Saturday, August 27, 2011

A German in America

It was late Monday night that Sabine arrived from Munich. Ever since, every day has brought new experiences for her, and from what I gather, she's loving it. On Tuesday I gave her a tour of Lubbock—on the bikes, of course. I had fixed up one of my 'cross bikes, and together we rode about 25 miles to the campus and the Depot District, on the way stopping by here and there to chat with friends and acquaintances. Over a lunch at Triple Js I introduced her to the crappy microbrews as served by this lackluster establishment. Alas, that's the best we have to offer in the Hub City! A visit to the American Wind Power Center took the place of the usual trek to the pathetic Prairie Dog Town that the city used to tout as a major attraction.

Sabine enjoys some shade in 100-degree temperatures
Wednesday started with a 35-mile ride to what I lovingly call the End of the World, a road that T-intersects the dirt county line trail in far west Lubbock county. Now Sabine knows what I mean when I tell her about a windy ride or a hot ride, or both. That evening, I had invited about 20 friends for a potluck dinner in the backyard, and we all had a grand time. Unfortunately, nobody but I was more than politely interested in the radish that Sabine sliced into curly strings with a tool made just for such purposes. I suppose not everybody has Bavarian genes.
Keebler LOVES beer, and Carl loves to grill

Sabine trying to impress the crowd with her radish-slicing skills
On Thursday morning we fired up the Miata and headed toward New Mexico. Sabine was less than impressed with the general run-downness of all those little, dried-up towns along US 84 on the Texas side of the state line—one can only think Grapes of Wrath when passing through the likes of Anton, Sudan, or Farwell. The drought sure has taken its toll on an already impoverished part of the state. Nevertheless, when we made it to Clovis, we stopped for a true cultural capsule: Joe's Boot Shop, the biggest boot store in the known universe. Neither one of us had ever seen such a vast assortment of western paraphernalia!

Albuquerque, where we spent two nights, was its usual self: A tidy city (mostly) with great restaurants and microbreweries that offers outdoor entertainment opportunities. Why can't Lubbock have a place like, for example, Marble Brewery where not only outstanding beer is on offer but an eclectic collage of locals can enjoy free music? Sabine very quickly picked up on the different vibe here. While in New Mexico's largest city (which isn't exactly huge!) we had dinner at Il Vicino's (one of my longtime favorites) and El Pinto, as suggested by Liz as one of the best Mexican food places. I have to say, the ambiance was second to none, but their red chile was several levels inferior to what was served up for breakfast in the Hilton.

Sabine could not believe that we were carded at Marble Brewery!
On Friday, we took the aerial tramway up to Sandia Peak.The view during the 15-minute flight is spectacular—at times one is 1,000 feet off the ground! Once we were an extra 1,500 meters above the city (and its heat) we hiked along the crest trail and picnicked with a superbly expansive view of much of western New Mexico. If you've never taken the tramway to Sandia Peak, consider doing so next time you're in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque's aerial tramway is one of the longest in the world

The view from above
For culture, we visited (once again upon suggestion of Liz) the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. How Judy and I managed to miss this gem of a living museum is beyond me as the IPCC is an absolute must! It just so happened that during our visit a dance demonstration was taking place, and we learned a lot about pueblo culture and how family traditions play an important part in preserving the heritage. The youngest dancer was 4 years old, and he was as serious as any of his much older siblings. Special exhibits and a permanent collection of items from all of New Mexico's 19 pueblos allow visitors to get a little bit of an idea about the life of the Native American pouplation. Absolutely fascinating, and we wished we'd had more time.

Native Americans performing at the IPCC
While museums are interesting, nothing beats driving through this part of the world in a convertible and seeing the landscape and how man has integrated himself. Instead of taking I-25 up to Santa Fe, we took the detour route up to Jemez Springs and over to Los Alamos, through the Jemez Mountains. The colors of New Mexico ... well, we all know how the light has influenced many an artist. Entering the Jemez valley, the red rock formations stood in stark contrast to the green junipers and the deep-blue sky. Sabine was completely mesmerized by the landscape and the sights. We drove though the pueblo of Jemez, seeing it with somewhat different eyes thanks to our visit to the IPCC.

Red sandstone in the Jemez valley

By the time we entered the Valles Caldera National Preserve, both landscape and sky had changed significantly. The mountains become almost alpine in nature, and we had watched the blackness of a huge thunderstorm over those mountains. Thank goodness we had stopped to eat some Indian fried bread and had just been slow-going, and thus we missed the violent hail and torrential rain that had torn through the area just half an hour earlier. The wildfires that had raged in this area just to the west of Los Alamos and the national labs back in May have reduced the hillside forest to black, dead stalks, and the erosion that this one thunderstorm  caused was a reminder about how a wildfire has tremendous aftereffects as well. We encountered even a snowplow that cleared the mud and rocks off the road!
After the wildfires and after the rain
We spent our third and final night in New Mexico in Santa Fe, the state capital. We didn't get there until sometime in the late afternoon, and after the long drive we spent some quality time over a well-poured beer at Second Street, one of my (many) favorite pubs.
The German hop-head shows off a perfectly poured IPA at Second Street

While sitting on the patio, the Rail Runner, the new light-rail service connecting SF and Albuquerque, drove by. And when we checked in at the Hilton, we were welcomed with a magnificent upgrade to the best accommodations in the house, the two-bedroom casita which is almost as big as my house and is located in the historic stables of the Ortiz family compound. Thick adobe walls, wooden beams, a luscious south-west-themed interior—it was reminiscent of the upgrade in Versailles earlier this year, and it was for a freebie (points stay) as well. Sabine and I ate it up! I mean, how often does one stay in such digs in a 400-year-old mansion and doesn't have to pay a penny? Life, indeed, is good.

Saint Francis of Assisi keeps watch over Santa Fe

So, after a wonderful evening on the town and a final stroll around the plaza in the morning (after another red chile breakfast) we loaded the Miata for a final time with our few things and headed back to Lubbock. It was like a movie being played backward now: First the mountains recede, then there are fewer and fewer junipers, the skies become even bigger, the ground cover changes from green to brown, and then arrive the windmills and the cotton fields and the vast heat of West Texas. Lubbock had us back at 6:15 p.m., after a five-hour drive—just in time for a wonderful meal with Alan and Martha after their trip to Peru.

And now we have a day in Lubbock before flying out to Jamaica tomorrow for a week of R&R. No, you don't hear anybody complaining here.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's about time ...

... that I post this long-overdue update about last weekend's race in Lake Stevens, WA. But believe me, the life of a retiree ain't easy. I don't think I've ever been busier than now. After five days in the Seattle area I made it home on Tuesday afternoon, and since then it's been non-stop—dealing with some of the penalties and the paperwork from the Lake Stevens 70.3; writing untold e-mails in connection with upcoming races in Costa Rica, Syracuse, Augusta, and Angel Fire; and working on close to 10 bikes for customers who are feverishly awaiting the Dumber'n Hell Hundred ride next weekend in Wichita Falls. And you can add 196 miles that I've ridden since my return to the overall mix. No wonder that I collapse into bed after midnight and still have not updated the blog. As Smitty said, I wouldn't have any time for a J-O-B!

So, here we go, a short recap of the Washington weekend. Jenny and I met up at SEATAC on Thursday and drove up to Everett, about an hour north of the Seattle/Tacoma airport. Jenny is developing into quite the triathlon referee, and since she has in-laws in the area she thought that the Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens would be a good addition to her palmares. Well, and I think along the lines of "I am thankful for every extra draft marshal I can put on a moto." Win-win.
The finish and awards area from the other side of the lake

Lake Stevens is a beautiful community about 20 minutes east of Everett, nestled into wooded hills on the shores of a gem of a lake. Judy and I worked all editions of this race, when it was still owned by Bill B., who also owned the New Orleans, Syracuse, and Augusta races until WTC bought him out this year. The new race director, Keats M., is equally easy to work with, and we had a good weekend. Many of the crew are traveling the WTC circuit (circus?), and I call them "carnis" because they are just like a bunch of carnival workers: one day here, the next there. It was especially nice to see my old friend Roberto L., the gallant Spaniard who also is co-RD of the San Juan 70.3.

Race day was sunny and pleasant
We had a crew of five, and five motos were all that showed up. I wouldn't consider this enough for a race with 1,200+ racers, but that's all we could muster. Lake Stevens has always had a dearth of officials, motos, and volunteers who could possibly be trained as draft marshals. Oh well. Nobody of the crew got hurt, which on the tight and twisty two-loop bike course is not necessarily a given. My usual driver, Steve, once again steered us through the mayhem in one piece. Jenny and I had to hang around until the awards (starting mid-afternoon), but at least the day had turned sunny and pleasant, and it seemed that everybody was happy.
Another race done...

Enough of the race. In our spare time (late afternoons and evenings) and our extra day in Seattle we went to a few nice brew pubs, enjoyed dinner with her in-laws, and spent a nice long afternoon in the heart of the big city, which has become immensely accessible thanks to a new light rail link from the airport (where we had a hotel for the last night). If you've been to Seattle, you know how attractive the place is. If you haven't, go! But choose a time of the year that carries a reasonable chance of good weather, because all the greenery in that area comes with a wet price. Here are a few pics to close out this installment. Enjoy!

One of many works of art that adorn Seattle

Totem poles are part of the city's heritage

Man, I'd go nuts buying fresh fish here!

The "flying fish" monger at Pike Street Market

Artsy stuff all over ...

Elysian Brewing Co. has some fine, fine IPA and steamed mussels
The best use of an empty beer keg I've ever seen! (Diamond Knot Brewing, Mukilteo)
And that's all for today!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Just a quick in-between ...

Since returning from my trip to Winter Park in Colorado I have been busy, busy, busy. The days are never long enough, so the evenings are filled with things that need to be done, too. Apart from the obvious daily rides (which vary between 25 to 55 miles, depending on the day of the week, the wind, and the company) I've been busy tweaking customers' bikes, sending scores of e-mails that have to do with races past and future, and trying to divest myself of more of Judy's bike stuff via eBay. And then, there was the little dinner I had on Saturday for Alan & Martha and Tom & Trish—nothing fancy, but good stuff nevertheless (poppers, chimichurri chicken, and grilled potatoes and yellow squash).
Hot in the evening, hot again in the morning ...

Somehow our lives revolve around nothing but food and drink—the way it should be!

Bird's-eye view of the spread

On Monday I was responsible for organizing the food for our monthly bike club meeting. I had volunteered to do so since Martha and I had hatched the idea to hold the meeting at the Wicked Beaver. Martha has been using her position with the Cure Cancer Foundation ( to work on something that is very dear to me: a fundraiser in the form of a bike ride on October 22. We will call it the JAMjam, the Judy Austin Memorial jam (as in a group ride where everyone is working for the same goal).

Why is Judy F. so happy? Could it be the Wicked Beaver?
The turnout for the club meeting was very good, and the food (with 18 pounds of good sausage the focal point) met approval, especially since it was nicely accented by Wicked Beaver's free beer. I tell you, offer libations and grub, and the membership will respond positively (or positively respond?)!
Feeding the WTCA animals at the Wicked Beaver
Tomorrow I will fly to Seattle and continue on to Everett and Lake Stevens for the annual Lake Stevens 70.3 half-Ironman event. It's a beautiful venue, and it looks as if the weather will cooperate once again. Jenny, who is desperately trying to find a USAT clinic to become certified, will work another pro-bono race. The race organizer is different from the past three years as WTC bought the event from the original RD, Bill B.. I will miss him and his right hand Ashley B., but I am sure that Keats M., the new guy, will segue seamlessly.

I'll try to post an update from WA in the next few days, time permitting. Thanks for reading,


Monday, August 1, 2011

Crankworx Colorado—yes, that's the name of a race

Tonight I feel like an old man: Three long days (at least 10 hrs each), five trips down the mountain, and a thrown-out-of-whack back will do that. But in retrospect, it's all worth it (except maybe the wrenched back). This weekend's UCI C1 Downhill race came off OK, and I feel that I had at least a small role in the outcome.
Yes Louise, that's 3,676 meters!
Winter Park, one of Colorado's premier winter destinations, is a cute little town on the other side of the Continental Divide. You see yourself how high incorporated land goes here—not just in dollars but in elevation. As a matter of fact, after annexing Winter Park resort a few years ago, WP could lay claim to being the highest incorporated town in the US. Peaks in the vicinity top out at more than 13,500 feet—for our European friends, that's more than 4,000 meters!

Crankworx is a commercially run mountain bike event that has the reputation of attracting some of the sport's most radical athletes to engage in pretty nutty activities. "Slope Style" riding involves multiple sets of man-made dirt ramps and other obstacles, with riders doing aerobatics worthy of motocross riders. "Sick" is a work that you hear a lot when milling around the crowds, meaning "this move was extremely courageous and rather innovative, with a dash of danger thrown in." Sick, indeed.
Some dude working the Slope Style competition
I didn't have anything to do with the "sick" stuff, although I can't really say that bombing down a 1.6-mile single-track dirt trail on the side of a ski-slope mountain is any less sick. The sport is similar to downhill skiing, where young men (and women) who obviously know no fear nor have any brain functions that register DANGER!!! hurl themselves from a starting platform to test equipment, body armor, and Lady Luck to be the fastest after a bit more than 4 minutes and a vertical drop of more than 1,000 feet.

My role was that of PCP, or the President of the Commissaires' Panel, for this UCI-sanctioned event. Refer to me as Chief Referee, and you have the nomenclature that USA Cycling uses. Working with (and "under") me were three other commissaires, all of whom have more experience in the sport than probably anybody else. Colorado-based Dean Crandall (who literally wrote the rulebook for mountain biking some 30 years ago), Sheri Barr (one of the best finish judges I have ever met and with whom I had worked at the Sea Otter Classic several years in a row), and Rogene Killen (whose son, Jimmy, was a fixture in US mountain biking for years) were my crew, and we had a grand time.
Winter Park is the second largest mtn. bike in the world!
My job consisted of riding the ski lift to the top, telling hapless racers that they could not race because of a snafu in their registration process, inspecting the course while walking down to the mountain's base, grappling with timing issues, walking down the mountain again, making sure we had the right start and finish facilities, walking back down the mountain, instructing course marshals while walking back down the mountain, and a few other minor things. It was a physically but also mentally taxing three days. I can't express enough gratitude toward my crew for working as a team and helping out as much as possible.
Winter Park and the Fraser Valley as seen from the Zephyr ski lift
It may have been taxing in many ways, but the job also involved riding the chair lifts to the start at the top of the mountain. The weather mostly cooperated, and you can tell from the accompanying pics how beautiful it was. The only rain we experienced came today (Sunday—the time stamp on this post is Monday) during the finals, and even then it was just a slight shower (which two hours later became a full-fledged thunderstorm that kept me from riding my bike).

I'm not going to bore you with race details. Like anywhere, there were (avoidable) problems, and there were aspects that were unexpectedly outstanding. It's always like that. Bob Holme, the race director, proved to be a competent, open, and communicative partner who honestly valued our presence. Crankworx has a huge reputation among the "sick" riders, and other participants (cross-country racers, families, etc.) had enough to do, too. The event's festival atmosphere was aptly condensed into the hilarious Intergalactic Pond Crossing, which saw riders attempting to cross a pond on a narrow board laid out on floating pontoons. It was a crowd pleaser, let me tell you!
The Intergalactic Pond Crossing in its early stages ...
... and the later stages
During my one "early" afternoon, I managed to ride all of 22 miles—good thing that American Airlines transports my Ritchey BreakAway for free. I had fun, and I worked hard. To think that somebody pays me 105 euro a day to go to such a place and work my ass off is a true pleasure! I can't think of a better gig.

There's so much more I could write, but quite frankly, I'm so tired that I'm almost falling off the chair. So that's it for tonight, folks. Next up: a trip to the Seattle area in about 10 days. Lubbock, I'm coming home!

Tomorrow I'll drive my rental car back to Denver International and fly home, to the land of the baking heat.