Paddler West Hansen set to start Great Alabama 650

Paddler West Hansen set to start Great Alabama 650

West Hansen paddles the Texas coast in 2020

West Hansen paddles up the Texas coast in late spring 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

When Austin paddler West Hansen scrapped plans to kayak the Northwest Passage this summer, he subbed in another daunting adventure – a paddle race that winds 650 miles through Alabama.

This Saturday, Hansen will line up at Weiss Lake in northeastern Alabama for the start of the Great Alabama 650. If all goes well, he’ll chug down the length of the Coosa and Alabama rivers before reaching historic Fort Morgan west of Gulf Shores less than six days later.

Read more: What’s it like to chase a team of paddlers up the Texas coast?

Hansen has finished the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile race from Spring Lake in San Marcos to the Texas coast, 21 times. He has also paddled the entire length of the Amazon River and all the Volga River in Russia. He couldn’t sit still.

“I inadvertently found myself with a lot of time off and no goal,” he says of postponing his Arctic expedition due to the ongoing pandemic. “I really needed some reason to go exercise and do something interesting and exciting.”

West Hansen

West Hansen paddles off the Texas coast in 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

He’ll switch between three different boats as he makes his way down the course – a C1 canoe with a rudder, and two different sea kayaks. He’ll face everything from Class 2 and Class 3 rapids – and one Class 4 rapid, organizers say – to long slow stretches through a tidal delta.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been ready for a race, and I really wish I had trained more, but those things aren’t out of the ordinary,” Hansen says. Preparations included a lot of time to rig boats and work out problems loading the course onto a GPS unit.

‘The race will give you nothing’

What sets this race apart, says race director Greg Wingo, is the racing mindset needed to cover such a long distance nearly non-stop. The event, in its third year, is billed as the world’s longest annual paddle race.

“This race is less about the type of vessel you use or way the water flows or doesn’t flow, and more about your will to truly paddle day after day after day, because the race will give you nothing. It will give you no flow, no perfect weather conditions, and even good weather is still Alabama hot and humid,” Wingo says. “The only thing that gets you to the finish is the will to keep going when nothing else is going right.”

Paddlers pay $500 for the privilege of entering, and the winner in each of three categories will win $2,000. The field is capped at 20 competitors. This year’s race initially sold out, but some of those who entered have since dropped out. Thirteen boats are expected to line up for Saturday’s 10 a.m. start.

West Hansen

West Hansen raises an eyebrow during his 2020 paddling trip from the tip of Texas to the Louisiana border. Pam LeBlanc photo

The West Hansen forecast

Wingo says he is keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Nicholas, which is predicted to inundate parts of East Texas and Louisiana. He doesn’t expect any delays – just some steady rain for the first four days of the race. That might benefit the racers, cooling off typically hot and muggy temperatures and providing a boost in flow rates on the water.

“I’m feeling way better with it being overcast and cooler,” says Robert Youens, part of Hansen’s four-person support crew, which also includes his wife Lizet Alaniz, sister Barbara Hansen Edington, and veteran paddle racer Max Dugas. “West ain’t a spring chicken and the heat hits us more as we get older. If it’s overcast and cooler, I think he’s going to rock.”

Youens, who is coordinating logistics for Hansen’s team, says proper sleep management will be critical.

Unlike the 260-mile Texas Water Safari, paddlers will have to stop and sleep periodically during this race. Youens says Hansen will nap in one of his team support vehicles along the way.

“The thing I believe that’s going to be difference in this race is taking care of yourself. Three days of fungus between your toes you can handle, but six days – that’s an issue,” Youens said. “That’s why he’ll strip his clothes and clean up at the dam portages.”

West Hansen at the Texas Water Safari in 2020

West Hansen, front, racing the 2021 Texas Water Safari. Pam LeBlanc photo

Paddlers are only required to carry their boats over two of the race’s many portages. Racers will load their boats onto vehicles and drive around the others, some of which stretch for several miles.

Three Water Safaris in one for West Hansen

Wingo put it in terms some Texas paddlers can understand.

“It would be like if you put three Water Safaris back-to-back, but you made it all flatwater except for 80 miles of bay water, about 100 miles of delta tidal water and a stretch that’s 7 miles long where there is some whitewater,” he said.

Last year’s finishers, a tandem team comprised of Joe Mann and Paul Cox, finished in five days, 23 hours and change. (That number does not include more than 4 hours of mandatory down time at portages, so the total time on course is closer to six days and three hours.)

Wingo wouldn’t predict who will win this year’s race, but Hansen is likely in the mix, along with Sally O’Donnell, who finished second in last year’s race.

“West is an accomplished paddler and I think it is to his benefit that he’s done difficult things before,” Wingo says.

Track West Hansen’s race

Fans can track the paddlers live at https://www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com/calendar/great-alabama-650/. I’ll be posting occasional updates too.

“If you have any sort of interest in the way in which people will destroy themselves physically or mentally for a goal that is quite possibly not achievable, you should follow this race,” Wingo said.

 

 

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Try this water-resistant wallet for wet adventures

Try this water-resistant wallet for wet adventures

This water-resistant wallet by Allet weighs less than half an ounce. Pam LeBlanc photo

I spend a lot of time getting splashed with water in my line of work, and it turns out that I need a water-resistant wallet in my life.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my leather kitty wallet so much that when I had it stolen while I was in New Orleans 12 years ago, I immediately ordered a replacement. Then, when the zipper on the replacement broke, I ordered a third – used, from eBay, because the company had quit making them.

Read more: I’m testing a pair of Hokas for my upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon

But sometimes, a heavy, fat, leather wallet won’t work for me. I’m heading to the Grand Canyon soon for a 15-day trip down the Colorado River in an oar boat. I’m going to get wet, along with all my belongings.

My Allet is perfect for watery adventures. Pam LeBlanc photo

Normally I wouldn’t even take my wallet on the river (what would I use it for, exactly?). But I’m hiking down to Phantom Ranch to grab a seat on a passing raft, and I’m going to need a credit card and ID when I get off in a different location. (Logistics are complicated!)

Allet makes a good water-resistant wallet

Lucky for me, a company called Allett – think “wallet” without the “w” – sent me a durable, water-resistant ripstop nylon wallet to test. I’ll stuff it in the bottom of a dry bag, and if all goes well, I’ll pull it out at the end of the trip, contents intact.

The wallet, a lovely shade of dark red, holds up to 24 cards, plus cash. It measures 3 5/8 by 5 inches and weighs a hair over half an ounce. It sells for $44 at www.allett.com.

I’ve already tested it out. Stuffed with my driver’s license, a credit card and a little bit of cash, it’s about as thick as a flour tortilla. It’s big enough to hold a plane ticket, too, which will come in handy since I won’t be carrying a purse on the plane. My only complaint? It’s a little big to fit in my jeans pocket comfortably.

I’ve been using this wallet or one just like it) for more than a decade. Pam LeBlanc photo

My Allet won’t take the place of my kitty wallet, but it’ll come in handy on assignments – most of them! – that involve dirt, mud and water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Pam

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If you love to swim, explore the kettle ponds of Cape Cod

If you love to swim, explore the kettle ponds of Cape Cod

Pam LeBlanc wades into Sheep Pond on Cape Cod on Sept. 7, 2021. Chris LeBlanc photo

You can keep your chlorine-infused swimming pools and crowded ocean beaches.

When in Cape Cod, I head for the kettle ponds, shimmering pools of water formed when huge blocks of ice melted at the end of the last Ice Age, leaving behind depressions that eventually filled with water. In all, about a thousand such ponds pockmark the Cape, and if you love swimming as much as I do, they serve up the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I’m visiting a friend who has a family home midway up the Cape this week, and as I always do when I visit, I’m making it a point to take a dip in as many kettle ponds as possible.

If you prefer swimming in natural pools of water like I do, this is the stuff of dreams. It’s also nice to know that the burgeoning local population of great white sharks, drawn to Cape Cod by the exploding population of seals, never visits these inland ponds. (For the record, I’m a fan of sharks and scuba dive with them frequently. I just don’t like bobbing at the surface without gear on when they’re in the area.)

Pam’s favorite kettle ponds

A girl swings on a rope tied to a tree at Flax Pond in Dennis, on Cape Cod. Pam LeBlanc photo

In the three days I’ve been here so far this year, I’ve swum in four ponds – Flax Pond, a circular, pine-lined oasis of tea-colored water where you might find a kid swinging off a rope swing tied to a tree but you won’t find crowds; Upper Mill Pond, where you can glide out to a pair of floating docks and take a breather; Slough Pond, which you can swim directly across on your way to investigate a kids’ camp on the other side; or my favorite, Sheep Pond, a hidden gem of a swimming hole with a peaceful lagoon and some overly-friendly ducks.

These ponds feed my insatiable desire to swim in natural bodies of water, where strands of aquatic plants tickle my toes, and a fish might nibble my kneecap at any moment. I love the adventure of it, and the feeling of getting close to nature. I’ll swim to the center of one of these ponds, spin slowly around to admire the surrounding screen of trees, then dive beneath the surface before surfacing like an otter.

Something about swimming this way, in a deep, kettle-shaped pool designed by nature, without stripes on the bottom to guide me or walls to constrain me, makes me happy to the core. It feels old-school, and I bet it hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years.

So many visitors to Cape Cod are bent on finding the ocean. I like the occasional swim there, just for fun, but when I really want to log some distance, I’ll take the ponds every time. Next time you’re in Massachusetts in the summer, you should too.

Sailboats are anchored at Upper Mill Pond on Cape Cod. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

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Castle Hill Fitness launches free Weekly Workouts at Waterloo series

Castle Hill Fitness launches free Weekly Workouts at Waterloo series

The lawn outside Moody Amphitheater will host free fitness classes. Photo courtesy Waterloo Greenway Conservancy[/caption]

Add this series of classes at Waterloo Park to the free fitness file…

Castle Hill Fitness will offer a series of free community fitness classes at Waterloo Park. The Weekly Workouts at Waterloo series will kick off Labor Day, with a full slate of classes.

The event begins at 9 a.m. Monday on the Love, Tito’s Lawn at Moody Amphitheater, 1401 Trinity Street. Participants are encouraged toregister in advance on Castle Hill Fitness’ website and bring a mat to class.

Here’s the schedule:

  • 9 a.m. – Hatha Yoga for All with Castle Hill Fitness
  • 10 a.m. – Mindful Breathwork with Castle Hill Fitness
  • 11 a.m. – Buti Yoga hosted by Everybody Studios
  • 6:30 p.m. – Yoga & Sound: Yin & Harp with Castle Hill Fitness
  • 7:30 p.m – Tango & Milonga (Dance Party) with Esquina Tango

Three free workouts a week at Waterloo Park

Weekly Workouts at Waterloo will continue through Nov. 3 and feature three sessions each week – Yoga & Sound at 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Workout Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, and Sunday Moves at 10:00 a.m. Sundays.

All sessions are free and will take place on the lawn at the amphitheater. All ages and abilities are welcome.

“Our goal is to bring Austinites together to experience the benefits of movement, and we are honored to do so at the incredible spaces in Waterloo Park,” said Castle Hill Fitness -President Clayton Aynesworth.

For more information go to the Waterloo Greenway website. Participants do not need to be Castle Hill Fitness members, and walk ups are welcome. Masks are encouraged and social distancing will be observed.

 

About Pam

I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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