Friday, May 6, 2016

Of Dinosaurs and Gila Monsters (Or: Why I'm so glad I'm no longer a racer!)

That's what Gila Monsters look like
The past six days have seen me in two completely different locales: verdant Dinosaur Valley State Park close to Glen Rose, TX, and arid Silver City, NM, home of the Tour of the Gila, a 5-day road bike race. I traveled to both places to work at the bike races that were and are still taking place. At Dinosaur, I was the Chief Referee for the finals of our 5th season of the High School Mountain Bike Racing league, and here in Silver City I am a member of the crew for the amateur races of this UCI-ranked event. And both places have a strong connection to weird critters, one extinct and the other mostly invisible.
Not a T. Rex, but still a dinosaur of sorts
But let's not get ahead of ourselves: After my successful trip to Redlands, where I did indeed pass the A-Level road commissaire clinic, I stayed home for a few days and started to get back into a regular cycling routine. I have to tell you: The heart appears to be playing along! Being at home, riding, cooking, doing stuff around the house, and completing all those other domestic chores were quite nice after all the traveling I had been doing. Well, it didn't last long: High school race # 4 had been scheduled for the weekend right after Redlands but was postponed by a week because of insane rainfall in the Texas Hill Country. But postponed is not the same as cancelled, so a week later I was down in Comfort, just a tad north of San Antonio, to revisit a venue that was so dear to Judy and me when we were still working all those TMBRA races.
Tumbling competition at the HS Finals
The weekend was essentially a big homecoming for me: Flat Rock Ranch owners Jimmy and Terri welcomed me with warm and sincere hugs, like the old friends that we have been for so many years. I doubt that certain people in TMBRA who were behind the nasty politics that pushed Judy and me out of the circuit ever have or ever will get a hug like that. I spent a delightful hour with Milby, Jimmy's mother, in the old ranch house where we always stayed when we worked the races. Ah, sweet memories. And that wasn't all: Our old friend Christiane had invited me to stay at her place in Boerne on Saturday night, and she had invited David and Priscilla over, other dear friends with whom we had dinner and libations. I believe we finally went to bed well after 2 a.m. Thank you, my friends!

League director Vance McMurry and his darling daughter, Ella
The weather was perfect for the race, and we all had a good time. A week later, we repeated it all at Dinosaur. This time the "Homecoming" was a bit different in that it consisted of seeing old cycling buddies (Chad and wife Jennifer with their kids) and friends (Micki and Kent) while working the race wih all of our graduating seniors and some staff members who may not return next season. Once again we lucked out and enjoyed beautiful late spring weather in a spectacular setting. What a lucky guy I am to go to all these wonderful venues.
Starting one of the girls fields at Dinosaur
My drive to Dinosaur Valley and back was a bit on the sketchy side, though. I had changed the rear tires on the BMW just a few days earlier, and when I got on the road the car felt, well, just a bit different. It wasn't until more than 150 miles into the trip that I realized that the car simply didn't handle right, and what had seemed to be just "light" steering became outright dangerous once I got away from the arrow-straight four-lane highways into the twisty turns south of Eastland. In one easy turn it was the Beemer's traction control that kept me from going into the ditch, and from then on it was all just white-knuckled driving for the remainder of the weekend. Make a long story short: Once I was back in Lubbock on Monday morning, I went back to Discount Tire to change the front tires as well. (Discount had suggested in the first place to change only the rear tires--bad advice, as it turned out.) The car now feels normal again, and the 500-mile drive to Silver City later on that very same Monday turned out to be relaxed and enjoyable, the way the Dinosaur drive should have been. Thanks to everyone regarding the advice you gave me concerning the possible causes for the car's odd behavior, especially Patrick from San Antonio.
The long road from Carlsbad to El Paso, with El Capitan in the Guadelupe mountains
Here in Silver City most of our crew has been holed up in the illustrious Motel 6, where the most-touted guest amenity is "daily fresh hot coffee in the lobby." Wow, I don't think I've ever had the pleasure to be put up in such a place as a bike official. So, I am glad that I have brought my bike along so that after the day's races are completed I can escape the dungeon and exercise a little bit. I have a roommate, Michael, an official from Colorado, who is super-nice and makes it easier to stay here. The Tour of the Gila, a race in which I participated three times during my days as a racer, is a very tough event that sees lots and lots of climbing and is rightfully on USAC's National Racing Calendar for the amateurs and has been a UCI event for the Professionals for several years. It is exciting to be part of such a high-caliber race. Our chief, Steve, is an old friend and I am learning gobs on a daily basis under his leadership.
Have Beemer and Bike, will travel
So far I haven't seen any Gila Monsters on the side of the road. My driver on the first day, when I was Com 2 for the Men's 1/2 field, told me that this reptilian doesn't even live in this area of the Southwest but that one has to go farther south, close to the border with Mexico, to find them. I've seen them in captivity, and that's about all I have to tell you about these rather ugly-looking critters. My (almost) daily rides are punctuated by some of the country's worst road surfaces and the occasional red-neck in a big dualie diesel truck who enjoys "rolling coal" whilst passing. I suppose, Trump stands a good chance to win quite a few votes here.

New Mexico has some of the finest roads in the Lower 48, for sure--at the start of the TT course
Pre-riding the TT course and getting my bearings
Riding around here, on roads that I used to race on shows me how much has changed over the years. Just like at Dinosaur Valley (think steep hills, sharp rocks, scary downhills) I continually think about how glad I am that I no longer have a racing license. Oh man, even riding "easy" is hard! I have a lot of respect for my former fitness and stamina and wonder how I could have ever reached that level--or, in other words, I am trying to not think about how much I have managed to lose over the years! I will continue to ride, but if I ever had any secret ambitions and aspirations to return to racing, they have been stamped out in these past two weeks. Maybe not a bad thing--it makes it easier to enjoy the other side of life!
The view from my mobile office as Com 2 on Stage 1 to Mogollon
Today was Day 3 of the Tour. We held the Time Trial in at-times hellacious conditions. Maybe I shouldn't complain about the wind in Lubbock, after all. I worked various positions: Holder for the UCI Women's race, as well as starter, whip, and bike check dude for various amateur categories. After the race we all dug dust and gravel out of our eyes and ears. It all just confirmed my sentiment from the past few days: I'm sure as hell glad that I no longer race!
Amateur racers at the conclusion of Stage 1, a Cat. 1 climb to Mogollon
We have two more days in Silver City, the downtown criterium tomorrow and then on Sunday the much-dreaded Gila Monster queen stage that will decide this NRC and UCI event--103 miles with just shy of 10,000 feet of climbing. For my European readers, that's 166 kilometers and 2,853 meters of ascent. Yes, I used to do this, and no, I don't do it any longer, and yes, I'm quite OK with that! Let's see how I will feel about the Ventoux in Provence in two weeks' time. Hasta luego!


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