes, though, something didn’t seem right. I heard voices. I unzipped my tent flaps, poked my head out and noticed a string of what looked like (without my contacts in) twinkling lights on the ground.

Scorch lines where the power line fell cut through the middle of camp. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Weird. It didn’t make sense, especially since I was still half asleep.

I jabbed my husband in the ribs. “What’s that?” I said, trying to wake him up.

He rolled over. I jabbed him again, and held the tent flaps open so he could see the sizzling line of fire.

About that time, Don, our trip leader, started hollering. We yanked on clothes, leaped out of our tent and saw a downed power line about 20 feet from our tent, 3 feet from one of the other campers and 4 inches from the edge of the travel trailer.

Looking back, I should have run through the woods, away from the power line, but that’s not what I did. We ran toward the downed line, jumped across it and met our group in the parking lot on the other side. When everyone had made it safely across, we piled into vehicles, drove out of the campground, parked on the road a few hundred feet away and called 911.

It took an hour for emergency fire crews to arrive, and the power lines crackled and snapped on the ground for another hour after that, while we waited for power company crews to show up and turn off the current.

At about 5:30 a.m., the emergency crews finished up and we rolled back into our campground, filed back into our tents in the rain and slept a few more soggy hours.

When we finally got up, scorched burn lines in the grass and tire tracks sunk in the mud were the only signs of what had happened.

We joked a lot about the incident, but the truth is we’d come very close to tragedy. If the wire had fallen a few feet over, the line would have landed on one of our tents. If anyone had touched the live wire, they’d have been electrocuted. If the wire had fallen on the trailer, the trailer might have caught fire – or the people inside could have been shocked as they exited it. If the line had hit the propane tank, who knows. And if the grass had been dry, it may have started a forest fire.

So many things could have gone wrong. We were lucky.

I’m never sleeping anywhere near a power line again. I’m taking my chances in the back country with the bears, the lightning storms, the funky water and anything else Mother Nature could throw at us.

Forget nightclubs – toss hatchets instead at Austin’s newest club

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The end-over-end whirl of an axe soaring through the air, followed by a heavy thunk as it embeds in a slab of wood.

Nothing provides the satisfaction of a little axe slinging, and starting Sept. 15, Central Texans can throw all the hatchets they want inside an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in East Austin.

Urban Axes, a competitive hatchet-throwing venue, will open Sept. 15 in Austin. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

Urban Axes Austin is scheduled to open Sept. 15 at 812 Airport Boulevard. League play will begin the following week.

Guests get one-on-one instruction from a coach. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

“It’s like darts, only bigger and more satisfying,” says Krista Poll, one of the owners of Urban Axes, which already operates an axe-throwing facility in Philadelphia.

RELATED: Guests at Austin-area resort hone hatchet throwing skills

The venue will host groups ranging in size from 6 to 100 people, including parties, corporate team building events or friends looking for something different to do. Group events last about two and a half hours and must be booked in advance.

The venue will host groups of six to 100. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

And because axe throwing is apparently better with a little booze and food under the belt, guests can bring their own beer, wine and food. Hard liquor is not permitted. (Technically, customers can’t toss hatchets with one hand and drink beer with the other, since drinks aren’t allowed in the throwing arena. Besides, a coach will shut things down if a participant is drunk or acting inappropriately.)

RELATED: Austin’s first-ever axe-throwing venue set to open this summer.

“It’s more of a have-a-casual-beer place and less of a nightclub thing,” says Earl Ball, who is opening the Austin location. “You come, hang out, have a few beers, throw a few axes and move on to the next thing.”

The venue features five arenas, each of which can handle up to 25 people at a time. Sessions begin with safety briefings and one-on-one throwing practice with coaches, using 14-inch, 1.5-pound hatchets in a fenced-in area. Participants throw at wooden targets, aiming for a bull’s eye and trying to score the most points. Competitors use their own lane and compete side-by-side with another opponent, always under a coach’s supervision, as they compete in a single-elimination tournament.

Guests throw 14-inch hatchets that weigh a pound and a half. Photo courtesy Urban Axes Austin

Urban Axes was founded in 2016 in Philadelphia by a group of Australian and American friends inspired by the popularity of axe throwing in Toronto, where more than a dozen hatchet-throwing clubs operate.

Urban Axes Austin will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; walk-in sessions will be offered a few days each week. Participants must be 21 or older and must wear closed-toe shoes. Cost is $35 per person, and includes all equipment and instruction.

For more information call (512) 887-2937 or go here.

Water Ski Nationals underway at San Marcos River Ranch

Bailey Austin will compete at this week’s Goode Water Ski National Championships at San Marcos River Ranch. Photo courtesy Phillip Fields Photography


The best water skiers in the world are competing in Central Texas this week, at the 75th annual Goode Water Ski National Championships outside of San Marcos.

The competition, the world’s largest three-event water ski tournament, started this morning at San Marcos River Ranch. It wraps up Saturday.

More than 600 athletes qualified for the event through placement on the national rankings list, a top five finish at regional championships or placing at last year’s nationals. They’ll compete for national titles in slalom, tricks, jumping and overall in age divisions and two open divisions.

Bailey Austin, who lives at Aquaplex outside of Austin, is a favorite at the National Championships. Photo courtesy Phillip Fields Photography

Among the contestants is Bailey Austin, who won the Junior Moomba Masters in Australia in the spring and placed second at the Junior Worlds in slalom. She is a favorite in the Open Women’s division and will attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on a water ski scholarship this fall.

I met Austin last month, when I attempted to ski jump at Aquaplex, another man-made ski lake outside of Austin. (I crashed and burned, but it was fun! Story coming soon.)

San Marcos River Ranch, located along the San Marcos River between Austin and San Antonio, is a a private water ski development with four man-made ski lakes. Daily score books and schedules are available here.

Zilker Relays kicks off fall running season on Sept. 8

Pam LeBlanc, Jody Seaborn, Mercedes Orten and Chris Thibert jump before the 2014 Zilker Relays. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Fall must be coming after all.

The Zilker Relays traditionally kicks off the fall racing season in Austin, and this year’s race is set for Friday, Sept. 8. Teams of four run a cumulative 10-mile race around Zilker Park, with each athlete logging a 2.5-mile loop. Afterward, everyone gets food from Taco Deli and live music by the Staylyns.

Registration is open now. Entry fee is $45 per person, but that cost goes up by $5 on Aug. 15. To sign up, go here.

Go Little Leggies Go member Paige Price, left, with her friends Kiara Mallen and Skye Culver before the Zilker Relays. Sept 2014 photo by Pam LeBlanc

The event is capped at 300 teams, and more than 200 have already registered.

The Kids Relay starts at 6 p.m. The full relay begins at 6:30 p.m. Runners doing the third and fourth laps should bring headlamps.

More pics of Laurie Allen at Jack’s Generic Triathlon

Andrea Fisher, left, and an unidentified friend, right, carry Laurie Allen toward the water during Jack’s Generic Triathlon on Sunday. Photo by Carrie Barrett


You can see the happiness in Laurie Allen’s eyes in these photos from Jack’s Generic Triathlon last weekend.

Laurie Allen gets settled in the water during the swim portion of Jack’s Generic Triathlon. Photo by Carrie Barrett

Allen completed nine Ironman triathlons and nine half Ironman triathlons before she was paralyzed in a fall in February 2015. Sunday’s race marked her first triathlon since that accident, and her family and friends gathered to cheer her on and congratulate her at the finish.

Laurie Allen prepares for her first triathlon since she was paralyzed in an accident in February 2015. Photo by Carrie Barrett

RELATED: A year after spinal cord injury, Laurie Allen works toward a new kind of racing

Laurie Allen starts the bike portion of Jack’s Generic Triathlon. Photo by Carrie Barrett

Great job, Laurie. And thanks for sharing your photos, Carrie Barrett.

Laurie Allen, paralyzed in 2015 fall, finishes Jack’s Generic Tri

Triathlete Laurie Allen returned to her beloved sport of triathlon Sunday, completing a modified version of Jack’s Generic Triathlon just two and a half years after she was paralyzed in a fall.

Allen finished the race in exactly 2 hours. After crossing the finish line, she leaned forward in her racing wheel chair, overcome, as friends crowded around to congratulate her. Race director Jack Murray awarded her a finisher’s medal.

Laurie Allen returned to triathlon Sunday, competing in the Jack’s Generic Triathlon. Photo courtesy Andrea Fisher

“This day was better than I even imagined it was going to be,” Allen said in a press release from High Five Events, which produced the race. “Coming into the finish line, seeing and hearing everybody, crossing the finish and having Jack  give me my medal, I’d say today was better than crossing an Ironman finish line.”

Laurie Allen returned to triathlon Sunday, competing in Jack’s Generic Triathlon at Lake Pflugerville. Photo courtesy High Five Events

RELATED: A year after spinal cord injury, Laurie Allen works toward a new kind of racing

Laurie Allen shows off some rad swim goggles at Sunday’s triathlon. Photo courtesy Andrea Fisher

Allen was soaking in a hot tub in February 2015 when she got out to cool off. The side was icy, and with no railing to stop her, she fell 10 feet, fracturing a vertebrae and tearing ligaments in her neck. She underwent surgery the following morning, but the damage was severe. Initially she couldn’t move anything below her shoulders, although she now has some function in her arms and hands.

Allen is a dedicated traithlete who once scheduled her life around training sessions and races. She completed nine full-distance Ironman triathlons and nine Ironman 70.3 triathlons before her accident. Last fall she competed in a 5K race at Camp Mabry.

Triathlete returns to racing nearly two years after paralyzing fall

Nearly 700 people participated in Sunday’s 15th edition of Jack’s Generic Triathlon at Lake Pflugerville. The event offered three versions of the race – a sprint, with a 500-meter swim, 12.9-mile bike and 3-mile run; an intermediate, with a 1,000-meter swim, 25.8-mile bike and 6-mile run; and an aquabike, with a 1,000-meter swim and 25.8-mile bike.

Laurie Allen returned to triathlon Sunday, competing in the Jack’s Generic Triathlon. Photo courtesy Andrea Fisher

Paul “Barny” Williams won the overall race with the time of 1 hour, 53 minutes and 18 seconds. Second and third place went to Antonio Ferreira Da Silva Neto and Brendan Loehr, who crossed the finish line in 1:56:01 and 1:58:13, respectively.

Natasha Van Der Merwe won the women’s race in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 15 seconds. Desiree Berry took second in 2:09:57 and Fernanda Bau took third in 2:10:24.

Adrian Cameron (1:00:21) and Margaret Finley (1:04:40) were the male and female sprint champs.

What’s it like to bike to work in the rain? Watch here

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I looked like someone aimed a fire hose at me when I got to work this morning: Water dripping down my legs, hair plastered to my head beneath my helmet, clothes sopping wet.

Water is covering the Shoal Creek hike-and-bike trail at 34th Street this morning. Pam LeBlanc

Still, I couldn’t stop smiling.

RELATED: Storms keep rolling through Austin, causing commuter misery.

I pedal to and from work regularly, and crazy as it seems, I love to bike in when it’s raining. Not only do I avoid gridlock traffic, I get to check out Shoal Creek and Lady Bird Lake up close.

When we get a good gully washer, the creek covers the hike-and-bike trail at 34th Street, forcing me to detour. That’s OK, too. The creek needs a flushing now and then, and it’s exciting to see rapids forming on a creek that was nearly dry last week.

I’m looking forward to the trip home this afternoon.

Like running and free beer? Join East Side Beer Runners

The East Side Beer Runners meet every Wednesday for a quality workout, followed by a free beer. Photo courtesy Jon Pafk


What’s better than a free workout? A free workout plus a free beer, of course.

At least that’s the philosophy of Jon Pafk, who launched the East Side Beer Runners about a year ago. The group meets at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday at Hops & Grain Brewery, 507 Calles Street No. 101, for a quality workout followed by a free glass of beer.

“It’s a great way to continue sharing my passion for great beer, running and fitness, while staying connected to a core part of Austin,” says Pafk, who started the group along with fellow runner Ben Black after the demise of another beer-plus-running club, Pints and PRs.

The workouts vary. Sometimes the group, which includes mostly middle-of-the-packers but a few faster athletes, runs to nearby Yellowjacket Stadium for a track workout. Other days, Pafk and Black lead the members in hill repeats, a simple out-and-back run, or intervals at Fiesta Gardens.

On National Beer Day, the group ran a route that spelled out the word “beer.”


The workouts usually cover between 3 and 5 miles. On National Beer Day in April, the group ran a route that spelled out the word “beer.” On National Running Day, they spelled out “run.” Typically, 15 to 20 runners of mixed speed and assorted ages participate.

“For the most part, it’s recreational runner and folks who are just getting started,” Pafk says. “We like to get a good quality workout in, plus enjoy some of the east side and other folks who enjoy craft beer,” Pafk says.

RELATED: Austin Beer Run Club combines running and happy hour

Pafk, who grew up in Austin, hopes the workouts expose people to the culture and history of the east side of our city. He also says he’d like to increase the diversity of the group’s members.

“It’s been amazing, for better or for worse, to see the evolution of East Austin. Some of the culture has been lost, and I think running there keeps us grounded and connected to Austin,” he says. “Also, it’s nice to find folks who are equally passionate about really good beer and want to work a little bit for it.”

To keep up to date with East Side Beer Runners activities, check their page on Facebook or follow their account on Instagram.



New bicycle traffic signals installed in downtown Austin

Heads up, Austin bicyclists. You’re getting your own traffic signals.

The Austin Transportation Department has installed signal faces at a dozen intersections in Central Austin. Some of them started operating last week, and I took a detour this morning to see how they worked.

Special bicycle traffic signals have been installed at 12 intersections in Central Austin. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
The signals feature bike-shaped icons. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I rode the separated bike lane east along Third Street, catching the new bike traffic signals at Guadalupe and Lavaca Streets. You might not notice them at first – until you see that instead of the red, yellow or green globes that direct motor traffic, the bike signals, attached to the right side of the street light poles, feature bicycle-shaped icons that light up in red, yellow or green.

RELATED: Austin giving pedestrians, cyclists a piece of traffic light time

I saw four or five other cyclists navigating the signals. They all stopped for the reds, although I did notice one cyclist riding in the regular car lane instead of the protected bike lane. (That’s not illegal, just interesting.)

According to a press release from the city of Austin, the signals can increase safety and improve traffic for both bicyclists and motorists.

Some of the lights will be timed to give cyclists extra time to cross an intersection. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I didn’t really notice a difference, since the lights I encountered were still timed to coincide with the regular lights for cars. But at some locations, the lights will be timed to give pedestrians and bicycles a leading interval – allowing people on foot or bicycle a little extra time to begin crossing. That helps with visibility and predictability for everyone at the intersection.

The new bicycle signals are located at the following intersections:

  • Five locations on Third Street
  • Wilshire Boulevard/Aldrich Street and Airport Boulevard
  • Rio Grande Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
  • Two locations on the Lance Armstrong Bikeway
  • 4th Street and Red River Street
  • Rio Grande Street and West 24th Street
  • North Lamar Boulevard and Morrow Street
  • The lights are attached to the support poles for regular traffic signals. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

The signal at the intersection of Rio Grande and West 24th Streets, along with the signals on Third Street, are already active. The rest will click into action in coming weeks.

The signals are part of a collaborative research study between the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Transportation Department. The study will measure user compliance and road safety. It will also look at public perception and knowledge about bike signals.

This signal is located on Third Street at Lavaca Street. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

A preliminary survey was released in January 2017, before the bicycle signals were installed. A second survey will be released in a few months, after the bicycle signals have begun to operate.

Want a say in Austin’s bike policies? Bicycle Advisory Council needs members

A cyclist rides his bike south on Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas, where a cycle track provides a dedicated bike lane that is separate from vehicular traffic. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Want a say in Austin’s bicycle policies?

The City of Austin’s Bicycle Advisory Council is accepting applications for new members. The council advises city officials and other jurisdictions on bike-related issues, from bikeway implementation to education and enforcement.

Nine full members and 10 alternate, non-voting, members serve on the council. Six full-time and six alternate positions need to be filled. Any adult who lives or works in Austin is eligible. Members serve a two-year term.

Applications are available online here. Applications will be accepted until Aug. 20. Elections will take place Oct. 17 at the regular BAC meeting, when applicants will be invited to speak to voting members.

For more information email Emily.Smith@austintexas.gov or call (512) 974-2358.