Next adventure for Fit City? Paddle racing – and she started Saturday with Kanoe Klasika

Pam LeBlanc, front, and Sheila Reiter, back, paddle a canoe at Saturday’s Kanoe Klasika race on the Colorado River. Photo by Patty Geisinger

 

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.

Pam LeBlanc, left, and Sheila Reiter, right, prepare for the start of the Kanoe Klasika on Saturday. Photo by Patty Geisinger

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.

 

Heather Harrison, Sheila Reiter and Pam LeBlanc at the start of the Kanoe Klasika race on Saturday.

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.

Racers at the start of the Kanoe Klasika race on Saturday. Photo by Patty Geisinger

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.

 

Sheila Reiter, left, and Pam LeBlanc, right, race down the Colorado River on Saturday. Photo by Patty Geisinger

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.

Swimming’s free – and so’s the guitar solo – before 8 a.m. at Barton Springs

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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 started this morning with a swim at Barton Springs Pool.

RELATED: What’s the real temperature at Barton Springs Pool? Hint: It’s not 68

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.)

For more information go to http://www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool.

No, you can’t swim there yet – but repairs are starting at Balmorhea Pool

Repairs are set to begin at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, which has been closed since May. File photo by Jay Godwin/American-Statesman

 

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.

This photo shows damage to the concrete apron near the diving board at Balmorhea Pool. Contributed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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.

RELATED: Balmorhea Pool closed indefinitely due to structural damage

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.

Balmorhea State Park in west Texas on a hot July day. File photo by Jay Godwin/American-Statesman

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.”

RELATED: Take a dip in a desert oasis at Balmorhea Pool

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.

To make a donation to help fund the repairs, go to http://www.tpwf.org/balmorhea/.

Catch a classic surf flick in the lagoon at NLand Surf Park

Tanner Payan, left, and Randy Gilkerson, center, with the surf band, Tunnel Vision, catch a wave with NLand surf guide, Christine Adams, right, at NLand Surf Park in September 2017. (Rodolfo Gonzalez for Austin American-Statesman)

 

NLand Surf Park will screen the surf documentary “Step Into Liquid” at its lagoon this weekend.

The screening is part of this month’s Surfeza Sunday, which takes place the last Sunday of every month and includes live music and discounted surf sessions and beer.

RELATED: At NLand Surf Park, catch a perfect wave every time

DJ Manolo Black, Soulies and Audic Empire will perform this Sunday, and Cold Ones Popsicles will provide giveaways while supplies last. Additional limited-edition popsicles flavors will be available for purchase, and a dollar from every Blackberry Honey Lemonade popsicle sold will benefit the American Honeybee Protection Agency and its efforts to safely relocate bees. Proceeds from a raffle for a Firewire surfboard will benefit EarthxFilm.  NLand Brewing Company will serve Surfeza, a light, Mexican lager, for $3.

Tickets are $10 for the movie screening only or $40 for the screening, surfing and a dryland surf session. Purchase them in advance through EventBrite here.

The event begins at 11 a.m. Sunday; surfing starts at 5 p.m. for those surfing and watching the film.

NLand Surf Park is located at 4836 East Highway 71 in Del Valle.

On International Day of Yoga, do a downward dog with 3,000 people

The public is invited to attend a free community yoga session Saturday on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol.

Expect to see a lot of downward dogs in downtown Austin this Saturday.

More than 3,000 people will gather on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol at 5:45 p.m. for 90 minutes of yoga, meditation, music and dance on the fourth International Day of Yoga. This year’s theme is “Yoga for Warriors,” and military veterans are encouraged to attend.

The family-friendly event is free and open to the public. All ages and backgrounds are welcome.

The Art of Living Austin, a non-profit organization that offers workshops in breathing techniques, yoga and mediation, is organizing the event in collaboration with local yoga studios. FITT Finder, a mobile app that serves as a guide for fitness and wellness, is sponsoring it.

Dress for the heat, and bring your own yoga mat and water.

For more information email iyd@artoflivingaustin.org or go here.

(Nominate your favorite yoga studio in our inaugural Best of the Best Awards.)

Want to hang 10? You’ll have to wait – both Central Texas surf parks are closed for repairs

Surfer Jett Schilling, with Team Lost Surfboards by Mayhem, rides a wave during an exhibition held at NLand Surf Park on Sunday, Sept. 03 2017, in Del Valle, Texas. (Rodolfo Gonzalez for Austin American-Statesman)

 

If you’d waxed up your surfboard in anticipation of catching some waves at one of two Central Texas surf parks this week, you’re out of luck.

Both NLand Surf Park, just east of Austin, and the new BSR Surf Resort, which opened May 12 northeast of Waco, are closed for maintenance issues.

BSR Surf Resort opened May 12 but closed May 30 due to problems related to the liner in the surfing pool. According to the resort’s website, it will reopen to the public on July 1.

RELATED: New BSR Surf Resort near Waco temporarily closes for maintenance

The Waco surf park park uses an air-powered system to mimic ocean waves whose strength and timing can be adjusted. Waves roll out in sets of three, with each wave spaced about 5 seconds apart and a new trio every 45 seconds.

Here in Austin, NLand Surf Park is also temporarily closed.

“Our next Low Tide was initially planned for​ mid-July​ but a particular area of our lagoon needed maintenance sooner than we had originally scheduled,” a press release said. “The work is under way, with a June 21st completion target. Blue Prairie restaurant and NLand Brewing Company will remain open with normal operating hours as we perform maintenance on the lagoon. For updates, please visit our website.”

The park, which opened in October 2016, closed not long after it opened to repair leaks in the liner of the surfing lagoon. It reopened in May 2017.

RELATED: NLand Surf Park reopens after months of repairs

Suffice it to say you won’t be catching any waves at either of the Texas surf parks. If you still want to hang 10, you’ll have to head to the Texas coast, where I just camped a few weeks ago with some surfers at Mansfield Cut.

They got lucky – the surf was relatively good and they spent two days playing in the waves. Or do what I’m doing – heading to Costa Rica to participate in a women’s only surf camp with Surf With Amigas. Look for a story soon.

Logjams, man-sized gar and hallucinations: Texas Water Safari kicks off Saturday

Team Dirty Dogs lowers their five-person canoe over Cummings Dam on the San Marcos River on Sunday. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Once they negotiate the boat-bashing chaos of the start in San Marcos, they’ll face the first rapids.

Then will come a twisting stretch of river, a mud-slickened portage or two, a dam, more rapids, more portages, more dams, more twists and turns, and an onslaught of discomforts that starts with aching muscles and sunburn and works its way, like a building tsunami, into a horror show of indigestion, stinking boats and exhaustion.

In all, paddlers who start the Texas Water Safari have signed on for about 260 miles of nothing less than misery.

Veteran paddler West Hansen scouts a stretch of the Guadalupe River near Tivoli. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I’m going to be writing about the Texas Water Safari this year, so I’ve been spending as much time as I can with the local paddling community.

During the course of what’s been billed as “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race,” solo paddlers and teams of up to six will face logjams and mosquitoes, poison ivy, clouds of nose, eye and lip-coating mayflies, mosquitoes, a snake or two, actual alligators and, even more horrifying, human-sized alligator gar. It draws macho guys, bad-ass women, couples, families, friends and the just plain curious.

They’ll paddle through all of it, for hours on end, many not even pausing to sleep. The hallucinations will come, and so, too, will the disgruntled digestive systems and inflamed skin and mud-smeared bodies. In the end, though, they’ll earn a coveted finisher’s patch which, one can only presume, makes it all worth while.

Pam LeBlanc had her sandals sucked off her feet during a training portage. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I got hooked on paddling last year. I paddle slow. I like to camp along the way, look at nature and soak up the silence. But for the past few weeks I’ve been rubbing shoulders with a whole new breed of paddlers.

These people buy bulk containers of Spiz liquid food mix, they hold entire conversations about jug foam, they tell horror stories about sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations and fish that jump into their canoes with such force they break ribs.

A few weeks ago, I spent the day at Palmetto State Park, where many of them had gathered for three days of training. My husband and I enjoyed a leisurely three-hour run in our 17-foot Alumacraft canoe while they humped it twice that far in the same amount of time. I could barely keep our boat going straight. I ran us into the bank a few times.

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Then, last weekend I took a field trip down to Cuero, where I scouted a huge log jam with a couple of veteran racers. My shoes got sucked off my feet in the mud. I (temporarily) lost a paddle during a portage. I saw half a dozen small alligators. I screamed and nearly fell out of my boat – four times – when a gar with teeth like needles and nearly as big as me (I’m not exaggerating) surfaced near my bow.

This weekend I hopped into seat four of a five-person race canoe, filling a seat on one of the Dirty Dog’s training runs. We scouted their first few portages on the upper stretches of the San Marcos River. I slipped and bashed my shin while wading around in the river. We saw a snake. I tried to paddle in synch with people who knew what they were doing. I struggled (unsuccessfully) to keep up when they shifted into high gear, practicing going fast and furious. I kept slamming my paddle against the side of the boat.

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I’ve spent hours chatting with people who have done this race before, asking them why they do it (it’s a challenge, it’s a way to bond, it’s peaceful, for the adventure) and how they push on when they want to quit (because everybody does), how they stay awake and what happens when nature calls (they pee in a bottle or jump in the river to do their business).

The race kicks off at Spring Lake in San Marcos at 9 a.m. Saturday. The leaders will likely cross the finish line in Seadrift sometime very late Sunday or early Monday. They’ll be blistered and sunburned, delirious and dehydrated, exhausted and thrilled.

Look for my story in mid-July.

West Hansen carries his one-man canoe out of the river after a Sunday training run that finished near Tivoli. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

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New BSR Surf Resort near Waco temporarily closes for maintenance

Morgan Faulkner rides a wave at the new BSR Surf Resort near Waco. The park opens to the public on Saturday. Photo courtesy Rob Henson

Don’t strap that longboard to your car’s roof just yet, surfers.

BSR Surf Resort, the new land-locked surfing facility that opened as part of Barefoot Ski Ranch Cable Park northeast of Waco on May 12, has temporarily closed because of problems with the liner in the surf lagoon.

Park officials sent an email to season pass holders Wednesday afternoon, cancelling surf sessions this week and notifying customers that the facility would be closed “for approximately two weeks due to liner maintenance.”

RELATED: Huge new surf park near Waco opens to public

The Waco surf park park uses an air-powered system to mimic ocean waves whose strength and timing can be adjusted. Waves roll out in sets of three, with each wave spaced about 5 seconds apart and a new trio every 45 seconds.

“From all of us here at BSR, we sincerely apologize for any miscommunications and inconveniences,” said the email, from Courtney Magnusson, manager of the pro shop at the surf resort. “The outpouring of interest in our new facility has been positively overwhelming and we are restructuring and strengthening the areas needed to make sure we can best serve you.”

RELATED: At NLand Surf Park, catch a perfect wave every time

The email also said that the surf park’s online booking system is not yet up and running. “It is currently still in beta and with the closure of our surf, we are going to utilize the downtime to perfect the online booking,” the email said, adding that the park’s social media platforms will announce when the system is operational.

Other areas of Barefoot Ski Ranch Cable Park, 5347 Old Mexia Road in Axtell, remain open. water park and wakeboard areas remain open.

Don’t want to drive that far anyway? Head to NLand Surf Park east of Austin, where you can ride a man-made wave or drink beer brewed on site.

 

Do alligators, hallucinations and sleep deprivation sound fun? Try the Texas Water Safari

Paddlers training for the Texas Water Safari put in their boats at Palmetto State Park on May 27, 2018. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

 

I’ve never been a fan of sleep deprivation, so I’ve always grimaced at the thought of the Texas Water Safari, the notoriously grueling, 260-mile paddle race from Aquarena Springs in San Marcos to the town of Seadrift on the Texas coast.

That, along with the inevitable snake-infested logjams, alligators, clown hallucinations, and water-logged skin that “turns to tissue paper,” always sounded pretty horrible.

But I can feel my mind bending, just a tad.

This year I’m taking the easy first step of observing and writing about the event, which starts June 9. I headed to Palmetto State Park over Memorial Day weekend to meet some of the paddlers who gathered there to get in some training hours.

Paddlers haul their Alumacraft canoe to the San Marcos River at Palmetto State Park. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I knew I couldn’t keep up with them, so I brought along my husband and our Alumacraft canoe, and hitched a shuttle up to Zedler Mill, about 16 river miles above the park, to log an easy paddle myself while they sped down the river toward Gonzales. That would give me a taste of a beginner-friendly stretch of the course, plus time afterward to pick some of the racers’ brains.

It took me about three-and-a-half leisurely hours to make my run, including stops for a picnic and swimming. About 4 miles downstream of the Interstate 10 bridge, we encountered an obstacle dubbed “Son of Ottine,” a rocky drop in the river. We pulled off on the left side (avoiding a canoe-eating channel we’d been warned about) and lugged our boat partway down the little cascade, then pushed back into the flow. We eyeballed blue herons, dipped our paddles in water next to gar and drifted through a few clouds of dragonflies along the way, too.

Pam LeBlanc strikes a hammy pose before putting in her canoe at Zedler Mill. Chris LeBlanc for American-Statesman

And, yes. The thought of one day racing the Texas Water Safari, which started in 1963 and is billed as the “World’s Toughest Boat Race,” seems a little less crazy with every dip of the paddle.

If I can only get over that sleep deprivation part …

Meet the youngest athlete in Life Time Tri CapTex: Kaleb Rosenberg, 8

Kaleb Rosenberg will race in his first adult triathlon this Memorial Day – the Life Time Tri CapTex. Family photo

Want a jolt of inspiration? Head downtown to watch the Life Time Tri CapTex, which is expected to draw nearly 3,000 athletes to downtown Austin on Memorial Day.

And if you’re waffling about whether or not to compete, take note. It’s not too late to register.

The 28th annual event starts and finishes at Vic Mathias Shores, 900 West Riverside Drive. Athletes will swim in Lady Bird Lake, bike up Congress Avenue to the Capitol and back, and run along West Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road.

Sign up at www.captextri.com. Entry fee is $172 for international distance ($87 collegiate or $247 relay); $140 sprint distance ($215 relay); or $108 super sprint.

Just brace for some heat. The current forecast calls for a low of 70 and high of 98, with no chance of rain. Wear your sunscreen and stay hydrated.

And keep an eye out for the youngest competitor, 8-year-old Kaleb Rosenberg, who will compete in his first sprint distance triathlon along side adults.

We checked in with Kaleb, whose father Josh will also be racing on Monday, to see how he’s feeling. Here’s what he told us, via email:

Joshua and Kaleb Rosenberg will compete at the Life Time Tri CapTex on Monday. Family photo

Have you ever raced a triathlon before?
Yes, last year I did two kids triathlons. For my birthday present last year, my parents took me to Houston to do my first tri. The races went really well, but they were short and I wanted to do something longer to test myself.”

What do you like about triathlons?

“They really push me and they are made up of three sports I like. This may sound crazy, but I really like the transitions. The feeling of crossing the finish line is amazing!”

What’s your plan going into the big race?

“I have never done an open water swim, so I don’t want to go out too hard. I watched a lot of triathlons on TV and I have seen how people win or lose the race on the run, so I want to make sure I’ve got it at the end. Oh, and my dad keeps telling me to hydrate.”

Which part are you best at, and which is hardest?

“I think I am best on the bike and I am really excited because my grandparents bought me a new bike with gears so that I would be able to go all out. The run is definitely the hardest part, but my father convinced me to train by signing me up for the Cap 10K two years in a row. He makes the training fun because we play Pokemon Go on his phone while we are running and try to hatch all my 10K eggs.”