Journey To Secret Beach in Austin, Texas

Secret Beach, dog, puppy

I walk through the open gate and into a dusty backyard BBQ party. I offer the contents of a grocery bag to the men manning the grill. The afternoon sun on July 4 in Texas isn’t subtle. Dozens of friends are gathered here and sweating in unison. I find a place to relax in the shade — a slice of watermelon in one hand and a cold beer in the other. I think of my puppy, Fiona, at home. I’ve just left her alone for the first time. Once an hour has quickly passed, I excuse myself on behalf of Fiona’s assumed despair. I think of her barricaded in my kitchen, all eight pounds of her. Before I leave, I’m invited to rejoin my friends later at a purported “secret” beach, appropriately and memorably called Secret Beach. I’m given specific directions that are promised to take me there, but I never go. I open the front door to my house to find Fiona hiding under the couch in the living room. How she managed to jump over the 4-foot-tall stacked plastic storage bins that closed off the kitchen without budging them whatsoever is a mystery. Clearly distraught from her first home alone experience, I instead decide to take her with me to a friend’s pool, where she’s allowed to be but not to swim. I could have taken her with me to Secret Beach, but I didn’t know that at the time. I emailed a friend a few days later to get the directions to Secret Beach in writing. I saved the email knowing I’d want those directions sooner or later.

%Gallery-152063%The summer in Austin is oppressive. It’s my first summer in Texas, but the record-breaking drought and heat aren’t making the transition easy. Locals commiserate. “I’ve been in Austin all my life and this is, by far, the worst summer ever. I’m so sorry it’s your first”, they tell me, attempting to reassure me that the hard time I’m having isn’t because I’m a newcomer. But my instincts tell me that no matter what they say, the brutality of this summer is weighing more heavily on me, a recent transplant from the north. Everyone is feeling exhausted and visibly so. Beat down by the relentless heat, which has been in the triple digits for over 70 days now, I receive the pitying facial expressions of air-conditioned drivers paused at stoplights as I walk Fiona. Walking her isn’t easy to do — her paws are too soft and raw for the burning asphalt. A friend tells me he can only walk his 6-year-old Samoyed when it’s dark. This gives me the idea to become nocturnal.

I succeed in living by night for a month or so. But between raising a new puppy, totaling a car, shopping for a new car and planning my upcoming wedding, the inconvenience of a nocturnal lifestyle isn’t suiting me. I return to the daylight in the weeks before my October wedding, slowly readjusting to societal normalcy. My wedding is blessed with rain; a beacon of hope that graces the multi-day outdoor event with cool breezes. With a marriage license signed, an elaborate wedding set-up and torn down, and the weight off my chest from entertaining over a hundred mostly out-of-town guests, I find myself able to kick my feet up at my own home. But my feet are on boxes. Boxes filled with vintage lace, plates and glasses, and bins filled with silverware and candles. I lay my head on a collection of solar-powered camping showers strewn across my couch. The opportunity to depart from the wedding immediately following the ceremony for a honeymoon wasn’t an option. Perhaps I could have planned better, asked more of our family members and friends, but I didn’t. Instead, my husband and I work during the week following the wedding. We work in 12-hour chunks scrubbing the floors of the cabin on the property we rented, Austin Heaven. We are washing dishes so that they might be sold, and we are making back-to-back trips between the property and our house in Austin — a 30-minute commute without any traffic. And there’s always traffic.

Eight days after the wedding, two out-of-town friends remain in our home. One friend is an optimistic, ukulele-playing young lady. She has decided to extend her stay permanently and will be looking for a place of her own soon (she eventually moves into an actual closet). The other flies back home tomorrow to Germany, where he works as a physicist, which I find both fascinating and intimidating. With a flea market-looking, post-wedding home yielding not a single interior space for our guests or selves to relax, I have an idea.

“Do you guys want to go to Secret Beach today?” I ask in a tone that I hope conveys to our guests that I, for one, am getting out of the house and into the water regardless of what they choose. They think this sounds “awesome” and I do too. Perhaps more importantly, Fiona hasn’t had any exercise whatsoever since running around the wedding property eight days ago. She sees her leash and rejoices; her paws stretched out and pressed against the door as far up as she can reach them. She is ebullient. We put on our swimsuits, spray on sunblock and I pack a few towels. When we arrive to the end of the road on Austin’s southeast side, I’m not sure where to go next.

“Let’s just park and walk,” I say, hoping the path down to the water isn’t too inconspicuous. We see the white building that was referenced in the directions as a landmark, but we don’t know where the referenced trail nearby is. I debate calling the friend who gave me the directions, but part of the adventure is finding the path on your own.

In the parking lot next to the white building, a man is wet and ushering his dripping dog into the back trunk of his station wagon.

“Do you know where Secret Beach is?” I ask him, certain that he does.

“Secret Beach?” He responds. “It’s not so much of a secret anymore. Back when I discovered it, well, actually, my dog here discovered it, ten years ago, nobody knew about this beach but us. He just went nosing around down there one day and I followed him, I wanted to see where he’d take me. And he took me to Secret Beach. Nobody was down there but us; we founded it. Been comin’ here ever since then, but more and more people seem to show up every time.”

“Wow, you discovered it,” I say, catering to his “I Found It; It’s Mine” gasconading bravado. “Well, I hear it’s beautiful. Can you tell us where it is?” I continue.

“Look,” he says pointing. “Now you follow that path right there all the way until you see another dirt path to your right, take that one, the one to the RIGHT, don’t miss it. Follow that path down and around all the way and I don’t know what you’re going to do, little lady, wearing sandals like those. It’s not easy to get down that hill without slipping. But once you’re down the hill, walk through the trees and then BAM! You’ll hit the sand and the water.”

As the man leaves, another man arrives wearing swim trunks and guiding his Boxer puppy in the direction that had been pointed out to us. Fiona chases after the puppy as we journey down to the sandy beach, finally arriving beneath the late afternoon sun. Beams of light shoot through the canopying trees and hit the water like kaleidoscopic images. Fiona and the Boxer puppy hit the water like exploding cannonballs. With gnashing teeth and splashing water, the two dogs share their first swim. Letting the cool water move through me as it travels farther east, I am unencumbered. I soak in the feeling of having a low-populated and beautiful retreat this close to home.

Autumn is beginning to set in and it looks good on the drought-stricken land — a shoe that finally fits. We cycle in and out several times from the water to our outspread towels. There are only a handful of other people here on this Sunday afternoon. The beach sand is soft and the shells that are scattered alongside the Colorado River are plentiful. Our shoes are behind us in a haphazard pile. We’re a group of unapologetic nelipots.

Once we feel fully depleted, I stuff everything into a large tote bag and we climb the steep hill back up to the dirt path that leads to the parking lot by the white building. Secret Beach isn’t exactly secret enough to warrant the mysterious title these days. But it is still a place I like to go; I am reprieved here from the overcrowded swimming holes in and around Austin. If you want to find it, you won’t have a hard time. Research it or ask a local. I’d tell you myself, but I don’t want the blood of sharing semi-secrets on my hands.

Perfect Beach Beverage Recipe

Austin Marathon: why run a marathon?

The Austin Marathon from The Daily Texan on Vimeo.

The Austin Marathon took over the streets of Austin, Texas this past weekend. Established in 1992, the Austin Marathon began just a few blocks north of the Texas State Capitol. The marathon’s course took runners through several other Austin landmarks, as well. The Colorado River, the downtown area, Hyde Park, UT, and Memorial Stadium were all attractions to be seen during the 2012 race. Kenya‘s Edward Kiptum was this year’s winner. From Kenya to Austin, Texas, Kiptum, who trains in Mexico, came a long way to win a race. But what drives marathon runners to run, let alone run around the world?

%Gallery-148165%What makes a person want to run, for the sake of running? Having been in and out of love affairs with running for years now, I feel as though I might know at least a few common answers to this question. But I’m not a marathon runner. I deeply respect marathon runners and on some level, I casually aspire to be one, but I know casual aspirations won’t help to get me through a marathon, or even marathon training. Cities across the globe host marathons each year and devoted runners traverse the world to participate in these scattered races. A long run will, no doubt, expose a runner to the landscape of respective host cities. I see the appeal in that, in fact, this is one of the reasons why I’m tempted to think seriously about training for a marathon. Getting to know a location on foot is intimate; it’s a foundation for long-lasting travel memories. But as for what drives people from every background to suck it up and run 26.2 miles as quickly and efficiently as he or she can–it varies.

George Mallory, an explorer who died climbing Mount Everest, once cited his motivation for climbing with a simple response: “Because it’s there”. Perhaps a response like this is what it boils down to for many runners. A marathon is a challenge and finishing a marathon is an accomplishment that commands respect. To do it just to do it seems reason enough to me, for those who feel a pull toward marathon running.

The drive to push the body beyond perceived limits is not only a reason to run in and of itself, but the endorphin high experienced by any person pushing their body’s limits lasts well beyond the pushing. Whether a person is climbing Mount Everest, running a marathon, or even perfecting fast-moving guitar scales with their left hand, we receive an innate gratification when we reap the rewards of hard, physical labor. Runners, in particular, experience ‘Runner’s High‘.

In the case of marathon running, pushing limits or rewarding surges of endorphins are only the beginning when discussing motive. Although often disputed because of the wear and tear experienced by some marathon runners, long distance running, when practiced properly, can yield remarkable health benefits. Runners regularly confess to physical, mental, and emotional improvements at the hand of their running. Running can be used to lose weight, fight depression, stabilize moods, and even gain a more confident self-perception, among other things. Aside from all of this, long distance running is an engaging hobby, devotional lifestyle, and, if a runner is really into it, a great excuse to travel the world.

Have you ever run a marathon? Do you run regularly? Have you ever traveled to run in a race? Tell us about your running and related travel experiences in the comment section below.

2009 Country Music Marathon Highlights

Abandoned Austin: photos of neglected structures in the city of Austin

Life might sway to a slower beat in the South, but, compared to other cities in the United States, Austin, Texas‘ growth over the span of the last decade or so hasn’t been slow at all. Steady job growth and population growth have worked together in Austin to create a sort of surreal union between urbanity and rurality. A succinct but steadfast downtown area in Austin is only a couple of miles away from artists’ communities developing on the outskirts of town. These communities are budding and blossoming a short bike ride away from the city’s center, but these communities, like East Austin, are still rural enough that you’ll find chickens roaming the streets and newly-converted living and work spaces being created from has-been barns. This is usually the way these things work.

Artists seeking more affordable housing in New York sought Brooklyn and found homes in vacant factories–vacant anything, really. With dilapidating real estate, supply often meets demand in communities that are attractive for one reason or another to creative thinkers–innovators. It takes a visionary to see the worthwhile in what’s been neglected, and Austin seems to have plenty of visionaries. Upon close inspection, Austin’s framework is still falling apart at the seams in some places. It’s a safe bet that these abandoned and broken-down buildings will be renovated or replaced in due time, but for now, during an economic shift like the one taking place is Austin, these boarded up buildings belonging to abandoned Austin represent the transition of a city to me.

%Gallery-145676%Austin is no abandoned city, but the bygone buildings in Austin are all that much more interesting because of this. Some of the most notorious neglected buildings in Austin are, as summarized in an article in the Austin Chronicle: The Cabin, The Walls, The House, The Restaurant, The Tracks, The Kiln, The Athletic Club, The Rock, Robertson Hill, The Hog Farm, and The Dog Park. The Riverside Dog Park‘s abandoned house on the hill is the only one I visited for this piece, and that’s because I frequent this dog park regularly as it is and was interested in taking a closer look at the house, which has always only been an object barely noticeable in my periphery while socializing my dogs.

Other abandoned Austin buildings have stuck out to me since moving to Austin. The old train station that sits next to the current Amtrak station, for instance. Smaller buildings, like homes, that are beautiful in that way that only a run-down structure can be always catch my eye–particularly since there are so many of them in my neighborhood, East Austin. When I went out to shoot for this piece, I posted a status on my personal Facebook page that read:

“Out photographing abandoned Austin. If you know of a cool abandoned building in Austin, tell me where it is.”

One of my friends commented:

“There are abandoned buildings in this town?”

And I thought that was telling. With all of the boom and business hitting Austin, it seems people are quick to overlook the lack thereof in some areas. It’s easy to overlook, primarily because there really aren’t that many abandoned or otherwise neglected properties in Austin. Thanks to Austin’s increasing popularity and good reputation, people have been flocking to the city for years now and swiping up run-down buildings and making them new. Few remain untouched and that is exactly why I wanted to capture them while I still can. It’s a beautiful thing that Austin is doing so well, that these buildings likely won’t stay neglected for long–and I say that despite that fact that I aesthetically like something about dying structures. I gathered these photos not as a showcase of all of the neglected buildings in Austin, but as a photo diary depicting the abandoned buildings I encounter in my daily life here in Austin. Take a look at these buildings–they won’t be unoccupied for long.

10 Creepy Abandoned Prisons

10 days, 10 states: Keeping it weird in Austin, Texas

“We were headed down the road, hit the border, by the morning, to let Texas fill my soul…”
-Pat Green

I will admit that I eat some pretty strange things on occasion, because when you’re on the road a lot, that’s simply what you do. Snails in France, squid in Singapore, and what might have been cat in Vietnam. Never in my life, however, of all the culinary curiosities that have found their way into my gullet, have I ever harbored the urge to roll out of bed and immediately start eating a taco.

In Austin, however, this is apparently just what you do. You get up. You brush your teeth. And then you go eat some tacos.

Rousted out of bed by my taco-needing, still-intoxicated-from-last-night college roommate who now calls Austin home, morning pleasantries were barely exchanged before making a beeline for a taco stand clear on the other side of town. What initially seemed like unnecessary haste proved to be a keen sense of timing. As it turns out, on any given Saturday morning thousands of young people in Austin, Texas are simultaneously craving tacos. Maybe tens of thousands.

Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either. That was until I pulled into Taco Deli at 9:30am only to be thrust into the back of a line at least 65 people deep which wrapped around the side of the building into the hinterlands of South Austin. Already well documented by fellow Gadling blogger Elizabeth Seward as being a city known for its food trucks and DIY food culture, old and young Austinites alike have a serious soft spot for Mexican food in the AM.

And, I found out, so do I.

Morning meat aside, Austin is a city that has been well documented in Gadling lately, and justifiably so. As the “Keep Austin Weird” movement has demonstrated, Austin is one of the funkiest and most fascinating cities in all of the 50 states. A bubble of progressive thought in a traditionally conservative state, the movement to keep Austin as a locale which promotes independent businesses and champions large amounts of music, art, and culture has infused the capital city with an energy and an atmosphere that draws people to the city in droves.How large is the current allure of Austin? In a 2011 list put out by Forbes magazine, Austin was listed as the fastest growing city in the entire country with a 37% spike in population over the last decade. Add in the 52,000 students currently matriculating at the University of Texas, and you might understand the depth of the morning rush for tacos.

Even with its rapid growth. however, Austin remains the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have a professional sports team. Much of this is of course due to the Longhorns being the undisputed owners of every shred of sports passion from here to San Antonio, and most argue that there’s simply no room for a pro team in a city that bleeds burnt orange.

Don’t believe me again? Go to a UT tailgate outside the football stadium and begin to question the level of passion. As I undertake the epic road journey that has become “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”, I was fortuitously able to sculpt my itinerary around a Texas home game in an effort to experience the mayhem for myself. Judging from the the throngs of beer toting, burnt orange wearing good citizens of Austin, if you had told me the entire city had shut down for the occasion I wouldn’t have begun to argue. Though Austin may be a progressive bubble, this is still football in Texas, and nothing gets in the way of that. Ever.

Cruising through the uber-hip South Congress (SoCo) district of town prior to the game, it’s fair to say that there’s much more to Austin than breakfast tacos, food trucks, live music, and football. One of the most popular districts with visiting tourists, South Congress is an artsy, oft-photographed neighborhood rife with boutique salons and vintage shops that exude the “weirdness” Austin aims to maintain. As if to justify the funky vibe, a purple-haired man with a guitar and a pair of zebra pants comes waltzing out of the psychedelic themed costume shop Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, easily melting into the sea of energetic passerby.

Staring down the street at the Texas capitol building (which is the largest state capitol in America, and 7th largest building in the world when it was first built), the streets of South Congress teem with a curbside mixture of proud alumni, tight-jeaned hipsters, camera-toting tourists, hungover coeds, and some poor guy just trying to get a taco.

Thanks for welcoming me to your city, Austin. And thanks for keeping it weird.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.

Halloween on 6th Street in Austin: the sounds and lights

If New Orleans’ Bourbon Street has a little sister, it is, at least sometimes, 6th Street in Austin. Both streets are main attractions, teeming with boisterous activity. Both streets are usually embraced by tourists and, perhaps just as usually, eschewed by locals. And both streets are worth walking, no matter who you are or where you are from, on certain days of the year, namely, costumed days. Austinites can’t shine a light to New Orleans on Mardi Gras, but Halloween? Just maybe. From what I have seen, the people in the batty city of Austin take Halloween seriously. After receiving an underwhelming reaction to my Westboro Baptist Church Member (I do not condone their actions, I find their actions frightening and despicable, and thereby suitable for Halloween) Halloween costume last year on Austin’s 6th Street, I decided to give the 6th Street walk a go again last night–I was a dead Olympic swimmer this time.

One of the immediate connections I made to Bourbon Street when I first walked the obligatory walk down Austin’s 6th Street last Halloween was that both streets are party streets. Bars and clubs line each of these streets, nearly all of these bars and clubs exist with their doors open, with their internal music becoming externally audible. The rhythms and melodies escaping from these doors come together in the air over 6th Street, forming the sonic equivalent of a strobe light. And the beams from actual strobe lights fly freely from the windows and doors, creating an army of strobe lights–an army that conjures up images of a Potter vs. Voldemort wand dueling in my mind.

%Gallery-138100%But the sounds on 6th Street aren’t limited to the continual onslaught of music, nor are the lights on 6th Street limited to the bouncing beams of strobe light. If you can transport yourself enough to imagine the sounds of 6th Street on Halloween night, here they are for the imagining:

  • The music, yes, the music, we discussed this already. Thumping beats, the kind you feel in your chest as they plummet out of their respective speakers. Hanging hooks, the kind you can’t kick out of your mind’s jukebox, no matter how hard you try. The mixing of several of these, resulting in a collective off-beat, inharmonious soundtrack for your night. For Halloween, the addition of ‘spooky’ music comes rolling into play. Filtered vocal tracks cushioned with the sounds of rushing wind, children screaming, and maniacal laughter.
  • The chatter. There are people holding sober conversations, and, on average, these conversations are muted by the drunken conversations, which oftentimes involve a steadfast sense of conviction in the speaker’s tone. There are cops giving stern warnings, as well as directions. There are bouncers and club managers shouting the nightly special out to each passerby, “100 shots for ONE DOLLAR! Ladies drink free!”. For Halloween, the chatter evolves. It’s not just personal anymore; much of the chatter is in character. A J.K. Rowling Dementor is flapping his gigantic, black wings. A flock of sheep ‘baaa’ as they nose through the crowd. The Founding Fathers speak with accents that match their pristine-looking white wigs. The dog trapped in the skeleton costume whines more than he might on a costume-free evening. A saxophonist plays as he walks slowly through the crowd.
  • The vehicles. Much of 6th Street is closed for Halloween (and other big events, like SXSW) to motor vehicles. But you hear them anyway, coming from barricades’ boundaries. The honking, squealing of breaks, blasting of Slayer. Inside the quarantined area designated for stumbling zombies and the like, pedicabs are limitless and racing through the crowd. Many of the pedicabs employ their own sound systems and on a night like Halloween night, that means mostly one thing: more blasting, scary music. Bicyclists’ tires swoosh through puddles of spilled beer (during this kind of Texas drought, you can count on the street puddles being from just about anything other than rain). A helicopter circles overhead, its lights drawing chins toward the horizon and eyes toward the Austin sky, which looks as though it’s been tie-dyed with navy and rust orange.

Keep your mind fixed on this recreation of 6th street and focus on the kinds of lights to be seen on a night like Halloween in a town like Austin.

  • The strobe lights, we know about them. They are dancing incongruously, bolting from paved street to brick wall to starry sky to dusty window glass and bouncing off the glass to begin the chaotic circle of light again.
  • The club lights aren’t all strobe lights, though. One club is black-light-lit, another is dressed up in red lights. Bands or DJs are playing on every stage on a night like Halloween night, and just about every bar or club on 6th Street has a stage. In fact, I can’t think of any that don’t. Each performer has their own approach to lighting–a film playing on a screen behind the band, a rainbow colored expanse of lights illuminating the DJ.
  • The bicyclists and pedicabs fly by with their red and white lights blinking out of sync as they pedal.
  • The cops have flashlights, and sometimes they are on. But on a night like Halloween, it’s tough to tell the Halloween Cops from the Everyday Cops. But even the non-official flashlights emanate an apparent, even if fleeting, white light.
  • Food trucks are scattered throughout the street and their tiny work areas are thankfully alight; their signs are blinking.
  • The Halloween costuming on 6th Street represents an Austin attraction in and of itself. A man stands stationary in the middle of the street while juggling glow sticks; plenty of other people are simply wearing glow sticks. A robot’s lights twinkle throughout, no doubt indicating computation. An aviation duo appears. The man is dressed as an air traffic control tower and the woman is dressed as a flight attendant adorned with bright runway lights. I quickly scan the immediate crowd, but I see no plane.

These are sounds to be heard, these are lights to be seen. Austin’s 6th Street might very well be Bourbon Street’s little sister sometimes, but sometimes it is something else entirely, not even of the same blood. There’s a fine line between the Spooky City and the Weird City, but the distinction can be made, especially on a night like Halloween.

A Walking Tour of Austin, Texas