Saturday, October 31, 2015

In the land of "Deliverance" and Uncle Cletus

Upon arrival at the Charleston, West Virginia, airport, I immediately spotted Emily Palmer, USAC's director of anything collegiate and interscholastic. The two of us were to drive together up to the venue of the 2015 Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Snowshoe. And twilight was already setting in....
The Blue Ridge Mountains, seen from the top
OK, so I write this on Halloween and a certain bit of suspense should be built up. After all, we were braving West Virginia's back roads at a time of day (or night) when one should coop up the chickens and keep the kids indoors. Remember that creepy movie "Deliverance"? Well, that one played in West Virginia, or somewhere very similar (OK, so it was northern Georgia, but what's the difference?). Thus, during our three-hour drive on windy mountain roads that were dark and devoid of essentially all traffic, Emily and I kept cracking jokes about our whereabouts. We decided that in case of a mechanical breakdown we'd lock the doors and stay in the car and hope for morning to arrive before either one of us (or both) got abused and defiled, or worse.
Nice digs at the Snowshoe resort
Emily used the word "creepy' more than once during our drive, but it wasn't until the next day that we saw some folks with truly memorable front teeth, and I'm not talking about the pretty kind. But overall, it was all stereotypes and idle banter. Uncle Cletus never showed up, and the effects of long winter nights and moonshine and a healthy dose of incest (should I have added an "un-" in front of the adjective?) remained hidden from our eyes. But there was probably a reason that President Obama held a major speech on drug abuse in Charleston on the afternoon of our arrival, delaying Emily's arrival by 40 minutes..
You don't see this at Mammoth
Enough of that: West Virginia was welcoming and beautiful. We (as in USA Cycling and about 300+ college students) were guests in Snowshoe, a mountain-top ski resort with a reputation of rough weather at this time of the year. Well, we lucked out big time as we had balmy and sunny conditions on all but the last day, when early morning fog, close-to-freezing temps, and hard winds showed us what could have been. Snowshoe is situated at about 4,750 feet, give or take a few, and is a posh resort that attracts skiers in the winter and relatively few mountain bikers in the summer. While Colorado and California resorts are relying more and more on the revenue that two-wheeled summer visitors provide, Snowshoe is just now waking up to this new trend in recreation. I had a nice talk with Josh, who is in the process of developing and expanding the mountain bike park. Andy, the operations manager, was equally enthusiastic about what bikes have to offer.
My friend Cath working the start of the DH
My role at Snowshoe was the same as in Mammoth: I was the USAC-appointed Chief Referee for the event, and once again I had a crew of officials from all over the US who helped me make this event a success. The schedule was not quite as ambitious as that in Mammoth for the "regular" national championship event, but it was still quite packed. In the weeks before the race I had worked with USAC's Laura Ryan who was the race director, and together we had tweaked the schedule and the Technical Guide in an effort to avoid problems once on-site.
The Finish Line for the XC, STX, and TR competitions
Quite frankly, I think we did a good job. There will always be a few hick-ups, and one always learns something for next year, but overall this was about as smooth as a big event like this can be. Forgotten (well, not entirely—those lessons stay) were my recent races in Farmington and Angel Fire, something made especially easy with the presence of what must be the best timers in mountain biking in the US, Cath and John Jett. We have known each other for the better part of a decade, and they are as solid and dependable as they come. What a pleasure to work with professionals like them!
During my DH inspection I realized how different East and West coast are, in so many ways
The same goes for the officials. Obviously, there are always some folks who are stronger than others and are the anchors on whom I can depend no matter what; others need to be guided a little more. But at an event such as Nats we generally see the best people in the business, which makes my job easier. As I always say, being the CR is like being the conductor of an orchestra: Every single musician knows how to play his or her instrument, but the fella with the baton brings out the best in them. I like being the one with the baton.
People here are taller and imports (even from Brevard) are really tiny—hot seat for the DH
So, for three days we ran the races and awarded Stars and Stripes jerseys, and there were lots of young people who were truly appreciative of our efforts. Dealing with the coaches was a positive experience too, even when there were a few unpopular decisions I had to make. The mutual respect is astonishing, and the professionalism of the teams shows how serious they all take this event. Honestly, I really love working Collegiate Nats.
So pretty ... so unlike where I live
On the way back to the airport in Charleston we got to see the Blue Ridge Mountains in daylight, with leaves turning and long vistas that seemed to stretch on forever. This region is quite desolate and empty, and it really resembles a frontier of sorts, even though this area was settled (but probably not really tamed) two centuries ago. And lest you wonder: We didn't take any chances and didn't stop anywhere, especially after Emily saw in her rear view mirror that decrepit pick-up truck with the two giant confederate flags mounted in the bed. We decided to meet Uncle Cletus next time around.
College crowd at the DH—surprisingly little alcohol was evident
One more race to go for 2015, but I can't tell you where. Stay tuned.


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