Learn about Texas’ paddling trails at this book signing with Bob Spain

Bob Spain a canoe along the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail, a 6-mile stretch of the San Marcos River from the U.S. Hwy 90 crossing to the Zedler Mill. File photo by Kelly West/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN


It’s tougher than you think to paddle a canoe in a straight line.

I know, because I’ve been trying to perfect the skill (sporadically) for a few months now, with the help of a few friends who are experts. Among them? Bob Spain, a local paddler and paddling instructor who will unveil his new book, “Bob Spain’s Canoeing Guide and Favorite Texas Paddling Trails” (Texas A&M University Press, $26.95) at an event at REI’s downtown location this Thursday.

The book, oriented toward recreational paddlers like me and thoughtfully printed on waterproof paper in case you and the book take an unexpected dip, includes a quick history of paddling and its importance in the fur trade, plus information about different types of boats, tips on how to paddle and illustrations of different strokes. A good chunk is devoted to paddling trails around the state, and it wraps up with a few words on conservation and environmental threats to our rivers and streams.

Of particular interest to me? A section on paddling in a straight line, something Bob’s wife, Joy Emshoff, has been working on with me.

“The main emphasis was to let people know about the paddle trails, but you really need to know more about canoeing before you go out there,” Spain says.

Spain, a certified canoeing instructor, started paddling when he came to Austin around 1980. He says he loves the quiet, stealthy ride a canoe provides, which lets him observe wildlife he otherwise wouldn’t get to see.

“It’s just a way of life to me,” he says.

Spain will speak at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Austin Downtown REI, 601 North Lamar Boulevard. Registration is limited. At 7 p.m., he will sign copies of the book. Registration is not required for the signing and anyone may attend. Both events are free.

Five upcoming events with Fit City’s stamp of approval

The Hyatt Regency Austin moves its free Pints ‘n Poses yoga class to the rooftop on Monday. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Austin

Looking for sweat-inducing outdoor action? Check out these upcoming events, which get the Fit City stamp of approval:

  • Free yoga – outdoors, with fabulous views and a complimentary beer! The Hyatt Regency Austin is moving it’s free Pints & Poses class to the top floor of the hotel’s parking garage this month. Ferny Barcelo and Zuzu Perkal will lead the relaxing, smooth flow yoga class, which starts at 6:30 p.m. May 14 at the hotel, 208 Barton Springs Road. Bring your own mat. For more information go here.
Shawneen Pazienza, center, laughs with other league members during warm-ups in January 2018. Julia Robinson for American-Statesman
  • How about flinging axes for a good cause? Urban Axes, 812 Airport Boulevard, will host a Ladyblades fundraiser in partnership with SAFE Austin from 6:30-10 p.m. May 15. Tournament entry is $40, or pay $20 just to watch it all go down. Tickets include wine, beer and food from Laurent Perrier, Austin Eastciders and La Barbeque. For tickets, go here.
  • Drink beer and relax with representatives from all kinds of outdoor brands at Outdoor Project’s summer block party from 2-10 p.m. May 19 at Hops & Grain, 507 Calles Street. The all-day party will feature beer, live music, local food carts and sponsorship from Keen Footwear, Kammok, Gossamer Gear, Blipic, Patagonia, Kind Bars, Crux Climbing Center and more. The event is a fund-raiser for Explore Austin, a local non-profit organization that works to help underserved youth through leadership, mentoring and outdoor adventure. Old Salt Union and Josh Klaus Music will perform starting at 6:30 p.m. For more information go here. 
  • Try out cool outdoor activities like fishing and archery, learn about the state’s 73 paddling trails, and study native fish at the free Outdoor Adventures Area at Jones Brothers Park on Lake Travis in Jonestown from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 19-20. Fisheries biologists, state park rangers, outdoor educators and game wardens will answer questions and provide demonstrations. The event is held in conjunction with Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, a tournament held May 17-20 at Lake Travis. For more information go here.
An athlete scrambles under barbed wire during a Spartan Race. Photo courtesy Spartan
  • Scramble underneath barbed wire, slosh through mud and leap over flames during the Spartan races May 19-20 at Reveille Peak Ranch, 105 County Road 114 in Burnet. Nearly 10,000 participants of all ages and skill levels are expected for the 3- to 5-mile “Spartan Sprint” and 8- to 10-mile “Spartan Super” courses. The weekend also features a 12-hour Hurricane Heat team event and a kids race course for ages 4-13. For more information go here.
A competitor sloshes through mud at a Spartan race. Photo courtesy Spartan

Butler Trail detour begins as crews install mini-boardwalk

Users of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail navigate the section of trail beneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in March 2018. Starting Wednesday, the trail will be detoured up to Congress Avenue as crews install a new mini boardwalk. AMANDA VOISARD / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A section of the Butler Hike and Bike Trail beneath the north end of the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge will close Wednesday for 12 days while crews demolish the old wooden bridge and install a new 14-foot-wide pathway.

Trail users can follow a detour up to Congress Avenue and around the construction during the closure. The trail, part of the 10-mile loop around Lady Bird Lake, will reopen Monday, May 21, according to a press release from The Trail Foundation.

RELATED: Construction begins on mini boardwalk beneath Congress Avenue Bridge

Construction began in March week to replace the narrow, more than 40-year-old existing structure with a sleek 172-foot “mini-boardwalk” that will take users out over the water. The privately funded project also includes a viewing platform where people can rest, watch the bats emerge during summer months or just take in the sights.

The new concrete and steel bridge is designed improve safety at a dangerous bottleneck on the trail, according to The Trail Foundation official.

RELATED: What’s next for the hike-and-bike trail? Leaders unveil 15 projects

Construction began in March on the new stretch of trail. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Robert F. Smith, 55, founder of Austin-based private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, donated $1.25 million to kick-start the $2.5-million project. The rest of the project’s money, which has already been raised, comes from private donations, according to Trail Foundation officials.

RELATED: Boardwalk belts play homage to classic Texas songs

The Trail Foundation is collaborating with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department on the project. Barring any construction delays, the new bridge under Congress Avenue should open by June, Anderson said.


Corrects to indicate Robert Smith is founder of Vista Equity Partners.

People loved Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest so much organizers cancelled it

Did you make it out to Big Bend for the 2018 Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest? Hopefully so, because this year’s event drew so many bicyclists that organizers have decided to cancel next year’s event.

A notice sent to past attendees from Desert Sports in Terlingua said this: “Alas, more riders attended then our allotted cap of 500. Area resources, from venues to delicate trail environments to emergency services, were overwhelmed by the attendance.”

RELATED: For epic mountain bike riding, head to Big Bend Ranch State Park

The festival first took place in 2011, and was designed to encourage cyclists to enjoy the array of trails at Big Bend Ranch State Park. It also included a few guided rides behind the Lajitas Resort and in Big Bend National Park.

Heidi Armstrong and Dan Opdyke ride their bikes at Big Bend National Park during Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest in February 2018. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


“We have been successful beyond our wildest hopes and dreams,” the notice said, adding that cyclists are still encouraged to visit the area to ride between October and April – just not all on one weekend.
“The Big Bend Trails Alliance will continue to maintain, build and advocate our beloved trails through your generous donations,” the letter said.

I’ve been attending the festival since it began, and spent a day earlier this year at the event, pedaling some of my favorite bike trails in the state. I’ve launched myself into more than one cactus there, and enjoyed every moment.

The perfect 21-mile cycling route starts in Willow City

Chris and Pam LeBlanc pedaled the Willow City Loop this weekend.


Every year while the wildflowers are blooming, I load up my bicycle and head to the Hill Country to pedal the Willow City Loop.

The hilly circuit makes me whimper a little – especially that giant hill about 3 miles from the finish, which turns my quads to jelly – but the reward comes in the form of classic Texas vistas of blue, yellow and red blooms, limestone outcroppings and, if you’re lucky, a flowing creek or two.

RELATED: Ten underwater photos to make you feel better

This year, I missed the bluebonnets, which peaked about three weeks ago. That turned out OK, though, because instead of a steady stream of motorcycles and slow-moving cars, I encountered hardly any traffic. Plus, I saw something new – fields of blooming cactus with fuschia and yellow flowers.


To do the ride, park your car on the side of the road in Willow City, which consists of a bar called Harry’s, a couple of houses, a historic school, a single intersection and bunch of goats.

For best results, bike the loop in clockwise direction, heading west first until you reach Texas 16. Turn right on Texas 16 and head north along this busy two-lane highway. (This is my least favorite part.) Keep your eyes open — you’ll get a quick glimpse of Enchanted Rock to the left just before you start the big downhill glide. A few miles after you reach the bottom, you’ll see an official highway sign directing you to the Willow City Loop on the right.

The land along the road is private, and vehicles aren’t supposed to stop along the right-of-way. (They do anyway.)

You’ll cross lots of cattle guards (caution!) and a few small creeks, weave alongside some craggy boulders, and spy fields of flowers and cactus. We also spotted a wild turkey, a tortoise meandering down the road, a bunch of cattle and a gray fox. Near the end, take note of the long stretch of fence, with cowboy boots capping each post.

Cowboy boots top fenceposts alongside one property on the Willow City Loop. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Most of the motorized traffic drives the loop in the opposite direction, so you’ll see cars coming at you. About 3 miles from the finish, you’ll see an imposing ridge rising in front of you. Take a big gulp of air and prepare to mash your pedals.

We call it the hill that keeps on giving. The first part is steepest, with a break followed by another moderately steep stretch. Even when you think you’re done, the gradual incline continues all the way to Willow City.

Best part of this 5K? The food stops along the way!

At the Fit Foodie 5K, runners stop at tasting stations along the running route, and enjoy more food at a finish line festival. Photo by Vladamir Bukalo


The best most runners get on a race course is sports drink, but an upcoming race will feature far more filling fare.

The Cooking Light & Health Fit Foodie Festival & 5K doles out nibbles at tasting stations along the race course, and wraps up with a food and fitness festival (plus a beer garden, workout classes and cooking demonstrations) at the finish line.

The event includes cooking demos, mini fitness workouts and food. Vladamir Bukalo

The event is set for June 23 at Mueller Lake Park, 4550 Mueller Boulevard, and benefits No Kid Hungry. Race start is 8 a.m. at the Browning Hangar.

Even better? Bib pickup doubles as a happy hour celebration the night before the run. Goody bags feature gifts from health and wellness brands.

The event will take place at Mueller Lake Park in Austin on June 23. Game Face Media

Registration costs $35 per person and increases on May 18. For more information or to sign up, go here.

Welcome to May, when you get free breakfast tacos for biking to work

Daniel Staub stops by a free breakfast station at Whole Foods in this file photo. Photo by Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman


Welcome to National Bike Month, when we cyclists gloat non-stop about how pedaling to work beats sitting in traffic in a car.

But seriously. It does.

I started riding a bicycle to work as a result of a commuter challenge hosted by the city 13 or 14 years ago. I got caught up in the mania, and somehow by trying to log more bicycle trips than other teams, it became a habit.

RELATED: Bicycles get green light at COTA on Tuesday nights

These days, I ride my bike to work an average of four times a week. I love it. The 14-mile round trip gives me some bonus exercise, keeps one more car off the road and it helps me avoid the distress of getting caught in gridlock traffic. Plus, I like to think it keeps my legs cute.

Pam Leblanc leaves her home to ride to a bus stop on June 23, 2014. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Every May, cities around the country celebrate National Bike Month. Here in Austin, the highlight of the month comes on Bike to Work Day, set this year for May 18. And the best part of that day? Free breakfast for bike commuters at stations all over the city.

RELATED: Tired of Barton Creek? Try the bike trails at Slaughter Creek instead

Bike Austin has partnered with more than two dozen businesses that will serve up free coffee, water and breakfast treats like tacos and donuts during the morning commute. The fueling stations will be open from 6:30-9 a.m.

Here’s a handy (and evolving) list:

• Alliance Transportation Group

• Austin Beerworks

• Austin Habitat for Humanity

• B-Cycle

• Bennu Coffee

• Bouldin Creek Cafe

• C3 Presents

• City Hall

• Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden

• Crux Climbing Center

• Cuvee Coffee Bar

• Dia’s Market

• Easy Rider Pedicab

• fibercove

• Ghisallo

• Greater Goods Coffee Roasters

• Houndstooth Coffee


• Monkey Wrench Bicycles

• Mueller Neighborhood Association

• Orange Coworking

• Regions Bank

• Sayers Advisors

• Spokesman

• The Austin Coffee Trailer

• The Paramount Theatre

• Townlake YMCA

• Vital Farms

• Wells Branch Speedy Stop

• Wheatsville Food Co-op

TownLake YMCA will offer free passes and shower use, and C3 Presents will donate a pair of 2018 ACL Music Festival tickets to a lucky winner.

The day wraps up with a party from 5-7 p.m. at Cheer Up Charlies, 900 Red River Street. Don’t forget to pick up a passport at the first fueling station you visit. You’ll get one entry into the evening’s door prize drawing for each stamp you collect.

For more information go here.

Too broke for a trainer? Try these free classes at Dancers Shape

Dancers Shape will host a free four-week fitness series. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape


I say it all the time: You don’t have to pay a lot of money to get in shape.

Every Monday for the next four weeks, Dancers Shape will offer free outdoor workouts at Bee Cave Central Park,

13742 Bee Cave Parkway in Bee Cave.

The free four-week fitness series, Pilates in the Park, starts with a mat class at 9:30 a.m. April 30 and continues at the second time the next three Mondays.

The classes will take place at 9:30 a.m. Mondays at Bee Cave Central Park. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape

The one hour, full body classes will combine traditional elements of pilates, yoga and barre into a quick-paced flow on the mat, according to a press release. The classes will focus on functional movement to build core strength. Bring your own mat, water and full length towel. The group will meet under the pavilion at the park.

The park is next door to the new Dancers Shape studio at Hill Country Indoor. For more information go here.

The free series focuses on core strength. Photo courtesy Dancers Shape

Considering paddling the remote Pecos River? Check out our photos

Collis Williams takes a dip in the rapids at Painted Canyon, during a five-day paddle trip on the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


If you follow this blog, you know I’ve fallen in love with paddling.

In the last year I’ve explored waterways all over the state by canoe and kayak, from the Llano to the Pedernales, the San Marcos to the Colorado, and the Devils to Medina Creek.

Colton Moore fills his water bottle at a spring in a canyon along the Pecos River. We had landowner permission to visit the site. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

RELATED: Dip a paddle in these five Texas waterways

Last week I added the remote Pecos River to the list. I’ll be writing about my five-day adventure down the stretch of river between Pandale and Comstock in an upcoming article, but first I wanted to share some pictures I took along the way.

RELATED: The Devil made me do it

The group enjoys sunset along the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Our group of five camped along the riverbank, fished for bass, shot small rapids, explored a natural spring and visited an emerald green pool inside a magical amphitheater created by Mother Nature (all with landowner permission) as we eased down the river.

Gearing up after a night of camping along the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Water flow was low, and we had to pull our boats over a stretch of bony fingers of rock called The Flutes, a cold front turned out last 10 miles into a blue-lipped, freezer fest of a day, and, yes, my legs were dappled with tiny black leeches at one point, but it was good.

Really good.

This pool of water is tucked in a canyon along the Pecos River. We had the landowner’s permission to visit. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


To whet your appetite for more, I’ve attached some of my favorite pictures here. Look for a story in the Travel section of the Austin American-Statesman in the next few weeks.

We encountered a small herd of horses on Day 3 of our trip on the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Houston Dobbins tows his kayak – and his dog Oso – over a stretch of shallow water known as The Flutes. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Colleen Gilbreath relaxes at the side of the river during our five-day paddle trip on the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Collis Williams draws water to filter from the Pecos River. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
Colleen Gilbreath and Colton Moore snuggle in a hammock along the Pecos River during last week’s paddle trip. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman
The sun sets on night two of our paddle trip along the Pecos River last week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

What’s the most dangerous stretch of road for bicyclists in Austin?

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Anyone who has ridden a bicycle around Austin on a regular basis knows the feeling of a near miss.

In my 15 or so years of pedaling to work, I’ve come close to getting hit by a car several times. I’ve also been yelled at, spit on and flipped off, but that’s another story. I still love to bike to work, and it helps keep me fit and happy – two things I don’t get from getting stuck in traffic when I drive my car down MoPac Boulevard.

Andrew McKenna rides his bicycle on Guadalupe Street in January 2018. (Stephen Spillman /for American-Statesman)

A law firm based in Chicago recently compiled statistics on the most dangerous stretches or urban roads for cyclists. In Austin, Guadalupe Street between West Cesar Chavez Street and North Lamar Boulevard ranked as the most dangerous roadway.

The list was based on bike collisions, injuries and fatalities, and is based on somewhat stale information – data circa 2015 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for cities with populations of 500,000 or more. It also considered hazards like narrow shoulders and roads without bike lanes.

Still, it’s worth a look. Nearly half a million bicyclists are injured or killed on American roads every year, according to the study.

Albuquerque recorded the most cyclist fatalities, with 8.94 deaths per million people, followed by Tucson, with 7.52 per million. Dallas and Indianapolis had the lowest rates – 0.77 per million people and 1.17 fatalities per million. (But perhaps that’s because fewer people in Dallas ride bikes? No context in this study.)

Austin comes in 20th, with 2.15 fatalities per million. And remember, this is for a few years ago. Here’s a complete list:

Fatality Rate per 1 million

  1. Albuquerque 8.94
  2. Tucson 7.52
  3. Las Vegas 6.41
  4. Phoenix 5.12
  5. San Jose 4.87
  6. Columbus 4.71
  7. San Francisco 4.63
  8. Memphis 4.57
  9. Philadelphia 4.47
  10. Los Angeles 4.03
  11. Jacksonville 3.46
  12. Louisville 3.25
  13. Portland 3.16
  14. Denver 2.93
  15. San Antonio 2.72
  16. Chicago 2.57
  17. Charlotte 2.42
  18. Houston 2.18
  19. San Diego 2.15
  20. Austin 2.15
  21. Fresno 1.92
  22. Milwaukee 1.67
  23. Baltimore 1.61
  24. New York 1.52
  25. Washington 1.49
  26. Detroit 1.48
  27. Seattle 1.46
  28. Fort Worth 1.2
  29. Indianapolis 1.17
  30. Dallas 0.77
  31. Oklahoma City 0
  32. Nashville 0
  33. El Paso 0
  34. Boston 0

To see the most dangerous stretches of roadway in cities across America, go here.