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.


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!"


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.


Friday, October 12, 2012

In the land of giant falling arrows

To continue some of the home turf coverage, I want to show you some images that I encounter when I go for my (almost) daily rides when I am at home. Tuesday was an especially nice day (today it's rather dreary, and yesterday it blew like the dickens), so I took the camera along.
Calling New Home a "city" is stretching it a bit
My usual 35-mile ride takes me to the hamlet of New Home, due south of Lubbock. There are two curves in the road, and that's the only time one has to watch out as not miss the proper path. Along the way, one comes across wonders such a plam trees in the semi-desert.
Are they real, or are they Memorex?
We have other crops, too, most notably cotton. The seeds are planted in the spring, with the first green showing around May. By late summer, the fields are a lush green and the first blossoms appear, which soon develop into bolls. They then break open, and the fluffy stuff emerges. To harvest the cotton, the leaves must have fallen off the plants—either because they've been hit with the first hard freeze (typically on October 31 here on the South Plains, but freakishly enough in such a hot year last Monday morning) or more often because defoliant has been sprayed on the fields, a la Vietnam.This time of the year one sees still-live plants adjacent to a defoliated field.
Cotton that's still alive ...
... and cotton after the Vietnam treatment
Another crop that catches the eye is sorghum. This grain starts out all green but then, with advancing maturity, changes into gold and orange tones before settling on a deep rust color. Quite pretty!
The 50 Shades of Sorghum
A few rogue cotton plants survive alongside the sorghum
What about other colors, you ask? You have to look, carefully, but there are splotches everywhere, even coming out of the asphalt.
(Please send me your taxonomic description for this plant)
Once you make it to New Home, the local high school welcomes you with a big sign. The focal center of social interaction in town is the The Last Maverick restaurant, a diner that is about 50 years out of place (or are we?). And if you don't watch out, you may just get speared by one of those giant arrows that fall out of the sky occasionally.
How the heck did they decide on leopards as mascots?
The Last Maverick, a place of true culinary delight
Beware of the giant arrows—and you should see the Indians shooting them!
So why in the world would I want to live and ride anywhere else with so much excitement on just one short 35-mile ride, huh? OK, time to saddle up the horse and go back out to New Home, just to make sure the population count hasn't changed.