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 off-road triathlon champ Alissa Magrum described some of the trails in root-strewn, limestone-rock 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 stair-stepped 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 marble-sized 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.
IF YOU GO
To access the Canyonlands Trail in Lakeway, park along Trophy Drive or at Swim Center Park, 3103 Lakeway Blvd. The Lakeway Area Mountain Bike Enthusiasts meet at 6 p.m. Wednesdays to ride the trails. The public is invited. For more information, check their Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/LAMETX.