Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seis meses

Time to stop and reflect: Six months ago, Judy left us. Six months ago, my world was turned topsy-turvy. Six months ago, I was faced with the decision whether to let life suck me dry or to live life to its fullest.

These past six months have been quite a journey for me, and I think Judy would be glad to see what I've made of that time. Not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about her and usually talked about her, too. That will continue, because in her memories, she continues to live on, for all of us.

Here's to JuJu!


Monday, March 28, 2011

The Medalla Light Ultimate Dirt Challenge 2011

Yet another race lies behind me, and it was yet another one that turned out quite successful. Yesterday's XCO C1 (Olympic Cross Country, Category 1) international race here in Rincon came off with nary a hitch. It was a beautiful day, the venue was well-prepared, the racers were excited, and the whole affair claimed no serious injury (when one discounts the one broken clavicle that one of the amateur women took home).

Early in the morning I met with all six national commissaires who had been assigned by the Puerto Rican cycling federation to work this event, and all of them were competent, eager to work, and pleasant to be around. A great group of people, indeed. Even though everyone had worked UCI races before, they all picked up a few new things, which for me, the former teacher, is always gratifying.

The Elite Women and Junior Women take off
I wish we had had more Elite racers as this was, after all, a very high-level race on the international calendar. In years past more US Pros had shown up, but this time around only three had made it to Puerto Rico. Two of them, Olympian Mary McConneloug and her partner Michael Broderick, must be some of the most down-to-Earth racers on the circuit. Even though their title sponsors are Seven and Kenda, anybody who also sports "Family and Friends" prominently on the jersey is not someone who is making six figures a year. Mary and Mike have been traveling together to races for many years, and Mary is currently ranked 5th in the world by the UCI. Both won their respective races by large margins, while riders from host Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and even Chile came in much later. Overall, only 19 Elite Men toed the line, and fewer than 10 Elite Women showed up. (Add to that a few UCI Junior riders, and we still didn't break 40 participants for this race for which Switzerland had dispatched me from the US.) In the long run, this is not a good thing for the organizers, the sponsors, and the sport. Fortunately, several hundred amateurs later raced on the same track, but even their numbers were apparently down from years past.

US rider Mary McConneloug on the course ...
... and being interviewed post-race by race director Doel Gonzalez

Nevertheless, the organizers and representatives of the federation appeared to be happy, and we all talked about what could be done to possibly market the event better—after all, last week for the 70.3 in San Juan we had a mind-boggling 1,500+ registered athletes (although only about 40 Professionals showed up here as well).
That's the Rincon lighthouse in the back
My damn camera continues to be lost (for good, I'm afraid) and I was not able to take any pics of the race, our crew, or the really extraordinary awards ceremony (best I've seen outside of a World Cup or last year's World Championship). The photos that you see are courtesy of the official race photographer—if you'd like to see many more, check out his website at www.ciclismopr.com. Unfortunately, I don't get to share with you the view that I enjoyed when Jorge and I went to his brother-in-law's little beach-side restaurant after the race to have dinner and a beer. OMG, it was out of this world! We were sitting there, looking out on one of the best surf spots on the island, with a rocky outcropping tufted with palms to the west and miles of white, palm-studded beaches stretching in a half-moon shape toward the east. It was simply glorious. With the setting sun,  more and more of the surfers finally called it a day, but I can't tell you how absolutely mesmerized I was by this piece of paradise. And the fresh fish wrap and the Presidente beer only put the crowning point on it all.
El Faro de Rincon
I hope to add a few photos in the next day or two (done!), once the official photographer for the race makes them available for download on his website. I really want to show you how gorgeous this race venue was and how lucky I am to live this dream—actually, those are the exact same words that Mary and I shared when we talked about their racing: living a dream. (Tomorrow night, the two racers and I are invited to a good-bye family dinner at Jorge's house, and I'm sure we'll share good stories.)

There is one last thing that I want to add to this long post about the race, as it may serve as a segue to some general comments on Puerto Rico that I hope to publish tomorrow. So, here goes: In the middle of the amateur race, there suddenly was some serious commotion among the commissaires and the helpers and organizers, and I thought I heard something about a man with a machete. First I had to think of course director Edwin (whose name is pronounced as Ahween) because he can fix anything with one of those long, fierce-looking knives, but it turned out that somewhere on the course a crazy guy with a machete was threatening the racers! Course personnel and even police were dispatched, and nobody got hurt, thankfully. It seems, the nut-ball is known to the authorities. But, and here comes the reason for my writing all this, I had sent an e-mail after the race to my friend Sabine, who many years ago had sailed in the Caribbean and who had dug out a history book on this region when she heard I was traveling here. This morning I received an e-mail back from Sabine, and I want to end with this quotation that The Caribbean Experience—An Historical Survey 1450–1960 attributes to Columbus: "On a certain island called Charis dwell a people who are considered by the neighbouring islands as most ferocious, and these feed upon human flesh. They have many kinds of canoes in which they cross to all the surrounding islands and rob and plunder wherever they can.... They wear their hair long, like women, and make use of the bows and javelins of cane, with sharpenéd spear points fixed on the thickest end which I have before described."

Could we have possibly dealt with one of their descendants? Thanks for reading, and please come back.


Saturday, March 26, 2011


I had hoped to spice up this post with a few nice photos, but I don't know where my damn camera absconded to. The upshot is that you won't be tempted to give up your job and take the first flight to Puerto Rico on Monday morning. (I hope that the camera slipped out of my pocket while the assistant race director four-wheeled with me in his Tacoma at the race site—if not, big bummer.)

Last week's stay in San Juan had given me a taste of the natural beauty of this island, but being here on the west coast, in Rincon, is a true eye opener. The bougainvilleas, palm trees, golden beaches, pretty houses, and the beautifully deep-blue sea are just so spectacular! The area is much more rural in nature than what one sees around San Juan. The pace is slower, and the people are even friendlier, it seems.

Over the past two months I had started to worry about this race because, after initial contacts back in early January, there was zero communication. I did not receive the required Technical Guide (which explains all the nitty gritty details of an event and is used by the chief commissaire to assess the race), and e-mails were not answered. I started to fear the worst. But, as it turned out, all these communication problems were caused by the race director's imminent move to Peru—something that is going to happen within two days of the conclusion of this race.

I was picked up by the assistant race director, Jorge, since RD Doel was on a plane coming back from Peru. To make a long story short: I have been received with open arms and have been given all the support I can ask for. The course is in good shape, the various members of the local team are workhorses, and the Puerto Rican commissaires whom I met today seem to know their stuff and are eager to work.

Rincon is a surfers' mecca, and the number of hippie-era VW buses (no, not Westfalias but the original ones) is astonishing. This is the time of year when whales pass close by the island, and Rincon celebrates a whale festival—right next to the race venue! So there will be extra spectators, for the awards we will use the stage that has been erected for the salsa band (we went to a concert last night—hot, hot, HOT!), and the title sponsor for both shindigs is the same: Medalla Light, the beer company.

It'd be perfect ... if we had racers! Now, we do have some, but 19 Elite Men for a Class 1 cross-country race on the international calendar is less than anemic. Women: Eight! Add to that a handful of Junior Men and two Junior Women, and we still don't reach 40 for the UCI race. Please, don't even think about the costs involved in bringing me out here! Or the six national commissaires. So, if we screw up the results tomorrow, we better find a new profession.

My knowledge of Spanish once again is coming in handy since an overwhelming number of the staff speak no English. It would be so odd not to be able to communicate with them! I really don't know how English-only referees travel to some of these exotic locales without having any local language skills at all.

Since it is late and I have to get up fairly early I'll finish things for tonight. I hope that the camera will turn up tomorrow so that I can add a bit of color to my words. And if that fails, I can add a bit of spice to my account by telling you about the man who suddenly stood in my room yesterday morning while I was, well, in my natural state....

Please come back for more.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sometimes you don't get 'em, most often you do

Upgrades, that is. After last Monday's banishment to the back of the bus I was afraid that my upgrade luck had finally run its course, especially when Business Class inventory dropped from 8 to 0 within hours last night for my flight to San Juan in about an hour. And then, just to add insult to injury, American woke me up this morning at 5:20 a.m. to tell me that my 10:20 a.m. flight out of LBB had been cancelled—but I had been rescheduled for the 9:10 a.m.! Since ExpertFlyer showed zero Biz availability for the flight to Puerto Rico, I was prepared to spend another sweltering afternoon amongst the non-deserving masses, headed by the Kettle family. (If you think this is thick, go to FlyerTalk.com and check out the un-apologetically elitist views there!)

It seems the 10:20 a.m. wasn't canceled, after all—just smaller equipment. So they woke me up at 5:20 a.m. to tell me that I had to get to the airport an hour earlier than planned. Oh, the injustice of it all! I was already planning my totally reasonable complaint to AA while, at the same time, I continued to languish in pre-anticipatory upgrade hell.

Well, all my misery came to an abrupt end when I went to one of the AAngels (common moniker for the savants in the Admirals Club) to grab another drink chit for a Sierra Nevada draft. I asked her to check on my upgrade request (numero uno on the airport list since this morning). Well, guess what? Revenue Management had mercy on me and put me up front. Yeah! It may be bulkhead (yikes!), but my world has been restored to its normal orbit, and I will try to calculate my 2011 upgrade percentage while sipping my first G&T.

How does electronics manufacturer LG advertise? LG: Life's Good.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Another race done—time to relax

It's Sunday night, I'm sitting on my balcony overlooking the Caribbean, and another race has come and gone.  And what a spectacular race it was! In many ways, this was the best 70.3 I have worked (and yes, that includes my all-time favorite, Vineman, which may still have an edge on sheer precision). The hundreds and hundreds of volunteers and especially spectators along the roads gave this race a lot of extra energy. The bike course was pretty, but the run course through old San Juan was simply spectacular (and very challenging).
It's easy to work the Pros on roads like this

Old Town is just as pretty as this tile work

The run course led all the way to the old fort
The venue was amazingly well prepared. Municipal workers had been laboring until the wee hours to repaint the stadium where transition (and our last Penalty Tent) was located, new pavement had been laid, and the place was just bustling with activity. It was a total joy to see all that exuberance. The Puerto Rican people were obviously very proud to showcase their island and what they have to offer. Here are a few more pics from the finish area.

Current World Champion Chris McCormack finishes the bike leg

With the seas in the background, an exuberant Puerto Rican athlete finishes ...

... while dozens of volunteers stand at the ready
After the race, it was time to relax, and the VIP party at the Hilton was a good place for Marty and me (Steve had left late in the afternoon) to continue to develop our friendship. What great guys these two USAT officials from Florida are. I stuck around the party with some of the WTC production crew, bonding and destroying a few more beers (and, I am sure, brain cells).

Sunday means "Beach Time" for Puerto Rican families
This morning it was time for a bike ride, and after getting up late I was on the road by 10:30 a.m. once again I rode east, along the shore, but farther than I had on my first day. (After the race yesterday, I had managed to sneak in another short ride after covering the run on my bike as well.) The gray, overcast skies soon cleared up, and it was a joy to see the blue Caribbean but also to ride through forested areas and ranch land that is populated by droopy-eared Brahma cattle and their buddies, the white egrets.

I was tempted to switch from the Ritchey ...
On the way back (can you believe it was at mile 42, the same mileage that sees us stop at Lakeway Liquor on our traditional Sunday ride in Lubbock?) I stopped at a tiny beach shack, El Balcon del Zumbalo, sat on the beach, drank three Medallas, and listened to the best salsa music I've ever heard. Oh, it was heaven! And a few miles down the road I stopped for a late lunch at one of the many eateries in the tiny little town of Loiza and had my second mofongo of the trip, this time with squid in garlic. Dang, life is good!

Mofongo con Pulpo Ajilo (mofongo is made of fried plantains)
And now I am sitting here, as I said, on the balcony, listening to the waves and updating the blog so that you can participate in my humble travels. I would have never thought all those years back when I took that USAT officiating clinic with Robbie T. that I would end up in such a cool place!

The Ritchey BreakAway is back in its suitcase, and most of my other stuff is packed. I won't fly out until about 11:30 tomorrow  morning, so no rush. It's highly unlikely that my upgrade request will make it through since the entire flight is booked—according to ExpertFlyer, not a single seat in any fare bucket is left over. Oh well, I'm sure I'll be able to stand it among the Kettles—especially when I think about the fact that in just one week I'll be back down here for a UCI race. Yeah!


Friday, March 18, 2011

Update from San Juan

I should be hitting the rack by now (it is 10 p.m. and I'll have to be up by 4 a.m.), but I wanted to give you a brief update. Today was super busy, with meetings and briefing galore, and lots of running around. The volunteer draft marshals, as well as penalty tent volunteers, have made a very good impression; we'll have enough motorbikes; and the organizers are treating us not like second-rate citizens but as integral team members. Wow.

Los tres amigos—or the Three Stooges
 The venue has been established. Look at this transition area, in a stadium right next to the Hilton:

Transition with much room to spare
Everything seems to be falling into place. Everybody has a smile, and nobody gets upset—must be that warm Caribbean breeze! We ended the day with the opening banquet, where after food and drink (free for us staffers and VIPs) a local band played. The photo comes courtesy of somebody's iPhone since I had not brought the camera along.

Puerto Rican "Mariachis"

Maybe I'll be awake enough for another update tomorrow evening—but maybe it'll be Sunday. Gotta go to bed now....


Thursday, March 17, 2011

A new race on the circuit: 70.3 Ironman San Juan, Puerto Rico

Here I sit, on the balcony of my cushy room in the Hilton Caribe, listening to the waves coming ashore and having a Medalla Light. Even at $9 for a six-pack of these 10-ouncers, I know that I am supporting the title sponsor of this new race, for which I am the Head Referee. I suppose $9 is a small price to pay for a late afternoon of Caribbean bliss.
The Hilton Caribe, host hotel for the race

After arriving here last night around 7:30 p.m. after a 4 1/2-hour flight from DFW (once again I was lucky and was served G&Ts and a real meal up front), Marty and Steve—two USAT officials from Florida who are here to assist me—picked me up at the airport in the rental car with which the race organizers have provided us. We had a late-night creole fish dinner, accompanied by a few cervezas bien frias, in one of the seedier parts of town, but who cares, right?
Steve (l) and Marty—Charlie C. wouldn't approve

This morning we met with the organizers and then had a look at the transition area (in a huge, seaside stadium) and then the bike course. Things were a little bit dicey with all the traffic, but on Saturday—race day—we will have full police support in shutting the traffic down. From what we understand, the city government is totally behind this race, and even this morning we saw workers patching the road and others painting and landscaping the stadium. Well, they should embrace this race: Almost 1,600 racers are registered, and many, if not most, of them don't travel alone but with spouse, non-married honey, and/or kids. The economic impact must be significant, because most spend at least four or five days down here, if not more. You do the math, not only at $9 a six-pack!

Once the course leaves the San Juan sprawl it becomes incredibly scenic, leading right along the beach and the blue Caribbean. We had been told to look out for dead iguanas that have been flattened by the cars, and no kidding, there were lots of carcasses! But those, too, are supposed to be cleaned up before the race.

For lunch, we stopped at a small roadside restaurant, for extremely garlic-laden chicken (or was it iguana?), creole rice, slaw, and yummy beans—and a couple of Medallas.

La comida ...

... y los varones
When we made it back, I assembled my Ritchey BreakAway and went for a beautiful 2-hour, 30-mile ride. Instead of going west (the way the race will head) I turned east. Many years ago, when Judy and I rode halfway around the island on our Bike Fridays, we had ridden out of town on the same road, and I remembered the beautiful vistas of beaches, pines and palms, and the blue sea. I wasn't disappointed. As so often, memories welled up. Damn, Judy and I did so much cool stuff together!

North coast just east of San Juan
And now I'm back at the hotel. In half an hour, Marty, Steve, and I will head for Old San Juan. It may be a bit on the touristy side, but WTF. We don't get paid that often to come to a place like this and enjoy it.

Tomorrow I will have a day full of meetings and briefings. The two Floridians (who are more like Click and Clack, the car guys, having lived in the North East and sounding like it when they want to) are a nice addition to an otherwise already outstanding beginning to the race weekend.

Stay tuned for another update in the not-so-far future.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Back to work: UCI mountain bike race in California

As a retired geezer, it's nice to get up late, leisurely read the paper over a cup of coffee or two, and hit the pavement for a ride when other folks have to work. But then reality settles in, and you realize that—damn it—that Teacher Retirement System paycheck goes only so far in buying bologna and cheap beer. So it's back to work....

Well, things really aren't that dire (but you can always send me donations). Working a race as a referee is actually about the best work you can imagine: Somebody pays you (relatively meager dollars, or in this case, a few euros) to fly to some exiting locale and be at the beck and call of a race director who is hoping to break even by attracting a large-enough crowd to pay the bills. As refs, we are put up in a hotel, we get a sandwich for lunch, and by-and-large we are respected as we're the ones who are trying to bring order to chaos.

How's this for a mountain bike race venue, in LA?

This weekend I was in the LA basin, in San Dimas, for the first Pro XCT / US Cup race of the season, which was inscribed with the UCI (the Swiss-based Union Cycliste Internationale, which is the governing body for international cycling competitions).

The venue in beautiful Frank Bonelli park was perfect—an oasis in the middle of millions of car-driving humanoids. OMG, how do people live with this kind of traffic, day in, day out? But Bonelli is green, it has a beautiful lake, and it has fabulous mountain bike trails. And that's where the race took place.

The Elite Men are about to start

I came out on Thursday afternoon, and now it is Saturday evening, and the race is history. There were happy winners, there were no casualties (as far I know we didn't have any injured riders today), and there were a lot of folks who thought that spending a day at Bonelli riding the bike is most definitely better than sitting at the office. For me, there were some challenges, as there always are. The venue was absolutely beautiful and well prepared, I had a competent crew who knew what they were doing, and just being around mountain bike races is a joy in itself.

The top five Elite Women

The day's events were positively eclipsed by my getting together with one of Judy's oldest friends and most loyal supporters, John Alexander. The two had met many years ago in a summer camp where both (plus their friend Pernie, whom I've known for a long time but with whom I no longer have contact) were counselors. John lives in Thousand Oaks and came down here to my hotel near LAX for a few hours of chatting. Thank you, John! It was a great evening that made me forget about today's hard work.

And now I better sign off since tomorrow we will all "spring forward" and it's already late. My flight leaves at 10:15 a.m., and the "new" time already screams 1:15 a.m. in my ear!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Today, I rode to the End of the World ...

... and I made it back.

Damn, it's been windy. I don't know exactly how windy it was today, but according to the flag it was at least a 30 mph sustained gale. They call it "breezy" around here. Yeah, whatever!

Look at the lines!

With this kind of wind in the forecast, I went out early (shortly after 8 a.m., even though it was right around freezing) and went west—'cause that's where BIG wind comes from. There's a ride that I've called the "End of the World" ride since, what, the late 80s. You're out there, in the middle of nowhere, and the road keeps going straight. You know the curvature of Mom Earth is about 10 miles away, and the road keeps going—until you get to a point where it seems to end in mid-air, with no more continuing connections. For sure, it's the end of the World, I tell you. Maybe it's really just the county line where the road turns from asphalt to dirt in a T-intersection that's somewhat hidden by a slight rise, but it's still a cool visual feature. That's where one pees and then turns around, after talking to the horses. You can tell, I like my rides around here. Any place on Earth is only 3 miles away from here, honestly. Just ask all my buddies who used to be newbies at some point. Three miles, just about.

Thursday I'll take off for LA and the Pro XCT opener, a UCI race. The past week has been one of transition for me, a bridge and a buffer between my European sojourns and the looming race season. I'll have five races in six weeks, I think, and it'll be taxing in many ways. The past two months were too. I'm a lucky dog to have reconnected with so many friends, on various levels. And at the same time, coming home to Lubbock—and yes, this IS home—was just as gratifying, thanks to my buddies here.

Judy's been gone for close to half a year now. I miss her so badly, but at the same time I have not allowed the grief and agony to paralyze me. That was part behind my planning all those trips. It was either sink or swim. I've been doing the butterfly. Some of you may think it's been a crazy schedule—but it may have been what has kept me sane all along this path.

We'll see how the next six months will shape up. At least spring is here and my buddies are coming out in my front yard:

Judy's bulbs and gnome after yesterday's clean-up

And you thought the German fella had no soft spot in his heart....


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A bit more about Paris, even after making it back to the Hub

How time flies! And how much I fly! Here I am at 63,785 flown miles for 2011, and it is just March 2. I made it back home on Monday night, after another pleasant (=Business Class) flight across the Atlantic.

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

The last blog update was made before Jenny and I looked around Versailles and the Trianon Palace, a smaller chateau on the grounds of the vast Versailles complex. No wonder the French Revolution had to happen: When one sees the opulence and sheer magnitude of this place one can understand the uprising of the people. I'll try to later post two short videos that show both the interior of the main palace as well as the gardens. Bummer that the weather wasn't much better.

After our day in Versailles we moved back into the city, where the Hilton Arc de Triomphe treated us to another upgrade, another suite. Boy oh boy, sometimes I feel like Luis XIV myself! We spent our remaining time in Paris doing more sightseeing (the Rodin Museum, Napoleon's tomb, the Military Museum with all its medieval armors, etc., etc.), but we also enjoyed window shopping and people watching. Saturday afternoon we found a small sidewalk restaurant where we spent some money eating super-fresh oysters (actually, at about a euro a pop they were not expensive) and moules marinières and drinking 9-euro-per-pint Grimbergens. Now, that's high priced, but that seems to be the going rate in Paris.

Well, there had to be a pic of La Tour Eiffel

Lunch on the Left Bank

On our last day in the City of Lights, Sunday, we went for the obligatory lunch at the Bouillon Chartier restaurant, a place that seems to be stuck in the late 19th/early 20th century. The gruff waiters write your order (and the final bill) on the paper tablecloth, the food is tasty and inexpensive, and the general noise level is a few decibel higher than in the otherwise quiet and quaint French restaurants. One rubs shoulders with the other guests and hopes not to piss off one of those waiters, many of whom must have lived back in 1920! We ordered a dozen escargot, a slice of terrine the campagne (a type of paté), lamb cutlets for Jenny and a very nice rumpsteak with pepper sauce for me plus a bottle and a half of St. Emilion—and surprisingly enough, the total bill stayed just under 50 euro (or about $67). The same meal in most other restaurants would be twice as much.

Les Champs Elysées...

... home of the fabled George V

So, overall, despite the so-so weather, this was a really nice trip. But then, what trip have I taken to Paris that hasn't been nice? It's a town that has a certain appeal, and the more often I travel to that city, the more I enjoy it. The fact that I know so many neighborhoods and rarely, if ever, need a map to find my way is icing on the cake.

And now I'm back in Lubbock, trying to mop up the remnants of last week's fierce winds (60+ mph!) and nursing a cold that manifested itself on Monday night with a scratchy throat. Well, maybe I need a bit of rest after these almost non-stop rambles to Europe. Good thing that I won't leave town again until next Thursday when my first UCI race of the season beckons in California.