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

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My favorite (holiday) swim practice of the year …

My favorite (holiday) swim practice of the year …

Merry Christmas from the women of Western Hills Athletic Club masters swim team! Kristin Turner photo

I swim a lot – four or five times most weeks, unless I’m traveling. But Sunday’s practice – the annual Twelve Days of Christmas workout – topped my list of the year’s best workouts.

Here’s why:

  1. Air temperatures were cool and the humidity was low, and the pool steamed like a big vat of soup when we hopped in. Swimming in the winter is the best: It’s dark when we get in the water, but it feels like we’re diving under a warm blanket.
  2. Coach Kristin Turner brought a pair of dice, and we passed around the dice. Each roll corresponded to a different swim set she’d written on the board. 
  3. We cranked up holiday music on deck, so between sets we got to hear a few bars of old favorites like “Rudolph,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
  4. Someone in the next lane over brought a collection of tiny mermaid statuettes and arranged them on the dive blocks to motivate us through the hard parts.
  5. We got to swim for an entire hour and a half.
  6. Kristin Turner led Sunday’s swim practice. Pam LeBlanc photo

    We covered nearly 3 miles.
  7. I wore my red, green and cream-striped stocking cap to the pool.
  8. I donned a red, white and green-striped swim cap for the actual swim. Plus a red bikini, always a festive outfit this time of year.
  9. Everyone started the sets together. (Sometimes the slow lanes and the fast lanes are on different intervals, and we get split up.)
  10. I appreciate my swim family. I’ve been swimming with some of them, including Kristin, for 20 years. We’ve seen each other through birth and deaths and graduations and job changes and every different note that pours out of the song of life.
  11.  

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Cyclist finishes biking every street in Austin

Cyclist finishes biking every street in Austin

Aaron Chamberlain setting off to bike the Rosedale neighborhood earlier this year. Pam LeBlanc photo

Aaron Chamberlain, the cyclist on a quest to pedal his fixed-gear bicycle down every street in Austin, wrapped up his mission Tuesday night when he rolled down Bunche Road in East Austin.

It took Chamberlain a little more than a year to reach his goal. He started on Nov. 27, 2018, inspired by long-distance runner Rickey Gates, who ran every street in San Francisco. Chamberlain put his own spin on the #everysinglestreet project, methodically riding – not running – up and down streets before and after work. (Gates gave Chamberlain a shout out on Twitter to congratulate him on the accomplishment.)

“Now I’m wondering what I’m going to do every morning besides just commuting to work,” he said today, adding that he hopes to keep biking about 100 miles a week just to stay in shape.

In all, he pedaled 4,907 miles as he crisscrossed the city. “Granted, a good amount of these are streets that I could not avoid riding twice or multiple times,” he said in a social media post. “Also things like 1-mile long dead end streets.”

I met up with Chamberlain a few months ago while he zigzagged up and down streets in the Rosedale neighborhood, just to see what it was like. He consulted a map he’d printed out and highlighted as we began our ride. We found a wrench in the road. I watched him cut across a park. He wore regular clothes, instead of a fancy biking kit.

Chamberlain collected a few statistics along the way.

His shortest ride? Exactly 0.14 miles.

His longest ride? A whopping 52.62 miles.

Volkswagen vans counted along the way? Sixty-one.

Aaron Chamberlain biked nearly 5,000 miles on his quest to pedal every street in Austin. Pam LeBlanc photo

He also took a short video of his final ride, which he posted on Twitter. (Follow him at @elmuachuca). “OK, I’m done,” he said as he finished. “How about that. That was pretty easy, just one year and like 20 days … That was exciting. Now to get a beer I guess.”

He pedaled past fancy mansions and shabby homes. He saw an assortment of creatures, from possums and deer to skunks and fox. He averaged about 125 miles a week.

And no, he’s not completely crazy. He skipped highways, gated communities and private streets.

This map shows all the streets Chamberlain biked.

And yes, he’s scheming up a new challenge. He told me about it, but I’m sworn to secrecy. Stay tuned.

Read my original story about Chamberlain at https://www.austin360.com/news/20191025/he-wants-to-ride-his-bicycle-cyclist-is-on-quest-to-pedal-every-road-in-austin.

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Familiar Big Bend spot gets (postage) stamp of approval

Familiar Big Bend spot gets (postage) stamp of approval

 

This new Priority Mail stamp depicting Santa Elena Canyon at Big Bend National Park will be released in January 2020. Photo courtesy US Postal Service

One of my favorite places will appear on a postage stamp in 2020.

I’ve stood in the middle of the Rio Grande, taking in the exact same image of the high rock walls closing in on Santa Elena Canyon of Big Bend National Park that’s depicted in a new Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express Flat Rate shipping stamp unveiled this week.

U.S. Postal Service art director Greg Breeding designed the stamp and Dan Cosgrove did the artwork.

Another stamp depicting the Grand Island Ice Caves, on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was also unveiled. Both stamps will be released on Saturday Jan. 18, 2020 and available online at www.usps.com/shopor at your local post office.

 

 

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Dutch island of Bonaire serves up spectacular diving, plus a whole lot more

Dutch island of Bonaire serves up spectacular diving, plus a whole lot more

I dove with Dive Friends, which operates a shop out of the Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort near the airport. Chris LeBlanc photo

I made six dives during this week’s trip to Bonaire, spotting everything from a 6-foot nurse shark that darted out from a hidey hole in the coral to a trio of big, torpedo-shaped tarpon that used the beam of my light to hunt during a night dive.

But the best find of trip award? That went to the 6-inch longsnout seahorse that clung to a branch of soft coral off the tiny island of Klein Bonaire.

This long snout seahorse was clinging to coral on the ocean floor. Pam LeBlanc photo

We were lucky to see the 6-inch fish (yes, seahorses are fish). They’re hard to spot, and blend into their environment like magicians.

The longsnout is one of 47 species of seahorse, which range in size from a pine nut to a banana. Most mate for life, and although we tried to find our seahorse’s mate on the coral reef, we couldn’t. It was probably watching us search from a few feet away.

This trumpet fish was hiding in sea grass. Pam LeBlanc photo

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Other cool finds? A foot-long scorpion fish in shades of red and brown, that blended perfectly into the background. Three kinds of eels – a green moray, a sharptail eel with handsome yellow spots, and a black and white spotted moray. Several drumstick-shaped puffers, an ocean trigger, queen angels, parrot fish and spotted drums. We found a large lobster during a night dive, lots of lettuce sea slugs, which look like little bunches of ruffles, trunkfish, filefish and blue tangs, too.

This spotted moray was peeking out from a crevice in the coral. Chris LeBlanc photo

The reef, to me, looked healthy, with no signs of coral bleaching or die-offs. Every dive master we met asked us not to use sunscreen, which can damage the reef, and reminded us not to touch any of the coral or marine life. The island’s entire perimeter is a protected marine park, and we each paid $45 for a permit to dive there. Dive shops also organize underwater cleanups several times a year, and restaurants and businesses recycle paper, plastic and glass.

We saw lots of healthy coral and fish during this week’s dives in Bonaire. Pam LeBlanc photo

I stayed at the Marriot Bonaire Dive Resort, just next to the airport, which operates an on-site dive shop through Dive Friends. We did two day-time shore dives, and two different two-tank dives off a boat that took us to the small island of Klein Bonaire.

We snorkeled in the mangroves the last day. Pam LeBlanc photo

Besides diving, we spent some time touring the island with a guide, checking out the salt production facility on the island’s south side, looking at the old slave cabins (a reminder of a dark side of the island’s past). watching windsurfers and kiteboarders, visiting the Cadushy cactus liquor distillery in the center of the island, and admiring the native populations of donkeys (which were brought here to do heavy labor) and flamingos (native.) The last morning, before catching a flight back to Miami, we kayaked through the mangroves and snorkeled with thousands of “upside down jellyfish” with a guide from the Mangrove Information Center.

Pink flamingos are native to Bonaire. Pam LeBlanc photo

Look for my upcoming story in the Austin American-Statesman.

I stayed at the Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort. Pam LeBlanc photo

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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