Monday, December 31, 2012

Another year almost passé—güle güle, 2012!

View across the Bosporus toward the Asian part of Istanbul
OK, so my Turkish is a bit rusty since it's been exactly 35 years since my last visit here in the only capital of the world spanning two continents: Istanbul. Amazing what 35 years can do to a city that's closing in on three millennia. (Byzantion was founded in 658 B.C.) When I visited here the last time, in 1977, the city was a Moloch of honking and fume-spewing cars and especially cargo trucks, throngs of beggars, and outlandish (i.e., oriental) looking denizens. And now, it is a cosmopolitan metropolis that resembles many cities in the West, even while the labyrinthine bazaar, it's mosques, and all those itinerant street vendors hark back to the Istanbul that I learned to love back in the mid-70s.
Inside the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque
Don't get me wrong: This is still a magnificently foreign place. But it's no longer alien, as it was when I came here the first time, in 1975. Those were the hippie days, when you hung out at the Pudding Shop not only for hashish but also to score a ride on the overland bus route to Kabul. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never visited that mystic place that was later reduced to rubble first by the Ruskies, then our GIs. Istanbul back then was the point where West became East, where reason was replaced by the oriental dream.
Fishing from the Galata Bridge is still en vogue for the locals
Thirty-five years later, I find myself looking at progress: A vastly better public transportation system, the Galata Bridge no longer floating at the entrance of the Golden Horn but rather pillared in concrete, QR-codes in the Topkapi Sarayı so you can use your iPhone to instantly get information on the digressions of the late sultans.... Progress is also in how I arrived here—via aeroplane instead of a 50-hour train trip—and where Sabine and I are staying—the Double Tree Old Town versus a $10 flop-house down the street back in 1977 when my old girlfriend Dées and I spent three days and nights watching liters of rain water run down the walls of our love nest. How the times change.
Spices and teas ....
... and beheaded mannequins in the bazaar
It is New year's Eve, and after a second full day of sightseeing we are taking a break in our room before we go out to ring in the New Year among the hordes of tourists and those locals who undoubtedly will try to cause yet another great fire in the conflagration-prone history of the former Constantinople. We're here for a total of six nights, and this will be number three. It's still an amazing place, just very different from what it was like 35 years ago, and yet so much alike, too. Who knows what sights, sounds, smells, and emotions tonight's celebrations will offer us. What I DO know, though, is that I am mightily glad to have returned to one of my favorite cities in the world, after all those years. Yes, it is different, but I have changed, too.
The New Mosque, pre-fireworks on New Year's Eve
Happy New Year, to all of you who may read this!

Jürgen

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Another Christmas in Berlin

A Merry Christmas drink, Jürgen-style
Today is the second Christmas day in Germany, where not just one but rather three days mark the holiday: First is of course Christmas Eve, when traditionally gifts are exchanged after some last-minute frantic shopping in the morning; then comes the first Christmas day, on the 25th, when people sleep in, have a big dinner, and then walk off the pounds in the afternoon before indulging in coffee and cake; and finally there is the 26th, a second day that is often reserved for visits to friends or family. Since Christmas Eve also happens to be my father's birthday (he turned 81 two days ago) the holiday always held a slightly different meaning for us.
Last-minute shoppers on December 24
I've been in Berlin for five days now after arriving last Thursday, and this afternoon I'm going to leave by train for Dortmund to see Sabine and her smallish family. Five days in Berlin are enough, especially in the winter when things are wet and fairly filthy. Berlin can be attractive, but that's only in the summer, and when it's sunny. Nothing charming about it when the days are short and the weather undulates between snow and rain. Yuk.
Not enough to ski...
But it was a satisfying sojourn, and my dad enjoyed my being here. As a bonus, I got to do something I had always secretly wanted to do ever since I learned how people in the big city discard of their Christmas trees: They throw them out of their windows or off their balconies into the street! Our tree lasted all of 24 hours (decorated with the help of my nephew Jannick on the morning of the 24th and jettisoned on the 25th since dad would never have been able to hoist the thing over the balcony railing), and the only thing I regret is that I didn't produce a video of the plunge from the third-floor apartment.
Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum ...
No worries: My brother acted as a spotter so no innocent by-walkers would be hurt. Have fun hurling your trees. Merry Christmas!


Jürgen

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The last race of the season!

So here we are, at the end of the season: one last race! I'm one more time in Waco, for the Outback Cyclocross Race, taking place this weekend, December 15 to 16. Yes, 2012. What a season it has been.

The run-up at the Outback Cyclocross Race in Waco
I'm grateful that race director Bryan Fawley (the original Cornfed) asked for my being here, and I am equally grateful that Bonnie Walker, our TX-USAC liaison, assigned me as Chief Referee. I am staying with my close friends Ian and Cath, and their cute 11-year-old Daria has given up her bed for me (and she even treated it with Fabreeze, so it smells good!). And 9-year-old Sophie is sitting next to me right now, watching Harry Potter in HD. The life that cycling has given me is so good. Oops, here come Elvis and Snowy, two white dog-things that are about as loving as Liz' Zia. So much human and canine love around me!

Since getting back from Mexico, life's been one blur: Working on the remodel, working on the house, working on the remodel, working on my fitness, working on the remodel, working on upcoming races, working on the remodel,.... aaaarghh! I am so looking forward to being done with the remodel and living the life of a normal retired dude.
Two of the finest, Matthew and Bonnie, and the Belgian Waffle truck
Next Wednesday  I'll be off to Europe for three weeks, or so. My upgrade cleared today, so it's going to be another pleasant experience. I'll see my dad, there'll be a chance to talk to Bux, and Sabine and I will spend some quality time, too—and take a side trip to Istanbul! And then it'll be 2013, and another year of racing is looming. The most exiting assiggnment landed in my in-box just three days ago: a 5-day stage race in Brazil. Yes, Brazil. To hell with the remodel, especially since I will have at least two races in January and February that'll keep me going.

So, what can I say other than wish you a very happy, happy Holiday Season? I wish I could mail you my Christmas letter, which I was ready to print out in multiple copies until I realized that I cannot—thanks to the remodel—find my last two years' X-mas correspondence, which means that I don't have addresses to mail my letters to. Damn.I was even prepared to pay the postage!

So here we go: Drive safely, love your family (or friends), and definitely do overeat. Please tune in for news from Germany and Turkey,

Jürgen

Friday, November 30, 2012

Slumming (and riding) on the Riviera Maya

The Ritchey loves Mexico, and so do I
It's that time of year, once again, when I set sights on my timeshare in Mexico and escape the first hints of winter in Lubbock for a week. Why I don't stay for the three weeks that I own, I don't know—probably that sense of "having to do stuff at home." Oh well. Let me know if you want to use one week during the final month of the year, and maybe we can work something out.
Orange-monger by the side of the road, outside of Cancun
Anyhow, here I am, just about 2 miles up the coast from Puerto Morelos. The Ritchey and I arrived three nights ago, and together we've already explored 99 miles of Mexican roadway. Of course, since this is an all-inclusive I know that I will add poundage to the midriff, but at least the 99 miles will lessen the effect a little bit, or so I hope.
Beware of the reptiles ...
... and don't t-bone the mammals
My daily routine is that of a Man of Leisure: Get up with the sun (oh, around 6:30 a.m. or so, listening to the sound of the waves coming through the window and the doors to the terrace that I leave open overnight), read a bit, have a leisurely breakfast, and then mount the Ritchey. When we get back around noon, the pool and the swim-up bar beckon, and it doesn't take long for the calories that I burned to be replenished. A light lunch (great salads and fruit and fish in various forms!) around 2 p.m. is followed by reading and lounging on the beach or around one of the pools. The sun sets shortly after 5 p.m., and by 5:30 p.m. it is pitch-black dark. The other slummers recede to their respective hovels, like I do, to do whatever one does during that time. I check e-mail and then gussy up for the evening. This is a classy place where men are expected to wear real shoes, slacks, and a nice, collared shirt. And so I start the evening with a few civilized drinks in the lounge and then progress to a meal in one of the five or six specialty restaurants that are part of this resort—I leave the big buffet to the Brits and Italians who are here on a package deal and don't "own" the place (and generally don't dress up). Man, it is nice.
This morning, as seen from my terrace, before going for a ride
I think that without the bike I wouldn't enjoy myself as much. For one thing, I'd really have the feeling of ballooning too quickly. Also, riding is such a big part of my life that not doing so induces a serious emotional and even physical response—I'm not a moody person, given to gloomy days, but I do know that I simply feel better after a good ride. And finally, traveling to a place like this by yourself, surrounded by couples (and a few families) even a gregarious guy like I misses small talk other than that with the occasional drunk Brit at the swim-up bar. Nothing like a bike and a good book (Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient right now).
Still life with blue-and-white skiff
Well, I just had a nice drink from my mini-bar; the waves continue to wash ashore, and I'm listening to some fine Coltrane. Dang, life is good, so good that I have to keep pinching myself. And yes, I am serious about that extra week for the remainder of 2012, either here or in the DR—only X-mas week might be problematic. Even those of us who live in the slums like to share. (Thank you, Carol C., for the inspiration on that word!).

Jürgen

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Here, there, and everywhere (or nowhere?)

What a whirlwind it has been since the last post. Reconnecting with real life after my European sojourn was one thing; grappling with the house remodel, another race, and getting ready for one more out-of-country trip was another.

While Irene's flag continues to fly at half-staff because of that "fakir" (as evidenced in today's A-J's Letters to the Editor—sorry, I promise not to mention any more politics until after the New Year) I had a few great riding days at home while trying to tidy up the house a bit and dealing with those decisions that need to be made when you remodel not your house but your home.

Then came Thanksgiving. After a nice 41-miler with Smitty and Carl I had dinner with Martha and Alan. That damn Martha just had to beat me to fixing cochinita pibil, a fabulous Mayan pork dish that I had first tried a few months ago in Ogden during the Tour of Utah. Damn you, Martha Howell, for fixing such an unbelievable meal before I could produce the same in a mediocre way! Since we took it upon ourselves to kill three bottles of CH wine that night I decided to stay over ...

... only to slip out the front door early and partake in Black Friday activities. Yessir, I went to Office Max at 8 a.m. to buy myself a Nüvi 50 for $99, minus a $10 coupon I had received in the mail. Holy crap, I'm so American.

A few hours later I hopped into the Miata, dropped the roof, and drove to Dallas, where I was Chief Referee for the Crossgiving cyclocross races on Saturday and Sunday. I stayed at my friend Mike M.'s house (who, himself, was in alien-town, Roswell) and babysat his pussy in the evenings. Nothing like a purring cat at your side....
Downtown Dallas, as seen through the windshield cum bugs, on Sunday morning.
Sunday afternoon, after the conclusion of the final race, I headed back to Lubbock, together with about 30,000 crazed Texas Tech students who blew by me at 90 mph, just waiting to meet death. Sadly, a few did over the weekend.

I made it home unscathed and celebrated by sharing some wine with myself. Monday—Cyber Monday, that is—I highhandedly jump-started the US economy by buying thousands of dollars worth of appliances such as a gas range, microwave venting hood, additional wine cellar, snazzy kitchen faucet and filtration system, etc. All online, of course, to stay with the theme of the day.
Sierra Nevada on the way to the Riviera Maya ...
And now I am 15 minutes from boarding my flight to Cancun for a week of R&R. It doesn't get much better, I must say. In a few hours I'll be listening to the sounds of the lapping waves.

Jürgen

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two weeks after the election

When I look out of the front door, that's what I see:
Old Glory at half-staff because we have to live with Obama for four more years
My elderly neighbor across the street—otherwise not too meschugge and a rather pleasant lady—once again is flying her flag at half-staff because of "that" president that is not hers. After the last election, she was in mourning for a full three months; we'll see how long it takes her this time around to overcome the grief that we're led by this Marxist/Communist/Socialist/Nazi abomination who's Muslim and not Christian (all descriptions that I have read in the Letters to the Editor of our illustrious Lubbock Avalanche-Journal). The sign shows what could have been!
The last of these signs that I have seen over the past week—and it's in my neighbor's yard
Good thing I haven't told her about flying the flag upside down. Ah, you gotta love America where people can do almost anything (apart from burn a flag!).

Jürgen

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

When was the last time you strutted around naked?

Clothes are VERBOTEN, as are cell phones and cameras
Well, I did yesterday. All day. Yes, in public. And it wasn't a big deal. Europe really is different from the US. You get invited to go to the Therme Erding, described as a sauna and pool place where one can spend a few hours in a relaxed way, and the next thing you know is you have to shed your trunks unless you are to be kicked out by the authorities. Old and young, fit and fat, hairy and not-so-much, they all just go there to enjoy a few hours or more in saunas with themes, pools with swim-up bars, and restaurants without clothes. Maybe Lubbock isn't so cool, after all.
Approaching Innsbruck via the backroads
My past week and a half has been one of hectic, crazy, wonderful life-sipping. I went to Berlin, where I inhaled more nicotine and tar while with my dad than the average rock-concert-goer in a lifetime. I returned to Freising, only to run off with Sabine to spend a night in Innsbruck, a beautiful Austrian town half the size of Lubbock at 110,000 souls, just two hours away—and it wasn't just a night that we enjoyed, but much more, especially the hike up to the Sistranser Alm, one of those places straight out of the Sound of Music. Then there was the a-Capella concert in Munich's Prinzregententheater that Sabine treated me to, plus the day in the nude.
Meat of a different kind

We spotted these pre-packaged balls (OK, Knödel, to be precise) not in the Erding Therme
but the Innsbruck MPreis
What a life.

No, seriously, what a life! I'm now sitting in DFW's terminal D, in the Admiral's Club, waiting for my last flight of the day after already having passed through London and Miami. Those past two weeks were full of so many impressions and emotions, so much unusualness that I have to keep pinching myself.
Tousled by 30-mph-winds (on the peaks 140 kmh) at the Sistranser Alm, close to Innsbruck
When I got back to the US, one of the first things I saw on an airport TV-monitor was a running headline that 100,000 people have signed some petition for Texas to secede. Well, I'm all for it if we also include a measure to establish beer-dispensing huts on the way to New Home, mandate (free) decent concerts in the governor's mansion on a weekly basis, and—most importantly—forbid the use of swim-wear at the Tech pool, especially the Lazy River section.
At Heathrow, home for British Airways
Pics have now been added. No nudies, though. You'll have to go to Therme Erding's website yourself. And if you check out the link, remember: All those pieces of cloth they put into the photos are not depicting the truth! I know—I've been there.
Upgrade to a top-floor suite and a perfect view of the mountains—que mas quieres?
Life's good, indeed.

Jürgen



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Traveling in the Alto Adige (Südtirol)

After I had hopped across the pond a week ago (or at least started the trip on Tuesday and arrived on Wednesday in Munich/Freising), Sabine and I chartered her little white Skoda and headed for Austria and beyond on Thursday. Along the way it occurred to me that I hadn't slept for two consecutive nights in the same bed for more than a week.

Taking the Autobahn, it's less than an hour from Sabine's place to the first "real" mountains in the Alps, and we were greeted by blue skies and vibrant fall colors.
Looking out of the window shortly before the Austrian border at Kufstein
Only stopping to buy the obligatory 10-day pass ("Vignette") for the Austrian Autobahn for 8 euro, and shelling out another 16 euro for the two-way permit to cross the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, we bypassed Innsbruck and headed into the clouds south of the highest mountains in this region of the Alps. The plan had been to spend three days in the Alto Adige, a sun-blessed region of Italy in the Dolomites that is so warm that banana trees and vineyards prosper while a few kilometers to the north the denizens run around in fur coats. But the tables were turned on us: Südtirol was hidden in clouds and fog for two of the three days we were there, while strong southerly winds cleared out the northern portion of the mountains. Thus it goes.
Even fog can create spectacular images—Seilbahn between Ritten and Bolzano
But we had fun nevertheless. For one glorious day in Bolzano (or Bozen, in German), we enjoyed sunshine and mild temperatures. The sights were spectacular, and both of us are certain that we will have to come back. This interesting region, annexed by Italy after the first World War in 1919, still is heavily influenced by the Austrian/German culture, with all official signage in both Italian and German, has little if any to do with the poverty-stricken South of Italy or the industrial areas of the North. Prosperity oozes from the area, with beautiful villas set in vineyards and people shopping in expensive boutiques. The vegetation is at times Mediterranean, and orchards abound. At the same time, the wild and snow-covered Dolomites loom just a few miles away.
Bolzano, with the Rosengarten range of the Dolomites in the background
Located smack-dab in the middle of the commerce routes that since the Middle Ages were used to pass goods between the north and the south, this area prospered early. Add to that the perfect climate that allowed the cultivation of grapes, and one can understand why there are so many estates, mansions, and castles. Reinhold Messner, the well-renowned Austrian climber, owns his own little chateau somewhere around the area. When I make my next million, I may just consider doing the same....
Burg Runkelstein, one of many castles in the area
Runkelstein features secular frescoes of life in the Middle Ages
Need a castle? Südtirol has them!
We spent one night close to Bolzano and then moved on for two nights in an amazingly well-appointed apartment in Merano, just about 30 kilometers away. Unfortunately the weather started to turn sour on Saturday, even though it stayed dry and we were able to go on a long hike through the beautiful countryside. We snooped around town and drooled over all the savory specialties in the stores. And if I get to taste the beers in three different independent brew houses (one dating back to the 13th century), well, then my life is nothing but happiness. Batzen, Hopfen & Co., and the Buschenwirtschaft Pfefferlechner all had unfiltered suds and old-world atmosphere. Who cares about the weather?
Filling a growler at Hopfen & Co. in Bolzano
Industrial-caliber slicing equipment
Local mountain cheese
Can you smell it?
Relaxing at the Pfefferlechner in Lana, outside of Merano
On Sunday morning we headed back to Munich, seeing a bunch of snow through the fog at the top of the Jauffenpass—by our standards not much of a pass at barely 6,000 feet, but one of the higher ones in the Alps. Once we made it back across the Brenner the skies lifted, and we decided on a final stop at the Tegernsee, a posh area on the fringes of the mountains that attracts tourists galore, especially on a last nice fall Sunday.
The Tegernsee in Bavaria
Last night (Monday) I boarded an Air Berlin flight to Berlin, where I am now spending a few days with my dad before heading back to Munich later on in the week. I'm going to spend the next three nights in the same bed! Wow!

Jürgen

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

... and Luxury

My Triple 7 last night—I looked out of three of the windows right below the C
Call me a three-percenter, even if only for a day. Cashing in 125,000 miles for a First Class freebie ticket to Europe gets you close to the 1% that everyone talks about. Not quite, but close. You get to board even earlier than the top-tier frequent fliers (which I am), the service is a bit more attentive, they give you PJs on the airplane, and the purser makes up your fully flat bed. I've roughed it many a time—some of you may know the story of my train trip from Bari to Rome, curled up in the stinky toilet of a clickety-clackety train in Italy. If I need to, I can subsist on very little. But when the opportunity arises, I will seize it. Yes, I enjoyed my spa-shower this morning here at Heathrow, and my scrambled eggs and smoked salmon in the first-class-only Concorde Room was quite the thing. I work, and I work the system, and I enjoy what is offered. And if there's a bit of luxury to be enjoyed, well, so be it. But believe me, I never take it for granted, and I always remember who I am—even though I am wearing nicely polished leather shoes just for the occasion.
Looking from the Concorde Room onto Heathrow's activity
Time to get ready for my up-front flight to Munich.

Jürgen

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Freedom ...

While driving back from Waco after officiating the Bicycles Outback Fallout mountain bike race this weekend, a deep feeling of freedom overcame me. This was my last scheduled race of the season, I was sitting in the little green Miata, and the peaceful world allowed me to pass through it. It was Monday morning, as I had stayed in Abilene for the night after not leaving Waco until 5:30 p.m. on Sunday after a long day that had started at the same time, but a.m. I could not help but feel satisfaction looking back at the race, working with good people, giving encouragement to an upcoming race official (Matt), resolving some issues, and knowing that for the most part we had all done a good job.
Renewable energy sources around the Snyder, TX, area
I also had to think of my upcoming trip to Germany, with my departure from Lubbock scheduled less than 30 hours later. (As it is, I am writing this entry from one of American's lounges in DFW). Looking at the windmills on the ridge from Abilene to Sweetwater, and later those around Roscoe and Snyder, I felt free and happy. Another season behind me, another great trip coming up, another Monday morning when I did not have to punch a clock like most regular folks my age have to. It's not that I feel thankful to any one particular person or—you know me better than that—some nebulous entity: I am responsible for my own good decisions, my frugality, and my having worked hard (as was my cohort Judy) that all have resulted in my retirement at age 54 and living a life that has the F-word all over it. Free to travel, free to pick jobs, free to drink a bottle of wine when I want, free to choose whatever I want to choose. It's a deeply satisfying state of mind.
Cotton modules traveling to the gin—a sure sign my season is coming to an end
Being able to do most of the things that I want (well, within reason) is not something that I take for granted. I know how fleeting good health and material wellness are. Life is fickle, and we're all just one inattentive driver, one mariposa moment away from alteration of direction or even cessation. Judy's death—but also our time together, which was so well-spent—crystallized for me even more that it is up to me to seize life and enjoy its freedoms, and I suppose that somehow Monday morning's drive back home brought all of this once again to the forefront.
Spin, baby, spin ...
When I came home from my last day of lectures at TTU, Judy had left me that beautiful, hand-written note, lying on the floor so that I couldn't miss it. It's framed now, of course, and it keeps reminding me of what I know and keep reminding myself of: I am "Free at last!"


Jürgen

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's fall, and thus time for Collegiate Nationals

Brilliant aspen leaves scream Fall in New Mexico!
One of the recurring highlights of my officiating year has been my appointment as Chief Referee of USAC's Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships over these past few seasons. It all started out in 2009 when USA Cycling sent me to Northstar (Tahoe area) to clean up what had become a debauchery fest. Somehow I managed to lead a race where we were not kicked out of the venue after the three-day run. I was supposed to return to Northstar in 2010 but had to turn down the assignment with just a few weeks to go when Judy was in the hospital. Thankfully, I was assigned again in 2011, when we had the epic snow-and-ice races in Angel Fire, and now I am looking back on a second successful year in this beautiful New Mexican ski resort. What a wonderful weekend (really, week) it has been.
On the road from Las Vegas (NM) to Mora
I left Lubbock last Tuesday and stayed overnight in the Santa Rosa Hampton, where I am also staying tonight after an exhausting last day of racing. Wednesday morning I drove up to AF, via the beautiful Mora valley. It was warm enough to drop the Miata's roof, and I was grinning from ear to ear.
Fahrvergnügen—and it's not even a German car!
I spent the rest of Wednesday with course inspections and similar preparatory work. In the evening, several USAC staffers, Cath and Jon of CJ timing (whom Sabine and I had visited in Telluride just a few weeks back), and I had a pizza-and-beer party in my room in the Angel Fire Resort because I was the only one who had a kitchenette with a real oven.
Thursday morning's start of the Division 1 Men's Short Track
On Thursday, more course work was due, and slowly racers and officials started to trickle in. At 6:15 p.m., sharp, I started my first official racers' meeting (a nightly affair), and the race weekend had begun. Friday and Saturday were pretty damn long work days, with about 11 hours of work each day. But we were so lucky: This year, the weather more than cooperated. The mornings may have been cold, but once the sun came up the temperatures quickly rose into the high 60s, low 70s, and we hardly saw a cloud all weekend. My crew was rock solid and hard working—Arin R. was Vice, Michael D. Starter, Boris D. Finish Judge, and Jacque P. Secretary. In addition, Pamala T. from Albuquerque volunteered her services, and she was not only a welcome but a most valuable addition to the crew. They all worked hard, and there's nothing wrong with a power-nap when the opportunity arises during a 3-minute break in the Downhill starts.
8,600 feet of elevation and dehydration can knock out even the best
Seriously, working a race like this requires stamina. I don't know how many miles I walked or how many feet of elevation change I clocked. Tonight, here in the Hampton Inn in Santa Rosa, I went into the hot tub and it felt soooo good! And not always is taking the skilift to the top of the mountain and then hiking halfway back down to the start of the downhill as easy as it might sound.
Walking the Downhill course
Collegiate Nationals would be only half as much fun if it weren't for some of the not-so-serious aspects of the weekend. Saturday's Awards Banquet can become a little rowdy, but this year there was a noticeable lack of inebriation, and all the fun was in good taste—well, Topher the big-breasted blow-up doll (with the likeness of a conference director or something like that plastered on her vinyl visage) was maybe a bit on the risqué side, but at least she wore a bikini—something that had been absent during her performance during the Downhill race. Topher shared the stage with all winners and runners-up, and the students' attire differed only slightly (on the more modest side, but still outside of what one would expect at most National Championships).
Topher's top kept sliding off
To be a college student once again!
But it wasn't just the students who hatched mischief: Even USAC can do so, which certainly speaks for the organization. During today's break between the Qualifiers and the Finals of the Dual Slalom, USAC had scheduled the Post Grape Nut Eating Challenge. You need to know that a) Post Grape Nuts cereal is one of USAC's sponsors for all National Championships, and b) Post Grape Nuts cereal has the flavor of paper-maché and the consistency of concrete once it has been mixed up with milk. The "Challenge" consists of having to somehow wolf down the contents of an entire box of Post Grape Nuts as quickly as possible, without barfing it up or rupturing once stomach in the process. Until today, the World Record had stood at 47 minutes, set by a USAC intern in what one could easily call a hazing incident. Well, four young racers signed up this morning to try to win an entire case of Grape Nuts, and two win two cases if a new record would be set. Believe it or not, the old standard was totally obliterated with a new best of less than 14 minuets (yes, for a 24 oz. box of that stuff!) Joey Chestnut, the perennial hot-dog-eating champion, has nothing on that kid! The techniques that were displayed by the various contestants were a sight to behold, as were the sordid faces of those grape-nutty kids.
Four young college students working on their fiber intake
One technique involved liquifying the cereal in the bag and then trying to drink it
One more spoonful and I will barf!!!
And so it was another good Nationals. I was tickled with the performance of my crew and how smoothly things ran. Sure, there are always a few hick-ups, but when racer after racer, and coach after coach, tells you how well everything ran, well, you got to believe it. If it hadn't been for several crashes (and a few transports to the Taos hospital), everything would have been perfect. But that's mountain biking for you, and not even young folks are immune from injury. It looks as if everybody will be OK (although the fella with the ruptured spleen [no, not a Grape Nut Challenge contestant!] and the bruised lung faces a long journey back to Florida), and I hope they will all return to next year's race. And I hope the same for myself.

Jürgen