Monday, April 18, 2011

Bye-bye, N'Awlins

With a 50-minute public bus ride out to the airport, I have a bit of time to start my latest blog update. It’s Monday, and another race lies in the past. Last week I had written that—after fires had cancelled our road race in Ft. Davis halfway through the weekend—I would like to not have to deal with hurricanes or similar. Well, as it turned out, very strong winds (around 25 mph) from the north-east rendered the conditions on Lake Pontchartrain unsafe enough that race management was forced to make the very unpopular decision to cancel the swim portion of the triathlon.

Things really didn’t look all that bad, but when WTC’s Tim Johnson says that he cannot guarantee the safety of all participants, then things are indeed bad. If many of the folks who are in charge of the swim in a triathlon are like well-trained dive masters, then Tim is the equivalent of the exceptional dive master who takes people into caves—totally professional, no-nonsense analytical, always focused on 100% risk management. You don't second-guess a guy like Tim.

The swim start on the day before the race
The race thus was reduced to the bike and run portions of a triathlon, and a lot of people were pretty upset. By this morning Slowtwitch, a triathlon internet forum, had well in excess of 150 posts concerning the cancellation. I feared the worst regarding the bike portion since the Pros were supposed to go off at one-rider-every-three-seconds intervals, and the age groupers were to leave two every three seconds. Fortunately this was changed to 30-second intervals for the Pros, and the feared packs didn’t materialize, at least for the first 75 racers. Actually, I think our job up front was made easier thanks to this staggered start. In the back of the field (about 1,800 athletes) things were different—it was most definitely the most dense race we’ve had here in New Orleans.
Some of the leading Pros perfectly spaced
As Head Referee I usually stay with the Pros all the way to the finish line, and at that point I really can’t go back out on the course but rather wait for my draft marshals to arrive and debrief with me sooner or later. The atmosphere at the finish was as exuberant as always. Just imagine, Decatur is completely closed to traffic in front of Jackson Square, and there are a gazillion curious tourists who are attracted by the spectacle. It must be one of the most exciting finishes on the circuit, I believe, if for nothing else than the crowds. 

Finish lines don't get much better than this
The race course itself is also a thing to behold.  It’s less the scenery that’s impressive—although the dead-flat bike ride does go out into some of the bayou land—than the fact that similar to the Tour de France practically every intersection and almost every major driveway has a law enforcement officer secure the course. The first year, the budget for law enforcement alone was in the six figures, and I was told that outside of Mardi Gras this event features the largest police deployment that NOLA sees every year. The run has been improved year after year, and it leads through one of the finest city parks in the nation. As an (almost unrelated) aside, the city park also features “City Bark,” a park section where owners can unleash their dogs and let them play with other canines. What a cool concept!

One of the aid stations along Esplanade

Original architecture on Decatur
After my debriefing all my draft marshals and handing the head timer the list of DQs (two racers did not show up in the penalty tents after seeing a card, and another blew it by running with his young son across the finish line, which is an absolute no-no in WTC events) I headed over to the awards just a few blocks away in Woldenberg park. The steamboat Natchez is based here, and much to everyone’s delight the ship's steam organ played some merry songs before she left the dock. Live music, free Abita beer, and large, grassy areas right on the Mississippi make this an ideal spot for the after-race party.

The Natchez' home port is New Orleans
Huck Finn would have felt at home
By the time I got back to the hotel it was 5 p.m., and I was pretty much tuckered—I had gotten up at 3:45 a.m. after not even sleeping well. Still, after snacks in the lounge and talking to various athletes (who all seemed quite happy—but most were all “normal” folks who had been worried about the open water swim in the first place) I hit Bourbon Street one more time. Unfortunately, it seems that most jazz and Zydeco are replaced by silly karaoke and way-too-noisy rock’n’roll bands. So I had myself another Abita beer or two and slowly soaked in the atmosphere while strolling around before finally returning to the Hilton and a good night’s sleep.
No caption needed, eh?
This morning I went for a final walk around town, checking out the market next to the Cafe du Monde (honestly, I was going to have a beignet, but that line was just too long) where I saw this glorious display of hot sauces:
Shortly before I made it to the bus stop I saw this fine mural that converts an ugly facade into a memorable sight (and almost site):
And now I’m saying good-bye to the Crescent City. The bus is getting closer to the airport, where another upgraded flight is waiting for me. I should have enough time in DFW between flights to post this update with a few more photos. ( I did!)

Ahead lies a week in Lubbock before I’m heading west next week—to Hawaii. Yeah!


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