Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hammerfest should be renamed "Firefest"—again stopped midway b/c of fires!

This must be a first: I have never heard of a stage race that had to be stopped two years in a row because of wildfires! My vote is to rename Hammerfest to Firefest to commemorate this dubious record.

I shouldn't be writing this blog update. I should be in Midland, enjoying a pizza and a bottle of wine in Mike and Candi's place, after working the third stage of the Ft. Davis road stage race. Instead, I am at home in Lubbock.

Who would have thought after last year's raging fires in the Trans Pecos that there would be anything left to burn? But apparently, there are/were enough pockets of dried-out vegetation that were ready to receive lightning strikes Wednesday night and erupt into more structure-threatening and livestock-roasting incendiaries. The poor people in that area: How can one live with this constant threat?

I should have known: Driving out of Lubbock, the dry April west winds blew hard enough to keep all motorists on alert. I had ridden that morning on my "End Of The World" route, barely managing a 10-mph pace on the outbound leg. Dust devils were everywhere, and you know you're in trouble when you see green tumbleweeds, not brownish, dry ones.
It's blowing hard from the right (west)—better lean that moto
Rolling into Prude Ranch (race HQ) on Friday evening brought a reminder of last year's horrific fires: The plume looked like a volcano explosion.
That's the fire that eventually cancelled the event; Prude Ranch in the foreground
Saturday's two stages—a hill-climb TT and then a road race—came off with nary a hitch. I enjoyed starting about 200 racers who had driven the many, many miles to this outpost in the most remote region of Texas. It was great to see so many familiar faces, so many racers with whom I had either raced before or who had been under Judy's and my care at so many races in the past. Being an "Indian" instead of a "Chief" for the first time since last year's race felt great, too: Gerry S. is an effective, knowledgeable, and affable Chief Referee of a race that either Judy or I led for many years in the past. Good people made up the remainder of the crew:  Jim Y., Bill W. ("Mr. TXBRA camera), Suzanne S., old-timer-from-Midland Peyton T., newcomer-from-Austin Chris S., and then of course the not-to-be-imitated Kinnin P. with whom I have worked a few national events before—all good folk, as my buddy Carl would say.
Kinnin and Jim, our tandem Chief Judges (go figure...) at the finish of the hill climb TT
I love starting a time trial. Since this is my blog, I can use the space however I want, so feel free to skip on. Starting a time trial is about as intimate as you are going to become with the racers. They call a time trial—a race in which racers are started individually, generally at 30-second or one-minute intervals, and are not allowed to draft on each other—the Race of the Truth: You can't hide. Since drafting is not allowed, it's just you, the bike, the road, the wind, and the CLOCK. And riders know that, when they start. My first real time trial to start was the Waco national, many years ago. OMG, the noise around us! The PA system blaring, the  music thumping, adrenaline going  wild! And there you are, inches away from a racer who is about to  embark on 30, or 40, or 60 minutes of nothing but gut-shearing pain, wanting to throw up, scared and knowing how badly this will hurt, focused, and at the same time looking at you, the starter, because you are the last human contact. It is a very, very intimate moment, and I take it very seriously. I used to be pretty decent in the time trial, doing fairly well and getting my only state championship medal in this discipline. The starter is the last person you see before this journey into deep, deep pain starts, the last one to maybe give you encouragement (I always send off my riders with "good luck"  or "do well") and that important piece of information that you somehow managed to miss. (Holy Moses, the finish at this year's race had been moved 200 meters farther up the hill than in the past 15 years! At least 2/3 of the riders didn't know about this change and I was the one to tell them, and they were grateful. I knew how defeating it would be to get to the "normal" finish line and not see anybody after you buried yourself in a 2-mile, 18% grade that came on the heels of another 4-mile climb!) Looking into the racers' eyes, right before they embark on this journey that will take them to their very, very inner selves, is something that I feel extremely privileged to be allowed to do. If they are concentrated, so am I: There's not much room to foobar when you start in 30-second intervals for two-and-a-half hours.

Good thing neither my whips nor I screwed things up.
The already-shattered Pro/1/2 field on the first climb of Saturday's road race
And so it was a good day, including the afternoon's road race (I followed the Pro/1/2 field for 46 miles). And while I was later sitting in front of our room (Bill W. and I were mates) at Prude Ranch, enjoying a beer, Brazilian jazz,  and some quiet conversation with Chrissy of promoters Holland Racing, HR owner Andrew came over to seek less advice than affirmation that we needed to cancel today's final stage. As I said, I wasn't CR (Gerry and Suzanne were still in their truck in search of a fine-dining experience that, eventually, they found at the Mickey D's in Alpine), but with a few years' of experience under the belt I supported Andrew in his assessment and decision of the situation. It was his decision to make, anyhow, but stuff like this isn't easy, and it's good when you have a second, or third opinionator, you trust around you.

And so, here I am, back in Lubbock, a bit earlier than expected. I got home with enough time to ride my bike and then cook up a fine meal. I have a little less than 2 weeks before I fly to California for the biggest stage race in the US to work for the UCI, and there's a lot of stuff to do. There may be another blog update, and there may be not. We'll see.
Trout (garlic-meunière style), steamed green beans, and yummy potato wedges
after 600+ miles of driving
Regardless, stay away from fires, if you can. As always, thanks for reading. The season is about to begin.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Damn, it's hot already (again!) ...

Here we are: April 25. It's not supposed to be as hot as it is right now:

My back porch, out of the sun, at 3:20 p.m. on April 25, 2012; Lubbock set an official new heat record for the date with 104 F at 3:44 p.m.
What will June, July, and August bring when we're already wilting away? Mercifully, the nights are still on the cool side, but for how long? On Monday it was chilly enough that I wore knickers and a vest when I headed out for my 35-mile morning ride, and today it was a no-sleeve day that saw me go through two bottles of tepid water in two hours.

Since my last update I've been enjoying life in Lubbock while running off for about 28 hours to officiate a very small duathlon in San Angelo last weekend. Jack and Ester of Ironhead Race Productions were generous enough to request me as their USAT official for last weekend's race, which used to be on Judy's and my schedule back in the mid-2000 before bigger races (Hammerfest, Sea Otter, New Orleans 70.3) stole us away. Unfortunately, the Striders Du has lost so many racers over time that this year's 19th annual event will most likely have been the last.
It's tough to pay the bills when only 63 racers show up—start of the Striders Du
Jack and Ester also organize more than 20 triathlons in the metroplex, so they're not going to go hungry, but it's still a shame to see such a long-running race go down the tubes. As Jack, one of USAT's board members, said: There are too damn many races! Jack, a retired Air Force member who doesn't hold back with his opinions, is by his own count the most prolific race director in the sport of triathlon, having promoted way more than 200 races over the past 25 years. I am proud to call him my friend.
Jack barking out some last-minute race instructions at the start
Sitting on the motorcycle in San Angelo (about 4 hours south of Lubbock) was a pleasure on a cool, sunny, calm morning. There were no penalties, and I even had a chance to take a nice shot of Jack (who likes to race in his own events whenever possible) crossing over Lake Nasworthy. San Angelo is quite attractive.
Mediocre runner, but killer cyclist: That's Jack

The drive back home was equally pleasant. My recent road trips in Texas have left me with a sense of deep satisfaction in light of the vibrant colors and the sweet smells of spring. Of course, if this first hint of a heat wave develops into something more serious, the loveliness of spring will soon be nothing but a pleasant memory.
The last of the wildflowers—outside of Sterling City, TX

The remainder of the past 10 days or so I have spent riding my bike (now almost 900 miles since April 1), which has resulted in my shaving off about five pounds of mid-rift lard; having wonderful dinners with various friends (which prevented the weight loss from becoming too quick!); and continuing my preparations for the house renovation project, which will start in earnest after my upcoming trips to California, Germany, and Hungary. Just yesterday I took all those LPs that, untouched, had been collecting dust for the past two decades to Ralphs Records & Tapes (nah, they now call themselves Ralphs Records, CDs & DVDs) and felt like a traitor when I slunk off with $40 in cash for what used to be the treasures of our youth. A box of Judy's detective novel paperbacks went to the Friends of the Library. At least her cookbooks are safe, for now, as I have sorted through them and am going to bestow them on various family members and friends. I'll keep about a dozen myself.

This upcoming weekend I am scheduled to work the Ft. Davis Hammerfest road stage race. That's the race during which we had to evacuate last year when the wildfires started to roll into town. Let's hope that there won't be any drama this year. But with these temperatures, who knows?


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Texas trippin' in April

April has been good to me so far. After returning from Vegas almost two weeks ago I've spent my time at home, riding my bike like a fiend and shedding a few pounds in the process. (How does 567 miles in 13 days sound?) I've done a few (but never enough) things around the house, and tuning up bikes and selling other people's bike treasures on eBay has shielded me from having to walk the streets and collect aluminum cans.

After spending the Easter weekend at home (and enjoying two delightful dinners with Martha and Alan, one at their place and one at mine) it's travel time again. This is the first of three Texas-based race weekends for me: a high school mountain bike race in Waco tomorrow, a duathlon in San Angelo next Sunday, and the always-challenging Hammerfest road bike stage race in Ft. Davis to close things down one week later.

I left Lubbock yesterday afternoon, having decided that breaking up the long drive to Waco by staying overnight in Abilene was the smart thing to do for a man who has no obligations at home. After spending a restful night in the Hilton Garden Inn I drove the remaining 190 miles in gailing head-winds to Waco this morning. The wildflowers are still out, with big fields of bluebonnets making me smile time and again. I set the Miata's cruise control at 60 mph, as there was no particular hurry to get to Waco where my only obligation was to walk the 4-mile course. When the wind blows as hard as it did today, there's not much sense burning extra fuel trying to go faster than that.

Driving through the Texas countryside is not boring, if you keep your eyes open. There was "Deep Shit Ranch," which sported a nice wrought-iron gate. Or the escaped nanny goat that was on the wrong side of the fence, almost on the road, with a possible penchant to commit suicide. "No Money Left" was the name of another ranch, and then it was time to watch out for weirdos when I entered the land of Branch Davidians (remember David Koresh?) and one notable George W. Bush, whose ranch is just outside of Waco, in Crawford.

Talking about the shrub: My old friend Larry L., former owner of Bicycles Outback in Waco, has ridden his mountain bike on numerous occasions with Dubya, and Larry says that he's a damn nice guy. I'm sure of that as it is highly doubtful that anybody on his ranch has ever been waterboarded. Bicycles Outback now is owned by another longtime buddy, Ian M., and it turns out that one of his two daughters is going to interview the ex-Pres for a school project. Small world, isn't it? Just in case you wonder, a few years back, Larry gave me a picture of him and the pres, just to needle me a little. I told Larry that being a nice guy and riding a mountain bike are great attributes but not the exclusive ticket to being a good Commander in Chief. Ah, politics....

I inspected the course, had a thorough pow-wow with race director Vance, and then went to Ian's shop to say howdy. Catherine, his racer wife (who was formerly known as "Xena the Warrior Queen"), was on the way back from a crit in Dallas, together with Bicycle Outback's women's team. Once they made it back to town, we all had dinner together at Ninfa's, a Mexican food place close to Baylor.
Old friends: Catherine, Kathleen, Matt, moi, Ian, Claire, Kim, Sheri, and bad-kid Sophie
(pic courtesy of Michelle M.)
What a great day, and how wonderful to see all those familiar faces. Cycling—no, sports in general—has given me so many precious memories and moments to cherish. The stuff I remembered today during my course inspection! Little Collin Fish face planting on the asphalted road down from Lovers' Leap; meeting Christian Helmig's elderly parents at Cameron Park; Judy's favorite spot to pee during registration for the races when she couldn't make it to a porta-potty; Larry taking in registration fees and depositing them into that brown faux-leather attaché case; Kinnin Payson telling John Fish at the second UCI race in Cameron Park that she wasn't going to listen to him anymore and then getting in a car and leaving—oh my, what great memories, stuff that doesn't mean anything to most readers but that I wanted to hold on to.

And thus it goes when you're trippin' in Texas....


A quick PS: The race came off with about half a hitch this morning. During the second lap of the boys' race the expected storms moved in, dropping the temp by 15 degrees and deluging us for about 45 minutes, hard. Then things became calm and just a bit sprinkly. The high schoolers (mind you, some of these kids are on 35-pound Huffys!) didn't quit, though, and toughed it out—not one DNF! Props to all the parents, coaches, and other volunteers who helped out and made this a successful event. This is a race series that is bound to succeed, if for nothing else than the team spirit displayed by racers and supporters alike. I am very much reminded of collegiate racing, which in my book is the purest form of the sport. Man, am I lucky to be affiliated with people like this!If you know a high school kid who might be interested, let me know.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sin City

You can do it all in Las Vegas
OK, I admit that I have gambled. I'm in Las Vegas, and everybody gambles, so I have done so, too. Last night, I put a dollar into the nickel poker machine, and 20 minutes later, I still had $0.85 left over and a free Corona in my hand. Tonight things didn't go so well: I lost the entire eighty-five cents and then had to insert another dollar bill into the machine so that the cocktail waitress had enough time to deliver Corona #2 for the evening. I just barely managed to cash back out with my dollar still intact.

And you wonder why I have been able to retire at age 55?
Tough to see: Two cars are in the drive-through on a Sunday afternoon
Welcome back to Sin City. I am here for the second edition of Lifetime Fitness' Leadman triathlon, an event that covered 250K last year but was scaled back to 125K today—well, and a good thing that was! Last year (if you're interested, go back in the blog archives to May of 2011) Leadman had been an epic race that was contested by about 40 racers in high heat and windy conditions. Today's shorter race (still defined as an ultra-distance tri) did not feature the same high temperatures but winds that were so atrociously strong that the finish line chute was blown over and even a porta-John on the run course was toppled. Apart from 17 Pro athletes (vying for an evenly split purse between genders of $30,000) about 175 age-group athletes entered Lake Mead at 10 a.m. for the latest start of a triathlon that I have ever witnessed. I loved not having to get up at 4:15 a.m.!
The Head Ref and his helper, Paul, right before the swim start in Lake Mead
I had a great motorcycle driver, August, and the scenery (in many ways) was amazing. I love the desert, and the colors this early in the year are not as washed out yet as they will be in two months when the mercury hits 105 F instead of just 85 F. This must be one of the most spectacular courses that I have worked (maybe only topped by the grandeur of the Rockies up in British Columbia during Ironman Canada), and with the way the wind was blowing at a steady 30 – 35 mph (with gusts that were approaching twice that velocity and that threatened to simply blow racers off the road) it was most definitely the most taxing event that I have witnessed.
Scenery ...
... and scenery
Lifetime Fitness, a Minnesota-based health and lifestyle company that runs currently 104 fitness centers (all of them pretty swank!) around the country and is promoting the largest indoor-triathlon series in the world (plus a host of other fitness and lifestyle related events) is in the process of building up this "epic" race series as an alternative to other established series, such as WTC's 70.3 events. The difference in corporate culture is evident, and the tangible effects on the race and the racers are significant. As my tenure with WTC has come to an end, I am glad to be involved with Lifetime Fitness as it is a much, much better match. Here's a pic from the classy awards breakfast, em-ceed by the best announcer in the business, Jerry McNeil, and highlighted by a string quartet. When you give away $30,000 in prize money, you might as well do it in style.
The Epic String Quartet performs at the awards breakfast at Green Valley Ranch Resort
All I can say is that I am already looking forward to the next Leadman event, in Bend, OR, later this year. It will feature both the 125K and 250K distance, and if the weather cooperates, it should be one of the coolest events that I will have ever worked.
A clean, well-run transition zone
I had taken along my trusty Ritchey to monitor the run-course but also to get some personal exercise. Yesterday, after the awards, I was free for the rest of the day, not flying out until later today, on Monday. Despite continued brutal winds (now from the north) I went for a long 53-mile ride, all of it within the greater Las Vegas area. Lifetime had paid for all staffers' accommodations at the luxurious Green Valley Resort, which is located in Henderson, on the southern edge of the metroplex. Perfect! That meant that for 23 miles I could head into the wind and then cruise back once I was spent. My route led me through most everything that Las Vegas has to offer: middle-class neighborhoods with cookie-cutter homes in "the mid-350s," a quarter of which seemed to have For Sale signs in their xeriscaped front yards. There were less-affluent neighborhoods, many of them segregated into Latino ("Se rentan bodegas y oficinas") and Afro-American (lots of churches). I rode by gated communities with lots of palm trees, and I saw the rickety tents and the shopping carts of the homeless near the downtown area where the Union Pacific railroad rumbles through town.
"Downtown" area, a few miles north of the Strip
Billboards can tell much, from the one that advertised the cheap bankruptcy lawyer ("Call 400-0000! Only $100 down!") to the one advertising the dog-poop scoop service ($11 a month). And then, of course, there is The Strip. I had always wanted to ride here. In all the years of coming to Interbike, I have never had a bike with me, and this was my chance to get into the middle of traffic and slowly cruise down the surreal icon of Sin City. I have to say, it was fun! Even though during the day things are not as glitzy as at night, there was much vibe on this Sunday afternoon, with lots and lots of tourists milling around.
Riding on the Las Vegas Strip—quite a trip
After making it back to GRV and a long shower I headed out for my evening meal to Ellis Island, a small casino/brewery just off the Strip on the corner of Flamingo and Koval. Year's ago, Judy had discovered their unadvertised Steak Special which for $5 was a great deal—and now, at $7.99, it still is! You get a decent salad, a big ol' baked potato and veggies, plus a juicy hunk of meat. Add to that the $2 20-oz. beers (not the greatest brew in the world, as far as microbreweries go, but heads and shoulders above the usual swill), and you can have a well-priced meal and fun evening under $15. What better way to celebrate what would have been our 23rd wedding anniversary?

And now it is Monday morning, and I am about to spin my legs for a few miles before packing up the Ritchey and checking out at 1 p.m. My flight leaves Vegas around 4 p.m., and I hope that the last Eagle from DFW is going to deposit me into Lubbock before midnight. A great race, and a cool trip.