Friday, July 29, 2011

This one's for you, Kai!

Followers of this  blog will recall the occasional louder-than-normal sigh of exasperation emanated by my buddy Kai when I post something resembling treason: Complaining about one aspect or the other in First or Business Class. Kai threatened unspeakable consequences should I ever again have the gall to say something negative about sitting up front.

Oh, how right he was and is: Indeed, it is rough to lead the life of a commoner after bedding with royalty.

And so it was with great trepidation and dark premonitions that I boarded the MD-80 from DFW to Denver yesterday, clutching a boarding pass with the ominous number-letter sequence 26E imprinted on it. Yes, that's the back of the bus. And not only that, it is the middle seat, in this case squeezed between a mother and her 4-month-old and a rather "drall" young thing on the window side, flowing into my assigned real estate. At least I had the forethought to take a quick pee before reaching my seat to relieve the two-Sam-Adams pressure acquired in the cushy Admiral's Club just minutes earlier. I intimately held my Time magazine and Panasonic Toughbook close to my chest, knowing that no power-port would be available. The chick took over the remainder of  my armrest, while little Mr. Man demonstrated his future ability as a drummer or soccer star by letting his little legs fly with abandon.
Kettle vs. Business Class
Yes, I sat among the Kettles, the oft-derided sub-class of airplane flier who makes up the bulk of the load. I tried to ignore the ignominy, while trying to think slim and not let my elbows touch humanity. The fact that the short two-hour flight was not catered with sandwiches but that rather my free snack consisted of only a few crackers and a cryogenic cheese blob was only slightly ameliorated by the two free plastic bottles of cheap Chilean Cabernet. Life is so cruel, and I know old Kai is turning religious right this minute just because he feels the need to thank the universe that I finally found my comeuppance.

Mercifully, the captain put the foot on the pedal and the two hours were reduced to only 1:30 hours. I don't know whether I could have lasted much longer, back there in steerage hell.

Or could I? Oh well, I almost forgot to tell that this purgatory was self-imposed, decided on in a split second when the gate agent in DFW had asked for volunteers with flexible travel plans to consider taking a later flight in exchange for a $500 flight voucher. Giving up my seat up front (the upgrade had been confirmed at the 100-hour mark) was a no-brainer as this money represents half a flight to Europe—and I was delayed by just about an hour, if at all. See, Kai, hell can be pretty damn sweet, after all! And my flight back from Denver on Monday has already been upgraded, so I'll make up for  lost ground.

Tune back in tomorrow or Sunday for an update from Crankworx, out here in beautiful Winter Park, Colorado. And stay away from the Kettles, if you can. But if they offer you $500, associate to a minimal degree!


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vineman, Lake Tahoe, Reno—a week of fun!

I know, I know: This update is long overdue. But what do you do when the FUN factor is so immense that it cuts into the time to write a proper update? Dude, I did not even find the time to write my post-race report for the Ironman 70.3 Vineman until yesterday when I sat on the plane from Reno to DFW. 

Vineman now lies a week in the past, and I can only send my biggest accolades to race director Russ Pugh and his staff for putting on such an outstanding event, year after year. After last year's 20th anniversary edition one would have thought that he couldn't top things, but he did with a fully carpeted transition area for the 50+ Pro racers and a finish line set-up that rivaled the world's biggest races. My buddy Wes, a.k.a. Keebler, had taken my advice and traveled with the entire clan to Santa Rosa to participate in this year's race, and neither he nor Susan, the kids, Amy or Tracy, or Jack and Cindy were disappointed. They all had a great time, and Keebler shaved almost half an hour off his previous half-Ironman PR.
The finish area of the 2011 Ironman 70.3 Vineman
On Monday, the Keebler-clan, Jenny, and I met up to all visit Armstrong Redwood Preserve, just outside of Guerneville, where the race had started on Sunday morning with the swim in the Russian River. As I have mentioned on occasion, this small copse of giant redwoods was one of Judy's very, very favorite places, even before we knew that her chemo cocktail was derived from trees closely related to the redwoods. On our first trip to Vineman we had camped in Armstrong, and she could not get over the majesty of these living beings. Every year we paid a visit to her 1,400-year-old friends, and she'd hug them and lie on her back to look at their gently swaying tops. I wanted to share this forest with Wes, Susan, and especially the kids, and at the same time I wanted to leave a bit of Judy among the trees. Dispersing some of her ashes turned out to be a happy moment.
Anna, Susan, and Alli in Judy's favorite place
My friends and family
Before we left the area, all of us went down the road to visit the Korbel Champagne Cellars just outside of Guerneville. (We also went to Stumptown Brewery, a place where Judy and I had had a beer or two ourselves, but a little run-in with the waitress made for a less-than-positive visit for at least Wes and Susan.) At Korbel we were lucky enough to catch a guided tour led by the head historian, and we all learned a load before tasting (and eventually buying) some fine bubbly.
Jenny with pre-champagne product at Korbel
That afternoon, Jenny and I drove from the Russian River Valley to Lake Tahoe. The last few miles, from Placerville on when the road starts to climb into the sierra, was simply spectacular. Highway 50 winds up and up, alongside the beautiful American River, one turn after the other. I had soooo much fun driving the Z4, putting it into manual and occasionally hitting the little "sport" button that adds another three dozen horses. Oh my, that car is a dream! And so is the view of the lake once HWY 50 tops out high above South Lake Tahoe, our destination for the next two nights.
Lake Tahoe seen from Eagle Falls
We stayed with Jenny's friends Holly and Dennis, and during our time in the area we visited various lakes and waterfalls before embarking on a ride in their boat that gave us a completely different perspective of this gem. The weather was perfect, the temperature was perfect, the scenery was perfect, and it's easy to forget how hard the winters are out here. Also, I have no idea how people can afford the $5-million homes that dot the shore line, nor do I care: It was simply too mesmerizing to be in such a beautiful spot. Here's a sampling of the rough life:

Jenny and Holly on one of our hikes
Shabby hovel on Lake Tahoe

A different view of the lake
Women drivers...

Sun-tanning, sushi, and a visit to The Brewery at Lake Tahoe rounded out our strenuous activities. Thanks, Holly and Dennis, for opening your home!

In the remaining three days back in Reno before my departure for hot Texas Jenny and I went on several bike rides. Good thing that I had brought the Ritchey along since I clocked a little more than 100 miles in those three days. We visited the charming Washoe valley with its protected wetlands, and after a hearty breakfast at The Squeeze in Truckee we rode the bikes along the river over to Tahoe City (on the north shore) and continued to marvel at the scenery. If you check the brew-pub section to the right, you'll see that the area doesn't lack in watering holes, and I made the best of it.
The Ritchey enjoyed the rides as much as I did

One evening, Jenny's friends Russ and Margo came over to the house and I had a chance to totally screw up a totally perfect piece of wild sockeye salmon. Alas, I didn't, and despite working with an unfamiliar grill I was able to turn out a fine example of culinary art. Still, I hate being put under pressure like that. So I repeated the next night with another fillet and a different recipe!
Russ, Jenny, and Margo about to be sample the sockeye
Smoked sockeye
So, in a nutshell, this was my trip out west. Those 10 or 12 days or whatever flew by since we did so many different things, saw so many different sights, and, yes, sampled so many different beers. I had thought that I would have almost three weeks to decompress at home, but a few days ago the UCI assigned me to Crankworx, the well-known downhill event in Winter Park, Colorado, next weekend. So, today's ride with the lads will have to suffice for the next couple of weeks, and I won't be able to sweat myself into shape the way I had hoped for in torridly hot Lubbock. I hope to write the next update from the cool Rockies in a few days. And if you think my life is rough, you're damn right, but somebody seems to have to live it!


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Go west, young man, go west!

And that's what I've been doing, since arriving in Reno on Tuesday: go west. Before firing up Jenny's beemer, though, to travel to Santa Rosa for the Vineman 70.3, I assembled the Ritchey and we went on two nice'n'easy rides around Reno. I was totally surprised to see wetlands with waterfowl in this high desert terrain! The peaks around Reno still are snowy, and after Lubbock's heat and brown-ness riding here was a true treat.
Yes, this is Reno
On Wednesday afternoon we left Reno, heading west for Sacramento. Shortly after leaving town we stopped by one of my distributors, Sinclair Imports, whose headquarters are in Verdi. My old friend Mark was totally surprised by this unannounced visit and visibly happy to see me; we took a tour of the warehouse and had a nice chat.

The drive west through the Sierra Nevada was absolutely spectacular. We had the roof down and the temperature kept falling the higher we climbed toward Donner pass. There's still a lot of  snow up here, and I think the lowest temperature that I saw was something like 56 degrees on a day of blazing sunshine. For an afternoon snack cum quaff we stopped in Auburn's Alehouse—great beer, lousily poured by unhappy waitstaff.
Next door to the Auburn Alehouse

The reason for our staying overnight in Sacramento was that ever since briefly visiting this city last December I had wanted to come back and spend some time in the American Railroad Museum. So, Thursday before heading for the wine country we toured the museum, and I was not disappointed. I learned a tremendous amount about the role of the railroad in this part of the world, and the displays were impressive and worth the time and money. This museum is a definite must for anybody even slightly interested in trains.
One doesn't need to be train buff to be impressed
American Railroad Museum in Sacramento
Farther west we drove. With the mountains behind us we thought that now we'd start to bake in the heat of the delta, but far from it: The temperature did not go over 75 degrees, and driving through Napa was perfect. Before crossing over into Sonoma Valley we sampled the very fine wines at Jessup Cellars in Yountville. Jenny decided to join their wine club as shipping costs to Nevada are reasonable and the wine is truly outstanding.

Deciding between the '06 and '07 Ports is not an easy thing

In front of Jessup  Cellars in Yountville
We arrived in Santa Rosa on Thursday evening and had a late dinner at The River, as locals call the Russian River Brewing Company. Not only do these people know how to make some of the world's most respected craft beers, but they also know how to pour and serve them. Mecca, at last.
The Holy Grail for any serious hop-head—The River

Friday we spent driving to Guerneville, where Sunday's race will start, and taking a water temperature reading before driving the bike course. While in Guerneville we ran into the Everett clan; Wes is here to do his first Vineman triathlon, and as always, the family comes along. It sure was nice to see them.

For our late lunch we bought picnic supplies in the local Safeway and then headed for one of the many, many wineries. I remembered the pleasant and quiet picnic grounds at Trentadue, where we bought a bottle of red and enjoyed bread, cheese, and salami. And a visit to these parts wouldn't be complete without a stopover at Bear Republic Brewery in Healdsburg, just off the Vineman bike route!
Who says that wine and beer are not complementary?
For dinner we met up with Kai and Kit at the Toad in the Hole, only two blocks from our hotel. It was great to get back together with these good friends. I finally gave Kai the beer stein that I had bought in Weihenstephan, and he was tickled. I'm sure he'll put it to good use.
Santa Rosa has some fine pubs!

And now it is Saturday morning and we're on the way to Windsor high school where the athletes' meetings are taking place and where I will meet with my crew of officials this afternoon. Time to put on the official's shirt!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 4th: no fireworks but happiness with one Wicked Beaver!

Independence Day came and went without a big bang, neither man-made nor in the form of a thunderstorm. As a matter of fact, it was the tamest Fourth of July that I remember. Still, it was a nice weekend, one that I spent at home and that certainly was productive and satisfying.

First of all, there was the delivery of the custom CoMotion tandem for my old racing buddy from Midland, Ken P., and his riding partner Cat C. The two of them have been terrorizing the Midland lads with a beater Cannondale tandem for many months now, and Ken decided it was time to step up and drop some serious money on a two-seater. How serious? Well, my new impact resistant, Class IV roof and metal siding accents for the casa cost less than this 27.2 pound machine that was handcrafted in Eugene, OR.
Ken and Cat with their new speedy toy
Talking about my house: The siding was finally finished last week, after a stutter job that took more than a month because Dave's Roofing and Siding couldn't source the materials. And everybody is bitching that the economy is slow! Duh! Once the boys got done, though, I was tickled pink with how much nicer the house (at least from the outside) looks—Judy would have been proud. And the big bonus is that my Indian temple bell is finally—FINALLY!!!—hanging where it was supposed to have been placed right after we picked it up at the temple bell monger in Aggra several years ago. So, when you come to my abode, don't seek in vain for a doorbell button but rather reach up and wake up the god residing at 4921.
Give it a good whack, and the god will awaken
Occasions like that make me thirsty, and what better way to counteract the dryness than to have a party! Saturday night a dozen or so of us congregated in the backyard, baked pizzas on the Kamado, and drank fine designer beers. I have to thank Scott M. to come up with the idea of the bring-a-pizza-along get-together. Clean-up was a breeze. No photos, though, since I promised Martha not to post any mouth-agape pics for at least a month.

After a late Friday night (Liz and I had gone to the FFAT and then descended on a party thrown by Chad C.), another late Saturday beer-bash night, and a somewhat hazy and late Sunday night (more about that afternoon's beaver activities in a minute) it was pretty tough to muster the courage to get up early on all three consecutive mornings to make the club ride, the beer ride, and the July 4th ride. Each one was a 55-mile affair with somewhat different pelotons, ranging from more than a dozen to a paltry four on Monday, but as they say: That what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

"So, what about that beaver?" you ask, innocently enough yet secretly hoping for another revelation of Jürgen's latent naughtiness and ribaldry. Well let me tell you, 'twas not just a beaver, but a wicked one, indeed. Martha had made the initial contact with owner Mike A. of Wicked Beaver Brewing in Lubbock's 'burb Wollforth, and after Sunday's beer ride (a sixer of Dale's Pale Ale chased by six lovely Hopdevils), we piled into Alan's Tourareg and paid a courtesy call to WBB. The industrial digs right behind Mueller's Steel Siding may not have the inherent ambience of a well-established East-coast brewery, but holy Moses, old Mike makes one dam fine beer!

The boys know a fine beaver when they see one!
Mike treated us like royalty, plain and simple. Not only did he show us around his small production facility, but he and his wife had prepared a wonderful appetizer spread as if we were the emissaries of the Emperor of Aggra. Well, maybe word of the temple bell had made it around already.... Anyhow, his three beers are crisp, clean, tasty, and an absolute joy to drink, which of course we did with zest and ambition. So, that's why I don't remember much of Sunday night!

Good poo-poo platter!
And that was the Independence weekend. Good friends, nice parties, fine riding, and ecstasy in beaver-land.