I warmed up for tomorrow’s big hike from Crested Butte to Aspen by climbing to the top of Scarp Ridge today.
The trailhead lies just above Irwin Lake, about 20 minutes outside of Crested Butte. Park your vehicle on the side of the road near the green-roofed Irwin Lodge, which serves as a ski chalet in the winter, and head uphill.
The trail forks almost immediately. It’s a loop, but we took the left side fork first to cover the steepest stuff first. The trail meanders through clusters of pines and a few aspen. Look down and you can see the lake in the distance.
The round-trip hike only covers about 4.6 miles, but you gain a lot of elevation. We started hiking at about 10,700 feet and climbed to just higher than 12,000 feet. Along the way we got great views of mountain bowls, vistas and trees, and flushed plenty of chipmonks out of the underbrush.
We missed the summer wildflower show, but got a sneak peak of fall. The trees are just starting to turn here this week. Some of the aspens wore yellow leaves this morning, a nice change after their summer greens.
According to my race calendar, but definitely not the thermometer, fall has nearly arrived.
The Zilker Relays, unofficial kickoff to Austin’s fall racing season, takes place Sept. 7 at Zilker Park. The four-person, 10-mile relay starts at 6:30 p.m. on roads in and around the park, and wraps up with a party on the Great Lawn featuring live music by the Staylyns, food from Tacodeli and free beer from Strange Land Brewery.
“There is no other race where you can run through Zilker Park in the evening, with a view of downtown Austin, and wrap it up with great food and drinks and live music into the night,” says race founder Paul Perrone, whose grin is perhaps my favorite in all of Austin.
The race will make anyone smile. Usually, it rains. Or it’s hot as heck for the first 2.5-mile leg, then a storm hits, then it gets muggy.
It’s a big deal. Last year more than 1,300 people participated.
A children’s relay kicks off shortly before the adult relay and every child participant will get a cape and Tacodeli meal.
This year, Zilker Relays will once again partner with the Lesedi Project to raise funds for the Ethembeni School in South Africa, a school for physically disabled and visually impaired children.
One year I met Superman – not an imposter, but the real deal. He was nice to me, probably because I was wearing my Wonder Woman costume (which, by the way, I wore to rappel down a 38-story building last year, and also to the movie theater once.)
Another year I met Batman, and that was scary, because he didn’t even crack a smile.
On Sept. 16, you can mingle with caped crusaders and superpower-wielding human beings at the CASA Superhero Run 5K and Kids 1K.
Superheros of all shapes and sizes turn out en masse for this run, which raises money for CASA, which advocates through the court system for children who have been abused or neglected. This year’s race also serves as the opening event of the Austin Distance Challenge, a series of running races that leads up to the Austin Marathon in February.
The race moves to a new location this year, the IBM Client Innovation Center at Broadmoor Campus, 11501 Burnet Road. The 5K begins at 8 a.m.; the Kids 1K, with villains to chase, starts at 9:15 a.m. A dance party and costume contest will follow. Besides the foot race, expect bounce houses, special superhero guest appearances and lots of fun family activities.
The event supports the CASA programs of Travis, Williamson, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays Counties, which works with volunteers to advocate for abused or neglected children in the court system.
Why superheros? Here’s what CASA says about that: “Superman was adopted. Spiderman was raised by his aunt and uncle. Batman grew up with his butler, Alfred, and later took in Robin to raise as his ward. Wonder Woman was made out of clay by Amazons and brought to life by the gods. Few superheroes grew up in a typical family situation raised by their own parents, yet they all accomplished great things as adults. CASA believes all children deserve the chance to grow up happy and healthy and become superhero adults themselves.”
I’ve never raced up a mountain with a pack burro at my side, so on Sept. 8 I’ll do that, with a four-legged little beast named Little Jonah.
I’ve rented Jonah from donkey matchmaker Amber Wann in Idaho Springs, Colorado, who loans out animals so (crazy) people like me can participate in a series of pack burro races in small towns around Colorado. And no, I won’t be riding the burro – runners lead their partners up steep mountain trails in races that honor the gold mining history of the area.
Wann paired me with 17-year-old Little Jonah, a resident of Laughing Valley Ranch in Idaho Springs, Colorado, because she thinks our personalities match. I looked up his results for previous years, and, well, let’s just say I’m not expecting to win this year’s race, not that it matters. Jonah’s track record makes me think he might just screech to a halt.
I’m fine with that. Plus, it’ll make a more interesting story if Jonah decides to pause to take in the scenery for a few hours.
“He has come in last ass on a time or two , but that is because the folks running him were not speedy people to begin with,” Wann told me. “Burros like Little Jonah could go either way, speed wise, depending on the person navigating and encouraging him to keep going.”
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.
I’ve learned this about myself in 54 years: I feel most alive when I’m trying new things.
That’s one reason why I’ve taken up paddling in the last year. It’s also how I landed at the start line of the Kanoe Klasika canoe and kayak race on the Colorado River on Saturday morning.
I started paddling for fun about a year ago. Since then, I’ve taken leisurely day trips on the San Marcos, Colorado, Llano and Pedernales rivers, and loaded up my boat with a tent, sleeping bag and campstove for multi-day excursions on the Devils and Pecos rivers.
But now I want to figure out how to go fast. After spending five days following paddlers in the Texas Water Safari in June, I’ve set a huge goal: I want to finish that grueling race, which starts in San Marcos and finishes at Seadrift on the Texas coast.
Two veteran paddlers – Sheila Reiter and Heather Harrison – have invited me to join their three-person team for that epic adventure. In less than a year, I’ll set out on a huge, sleep-deprived river of craziness populated by alligator gar, log jams and hallucinations.
I can’t wait. Also, I’m scared out of my straw cowboy hat.
Saturday’s Kanoe Klasika race marked a first step in my mission to get to the start line, though – my first paddling race. (Technically I participated in the Texas Winter 100 back in January, but I only paddled a portion of that course and stopped for a picnic along the side of the river, so I don’t count it.)
Saturday’s race started at Riverbend Park in Smithville, and finished at Plum Park about 16.5 miles downstream.
Reiter brought the boat – a 23-foot tippy craft that’s more narrow and streamlined than what you’d probably picture if I told you we were racing a canoe. She sat in back, steering us into swifter moving water and around obstacles like low hanging branches and gravel bars. I sat in front and just paddled, focusing on drawing as much strength as I could from each stroke and not flipping out (of the boat, that is.)
Thoughts? A morning spent outdoors, on the water, with like-minded people and getting exercise always ranks high on my list of great ways to pass the time. Along the way, I thought about how far I’ve got to go to prepare myself for the Texas Water Safari. Sixteen miles on a placid, flat river is a lot different than 260 on a narrow, twisty one supercharged with rapids, alligators (yes!) and a notoriously choppy bay.
Even in the two hours and 45 minutes it took us to reach the finish line on Saturday, my wrist hurt and my back got sore. What will happen when I multiply that by 20 or so?
I’m going to find out. I’ll get there. And it’ll all be a new experience.
I almost always start Wednesday mornings with a swim at Barton Springs with a few friends.
Besides getting in a good workout, I always see people I know. Runners gather there after logging their morning miles, to cool their legs in the cold water. My lap swimming friends show up in force, too.
I also love the creatures – you won’t find them at a chlorinated cement pond. But at Barton Springs, birds dive in to snatch up breakfast, fish swirl in schools, crawfish trundle across the bottom and aquatic plants undulate in the current.
This morning I got a special treat. As I hung at the far end, just above Barking Springs, a guy strolled by playing his guitar. I rested on the edge for a few minutes just as he walked by. I smiled up at him and he stopped, sang for a few minutes, then moseyed along.
Austin. It’s the best.
And did you know it’s free to get in Barton Springs before 8 a.m.? The pool opens at 5 a.m., and you can swim for free until 8 a.m. Admission is charged from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and then it’s free again until closing at 10 p.m. (Note that no lifeguards are on duty during the free swim times.)
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.
Lawson Craddock may have finished last in the Tour de France this year, but now he can drink free beer for the rest of his life.
The Austin-based cyclist broke his shoulder blade and cut his face during Stage 1 of this year’s Tour. Instead of packing up and heading back to Texas, Craddock kept cycling. For every stage of the race he completed, he vowed to donate $100 to Alkek Velodrome in Houston, the facility where he learned to race and which was damaged last fall during Hurricane Harvey. He invited fans to donate, too.
Craddock wound up finishing every stage of the three-week race, coming in last of the 145 finishers, a position known as “lanterne rouge.” As of today, the GoFundMe site has raised more than $252,000 for the velodrome.
To congratulate the 26-year-old cyclist, Karbach Brewing Co., the Houston-based company that makes the beer Craddock drank after he finally reached Paris, has promised to supply Craddock with Weekend Warrior Pale Ale for the rest of his life.
The brewery also pledged to donate $1 of every case of Weekend Warrior Pale Ale to Alkek Velodrome for the rest of the year.
National Dance Day rolls around this Saturday, and Ballet Austin is offering $10 classes to celebrate.
Participants can learn the moves for this year’s official National Dance Day routine, to Kylie Minogue’s song “Dancing.” They can also take classes in Afro-Brazilian dance, Arms & Abs 60-Minute Stretch, Cardio Hip Hop, ballet, hip hop, Rio-style Samba, Jazz Turns & Jumps, Videodance Britney’s Toxic and Zumba.
The event runs from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. No dance experience is necessary. Open to adults and children ages 10 and older.