Yeti Gear Case survives a swamping during Texas Water Safari

Yeti Gear Case survives a swamping during Texas Water Safari

Yeti Gear Case

This Yeti Sidekick Dry Gear Case kept stuff dry even when it got swamped during the Texas Water Safari. Pam LeBlanc photo

My Yeti Sidekick Dry Gear Case held up way better than me during the Texas Water Safari two weeks ago.

I made it 154 miles into the race, then stepped out of the boat in Cheapside because I was sick and gave up. (More on that in a future blog.) The dry case stayed in the boat, made it all the way to Seadrift, and even survived a boat sinking.

The case – about the size of a hard-cover Webster’s Dictionary – is designed to hold keys, wallets, phones, and other sundries in a wet environment. It’s got an interior mesh pocket, Velcro-like hook and loop fasteners on the back that attach to other Yeti products, like coolers or backpacks, and a Super Man-strong magnetic closure along the top. You can even wear it on your belt.

In typical Yeti style, the case also comes with an impressive price tag – $50.

I strapped the case in front of my seat in the canoe during the race and loaded it with my headlamp (for paddling through the night), an extra pair of sunglasses, a spare cap, and a bunch of electrolyte caplets and supplements. I was a tad skeptical, but I’d used the bag during a training run, and it kept everything dry. I had noticed then that the magnetic closure held so well you could use the case as a small pillow – a feature that might come in handy for ultra-endurance canoe racing.

Yeti Gear Case at the Texas Water Safari

The bag got its biggest test after I left my team 32 hours into the race, at a bridge overpass in Cheapside. My team continued, and at about mile 250 of the race, their boat got swamped in rough water in San Antonio Bay. At one point, according to my teammate Deb Richardson, the entire 40-foot boat was submerged. The paddlers lugged the boat ashore, bailed out the water, and, eventually, made it to the finish line in about 77 hours.

Related: Staring down the barrel of the hottest, most wretched Texas Water Safari ever

My Yeti case survived. The magnet held tight, and everything inside it stayed perfectly dry, including the headlamp, which still works fine.

My only complaint? Despite soapy water and scrubbing, I can’t get the surface of the case all the way clean. But hey, I’m less concerned about appearances than function. And it gets an A-plus in that department.

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City launches free shuttle to Zilker Park

City launches free shuttle to Zilker Park

shuttle to Zilker Park and Barton Springs

The city of Austin will offer free shuttle service from One Texas Center to Zilker Park, home of Barton Springs Pool. Pam LeBlanc photo

If you’ve made a trip to Zilker Metropolitan Park recently, you probably know that parking’s often a problem. Starting this weekend, you can park off site and take a free shuttle to Austin’s most loved oasis.

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department is offering the weekend-only service from the One Texas Center parking garage at 505 Barton Springs Road to the park. Two shuttles will run every 20 minutes between 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday until Labor Day. (The buses will also operate on July 4 and Labor Day itself, Sept. 5.)

barton springs

The city of Austin will offer free shuttle service from One Texas Center to Bilker Park on weekends. Pam LeBlanc photo

The service is part of a pilot program to explore alternative transportation and parking options for the park, which is home to Barton Springs Pool, a disc golf course, volleyball courts, picnic grounds, soccer fields and more.
To take the free shuttle, park in the One Texas Center parking garage and get your parking ticket validated on the bus.

Parking tickets must be validated by the shuttle driver to avoid the $10 parking fee at the garage. 
Get more information about Zilker Park here.

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Staring down the barrel of the hottest, slowest, most wretched Texas Water Safari ever …

Staring down the barrel of the hottest, slowest, most wretched Texas Water Safari ever …

Paddlers Mike Buck, Kent Fish and Mark Huteson round a bend at Cottonseed Rapids on the first day of the Texas Water Safari. The race begins at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in San Marcos. Pam LeBlanc photo

This is it. In less than a week, I’ll be slogging down the River of No Return while Mother Nature aims a hell of a blow torch at me during the Texas Water Safari.

I know (sort of) what to expect. I did the paddling race in 2019, as part of a three-woman team called That’s What She Said. We paddled 260 miles down the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers from San Marcos to Seadrift, finishing in the top quarter of the pack. We didn’t stop to sleep along the way, and we took care of all bodily functions while balanced in a moving boat.

I can only describe it as off-the-charts horrible. Truly.

I have vague memories of hallucinations, man-sized alligator gar, actual alligators, log jams and nausea. It sucked more than anything I’ve voluntarily done in my life, but we made it and afterward it felt glorious, even if the rash on my butt stuck around for two more weeks.

The race taught me I could do things I thought were physically impossible. Something deep inside me wanted to suffer a little, just to know I could come out the other side.

Texas Water Safari 2019

Pam LeBlanc nibbles cold tangerine slices a few minutes after finishing the 2019 Texas Water Safari. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

But I swore at the finish that I’d never do it again. (I think my exact words included an f-bomb or two.) I staggered around a few minutes, crawled onto a cot, and passed out. My ever-understanding husband took me to a rental house, bathed me, and put me to bed. I didn’t feel normal – no lie – for an entire month. Sleep deprivation will do that to you.

But here I am.

Six months ago, I wondered – out loud, apparently – what it would be like to do the Texas Water Safari as part of a big boat. Veteran canoe racer Debbie Richardson took the bait and invited me to join her five-human team, which includes three other paddlers (two of them from Colorado), all with multiple Safari finishes.

Related: Texas Water Safari is one month away and I’m officially freaking out

Texas Water Safari 2022 starts at 9 a.m. Saturday

Texas Water Safari 2022

Team Fists of Fury 5 – John Murphy, Steve Daniel, Deb Richardson, James Green and Pam LeBlanc. Photo by self-tier

At 9 a.m. Saturday, Deb, James, Murphy, Steve and I, aka Team Fists of Fury 5, will start at the back of the pack, where we were relegated because our full team didn’t make it to the preliminary race. We’ll have to maneuver our way around dozens of boats and try not to run over (or get run over by) anyone else.

It’ll be chaos. And after that wretched start, a fresh slate of horrors will await.

It will be hotter than blazes. The last I looked, the forecast called for record heat, with highs of 105 both Saturday and Sunday.

The river will be slower than molasses. We can expect no push of any kind getting downstream. It’s so shallow now that we’ll have to jump out of our 40-foot, five-human racing canoe and drag it in numerous spots.

It will be hell.

RELATED: Logjams, hallucinations and Mother Nature: Texas Water Safari tests paddlers with grueling 260-mile race from San Marcos to Seadrift

Last time I did the race (with badass teammates Sheila Reiter and Heather Harrison), we finished in about 53 hours. This time, even though I’ll be in a theoretically faster boat with four extra arms paddling, it might be slower. That’s how low the water is.

Honestly, I’m scared.

Portages, mosquitos and alligators at the Texas Water Safari, oh my!

We’ll have to portage something like 10 times. That involves lugging the extremely heavy watercraft up the bank and around whatever obstacle – dam, tree, bridge – that stands in our way. It will be exhausting.

Related: I survived the Texas Water Safari

We’ll have to dodge revelers who set up their folding chairs in the middle of the river and do our best to avoid people who don’t hear us holler at them to please get out of our way.

Our boat has no brakes. It’s a 40-foot torpedo gliding down the river. We might have to get out and walk it in stretches, just to avoid collisions.

Texas Water Safari

Isabella Hansen tends to her father, West Hansen, at the side of the river on the second day of the 2018 Texas Water Safari. Pam LeBlanc photo

I might get trench foot. I might barf. Mosquitos will swarm us. Mayflies will flap into our mouths in the dark of night.

Alligator gars the size of grown men will breach the surface of the river. Alligators will eyeball us from the bank. Snakes will slither past. Huge spiders will drop out of trees and mosey across our arms. Blisters will rise on our hands and our butts will seize up. We’ll have to hoist our boat over trees in the river. We will see dead and bloated cows (always do) and smell natural gas around Luling.

I’ll pee in a cup and eat mashed potatoes, peanut butter sandwiches, Fritos, fruit, energy gels, meat and cheese rolls, and cold oatmeal. I’ll swill Muscle Milk and Nuun, and pop Hammer Nutrition electrolyte tablets like they’re candy.

Texas Water Safari

Team Fists of Fury spotted this alligator in the river beneath Victoria while training for the Texas Water Safari in June 2022. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’ll feel like shit, but I won’t stop paddling.

Unless, that is, I break a bone.

Words of wisdom from a veteran Texas Water Safari racer

Which brings us back to Debbie, my teammate. She’s finished the race 12 times out of 12 starts. “Has anyone on your team ever quit and gotten out?” I asked her the other day.

“Never,” she said, between tales of teammates who “lost their cores” and couldn’t sit up in the boat, and stories of others who wandered aimlessly along the shoreline, so out of their minds after 40 hours of non-stop paddling that they temporarily stopped racing to pick up trash. A few years ago, she chuckled, an alligator gar swooped in and chomped one of her male teammates, leaving a ring of raw red teeth marks around one of his nipples as a calling card.

Related: Nothing goes as planned when training for the Texas Water Safari

But Deb is prepared. She’s thought of everything – Super Glue to close wounds, extra seat pads to cushion our asses, ice packs to lower our body temperature. She’s coached me how to drive the boat and boosted my confidence when it’s flagged.

And all of those people in her battle stories, Deb points out, still made it to the finish line, just like we will.

“Everybody finishes,” she says in her characteristic, chipper style, “unless you’ve got a bone sticking out.”

So, cheers to no protruding ribs or femurs. With any luck, we’ll make it to Seadrift in good spirits.

Texas Water Safari 2019

Pam LeBlanc takes a break while her team is stopped on a small island near the finish of the Texas Water Safari in 2018. Heather Harrison photo

Want to track our progress during the race? We’re team number 5, Fists of Fury 5. You’ll be able to follow along online as we make our way through the course. Go to

Even better? Come on down and cheer us from the banks. If anything will help us conquer whatever Ma Nature doles out, it’s a smile of encouragement from a friend.

About Pam

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Kevin Fedarko is writing a book about his 800-mile hike through the Grand Canyon

Kevin Fedarko is writing a book about his 800-mile hike through the Grand Canyon

Kevin Fedarko

Kevin Fedarko speaks at Yeti Headquarters in Austin on June 2, 2022. Pam LeBlanc photo

The trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River covers 277 miles, if you float through on a raft. But try to walk the gorge from Lee’s Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs, and you’ll scramble some 800 miles over treacherous terrain.

Kevin Fedarko, author of the “The Emerald Mile,” about three men who made the fastest recorded trip through the Grand Canyon during a flood in 1983, is working on a new book about that journey.

Fedarko spent 14 months hiking the uncharted route with photographer Pete McBride, whose work highlights the environmental struggle facing American rivers. “(McBride) came to me in 2014 and said, ‘We need to do this,’ – which was an absolutely terrible idea,” Fedarko said.

Related: Photographer points camera at dying rivers to highlight threat

The two spent weeks at a time scrambling over boulders and blazing their own path through brush and sun-baked cliffs to accomplish their goal.

“You have to walk into side canyons, and there’s no trail that will carry you by land through it,” he says. “You’re trying to piece together a route that’s trying to resist travel. There’s only one highway through there, and that’s the river.”

The duo began hiking in September 2015 and finished in November 2016. Fedarko says he learned a lot in that time.

“Although it’s one of America’s iconic national parks, it’s one taken from 11 tribes that occupied that space for thousands of years before we arrived,” he says. “They were written out but retain a connection to the canyon and continue to draw sustenance from it – and still do today.”

Related: A river adventure to reset your life: Rafting the Grand Canyon

Fedarko says the hike reframed his understanding of the Grand Canyon, refocusing it through the lens of the people who lived there the longest.

He’s spent the last six years writing about the rugged trip. He says he’s a year and a half behind schedule and describes the writing process as terrible. He expects the book to hit store shelves in 2023 or 2024.

“I’m just coming out of the prairie dog hole where writers work,” he says.

Fedarko was in Austin this week to promote a different book project called “Whitewater.” That book, a compilation of photographs and essays highlighting the chaos and beauty of rapidly moving water, was produced by Austin-based Yeti, which manufactures coolers and insulated drinkware. Fedarko edited the essays contained in the book and wrote its forward.

About Pam

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