What happened when Fit City tried ski jumping? Watch here…


Hurtling down a man-made lake with skis on your feet, then launching yourself from a 5-foot, wedge-shaped ramp, feels sort of like getting shot out of a cannon.

Not that I’d know about the cannon part, although this is my Year of Adventure and I’m open to all sorts of challenges. (No, please do not alert the circus.)

I tried ski jumping yesterday (with mixed results) at the invitation of long-time ski jumper Rhett Stone, who has retired from the sport after having too many hips replaced.

Fit City tried ski jumping at Aquaplex this week.

I’d put on water skis a few times growing up, then got serious about 13 years ago and learned to run a slalom course. These days I ski once a week before work. I love it. But jumping? Never.

Under the guidance of Jimmy Siemers, a former world champion and record holder, I made two passes over the jump.

How’d it end? Less than gracefully. Look for my story in the Austin American-Statesman and Austin360 soon.

Five tips to help you keep your cool while hiking on a hot summer day

Hikers explore St. Edward’s Park in May 2016. Photo by Pam LeBlanc May 9 2016


Hiking in Central Texas lately feels like walking across a hot griddle with a blow torch aimed at your face.

That’s why Texas park rangers, who encounter lots of park visitors suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, want to share some tips to keep hikers safe during the hot summer months.

Number one? Drink plenty of water. Hydration makes it easier to tolerate heat. Carry extra water and drink periodically, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And if you’re bringing your dog, make sure it has water, too. A good rule of thumb is to turn around and head back once you’ve consumed half of your water supply, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say.

RELATED: Tired of the usual trails? Check out these less-known hiking gems.

Second, make sure you know how long the trail is before heading out. Hikers sometimes underestimate how long it will take them to hike a trail, especially when they’re tackling rugged terrain. Trail maps are available at the visitors center of all Texas State Parks, and online at the department’s website.

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing when you hike during the summer. Photo by Pam LeBlanc


Third, plan hikes for early in the morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler and the sun isn’t as strong. Take frequent breaks and know your limit. Rest under shade when you can.

RELATED: Beautiful hiking trails, no crowds at Doeskin Ranch.

Fourth, wear appropriate clothing – light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing works best. A hat keeps your face shaded, and a bandana can be dipped in water and worn around the neck to keep you cool.

Finally, park rangers say, check the weather before you start your hike so you’re prepared for conditions on the trail.

If you start to experience a heat related emergency, call the park headquarters or 911.

Participants in the Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series explore Pedernales Falls State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Austin runners aim for ‘fastest known time’ on Washington’s Wonderland Trail

Allison Macsas, left, and Mallory Brooks, right, ran 56 miles of the Wonderland Trail last year. Photo courtesy Mallory Brooks

The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mount Rainier in Washington, and most people who see it carry loaded backpacks, sleep in tents and stop periodically to snap photos or soak their feet in streams.

Not Allison Macsas or Mallory Brooks.

The two Austin runners hope to set a new women’s time record as they cover the 93-mile trail, without outside support.

Time records are kept in three divisions – supported, in which crew members can help a runner by providing food or shoes or anything they need; self-supported, in which a runner can cache food or mail packages to him or herself; and unsupported, in which a runner can only carry his or her own supplies or eat and drink what they find in the wild.

Candice Burt holds the current women’s unsupported “fastest known time” of 31 hours, 11 minutes and 56 seconds. That’s just over a 20-minute pace, on a rugged, single-track trail with 22,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. (She also encountered two mountain lions along the way, and has some cool tattoos on her legs.)

Macsas and Brooks would like to break the 30-hour barrier, and they’ve got a good shot of doing it. They’re aiming for a 15- to 16-minute-per-mile moving pace; stops to put on or take off layers, filter water, change socks and do other maintenance will drop that speed to between 17 and 19 minutes per mile.

“We definitely want to push that bar as low as we can, so we set a harder bar for the next people to leap over,” says Brooks, 33. “We don’t want to barely shave it off – it’s better to really push it to a new level.”

Allison Macsas, left, and Mallory Brooks, right, will attempt to set a women’s unsupported time record when they run the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier in August. Photo courtesy Mallory Brooks

Macsas, co-owner of Rogue Expeditions, and Brooks, co-owner of Spectrum Trail Racing, knocked out 56 miles of the Wonderland Trail last year, so they know what they’re in for. That run featured 17,000 feet of climbing. They’ll face a new challenge this time out, though: Permanent snowfields, which they’ll likely hit at night.

“The trail, if you were to take it away from the mountain, looks like a pie crust – one circle that goes up, down, up, down with very little flat,” says Brooks.

Macsas, 32, who has raced the marathon at the Olympic Trials, and won the 2017 Austin Marathon and 2011 Statesman Capitol 10K, is relatively new at ultra running, although she has finished 50 and 100-milers in Leadville, Colorado, and completed the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim twice.

“Trail running so much slower than what I’d do on road,” Macsas says. “It almost feels like hiking to me.”

The women will fly to Washington on Aug. 13, and plan to start the next day, as long as the weather is good. Since no one can aid them along the way, they’ll stuff peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and peanut M&Ms into their packs and bring water filters to draw water from streams along the way.

“What’s more important than speed here is, I don’t want to say craziness, but are you bold enough to try it. I’m like a metronome, I’m slow but I keep going. And I’m OK with pain,” Brooks says.

The women say they’re in it together.

“We’re both in agreement. We both want to do this, but it’s not life or death. If someone gets hurt, we’re definitely sticking together,” Macsas says.

Brooks agrees, saying that she won’t be broken hearted if they don’t get the record on their first attempt. “It’s more than that – it’s to go see what we can do,” she says.”If we did it and didn’t make the record, we’d probably just go back and try again.”

A dip in a secluded Hill Country swimming hole makes everything right

I’ve been spending every spare hour lately writing.

When I’m not working here at the Austin American-Statesman, I’m chipping away at a book I’m writing about the conservationist J. David Bamberger.

A few weeks ago, I took a week off from the Statesman and put myself in (almost) solitary confinement out at Bamberger’s ranch, Selah, near Johnson City. The rolling hills and waving grasses there speak to my soul, and when I look out over the land, or talk to Bamberger about how he brought this once-overgrazed corner of the Hill Country back to life, I just want to hug a tree or roll in the dirt or scream “thank you” up at the sky.

Pam LeBlanc relaxes on a swim platform at Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve near Johnson City. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

Mostly, though, I want to jump in a small spring-fed lake at the ranch. It’s the swimming hole of my dreams – green-blue water, a floating swim platform, cypress trees and clear, clear water. Most days I get the entire lake to myself.

Swimming works magic on me. I sort out problems, stretch my body, crank up my heart rate and revel in the feeling that Mother Nature is cradling me in her arms. It’s bliss, especially at sunrise or sunset, when the light turns everything golden, and it helps put me in the right frame of mind to write.

Gretch Sanders, left, and Pam LeBlanc, right, play on the swim platform at Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. Photo by Chris LeBlanc


My husband Chris recently used his new drone to take video of me swimming at the lake.

Just watching it makes me happy, and reminds me how important exercise is not just physically, but mentally as well.


What does it feel like to jump into 37-degree water? Fit City finds out


You thought Barton Springs was cold?

I jumped into an Oregon lake last week with water more than 30 degrees colder than the Austin swimming hole. My feet ached, my lips turned blue and I couldn’t stop shivering. (That’s me on the right, in the video taken by Ann Baumann.)

The average temperature of Tamolitch, also known as “Blue Pool,” is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Forest Service.  Barton Springs hovers at a comparatively balmy 70 to 72 degrees. (No it’s not really 68, year-round.)

And I only stayed in the water about 15 seconds.

I made the dip during a “run-cation” in Oregon with Rogue Expeditions. Over a five-day period, we ran trails up mountains, through forests, alongside rivers and next to waterfalls. One of those days took us along the McKenzie River Trail, past a cliff-rimmed, blue marble of a lake called Tamolitch.

The water temperature in the Blue Pool averages 37 degrees year round. Photo by Pam LeBlanc


The lake forms where the McKenzie River resurfaces from a lava tube below Carmen Reservoir. Native Americans named it Tamolitch, which means “bucket.” They should have named it something that meant “freaking cold water.”

To jump in the lake (which I had to do, considering I’ve declared 2017 my Year of Adventure), we had to scramble down a steep embankment to the pool’s edge. Then we had to wade out onto a ledge covered with about 4 inches of water. The pool dropped from the ledge into deep blue water.

Three of us decided we’d take the plunge together, but we knew we had to do it quickly. Cindy, Becky and I took off our shoes and socks, grabbed hands and waded forth. My ankles hurt from the cold, and I hadn’t even submerged myself yet. At the count of three, we stepped in.


The cold took my breath away. My skin felt like I’d been locked in a Yeti cooler overnight. I wheeled around, grabbed the rocky ledge and hoisted myself partly out of the water, like a walrus at the seashore.

I’ve never experienced water this cold, and I’m a lifelong swimmer. I’ve dunked myself in 48-degree water in Lake Michigan. I’ve dumped a bucket of ice water over my head.

This is different. It’s shocking. It jolts you awake, it burns your skin. It reminds you, in a very loud voice, that you’re alive (!!).

I should note here that water this cold can cause hypothermia in less than 10 minutes. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

Instead, I hauled myself out of the gin-clear lake, squeezed the water out of my hair and laughed with my running buddies. Then we laced up our shoes and continued our run.

(Video by Anne Baumann)

Spherical panoramic image shows drone’s eye view of downtown Austin

Robert Youens stitched together 34 images to create a spherical panoramic image of downtown Austin. Click on the link in the blog to experience the image. Photo by Robert Youens

In case you’ve never hovered high over the intersection of Sixth and Guadalupe streets, Robert Youens can help.

Just click on this link to see a spherical panorama image taken by the Austin-based licensed commercial drone pilot and owner of Camera Wings Aerial Photography.

It’s pretty close to what I’d have seen, if I’d been brave e

nough to turn around and actually look when I rappelled down the W Austin Hotel a few weeks ago.

Youens flew his drone downtown to capture the image, which is actually a collection of 34 photographs stitched together.

The company makes the images to help architects designing buildings. With a spherical panorama, they can see what a building looks like from different altitudes. Architectural animators can also build virtual reality views of huge skyscrapers using the same type of technology.


What happened when Fit City tried the intermediate wave at NLand Surf Park?

NLand Surf Park has made some changes after problems with a leaky liner last year. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

If you haven’t been to NLand Surf Park yet this summer, expect some changes.

The liner at the bottom of the park’s lagoon started leaking at the end of last season, after fins on the underside of surfboards scraped it up. Crews added a reinforced mat, reconfigured berms around the edges of the man-made lake, and added some shade structures along the perimeter.

It took a few tries, but I managed to get up on the medium wave. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

So yes, the place looks different. The water flows around the lagoon differently too. That’s by design, to lessen the impact of wave action.

I visited NLand a few times last year, testing out the beginner wave. This past weekend I made the trip to the park again, and graduated to the intermediate wave.

In a nutshell? Wheeee!

A boardwalk bisects the lagoon at the NLand Surf Park. A huge metal foil glides up and down the waterway, creating a consistent wave with each pass. Depending on where you catch what rolls off, you can ride a beginner-friendly wave, a slightly larger intermediate wave, or the big kahuna.

t took a few tries, but I got my body position right and felt pretty comfortable on the medium wave. The biggest difference? More waves to catch, because instead of starting at one end of the lagoon and catching every other wave, I started in the middle and caught (or attempted to catch) every one.

I fell off a few times too. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

I’m stoked. Now I want to learn to surf for real. I’ve made the executive decision to attend an all-women’s surf camp in Nicaragua called Surf With Amigas next summer.

For more information about NLand Surf Park, go here.

What’s the coolest way to camp? In a hammock!

Erich Schlegel naps in a hammock on the Devils River. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


Camping in Texas this time of year means sun-baked days and stifling tents. Unless, of course, you sleep in a hammock at night.

Hammock camping, I’ve discovered, extends the camping season in places where you need hot pads just to touch the steering wheel of your car. No, camping here in July will never equal camping in Colorado or Michigan, where you actually need a sweatshirt at night, but a hammock allows air to flow beneath you, which eases the inferno.

Tony Drewry relaxes in a Kammok on the Devils River. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Saturday marks National Hammock Day, and Austin is headquarters of Kammok, which specializes in high-end hammocks suitable for camping.

RELATED: Austin-based Kammok at head of hammock-camping trend

I’ve got a couple of Kammoks myself. I first tried hammock camping in West Texas in January. A small group of us slung brightly-colored hammocks from trees in the Davis Mountains, about 30 minutes outside of Fort Davis. Temperatures dropped below freezing, but we attached under-quilts to our hammocks and I put a Therma-rest sleeping pad inside mine to keep me warm.

Hammocks, like this one from Kammok, come in all colors and styles. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Friday, Kammok will host a one-night campout at Reveille Peak Ranch near Burnet, about an hour from Austin. The company is trying to set the record for the most people camping in one spot at one time. (You can also join in by hammock camping on your own, wherever you are.) For more information about the event, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday and wraps up at 11 a.m. Saturday, go here. 

And even if you don’t camp out, celebrate National Hammock Day on July 22 by hanging out under some trees.

Who uses that new bike bridge over Barton Creek? Terry Bowness, for one


Since we’re still talking about that new bike and pedestrian bridge that crosses Barton Creek and Highway 290 alongside MoPac Boulevard (we are, aren’t we?), I tracked down someone who is using the bridge to ride to work.

The bike and pedestrian bridge over Loop 360 and Barton Creek opened last month. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Terry Bowness, who lives in the Travis Country neighborhood and works as a design engineer at Cirrus Logic in downtown Austin, started commuting by bike the week via the new route a week after the bridge opened last month.

RELATED: Ben Wear calls new bike bridge a “glorified scenic overlook.”

When he worked at Silicon Labs, Bowness occasionally rode his bike on the Barton Creek Greenbelt to get to work. That root-and-rock studded route, appropriate only for mountain bikes, took more than an hour. He couldn’t feasibly do it very often.

The new pedestrian bridge, though, makes biking to work on a regular basis possible. His 7.3-mile ride takes between 30 and 40 minutes, and he showers once he gets to his office.

RELATED: LeBlanc: Give those bike bridges time before condeming them

“It’s good exercise, I hate traffic, and I can actually go during peak rush hour and get here in the same amount of time,” Bowness says. “It’s better than sitting in a car and burning gas. Plus, I just like to ride.”

Terry Bowness commutes to work on the new bike/pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek and Loop 360. Photo by Terry Bowness

Bowness, 47, has been making the trip once or twice a week since the bridge opened.

“The only thing to be careful about is on the ride home. It’s definitely more uphill than downhill, and it’s full blast sun,” he says. “If you’re not used to that, make sure you’re ready.”

Bowness says he sees other bicyclists and pedestrians using the bridge every time he crosses it.

“I know it’s expensive and I’ve seen stories in paper with people complaining about tax dollars going to this,” Bowness says. “But if people can use this to get into work and it takes cars off the road, I think there should be more stuff like this, not less.”

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

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A jump into Barton Springs Pool raises goosebumps and turns lips blue. That’s what 68-degree year-round water does to a body, right?

Not so fast.

Despite T-shirts that proclaim it, websites that tout it and a Wikipedia entry that boasts it, the water temperature at Barton Springs isn’t 68 degrees, and rarely has it been.

Walker Stone, left, drops a multi-sensor probe into the water near the dam at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

We headed to the pool this week with David Johns, a hydrogeologist for the City of Austin, and his assistant, Walker Stone, to dunk a multi-sensor probe into three locations at the spring-fed swimming pool and let science do the talking.

RELATED: What are the best swimming holes in Central Texas?

Our results? At the fault line next to the diving well, near the main spring, the temperature read 70.6 degrees. But at the surface by the downstream dam, it was 71.6 degrees. It was even warmer at the shallow end of the pool, where it measured 74.9 degrees.

Myth busted, then? Sort of.

David Johns, left, and Walker Stone, right, check the temperature near a spring at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

The pool has, at times, measured 68 degrees. But it’s not all that common, and certainly not during the summer, when most people are taking that polar bear plunge. The temperature varies slightly, depending on time of year and discharge volume. Mostly, it depends on what season rains fall.

RELATED: What do you see if you open your eyes in Barton Springs Pool?

The 68-degree myth has been propagated by the City of Austin website which long stated that the pool water hovered around 68 degrees year-round. Today it reads “average temp of 68 to 70.” Still not quite accurate, but closer than the Wikipedia entry for the pool, which boldly states, “The pool is a popular venue for year-round swimming, as its temperature maintains a stable 68 °F (20 °C) in the winter and summer.” 

RELATED: Have you ever swum naked in Barton Springs Pool?

Want more evidence? The USGS monitors a probe placed in a small opening at the bottom of the pool where spring water comes out, taking temperature measurements every 15 minutes. That’s typically the coolest spot in the pool during the summer, and the temperature there has held a consistent 70.5 degrees there during the last few weeks.

Walker Stone takes a temperature reading (in Celsius) at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

“Some people say it seems colder than that, but it’s still 30 degrees colder than body temperature, so it’s cold,” Johns says.

Still get goosebumps when you leap in? That’s OK. We do too.

“For you and me, it’s still bracing,” Johns says.

Read more about the pool’s temperature in an upcoming story.