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72 Hours: Austin

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I’m Alive is a series about traveling to 14 cities to film a two-and-a-half minute YouTube video. We spent 72 hours in each city. In Austin, we jet-ski’d Lake Travis, rode horses with a beautiful girl, and saw graffiti ruins.

It’s pretty damn hot in Austin during the summer. Consider every activity written about below, then add “and I was sweating” to the end of it. We arrived with great aspirations of filming the famous Congress Avenue Bridge bats. According to Wikipedia, it is “currently the home to the world’s largest urban bat colony,” and everyone knows that it’s a must-see in Austin. I’ll get this right out of the way and say it: we failed at filming the bats. There were huge crowds of people, and we were right in the middle of it. (Sidenote: I can’t imagine how much money they make every night from parking. Outrageous.) We even made a donation to the man who helps protect the bats. We were ready… until hunger struck. Most of the people there said that the bats never came out before 10PM and could easily be after midnight before the mass exodus occurred. It was around 8:45pm, so we opted to take a peddle cab to a cool area where a bunch of Austin food trucks were for a quick, to-go meal. We were back by 9:30pm and, as luck would have it, the bats had already flown. It really would’ve made an incredible one second of footage to put into the final cut, but our stomachs failed us. We’ll just have delivery sent to us at the bridge next time.

Another, slightly less popular attraction is the ruins of a failed housing development called the Baylor Street Art Walls, or as Yelp affectionately calls it, “Austin’s Graffiti Park”. We spent a little while there sweating a lot and taking pictures of what I’d call some pretty remarkable work. It was like a playground for weird, curious people to climb on dangerous concrete columns with sharp tie-rods sticking out, all while taking in the messages of some pretty dark artists. It made for some great scenery, but not great enough for the final cut. It was, however, a cool thing to see and helped Austin’s case for being weird.

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Our further and longer journey led us to seeking water activities on Lake Travis. The water levels were significantly low, and it was slightly out of season, so finding water activities proved to be quite difficult. We took a break at the mega Oasis on Lake Travis to formulate a plan. It was hot, dry, and hot. We wanted needed to be in the water. Most of the companies we called either weren’t doing activities or weren’t willing to PR trade with us. This trend continued until we got in touch with some really awesome people at VIP Marina, who weren’t doing much business that afternoon and were more than willing to let us go out and have a fun. As the owner explained, “People come here to not be bothered.” He was really friendly and wanted us to go out and do whatever we needed to do. Jet-skiing this mega lake was a blast. We basically just acted like lunatics and filmed all of it. Some of that footage made it into the final cut, actually. Nic even took a dance lesson from the lovely jet-ski attendant working there.

At one point during our time in Austin, we ended up finding Longhorn Caverns State Park. It was an underground oasis and was the only place we didn’t sweat while in Austin. An older gentleman who had been giving tours of the cave for fifteen years explained this to us:

“During the prohibition, there were elaborate dance parties, live bands, and a restaurant (operated by an above ground kitchen with pulleys to lower food and raise dishes). People came down on weekends from a small, slippery and muddy hole to have the time of their lives.”

All in an old cave carved by an old ocean a long time ago:

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We explored the more rural areas outside of Austin for the afternoon, took pictures, got a Nerds-infused slushy from Sonic, and got made fun of for being in a Smart car… not a bad afternoon.

After a long day out, we headed up to a popular sunset location called Mount Bonnell for a time lapse. There were large groups of teens, tourists, and the like. It was hard to enjoy at first, but we held out long enough for everyone to leave except for a lovely, new friend we’d made named Sarah. We chatted with Sarah about our travels and listened to her aspirations of travelling to create her own freedom. We became friends, and Sarah later told us that she keeps the Jack Reynolds business card I gave her on her mirror as a reminder to do something awesome every day. Talking with Sarah helped Nic and I remember to take in where we were. It was hard to believe that we were in Texas, of all the places in the world. How did we get here? It was a nice moment.

The last morning before our flight, we setup some horseback riding with Texas Trail Rides, which is almost an hour outside the city. That was especially nice because when you’re horseback riding, you want to be deep into the nowhere-ness. Our wonderful guide, Misti, was glad to have a private tour where our route and activity could break from the norm. She taught us some valuable equine skills, took us to a watering pond, and talked to us about country life. We couldn’t be more thankful for their patience during the likely chaos we brought to their quiet ranch. Horseback riding can be pretty fun, and it made for a nice contrast in our film.

We barely left the ranch in time to make it to the airport. Our next stop was quite a different place. In Minneapolis, we went to Mall of America to ride roller coasters, drive a car in front of a giant cherry spoon, and sail with a simple man.

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