Friday, May 18, 2018

You want to experience hot and dry? Come to Lubbock!

After one of many rides over the past 30 days
I've been back home in Lubbock for exactly a month since returning from Brazil, and one thing is for sure: It's hotter here than in South America! About a week ago we had three consecutive days of 100 or 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Yep, middle of May. And as far as moisture is concerned, it seems we're getting back to the drought years that started in late 2010. My lawn? It doesn't exist. The neighbors' lawns? What are you talking about? How are things supposed to green up when our annual-rainfall-to-date was just about an inch two days ago? Since then we had a few spotty thunderstorms in the metro area, but my place certainly didn't get the claimed extra inch.
Lubbock, at the intersection of Ave Q and 32nd Street
It's not completely correct that I have been home for a month. Twice I ran away, both times for races. The first trip came just a few days after my return from the land of Bossa Nova when I drove down to the Cleburne area and officiated our High School Mountain Bike League Finals in Dinosaur State Park. That's always a fun trip, and it was nice to see my NICA-related friends. A nice plus to this short trip was my being able to stop at Revolver Brewing and visit their impressive facility.
And they DO!!!
Gosh, they are so beautiful and I gush over them every year--Texas Bluebonnets!
No race without dinosaurs--at least not in Dinosaur State Park
My second out-of-town trip came about ten days later, when I flew out to Salt Lake City to be the vice chief for an international mountain bike race at Soldier Hollow (and thus chief for the US races). I had been out there last year and was lucky enough to be re-assigned in 2018. While last year's UCI-appointed chief referee had come from Canada, this year I worked together with Hubert from the Netherlands. We had a great race together, even if this time around we were housed in an actual hotel instead of being assigned a homestay--you may remember my detailing our time last year at the house of Jabba the Hutt. :)  MJ Turner is a truly great race organizer, and working with Hubert and Richard and Holly Blanco (both of whom I have known for years) was easy and enjoyable. Bonus point for this trip: I got to reconnect with Rick Morris whom I've known since the early 2000s when he used to live in the Austin area and raced in the TMBRA series. He and his wife moved out to Park City a few years ago, and Rick and Nell opened their door for Hubert and me for a home-away-from-home experience. Thanks!
Fabulous venue at Soldier Hollow (just outside of Park City in the Heber Valley)
Hubert, the Flying Dutchman
Four people running a UCI race
After five days I was back in Lubbock, just in time for that aforementioned heat streak. Immediately after my return (and actually, right beforehand, too) I was rather busy at times with helping my neighborette, Janet, prepare and execute her move to the Ft. Worth area. Janet and I had grown really close to each other over the more-or-less three years that she lived two doors down the street--that's what broken collarbones, vertigo, concussions, and not-to-be-discounted bashed-in bloody craniums will do for you. If the POS house she rented for a ridiculous $1,200 a month from a slumlord bubba hadn't been such a crap-hole, I think she might have thought about staying here. But she decided to leave Lubbock to be closer to various friends and has now moved in with her friend Jon. I was glad that I could help with a few things and assist her because I know she would have done the same for me. I'll miss our many happy hours together and the even more numerous meals that we had either at her place or mine.
Janet, aka Janet the Planet or simply The Uberette, about to leave for good, with Jon
and the truck from the Clampetts
Since coming back from Brazil I've been riding my bike almost on a daily basis. I just tallied up the distance since then, and it's been a whopping 721 miles! There were days when the relentless wind really got to me, but I somehow shrugged it off and kept riding. As a result, I feel a bit fitter, but it doesn't mean that I've lost a bunch of weight--Revolver Brewing, flying to Utah in First Class, and visiting two new breweries here in Lubbock provided enough temptation to sin a little bit. Oh well, I did take off a slight bit of poundage, but there's always room for improvement, right?
Lubbock doesn't get much rain ...
... but we have contractors for AT&T who drill into water mains ...
... just to recharge our surface playa lakes!
Quaker Ave was completely closed for four or five days
And now I have another (hot) weekend ahead of me before I am going to leave for Munich and some quality time with Sabine. What we'll do I have no idea, but I am sure we'll come up with something cool.
Yeah, the old truck's still a-running, if you've been wondering
Late yesterday afternoon...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A quick trip to Uberlândia and beyond (namely Araxá)

Uberlândia, here we come!
If you think that I made up this name, Uberlândia, well, you're mightily wrong. It does exist, and no, it's not where they have a big hatchery of Uber drivers. The story, so my driver Felipe told me, is that the former town in this very locale was small and unimportant, and in an attempt to put it on the map, city leaders decided to give it an Uberish name, and thus Uberlândia was born. And now, apart from having about half a million inhabitants, it also has an airport that connects it to both Brasilia and Sao Paulo. Who would have thunk!
Uberlândia from atop ...
... and from ground level
This was my third trip south of the equator for 2018, and as you may have guessed, it once again was cycling related. I traveled altogether four days for a three-day mountain bike stage race. Yep, that's a lot of traveling: Lubbock to Dallas, onward to Miami, a hop to Brasilia, and finally the thunderstormy vomit-comet to Uberlândia--and then another 200 kilometers of car transfer. Add to that the fact that I had a 10-hour layover in Brasilia and you will understand that I was glad to finally arrive in Araxá. This town, smack-dab in the middle of the huge province of Minas Gerais in the even huger country of Brazil, is in the center of the world's second largest and Brazil's most important niobium reserves.
The first glimpse from my window after a late-night arrival
I love the fruit down south!!!!
But I wouldn't learn about all that until later. When I woke up on Friday morning after traveling for the better part of 48 hours I looked outside upon a tropical paradise of palm trees, verdant hills, and lush forests. The Taua Grande Hotel and Termas de Araxá is a monstrously large edifice that was built as a casino but was shortly after opening closed down because the government thought that gambling was not such a good thing after all. For a while the Taua lay fallow until it was revived and now is an RCI crown resort, or something like that. And it was the host hotel for the CIMTB race, part of a four-event series for the coveted Copa Internacional.
Resort on one side ...
... and race venue on the other
My room looked directly upon the start/finish area, the huge podium, and part of the 35+ vendor expo area that was part of this event. The organizer, a friendly and sincere man by the name of Rogerio Bernardes, estimated that about 1,200 amateur racers participated in this largest of all cup events. I don't doubt it. The elevators and hallways were clogged with riders young and old, male and female; spectators were everywhere; and during mealtime in the spacious hotel dining area it was tough to get a table. Looking at the infrastructure of this event it could rival any World Cup that I have seen in the Americas. Again, who would have thunk.
The finest color guard I've seen in a long time
The UCI Elite men take off for their cross-country race
Once again I was lucky in that I was granted the privilege to work with a crew of extremely capable and friendly locals. I already mentioned Felipe; his stunningly beautiful and even more inquisitive and intelligent wife, Maritza, has been working as the organizer's right-hand confidante, and whenever there was something that I needed to have taken care of, Martiza got it done, with a smile. Working ever-so-closely with me was Camilo, whom I had briefly met at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Even though he was supposed to be my "assistant," his help in translating and organizing our workplace made him an equal. And then, of course, there were old friends: My Argentinian compadre Leandro Carpinelli, with whom I performed the first "buddy exercise" in my International Commissaire training in Switzerland back in, what?, 2005, I believe. I hadn't seen him since the World Cup in Windham, and he hasn't changed much--he still has a keen eye for a beautiful woman!
With Camilo and Carol, another local assistant
Leandro and I go back more than a decade
Another surprise came with the smiling, gentle face of Regina Barbieri, an IC from Brazil whom I had met at the Olympic velodrome two years ago. Regina acted as the chief for the local amateur races while Leandro was the chief for the UCI events. But let's not kid ourselves: Regardless of our assigned jobs, we all work as a team, and that's why I simply LOVE what I do. We are an international tribe, we speak a mixture of English and Spanish and the occasional French and a smidgen of Portuguese, and sometimes there are the Germanic ICs and DCOs, and we try to give back to the sport as much as we can and allow racers to do their jobs knowing that the playing field is level from all sides.
The Taua Grande at dusk
The very civilized billiard room
The opulent reception area
Inside the thermal baths
The warm-water pool
Between those times when I was busy doing what I do there was a little time to explore. One night, Camilo and I went to downtown Araxá to listen to some samba and knock back a few beers. Well, the samba was more like a top-ten hitparade, so we left and ended up in the aptly called My Beers, a fine taproom with a few artisanal draft beers and a fine collection of bottled ones. Yep, I had a Weihenstephan Vitus here. Who would have thunk!

On Saturday afternoon I found myself with a couple of free hours and decide to escape the lovely compound and take a hike beyond the race track. That's when I found out about the niobium and the rape of the land that is happening just on the other side of paradise. I've seen stripmines in New Mexico, and they are stunning. What I saw here was much worse. As far as you can see, the landscape has been terraced, and it will be a long, long time before mother nature reclaims this part of the world. (Incientally, after sending Sabine a few pics of the mines she sent me an interesting German news report about how soy bean plantations in this area are responsible for deforestation and pollution.) I'm not judging here; I am simply reporting. We all make our living somehow, and if you want to throw big old rocks, make sure you're not in a glass house.

Walking back from my excursion I crossed through parts of the race course, and it was just amazing to see the excitement and engagement of the thousands of fans. I passed through while the amateurs were racing--imagining the party during the Pro race was difficult. However, the next day, while working after the conclusion of the UCI event, I had a chance to talk to a racer from the US about how it all stacked up. I was told by this individual, whom I highly respect, that there were boos and worse whenever this foreign athlete passed through certain sections--but it was also clear that these boos were not meant in disrespect of the rider but simply as an extra boost for the local athletes. You need to realize that all this still gives me goosebumps.

So, what's my take-away from this, my second-ever trip to Brazil? Let me tell you, I enjoyed Araxá much more than Rio. The people I met were so giving, so genuine, so warm and helpful. Rogerio was the perfect ambassador for all that is good about Brazil, letting me know not to listen to the news reports of the ubiquitous graft and corruption but rather open up to the hearts of the people. I did. The friendly faces in the termas who helped me figure out the "sparkling bubble bath" were so gentle in understanding the fact that I could not communicate in Portuguese (while I couldn't really figure out why they couldn't understand my Spanish--but few Brazilians speak Spanish, as I was told time and again). Locals that I met in town and other social situations were eager to talk to me about their country. Brazilians are a very proud people--proud of themselves, proud of their country. Nothing wrong with that, and it didn't come as a surprise. I should have thunked that!

This was a great trip. I wish I could have spent more time. I wish my Portuguese consisted of more than the obrigado  that I continue to mix up with the automatic gracias. I wish I could meet a few more of those absolutely stunning women who epitomize everything beautiful about the world's 51%. And I wish I could spend more time with these wonderful new friends who opened their arms and hearts to this gringo. Obrigado!