40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Not a Pool: Lake Austin

Me, Hug, Devon, and Michelle ready to take on Lake Austin.

Me, Hug, Devon, and Michelle ready to take on Lake Austin. Several other swimmers joined us at the bridge for the return.

The culminating swim of our Texas adventure was a 9-mile out-and-back journey in Lake Austin, a dammed section of the Colorado River. We started early Saturday morning at Walsh Landing, not too far from Deep Eddy and in view of Tom Miller Dam, and swam upstream to the Loop 360 Bridge before reversing course. Aside from those two locations, the waterfront was nearly all private, spotted with showy mansions and exclusive clubs. Leslie and Richard paddled along with us, keeping us fed and out of harm’s way.

By the time we returned more than four hours later, the water was choppy with boat traffic. The most novel watercraft we saw was a hydrojet backpack-propelled person shooting up in the air. Yup, Austin’s weird.

swim course mapWhat impressed me most about this swim was that we were able to do it. Just pull up and hop on in–no one seemed to mind. The water was in the upper 60s, the same as most of our other swim spots in town, and was so shallow that I could touch the bottom and see shells much of the way, though of course we were hugging the shore.

I was glad for the chance to do such a long open-water swim early in the season. Was not so glad to verify first-hand that freshwater lakes can have sea lice, or rather “duck lice” according to my expert companions. It seems that the critters find me no matter where I go–a small price to pay for such a pleasant swim.

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Almost a Pool: Barton Springs

Barton SpringsWhat I wouldn’t give to be in Barton Springs RIGHT NOW. Of all the special swim spots we visited in Austin, this one stands out on many levels: length, recreational options, and underwater views especially. Not quite a lake and not quite a pool, this eighth-of-a-mile swim spot remains a consistently cool temperature year-round (high 60s/low 70s), even during Texas’s scorching summers, attracting all manner of swimmers and bathers to its banks and waters.

As I’m starting to expect from springs based on this and my Florida experience, the deliciously clear water makes it easy to appreciate the lush underwater vegetation and sea life. Most notable here were the fishies, big and small. They’d let you get pretty close before darting away. Also of note were the ducks–fake ones to section off the diving board area and real ones to keep you on your toes. Sorry to say (or maybe not), I did not see any Barton Springs salamanders.

group photo by Barton Springs

Richard, Hug, Devon, Bruce, and Lance

I swam just eight lengths here and appreciated different things each time. You can do a flip turn at the solid wall by the deep end, or perhaps stop to look at the waterfall on the other side. On the shallow end, the bottom gradually approaches the surface, so there’s no wall to push off when you turn around. The not-a-pool is surrounded by grassy hills that call out for sunbathing, including nudists perpetuating the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. The only down side is that eating is not allowed here, allegedly due to an ant problem. Up the hill is a lovely open-air yet private, grassy courtyard that is in fact the locker room.

All this for just $3, or even for free at certain times of the day! We came here in the middle of our first full day in Austin and intended to come back for more luxurious laps and a diving competition, but somehow we didn’t make it. As mentioned previously, we have plenty of incentive to return to Austin for more swimming.

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