The People of Lady Bird Lake

Written by Melissa Hall

It’s not the hardcore bikers you need to worry about when you decide to take a stroll around Lady Bird Lake, one of the nicest places in Austin to take your dog, or go for a jog, or walk around with your friend, mocha lattes in hand, claiming that you’re “getting some exercise” but really exerting as little energy as possible. It’s a place for people of all ages and all sizes–for those who are serious about running, or those who are looking to get that 90 minutes of cardio we’re all supposed to get every week, or those who are outside to escape the subzero air-conditioned buildings that populate Austin.

Everyone knows that “lake” is a misnomer, since it’s really a “river-like reservoir” created by a couple of dams on the Colorado River, but that doesn’t take away from its beauty. Miles of great walking/jogging/riding right along the water. You can go every day to the lake and experience a different section of the trail. Trees align part of the path while other parts lead you up to a boardwalk where you can see lines of turtles lounging on fallen trees jutting out of the water. Ducks float atop the surface while cranes try to catch fish. People boat and canoe and kayak and paddle board and take ridiculous swan pedal boats out onto the lake. It’s easy to get lost in the tranquility of the trail and the lake. Located in the middle of downtown Austin, Lady Bird Lake is beautiful during sunset, a great time to watch the pinks and oranges of the sky as you walk along the pedestrian bridge into the heart of the city.

The lake is nice. And always busy. And always full of moms with strollers.

Those hardcore bikers though, wearing all that Spandex, probably all the Spandex that’s ever been created in this world, with its highlighter-colored accents down the chest and thighs. The serious runners sometimes wear this same uniform, but only when it’s cold outside. Every other time it’s a pair of loose shorts that covers as little groin area as allowable in public.

The hardcore bikers speed down the gravel and dirt path with ease, nimble enough to slide between a slow jogger and a couple with a wily puppy. Or the latte-holding hooligans. They yell “LEFT!” but never stop or slow down to watch the panic they induce. Do they want me to go left? Or are they coming from the left? They are unaware that yelling “LEFT” induces a brief moment of panic in most of the walkers. There’s not enough time to process what you’re supposed to do so you usually head left, and they race around on the right, without looking back.

The dog walkers pull their dogs close to them after this near hit, pat their fluffy heads or rub their sides, glare at the now half-a-mile-away biker. Why don’t they ride somewhere there aren’t any dogs? The dog walkers don’t realize, or fail to acknowledge, that dogs are everywhere in Austin—parks, stores, administrative buildings. In the rest of the country their dogs wouldn’t even be allowed to sit on patios at restaurants.

However, it’s not the hardcore bikers you have to worry about but the moms running with strollers. Yes, these ladies (and sometimes gentlemen, but mostly ladies) are the most dangerous people around Lady Bird Lake.

Not all of the moms are scary–there are the moms who push the single-kid strollers at a walking pace, maybe even a slight jog. They wear a pair of yoga pants or some leggings, something comfortable. They try to move out of the way when people pass, like the serious joggers with their tiny shorts and their bare-chested bodies. Their legs are so thin and there’s so little fat on their bodies that you wonder if they’ve even had a latte before. Do they eat real food or just load up on protein bars and Vitamin Water? They run through these moms with their single-kid strollers with no issue, though the moms are always trying to get out of the way, as if apologizing for bothering those around them with their presence and of their large, barely moveable stroller.

They don’t hog the path like the two-mom duets do. These moms, always in pairs, pushing their respective kid, yell-talk to the other person. There is no personal conversation between the two because if you’re anywhere around them–slightly behind, just in front, a mile in front–you’re hearing this conversation. Sometimes they laugh loudly, too loudly, cackle even. They’re trying too hard, maybe to be funny, maybe to seem like they’re having a fantastic time when really who wants to push a giant stroller in 80% humidity? They walk side-by-side with no regard for anyone around them, the behemoth strollers, with their easy-to-fold-extra-large-tires-for-rough-terrain bodies taking up well over half of the path in many areas. They’re either oblivious to the growing crowd of people behind them wanting to pass or they simply don’t give a shit. The hardcore bikers gather around them, standing on their pedals, looking left and right to see which side has the fewest obstacles, the fewest living creatures that can be killed. They don’t have the advantage the serious runners have–they squeeze through the tiniest of spaces, looking less and less like real human beings. When it’s clear that the two-mom duet will need to shift to the right or do a single stack of strollers, they make faces, huff and puff as they struggle to move the extra-cargo-space mammoths, and then grimace as you pass by. We’re moms and we’re getting exercise and this stroller is really heavy and have you ever birthed a child?

The latte-holding duos ignore the look because they’re too busy pretending to enjoy being outside when really one of them wanted to stay in the air conditioning but thought the “exercise” might be a better idea. Burn off those latte calories as we drink them, but in actuality they’re not moving fast enough or exerting enough energy to burn more than a few calories and definitely not enough to burn the calories from that mocha latte.

The slow joggers are especially cognizant of the two-mom duet disapproval. Your slow joggers are just that–slow. They’re maybe wearing some of that Spandex exercising clothing, or maybe they’re wearing an old t-shirt from a work convention they’ve found in their closet. Armpits soaking, back splotched haphazardly, they push away the hair that keeps falling into their faces and jog on. They’re a little self-conscious, either because of how sweaty they are or because of their slow jog (everyone thinks I’m so slow or look how many people need to pass me or wish I could run like those people in the small shorts ) or because of their size. They look especially hurt by the looks of the two-mom duet and will sometimes slow down to try to pass them, say “excuse me,” or some other appropriate behavior. They look longingly at the hardcore bikers, with their clearly defined calves, calves that are made for exercising.

But double-kid stroller moms? These are the moms you need to watch out for. There will be no apologies uttered by them.

The double-kid stroller mom is clad in Spandex similar to your hardcore bikers and serious runners. She’s in great shape too–smooth upper torso, sinewy legs. Her arms have got some power too because she’s probably into Crossfit or yoga for strength or some other fitness trend that most of us hear about but aren’t too motivated to try because damn it, it just seems way too hard.

These moms are impressive because 1) it doesn’t look like they birthed the children they’re pushing and 2) they’re running with an extra 30 pounds. Her stroller, unlike your two-mom duet, seems to move with ease, as she guides it with just the tips of her fingers–she doesn’t grip the handle with white knuckles like you sometimes hold your latte as the hardcore bikers zoom by or when you try to get away from the wet dog that’s about to shake. She’s got this, and the way she moves tells us that. Her strides are balanced and lengthy, and she breathes with ease, pushing a baby with bow ties in her hair and a toddler with a tablet in his hands. Sometimes she’s even got a dog in tow, a labradoodle or goldendoodle or some other AKC champion breed that seems to run in time with her. The other dog walkers watch in awe wondering how they can get their dogs to run alongside them and not chase after the millions of squirrels that reside in Austin. How does she push the kids AND deal with the dog?

She sweats, but somehow it doesn’t look as wet and sticky as the rest of the Lady Bird Lake participants, definitely not as bad as the slow joggers. Even the latte-holders sweat at all times of the year–Austin isn’t “that humid” but still hot as hell, and the make-up you so thoroughly applied is sliding off your face like second skin. Her make-up looks perfect. Or maybe she’s not wearing anything and she’s somehow naturally gorgeous and thin and athletic. Maybe she doesn’t sweat because of the Spandex. Maybe we should all wear Spandex.

And yet while you admire what she’s doing, she’s unforgiving. The stroller she’s pushing is extra weight that she will use to run you the fuck down. The hardcore bikers will indicate when they’re coming, with their harsh “LEFT” or sometimes a bell. They maneuver (usually) effortlessly around the hordes of people trying to enjoy the once-in-the-year 75 degree weather. The slow joggers will slow or stop. The dog walkers will call their dogs and pull them in. Two-kid stroller moms have no warning sign and the only way to know they’re coming is to listen for them. Their measured breathing, the creaking of the wheels on the gravel. And when you hear them you better get out of the way because she “can’t” stop and she isn’t going to. She’s fit and beautiful and you know what? you don’t even have to work that hard to have a body like hers after giving birth, you just need to begin exercising and lifting weights a couple of years before you get pregnant and then continue to eat right and drink protein shakes and take walks at least twice a day during the pregnancy. It’s really not that hard at all.

You watch as she rolls on by the latte-holders, the dog walkers, the slow joggers. You envy the ease with which she not only exercises but how she runs her life as well. You know her cabinets are all labeled and that canned goods are stacked neatly to the left side of the pantry. You know she only feeds her kids organic fruits and they probably only watch PBS or “educational” programs. She wears heels and pencil skirts and at the end of the day her feet don’t hurt the way yours would. She probably doesn’t even put her make-up on, rather little creatures come in through her window in the morning and apply it for her as they sing cartoon songs.

And then the baby starts screaming and she has to stop to take care of him, and the other kid wants a snack, but no, he doesn’t want the apple slices she diligently cut for him this morning. He wants to go home because he’s hot, and the baby won’t stop crying. It’s not a diaper change and he doesn’t seem to be hungry but he won’t stop crying. He just won’t stop. You sip your latte and smirk. You’re exercising too, you know.

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