Monday, October 27, 2014

The House of the Decaying Rodent

OK, now that I have caught everyone's attention, let's reveal the rather boring subtitle, 2014 National Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships, Beech Mountain, NC.
Start / Finish area for the XC and Short Track races

After getting back from Guadeloupe last Tuesday afternoon and unpacking, doing laundry, and repacking I left Lubbock with the 6:55 a.m. flight on Thursday morning to eventually end up on the East Coast by mid-afternoon.  Lew Strader and Ugur Tosun, two fellow USAC commissaires, had already arrived in Charlotte, and together we drove up to Banner Elk and beyond, to Beech. Talk about a whirlwind of travel!
That's why they call them Blue Ridge Mountains
This was my one-and-only USAC mountain bike assignment for 2014. How an international-level commissaire (even though I decided to go the DCO route for UCI assignments I am still an IC) is supposed to stay sharp with one assignment a year is beyond me, but those decisions are being made by people who obviously understand things much better than I. For a number of years I had served as Chief Referee for the collegiate championships but had to excuse myself from my assignment last year when I broke my leg. In my stead, Tod Manning from Seattle had taken over nats in 2013, and he was back to again lead the crew in 2014. My role was that of Starter, and I was really looking forward to working with him as we have run into each other at road races here and there over the years but have never been on the same crew.
The House of the Decaying Rodent
Joining us were Judy Rhyne, who had worked with me when I chiefed Gravity Nationals two years ago in the same locale, and young-and-upcoming Justin Evans, a 22-year-old Appalachian State University student who is not only very active on his school’s cycling team but also an eager lower-level USAC official who had worked last year’s race and had impressed Tod, who asked that he be again assigned to the crew.
The boys...
... and their bikes on the way to the top
The six of us were given the keys to a vacation home just five minutes from the venue, a nice place that had only one problem: You opened the door and were greeted by the unmistakable smell of something dead. We never exactly found out when or how that mouse or gerbil that was stinking up the ante-room had expired, or where it had managed to hide its cadaver in one last heroic effort, but the thing was with us whenever we entered or exited the house. Good thing that we all had private rooms with doors, and in all fairness, the living room and kitchen were OK, too.
A neon-gloved Brevard rider humping it through the feed zone
For three full days we were on the mountain. Last year’s championship had been marred by atrocious weather conditions (snow, cold, rain, the whole gamut), but this year things were much, much better. Every morning, when we got to the venue at 7:00 to 7:30 a.m., it was well below freezing, but once the sun made its appearance things warmed up enough so that in sheltered areas one could take off one's jacket. Over the course of the weekend I was several times up at the top of the mountain for the start of the downhill. At about 6,000 feet, the wind cut fairly hard and things weren’t all that pleasant, and for Sunday’s dual slalom seedings and finals we had to contend with 35 mph wind gusts that actually blew over some of the riders in the starting gate. But overall, we lucked out in the ski resort that’s the marquee attraction (and probably also the raison d'être) of the highest incorporated village east of the Rockies.
Didn't I take a similar panoramic shot just a week ago in Guadeloupe?
Our work days were long, but they were also satisfying. Under Tod’s leadership we were able to get off all racers on time, the results were posted quickly and accurately (thanks also to the work of my old friends Cath and John Jett from CJ timing, who had come in from Telluride), and the number of injuries stayed low. We all got a lot of sun and at the end of the day felt wind-burned, the legs were tired from stomping around the hillside, and the back ached from standing for hours at the start gates of the gravity events. But, as I said, it was all very satisfying.
A "professional" photographer is responsible for this crew photo
The fun started once we made it back to the house and got all cleaned up. Tod had stocked the place with wine, beer, and two bottles of bourbon, and by the time we left, not much of that stash remained. We’d talk about the day during our “happy hour” before leaving for dinner in a different restaurant every night. USAC treated us to a nice Mexican meal one night, together with the Colorado Springs-based staffers who had traveled to Beech. Back at the house, we’d start the off-slope mentoring of Justin (and Ugur as well). Obviously, that included lots and lots of war stories from those of us who have been in the sport for a while. And of course, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes talk that will stay in the House of the Decaying Rodent (and in our, ahem, spirited minds).
Heading home through North Carolina's morning fog
This morning (Monday) I drove Tod’s rental car back to the Charlotte airport as he and Lew had to leave around 5:30 a.m. to make it to their respective flights. With my departure not until 1:15 p.m., I was able to sleep a little longer than during the past week and drive leisurely the 130 miles back to CLT. It was a nice way to close out what seems to have been an almost continuous series of transfers and flights for assignments over these past few months. There won’t be much respite from the traveling, though: On Wednesday morning I will board another 6:55 a.m. flight to DFW to continue via Philly on a personal trip to Freising. But at least I have two nights at home, in what I hope is still a rodent-free and non-smelly casita.


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