CHAL­LENG­ING TER­RAIN AND TECH­NI­CAL TRAILS

High school team, lo­cal club ride Lake­way trails to stay fit, have fun.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Pam LeBlanc Fit City

I’m chug­ging my way up a sin­gle-track trail, sweat trick­ling down the small of my back and quads burn­ing like some­one stuck a brand­ing iron on them. This is bliss. For the last few years, I’ve been hear­ing about the trail sys­tem in Lake­way. Friends have tried to lure me there, but it seemed too far from my home in Al­lan­dale. Be­sides, I thought, I’ve got the Wal­nut Creek Trail Sys­tem, Slaugh­ter Creek Trail and the Bar­ton Creek green­belt all within range.

I fi­nally buck­led when long­time Lake­way res­i­dent and of­froad triathlon champ Alissa Ma­grum de­scribed some of the trails in root-strewn, lime­stone­rock stud­ded de­tail at a din­ner party. She also told me how she launched her­self into a dry creek bed and knocked her­self un­con­scious on the trails, but I want to suck as much ad­ven­ture out of life as pos­si­ble, so I loaded up my bike and headed west any­way.

I meet Ma­grum, past South­west Re­gional Cham­pion of the XTerra off-road triathlon se­ries, at the swim cen­ter in Lake­way. I hoist my bike to the ground and we pedal to the trail­head of the Cany­on­lands Trail across the street. This net­work of trails, a se­ries of fig­ure eights and loops plus a quad-scorch­ing path­way to the top of what lo­cals call Mount Lake­way, at­tracts cy­clists and hik­ers look­ing for a good car­dio­vas­cu­lar work­out and some el­e­va­tion gain.

Within min­utes, Ma­grum zips away in a spray of gravel, and I pedal fu­ri­ously to keep up. We hit a cou­ple of stairstepped down­hills, cross a wooden bridge that looks like a minia­ture ver­sion of the Pen­ny­backer Bridge on Lake Austin, ride over the jaw­bone of a deer (a sign?) and start up the switch­backs.

I get off the bike a lot. I also jam my ped­als (I’ve never got­ten used to a cli­p­less sys­tem on a moun­tain bike) into my shins a cou­ple of times. We loop around some spur trails, I dis­cover a gang of dung bee­tles rolling mar­ble­sized balls of an­i­mal scat down the trail (na­ture is cool!), and we crunch up a rocky trail be­neath a rat’s nest of power lines.

“This is why I live out here,” Ma­grum says. “It’s an out­door play­ground and I don’t have to leave to do any of my train­ing.”

The rugged trails also serve as the home turf of the Lake Travis High School moun­tain bike team, which holds team prac­tice here three times a week.

“We have prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult aer­o­bic course for prac­tic­ing on in state of Texas,” says team di­rec­tor Rick Mar­giotta. That ter­rain, he says, builds up the cy­clists’ skill level, con­fi­dence and fit­ness. “If we can get them to ne­go­ti­ate those trails, they’re com­fort­able any­where else in the state.”

Ap­par­ently, it works. The team has won three of the last five Texas High School Moun­tain Bike League cham­pi­onships, and is lead­ing in scor­ing this sea­son, too. And no won­der — you’ve got to grunt up about 3 miles and a lot of switch­backs to con­quer Mount

Lake­way, where the payoff comes in the form of views of the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood and Lake Travis.

The Lake­way Area Moun­tain Bike En­thu­si­asts, or LAME, ride these trails ev­ery Wed­nes­day night for fun, too. The crew meets at the trail­head on Tro­phy Drive at 6 p.m. and cov­ers a fast and gnarly 10 or so miles.

“Any­one can come. It’s open to all lev­els, but this isn’t Wal­nut Creek,” says ride leader Michael “Smitty” Smith, re­fer­ring to the kinder, gen­tler trail sys­tem at Wal­nut Creek Metropoli­tan Park in North Austin, where I’ve crashed and burned on oc­ca­sion. “It’s got the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing one of hard­est trails in Austin — be­cause of the climb­ing, not be­cause of the tech­ni­cal side.”

The Cany­on­lands trail sys­tem wraps half­way around the perime­ter of a tract of land do­nated by the Lake­way Mu­nic­i­pal Util­ity District in 2002, but mem­bers of LAME and the Friends of the Parks hope to even­tu­ally ex­tend it all the way around the 20-acre plot. City of­fi­cials hope to con­nect the sys­tem to High­lands Boule­vard and High­way 71 in the fu­ture, said city spokesman Devin Monk.

Vol­un­teers are also color cod­ing and map­ping the trails to make them eas­ier to nav­i­gate, says Pat McDer­mott, chair­man of the Lake­way Friends of the Parks, which orig­i­nally built the trails for hik­ing pur­poses. Mem­bers of LAME later helped mod­ify them to make them more bike friendly.

“They’re some of the best trails for bik­ing in this vicin­ity,” McDer­mott says.

Af­ter a cou­ple of hours of ex­plo­ration, Ma­grum and I roll our way back down (wheee!), put our bikes in the back of our truck and drive five min­utes down Lohmans Cross­ing to an en­trance point to Lake­way’s Hamil­ton green­belt. About 4.5 miles of trail opened on the 85-acre plot in the early 1990s.

No need to hop on and off the bike on these much smoother, softer and flat­ter trails, which wrap along­side a creek and a pretty spill­way, curve past ten­nis courts and then con­nect to some easy sin­gle track across the road. Some­where in there (I’m sworn to se­crecy), Ma­grum in­tro­duces me to her se­cret place, where a 3-foot wooden Bud­dha statue perches on a plat­form in the woods.

We pause to soak up some good vibes, and it re­minds me that moun­tain bik­ing isn’t only about bat­tling a trail, it’s about friends and the con­ver­sa­tions you have along the way.

Ma­grum and I wrap up our tour of Lake­way bike trails with an easy cruise down at the City Park, where a short trail skirts Lake Travis. Easy, yes, but there’s a rea­son to in­clude this in your rounds, es­pe­cially when the tem­per­a­tures heat up. You can ditch the bike for a few min­utes and take a fly­ing leap into the lake — or even swim around the cove, if you’re a swim freak like Ma­grum or me.

That’s a nice way to fin­ish an ad­ven­ture that makes me feel gritty and strong, and gives me a healthy way to work out frus­tra­tion.

ANDY SHARP FOR AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Alissa Ma­grum rides past a se­ries of water­falls along the Hamil­ton green­belt on March 10.

PAM LEBLANC/AMERICANSTATESMAN

Alissa Ma­grum takes a break next to a Bud­dha statue hid­den in the woods along the Hamil­ton green­belt in Lake­way.

ANDY SHARP FOR AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN PHO­TOS

Cy­clist and triath­lete Alissa Ma­grum pauses for a por­trait on a bridge along the Cany­on­lands Trail on March 10.

Alissa Ma­grum rides past a se­ries of water­falls along the Hamil­ton green­belt.

Cy­clist and triath­lete Alissa Ma­grum rides her bi­cy­cle along the Cany­on­lands Trail in Lake­way on March 10. This scenic and at times chal­leng­ing trail sys­tem pro­vides area cy­clists, run­ners and hik­ers with a good al­ter­na­tive for their ex­er­cise choices.

A sign marks the en­trance to the Cany­on­lands Trail.

PAM LEBLANC/AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Alissa Ma­grum takes a break next to a Bud­dha statue hid­den in the woods along the Hamil­ton green­belt in Lake­way.

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