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Planes, ziplines & extreme races: Late summer adventures in your own backyard

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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_4
Bikers at Reveille Peak Ranch. Courtesy of Reveille Peak Ranch
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_1
Cypress Valley Canopy Tours. Courtesy of Cypress Valley Canopy Tours
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_3
Streamline Air can take you to the skies. Courtesy of Streamline Air
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_2
Leigh Taylor Wyatt (L) and Shari Funari demonstrate the art of hot glass blowing. Courtesy of East Side Glass
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_4
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_1
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_3
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_staycation_june 2012_2

As summer slowly comes to an end, are you yearning for one last adventurous outing? 

You don't have to leave the Austin area to have a fantastic adventure. And a late summer "staycation" doesn't have to be the same ho-hum weekend in a local resort or bed-and-breakfast. If you're in the mood for something a little different, why not try spicing up your stay-at-home outing with these unique experiences?

Take to the skies

Have you ever wanted to fly an airplane? It's not as difficult to get started as you might think. At a local pilot training company like Streamline Aviation, you can become certified at your own pace, and best of all, they offer an introductory flight lesson that will allow you to get in the air, handle the controls with a little instruction and get a feel if learning to fly is really for you. Even if you don't decide to continue certification courses to obtain a pilot's license, the lesson is a lot of fun — and the views over Austin are incredible.

Matt Quillen is an ex-Navy pilot and has been flying since getting his private pilot certificate at Texas A&M University. He’s been a flight instructor for seven years and started Streamline Aviation five years ago with his brother Corey.

Quillen starts each introductory lesson with an overview of the airplane you will be flying. He has a mock-up of the cockpit and instrument panels in his office, and begins with an overview of what the main functions are, and what you will be doing during take-off, landing and in the air. “You can fly as much or as little as you want,” Quillen says. “It’s up to you how much control you want to take.”

He is competent and reassuring — good qualities to put potentially nervous students at ease. After the on-ground initiation, you go out to the plane for a pre-flight check. Then it's time to strap yourself in, contact Air Traffic Control and be on your way!

“Anyone can learn to fly,” he says. “I don’t like it when people try to mystify it or make it seem harder than it is. With the proper training, anyone can do it.”

Become a hot glass artist

Head on over to the East Side Glass Studio and let Leigh Taylor Wyatt and Shara Funari teach you how to become an artist in the fun, highly creative medium of molten glass. From the “glory hole” to paddling, poking, keeping it hot, puffing and blowing, it might sound a bit like an X-rated movie.

All joking and dirty innuendos aside, working with hot glass is incredibly fun. I was amazed at how many different creative things you can make and the materials you can use. From small grains of colored glass that you roll the molten glass into, to small glass tiles, chips and rods that are used to fuse onto pieces, the possibilities are endless. You can twist it, poke air bubbles into it, even cut it with shears.

When molten and workable, it feels a little like taffy as you apply the tools to it. Wyatt agrees. “It’s almost alive,” she said. “When I am here, on the floor in the glass studio, I feel the most comfortable in my own skin.”

Wyatt and Funari are both very clearly passionate about this work. Funari got started with the art in 2004 in San Antonio, Wyatt in the early 90s in Ohio, New Orleans and Appalachia. In 2006, the two met in San Antonio and their shared love for the art created a bond and began working together. They just opened East Side Glass Studio last fall, where 6th St. dead-ends into Pedernales.

Zipline through the forest

Ziplining was once the domain of tropical places like Costa Rica and Hawaii, but Central Texas now has its very own course where visitors can fly through the treetops on a steel wire. In fact, Cypress Valley Canopy Tours in Spicewood boasts the first canopy zipline to be established in the continental United States. It covers about a half mile of platforms through old-growth cypress trees on property that was once part of the Paleface Ranch.

Participants begin by getting equipped with harnesses and helmets that are personally fitted and double-checked by experienced guides. The group starts on a training and practice zipline, which is suspended only a few feet off the ground. Guides demonstrate how to zip, brake and “self rescue” if you get stuck on the line by pulling yourself to the platform hand-over-hand. Everyone gets a turn at the practice line before hitting the canopy course.

My guides, Jamie and Christine, were fun and friendly; they did a great job of not only escorting us along the adrenaline rush of the ziplines, but also giving a lot of interesting information about the flora, fauna and wildlife surrounding us. As a native Texan, I learned things I’d never heard before, like never burn poison ivy (the smoke can infect your lungs) and that pan-sautéed prickly pear cactus makes a fine dish.

Cypress Valley is a popular activity spot for all sorts of parties and events, as well as for families and corporate team-building groups. After the canopy tour, visitors can enjoy swimming in the private lake and relaxing in a shaded picnic area. Guests can even stay overnight. The Lofthaven is a private tree house accessible by zipline that makes for a wonderful night nestled in nature.

Take on a multi-sport fitness course

Less than an hour outside Austin, in the beautiful Hill Country, lies Reveille Peak Ranch — an outdoor events, nature and destination center that is perfect for those who like a little sweat and challenge in the summer. From mountain biking and trail running to paddleboarding or fishing, there are a ton of activities for guests of all ages.

Challenge yourself on more than 62 miles of diverse trails, or stroll through the Texas wildflowers at your own pace. There is also plenty of wildlife to enjoy while at Reveille Peak Ranch; watch for ospreys, foxes, deer or painted buntings, or cast for black bass and bream. Guided nature tours are also available, and the facilities are excellent including a pool and men's/women's showers and changing rooms.

But it's the events that really make Reveille Peak Ranch. Coming up, you can register for Terra Firma Adventure Race on September 22. This race will test your skills as teams of one, two or three travel together and navigate their way trekking, mountain biking and paddling. Teams are given topo maps and may only use a UTM plotter and compass to find their way (no GPS allowed). Or, check out the 2nd annual Reveille Peak 100K Mountain Bike Race on September 23, one of the most difficult races in Texas.

The Mountain Bike Race offers a unique challenge with technical single-track, a mix of dirt trails, dry creek beds and granite outcroppings. The race  total distance is 62 miles, four 25K laps (15.5 miles each). Athletes compete solo or on teams of two on a 25K loop course with a 12-hour cutoff. “This is what a race should be like. Challenging, memorable and fun! The course was awesome and never got old," says Nathan Winkelmann, winner of the first Reveille Peak 100 Mountain Bike Race last year.

No matter what adventure you choose, there's plenty of late summer fun right here in Central Texas.

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