Best way to get around Cape Cod? Bicycle, of course!

Best way to get around Cape Cod? Bicycle, of course!

 

Cyclists stream along the Cape Cod Rail Trail on Aug. 7, 2019. Pam LeBlanc photo

The best way to get around Cape Cod?

By bike, of course, especially when a bike path connects a slew of small towns and provides easy access to bike shops, ice cream stores, kettle ponds and ocean beaches.

I spent five days on the Cape last week with friends who have a summer house there. We pedaled our way from our home base in Dennis to destinations all up and down the 25.5-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail stretches 25.5 miles along Cape Cod, connecting towns, beaches, bike shops, restaurants and ponds like this one, Seymour Pond. Pam LeBlanc photo

We zipped along the smooth, flat ribbon of asphalt on our way to explore Crosby Beach and stopped for ice cream in Orleans. I experienced my first biking round-about (cool!) and stopped for a dip in beautiful Seymour Pond, which abuts the trail. Every time we zoomed through a tunnel, we all hollered to hear the echo.

We also pedaled back toward the mainland in pursuit of Long Pond in Yarmouth, one of nine kettle ponds I dipped a toe in during my visit. The trail provides easy access to Nickerson State Park, home to some of the best ponds I experienced during my trip.

Shops, restaurants and ice cream stands are easily accessible from the trail. Pam LeBlanc photo

The trail follows the route of an old railroad line that went bankrupt in 1970s. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts bought the land in 1976, and started building the trail a few years later. The first 19 miles were unveiled in 1981, and additional sections have opened since. Most recently, a 5.7-mile stretch between Dennis and Yarmouth was added in 2018, and plans call for ultimately extending the path all the way from Barnstable to the west to Provincetown at the tip of the Cape.

It’s fun to yell when you pedal through the tunnels along the trail. It makes a nice echo. Pam LeBlanc photo

Trail users can park for free at 13 points along the route, which currently links Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Chatham, Brewster, Orleans, Wellfleet and the Cape Cod National Seashore. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation maintains the route.

Need a bike? Rent one from one of more than a dozen bike shops along the way. (Check out the list at Cape Cod Visitors Directory.)

The trail is open from dawn to dusk. By law, children 16 and under must wear helmets.

 

 

 

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Austin Paddler West Hansen to release book about Amazon expedition at Sept. 7 event

Austin Paddler West Hansen to release book about Amazon expedition at Sept. 7 event

Amazon Express expedition leader West Hansencarries his kayak through a boulder field while negotiating the Rio Mantaro below Tablachaca Dam. Photo by Erich Schlegel

Seven years ago, Austin paddler West Hansen led an expedition down the Amazon River, navigating whitewater, encountering narco traffickers, getting held up multiple times and dodging boulders that rained from canyon walls as he followed the river from its source in the Peruvian Andes to the ocean.

West Hansen takes a break from writing in his journal during his 2012 paddling expedition on the Amazon River. Erich Schlegel photo

On Sept. 7, he’ll unveil his first book, which chronicles those adventures, at a signing at Zilker Clubhouse in Austin.

I’ve already gobbled up “Source to Sea, The Farthest Journey Down the World’s Longest River,” reading an early version via my iPhone during a surf trip to Costa Rica last year. (That says something. Who reads an entire 400-page book on a teeny screen unless it’s a pretty gripping account?)

The book takes readers on a twisting, 4,200-mile adventure from the high mountains to the jungle. Hansen, who moonlights as a social worker when he’s not paddling to all corners of the planet, manages to weave in regional history, drama with team members and a feud with National Geographic.

The book includes more than 90 color photos, graphics and maps, plus descriptions of encounters with wildlife and locals (friendly and non-friendly), visits to towns along the way and a peek at the life of a modern-day explorer out to claim a rare “first” in a world where people spend most of their time glued to computers and smart phones.

Pre-order the book by Aug. 15 at www.westhansen.comto guarantee delivery at the signing. (No pre-orders will be mailed, so if you order one you must pick it up at the event. The book will also be sold via Amazon.com, but for a higher price.)
The event begins at 6 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Zilker Clubhouse, 200 Zilker Clubhouse Road off of Rollingwood Drive.

 

 

 

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My high school coach is launching a swim fitness program for seniors

My high school coach is launching a swim fitness program for seniors

Dotson Smith, who coached me for a semester when I was in high school, is reopening his Swim-A-Day business in Austin. He’ll focus on getting seniors who haven’t been exercising into shape. Photo courtesy Dotson Smith

Except for a five- or six-year period when I was in my 20s and clanged weights five days a week, I’ve always preferred the pool to an indoor gym for my workout.

For one, I can lie down while I do it. Two, the water gives me a full body hug, and I’m all about the touch.

My old high school swimming coach, Dotson Smith, gets that. Smith, now 82, is coming out of retirement to offer a pool-based fitness program for seniors who don’t currently do much exercise.

If you grew up in Austin like I did, you may remember the old Swim-A-Day indoor pool off of Spicewood Springs Road in northwest Austin. I swam there for a single semester, under Smith’s watchful eye, when I was a freshman at Anderson High School. (I graduated from Johnston High in 1982.)

Smith opened that pool in 1966, when he was just 29 years old. Over the next few decades, he taught thousands of Austin kids how to swim. He coached high school swim teams to state championships and receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Swim-A-Day is not water aerobics,” Smith says of his new business. “This is a new kind of exercise program designed to offer health benefits no matter how old you are. It can improve your heart health, increase strength and flexibility, reduce risk of osteoporosis and help decrease depression. And we do it all while listening to the great music we all enjoyed when we were younger. It’s a blast,” Smith says.

Dotson Smith swims about 1,000 yards a day and says it’s kept him healthy and able to recovery from injury. Photo courtesy Dotson Smith

Swim-A-Day sessions are available to seniors on a one-on-one basis, or in groups.

Smith, who coached me a second time, through a U.S. Masters Swimming program in Mission, Texas, in the 1990s, still swims an average of 1,000 yards a day. He credits his own pool-based exercise routine with keeping himself strong and able to recover more quickly from injury.

He doesn’t need to convince me.

For more about Swim-A-Day, go to https://www.swimaday.com, or find it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/swimadayatx/.

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Spider Mountain Bike Park adds crazy new trails

Spider Mountain Bike Park adds crazy new trails

Cyclists bomb down new trails at Spider Mountain Bike Park near Burnet. Photo courtesy Spider Mountain

Spider Mountain Bike Park, where a ski lift carries cyclists to the top of a hill so they can focus on the ride down, has added two new trails to its network of twisty routes.

One, dubbed Tarantula, features a 115-foot stretch of boardwalk that’s elevated 7 feet off the ground. There’s also a wooden wall ride (painted like a huge Texas flag), bridges and ramps, so riders can fly through the air as they rumble down the 900-foot trail.

“Tarantula is designed for both those who are new to mountain biking and those who live and breathe it,” says Deseree Hernandez, director of operations. “Beginners can roll through to have fun or go expert-style and show off their freeride skills.”

The new wall feature at Spider Mountain is painted like a Texas flag. Photo courtesy Spider Mountain

Recluse, the second new trail, isn’t quite as daunting. The rolling, 300-foot route rides like a pump track between the existing Viper’s Den and Itsy-Bitsy trails.

All the trails at the park are marked green for beginner, blue for intermediate and black for expert, just like trails at a snow ski resort.

“Our concept was to make Recluse a light blue trail,” Hernandez said. “It’s a great way for riders to progress from Itsy-Bitsy, our easiest trail, to a blue run with more challenges. But it’s also super fun for more experienced riders.”

To celebrate the new trails, the park will host a party this Saturday, Aug. 3, complete with a ribbon cutting, a train of riders coming down both trails, competitions and an evening party. Activities start at 10 a.m., with the Texas State Whip-Off Championship at 11 a.m. and the Wall Ride Competition at 1 p.m. An awards ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. and a post-race party starts at 7 p.m.

The new Tarantula trail features five new technical features, including this one. Photo courtesy Spider Mountain

When I visited the park last February, the day after it opened, I loaded my bike onto a ski lift that once whisked skiers up Al’s Run at Taos Ski Resort in New Mexico and bombed down Itsy-Bitsy alongside the park’s crazy-like-an-over-grown-kid mastermind, James Coleman.

James Coleman, the owner of Spider Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

Coleman grew up in Austin and dreamed of owning ski resorts, which he now does. He lives in Durango, where he’s the managing partner of a company that owns Purgatory Resort, Arizona Snowbowl, Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort, Pajarito Mountain, Hesperus Ski Area, Nordic Valley Ski Resort, and Colorado’s largest snowcat skiing operation, Purgatory Snowcat Adventures.

Cyclists ride a ski lift up Spider Mountain near Burnet, Texas, on Feb. 9, 2019. Pam LeBlanc photo

Spider Mountain is the only lift-served mountain bike park in Texas, and the only year-round park of its type in the United States.

Want an idea of what it feels like to ride the new Tarantula trail? Watch this video from Spider Mountain:

 

Spider Mountain is at 200 Greenwood Hills Trail near Burnet, about 60 miles northwest of Austin. Park hours are noon to 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, plus holidays and spring break. Day passes are $50 for adults ($45 youth or senior; free ages 10 and under). To ride the lift without a bike, pay $20 round-trip adult or $15 youth or senior. For more information go to spidermountain.com.Want to stay overnight? Thunderbird Lodge, a no-frills hotel and marina, is located next door.

 

 

 

About Pam

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