Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lubbock's Silent Wings Museum

It's not often that I post things about Lubbock—and part of that may be that I see so many exciting things while I travel. But yesterday's visit to our Silent Wings Museum, located in the old terminal building of our airport, deserves an entry of its own.
The museum is housed in the old terminal building on the west side of Lubbock International
For years I had thought about coming out to this museum, but for one reason or another I had never made it. But with an invitation to take advantage of Smithsonian Magazine's "Museum Day Live!" offer of  free entry to various museums I decided to save $5 in admittance (you know how as retirees on a fixed income we have to count every penny) and turn a wet and dreary Saturday into a cultural experience. I had a vague idea that Lubbock at one point had been a training center for military glider pilots, but I had no inkling how big this program was during a few years of World War II or what important roles it played during the invasion of Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge, among others.
One of many educational interpretive displays at Silent Wings
Altogether, almost 14,000 (!) CG-4A combat gliders were built and deployed (and many, many of them lost in what were often slightly better than suicide missions) between 1942 and 1945, and most of the pilots were trained at Lubbock's SPAAF (South Plains Army Airfield), one of three airports in the city at that time.
The display shows two soldiers opening the CG-4A's cockpit to unload a jeep
The bare-bones cockpit of the CG-4A
The payload sat right behind the pilots
The gliders were amazingly large with a wingspan of almost 90 feet. They could carry a jeep, several troops, ammunition, and other supplies; the army even developed a small bulldozer (which is also on display) that could be flown in to improve landing sites quickly. The skeleton of the planes was made of steel, but it was simple canvas that was stretched over the fuselage, making it possible for enemy flak to easily penetrate the CG-4A. The gliders were pulled by C-47 transports until they were within reach of their target sites—yet still out of range to be detected by the enemy—and then released on a no-return-possible mission that often ended in crashes and tragedy. The front of the plane was equipped with ski-like runners to make it possible to land in rough terrain.
The CG-4A is the large plane
As crazy as it sounds that these men ventured behind enemy lines with these contraptions (used in Burma, Sicily, Holland, France, and of course Belgium), you should see the 15-minute historic documentary that shows how the gliders were quite often picked up by a flying C-47 that would capture a rope attached to the plane (containing a pilot and troops!!!) and lift it back off the ground in one of the most daring maneuvers I've ever watched.
On display: The world's first true flight simulator
In addition to the glider and other planes the museum is chock-full of other highly interesting items, such as the first truly functional flight simulator. There are weapons, uniforms, photos, and countless other items that give an amazing glimpse into this aspect of WWII, and Lubbock's vital role in it.

If you do get a chance (and have $5) you should make it out to the museum as it is truly unique. To get there, just take the second airport exit coming from the city and follow the brown sign to the museum. You won't regret it, and if you have kids they will be mesmerized as well.

PS: For more info, just use these links. and

Monday, September 24, 2012

Leadman Epic 250 / 125 Bend, Oregon

Another good race lies behind me, an event that I had been looking forward to for months. Not only was Bend a new destination for me, but I was genuinely interested in finding out more about this place that seems to be one of the new hotspots to live and recreate.
Forest fires have been raging in Oregon all summer
Well, I wasn't disappointed.  My time here in Bend was punctuated by not only a lot of work but also by a few bike rides, visits to a record number of microbreweries, and chatting with locals. On Thursday morning, I drove from Eugene east on HWY 126, along the McKenzie river, across the Cascades. Unfortunately, forest fires are still raging, and pristine vistas were softened by the bluish haze of smoke. Around Sisters things were so bad that I was coughing inside of the car. I went by one camp being used by firefighters that looked like something out of a war movie. Throughout the weekend, there were always reminders of those fires in the form of haze and often the smell of smoke.
The Cycle Pub combines "bike riding" and beer drinking, two favorites in Bend
Huge plumes of smoke looked like cumulus clouds
On Thursday afternoon, I met with two of my local referees, Dan and Peter, for a good pow-wow. (Our fourth referee, Dave, was to drive in from Seattle the next day.) At the swank Tetherow golf club Life Time Fitness had arranged for the Pro Athlete and VIP reception, and both venue as well as execution showed off once again LTF's penchant for doing things the first-class way.
The Ritchey had once again come along with me
On Friday things became serious in regard to the race, with lots of scheduled athlete briefings that RD Dominic and I co-hosted. Nevertheless, I did get a chance to squeeze in a quick visit at the Deschutes Brewery, one of the race's major sponsors. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time for a full brewery tour, which is supposed to be very interesting as this fifth-largest craft brewery in the US puts a lot of emphasis on sustainability. Well, next year.
A cell tower, Oregon style
Race morning started early, around 4 a.m. Since the swim in Cultus Lake was located almost 60 miles away we all had to catch bus shuttles at a really early time. Our bus with all four referees and numerous Pro riders promptly got lost, and we detoured for an extra 30 or 40 miles. Frantic phone calls to the RD made sure that the race wasn't going to start before everyone was at the start line. I joked that this was the first Epic 300 after we drove the extra 50 kilometers. It turned out that another bus also went off course. But eventually the race did start, only about 15 minutes late. Oh well—stuff happens, right? The setting was gorgeous, and we were lucky in that the wind had shifted overnight and the air was clear of smoke for the entire bike portion of the race. Here are a few shots from the course.
Cultus Lake on a frigid morning
Lava, burned trees, and a Pro

The race circumnavigated Mt. Bachelor, twice
My moto driver, Jeff, and I take a quick break
One of the Sisters mountains and a Cascade lake

The Epic course was simply spectacular

Around 7:30 p.m., with only a handful of runners still on the course, I called it a day. And since it was still too early to go to bed, I made sure to continue sampling the local breweries. Bend is chock-full of them (I managed to visit nine of them during my stay), some with better beer than others. At the top of my list were Silver Moon, GoodLife, 10 Barrel, and the oddly named Crux Fermentation Project, one of the most unusual brewpubs I've been to. Forget about Bend Brewing, and Cascade Brewing is nothing to write home about, either. My moto driver, Jeff, accompanied me on this tour and we had a great evening.

Crux Fermentation Project, one of Bend's finest breweries
On Sunday, after the (very classy) awards breakfast, I was free to go for a 44-mile ride. Instead of heading toward Mt. Bachelor the way I had on an earlier ride I headed first south-east, then angled north, and came back in on a beautiful winding road that was almost totally devoid of traffic. The area I rode through features lots of horse farms, has a gently undulating character, and is dotted with expensive homes. I was reminded of the area around Edgewood, NM, that has been settled by folks who don't want to live in Albuquerque proper—the only thing is that I didn't see a single trailer home. Classy (and I am sure expensive) to the max.
Jeff and I living the good life at GoodLife Brewing
I closed out the day over dinner with one of my two local refs, Dan, and his wife, Kate. What great people! It was a fitting end to a stay in a beautiful place, in a positive environment of superior athletes, working for a company that is different from others. Once I put the finishing touches on this entry I will get in the car and drive back to Eugene, from where I will fly back to Texas tomorrow morning. I can tell you one thing: I am already looking forward to working this race again next year, and I may have to plan an actual vacation out here, especially when it doesn't burn!


PS: I almost forgot about the blackberries, Judy's favorite when we visited Eugene in 2001.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Breath of Fresh Air

Flights at 6:00 a.m. are no fun, but I made mine, this time. Hung out in the Admirals' Club in DFW, just long enough to post a pic on Facebook to chronicle that I had once again escaped the Hub City.
Early morning at DFW
On the way from DFW to PDX I enjoyed chatting with my seat mate, Wendy, whose trip from Florida to Oregon had been disrupted and turned into an overnight affair by storms between Tampa and Dallas. Nice conversation—all the best, Wendy! 

After arrival in PDX I first checked e-mails and did other mundane stuff, while sitting within more-than-close earshot of an itinerant musician, who—with his TSA-approved neck-ID—was clad in a white, flowing robe and flip-flops, filling the terminal with eerily beautiful violin and drum sounds. Welcome to Oregon, I thought, where the hippie is still footloose.
Alaska's tail fin must be the prettiest in the industry
My layover was long enough to check out the in-airport location of Laurelwood Brewing Company, where a pint of craft brew will set you back all of $4.50! Who would have thought that prices such as this still exist.
About to touch down in Eugene—parched earth here, too
Once I arrived in Eugene after a short hop in an Alaska Airlines puddle jumper the hotel shuttle took me downtown, where the Hilton staff saw it fit to put me into one of the most spacious two-room corner suites I've set foot in. Bummer that I didn't bring 20 friends along to throw a big party!
Part One ...
... and Part Two of my corner suite
I spent the late afternoon sitting in the sun at Steelhead Brewing, only 200 meters from the Hilton, watching life pass by and talking to my young server, Ericha (yes, that's the correct spelling) about beer. What a concept: A server who actually knows (and likes) what she is serving! How often is that NOT the case?
Enjoying sun and Twisted Meniscus IPA at Steelhead Brewing
Does it get any better?
The final brews of the day came off a tap at Rogue, about 200 meters the other direction from the Hilton. There I had a long conversation with a local student, Benjamin, about not only beer but topics that defied the scope that most of my former students could have followed.
Many happy taps at Rogue
The entire day was simply delightful in its many refreshing facets, and now I am ready to head to Bend for the Leadman Triathlon.


Sunday, September 16, 2012


Blog views, that is. 20,003 times that somebody thought that checking what ol' Jürgen is doing is more important than putting the kids to bed, bringing in the paper, feeding the dog, or working on that report that was due half an hour ago. I would have never thought.... And 20,003 is also a figure, in dollars, that represents what's been going on in my home life for the past two or three months—can't remember exactly when we started. It's the dollar amount that I have spent already on my house remodel /renovation, spearheaded by the solid-as-a-rock Rick LaShomb. That figure is going to continue to go up (oh, I know it is way beyond $20,000 by now), as we're just barely half-way through the project. It is difficult to gauge what still remains to be done and how much it will cost when one goes by the seat of one's pants—and especially if one isn't willing to cut corners just because of a few bucks, or sometimes a few hundred bucks, or more.
Guest bathroom in-between ....

... and after
Lemme tell you: The house will be something that Judy would have been proud of. Only a few days away from what would have been her 57th birthday, I feel a bit guilty that she never saw this project start, let alone finish. That damn peeling paint! We lived with it for years. Those of you who borrowed our potty always brought it back, because the walls were in such a horrible state that one pee was all it took to next time opt for the backyard. Alas, there never was a good time to start the remodel, and so we didn't. This summer I decided that the time was just about as bad as any, and so Rick and I talked and we got started. Foolish me.
Moving all the wine to relocate the Eurocave was an ordeal, but it made for an interesting photoc

Remodeled computer room with the Eurocave on the right next to cardboard that will leave
At this point, I reside in the "forbidden room," as we always called it. A new futon is my bed whilst the master bedroom is gutted and the waterbed is drained. I shower in the newly refurbished guest bathroom as the ReBath people ripped out the former master shower, broke through my concrete slab, relocated drains and pipes, and will—with a bit of magic—install my new euro-style bath by Tuesday. Rick has stripped and rebuilt my master closet, and all-caulked it is ready for his paint gun. There will be new cabinets, another fresh granite top, lovely carpet (just as in a few other parts of the house already) to curl my toes into (and have secret dreams about nubiles). Once this second phase of the remodel is finished (I hope in early October), we will turn our attention to the kitchen/dining area, and that's when the money is really going to start to evaporate. But if you have any inkling how much I like putzing around the stove you will understand why I won't be able to leave any money to my kids—lucky SOBs, they never existed!
Cabinet and TV are temporary in the guest bedroom—looking north
The new futon, which doubles as a queen-sized bed—looking south in the guest bedroom
So, 20,000 blog hits or $20,000 spent on stuff—it's just numbers, and since I have an alarm clock I can set it for 6 a.m. Monday morning and make sure to check whether there have been any more visitors to the blog before I go out to collect cans in the mall parking lot, and beyond. Nothing like being a retiree on a fixed income who does have a certain taste....
Mr. ReBath tackling what used to be our shower
Walls are gone, the ceiling is demolished
The base of my new shower
So, all that's left for me is a) concentrate on upcoming races and other exciting stuff, and b) cook way-over-the-top meals for myself. Here's a sampling from the past few days—just imagine what the new kitchen will do when I actually have some counter space and room to juggle. Life is good, as I so frequently say and write.
Sunday: Southwest Grillers
Thursday: Mexican casserole

Friday: Poppers (appetizers, or at least meant to be)

Saturday: Trout fillets on cedar planks
Saturday: Trout, linguine, beans, and shitaki
Sunday: steak night
So, please, go ahead and feel sorry for me. For breakfast I'll have gruel, once again, after I exit my pathetic hovel ....


Friday, September 7, 2012

Now just a memory: Our 2012 trip to the Rocky Mountains

Has it really been two weeks since Sabine arrived in Lubbock (well, one week and six days), and now she's off in the air, somewhere over the Atlantic while I sit in Mansfield, TX, to officiate Prairieman tomorrow morning? These past two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, memories, fabulous food, spectacular scenery, and many emotions. Quite frankly, even though it's just been two weeks, it seems as if months have gone by during that time. We did and saw so much that it will take a while to process it all.
Rico has a fully functioning volunteer fire department
My last blog update had been penned in Albuquerque, on the way to Rico in Colorado's Dolores Valley. Upon her passing, Judy's mom had bequeathed the family's summer house to her and her brother Mike, and even though the two of us didn't get much of a chance in the past dozen years to go up there and spend time in the mountains (while Mike and Candi and the rest of the family made ample use of this pretty place), we paid our share of the taxes and insurance. In the past few years, Mike and Candi have put a lot of labor (and money) into making out of a summer cabin a year-round home, and I couldn't believe all the positive changes since the last time we had been up there. It is a long trip from Lubbock (about 625 miles one-way), but I will have to go up there more often. Sabine and I arrived on Wednesday evening of last week, and Mike and Candi gave us the full tour before leaving for Midland on Thursday morning.
Two of Rico's oldest commercial establishment's, anchored by the Enterprise
Rico is located about 45 minutes to an hour south of Telluride—and the difference between the two couldn't be any more marked. Rico has a permanent population of maybe 300 souls, while Telluride is artsy-fartsy like Taos or Aspen and is positively commerce driven. Rico still has the old mining-town charm (it once had 5,000 permanent residents), and it is sleepy and totally authentic. It's a perfect place to hang and chill—which we did for a week.
Riding close to the tree line near Hope Lake
We spent our days hiking and mountain biking in the surrounding mountains. Sabine had a bit of a problem with the high elevation; Rico lies at about 8,900 feet, and we hiked as high as 11,885 feet (or 3,623 meters for my European friends). Good thing there are several hot springs in the area, one of which became our favorite as it made sounds like a heavily breathing walrus. And even better, we had a wonderful place to come home to in the afternoons for Happy Hour on the porch and delicious homemade dinners. (We had loaded up on groceries in Cortez on the way up to Rico, and we ate and drank like royalty—what else would you expect after we invited Lord Calvert and had also taken along a case of Cameron Hughes wine which was survived by only a few bottles?)
Our favorite hot spring from afar ...
... and close-up, with nekkid denizen
On our last full day in the Rockies we drove up to Telluride to meet up with Cath and John, who own a timing company and with whom I have worked various races. We got the insiders' scoop on where to hike, and after taking the free gondola to cut out a lot of the initial climbing we took the "See Forever" trail to its highest spot from where we had an unparalleled view of the surrounding 13,000-foot peaks. Talk about paradise. Sabine, who has seen her share of mountains, was totally floored by the San Juans. Really, it is difficult to imagine a more beautiful day in the mountains—and then we were still going to sample the Tempter IPA at Telluride Brewing before driving home!
Telluride about 3,000 below us

13,000+ foot peaks all around

Sabine soaking it in from the top
Not a bad backdrop, eh?
So, in other words: We had a grand time. I just wish it wouldn't take so long to drive up there. My poor little truck (now close to 250,000 miles and slowly closing in on becoming a 30-year veteran) ferried us reliably to Colorado and back, averaging just a tad shy of 25 mpg, but it doesn't like to run much faster than 65 mph. So you do the math: We drove almost exactly 1,350 miles, so that's a lot of windshield time, even with all those spectacular views. (No, I'm not talking about the stretch between Littlefield and Clovis.)  But who complains? We saw sooo much beautiful countryside and will carry great memories for years to come.

Trout Lake, near Lizard Head Pass

We rode up to Lizard Head Pass, just the way the Galloping Goose did for many years
Sabine in front of the Galloping Goose, in the town of Dolores
All good things come to an end, but not until the requisite upgrade: Our last night in Santa Fe was sweetened by an additional magnitude when our (free) room in the Hilton was bumped up to the two-room historic casita in which we had stayed last year as well. Nothing like being upgraded into a $600+ suite when you're staying for free. So, that provided the fitting framework for our perfect summer vacation.

And now it's back to reality: I dropped Sabine off at the airport around noon and then hopped into the Miata and drove in stinkin' hot weather the 330 miles down here into the metroplex to be the HR for the Prairieman half-iron distance triathlon tomorrow morning. If I had time for it, I'd be dizzy!

Thanks for reading and, I hope, enjoying the pics.