Saturday, January 30, 2010

Racing Day 1

Tabor Day 3

Race Day 1

TABOR, Czech Republic (Jan. 30,2010) - To date my experience in the Czech Republic had been beneath slate gray skies, witnessing a population that had surrendered to their surroundings. For days they had chipped and brushed and shoveled at the snow with about as much resolve as one could muster for factory work.
For Saturday's racing, however, blue skies blessed this stark place. The race venue, seemingly touched by overnight elves, has become a tiny Mardi Gras amid this Soviet Bloc Lego-esque architecture. Inflatable arches, banners, and most imporantly fantastic people dressed far more wildly than any NFL fans I had seen to date.
The tramped into the venue in pods of four to 20 members, all dressed in costume with bells, flags, horns, and face paint.
The Belgians opened the beer tent at 8 a.m.
I had some work left to do, so I cracked into the tasque. Final research and study on the riders. The juniors are always the hardest because every year we get a new crate of puppies with very little history. These guys do not have websites or fan clubs or Wikipedia entries yet. The pre race favorite was the World cup winner David Van Der Poel, son of Adri the Great. The orange crush, the Dutch had a powerful squad with three riders on the front row.
With the start at 11, we started to announce at 10. Jindrich just wound up like Czech Diesel and started talking. He's quite fabulous. I had no idea just what he was saying, but he would go on for three minutes and then throw it to me. Once I just said "Yeah, what he said." And shut off the microphone and winked at him. The Americans in the stands laughed.
I liked seeing David Miller and Andy Taos in the stands having so much fun.
I had worked really hard on the music and had it going. Frank had a tough job. Before Jindrich would talk he would turn to Frank and say (and this my guess) "OK I'm about to talk, turn the music off."
These guys have no music going when they announce.

So I had to really push to keep it on.
But when it came time for call-up, the deal was that I would be the only voice. So I prepared Frank well. There would be the trademark hard call to staging and then boom. Loud music. I walked down the finish stretch the start stage. And despite all the horns and costumes and the bells, this crowd proved to be really tame compared to the "Chips and Dips" of New Jersey or the Hot Tubbers of Portland. I actually had to demonstrate how to bang on the fence panels.
The call-up is super technical with every rider having his bike checked, tires measured, and number (buried beneath a coat) verified. I could not go slow enough. I suppose it did not help that only one of the five officials had a start list.

In this time I hope have the music just pounding but Frank, like a nervous teen-ager with his dad's Corvette, simply would not step on it.
The race finally got off (on time for the television guys, mind you) and then I just parked in the booth and worked with Jindrich. He's quite good. We sat in a small, metal hut at the finish line and just watched television. I suppose it's OK. But if I get the nod to do it in Louisville (I'll write on that later), I'll be watching live and leaving another fellow in the TV booth.
The juniors race proved fantastic with Tomas Paprstka (try saying that three-times fast) pounding away from the Dutchies and Belgians. Only Julian Alaphilippe of France - in his rookie season of racing 'cross - could claw his way to the leader on the final lap. Just about everybody had hit the deck on the ice and the snow. The crashes were either ridiculous Chevy Chase scenes or fantastically fast wipe outs. In a sprint finish, the Czech kid took it by a wheel and the place exploded.
After the first race and ceremony the entire crowd just pounded down to the beer tents where they had this fantastic Beatles tribute band. Just solid good fun with all the Czech's dancing and celebrating.
I returned up top, fixed an electrical problem, prepared for the Under 23 event. For these boys, the sun had shone for a few hours and the course transformed from snow and ice into slush and mud, like fudgecicles on a sunny day.
The undeniable favorite would be Thomas Meeusen of Belgium, winner of the World Cup series and two of those races in the series. He had chosen to compete in the elite division for the Belgian title instead of his own category and scored a stunning third place. Alas, the Belgians are not machines.
A different Belgian, Gianni Vermeersch, opened with a huge blast. But Pawel Sczepaniak (say that one, over and over) charged away with Marek Konwa, both of Poland, surged ahead. Then from the third row came the other Sczepaniak brother, Kacper. It became Polska, Polska and Polska in 1-2-3. Meeusen, who had been billed as the most acrobatic of all the racers we would see that weekend, flopped about a like a trout on the dock. He had a few shining laps but each effort would fade. With four to go I saw his chin on his chest and realized he would not be world champion. Konwa faded, the Sczepaniaks surged to finish 1-2, the first time in 'cross worlds history that brothers finished together. An amazing effort by French rider Arnaud Jouffroy, who pounded from sixth to third in the final two laps, rounded out the podium. Of note, no Belgians had touched the podium after two races. And the Americans had dissolved entirely, not getting even close to the top 10 in either race.
Afterwards I milled about, watcing the Poles dancing and drinking. I had a beer with the Keoughs, truly one of the nicest people in all of 'cross, and then returned to the office. Dinner again with Simon and Dan at the same restaurant. And then bed. Dullsville, eh?
But I did make plans for Prague the following night.

Tomorrow the elite and Prague.

Of note is how excited people are to learn that Worlds will be in Kentucky in 2013. I have enormous respect and affection for Bruce Fina and Joan Hanscom and will do all I can for them. I will blog on that in the coming days.

Thanks for reading.

Places, Everybody

Places, Everybody

TABOR, Czech Republic (Jan. 29, 2010) - So in the interest of the readers I'm going to keep this dispatch short. Frankly I'm embarrassed with the length of my blogs as of late. Rather dreary travel logs will lose you by the time we hit race days.
Friday would be a fascinating day for me but not much to read about. I awoke early, enjoyed the breakfast, and then hitched a ride to the venue to arrive at 8 a.m.
Once there I found a course buried in snow. While I never saw an effort to match the construction of the Great Pyramids, I never failed to see a local with a shovel moving snow.
Arriving for a 9 a.m. meeting, I tramped around on what I deemed a completely unrideable course. The whole place had been covered with 6 inches of snow. Turns had been pressed into blocks of ice. But everywhere the locals were shoveling, brushing, scraping, chipping, and working on the venue. This meant for both spectators and riders.
And touring the beer tents and VIP tents, I felt the approach of an army.
At 9 a.m. I headed into the meeting and came face to face with my announcing colleague, Jindrich Pulman. He spoke not a word of English. But he had been announcing 'cross races in Czech since 1972. Friendly, with a powerful voice, Jindrich would counter my English with his Czech.
We both would rely on a woman named Susanna, who spoke German (?), as our production assistant. Our sound guy was Frank, a pony-tailed fellow drawn straight from a Simpson's episode. Frank spoke a bit of English and I could feel his urge to just play Guns and Roses real loud.
We held a formal rehearsal, complete with podium girls and music and sound, to review the awards ceremony precisely as scripted by the UCI. This suddenly revealed to me just how far over my head I had wandered. We would bounce from Czech to English back and forth with presenters and flowers and anthems and dignitaries.
But after four runs, we had it nailed.
From there I had some time to burn music for Frank before I had a starting meeting with the chief commissaire, Martin Swinkjels of the Netherlands. This guy had found the perfect balance between being placid and authoritative. one simply did not question anything he ordered. We reviewed the starting call-up protocol. This really frightened me as I would do the entire call up solo in English. That means I alone would butcher names in Flemish, Spanish, Italian, Mongolian (no shit), Japanes and assorted Slavic dialects.
Afterwards I burned music, chatted with riders, and did research, research and research on riders I did not know.
At nightfall, I returned to the hotel with the officials and then joined Simon Burney and Dan Ellmore. I had gained a friendship with these guys during the U.S.G.P. These Brits have become two of the biggest advocates of US 'cross.Their Schlamm clothing line has been a hit with our crew and I can personally thank Simon for this gig. Hence we dined in Tabor Center, the three of us whacking our melons on the low arches in the old place. And owing so much to Simon, I picked up the tab. Now that is newsworthy.
Not much of a day. But I braced myself for the racing to come.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Meating New Friends; Adapters, Beer and More Stinky Cheese


Meating Some New Friends

TABOR, Czech Republic (Jan. 28, 2010) - Touchdown at Prague to find nobody there to even give a shit about stamping my passport. One just walks into this country!

The doors parted to reveal that reception line of drivers all holding name cards. I must confess to secretly hoping I would finally have a person there with my name on the card. It's kinda like being chosen on Let's Make a Deal."
Instead I found a delightful young czech lady, Teresa, holding a CX World's poster. I was one of several being chosen on that day.

She was pleasant enough but we had to wait 30 minutes for the car due to some snow. I marched around in search of the elusive adapter to no avail. Instead I hit a bank machine and pulled out 500 Czech Krona. Beats the shit out of me how much money I had in my hands. So I made it over to the Starbucks, where everybody seemed delighted to speak English and got a tall coffee for just under 100 CK. Hence I realized that I had pulled out about $10.

I returned to the rendezvous where we met up the UCI Press Officer, a Swiss gentleman named Ricco. We were escorted to a bright yellow Hyundai van where we were introduced to a gentleman whose name spilled out of his mouth like a pile of so much loose change, just consonants everywhere.

I hopped into the back with Ricco only to have Teresa shut the door and return to the airport. This left me and Ricco awkwardly in the back. And we were off for a drive through the snowy grit on the outskirts of Prague without ever seeing a single spire of the great Prague architecture. Within 10 minutes we found ourselves on white rolling plains that might as well have been Pennsylvania. Actually the similarities between the Czech Republic and Pa are noteworthy.

Always looking to make conversation, I asked our driver, a weathered man appearing to be in his late 50s, just what had changed since the fall of Communism more than 20 years earlier....He tilted his head and raised a nostril and held up the palm of his right hand......

In this vaccuum of time I studied all the billboards for car ads, storefronts, and a new glass buildings with Accenture's corporate logo in lights.
"No-thing really," he said.

And returned to driving.
About 30 minutes passed with some chatter between Ricco and I before I asked our driver for which food is the Czech Republic known. Although he had a good command of English the question confused him.
Ricco, who could speak about four languages well, helped me out by asking "Specialty....Food...Czech Republica."

You see, crossing into different languages can some times be like using Google. You just plug different words into the search engine without a whole lot of concern for prepositions, tense, form, etc. And then you see what you get.

"Ahhhh..." the driver said, again the nostril and the chin and the palm came up.

In that vaccuum I saw assorted pizza delivery trucks roll by and some KFC billboards.


Half expecting something such as Paella, I returned to the window. Nearly two hours after leaving Prague we rumbled off the Autopista and within a few turns were in Tabor. Having been told of this town's stark existence, I found the Hotel Dvorak to be a stunning venue. I would stay in a building that once housed a brewery, anchored by a tower that has to be at least 500 years old.
I dumped my bags into Room 103, spending a few minutes to familiarize myself with the light buttons and plumbing fixtures and closets. Foreign travel is great for just shaking up your senses.
Then I hit out on to the streets, hoping to find an adapter for my plugs.
"Everybody speaks English," I had been told. To that point, Teresa, the Starbucks crew, and the driver were practically fluent in English. With that confidence I stomped up the narrow cobbled streets, bathed in the fantastic, compact architecture of this town that once sparked the Hussite Revolution. The buildings, dating back to the 1200s were simply too fantastic to describe. I shall need to post photos.
I found my way to a "Billa" supermarket. After trying to find an adapter, I found a staffer...No English. The next one; no English.
Nobody spoke English....Not a bit.
I found a young lady who said, frightened, "a leetle bit." So I wound up the search engine.
"Ah....there left 200 meters"
I made it to the smallstore and went through the same pantomine with a clerk. "Ahhh!" She climbed a ladder and found one. The cost? About $6.
With that I sucked in the town, stopping at some store fronts, one of which was a tribute to Milos Fisera, a Tabor rider who won the worlds in 1982.
I returned to the Billa and grabbed four different varieties of beer and some fantastic smelly cheese, crackers and water. Total? About $8.
At this point the text went off. Melanie Leveau, my liaison, invited me to the World Cup award ceremony. She told me to be in the lobby at 7.
I returned, drained a Pilsner Urquell, used my Starbucks card as a knife on cheese, and then made the lobby. There I found a handful of people waiting for rides. I can pick out UCI people a mile away. But through the din of Czech, Flemish, Dutch, French and German, I heard an American voice. I chirped my way into a mini-van with about eight others and found myself next to the American. He was Mike Plante, the man who promoted the Tour DuPont and has guided much of the development of American professional cycling. This would be the first of many great contacts made.
We arrived to the race venue. True to reports, this venue is situated amidst stark Soviet Bloc apartments. In Arctic conditions, we crunched across the snow and down a metal staircase to a massive VIP tent. Finding this was like reaching a Mandan village along the Missouri in January, 1802. We entered the blank white tent to a blast of warmth and glowing light. The 10,000 square foot tent had hard wood floors, plants, linens, tables, a massive buffet a man greeting us with champagne in flutes. Fantastic.
As I processed through I found Simon Burney, the tall, smiling Brit who wrote the book that guided much of the development of cyclo-cross in English speaking nations.
"Let's get you a seat up front," he said.
I met Melanie finally and Peter van den Abeele, who hired me for this gig. "Are you ready to be the presenter tonight?" said Peter.
"Uhhh......What?" I replied.
Melanie nodded along with the joke.
Finally I drained my champagne and said, "Four more of these and I will be ready."
I sat in the second row, behind the riders who would be honored.
The curious thing about great cyclists is that unlike American pro athletes are typically massive specimens, cyclists in street clothes make a modest impression. Then the who's who started with Simon quizzing me. Adri Van Der Poele, Beat Wabel, Danny De Bie...all legends...milled about. Then the ceremony started. The junior world cup podium was great as it featured the winner, David Van Der Poel, who is the son of Adri. What shocked me was to learn he was the grandson of Raymond Poulidor!
with each podium I got to learn about the riders and study their mannerisms. One can see why Niels Albert can be seen as arrogant. And how Sven Nys is such a popular man. The three "Dutchie" women, Van Paasen, Vos and Van Den Brand were splendidly understated. But the electricity of the night and of that room crackled around one man, Zdenek Stybar, who won the World Cup. This young Czech star has to be one of the most handsome men I've ever seen.
After the presentation, I ate some rabbit, some ham, some thing else, and something else!

All wonderful. And finally, I got to bed and slept like the dead.

Thanks for reading. Later I hope to post the story from the first day at the venue.

Trains, Planes and Automobiles: DC-Boston-Zurich-Prague

Trains, buses, planes, trains, buses, car and beyond…

WASHINGTON, DC (Jan. 27, 2010; 4:57 a.m.) - I have had this date circled for a long time. Tonight I’ll be off to Prague. I’m sitting in the Liaison Hotel lobby waiting for the Metro to get running and the Starbucks to open for business. Then it’s off to BWI and then home and then back to Logan for tonight’s flight.

Since yesterday’s blog posting I’ve received some really nice comments. Thanks for all the support. Just so folks know, I’ve scraped together enough pocket dough to survive until payday. My lone piece of advice from years of doing this is to travel with a water bottle at all times.

Seriously, people have been wonderfully kind and supportive of me. Too often, folks find funny ways to be mean or mean ways to be funny whenever folks have great opportunities. Typically those folks are hurting inside. I’ve not heard any of that.

We had an amazing event last night at Gallaudet University. Today Best Buddies and Special Olympics delegates will surge on to Capitol Hill to urge Congress to support the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act. Last night served as a pep rally of sorts.

But I awoke at 4 a.m. and started the transition to my passion for cyclo-cross and cycling. But I also have this enormous passion for travel. At its basic form, cycling is transit. Any person who has endured a trip alongside of me knows how attentive I am to transportation infrastructure and culture.

Americans are infatuated with the “middle” transit: primarily the airplane or the automobile. But the first and last few miles are what truly intrigue me. I have used mass transit all over the place, including once figuring out the bus system of Managua, Nicaragua. In 2004 when I went to Europe five times for OLN, I managed to turn in a $42 expense report which covered transit from Geneva to Sion to cover the Tour of Romandy. They were confused by the report because most of their on-air talent routinely turned in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in cost to renting cars, fueling cars, parking cars, insuring cars, using taxis, etc. I just walked off a train and found the hotel.

Although a strong advocate for bicycles – especially in cities – I feel that bikes work best when augmented with great mass transit. I get somewhat frustrated when cycling mags heap a ton of praise on communities that are isolated as being so bike friendly. To truly be bike friendly communities need to have a lot of intermodal options that enable people to actually get where they “need” to go, not just “want” to go. Of note is that even though Boston is routinely shat upon as not being that bike friendly, it has a higher cycling usage rate than a lot of so-called bike friendly communities. Why? For starters it is the world’s largest college town. Boston also has a compact design that pre-dates automobiles. But a major reason is that Boston has some of the best mass transit in America.

So here is my trip log for Jan. 27-28, 2010!

So let’s start with Washington DC.

This is one of the greatest transportation cities in America. And they have some amazing bike facilities thanks to the hard work of the group WABA. But during a walk home with my colleague Hilary, she described witnessing a car smack a cyclist the day before. And two years prior she saw a cyclist killed when struck by a car.

DC has great bike lanes, rail trails, tow paths and bike specific paths. Although I personally love to ride in this city, I find it somewhat daunting at night. The roads are super wide. One would think that could make it safer for cycling. But the opposite is true. Wide roads encourage drivers to speed. I thought of this while walking with Hilary. Narrow roads choke the speed down below 30 mph. In DC I saw a lot of cars screaming by at 50-plus mph. And with a ton of out-of-towners driving in the District, there are some truly bone-headed moves being pulled.

But the city is a great walking city. I emerged from the Hotel Liaison at 6 a.m., turned right, turned right again and walked two blocks to Union Station, a magnificent temple to American rail. One can get Amtrak, Maryland Area Rail Commuter lines, or the Metro subway. I took the Metro for about $2.30, changed lines at Fort Totten, and took the green line to Greenbelt. There I waited for the B30 Metrobus to the Baltimore-Washington International. While waiting I discovered a bank of about 14 bike lockers at the bus stations. These are the fully enclosed, weatherproofed bike lockers. They’re all being used. Once on the bus, I had an enjoyable 35-minute bus ride to BWI. My tickets to BWI cost half of the rate charged to Ronald Reagan Airport in the District. But Reagan (aka DCA is the only airport in America to which you can ride your bike entirely.

At BWI I hopped Jet Blue to Boston’s Logan Airport (another airport to which one can ride provided one uses the MBTA Blue Line to get to the airport ring road).

Then I land at Logan. From there, I use the newly developed Silver Line, which connects to the Red Line. I take that to Alewife, where I connect with the 62 bus to Lexington Center. I have ridden my bike to Alewife, where they have pretty good bike lockers for the thousands of commuters who pedal down the Minuteman Rail Trail to Alewife Station, especially in the warmer season.

From home, I swapped bags and got some much needed time with my wife and family before departing again. I arrived home about noon and would have to leave again at 7 p.m.

By nature traveling is an anxious experience. I try extra hard to keep that anxiety at bay. Here I am about to leave for five days and I am short-tempered with Grant, my wonderful 15-year-old son who has just worked so hard to salvage his grades. He's brilliant but fell behind on homework. The make up process required an arduous 3 week effort. I felt bad.

I look forward to more travels with him. He's become a best friend.

Deb drives me to Alewife. It's a painful separation as too much of my marriage to this wonderful woman has been saying good by at this subway station.

Then it's back to red line, silver line and Logan Airport.

I climb on board Swiss Air 73 without much fanfare. I LOVE the European flights. I got good at them in 2004 when I did a lot of work in Europe with OLN. I settle in and we get airborne. Out comes the cart, two mini-bottles of wine, a Benadryl, dinner, and I watch The Matrix from the beginning (which I had never seen). After 20 minutes of that I am out.

I awoke to sunlight in the cabin. I had piled on a solid 5 hours of sleep thanks to an eye mask, neck pillow, and my wife's Christmas present, a pair of Sony Noise Canceling head phones. (By now, you get a clue as to what a jerk I am, eh?)

From there came the Zurich Airport and hunger during the transfer. I searched hopelessly for an American-Czech electrical adapter. I boarded the flight frustrated and afraid that I could not bore people with blogs and insult Eastern Europeans with my music without that adapter.

After a brief flight I touched down in Prague. We'll pick it up there next.

Thanks for reading. Tabor is next.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gorgonzola a Go Go

Gorgonzola a Go-Go: When Cheese Goes Terribly Wrong

WASHINGTON, DC (Jan. 26, 2010 2:59 a.m.) – I awoke about 12 minutes ago in a strange place, staring at a strange clock, and thirsty. I’m rather stressed as of late and waking up in a recently abandoned teen-age girl’s bedroom puts a confusing spin on matters.

So I opted to start writing. I figured Europe is six hours ahead of me so better off winding up the ol’ body clock a few day’s early.

In reflection on my state of affairs, however, today’s lesson has to be the Buddhist mantra of be here now. Americanized, that lesson is pay attention to what the fuck you’re doing.

My day started at my Lexington home before dawn where I logged on to my bank account to discover an unanticipated charge had wiped out our checking account, leaving me with a negative balance on the day I would start a whirlwind week that would bring me to Washington DC and then on to the Czech Republic.

What to do? Start by packing a lunch.

Deb and I knew things were tight. My “North Bend” debacle (see Facebook) had wiped out any hopes of Deb joining me in Europe. But this financial skid has proven tougher than expected. So we shopped for the week’s worth of groceries with precision and I packed food for my trip. My bag would include four apples, one can of mixed nuts (more on Brazil nuts later), two egg salad sandwiches (not advised), two packets of Ramen, and one leftover spinach salad featuring Gorgonzola cheese that I had made Friday morning.

But the banking revelation made things even more frantic. You see, between having a failed business and a horrible Bank of America mortgage (“Don’t worry, you’ll refinance in six months” all my friends in real estate said back in October of 2006, just about the time mortgage brokers were pouring lighter fluid all over their files before fleeing the country) and myriad family medical crises, we’re plain broke.

We’re coming back, steady and strong mind you, but with three voracious children there come these fantastic stressful pinions of poverty. And they are typically timed right when I am about to travel. Results include a freaking stressed out husband and father and a sleepless soon-to-be-left-home-broke wife and mother. We mutter about our bosses under our breath; smolder about our creditors; grumble about taxes; and then yell at our children.

And that’s when we step on dog shit in the front yard.
Fine image of domestic bliss, eh?

So I raided the wallet of my 8-year-old son for five dollars (that does wonders for a person’s self esteem, right there) pillaged the kitchen basket for a few more dollars, and then dumped over the change bottle for some quarters and dimes. I would boldly travel to DC – and perhaps onward to the Czech Republic - with a pile of change totaling $11.70.

My right coat pocket weighed about four pounds.

Transit Gods took pity on me this day. I walked to my bus stop in Lexington Center to find flush-cheeked commuters staring blankly to the North, waiting for the 76 bus. I see these humiliated individuals during my commutes to work. Trust me folks, bicycle commuting only looks hard in January. Waiting for a bus during a New England winter is truly impressive.

For me, however, there would be no wait. The bus arrived just as I stepped up. I hit my flight with no problem. And upon arriving at Baltimore-Washington International (to which flights are one third as expensive as Reagan or Dulles) I found the DC bus stop just as the thing pulled up!

I used some of my dimes here for the $3.10 fare bringing the weight of my right pocket down to a manageable two pounds.

At this point I foraged for food. Traveling with a single back pack had proven a disaster for my lunch. All those apples and egg salad sandwiches and containers and spinach and Gorgonzola had smashed about inside my Ortlieb Waterproof bag. When I unraveled the top of the bag, an odor hit my face like a dye pack hitting a bank robber.

“That has to be the Gorgonzola,” I thought… I quickly tried to roll up the top of the bag to contain the damage.

But this was like Union Carbide in Bhopal. The aroma spread through the bus like that black cloud going through Egypt in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. I half expected every first born on the bus to drop into convulsive fits; the stuff smelled that badly.

More than 20 years had passed since my last bus-cheese incident. In 1985 I crashed at about 50 mph on a descent during a race in Spain. Given some time off to let my mangled elbow heal, I traveled to France and the Netherlands. Returning to Spain by way of Paris, I opted to act in a very Frenchy manner and purchased a baguette and large wheel of Camembert. After about 14 hours of summer train travel, my half-eaten Camembert took on a lot of rustic charm. But anybody who knows me, and appreciates traveling without a lot of money, knows that I refuse to throw away food unless absolutely necessary. So on the final bus journey on the winding roads through the Basque Country, my bag slid loose in the overhead racks sending my warm Camembert cheese sailing forward three rows and down onto the freshly coiffed beehive hairdo of a middle-aged woman. Talk about an international incident: a jackass American dumps French Cheese on the head of a Basque woman, and then tries to apologize in bad Spanish. I actually hoped for an ETA bombing to go off on that bus at that moment. It probably would have smelled better.

We got to the fresh air of Greenbelt Station and all nine occupants gasped for the door like occupants of a long submerged bathyscaph. Greenbelt Station is situated curiously amid USDA research fields outside of DC. This reminded me of the book The Hot Zone, which describes a biological outbreak from a government lab located nearby that nearly wiped out civilization. I thought about dropping off my bag for the government agencies to check out.

Instead I entered the station with my bio hazard bag. There I used more of my change for the $2.35 ticket for ride to Farragut West station.

I emerged on the streets of Washington where moist, warm air greeted me. Keeping my bag sealed tight, I walked two blocks, bathed in a vibe of a city that had pulled off winter coats and hats and put out sidewalk tables and chairs for this event. Everybody bloomed like crocus for the day, knowing full well that we’d retract soon enough for the remainder of the winter.

After two blocks I found my way to the Special Olympics office, where on the 12th floor worked my colleague, Hilary Stephens. We pounded out about three hours of crazy work in preparation for the Capitol Hill Day event. I’m here to ensure my client, CSC, gets their money’s worth out of a lobbying effort on behalf of Special Olympics and Best Buddies.

We walked a few blocks in the dusk and then got on the Metro to complete the transfer to Hilary’s home near DuPont Circle. Upon entering the station, I had to ask “How much?” Inside of downtown DC the fares are $1.75 for just about every trip taken.

“Oh, just get like $5 on it; you’ll be using it,” said Hilary.

This is where pride derails everything. I did not have the spine to let Hilary know the $5 bill going into the machine was my last paper money. But I would need that fare to get back to Greenbelt on Wednesday morning. But as of that moment I lacked the $3.10 bus fare to get from Greenbelt to BWI.

We’re going to have to figure something out.

We arrived at Hilary’s home, a fantastic 1920s era house in the Woodley Park neighborhood. The whole place is filled with homes designed by an Armenian architect who survived the horrors of World War I, including service at Gallipoli.

Inside I encountered her husband, Ty, a bottle of Malbec, flank steak, and asparagus. After dinner Hilary took me for a walk in the neighborhood to show me the National Cathedral, a magnificent building that took the entire lives of stonemasons to construct. This is the same Cathedral Dan Brown writes of in The Lost Symbol. I returned at dawn to show you some pictures.

Only when we retired for the evening did I find myself in the room of Ty and Hilary’s recently graduated daughter, Mia. There I finally emptied the Ortlieb on the bed.

There I had recognized not one, but two plastic containers. This rattled my inventory of things.

In my busy ramp up for travel to the Czech Republic, I had studiously packed my big bag for that Grand Depart, but had given little heed to my little back pack being used for the DC prologue. Like an archaeological dump, I had hurriedly dumped computers and underwear and socks and books and this bag of food into the bag without bothering to check its contents.

In short, I had been so consumed with the big trip that I had neglected to pay attention to the little trip right in front of me. For at the bottom of that bag sat a rotting empty food container from Friday which had just enough biological matter to fester into an aromatic IED that had gone off in the bus.

Ahem….Be here now.

Thanks for reading. I’ll figure out the return trip and ensuing travels and report back.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Czech My Bags

I'm getting organized for my trip to the Czech Republic, where I'll announce the World Cyclo-cross Championships. I must say I love the dichotomy of my life. Ya see, I have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kinda thing going on....

I work for Anthony Kennedy Shriver - as in JFK's nephew - to market his charity bike rides the Audi Best Buddies Challenges.

I find myself in a suit and tie a lot, mingling with corporate leaders, bankers, politicians, celebrities, etc. And I like it. A lot of men will publicly decry such situations, claiming they cannot wait to take off the tie.

I like wearing suits. I like being in those rooms. Those people are at that level of wealth and notoriety because they're smart and intense and dynamic.

But I also find myself like some character in a Thomas Pynchon novel, racing out of those parties and right into a car with bikes, wheels, and wool-clad people eating bland food out of plastic containers.

I once went from a 12-hour span from being at a black tie function with champagne to standing waste-deep in a wood-fired hot tub in Portland with a beer. Wonderful on both ends of the spectrum.

We have an office in a downtown Boston law firm, Seyfarth Shaw. They are fantastic people living fine lives. But they must think I'm from Neptune. I'm a year round commuter; that's the first thing hard to accept. But they've come to like me.....Sort of like some elf they keep around. So I wear the nice clothes and see them in the lunch room, where it came up that one staffer would be traveling this week....

"Oh, how nice. Where?"

"A cruise... in the Caribbean."

"Oh, how nice."

"I'm going away next week, too"

"Oh, some place warm I hope..."

"No, the Czech Republic....I think it was 4 below zero yesterday"

.....It took a second to register....It's just a whole lot to swallow for some folks.....Language, culture, travel, and trying to recall just where the fuck is Czechoslovakia?

"Why are you going there?"

Then you talk about the 'cross worlds.

I love the confusion between fear and envy.

Right in this dichotomy is where I find myself most alive. And increasingly I find more and more successful executives feeling that sense. You see, so many people aspire to be on that cruise ship. You get endless buffet, open bar, classic rock, and comfortable deck chairs.

Increasingly I find those interesting folks who have elbowed, punched, kicked and eye-gouged their way up the ladder are simply bored at the Country Club. Hence they sign up for charity bike rides....Because administrative assistants cannot ride the bike for them. What's most fun is when I see some of those top executives taking it even farther....Some even line up for 'cross races! I know several.

So I'll first travel to Washington DC on Monday, where I'll help coordinate the Capitol Hill Day event, a coordinated effort between Special Olympics and Best Buddies to secure passage of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act. That's Dr. Jekyll.

Then I'll come home Wednesday morning, take off the suit and tie, and grab my bag for the Czech Republic. That's Mr. Hyde.

Thanks for reading. More to come.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

behold, the blog

So to stave off all the voices in my head, I've opted to start a blog.

What spurred this is my approaching trip to the Czech Republic, where I will be the announcer at the UCI World Cyclo-cross Championships. I figured a blog would be a good way for me to communicate the experience.

That said, I've meant to start a blog for some time, with particular encouragement from my lovely wife, Deb. So on this January day from a modest table in a modest home in a modest town in a modest New England community, I've launched my blog.

As I travel - both outwardly and inwardly - I hope to present my observations and a few scraps of evidence on a number of subjects. Much of what I write will be from the vantage point of cycling. You see, I try to live a lot by bicycle. Few individuals can do this without gaining a unique perspective on matters.

I have come to genuinely appreciate the ability to write a concise and piquant "status" update. With that in mind, this blog may prove a modest elaboration on that you find on my Facebook and Twitter pages.

In short, I'll try to keep it short.

Stay tuned, a trip to Prague and Tabor is coming up.