Monday, November 25, 2013

And then it was winter, suddenly

Good grief! Less than a week ago I was basking in the sun in Mexico, thinking that warm weather would never end. Seriously, I was still in serious summer mode even when I got back to Lubbock—after all, this has been a weird year for me with the broken leg, changes in travel plans, feeling seemingly a bit outside of the space/time continuum at times. It was warm in Cancun, it was warm when I was picked up at the LBB airport Wednesday night, and then it was warm on Thursday as well, so I rode my bike for 35 miles in shorts and a short-sleeve jersey—and less than an hour after I returned from my ride, a massive arctic cold front hit Lubbock. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in 15 minutes.

Wow, what a shock.

On Friday morning, it was around 25 degrees (after Thursday's high of close to 75 degrees), and I was glad that I had had sense enough to put the hardtop on the Miata; after all, the plan was to drive to Waco to help officiate a cyclocross race this weekend. I left shortly after 10 a.m., and I was hoping to beat the "wintry mix" that had been forecast. Alas, I was a bit too late: Barely had I left the city limits that the sleet hit, hard. The wind was howling at 30 mph out of the north, and US 84 became an ice rink. It took me almost 1 1/2 hours to make the 35 miles down to Post. Cars were in ditches or, worse, wrapped around telephone poles. Of course some numbskulls in big bubba trucks thought that going 50 mph was the smart thing to do, endangering everybody else. In my rear view mirror I observed one such maneuver, with cars having to scatter off the road to avoid a collision.
Saturday's front page of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Once off the Caprock, conditions improved—marginally. There were still patches of ice and snow, until things really got better (i.e., just wet) south off I-20 around Eastland. I made it to Waco after the cloud-induced early nightfall.
The Highlander Cyclocross race dished up authentic Euro conditions
The bike race, of course, thrived on the adverse, yucky conditions. 'crossers are an odd bunch, loving (yet hating) the muck, the cold, the snot that flows uncontrollably from the noses, the sheared-off derailleurs, and the challenge presented by the elements. For us officials it is a challenge, too, simply to stay warm enough during a day of mainly standing in the cold, occasional rain, and wind. The fingers get stiff, and scoring becomes difficult. We, too, have to fight the snotty noses, but we don't get to change into fresh clothing at the end of the 45- or 60-minute race but have to stay in position to score the next race, or, as was the case for me, keep a vigilant eye on the "pit," the area where the racers are allowed to exchange bikes or wheels.
Hecklers "helping along" one of the racers in the labyrinth
One nice thing about being stationed in the pit rather than scoring at the finish line is that one gets to observe the racers up close. Either you love the mud and the wet and cold, or you better stay at home. Riding in these conditions requires some real mental stamina, in addition to the physical type. And then there are the hecklers, usually your compatriots from other age groups or categories who are done with their race and "cheer" on the soggy bunch who are tyring to ride through yet anther mud pit. "C'mon, this is a race, why don't you pedal?" "That white skin suit doesn't help you now, does it? You look as if you've shat all over yourself!" "You're getting beaten by a little GIRL!" "Get off the damn breaks!" Did I mention that hecklers usually have a beer in hand and yell at the top of their lungs?
Nanook of the North, anno 2013
I had been smart enough to bring a whole bunch of clothes, and even so I had a hard time fending off the cold. I know I am fat, but I'm really not that fat: I looked like the Michelin man because I had a whopping five layers on top (long-sleeve wool undershirt, official's shirt [for what???], official's fleece, down jacket, and rain shell) and two pairs of pants, plus a rain hat on top of the beanie when needed; the gloves were the thickest I own (and there were two back-up sets). Thanks, Susanne Schmidt, for taking the above pic in my "office." That was shortly before Ian brought me my lunch: A hot burrito, a cold Lonestar beer, and a shot of Jägermeister. OK, I was a USAC official on the clock, but that Jägermeister could simply not be turned down. I wished it had been half a bottle!

How to destroy equipment the quick and easy way: cyclocross!
After two days of racing I was glad when the fun had an end. I had made arrangements to travel another 45 minutes south to stay Sunday night with Martha and Alan in Temple, and that turned out to be a good thing as the TX Department of Transportation was issuing all kinds of travel advisories, urging motorists to stay off the highways that I would have had to frequent to make it back to the South Plains. It took me most of the way down to Temple to thaw (even though the temperatures hadn't dipped much lower than maybe 33F or 34F, but the relentless wind and the oft-heavy rain had done their respective parts). Just to make sure that there wouldn't be any lingering aftereffects, Alan and I hopped into the outdoors hottub—bliss!
Warming up at the Howell Inn in Temple
This morning (Monday) I decided not to take any chances and hang here for an extra day. There is nothing pressing in Lubbock that requires my return today, and I'd rather drive home safely tomorrow than worry about an accident all the way home today. And it is nice to stay with my friends. Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and I have asked Smitty and Lori over for turkey a la kamado, and that will really feel like winter. With that said: Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and thanks to M&A for your hospitality!


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