For jumps, berms and rollers, try the mountain bike flow trail at Milton Reimers Ranch

For jumps, berms and rollers, try the mountain bike flow trail at Milton Reimers Ranch

Chris LeBlanc and Marion Burch ride some rollers on the Flow Trail at Milton Reimers Ranch on Dec. 26, 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

If you like your mountain bike riding tricked up with berms, gaps, jumps and pump rollers, try the new Flow Trail at Milton Reimers Ranch Park in Western Travis County.

I headed to the park this morning, and warmed up on the beginner’s mountain bike trail before heading to the 2.6-mile Flow Trail, which opened in May.

If you’ve never been to Reimers, and you’re looking for a park with trails for a mixture of skill levels, check it out. The park’s 18 miles of trails are divided into green, blue and black, for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders. There’s also a short wooden pump track, which is great for testing your skills.

The park is also known for world-class rock climbing, white bass fishing along the Pedernales River, and pleasant hiking.

Chris LeBlanc reads the sign at the start of the Flow Trail at Reimers Ranch. Pam LeBlanc photo

But about that Flow Trail. From the parking area, follow the signs up the gradual slope. (We missed the turnoff; follow the pink flagging.) You’ll eventually reach the entrance area, which is marked by some (confusing) signage.

The top of the trail is at 1,052 feet; the bottom is just under 900 feet. In between you’ll zing around curved berms, swing through pump rollers, and launch yourself over jumps as you swoop down the hill – or not. The course is designed so there’s an easy work-around at each major obstacle.

Want to know how it feels to ride it? Watch this.

The same builders who designed the trails at Spider Mountain Bike Park near Burnet (the only lift-served mountain bike park in Texas) machine built this trail. It’s the first of several planned downhill runs.

Chris LeBlanc picks his way down a ledgey section of the new Flow Trail at Reimers Ranch. Pam LeBlanc photo

The trails are only open when they’re dry, so check before you make the drive if it’s rained recently. The park closes when it fills to capacity. We arrived at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, but the lot was almost full when we left and the park closed shortly thereafter.

Horseback riding and hiking is also allowed at Reimers Ranch, but the Flow Trail is open only to cyclists, who must ride it in clockwise direction.

And pro tip: Since Austin moved into Stage 5 Covid restrictions this week, it’s now FREE to get into the park. Staffers aren’t handling cash. (I wish they’d have a drop box for folks who want to leave money; I’d like to support the parks, but this makes it difficult.)

Bring a mask and practice proper social distancing. Picnic tables and drinking fountains are closed. No off-leash pets are allowed.

The park, which is open from 7 a.m. to twilight daily, is located at 23610 Hamilton Pool Road. To get there from Austin, take Highway 71 west through Bee Cave and turn left onto Hamilton Pool Road. Go 12 miles to the park entrance on your right. For more information, call 512-264-1923.

Chris LeBlanc rides past a windmill at Milton Reimers Ranch Park. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

 

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Hill Abell has sold Bicycle Sport Shop to Trek

Hill Abell has sold Bicycle Sport Shop to Trek

Hill Abell and Laura Agnew announced this week they are selling Bicycle Sport Shop to Trek Bicycles. Photo courtesy the Abell

Austin’s losing another home-grown retailer.

Hill Abell announced this week that after 35 years, he and his wife Laura Agnew are selling Bicycle Sport Shop to Trek Bicycle.

That means Austin is losing its sole Specialized dealer. Bicycle Sport Shop also sells Santa Cruz, Fairdale, Salsa, Yeti and Surly. When Trek takes over in January, it will sell only Trek bikes.

Twins Claire and Cody Stevens opened Bicycle Sport Shop, which specialized in cruiser-style bikes, early mountain bikes and sportswear, at 1603 Barton Springs Road back in 1983. Abell bought his first mountain bike there and then joined the staff as a part-time salesman.

He bought the shop in 1985, and put the focus on mountain bikes and cycling gear. His wife Laura Agnew became co-owner in 1987. Over the years, the company added new shops, shifted the location of existing ones, and generally became a fixture in Austin’s bike scene. Today, there are five Bicycle Sport Shop locations in Central Texas, including the flagship shop at Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road.

Yesterday, Abell shared the news with friends and customers.

“All good things must come to an end, including the very best rides, and the time has come for us to explore different paths in our life adventure,” a statement sent to customers and posted on social media read. “We have decided to sell Bicycle Sport Shop to Trek Bicycle, as we consider them a partner who shares our values and passion and would be the best future caretakers of our cycling community.”

Three of the bikes locked up in the shed in my backyard came from Bicycle Sport Shop, and I count Hill and Laura among my friends. We’ve ridden at Big Bend Ranch State Park together, hula-hooped away many an evening, camped in the desert and sipped margaritas. I’m sad the shop is closing, but happy for their new freedom. I caught up with Hill by phone this morning.

Bicycle Sport Shop started on Barton Springs Road. Photo courtesy Hill Abell

What can you tell us about the sale? It came together really quickly. Trek has been in retail business for about five years, and they now run 118 stores across country. Adding five more will bring it up to 123. Initially they were buying distressed retailers – shops going out of business, owners that were ready to quit. Now they have a whole retail services team. When we do the transition starting the week of Jan. 11, they’ll have 25 people in town doing merchandising, training, building bikes, and assessing the market.

Will the shop’s name change? It will be Trek of Austin. The Bicycle Sport Shop name is going away. It’s had a good 37-year run, but its time has come to an end.

What will customers notice? The new shop will only sell Trek. Specialized is going to look for a new distribution in Austin.

What about the employees? We’ve got five shops in the Austin area (including Bee Caves), and 150 full and part-time employees. Trek’s intention is to retain almost every one of them.

How has the pandemic affected the shop? The demand for bicycles has been absolutely phenomenal, to the point we’re struggling to have enough bicycles in stock for the holiday season. It’s been an incredible year, and that’s true industry wide. We expect to be up a little over 20 percent. The downside, of course is a fair number of our staff decided not to come back after we closed (briefly) in mid-March. We were deemed essential, so we were able to reopen. We pivoted to curbside only, and our e-commerce business absolutely exploded. We continue to operate curbside, and just three weeks ago opened on a limited appointment-only basis.

What are Trek’s plans? They’ll continue to do rentals. It will be a full-line bike shop, and service is a big part of the offering. They also have incredible program for training technicians, which is a real need. They won’t do things like the Real Ale Ride; they’re not as event oriented. But the CEO committed that they’ll be deeply involved in the advocacy scene in Austin, both for trails and bikeways.

Bicycle Sport Shop organized the Jingle Bell Ride, a holiday bike ride to see Austin’s best lights. Photo courtesy Hill Abell

How are customers reacting? It’s been amazing. I’ve had so many phone calls, emails and texts from people with stories about how the shop and its people have improved and changed their lives. It’s so fulfilling to hear that.

Got any funny memories? Our original landlord at Lamar was this amazing character. He came home from the Continental Club after a performer was going to do an Ozzy Osborne thing and cut the head off a rooster. The guy chickened out and tossed the rooster into the crowd. (The landlord) ended up finding the rooster and sticking it in the building right before we were going to occupy it. We found this rooster that had pooped all over the place…

How many bikes do you think you’ve sold? Last year we sold 7,800. This year it’ll be 10,000. It’s got to be in the hundreds of thousands over the course of 35 years.

What will you miss? I love the industry. The technology fascinates me. More than anything, it’s daily interaction with customers and staff. It’s like one big family.

What won’t you miss? The stress of trying to figure out how to keep the business viable. There’s so much competition, and the cost of doing business in Austin, property taxes and rent. The biggest challenge is the ability to pay our people a living wage.

I heard you had an employee ownership plan. Thirteen percent of the company was owned by about 135 employees. It was reappraised at the end of October. We saw a nice increase in value, and we’re adding a premium and buying them out at the end of the year.

What’s next? Laura has requested I take a year off, let things kind of settle and reflect on the last 35 years, travel, and maybe find some creative pursuits. I’m going to double down on bicycle advocacy. I have ideas on trail access initiatives we need to be working on in Central Texas, and I’ll keep working with people like Ted Siff and George Cofer to make sure the new $460 million active transportation bond is spent efficiently and quickly and on the right facilities. About $330 million of that is for urban trails, bikeways and bicycle enhancements.

Hill Abell stands in front of an early location of Bicycle Sport Shop. Photo courtesy Hill Abell

 

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Barton Spring’s Polar Bear Plunge cancelled

Barton Spring’s Polar Bear Plunge cancelled

It’s a New Year’s Day tradition for many Austin residents to leap into Barton Springs Pool. The city has cancelled this year’s Polar Bear Plunge. Pam LeBlanc photo

Heads up, cold water swimmers. The pandemic has frozen plans for the 2021 Polar Bear Plunge at Barton Springs Pool.

City officials have cancelled the event “after careful consideration of the local characteristics of the virus and related community priorities.” Barton Springs Pool won’t open at all on Jan. 1, 2021. 

This guy told me he lost a fantasy football bet and had to jump in Barton Springs last New Year’s Day. Pam LeBlanc photo

I rode my bike to Barton Springs Pool last New Year’s Day and jumped into the 70-degree waters. I even met a guy dressed in a red, white and blue onesie, who told me he was there because he’d lost a fantasy football bet. And no, the water itself isn’t that bad. It’s getting out, when a breeze hits your wet body, that gets uncomfortable.

Dozens of other folks gathered to take the plunge.

Austin Parks and Recreation Department officials are asking people who have made the New Year’s Day plunge at Barton Springs in the past to share photos or videos on social media, using the hashtag #polarplungeatx. For more information on city pool schedules, go to austintexas.gov/pools

Chris LeBlanc jumps into Barton Springs on Jan. 1, 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

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Spider Mountain, the only lift-served bike park in Texas, expands hours for holidays

Spider Mountain, the only lift-served bike park in Texas, expands hours for holidays

A cyclist rides the lift to the top of Spider Mountain on Feb. 9, 2019. Pam LeBlanc photo

It’s been nearly two years since the chairlift started turning at Spider Mountain near Burnet, where mountain bikers get a ride up the hill so they can focus on the fun part – going down.

This week the park announced expanded holiday hours. My verdict? Get out there as fast as you can.

I’ve visited the park a couple of times, and love how it’s divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced trails. I stick to the easy routes, but more skilled riders can tackle one called Tarantula, with wooden ramps and curves, plus daunting obstacles suitable for launching yourself skyward.

They all deliver a jolt of adrenalin.

In addition to its usual Friday through Sunday hours, the park will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18-21 and Dec. 26-31. It will also be open noon to 4:30 on Jan. 1, and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 2-4.

A cyclist rounds a bend on the Tarantula Trail at Spider Mountain near Burnet. Photo courtesy Spider Mountain

Guests must wear masks except while they are riding.

A bit of trivia: The very same lift that now carries bikes up a Central Texas hill once carried skiers to the top of Al’s Run at Taos Ski Resort. (And I’ve ridden that lift when it was in New Mexico!) One-time Austin resident and overgrown-kid-in-disguise James Coleman, managing partner of Mountain Capital Partners, which owns six ski resorts around the country, purchased the lift, had it disassembled and trucked to Central Texas, where it’s now doing duty at the only lift-served bike park in Texas (and only year-round lift-served bike park in the country.)

The park is located at 200 Greenwood Hills Trail outside Burnet. For more information go to SpiderMountain.com.

Cyclists tear down a trail at Spider Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

 

 

 

 

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If you head to Big Bend, plan ahead, wear a mask and bring your own supplies

If you head to Big Bend, plan ahead, wear a mask and bring your own supplies

The sun rises over the Chisos Mountains on Thursday, Dec. 3. Pam LeBlanc photo

Take one look at my legs and you’ll have no trouble figuring out how I spent this past week.
My shins? They look like someone swiped them with a Weed Eater. My nose? It collected a new sprinkling of freckles. My butt? It feels like I competed in my first rodeo.
I had a couple of work assignments in West Texas, so I tacked on a night of camping and a day of mountain biking through the desert.
First, a note. Covid is spiking in the Big Bend area right now. If you decide to go, consider the people who live there. Medical facilities are limited. Wear a mask if you’ll be indoors or around other people. Bring your own food so you don’t have to go to grocery stores or restaurants.
Big Bend National Park is partially open. You need a reservation to stay in the park’s three campgrounds, which are limiting capacity to two-thirds each. You also need reservations for drive-to campsites in the desert. The lodge is partially open, but the restaurant is closed. Also, crews are working on the paved road that leads to the Basin, and it’s closed part of the day. Check the park’s website for details and plan accordingly. Most of the park’s hiking trails are open. The exception? The hot springs historic area and all associated trails are closed. So is the Boquillas Crossing port of entry. (For the latest, go to https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/big-bend-covid-19-status-updates.htm).

Toasting Casa Grande from my campsite in the Chisos Basin. Pam LeBlanc photo

A Mexican jay perches on a branch on the Window Trail at Big Bend National Park. Pam LeBlanc photo

My husband and I nabbed a reservation in the Chisos Basin Campground, where we pitched our tent, then walked over to the short Window View trail to watch the sun sink into a V-shaped notch in the Chisos Mountains. When the show ended, we headed back to camp, where we heated water for dehydrated chicken and dumplings (PackIt Gourmet is my fave!). Before bed, I interrupted a skunk that was foraging around the washroom. (I backed carefully away and avoided a good saucing, but got a close up view of its rear end.) Then I climbed into my tent for a cozy night on a cushy air mattress beneath three layers of blankets, enjoying the comforts of car camping.
The next morning, we strolled down the Window Trail to the pour off. West Texas is experiencing a drought, and I didn’t see a trickle of water. I did, though, see a flock of Mexican jays, which cooperated nicely as I snapped photos.
That afternoon, we drove down Ross Maxwell Drive, and spent a couple of hours hiking out to Mule Ears Spring, where a tiny bit of water was visible behind the ferns. The trail doesn’t offer the spectacular payoff of the South Rim or Lost Mines trails, but it does serve up beautiful, broad views of the open desert, in all its spiky glory.
After the full-quad workout of a day spent hiking, we aimed for Terlingua, where I’d reserved a room at Casa Vista Grande, a rental house on the outskirts of town. You’ve got to drive down a rough gravel road to get to the place, but the payoff is huge: Unobstructed views of the Chisos Mountains, three patios for sipping coffee or grilling steaks (we did both), and a thick-walled adobe structure with a gigantic and cushy king-sized bed and full kitchen inside. If you’re into star gazing, check it out at https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24559952?source_impression_id=p3_1607211554_d44rr92rd%2FSHWVsx.

Chris LeBlanc looks over a ridge while biking near Terlingua on Wednesday, Dec. 2. Pam LeBlanc photo

Scrambling through an arroyo while biking around Terlingua. Pam LeBlanc photo

The next morning, we unloaded our mountain bikes and joined some long-time friends for a 26-mile scramble through arroyos, up mesas and into dry riverbeds on one of the best rides I can remember. Our guide, former Yellowstone National Park Chief Ranger Dan Sholly, pointed out an old brick factory and the ruins of a couple of rock houses, and took us to a gorgeous creek bed lined by yuccas. Our ride took us over gravel roads (public) and into private property (we had permission to enter) and at one point connected with Lajitas Trail 4 (that’s a blast, with lots of undulating single-track with dips into.)
My legs were trashed after that ride. It seems I use the tender skin on my shins to test the jabbiness of the local cacti. By the time we rolled back to the rental house, I looked like I’d gotten into a fight with Edward Scissorhands.
All the scrapes and burns, though, and even the sore butt, faded along with the color in the sky as the sun set. Terlingua puts on a great show – look east, toward the Chisos, to watch the mountains light up. A couple of homemade pitaya margaritas, made with the fruit of a native cactus, made the evening even better.
I’ve probably visited Big Bend 30 times or more. At first, it looks desolate and barren. But every time I return, I sense more life and beauty.
This trip just added to my love of the prickliest part of the Lone Star State.

Sipping a drink from the patio at Casa Vista Grande in Terlingua. Pam LeBlanc photo

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I’m in (maybe) for the Texas Winter 100K paddling race

I’m in (maybe) for the Texas Winter 100K paddling race

Jimmy Harvey paddles the San Marcos River on Wednesday, Nov. 25. Pam LeBlanc photo

My paddling buddy and I logged another run on the San Marcos River this morning, and officially (yet unofficially) decided that yeah, we might do the upcoming Texas Winter 100K paddling race.
I’ve done the race, a 62-mile dash down the Colorado River from Lady Bird Lake in Austin to Fisherman’s Park in Bastrop, twice before (three times if you include the time I just paddled part of the course, and stopped for a picnic midway just to see what competing would be like.) I’ve gotten lucky with weather every time – kind of cold at the pre-dawn race start, but reasonably comfortable during the day.
The weather doesn’t always cooperate, though. I recently interviewed several year-round paddlers for an article I wrote for a statewide magazine (check the January issue of Texas Monthly). One described in detail how ice formed on her braids and she couldn’t stop shaking the first time she did the Texas Winter 100. That scared her away for a few years, but she did eventually return and do it again.
Cold would be fine, but I draw the limit at cold and wet, which is what the race delivered in its first year, 2011. Paddlers got pelted with sleet as they made their way downstream. Depending on water flow, it can take 12 hours to finish, and that’s a long time to shiver. Still, a little discomfort does make the hot chili or stew at the finish taste even better.

Jimmy Harvey paddles the San Marcos River between Martindale and Staples on Wednesday, Nov. 25. Pam LeBlanc photo

Today’s leisurely run down the San Marcos, from Shady Grove Campground in Martindale to Staples Dam, reminded me of what I love about paddling this time of the year – brilliant sunshine, equally brilliant orange and gold leaves on all the trees bent over the river, and plenty of quiet. We passed a few folks out fishing, but no tubers, no campers, and no swimmers, just a bunch of turtles out sunning themselves.
We glided along, letting the breeze help push us downstream, and enjoyed the peace. It won’t be like that for the race, but for now, I’ll take it.

To register for the Texas Winter 100K, go here.

We saw hundreds of turtles out sunning themselves today on the San Marcos River. Pam LeBlanc photo

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