Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Another successful trip to Oregon

For the past week, I've been on the road. Writing this, I am sitting in the Eugene airport, waiting for the first of three flights that will take me back to the Hub City by tonight. The rain is falling outside, making it a little easier to leave the Pacific Northwest.
Typical Pacific NW rain pic, courtesy of Horizon Air, doing biz as Alaskan, code-sharing with AA
Just like last year, Life Time Fitness organized its Leadman Epic 250/125 triathlon in Bend, and once again I was the head referee. Last year's race had bought me a lifetime ban from USAT when I worked what eventually became an unsanctioned event (USAT had shown uncooperative with the race organizers, who then yanked their sanction at the last minute), but not having to deal with USAT this year has actually been quite refreshing. 
One of the mounts—Jefferson, Washington, Obama?—that accompany you from Eugene to Bend
Life Time Fitness gives me complete autonomy in assembling my crew and also in making my travel plans, and since it is a fairly long way to travel I like to build in a little extra time. I arrived last Wednesday here in Eugene and then, after spending the night (and visiting two brewpubs/taprooms, Rogue and First National) I picked up my car on Thursday morning to get to Bend for the first of the athletes' briefings that afternoon. At that point the weather was still bright and sunny, and the drive through the Cascades along the McKenzie river was spectacular. To think that I had seen the lava fields of Lanzarote just a few weeks ago and now to travel through similar terrain here!
Oregon's wildfires over the past few years are a stark reminder of how vulnerable this paradise is
 The next three days were taken up with preparations for the triathlon and the actual race itself. Still, there was time for R&R. Last year, for example, I had not been able to squeeze in the time for a tour of the Deschutes Brewery, so I made sure I’d get to do so this year. 
Let me tell you, if you happen to go to Bend, you most certainly should allow some extra time for the almost-hour-long visit. For example, you’ll learn that brewery employees are entitled to one beer, after the shift, at Shifties, the on-premise employee break-room with its own tap. Our guide told us, with a bit of a smirk, that that one drink is an Imperial Pint (16 oz.), not a regular one. I also learned that, were I a Bendtonian, I could become a pro bono member of Deschutes’ taste testers, a role that requires some rather extensive training, seriously. I’m not so sure whether I’d like to try to find the distinction between “rancid,” “leathery,” “astringent,” or “floral.” And those are just the tastes. The olfactory notes are much more involved. And talk about all the German equipment in that brewery, starting with that 20-foot-diameter brew-kettle and ending with a …, hell, I can’t remember—we did get to taste quite a bit.

I'd hate to work here—all those restrictions
This 20-ft tank came from Germany and caused major transport headaches

For lunch on Friday, at the newly established Rat Hole Brewing, I met up with one of my crew members, Dave, a referee from Seattle whom I have known for many years thanks to my former involvement with the Lake Stevens 70.3; he expressed the same frustrations with USAT and WTC (he was never paid for last year's 70.3), and he has not even renewed his USAT membership. And on Friday night, I had dinner at 10 Barrel Brewing with my driver from last year, Jeff. We caught up with each others' lives and still made it to bed at a decent time to be fit for Saturday morning's early transfer to the race start at Cultus Lake.
The Bike Friday in bondage mode ....
... while the owner has to chose among seven taps
 While up to then the weather had been sunny and warm, racers were greeted by a high temperature of 61 degrees at the lake—and that was in the water! The air temperature was in the mid to high 30s, and all day long there were intermittent showers that made life on the bikes (the athletes’ bikes and our motos) pretty miserable. Heck, I kept hand-warmer packs in my double gloves all day long! In other words, the conditions were truly epic for this Epic event. But our officiating crew of three held up, only a few of the racers were too cold to finish the race, and nobody crashed or worse. Racing for 125 and 250 kilometers in these conditions is truly a feat.
No kidding: 61 degrees in the water was the warmest temp of the day
Because of the nature of this race, with a very long swim, pack formation is really not an issue. We monitored especially the opening 15 miles on the bike very vigilantly and never saw any drafting. In other words, it was a penalty-free race, despite the fact that we had almost 400 racers on the course. That’s just the nature of ultra-distance triathlons—there's just not much of an opportunity to draft. It's pretty lonely out there, most of the time.
Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, like getting there
This year's event featured the awards ceremony on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning. Belt buckles (similar to those awarded for meeting certain time limits at the Leadville 100 mountain bike and running races) were awarded to those who beat the clock. Several of our officiating crew hung out for a while in the Deschutes Brewery-sponsored VIP area, and then it was finally hit-the-rack time.
My driver, Jeff, proudly displaying beer tokens that he scored in  highly illegal ways
Drivers Jeff and Bill, ref Dave, Risk dude Chris from Philly, and yours truly, from as left as it comes
The weather, unfortunately, did not improve much for the remainder of my stay in Oregon with showers here and there and a steady drizzle last night in Eugene. Nevertheless, I rode the Bike Friday (I had chosen a different travel bike this time than the Ritchey, thanks to the leg) out to Worthy Brewing in Bend, a fairly new brewery that makes fine beer but has an owner who apparently is quite, well, abrasive toward cycling officials—at least that's what I was told during Sunday morning’s breakfast at Brother Jon’s with Dan (a USAC national commissaire) and Kate (an accomplished artist), my two local friends. You know the type: somebody with a lot of money who sponsors a team or two, builds himself a brewery, and is a type AA personality Masters racer who thinks he can boss the officials around. But, as I said, the beer was good.
My last evening in Bend was spent at the Crux Fermentation Project, quite possibly the finest of Bend’s breweries.
A bit of an enhanced vision of the Imperial IPA at Crux
I doubled the number of local friends when I had a very nice conversation with one of the participants of the race (and his wife) who gave me a lot of feedback that I have already forwarded to the race director. See, officials do more than sit on motorbikes. Thanks for the nice evening and the ride back to the hotel, Casey and Amy.
The locals
Yesterday’s drive back down to Eugene would have been spectacular if it had not been for the crummy weather. I took the scenic route via McKenzie pass, through massive lava fields and deep-green forests, the moss hanging and the moisture dripping from the branches. Lovely. Before checking into the hotel I went by the makers of some of the world’s finest tandems, Co-Motion Cycles. Judy and I had bought a custom titanium tandem from them, one of fewer than a dozen they ever produced. Company owner Dwan, whom I have known for at least 20 years, took me on a personal tour of the production facility, which was super-interesting
 Building frames ....
...and painting them
After that I briefly stopped by Bike Friday and then finished my industry visits with a tour of the Rolf Prima wheel building facility. Interbike, the big industry show, took place last week in Las Vegas, and I missed it for the third year in a row, but seeing the Co-Motion and Rolf Prima world headquarters somewhat made up for that.
No comment
1,500 years old, that lava

After getting checked in at the Hilton (where I was once again treated to a sweet suite upgrade, just like every time I have stayed there) I dropped off my rental car at the airport and rode the bike back to the downtown hotel. While I packed up my stuff the mist became a drizzle that later changed into a light rain, but that didn’t keep me away from visiting three more new places in my-ever-growing brewpub and taproom list: Falling Sky Brewing, 16 Tons, and The Cannery were my last beer stops for this trip.
One ...

... beautiful ...

... evening
 I put the finishing touches on this blog entry whilst flying in seat 6B from Seattle to Dallas. Life is good, onceagain. I love to travel, and I’m already looking forward to this weekend’s State Championship road races in Fort Hood before I go on my mileage run to Seattle next week. As always: Please stay tuned.

Monday, September 16, 2013

It may not have been Oktoberfest ...

... but the Freising Volksfest has been about the closest  I have come to the Munich Oktoberfest. To think that I took those pics just a week ago! I have been back in Lubbock since late Wednesday, but it feels as if I've been back for a month. Still, I want to chronicle that great Sunday afternoon that Sabine and I spent after returning from Lanzarote less than 12 hours prior to our walking over to the Freising fairgrounds, where the annual party runs for 10 days.
The boys and the maidens ...
... the moms and the lil'uns ...
... and the dads with the babies—all are dressed appropriately for the Volksfest
Essentially, the Volksfest is what one would call a fair here in Lubbock or a Kirmes in the area where I grew up. Like any such event, it features carnival rides, food stands, and the smell of sugar candy. But since this is Bavaria, there is also a big beer tent that for many—if not most—is the major attraction. Sabine tells me that the Munich Oktoberfest features something like a dozen of these tents, and they are bigger than this one. Also, in München, a Mass (a one-liter stein) of Festbier will set you back a whopping 10 euro, while here the same brew was only 6.30 euro, which is still $10. You bet, we polished off quite a few!
A Mass and an obadzda-filled (cream-cheese) pretzel
These women are having fun!
The tents at the Oktoberfest are bigger than this
If one could only understand what they are telling each other
The drinking and eating would be far less fun if there weren't all the amazing people-watching one can do. I am seriously considering investing in a pair of Lederhosen for my next Volksfest as it kinda sucks to stick out like tourist just because one doesn't wear the garb. Of course, when I open my mouth everybody knows that I am not an aborigine, but Sabine—having grown up much farther north—sounds like a foreigner, too.
Hendl, or roasted chickens, await delivery
Pretzels are huge at the Volksfest!
Lunch, dinner, snack, whatever
Counting the Hendl and beer coupons that work just as well as euros
Not only does the stomach get to feast...
We enjoyed watching the various groups (volunteer fire department, a police corps, music associations, etc.) ceremoniously filter into the tent after the parade. There were assigned seats for these groups, and we saw only limited cross-mingling. Thankfully, it wasn't too rowdy yet as it was just in the afternoon. Sabine tells me that in Munich things become pretty rough in the tents, with people standing on the benches and dancing on the tables. All the while the servers try to deliver as many beers, pretzels, and plates of roast in all the mayhem. I think I prefer the relatively civilized atmosphere of the Volksfest.
Music is a very important part of Bavarian festivities
Freising has a "Municipal Band"
Can you spell "oompah"?
After gorging for the better part of the afternoon we joined the youngsters who rode nutty rides called "The Burner" and other vomit-inducing contraptions. For us old folks, riding the Ferris wheel was as adventurous as it would get, and from up there we enjoyed the sights below us and the pretty view of the Domberg.
The Burner
It wouldn't be Germany if certain things weren't verboten
Golden Wheel  ...
... and its technical data—good to know it's TüV approved!
Enjoy the pictures, and maybe one of these days you get a chance to go to a volksfest or even the Oktoberfest (which runs for about two weeks starting in the last week of September and was thus out of the schedule for me).
Somebody is not afraid of heights
The former pope's stomping grounds, the Freising Dom
Next stop for me: Bend, Oregon. Stay tuned.


Monday, September 9, 2013

One week off the coast of Africa in Lanzarote

Approaching the Canary Islands aboard IB 3854
The Canary Islands.... As a kid growing up in Germany, that place was about as far away as Hawaii, and just as exotic. Then mass tourism started, but "normal" Germans would travel to Mallorca, in the Mediterranean, and we were not even normal—we vacationed once or twice in Holland on the North Sea, once in Switzerland, a few times in Austria, and then about three times or so in what used to be northern Yugoslavia. Canary Islands? You gotta be kidding!
The H10 Timanfaya Palace, home for a week
But thanks to the fact that I own some "studio weeks" with H10 properties, it was time to check out one of their European resorts, and after looking at the various islands and the different resorts in the Canaries I had decided that the H10 Timanfaya Palace on Lanzarote would be just right. All it was going to cost to stay there was the all-inclusive fee, as the accommodations are part of my deal. Add to that the ease of access from Munich (and my desire to whittle down a few of my British Airways miles), and Sabine and I were all set to jet off to a new place. (As a matter of fact, she had been sailing in the Canaries about 20 years ago with a group of fellow Fullbrighters, but that was a long time ago.)
One of the adults-only property's pools
As you may have read in my last post, we stopped over in Madrid on the way to the islands that are situated about 400 miles south of the coast of Spain and just about 40 miles or so off the Atlantic coast of Northern Africa. Our flights were with Iberia (using said BA miles), and because of the lack of award flight availability in Economy we had to, ahem, settle for Business Class. You gotta love miles! After spending 48 hours—mas o menos—with Howard and family in Madrid we took the 2 1/2-hour flight to Lanzarote last Saturday (I'm starting this entry exactly a week later, on our return layover in Barajas). Sabine loves looking out of the window; as a landscape architect, she is intrigued by the patterns that she sees below. She was sure that she could tell when we crossed over from Spain to Portugal, while I could clearly tell when we were over the Atlantic.
Part of our daily lunch diet: pulpo, clams, and other poo-poos
Smooth flight, smooth airport/hotel transfer, smooth check-in. As I am a so-called Premium Privilege member with H10, the hotels always make an effort to place me in a room that's a bit nicer than those for non-owners, and we certainly couldn't complain about room # 353: It was an ocean front, third-floor (of three) affair with a beautiful terrace overlooking the premises and the strait across to Fuerteventure and the Atlantic. Spacious, bright, with an immaculate bathroom and comfortable beds and even an i-Pod docking station—this was our home for the week.
Not a bad view before having dinner
The time zone for the Canaries is the same as GMT, so one hour later than Munich or Madrid time, and it was a bit odd to wake up at 7:30 a.m. when it was just starting to get light. On the other hand, at night we were able to sit on the terrace until about 8:30 p.m., having a pre-dinner drink and watching the sun set over the farthest tongue of land. The temperatures were simply perfect, around the mid-70s during the day and around maybe 65 F at night, so that we could leave the door open at night and listen to the waves. I have to tell you: This hotel also has rooms toward the hills, with no view of the sea, and there are even some "cellar" level rooms—that's probably where they stick the Irish, who don't know better. But if I were to be in a room like that I'd ask myself, WTF? Thankfully, we had nothing to complain about.
The public beach at Playa Blanca
This part of Lanzarote (in Playa Blanca, which is pretty much a misnomer) has no natural beaches—the coast is rocky, volcanic. There are a few man-created sandy areas, but not where we were. Still, we had access to the ocean via a ladder, and we both swam on numerous occasions in the protected waters of the bay. Most of the time we lounged around the beautiful pool and its big waterfall, or we made use of the just-right hot-tub. The Timanfaya Palace is an adults-only resort, so there were no munchkins running around, screaming and toting water pistols. We enjoyed the peace and quiet, the immaculate landscaping, and the really good food and drink, or was it drink and food? OK, so I gained some poundage, but what can I say? When you can get fresh octopus, prawn, and all kinds of fresh fish whenever you want it's hard to say no. Same goes for the various drinks.
One of the garden areas of the César Manrique home
But it was not just float and bloat. One day we rented as car (30 euro, full insurance included) to explore the island on our own. Good German that she is, Sabine had scoured the Freising public library for guidebooks on Lanzarote, and thus we had a full-day program that included the must-see highlights. Neither one of us had heard before of the island's most important figure, artist César Manrique, who lived for the better part of the 20th century. So, the first stop on our 201-kilometer island tour was Manrique's former home, an amazing structure with 1,800 square meters of living and working areas plus another 1,200 square meters of terraces and gardens. What differentiates this house is that Manrique built it partially underground in old lava tunnels and bubbles, and the symbiosis between residence and nature is amazing. Shortly before his death Manrique started an eponymous Fundacion with his house as headquarters, and one can now tour the premises and view much of his other art legacy.
Manrique's pool, like an oasis
One level below the surface
Dining area next to the grill just outside of the pic
Photos showing Manrique and his wife entertaining demonstrate how liveable this unique home was. The use of water features, the roughness of the lava juxtaposed with the smoothness of the flooring, the unexpected hole in the lava ceiling that allows a palm tree to grow—wow, what beauty! And it was a novel experience to see modern artwork (Manrique worked pretty much with all media and in many styles) actually interact with its surroundings and not just look weird and out-of-place but rather like a symbiotic addition. We were totally enthralled.
Manrique's kinetic art can be found all over Lanzarote
Close to Manrique's casa is the area of La Geria, the Napa Valley of Lanzarote. But it doesn't look like any other wine-growing area that we had ever seen: The soil is barren, with black volcanic ash everywhere. So where are the vines? Slightly dug into the soil and hidden behind short stone walls, one vine at a time! There is no mechanical harvesting here, and the yields are rather modest, yet there are more than 100 wineries that put out whites and reds.
Yes, that's a vineyard!
The wall shields from the tradewinds, and the ash preserves moisture
Talk about an odd-looking countryside! Later in the afternoon, we went to four wineries but were hardly impressed with what we tasted. However, in all fairness to the plants it was probably more the vintners "style" than anyhting wrong with the fruit since we did sample one wine nice enough to buy a bottle to take back home; incidentally, it came from a winery (Bodegas El Grifo) that had won many awards.

Rustic-looking but foul-tasting—don't drink here
Other highlight's of our island tour were the Jameos del Agua, a spectacular semi-cave with a small lake of sea-water that is part of an old lava tunnel, as well as the Mirador del Rio, from where we had a spectacular view of one of the smaller neighboring islands and the ocean. We had bought a triple-ticket that gave us entry to not only those two points of interest but also the truly amazing Timanfaya National Park. At the Jameos we also had a look at a non-aqueous cave that is utilized for concerts and the like. The acoustics were out of this world, even with piped-in meditative music.
Tiny white crabs live in the Jameos del Agua, nowhere else on the planet
At the top of the 475-meter high Mirador we had a small lunch in the Manrique-designed dining room. It's hard to think of a more scenic spot to munch on a bocadillo!
At the highest spot of the island that's accessible by car
The final stop of our tour was the Montanas del Fuego, which are part of the Timanfaya National Park. Here, everybody has to park and pile into an expertly-driven tour bus that takes visitors into the back country of this volcanic wasteland. It was back in the 18th century (1730 to 1736) and then again in 1824 that various volcanoes erupted and covered most of Lanzarote with ash and other debris. The bus tour really was extraordinary, and it is a good way to make sure that visitors don't make off with the lava! There are ample of photo opportunities, and the bus windows are kept immaculately clean so that one doesn't feel the need to break them.
Lichen is about the only thing to grow here
Lava tubes, ash, and billions of rocks
Lava that froze in place after the last eruptions in 1824
This landscape is about as forbidding as it comes
So, that was about it for our excursion through Lanzarote and its many faces. No wonder that a huge Ironman event takes place here every year: I was reminded more than just once of Hawaii, where the sport of triathlon was invented. Indeed, many European triathletes and road cyclists come to Lanzarote every winter and spring for training camps, and we saw a number of tri-geeks battling the constant tradewinds.

This post turned out to be longer than intended, and not many of you will have read this far—I know there are time pressures and other obligations. But I wanted to post these pictures and impressions at least for myself to remember our holiday on this Atlantic rock just a little bit better. And if you did read that far, well, maybe you got the itch to see the Canary Islands for yourself one of these days. I certainly would not try to discourage you.