Get a good look at yourself Gstaad Mirage, a house built of mirrors

Get a good look at yourself Gstaad Mirage, a house built of mirrors

Gstaad Mirage is a one-story suburban home built of mirrors and perched on a Swiss mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

For a constantly changing view of the Swiss Alps, head to Gstaad Mirage, an art installation by American artist Doug Aitkin.

The Mirage, a one-story house with every surface but the floor clad in mirrors, reflects its surroundings, whether they’re glistening in snow, flashing in a lightning storm or popping in fresh green grass. Time your visit for a Friday, and you might meet Stefan Werner, who takes a squeegee and a bucket of alcohol mixed with water to wipe the glass walls clean one day a week.

Stefan Welton washes all the mirrored surfaces of the house every Friday. Pam LeBlanc photo

“It’s all about the fingerprints,” he told me as he made the walls and ceiling shine.

The installation opened here last year and will remain until January 2021. According to the artist, it’s designed as a “reflection of the dreams and aspirations projected onto the American West.”

I crouched in front of an exxterior wall and looked at the mountains behind me. Pam LeBlanc photo

As I stood in front of the house and watched clouds move in, it almost disappeared into the landscape. I walked up close, crouching near rows of narrow mirrored strips to get a view of the Videmanette, which forms a mountainous backdrop. Inside, I saw eight replicas of myself on the ceiling, and rows of my image lined up down a curving wall. Walking through the house will remind you of exploring a fun house, without the dizzying distortions.

Looking out a window of the mirrored house, which is surrounded by mountains. Pam LeBlanc photo

The installation is the third of its kind by Aitkin. He has created similar homes in the desert of Palm Springs, and a former bank vault in Detroit. The Swiss version was adapted to withstand heavy snowfall, and was originally part of Elevation 1049: Frequencies, an art festival in Gstaad in February 2019.

Aitkin, 52, studied magazine illustration and now works in photography, print media, sculpture, architecture, film and live performance. His past works include a reflective hot air balloon and gondola in Massachusetts, and an underwater sculpture moored to the ocean floor off of Catalina Island in California.

To get to Mirage, take the short train ride from Gstaad to Schonried, then walk 15 minutes down a small path to the installation, which is open 24 hours a day. Entry is free.

Gstaad Mirage was created by American artist Doug Aitkin. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

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Scouting the route of the Texas Winter 100K paddling race

Scouting the route of the Texas Winter 100K paddling race

West Hansen loads a canoe on top of a truck after paddling the Colorado River. Terri Lynn Manna looks on. Pam LeBlanc photo

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The last time I spent much time in a canoe, I spent way too much time in a canoe.

That was Texas Water Safari last June, when I paddled nearly non-stop for 53 hours in a three-person boat headed 260 miles from San Marcos to Seadrift. When that adventure wrapped, my butt hurt, my shoulders ached, my brain had fried and all I wanted to do was sleep – for about five weeks. Many moons passed before I could even think about gliding down a river dodging alligator gar, clambering over floating mats of bobbing logs, communing with palm-sized spiders and wading through mud.

Yesterday, though, I climbed into a tandem canoe with a high school friend for a 24-mile paddle down the Colorado River to scout part of the route of the upcoming Texas Winter 100K race, which starts at Lady Bird Lake and finishes at Fisherman’s Park in Bastrop.

I competed in the race last year as part of my training for the Safari, and loved seeing the river barren of leaves, and paddling through a crispy sunrise. I’m not planning to race the Safari this year (maybe next!), but I am considering doing the TWO, which shook out as a full day of wildlife spotting, peeing-without-getting-out-of-the-boat training and general conditioning last year. But water levels are lower now, so I haven’t made the final call. (Also, I’m not sure my friend, veteran paddler Curt Slaten, can tolerate me for that long.))

Still, yesterday’s cruise in semi-sluggish waters made for a fun day, punctuated by the sighting of numerous Mexican eagles (caracara), several squadrons of cormorants, some jumping fish, a few other paddlers, and one nice scamper through the woods. Race director West Hansen, along with fellow Arctic Cowboy Jeff Wueste and cross-country traveler Terri Lynn Manna, joined us for the excursion.

Interested in the race? Go to www.texaswinter100kto register. There’s even a category for standup paddlers, who for the first time can do the entire 62-mile distance this year.

And if free stuff matters to you, listen closely. This race hands out the best schwag of any I’ve ever entered – a slew of Yeti coolers and cups and outdoor gear, all doled out during a raffle at the pre-race briefing the night before. That alone could be worth the price of admission.

Terri Lynn Manna, center, takes a nap while West Hansen, front, calls for a shuttle pickup. Jeff Wueste watches from the driver’s seat. Pam LeBlanc photo

West Hansen checks the route of the upcoming Texas Winter 100K. Pam LeBlanc photo

West Hansen checks the route of the upcoming Texas Winter 100K. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

 

 

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Take Three for the Sea the next time you’re at the beach

Take Three for the Sea the next time you’re at the beach

I picked up trash when I walked down the beach in Galveston this week. Pam LeBlanc photo

Check out this photo: Two things I hate, and which I found in abundance during a morning stroll on the beach at Galveston Island this week.

Whoever dropped the straw didn’t even use it. It was still tucked inside its paper wrapper when I found it in the sand. And that plastic water bottle? I can think of only a very few instances that a reusable water bottle wouldn’t work just as well, or better.

I was staying at the DoubleTree (yay warm chocolate chip cookies!) on Seawall Boulevard and got up early to walk across the street enjoy the sunrise, which was lovely. I’d also just listened to an NPR report about recycling.

According to the network’s “Plastic Tide” series, the average American generates more than 250 pounds of plastic waste each year. Most of it isn’t recycled.

According to the organizers of the Take Three for the Sea movement (www.take3.org), only 9 percent of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic that has been made since the 1950s has been recycled, and an estimated 8 million tons of it washes into our oceans each year.

That spurred me to a tiny action.

Since I’m compulsive, I picked up a plastic bag (found on the beach) and filled it with trash that I found during my walk. Galveston Beach is pretty. I want it to stay that way. I hope you do too.

 

 

 

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Taking the New Year’s plunge at Barton Springs Pool

Taking the New Year’s plunge at Barton Springs Pool

Jumping into Barton Springs on New Year’s Day is an Austin tradition. Chris LeBlanc photo

​I leapt into 2020 at Barton Springs Pool today, along with several hundred others who realized that a Polar Plunge into Barton Springs Pool barely merits a cup of hot chocolate.

The water temperature at the spring-fed pool in downtown Austin hovers around 70 degrees year-round (that despite a rumor that it’s always 68 degrees.) And 70 degrees actually feels quite comfortable when the air temperature is in the upper 50s.

That’s the thing about swimming at Barton Springs in the winter. There’s less of a difference between the air and water temperature, so it’s not that shocking when you get in. The cold comes later, when you get out and stand on the edge of the pool, dripping wet.

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My husband and I managed just fine, though, and so did plenty of others who ventured down for the party.

A couple of outdoor heaters were set up just outside the gates, so air-cooled swimmers could thaw out before heading home.

I spotted a man in a dinosaur suit, a woman in a shark costume, a guy wearing a weird red, white and blue onesie and others out to help Austin maintain its reputation for weirdness.

And that spring water helped baptize the new year for me.

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Behold my 2020 New Year resolutions

Behold my 2020 New Year resolutions

Sayonara, 2019. You’re a worn-out pair of jeans with some serious holes in the seat and knees, and it’s time to set you on fire.

Oh, the patches held for a while. Strange new opportunities rained from the skies in 2019, but my gut still hurts from a couple of nasty rips your siblings delivered a few years ago.

On the bright side, I survived my first full year as a freelance adventure writer, landing stories in Texas Monthly, Real Simple and other magazines. Thanks to my tough-as-nails teammates, I finished the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddling race. My image cruised the city on the side of a city bus, and much to my own shock, I finished my first book.

But I hit some hiccups. I dilly dallied. I procrastinated. I let some friendships languish, and I didn’t nurture important relationships. Politics got me down. I overbooked myself and felt the stress.

It’s nearly 2020, though, and time to set some fresh New Year’s resolutions.

I try to cover all areas of my life when I set my yearly goals. I try to keep them attainable and at least some of them measurable. I like variety, too, so I usually include stuff that keeps me healthy and fit, personal goals and something wacky or unusual.

Have you set your New Year’s resolutions? I’d love to hear them.

Without further ado, behold mine:

  1. BE NICE TO THE PLANET – No more throwaway plastic utensils, cups or straws. I’ve got a pouch with reusables, and I’m taking them with me. No disposable bags when I shop, and no plastic cups on airplanes, either. Bike when possible, conserve water, and reuse, recycle and reduce. Encourage others to do the same.
  2. SWIM FLY – A couple years ago, I resolved to swim a 200 fly. I’m not aiming for that, exactly, but I vow to swim a 50 or 100 fly at the end of every practice.
  3. ARCTIC EXPEDITION – Last year’s expedition with the Arctic Cowboys got postponed, but I’m hoping to follow a trio of Austin paddlers this summer when they kayak through the Northwest Passage, and report about it for major media outlets.
  4. FREELANCE: I’m going to break my way into large, national publications. It’s time.
  5. PROMOTE THAT BOOK: My book about land conservationist J. David Bamberger is due out on Texas A&M University Press in early May. It’s time to set up a release party and signings.
  6. PHOTOGRAPHY: I love taking photographs. I want to improve my skills and sell more of my work.
  7. PAY ATTENTION: I resolve to make no apologies, and stand up for what I politically believe in. I’ll also vote at every opportunity, and encourage others to do the same.
  8. CELEBRATE: My happiest times are those I share with friends. Remember that, and remember that those times don’t have to be formal or fancy. Invite people to dinner, hang out in the backyard, meet friends for coffee. Talk. Share ideas. Wring happiness – or at least a little humor – out of every day.
  9. PERFECT A GRASSHOPPER COCKTAIL: I had one of these minty, old-school drinks in New Orleans recently. I’m going to learn how to make the best one in Austin.
  10. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. Find it, show it, share it. Don’t be shy, and don’t regret it.

 

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Use this and skip the plastic utensils

Use this and skip the plastic utensils

My sister gave me this kit of reusable bamboo cutlery for Christmas so I can skip the disposable plastic knife, fork and spoon. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’ve been trying to reduce plastic in my life lately, and one of my sisters gave me a Christmas gift that will make that easier to do.

I’m going to keep this set of bamboo cutlery in my bike bag (or car, if I’m driving), so when I go to a coffee shop or restaurant, I don’t need to use disposable plastic utensils. My kit includes a knife, fork and spoon, plus chopsticks and a metal straw with a tiny brush to clean it.

A quick online search turns up dozens of similar options on Etsy that range between $12 and $25. Or just take a set of your regular home utensils and keep them handy when you go out.

It’s one of several small steps I’m taking in 2020 to reduce my environmental impact. I know I’ve got a long way to go, especially since I travel a lot and airline flights expand my personal carbon footprint immensely.

But by conserving water (do the laundry only when you’ve got a full load, keep lawn watering to a minimum, take speedy showers), asking shop clerks to skip the plastic bag, taking reusable bags to the grocery store, recycling trash, drinking water from the faucet instead of using bottled water, composting food scraps, riding my bike when I can, and using my things until they’re worn out or broken, I think I can make a tiny difference.

If you pitch in too, we can collectively reduce our impact on the planet.

Do it in easy ways. Do you really need a plastic bag to hold your produce when you grocery shop? Can you skip the sack when you buy a book? Can you wait a week between laundry loads? Can you fill a bottle with tap water instead of grabbing a single-use plastic bottle? Why not hop on your bike for that trip to the coffee shop?

I know not everyone can do all these things, but each of us can find little ways to change our behavior. Encourage others to do the same. You might not even notice you’re missing anything. And some things – like riding a bike or walking to do errands – come with the added benefit of providing a little exercise.

What are you doing to make a difference in 2020?

 

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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