Thursday, September 29, 2011

One year later

Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days ago, on a morning very similar to today—clear skies, little wind, a fresh, crisp whisper of fall in the air—the first rays of the sun entered a hospital room in Lubbock, casting a golden glow on Judy's relaxed, almost happy face as she left me and us. Her physical time on Earth came to a peaceful end at ten until eight.

One year can be such a long time, and yet it is nothing but a brief interval. Even though September 29, 2010 is completely clear in my mind's eye, I was not myself as it all seemed so surreal. I have looked back on the minutes and hours and then days and weeks and months after Judy's death, and I have come to the conclusion that our life is, indeed, surreal. Read that however you want.

For the past year I have continued to do what I had promised Judy: to go on living and to be OK. Judy was so full of life that it would have been an affront to not follow her steps and courageously build on what she and I had been working on for such a long time. I'm not just talking about the "retirement" aspect, because that could be misunderstood as saying that we worked for the "golden years" without her being able to enjoy them. We lived the "golden years" as everyone who knew and knows us will attest. No, what I mean is that we worked on our humanity and our zest for life and our love for everything and most around us. And I have continued that path.

I have not lived the life of the typical widower—I didn't wear black, either physically or spiritually. I didn't sink into the doldrums of despair. I didn't change my life for changing's sake. What I have been doing is embrace life, realizing more than ever before how little time we have here. My friends have helped me along in untold ways, being there for me, no questions asked. I've stayed busy, which undoubtedly has helped—traveling the way I have certainly makes it easier to forget the sorrow.

Not everybody may agree with my lifestyle or my relationships. That's OK. We are who we are, and this is now my life. Judy is with me, as I can honestly say that there has not been a day when I have not been thinking about her and there have been very, very few days when she hasn't come up in conversation. And that's how I want to continue: with her at my side, in wonderful memory, continuing the path that we once walked together but that I have to explore now on my own.

Here's to a wonderful woman.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

And another 70.3: This week it's Augusta

A week ago I updated the blog from dry and cool  New York state, and today I sweated my fanny off in hot and muggy Georgia. It was my final triathlon for the year, and what a race it was. Just imagine, close to 3,300 racers entered the Savannah River this morning, with goals as humble as simply finishing and as über as qualifying for next year's World Championship in Las Vegas.
Transition at 6:00 a.m., jam-packed with athletes

I had worked this event (then in its second year) for the first time last September. It had been a bad weekend, as I had left Judy in the hospital in Lubbock and her condition suddenly deteriorated so badly that I had to change my travel plans and head for the airport even before the awards had been started. It rained last year, and much of the race is still in a haze for me. For 2011, I was determined to enjoy Augusta's southern hospitality and get a btter idea of what this place is like.
You know you're in the South when you see tillandsia usneoides

To add a bit of fun to this trip I decided to take the Ritchey along so that I would get a chance to ride a few times. As it turned out, I was able to go for several rides just across the river, in South Carolina, where most of the bike course for the race is located. Smooth roads, beautiful countryside, and little traffic were a real bonus on these 30-mile jaunts.The bike also allowed me to monitor the Pro field during the run portion of the triathlon, especially useful since none of my other officials had brought bikes. While sitting on the motorcycle had been pleasant with the day's early 80-degree temperatures, riding the bike quickly showed me how brutal today's conditions really were. No wonder the medical tent was chock-full of poster children for heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Who says being a ref has to be boring? Checking the Pros...

The crew consisted mainly of the same officials as last year, plus the welcome addition of veteran Marty F. from Florida, with whom I had worked the San Juan race earlier this year. He and I get along superbly, and we share a common love for good beers. Nothing like the Terrapin Hopsecutioner, I tell you! Marty's wife, Lauren, drove to Augusta with two racing buddies, and all three finished their race, Lauren with a PR. All of us had dinner twice so that I really didn't spend much time holed up in my room in the Marriott.
Triathletes have a wicked sense of humor
It's a crazy world: Tomorrow I will fly back to Lubbock, try to bring order into my life for two short days, and then fly up to Colorado Springs (the upgrade cleared this afternoon!) for the 24-Hour Mountain Bike National Championship, for which I am the chief. I doubt that it'll be another weekend with 98% humidity!

So long,


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ironman 70.3 Syracuse

Boy, it was cold this morning! When I drove out to Jamesville Beach Park, just outside of Syracuse, at 4:15 a.m., the car's thermometer showed 44 degrees! Comparatively, the water was outright balmy at 62 Fahrenheit. That made for an eery scene, with fog slowly lifting over the lake while the swimers entered the water at the crack of dawn.
Age-group athletes try to warm up in the lake

Last year the race was held in similarly cool but foggy conditions, and hypothermia had been a really issue. This year, the sky was clear, the air was dry, and once they got going, the athletes seemed to warm up better than we on the motos. Without fog I got to marvel at the beautiful countryside, with its rolling hills, bucolic villages, and gently green pastures. Following the Pro men's field I had ample opportunity to look around. My driver, Charlie, chauffeured us safely on his beautiful Triumph, and once again I had to p[inch myself to make sure this job is real.
Charlie, the Triumph, and I

Compared to last year's inaugural event, today's race saw far fewer racers, even though the run course had been completely changed (for the much, much better) and other improvements had been made. So, as referees our job was relatively quiet, especially since the many hills discourage drafting and break up the various waves of athletes. Still, the atmosphere was festive, and the sunshine brought out lots of supporters.
Fans at the entrance to T2
This race must have the tidiest porta-potties that I have ever seen. Every one of the portable toilets has a small carpet, flowers, a bag or two of potpourri, and a nice picture of athletes. Now, that's classy! The company responsible ( calls these honeypots Home Sweet Home Portable Restrooms.
You won't want to leave them ...
The awards were on time, the afternoon had warmed up, and it seemed that everybody (except my two DQs) was happy. How could one not, in such a locale?
Jamesville Beach Park, home of the Syracuse 70.3
When 5 p.m. rolled around I was finally done with my day (kinda), and I drove back to the hotel to change. Then I was off to the downtown area, where Syracuse was celebrating its Italian roots with music, food, and street dance. I ambled around for a time, looking at some of the historic buildings and unwinding.
This former (rehabilitated) stretch of the Eerie Canal is used in the winter as an ice skate rink

Syracuse sees red, green, and white (and orange, as well!)

I finally ended up at The Limerick Pub where the beer lines are clean and several nice IPAs were on tap, among them Southern Tier IPA and the Californian Laguinitas. Since the pub doesn't serve any food I grabbed another Philly cheesesteak sandwich at the Suds Factory and finished the evening off with good beer, tasty food, and a chance to write my race report. Ah, the man never rests.... Tomorrow night I'll be in my own bed. Yeah!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interbike in Las Vegas, and now in Syracuse, NY

It seems that I simply can't keep the blog updated fast enough to keep pace with my schedule. Just yesterday, it seems, I was hanging out at that pool at the Marriott in San Jose, waiting for my flight to Miami after by Dallas flight had been cancelled. Check the calendar: It's Saturday night, five full days later!

So here's what I've been up to: I took the late flight to MIA, where AA put me into a Sofitel for a few hours before I had to catch the early-morning flight to DFW on Tuesday. That flight, as a matter of fact, was one of the very, very few this year for which I was not upgraded—the entire First Class cabin was full of full-fare customers. Now, I can't argue with that. My upgrade percentage is still over 90%...
Arriving in rain-starved West Texas, once again
Once in DFW I connected to LBB, where I arrived around noon. By 12:30 p.m. I had unpacked my bags and had the washing machine going. (No, it's not that I have that few wearable items—heaven, you know how much crap lies around the house!—but I just don't like to have dirty laundry sitting around.) Between returning accumulated phone messages, talking to the neighbor, trying to hunt down the UPS guy who had a red-label package that I had to take with me to Vegas, and packing for the tradeshow and the immediately following 70.3 in Syracuse I somehow found a few minutes to Skype with Sabine, who had re-entered the real world in Munich over the weekend. At 7:30 p.m. I checked in for my flight to Vegas. Ufff.
Nobody was around to personally welcome me. Unbelievable!
The tradeshow—I think my 21st or 22nd since 1988—was good. Not spectacular, but good. I had a chance to renew quite a few industry contacts after last year's hiatus, I connected with a few people face-to-face whom I only knew through our telephone contacts, and I had a chance to spend quality time with my old buddy Lee, who goes to Interbike as one of Tandem Pro's, ahem, employees. (Incidentally, the current amateur road champion from Luxembourg, Christian Helmig, is also on my "payroll," and while we are at it, his lovely girlfriend Christine rounded out the staff—all are seasoned cycling industry veterans who were working the show to strengthen the sponsorship ties for their Dallas-based team.)
Lee, Christian, and Christine—Tandem Pro's world-class employees
It's good to have folks like Lee and Christian around, because they know the industry just as well as I do and are helpful in spotting new product, introducing me to new contacts, and being wing men when it comes to Happy Hour, which starts around 3 p.m. at Interbike. In other words, we had a great time.
The Venetian, where Tandem Pro's staff stayed (on their own dime!)
At 12:50 a.m. Friday morning, my flight to Chicago left Vegas' McCarran. Thanks goodness for the upgrade and the little bit of shut-eye after a fairly strenuous 48 hours in Sin City. Three more hours in the Admirals Club in Chicago and another two hours in an Eagle to Syracuse, and I had arrived at the location of my penultimate triathlon of the year. Should you ever watch "Up in the Air" with my look-alike, George Clooney, well, just think: There are really some people who are pulling the portrayed kind of schedule.Still, I still think that the movie is a bit unrealistic since Clooney stays handsomely trim throughout the flick while I continue to prove that the principle of entropy is, indeed, verifiable. Yes, I am the poster child of the expanding universe. But I find it impossible to turn down a flight attendant who is proffering a G&T. I simply can't be rude. Seriously!

I worked on the entropy thing one more time last night when Dave Ragsdale, the best triathlon announcer in the Delta Quadrant—if not the known universe—and I went downtown to have dinner. We hit Syracuse Suds Factory for, duh!, suds and food, managed to force down a pint at PJ's (don't go there—worst beer ever!!!), and finished the night off at the Empire, where the beer was better but not on par with the finest that NM, WA, or CA have to offer. But the company was great: Dave and I have been working races together for four or five years, and we'd never had a chance to sit together and exchange notes on life while yelling over the roaring ding of pre-pubescent shrieking nubiles who were on a fraternity-sponsored pub-crawl in downtown Syracuse. I love the races.
...sans mots...
Today was more of a workday, with the usual Saturday prep: Take a water temp reading (64° F, most definitely wetsuit legal), check the course, attend the Pro meeting, train the volunteer marshals and Penalty Tent personnel, go back out to the race site to de-clusterf**k the mandatory bike check-in, etc. Hey, they pay me the BIG bucks, in case you didn't know.

And now it's a bit after 10 p.m. Eastern, I just had a Caged Alpha Monkey IPA (bought at Wegman's—a heckuva grocery chain in these parts where my moto driver, Charlie, works in the produce department), and now it's time to add a few pics to the blog before I turn in for the night and an early, 4 a.m. start of the day. New Monsoon is playing on the little JBL sound system, there's the promise of a good-night beer (Southern Tier IPA), and I think that I lead the damn coolest life of anybody I (or you) know. Let's hope that last night's freeze warning is not going to be repeated tonight ... yes, it's nipp(l)y here!
Is this what one calls a quiver of beer?

G'night, and thanks for reading.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Why I fly American

OK, so every carrier, sooner or later, is going to have a problem—like, for example, a cancelled flight because of the lack of a crew. I know, it sounds pretty elementary, but when you think about it, an airline such as American can't have an extra eight or so crew members hanging out in  Costa Rica just in case one of the flights from the US doesn't make it down. Sure, it sucks when you get to the airport and the display cheerily proclaims that your flight has been cancelled, but shit just happens. What is of importance is how you fix the diarrhea.

Well, American this morning came through. It wouldn't have been a big deal if I weren't supposed to fly on Tuesday from Lubbock to Las Vegas, after picking up my officiating gear for this upcoming weekend's 70.3 triathlon in Syracuse. To make a long story short: Instead of flying at 9:40 a.m. to DFW and then on LBB, I am now in Miami, and it is midnight. Early in the morning (6:50 a.m., to be precise) I'll fly to DFW and connect to Lubbock. With some luck, I'll be there by noon. At 7:50 p.m.—yes, Tuesday.—I will be back at the Lubbock airport to catch the last flight to Sin City and the bicycle tradeshow.
A nice way to spend an unavoidable delay, eh?
All this was effected by the counter personnel (and the Premium Services Rep) in San Jose. But not only that: All my mainline flights were rebooked into First (except the MIA-DFW in the morning as it was fully booked). Additionally, I was set up with a day room at the Marriott Airport in SJO, where I spent a few delightful hours at the pool.
One more night ...
Lunches and breakfast are on AA as well, and I am updating this from the rather nice Sofitel Miami, all courtesy of AA. Now, I'm not crazy enough to think that they would have treated me like this did I not carry the Executive Platinum card, but man, they really went out of their way. So why would I send my loyalty in any other direction? Tonight, I am one happy customers who feels that I was treated right in an unfortunate situation. Props to AA. OK,  let's see what I have to say in 24 hours....


Endürance Latino Americano Patarra—Tres Rios, CR

Yes, that umlaut in the "Endürance" part of the title is intended, and no, it's not that some Tico was trying to pay homage to the UCI commissaire. It's just there, OK?

The start area featured hard barriers and colorful ads
It's Sunday night, and I have finished a long day at the races by completing my race report that the UCI expects to arrive in Switzerland in the next 10 days. It all came off better than expected, and I have to give it to Rafael, the race organizer, that he has improved the level of his race productions by a magnitude of one or two since I worked his 124K marathon in the Arenal area two years ago.
Another day in the office

The entire start / finish area infrastructure was worthy of an event with a higher UCI ranking—rigid barriers, an expo area with 20+ vendors, Red Bull's Soundmobile, staging areas, a regulation sized arch, etc. Wow! The police showed up to help with the neutral start, and we had dirt bikes and even a four-wheeler to allow my assistant Francisco to stay with the Pro men the entire way.
Rafa and El Jefe use arm movements to communicate Tico style

My idea to use a controlled, neutral start for the first 3K through urbanized neighborhoods with steady car traffic may have saved us from some accidents as even the "neutral" meant that suddenly even the police were behind the racers and only Francisco's outstretched arms from the four-wheeler kept the group somewhat together.
Good thing those cyclists are not thugs ...

The feed zones are always entertaining once one goes south of the border. General mayhem reigns since spectators and actual team support personnel get so unbelievably excited that there is no way to control them. Additionally, it's always fun to check out what's being offered by the neutral aid station: While in the US one can pick up a bottle of water and a PowerBar, here the fresh stuff is in high demand: papaya (lovingly deseeded and peeled), bananas, grapes (oh no, not in clusters but again lovingly destemmed and thus in bulk and extra-hard to pick up), and weird fruit juices in tiny cups, plus bulk trail mix. Unfortunately, the still photos don't reflect the craziness in zone #2 which happened to be right on the busy highway to Panama, with buses, trucks, and lots of cars patiently waiting while everyone spilled into the road.
Fruit stand or feed zone?

Feeding frenzy on the PanAmericana
Francisco took copious notes from his four-wheeler, and I tried to ignore as much as possible all those rule infractions in the feed zone. Let's hope the UCI doesn't check my blog....
Francisco is all business

The fastest man took right at 2 hours 47 minutes to cover the 60 kilometers—pretty dang impressive. I'm sure he had only one thing on his mind: a perro caliente from FuFosDog, with fine condiments such as corn and spray-on butter. No, I kid you not!
FuFosDog—el mejor perro caliente del mundo, no?
Eventually, all riders rolled across the finish line, and it seemed that everyone was extremely happy. Ecuador had sent four riders and a TV crew, and they ended up with three podium spots and an interview with the UCI commissaire. The local ESPN boys were around, too, and they also made off with an interview. My crew was even luckier: They got to take home the leftovers from the feed zones—bags of tiny boiled potatoes and, in Jorge's case, a baby watermelon. Just don't say that officiating doesn't pay off!
Jorge earned his sandia
And then it was time for the obligatory group photo before we headed to a pizzeria for libations and pie.
The crew
They were all a great group, and I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Costa Rica. Pura Vida!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pura Vida, Part Two

And once again do I find myself in Costa Rica! Wasn't it just a week or five or so ago that I was down here, among my Tico friends? Scary.

After our wonderful trip to Jamaica, Sabine and I returned to Lubbock with what seemed just about enough of a buffer to ride the bikes a couple of times and have a scrumptious farewell dinner at my casa before we headed to Lubbock's international airstrip on Friday morning. Sabine boarded a Continental flight to Denver, I left on an Eagle bound for DFW an hour later, and by the end of the day she was close to home in Europe while I cleared migracion in the green gem of Central America. Talk about jet-setters....
So long, Sabine!

A day later, and I am sitting in my hotel room in San Jose (an antiseptic Courtyard by Marriott in the middle of the city), pecking out a blog update while answering the last few race-related e-mails for tomorrow's UCI marathon event. This morning, race organizer Rafael P. and I drove most of the 60K course. Some of it was almost too much for Rafa's Nissan Pathfinder, but I thoroughly enjoyed being jolted around among coffee plantations.
A tough climb, even in a truck

The world's best coffee grows next to the route
As is usually the case at these races, there are some problemas, but either I am getting old or I'm just starting to realize that life goes on even with "situations." We'll have about 50 to 60 Elite UCI racers, with a surprisingly strong representation from as far away as Uruguay and Argentina. It'll be a truly international race. My crew of local commissaires—pretty much the same ones as last time, and the time before—is getting more competent from race to race, and I really enjoy interacting with them.
Ching and Francisco feverishly working registration

Today's weather was ideal for racing as the thermometer didn't start to hit the high 70s until around noon. Lots of clouds, occasional light rain, and little wind make it downright pleasant. Let's hope that our marshals materialize tomorrow, that the cows don't eat the signage, and that none of the riders biff.

Time to hit the rack.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Ya mon. No problem, mon.

So here we are in Jamaica. No problem, mon. Indeed, no problems at all. The (free) flight on Tuesday was as pleasant as it was long (LBB-DFW-MIA-MBJ), the late-evening hotel transfer worked perfectly, and our digs here at the RIU Montego Bay (for three nights, then another four at the Secrets) are nothing but luxurious. What about this view from the room?

The gentle Caribbean lapping at our feet
Sabine was initially a bit baffled as to how anybody could not get totally bored to death in the luxury of an all-inclusive. Well, she's successfully passed the crash course in AI101! Between taking a Hobie Cat out on the water, strenuously swimming up to the pool bar, and eating really yummy Jamaican fare from the buffet we barely have enough time to read our books since we keep falling asleep in the light breeze, under the palms.

Day-time office
The evenings are similarly languid. The resort is fairly empty, and the locals who paddle their boards by the beach to peddle their wares provide interesting entertainment. The food is tasty, the air is calm, and life is good.

Ganja Man with local kitsch and smokes

No problem, mon. Ya mon.