Tuesday, March 31, 2015

(Most of) March in Lubbock

Wow, looking at the calendar in my bathroom on which I record my weight every morning when I am at home I realized that I had a chance for 24 entries out of 31 possible ones in March. So that means: I really spent some time at home.

It may not have seemed like it as I did have two race weekends. Two-and-a-half weeks after my long trip to the Dominican Republic I flew out to Charlotte, NC, for a one-day race in Rock Hill, just across the state line in South Carolina. That was a fun trip in that I got to work with Michel, my colleague from Canada whom I had last seen in Switzerland. Everything race-wise went off like clockwork, which made it possible for us to actually enjoy two nice evenings for dinner and a bit of walking around (and beer sampling) in Charlotte's interesting NoDa district. And not having to hop through major time zones was pretty nice, too.
BMX racing in the Carolinas
Just this past weekend I drove about 610 miles from Lubbock to Dinosaur Valley State Park close to Glen Rose and Granbury, just west of the DFW metroplex. It was TX High School Mountain Bike Race #3 (I had missed #2 because of my trip to the DR), and the 230 or so HS students again had a blast—as did I. The venue is beautiful, the weather was perfect, and walking the 6-mile course after my arrival Saturday afternoon after the long drive from Lubbock was just the perfect exercise. After working the race on Sunday I drove back home. This was a quick 36-hour roundtrip.
During my time in Lubbock I have been doing what one is supposed to do when at home: Clean the house, work on an occasional bike, mow the weeds (no lawn here), have dinner with friends, go out for a cool concert (or was it two?), and ride the bike. The fact that I logged 652 miles speaks for itself. I even had a chance to meet with my former neighbor Terry to start the process of landscaping my yard (xeriscape). There were lots and lots of race-related e-mails, and I worked on finalizing some reservations for the upcoming months.
Courthouse in Granbury, TX
And in exactly one hour I am going to be picked up by my friend Jenni who will transport me to the airport. I am leaving for Thailand today, the longest trip I have ever taken. It will be more than 10,000 miles one-way to Chiang Mai, about an hour by plane north of Bangkok, where my old buddy Stu recently bought a bike shop. He said, come over and bring me some tools, and so I am. Thankfully my flight to Tokyo has been upgraded—at about 14 hours that's a long one.  But the remaining six hours to Bangkok will be in the back of the bus of the JAL flight. I'll cross the dateline, and it'll be a bit tough to wrap my head around the fact that I am really, really far away, but that's the beauty of my life: always something new.

Stay tuned for news from Thailand.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Post DR Stress Syndrome

Being picked up from the airport in the middle of the night
So, yesterday evening I was sharing a glass of wine with my neighborette two doors down the street, Janet, and we watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain that she had DVR'd just for me: AB taking on the DR. I've not seen too many of his wanna-be foodie episodes on expensive TV, and I can't really say that I much care for his style of reporting, but the dude has a following and gets to eat lots of cool shit for free.
Little drummer boy before the official star of the Vuelta Independencia Nacional Dominicana
The episode made clear to me that my stay in the DR was really a work trip and not one that allowed me to seek out the sights, sounds, and tastes that make up a culture. Sure, my last blog post delved heavily into the traffic culture of this country, but my trip fell woefully short of experiencing Bourdain's culinary adventures, what with hotel buffets and much worse.
Riding along Santo Domingo's malecon
But let me first explain the title of this post. Honestly, it took me four or five nights back at home to finally quit dreaming about the job I was doing down there in the DR; I'm still working on total decompression. I can't say much more than that I was in the DR and the CADF paid for my flight and daily allowance. At this particular bicycle race I had to deal with lots of unexpected situations and challenges, and that on a daily basis. If you think that I'm just a retiree who gets sent all over the world to follow a bike race and sip pina coladas by the pool, well, it ain't so.
Juan Jose, my chauffeur, and our little Kia
Maybe my flight to Santo Domingo was indicative of what was to follow: Instead of arriving late in the afternoon on a Friday, I touched ground well after midnight on Saturday morning. By the time I finally fell into my bed, it was something like 3:30 a.m. And from there it continued. One of the big highlights of the trip was my personal liaison with the Dominican Cycling Federation, Bernardo Gonzales Del Rey, who became a dear friend but who could not shield me from all those, ahem, challenges. Another individual who became rather dear to me was my driver—or chauffeur—Juan Jose. He always picked me up on time, and while we were outside of Santo Domingo he did not get to sleep in a single room in fairly decent hotels but had to share with seven others a dormitory of sorts, yet he was always pleasant and joyful—even though he looks rather sinister in the picture.
Look closely and you can see all that trash on the beach—Santo Domingo
Juan was a safe driver, as is evidenced by that fact that I made it through this trip unscathed. However, he does have one very annoying habit: When he uses his cell phone, his already rather sonorous voice increases its volume by at least 45 decibel. The first time he answered a call, on our first day together on the way to Punta Cana, I nearly bumped my head against the car's roof, so startled was I. Holy cow! Why he uses a cell phone is beyond me—I am sure that whoever is on the other side of the call would be able to understand him loud and clear.
Panoramic view of the Samana bay
Quite idyllic, if you ignore the trash on the beach
Not so idyllic: my hotel in Samana; note the potholes
Loud and clear. That's the volume, mind you. As for the Spanish, that was another story. Bernardo, who speaks excellent English, speaks Spanish with a Castilian twang, and I had no problem understanding him when he spoke to worker bees or over dinner to his lovely wife, Elisa. (We had two wonderful dinners together in Santo Domingo, and I very, very much appreciated that gesture of friendship.) But most others, led by Juan and followed by pretty much everyone else I came in contact with, was not only excruciatingly difficult to understand, but for some odd reason, they did not understand me, either—or so they pretended. Most of the time I was left to my own devices as far as the preparations for my job were concerned, and the communication issues made for some frustrating moments. Think of speaking Parisian French and going into the hinterlands of Quebec and try to communicate. That's what it felt like. Or worse.
I did catch the occasional glimpse of the sea—but there was no time to just hang
I had taken the Ritchey along, and while in Santo Domingo I did get a chance to ride a few times. A five-kilometer-long park, the Mirador del Sur, is located very close to the Hotel Fiesta Dominicana (our HQ in Santo Domingo), and cyclists, runners, in-line skaters, and all other fitness-minded folks gather there in the morning and afternoon hours when vehicular traffic is blocked and one can safely exercise. One day I strayed away from this safe environment and rode along the malecon, but I had to ride on a debris-strewn sidewalk along the seafront as the traffic was just too insane. Last night I learned that on the other side of the busy road in front of the monument below one can find some of the best roasted pork in all of Santo Domingo. Thanks, Anthony. Next time I'll try to seek it out.
If you see this monument in Santo Domingo, hurry to the other side of the street and eat pig!
Juan and I spent an inordinate amount of time traveling first to Punta Cana and back, and then up to Samana, San Francisco, Santiago, and a small place in the mountains, Constanza. On that day I ended up not doing my job because the stage had been cancelled with something like 20 miles to go—shots had been fired in the peloton, by a police officer, and the riders no longer felt safe. That was about 5 hours worth of driving and lots of aggravation for naught. Just another day at the office...
Yes, I was at a bike race—(once-again) delayed stage start in Santiago
These drives were beautiful, and I often wished we could have stopped and lingered for a while. But that's not the way it works when you are on a "mission" for the CADF—this is not Anthony Bourdain's world. And so I saw much of the DR simply passing by instead of my stepping into it. There was that night in Samana, a small resort town in the north, where I could actually walk around and sat by the seafront, swilling a super-iced Presidente beer and listening to the salsa and merengue that played close-by. That was a nice evening. In the big cities, that did not exist.
The local hero poses with his elderly mother before the start of the (once-again) delayed final stage
Judy and I had been to the DR once, in an all-inclusive resort where we dived. We had taken the Bike Friday Q tandem along and got out of the compound a few times. Honestly, I don't even recall where we stayed. All I remember was that the riding was difficult and really not too enjoyable. From several of the racers I heard the same thing: Hard, windy, shitty roads, dogs and pedestrians, car traffic constantly threatening the field even though there was supposed to a be a rolling enclosure. Not a single stage started on time. Yes, this was an interesting gig, but I have to admit that I was glad when I was finally heading home again, despite the warm temperatures, the occasional glimpses of the ocean, the beautiful palm trees, and dancing the merengue with one of the local commissaires out on the sidewalk after the last test was done and Juan and the worker bees and said commissaire had bought big bottles of Presidente from the liquor store right next to where the finish line had been. We all laughed and had some beer, and I still wore my uniform and I thought, shit, I deserve this. And then we danced some more, but I never caught her name or that of anybody else because the music was so incredibly loud and I wouldn't have understood their Spanish anyway. What a trip!
We all deserved this!