Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mill Creek Road, Franklin, NC

What a difference a few days of R&R make! Just a week ago (plus/minus a few hours), I was driving in the middle of the night to the venue of USA Cycling's Mountain Bike Gravity National Championships, not knowing what to expect (or anticipating 47.5 hrs of recorded work in four days). Now I am in the south-western corner of this interesting state, in Franklin, where my old friends Miles and Judy live on Mill Creek Road.

Despite Miles' assurance that the local Wal-Mart features not only the usual, well-documented Walmartians but also a healthy dose of FLKs (oh, it is so politically incorrect, but I must annotate for my foreign buddies: Funny Looking Kids—remember the movie "Deliverance"? Heard of, ahem, inbreading, aka incest? Get the drift?), I wasn't scared to enter the "squeal pig—SQUEAL!" country. Franklin is bordering the middle of nowhere, and listening to M&J one gets the feeling that Deliverance could have been filmed here. As Miles like to say, it's where the pavement ends and the dirt begins. Hallelujah!
The roads always seem to go up, hardly ever down...
The two picked me up at the Charlotte airport on Monday, and we spent the rest of the day driving to and then inspecting (some) of the brewpubs in Asheville, self-proclaimed Beer Capital USA. Well, sorry to say, but what I tasted at the Wedge, Lexington Avenue Brewery, or the Barley Taproom did not put them on the top of America's beer cities, at least not according to Mister Jürgen himself. Was the beer good? Oh hell, yes! Was it great? Well, only one approached that status, but I didn't encounter the equivalent to Russian River Brewing's Pliny the Elder, that's for sure. But it's a cool place, nevertheless.
Miles relaxing on his porch
After our night in Asheville we drove the remaining 85 or so miles to Franklin. Miles used to live in Lubbock, where he was a staunch supporter of the TTU cycling team (including the lovely coeds, as he wants to have chronicled). Even after he moved to Franklin, he maintained his ties to the Hub City through his annual pilgrimage to the Buffalo Springs Triathlon. He found the love of is live, "his" Judy (as he always called her to distinguish her from "my" Judy), at one of the many tris that he did in the south-eastern region, and we (=my Judy and I ) were privileged to host them whenever they came to Lubbock.
Another fine meal on Mill Creek Road ....
After arriving here on Tuesday, we've mainly been relaxing and not doing much. And then, in the middle of the day, we suddenly decide to commence riding our bikes in murderously hot and humid temperatures, approaching about 158 F "real feel." Holy cow! It is positively uncomfortable here whenever you step outside of the cocoon that air conditioning provides. Yesterday's 28-mile up-and-downathon damn near destroyed Miles, and even a passing nubile who was doing track workouts (not kidding—she was the only reason for me to turn back around to check on my buddy) was not able to "connect to his brain," as he later told us. In other words: It's stinking HOT!
A beautiful home on one of our rides
Apart from near-death experiences (Judy and I clocked another 30 miles today while Miles safely resting at home) we cook unbelievable meals and try to decimate the stash of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA that I brought along from Nats. I am relaxing and I am dreaming sweet dreams in the quiet Blue Ridge Mountains that surround us. Most importantly, I am reconnecting with two dear friends whom I hadn't seen in about six years.
Judy taking a break on Wide Horizon Road
And if you still don't know what FLK is about, well, here you can see how they look when they are adults.

Miles' brother Everett (left), and the other one is a cousin

Friday, July 20, 2012

Working, working, working—in North Carolina

Just a quick no-photo update, in case the internet should once again blow up on us:

I arrived here at Beech Mountain Resort near Banner Elk, NC, on Wednesday evening, after it took Hertz more than one hour to find me a rental car (with me holding a reservation). So, another late-night drive through unfamiliar mountains.

Yesterday morning I was at the race site at 7:45 a.m., for a first course inspection and meetings with all the key players for this 2012 USA Cycling Gravity Mountain Bike National Championship. When registration opened it became clear that we were in for a long day as the internet initially just coughed, then gave up its life for good. And young staffers nowadays don't know any longer how to switch to Plan B (full manual mode) when the 'puters go on the fritz. My Secretary, Vicki M., and I finally left the venue at 8:15 p.m.

This morning we were back on duty at 7:30 a.m., but yesterday's problems were things of the past. Today's races and qualifiers came off very well, no racers were seriously injured, and the rain stayed away, too. I haven't seen the mountains yet with all the fog and clouds and humidity, but maybe I get a glimpse in the next few days.

Right now I have a very brief break between the Dual Slalom Cat. 2/3 and Pro qualifiers, and so I thought I'd post a quick update, even if I haven't even had a chance to take one picture yet. We have two more full days of competition, and they will be long ones, I am sure. But nothing beats being Chief Referee at Nationals, especially with as fine of a crew of officials as I have surrounding me.

Back to work...


PS: Here are three pics from the Dual Slalom practice that I took after writing this post..

Monday, July 16, 2012

From sea to shining sea

Almost two weeks have gone by since the last post, and this one is being written while I am looking upon the tarmac of the San Francisco airport. The past five days I have been out here, on the West Coast, while it was New York just a fortnight ago. And believe it or not: On Wednesday I will be back on the east side of the country when I arrive in North Carolina for Gravity Nationals.
Heading across the Golden Gate bridge toward the wine country

My second trip to California this year took me for the sixth (and most likely last time) to the Vineman 70.3 in Napa Valley. Even after WTC unceremoniously and in mysterious ways severed its relationship with me, Race Director Russ Pugh went to bat for me so that I would be his Head Referee for 2012. Some people understand professionalism and display loyalty, even in light of corporate politics. So I went back to the race that Judy and I always considered our favorite, simply because of the high quality of the staff, the volunteers, and the capable USAT officials with whom I had the privilege to work over the years. Who knows, maybe Russ is able to get me back next year, but I doubt it. Regardless, I did my usual very thorough job, and we had a clean race with essentially no problems from the officiating side. Some of the USAT officials were obviously distraught when I told them that this most likely would be by last Vineman. Sad indeed.
The Penalty Tent right after the bike dismount line—my office on Sunday

I have good friends in that part of the world, and I had a nice quaff with Mr. Pepperhead himself, old Kai. He used to be my moto driver until he gave up scooters, making it possible to cozy up to Pete, who used to be Judy's driver. Pete and I rode together last year, and for this year we also planned some extra curricular activities that included Pliny the Elder at Russian River Brewing on two occasions. Pete is an extraordinary man (as is Kai), with a wide range of interests and a natural curiosity that both come in handy at his second-life job as a caddy. 
Kai holding court at Whole Foods' amazing taproom ...

... and Pete holding my Piaget Beer Gauge next to a perfectly poured Pliny the Elder

No trip to the Santa Rosa area would be complete without a  visit to Armstrong Redwood Preserve (just a few miles from the triathlon's swim start in Guerneville). As close followers of Judy's and my blog have learned over the years, this place held a certain magic for Judy. The little woman loved those giant trees, and who would not be awed in the presence of 1,400-year-old living beings? And so I took a little time off to go for a quiet and thoughtful early morning hike through the land of the giants. I am sure Judy was smiling, somewhere.
Trees that appear almost transparent in the morning light

In the Land of Magic
I spent time inspecting the course, made sure the quality of some of the local breweries hadn't suffered since my last visit, and even went for a very enjoyable wine tasting at Kendall Jackson. The bautiful countryside out here and the perfect weather whenver I have visited simply amaze me.
Johnson's Beach, on the Russian River, where the race starts with the swim

Dry Creek in the wine country
After a very long race day yesterday I drove down to Hayward on the east side of the bay and spent the night in a Hampton. This morning I braved what turned out to be not-so-horrible traffic and drove the remaining 25 miles to the airport. And now I have about 48 hours to return home, wash my clothes, tune up Luke's bike, see the chiropractor, do some putty work filling nail holes to help out in my house remodel project, get packed for a 10-day trip, have dinner with Liz, and fly out on Wednesday at noon for the USA Cycling National Gravity Championships in Banner Elk, NC. Shouldn't be too tough, eh? just another day in the traveling man's life.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A week in the Catskill mountains

You must have heard of them: the Catskills. No, they're not as high as the Rockies, and they're not as rough as the Cascades. But they are mountains, with ski resorts and lore. Heard of Rip van Winkle? Well, he is pervasive in the land of the "kills," which is a Dutch word that means something like "narrow stream." So, it's not as if a long time ago a bunch of innocent pussies were slaughtered in the Catskills!
Rip van Winkle appears in many disguises!
It was my second visit to the little town of Windham, the first having come two years ago when I was Vice Chief for the first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup to be held in the USA in several years. This year, Windham not only celebrated the third edition of the World Cup but much more so its resurrection after last year's devastating floods after hurricane Irene dumped ungodly amounts of rain in hours on the area. Watch this YouTube video, and you won't believe how pristine the little town is, once again. It helps when many of the homeowners are absentee landlords from NYC who have a lot of money (and connections) to help spur on the rebuilding effort. Just a few miles down the valley, in Prattsville, things are different—no outside money here, no tourists like in the ski-town Windham, and the destruction is still apparent.
A devastated building in Prattsville, 10 miles downstream from Windham
Uprooted trees and other debris are still piled up on the river banks
Idyllic—the river giveth, and the river taketh
I got to see a bit of the countryside during my stay in Windham thanks to two beautiful bike rides that I was able to sneak in between duties. Both loops (one 41, the other 37 miles long) took me through some gorgeous valleys and over some challenging hills. The vistas were amazing: You've seen pictures of the ever-more distant ridgelines that go from green to grey to bluish nothingness. The Catskills have them. Townships consist of signs and an occasional house, but "settlement" may be a better term than "village" or "town." The inhabitants of this region are definitely descendants of old Rip van Winkle....
Sleepy, hidden, inviting
Looking from a high vantage point toward the Hudson River valley
As mentioned earlier, I was in Windham for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, which featured the 6th round of the XCO (cross-country) and the 5th round of the DHI (downhill) of this season-long series. It is quite a sight to see all those European and American pro teams and riders descend upon such a sleepy town. The race is spearheaded by Nick Bove and Lori Torgersen, with much help from Rick Rasmussen and his wife, Amy. Nick owns the local bike-shop, and Rick and Amy make their money with their inn, the Hotel Vienna. I knew all four from my first visit, and I knew how hard-working they are. With their army of local volunteers they have managed to put an event on the map of international cycling that has an estimated economic impact of about 6 million dollars for the region! No wonder a direct representative of the governor was on hand for the press conference, especially in light of the rebuilding efforts and eventual success.

My work this time around was that of DCO, not commissaire. The race was inscribed for Elite, Sub-23, and Junior riders, which meant that I had to drug-test a certain number of each group, according to the rules that the UCI has established. I worked with interesting chaperones, who escort the riders who have been selected for anti-doping, and knowledgeable medical staff, who witness the sample taking procedure—my job is to complete all the documentation and make sure that proper protocol is followed. I had relatively little contact with the commissaires since our duties are completely different, but during some spare moment I took the lift to the start of the downhill and posed with these three fine commissaires:
Dorothy Nichols, Vicki Mackzum, Cyndi Smith, and the DCO on top of the mountain
Of the racing action I saw very, very little—the DCO is hidden away in his little fiefdom, waiting for the racers to finish the race and be escorted to the Doping Control Station. When the commissaires go home, our work begins. High temperatures and humidity (both abundant in Windham, together with beautiful sunshine) dehydrate people, and racers are no exception. Sometimes the urge to pee after a race is just not there, and thus patience is a virtue (and necessity) for a DCO. Chaperones who think it is a pretty cool thing to escort a World Cup leader to the controls learn the hard way that they cannot be dismissed until their assigned rider has finally completed the procedure. So, my glimpses of action had to happen during training.
A downhill racer catches some air close to the finish line
The DHI hot-seat, 48 hours before the finals
Late last night I returned to Lubbock, after another day of flight delays and rebookings thanks to US Airways' aging fleet. Now I'm home, for a full week and some change, and can continue to worry about my house-remodel project that has been coming along during my absence. But that's a topic for another blog update. For now, Happy 4th of July to everyone!