Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Racing season is upon us, once again

The TX road season starts with Bonnie Walker calling racers to the line at La Primavera
Three weeks ago I returned from Europe, and having spent only 10 nights at home since then attests to the fact that it's travel-to-the-races season again. Not that I complain!
There's something very cool about the anticipation before the start of the first race of the season
Just two days after my return I climbed into the Z4 and drove down to Lago Vista, on the north-west outskirts of Austin. I had been appointed as one of the assistant referees for La Primavera, the traditional kick-off road race in Texas. Just like last year, when I had worked the event for the first time, the weather was just so-so, and signs of spring were not too obvious. Two days of racing action later I headed back home for the six-hour drive, stopping over on Sunday night in Sweetwater to crash in one of the local motels rather than face the final 120 miles in the dark. Better be safe than sorry, I say.
Another late drive home from a race
During my time in Lubbock I managed to go out for a few rides, but not many. My monthly riding total for March will be a paltry 259 miles--compare that to about 2,650 miles that I spent in the beemer!

Zebras in Zephyr
My second road trip of the month started the following Thursday when I headed to Comfort, just north of San Antonio--via Houston! I had decided to make this rather large and unusual detour to see my friend Diane who lives on the north side of this megalopolis. Saturday I headed over to Boerne, where I stayed with my friends David and Priscilla in their beautiful hill country home before being surprised by the annual time change on Sunday morning and almost missing the first start of the TX High School Mountain Bike League race, the real reason I had traveled so far. Oh well, I made it, the race was successful (albeit a bit on the injury-prone side), and I got a chance to chat for an hour with my old friends Milby and Annie who live on the ranch where the race was held, Flat Rock Ranch, owned by another two longtime friends, Jimmy and Terri. Gosh, seems as if I know somebody almost everywhere.
At 11Below Brewing in Houston where music and beer were excellent
Another Sunday night in Sweetwater, and then another long drive, this time to Albuquerque, NM. With two BMX races to happen on Friday and Saturday I left on Wednesday, spending the night with Wayne and Lorane out in Mountainair. They were getting ready to receive their first VRBO guests, and we had plenty to talk about. When I arrived on Thursday in Albuquerque I met my colleague Linda who had flown in from Portland, OR. As it turned out, Linda had never been to this part of the world, and I showed her around the area just a little bit during our time off.

With my new friend and colleague Linda on top of the Sandias, at 25 Fahrenheit
We were able to sneak in a short trip up to Sandia Crest, where it was still winter. What a far cry from the blossoming trees a few thousand feet below! Linda and I also had a look around Albuquerque's old town, and once our work was done in the evening she and I shared a few fine IPAs at places such as Marble, Bosque, and Vicino's. And we call that work?

Sunday night I was back home, and now it is Wednesday morning, my house is clean, any left-over perishables (there were a few produce items) have been taken to my soon-to-depart neighborette, Janet, and I'm almost ready to leave for the airport. Uruguay is calling, so better stay tuned.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A (mostly) un-sunny winter vacation in Deutschland

One sunny afternoon above the fog, on top of the Fellhornbahn
It's February, so it must be time to go to Austria and don the cross-country skis. What? We didn't go to Koessen the way we had done for the past six or seven years? What did we think? Holy cow, we decided to go to Oberstdorf, in Germany, and we should have foreseen the result: Austria would curse us, and the weather would suck.
Color photo of icicles in the Breitachklamm near Oberstdorf
Well, to be fair, for the week that we were in Oberstdorf, pretty much all of the northern Alps were hidden by clouds and low fog, turning what should be a winter-wonderland into something resembling Belgium in November. I had arrived in Freising a few days before Valentine's Day, and for a few days the weather was actually rather nice and I was able to go for a few rides in sunny, albeit damn cold, conditions. Sabine had to work for the first week of my stay in Bavaria, and I kept myself busy cooking Mexican dinners, going on a few excursions, and depleting the local beer supply (without much success).
With Sabine's friend Birgit during a cold 30-miler
Munich's city hall with ample sunshine in frosty temperatures
Freising's St. Georg with snow flurries
Enjoying winter in freezing Freising
Every year, Sabine and I go for a weeklong trip to test our cross-country skiing abilities, plod around on snowshoes, and generally enjoy the wintry vistas of the Alps. I suppose we had been very, very lucky over all those years when we'd drive the one-and-a-half hours to Koessen, just inside of Austria and more or less straight south from Freising. But this year we had decided that we should go for a change in scenery, and after much research we had settled on Oberstdorf, one of the most-southern cities in Germany. Oberstdorf is well-known for its ski jumping competition as it is the first stop of the tradition-fraught Vierschanzentournee, which features four different jumping competitions in four different cities. We had made reservations at Gasthaus Theresa, in Jauchen, a tiny village overlooking Oberstdorf. In clear weather, this would have been the perfect domicile, but as it turned out, we never saw the mountains from down below.
View of Oberstdorf from our Gasthaus--just imagine the mountains on the far side!
The view from our bedroom window. Sabine's Skoda is the white car.
Since one can't change the weather we sucked it up and made the best of our stay. Every day we went for either a long hike, took out the snowshoes, or cross-country skied. I have to say, Oberstdorf has great winter walking trails that are well-marked and allow old folks like us to take extended hikes through the forests. The tourist information center has lots of maps, and even if one is not into Alpine skiing (which is BIG here) there's a lot to do. The groomed XC trails are maybe not as extensive as what we had found in Austria, but for the three days of rental ski skiing they were more than adequate. In the valley itself, the snow conditions were marginal, but just a few kilometers farther up the valley the snow improved and the grooming was immaculate. Little wonder: The German ski federation maintains a local training center, and last week the German cross-country championships for juniors took place here.
Retrogear from the '90s ...
The sun did try to come out--this was the sunniest we saw it from the valley
The trails were beautiful and well prepared
Yes, I do look fast. I didn't say am.
As mentioned, Oberstdorf is renowned for its ski jumping competition. But in addition to the ski jump hill in town there is also a ski flight hill about 6 kilometers up the valley, the Heini-Klopfer Skiflugschanze, which boast a record flight of 238.5 meters, or 782 feet, set just this January 19. Unfortunately it was closed for another record attempt on the day we visited, so I had to be happy with posing. That thing is very impressive, let me tell you.
The "normal" hill in Oberstdorf

In front of the Heini-Klopfer; you can barely see the top in the upper right corner. Crazy!
Another cool excursion was our walk to the Breitachklamm, a super-narrow-and-deep canyon that the Breitach has eaten into the rock and that attracts thousands of winter visitors every year because of its huge icicles and sheer grandeur. The walk through the canyon is about a mile long, and wherever you look, it's spectacular. If you go to Oberstdorf, you must visit the Klamm, as everyone calls it.

One afternoon we drove the few kilometers from our Gasthaus to the Austrian Kleinwalsertal, a geopolitical anomaly in that it is completely shut off from Austria by the mountains and can be entered only via a road from Germany. Again, no views but some of the most beautiful cross-country trails of the whole trip. As always, the afternoon ended with coffee and cake and a beer. Sabine served hot Gluehwein at the midway point.

Sabine is very good at researching things to do, and one night we went out after dark to see the burning of a Funken, a big ol' bonfire that the village youth build (and usually guard, so it won't be set ablaze by marauders from the neighboring village, as happend to one Funken this year). The locals stand around, drinking beer and Gluehwein, and when the time seems to be right, the thing is set on fire and everybody watches as it burns for a long, long time--more time to imbibe more, I guess. We stood in the soggy/icy field for about an hour and enjoyed the warmth of the fire until we figured that no spectacular accidents would happen and thus left for our cozy apartment.

The only time we saw the sun in that entire week was during our trip up the Fellhornbahn gondola, up to the ski area. The webcams showed that the mountain station of the Fellhorn was bathed in sunshine, and so we coughed up the euros to take the ride up there. We were rewarded with spectacular views, great snowshoeing conditions, and an unforgettable day. Unfortunately, that was the only time that the mountains peeked/peaked out of all the greyness, so we couldn't repeat this excursion on another mountain.

So, that was our winter vacation. All in all, it was good, but not spectacular. But we saw new places, walked a lot, skied more, de-rusted the snowshoes. And we saw Sabine's friends Anke and Bernd & Isolde coming and going, so that was really nice. Now I'm homebound with two months of bike races and some long trips to South America coming up. May is just around the corner, and that's when I quite likely will be back in southern Germany.