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Hiking With Geeks lures nerds into the great outdoors

Too hot to swim? Community raises money to buy aerators to cool Northwest Pool


Highlights

Mendel Kurland started Hiking With Geeks to encourage people to spend more time outdoors.

Austin-based group now has chapters in seven cities.

Aerators can cool pool temperatures by as much as 10 degrees.

Swimmers started campaign to raise money for two aerators at Northwest Pool.

Geeks love nature, too.

Mendel Kurland, a self-professed geek, figured that out in a hurry after hiking with a co-worker last year. The two talked about the fun of spending time outdoors, and on a whim afterward, he snapped up the domain name hikingwithgeeks.com. Then, last October, he started a Hiking With Geeks meetup group, hoping to lure a few nerds from their computers, labs and classrooms into the great outdoors.

“Over that weekend I had 200 people sign up. I was just blown away,” says Kurland, who works in community relations for GoDaddy. “We went out for our first hike shortly after that, and a bunch of people showed up — all of them legitimate geeks from all over the city.”

Geeks of all stripes, ages and backgrounds, from developers and designers to scientists and programmers, felt the tug of Mother Nature.

“Geeks have a lot in common with each other, whether it’s being introverted or the type of work they do,” Kurland says. “It’s almost like the hiking is the second part of it and the relationship stuff is the important piece. A lot of developers don’t go out and aren’t super social sometimes.”

In less than 30 days, the group grew to more than 1,700 members. Kurland began thinking that if people in Austin wanted to do it, people in other places with geeks and trails might want to get in on it, too. When Kurland vacationed in Colorado, he called a geek meetup there.

“The same thing happened,” he says. “A bunch of geeks showed up.”

A nationwide movement was born. Groups have since sprung up in Raleigh, Seattle, Denver, Boulder, Washington, D.C., and Dallas. In all, nearly 5,000 people have joined.

“It’s crazy,” Kurland says.

The group is currently donation-based. Kurland hopes to expand to 20 cities by the end of the year. He also has tentative plans for Hiking With Geeks trips to destinations around the country. When people join the free group, they can also participate in an online chat forum and virtual meetups with members from around the country.

“It’s called Adventure Chat, and we talk about gear and trails we want to go on, or trails we did go on,” Kurland says.

In Austin, the group organizes one or two hikes every month, plus socials, where members can talk about “geeky stuff and hiking.” The hikes typically last an hour and a half to two hours and are accessible to all fitness levels. They’re led by volunteers and draw (so far) about 25 people.

For more information, go to hikingwithgeeks.com.

Working to cool the pool

A flying leap into cold water can make a hot summer day bearable, but sometimes the neighborhood pool feels more like a hot tub than an oasis.

Two Austin lap swimmers are trying to keep one city pool a little chillier by raising money to purchase aerators for it. The aerators — pumps that suck up pool water and spray it into the air — can lower pool temperature by as much as 10 degrees.

That’s significant when you consider that the temperature of most Austin pools will reach 90 degrees by June. Warmer water breeds bacteria and means more chemicals are needed to keep the pool sanitized. Plus, a plunge into hot water just doesn’t refresh like cool water.

A GoFundMe campaign has raised about $2,500 of the $3,000 needed to buy two aerators for the Olympic-sized swimming pool at Beverly S. Sheffield Northwest District Park. Once purchased, the aerators will be donated to the city of Austin Aquatics Department to install, operate and maintain.

“Northwest Pool is such a great place, and you see an amazing variety of people,” says Steve Johnson, one of the swimmers spearheading the campaign. “The only thing that’s bad is how hot it gets. We really hope this will improve the enjoyment for everyone.”

The deadline to donate is April 10. To contribute, go to gofundme.com/aerators-for-northwest-pool.

Northwest isn’t the first pool to get aerators. Ramsey Pool put in aerators last summer.

Want to get aerators for your neighborhood pool? Johnson said he’d help advise other groups interested in raising money for similar projects.



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