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.


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