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A HIKE AND A SWIM IN THE BLANCO



Yeah, it was Super Bowl Sunday. And we had just picked up some brisket and links from Louie’s BBQ in Buda, Texas. A full bag, too, speckled with grease spots, the meats tucked snugly inside. I held the bag like a newborn, one hand behind the top, and the other at the

bottom, and set it down gently, to the side, on our kitchen counter. I was excited, but I was also thinking to myself, I do NOT want to sink into that sofa and watch TV all day, even if it’s Super Bowl Sunday, so I pitched a day hike to my wife.


A couple of weeks ago, I had an immaculate motorcycle ride to the Devil’s Backbone Overlook near Fischer, Texas, and explored Purgatory Rd all the way down to the aqua-blue of Canyon Lake. Trying to loop back to Austin, I took a left on Hwy 32 instead of a right, and drove straight through Blanco, on accident. Low on fuel, I high-tailed it to Wimberley for gas. On the way, I crossed a blue-green river by an RV park, and remembered there was a small state park there close by. You know, I’ve never cared how small or unpopular a park is. I’ve always felt like I can turn anything into an escapade.


Well, pitching this park to my wife when she’s trying to make arrangements for our Super Bowl ‘party,’ is like asking her to catch three fly balls. But as you know, quarantine is a slow-release venom. If I don’t make an effort to get out and get moving, my cell phone lures me in, to a dumbing-down, scrolling slideshow as the walls cave in.


She was on board, (love you dear) so we made the reservations, got our gear, and I told my son to go ahead and put swim trunks on. Bring the water-shoes, too, and one of those loud, embarrassing beach towels. We gotta get you in the water. The boy was resurrected, I say, and I was glad. How do I raise a son in a pandemic? Any. way. I. can.


We drove on 290, with Waze as our efficient guide, but my wife noticed a road sign for Blanco and pulled a sharp U-turn. I held on to my door handle as we slid over hundreds of crackling, tapping pebbles of asphalt, and rocked side to side from the gusts of a passing semi. She always has an eye for offshoot trails, and backroads are no different. We dropped into the valley on Hwy 165, and in honor of Blanco’s native son, Aaron Behrens, we listened to Ghostland Observatory the whole way, and it put a smile on my face. I don’t mind feeling like I’m floating on a disco spacewalk, just as long as I’m beating quarantine...


We crossed the same bridge I passed on my motorcycle last time, and slowly drove in. This state park is not unlike any city park you’ve seen built by a river that flows through town. We had our online reservation taped to the window, and I thought we were good to pass through, but I noticed a park host in a green ATV at the bottleneck, pretending to be occupied after he parked. (I knew he was watching us). As we inched by, he walked up to our car, stretched out his arm with his palm in the ‘HALT’ position, and with a grumpy fish-face, told us to go back and get a parking permit. No hello. Never looked at us. I was pissed. It’s a good thing I was riding on the passenger side. We parked, and I stepped into the tiniest little headquarters for our parking permit, and got more of the same thing. The two behind the desk were on auto pilot, dreaming. I wanted to snap my fingers like a jazz man, grab some smelling salts, and rouse them from their daze. Is this the DMV, or a Texas state park? I knew it was all culture. As they say, “esprit de corps doesn’t bubble from the bottom. It filters down from the top.” I was more disappointed than anything. This is Texas. Hospitality is our joie de vivre, and I was coming in hot from Austin, giddy, bouncing in my seat. Oh well. Now I had to shake off these vibes.


We drove around the whole park to get a better feel for the layout. I told my wife I asked about the temperature of the river, and got some sketchy temps from the front desk. 54 degrees from a spring-fed? Didn’t add up. That temp will kill a man. I needed to get my boy in the water to revive his sputtering fountain of youth compromised by this damn quarantine. He’s done the Polar Bear Plunge at Barton Springs, so he should be fine.


We started off our hike crossing the dam, and I jumped around the volcanic-like rocks on the other side by a fly-fisherman casting his line. We took the Caswell Nature trail and passed under the 290 bridge and walked across a grove of Glossy Privet trees, strobing with tremulous light. We hiked back to finish the loop and my son and I ran up the side of the overpass. He lost his shoe coming up, and I watched it tumble down the concrete like space junk.


We crossed the street to find the Pumphouse Trail, and scout for a swimming hole. My son was already asking for an ETA on splash time, as he should. But we still had a hike to finish, and I wanted him to get some sun, too.


We walked back across the river over the road. Four kayakers were moored right by the road’s edge, petting their lap dogs (?), warming themselves in the sun. We said hello, and walked up to the giant oak tree by the dam. My son looked up at me and said, “You know what, Dad?”

“What?” I said.

“I could climb that easy!” pointing at the Great Tree.

“What are you waiting for? Git it!” I watched him scale that old tree like a squirrel, climbing up the bough until he stood above me, triumphant. Man, when the hell did we stop climbing trees? He jumped down and, like clockwork, asked me if it was time to swim. “One more trail, son. Might be a spot up yonder, under the sun.”


We started on the Pumphouse Trail and came upon a Bird Blind which faced a garden. The blind looked like a chapel with new pews and freshly varnished wood, and let me tell you, I was not wearing my Sunday best, so we carried on.


We followed the trail and stopped at a deck at the overlook, under an old Live Oak, clustered with Ball Moss. We made our way down to the limestone rockbed by the river. A father and his two young daughters were fishing, his youngest babbling with excitement, jumping in place, repeating the words, “water” and “fishing pole” over and over.


The water was much too shallow, lovely as it was, shimmering like white wine. When I turned around, my son was already shirtless, running barefoot along the rock bed. I told him we should go back to the dam and look for deeper water. Poor guy. By this time, we were cutting it close to make it home by kickoff, and BBQ and a few cold ones were starting to sound real good.


My wife went one direction and my son and I went another. We settled on her spot, plumb with the silver-tipped waves by the most grand of the Bald Cypresses by the water. We counted for him, and he jumped in. He came up huffing, his mouth in an “O,” bracing the cold with long gasps, and he treaded water until the shock was gone. “It’s getting better,” he said, and I watched my beautiful son go underwater, and swim across the Blanco River, free at last, gliding across the riverbed.


(later we learned that Aaron Behrens might not actually be from Blanco, oops)


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