Monday, January 31, 2011

The Burgermeister and My Dinner with Hanka

Sankt Wendel Day Two

The Burger Meister and My Dinner With Hanka

SANKT WENDEL, Germany (Jan. 30, 2011) –Alone again after an amazing race, I tramped through the team area, past all the Fidea trucks and the French federation trucks, and up a hill to a school-like building where a small banner fluttered with the words “VIP.”

My announcing colleagues had told me to meet there.

Zdynek Stybar and Marianne Vos had just posted repeat victories. The Belgian fans were bouncing in their massive beer tents, content that Sven Nys and Kevin Pauwels had restored the axis of the earth with the silver and bronze medals. The sun had dropped beneath the hills towards France, but the blue sky offered another hour of winter light.

I entered the building to find two ladies staffing a table who spoke neither English nor French nor Spanish but only German.

Allow me to digress on language and culture. A few weeks back I encountered a troubling thread ignited innocently enough by an old friend from my hometown neighborhood. She expressed in her status some understandable frustration with being asked to press one for English on a phone line. I understand that English is our language in America.

But what really discouraged me were the responses she got from people that were so flame-throwing hostile that I had to respond. Things such as “THAT IS TOTAL BULLSHIT!!!!!," and "THIS IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, LEARN ENGLISH!!!," were in this thread.

Typically such people are so frightened to leave their own country not for fear of running into other cultures; what they fear is running into their own types.

We’ve all heard it. I happen to believe myself to be the greatest of Patriots. I have walked nearly every Civil War battlefield. I weep at monuments. I live right next to the Battle Green in Lexington. I travel to Congress every year to lobby for my cause. I also believe rock ‘n’ roll to be the finest of exports we’ve ever had.

Whether we like it or not, the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, and Victoria Falls happen to be in other countries. And if folks in other countries are going to drink Coca-Cola and log on to Google and wear Levis jeans, some of us actually need to leave our country to go there. And some of the braver ones actually like to travel. And I might even choose to work in another country.

I also realize a lot of folks for a lot of reasons want to live and work in America. Clearly there is a strong demand for labor here, too. Heaven forbid a white kid should ever mow a lawn, eh?

And if we’re going to fill Holiday Inns and sell Big Macs next to our national parks, they are going to come here, too.

Some folks watch protests or some speeches and assume that the world hates Americans. They kind of overreact to that emotion.

Here is the news flash for those folks who only view the world through the pinhole of Headline News: People typically ADORE Americans.

So armed with nothing more than a smile and no language, I stared down this 60-something women who looked balefully over the top of her reading glasses to deny me entrance.

I said the only word that I could muster: “Burgermeister.”

And she arose and started to escort me upstairs.

Enter Klaus Bouillion, burgermeister, or mayor of Sankt Wendel.

I have met countless mayors and senators and congressional folks. I even met a president once and attended a White House function. But Klaus put them all to shame.

I first spied him with a radio headset, snowpants, and an unzipped winter jacket, driving a quad about the venue. He never came off like a mayor. Before I knew who he was, I actually questioned why he was hanging around the stage. Later I saw him driving stakes into the ground and supervising some earth moving equipment. In the middle of my announcing, he pulled me aside and stammered at me in German for two minutes, patting me on the back the whole time. Beats me what he said, but I liked him!

For those unacquainted with what I do, I announce bicycle races. And I had been brought to Germany to announce the 2011 World Cyclo-cross Championships. Look, friends, I love the NFL. But for a live sporting event, American football does not come close to big time cyclo-cross. When you’ve tried it, come and tell me otherwise.

And this day would be one of the biggest of the big time 'cross races one could see.

So for day two I awoke to find Will Matthews, a photographer friend, at breakfast. To my surprise he was with the soft spoken Phillip, a video shooter I had met in 2004 working in Europe for OLN (Now “Versus”). Afterwards, I tramped over in the same chill, through the same gingerbread neighborhood, and arrived at the venue.

After the customary coffee and cake, we hit it for the women’s race. This proved a fantastic race with the local heroine Hanka Kupfernagel, several times world champion pounding away at the front. Then the American Katie Compton took over and dispensed with all but Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and Katerina Nash of the Czech Republic. Compton dropped Kupfernagel, but not the others. With just over one lap to go, Vos attacked, went clear and stayed away to repeat as world champion, her fourth 'cross worlds title. Compton finished second, Nash third, and Kupfernagel, for just the second time in the history of the event, finished outside of the medals in fourth.

Then came the intermission. I did some soup in the press room, had a fun interview with Dave Towle for Velo-News television and another for Chandler Delinks' video project "Cyclo-What?", and then augered into thejam-backed beer tent. There I found the Portland Cross Crusade guys on the main stage, having just completed the wedding of Doug Moak, a great stake-pounder and all-around good guy, to his new bride who was just loving enough to allow Rick Potestio to serve as the JP for a wedding in a Belgian beer tent. Hopefully Rick won’t do the divorce if that should become necessary.

Then came the big one; the elite men’s race. The sheer power of this field assembling is daunting. But the passion of the fans eclipses the caliber of these racers. There were easily 3,000 people packed into the stadium before the race started with tens of thousands more on the course, having staked out positions throughout the venue. My colleagues and I spent 30 minutes warming up the finish line crowd by effectively making fun of them.

And there stood the smiling Burgermeister, laughing at my joke that I had enjoyed my stay in their local jail. (Germans are funny; they thought I really HAD been arrested for peeing in a fountain!)

Czechs, Germans, French, Spaniards, Americans, Swiss and other fans poured in but the Belgians were out in force divided into factions. This group for Nys; that group for Pauwels; and another for Albert; and they all were jammed on the fence with drums, bells, costumes, flags….

I made it a point to ridicule the Belgians for having yet to score a medal.
I did the call up without incident and the men were off. I pounded them with Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. These fans are not used to having any music play during an event; they went bananas.

The race unfolded fantastically with about a dozen riders in a wedge at the front after one lap. Right in there rode America’s Jonathan Page. His countryman Tim Johnson rode in a second group charging forward. From the leaders broke a group of six: Zdenek Stybar of Czech Republic, Marco Fontana of Italy, Philip Walsleban of Germany, and three Belgians: Sven Nys, Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantournout. Nys and Stybar broke free. Both had won world titles at Sankt Wendel in 2005; Nys as an elite and Stybar as an Under-23. The story lines were fantastic as they rode a minute ahead of the others. Farther back, Page had flatted but Johnson charged forward and seemed poised for a top 10 result.

Two riders rode with such grit to warrant mention. Jose Antonio Hermida of Spain, the world mountain bike champ, lined up dead last but pounded through the traffic and up to this group in about five laps. And Francis Mourey of France spoiled his first-row start with a high-speed crash starting the third lap. He would leap up with mud and blood, and charged back to contention.

For the Americans disaster struck. Page flatted and went out of the lead group. And just as Johnson’s group whirred down the track, a rider smashed in on his left side and put a pedal into his front wheel.

Johnson went down like a stack of cans. He lay crumpled in pain on the gritty running track; I directed traffic around him but did not interrupt the medical staff. Earlier the chief official had concerns with my being on the track. But right then it came in handy. As I directed traffic around Johnson, the fans became focused with concern, pointing on to the track.

I looked over to Johnson’s bike. The front fork had a hub, but the rim had been entirely chopped off. The front wheel had collapsed beneath him.

On the track were the cut spokes as if a box of spaghetti had been broken in the supermarket. That this audience recognized the potential for a puncture impressed me.

My presence really helped when the medic jumped up to pick up the spoke, nearly darting into the path of three riders. I pulled him back by the shoulders of his coat and re-directed him to the medical task at hand. I took over the collection of the spoke when safe, handed the spoke to a spectator…..Then they all yelled for another. With each spoke I handed off – and there were nearly a dozen - the applause grew. THESE FOLKS WERE NOT CONCERNED ABOUT THE PUNCTURES!!! They wanted Tim Johnson’s spokes as souvenirs!

Stybar pulled away from Nys. With one lap to go, Mourey joined the second group in the race for the bronze medal. But as he arrived, Walsleban attacked to the delight of the Germans. But Vantournout countered and set up Pauwels for a savage follow up attack to finish third. Mourey charged to fourth; Walsleban in fifth.

Awards were held. We were done. As is customary, several fans were kind enough to come up to our fences. I signed one autograph and hugged a half-dozen drunken Belgians. People were really nice to me.

Then one fan waved me over to the fence, pointing down to the ground,and speaking in Flemish....which is kind of Dutch, but with a peanut butter sandwich in your mouth. Seeing no flag, no phone, no wallet, nothing of any value, I wondered what he wanted.

"Sven Nys," he said.

Then I spotted it: he wanted the cork popped from Sven Nys’ champagne bottle. I looked over and saw the other two corks and retrieved both for him, thereby bringing the corks from all three podium finishers. I held out my cupped hands to offer him the corks.

He panicked and in a squint, asked me imperatively “Which one Stybar???”

I looked at his panicked face….And then matter of factly pointed to the one on the right. “Stybar….That one, Stybar.”

I nodded with complete certainty. He left with joy.

And with that, the whole thing ended. A season of racing, several weeks of studying, incredible days of packing and preparation came to a vacuous close. My German co-announcers asked me to attend a VIP reception, of which I had not known. I cruised again through the press tent. Then I made lonely traipse through the raucous Belgian beer tent. Pushing a snowblower would have been easier. I followed my German friends’ instructions, walked through the team areas to discover the VIP reception.

VIP? There was not a single suit and tie in the place.

With my pantomime escort, I entered a school cafeteria where legions of police, marshalls, firefighters, and event volunteers gathered around tables. By most standards, these VIPs were not Very Important People. But more than 500 citizens of Sankt Wendel had volunteered services; by Klaus Bouillon standards these were indeed very important people. Some ambitious people get to the top by walking on the backs of people; Klaus Bouillon has been stacking up friends like cordwood.

Ironically, my German colleagues, with mastery of this native language would not get by the two women; they never arrived.

I was escorted to the guy in charge, who spoke English. He said to standby, not to worry, and we would figure it out.

Had I been frightened of the language barrier, I would have walked back to the safety of the hotel and the people I already knew. But I took a shot.

I wandered about politely, somewhat aimlessly. Then I saw him.

The Burgermeister, after running heavy equipment, recruiting sponsors, driving stakes, cooking sausages, picking up litter, and performing tasks I’ve never seen a mayor perform, appeared to me. He wore a blue apron and carried a rack of dirty dishes, when we spotted one another. His eyes lit up; his smile was like opening drapes on a sunny morning. The dishes were put down, and he waved me forward. I was given great treatment in the food line, enjoyed fantastic potatoes au gratin and schnitzel. As soon as I sat down, a beer was put on the table.

Seeing that I sat alone, the Burgermeister came and leaned on his heavy, strong arm, talking right into my ear and sufficient English.

He had a hand the size of a ham, pumping my hand with a big smile, told me I had to come over later to try the greatest sausages in the world. He then went off to greet others. In walked a small group of people with a minimum of fanfare. A long legged blond with a shiny parka stood nearby, her back to me. I had failed to cut my schnitzel well, leaving me with way too big of a piece in my mouth. As I gnawed on meat the size of a deck of cards, she whirred about , saw me , and politely asked if the seat was taken.

Without hesitation I recognized that Hanka Kupfernagel, perhaps the greatest German cyclist of the last 20 years, sat down next to me. Her boyfriend, Phil Spooner, sat across from me. We exchanged the most pleasant of pleasantries with minimal discussion on her race. Our discussion would be punctuated with the occasional gushing fan that came up for an autograph, photo, or simply to unload incredibly sugar-coated adulations on her.

Her English proved impeccable and her boyfriend, a professional race car driver from the UK, offered up splendid conversation. Hanka had to get up to make an obligatory visit to another table, but scored me a beer before leaving…..Opening the cap herself.

Phil and I continued on for a bit with discussions on driving, music, culture, history and just about anything BUT bike racing.

Then the Burgermeister, still in his blue apron, took the microphone. In my severely limited German I heard him thank all the townspeople group by group. I took out my camera in hopes of capturing an image of him to post later.

As I fuddled with the phone camera, the Burgermeister started another thank you. In the German I heard the words “meister,” “speaker,” and “American” and he suddenly switched to English, paid me the highest compliments as the “world famous speaker from America.”

And the place gave me a tepid, standing ovation.

Such grace given to a man who had crashed their party moved me.

With that we all sat down and I enjoyed a phenomenal hour with Hanka, speaking about her life growing up in East Germany, her boyfriend’s career racing 24-hour events, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, the economics of the EU, and the re-unification of Germany during her lifetime. She would be a fabulous dinner guest with or without her cycling pedigree.

Without a photo or autograph (something I strictly forbid myself from ever doing), I packed up and tramped back through the Gingerbread neighborhood, remarking on its topographic and climatic similarities to my native Western Pennsylvania. A platinum sky escorted me back to the hotel. I caught up on e-mail, joined some Americans in the bar, and then joined the UCI for dinner afterwards. Again the conversation swung from French to English to Dutch. I found I could vaguely follow the French, especially when Enrico Carpani, a charming Swiss press officer for the UCI who is fluent in Swiss, Italian, French, and English, provided his vivid hand gestures.

I have come to realize that languages are much like jigsaw puzzles. What at first is a jumbled mess becomes an elegant pattern that our brains organically start to process. A word, like a puzzle piece, so obscure at first suddenly calls out to your brain …its shape, its color, its pattern, its rhythm, its position – suddenly makes sense.

Having apparently pleased the UCI, we began discussions for next year. “It would be good if you learned some French, eh?,” Melanie Leveau said.

“I’m on it,” I replied.

After a nightcap with photographer Will Matthews, I clocked out to sleep.

I awoke, grabbed breakfast, and caught a ride to Frankfurt. In the front seat rode a member of the UCI management committee en route to Spain. Our driver spoke English. He worked for the Burgermeister.

I pulled out two business cards. On the back of one I wrote a note to the Burgermeister inviting him to the states and pledging to do my best to return the hospitality to him.

All I can hope is that if the Burgermeister does travel to America, he does not reach out an open hand to our citizens, hoping only to discern the difference between a dime and a quarter (neither of which have been stamped with their numerical values) and encounter the mean-spirited individuals I had to deal with on Facebook.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tale of Two Races; Juniors and Under-23

SANKT WENDEL, Germany (January 29, 2011) – I got to announce two amazing races today at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Germany. Although held on the same course on the same day, they unfolded so differently that they may have been held on Mars and Venus.
I won’t bore you with race details as my friends on the news sites can do a better job. But I’ll give you some behind the scenes stuff.
I could not sleep last night; staying awake until 2:30 a.m. When I awoke, still groggy, I stumbled to breakfast with some UCI folks. What is amazing is that the conversation flows from French to Dutch to Flemish to English without much of a hitch.
With that I dressed and made the walk, alone, through the crisp January air through a gingerbread neighborhood. In being here, I have not been in an automobile since being dropped off. This is a walking town, nestled into the hills on the Western edge of the Black Forest.
I arrived to the venue about 9 a.m. under clear blue skies and a frozen course. I made my rounds, gathered some start lists, and chatted with some journalist friends, Charles Pelkey, Rob Powers, and Jan (sorry, Jan forgot your last name!) a great photographer from Canada. We also have Lynn Lamoreaux and Christine Vardaros over here.
From there I met my German counterpart ….counterparts! Turns out we had two guys working with me, Sven Simon and Jens Meiskowicz (sp?). These guys were great, and they were both fluent in English.
Before long, it’s on: junior men. These poor kids warmed up on a corrugated frozen course, making tire selections accordingly. On the first lap, they went over the barriers and this berm, about three meters tall that crossed the course at 45 degree. But in the 30 minutes before the race the sun had softened this stuff into a peanut butter. When the field hit this thing they tumbled like bowling pins. They got up and went back at it, with continued crashing that rattled the young brains of these racers.
Most of the favorites, the Belgians and Dutch in particular, were just unable to recover. Off the front went Clement Venturini of France who danced on the course where others stumbled. Most Americans speak about Belgium, which dominates the elite men and packs the venue with fans. But the French actually have perhaps the best overall national program at the worlds. Venturini got such a large gap that on the final lap he crashed and tangled his bike in the fencing. He had enough time to detangle the machine and ride comfortably to a finish.
What really impressed was that Venturini’s teammates, twin brothers Loic and Fabien Doubey, pounded away to finish the sweep of the podium.
Boom. Done. Awards, and then a 90-minute break during which time people flood into the massive beer tents and start dancing to horrid sing along disco that becomes infectious. It’s great if you’re with a crowd; but being alone I walk through and stay on task.

I walked about, chatted with some friends, and then examined the berm causing all the problems. I could not walk up the thing without hanging on to the fence posts. This greasy mud surely would wreak havoc on the second race…..

Alas when the U23s started, we expected mayhem. Instead the entire field, save for some clumsy Belgians who routinely tried – and failed – to find a line up the right edge – bombed right over the berm. This shocked everybody. They were like a charging infantry going up against an fort deemed impregnable only to clear the wall and discover they had no other orders….This race had surges but the group rode as a massive juggernaut with as many as 40 guys in the front group. The American Danny Summerhill rode brilliantly, with his nose right up in the wedge in a position to win. Only he punctured and came out.
Another great ride came from Valentin Scherz of Switzerland, who led with two laps to go. Americans adore this young man as he spends his first three months choosing to race in the States.
With those two laps to go, there I called out to my German colleagues that the name of the person who would win this race would be a name we had not mentioned. It became a race of patience; a battle of the one who kept his powder dry longest would be able to fire best last.
The mud had grown thick and heavy; the pits were busy every lap.
In the junior event all of the favorites were splattered about the course in confusion; their winner, Venturini, had placed 18th in the French national championships! That’s like Detroit winning the Super Bowl.
Although many of the favorites were gone in the u23 race, the powerful teams flourished. With one to go the Belgian carried their blue flag forward. Wietse Bosmans launched a firm attack. The Dutch went into pursuit, led by Mike Teunnissen. And quietly, a lone Czech rider, Karel Hnik, went along. Suddenly they had a gap. And across came the top-ranked rider, Lars Van Der Har – who won the World Cup without winning a single event – firmly on the pedals.
Van Den Har made contact at the high point of the course and descended like skier to the track hitting the clean surface with 10 bike lengths. Dutch gold, Teunnissen makes it for Dutch silver, and Hnik brings the first medal for the proud Czechs.
Everybody floods into the beer tents for sloppy parties that make New Orleans seem like an Arizona shuffleboard game.
Me? I walk back to the hotel, endure an international promoters meeting,where I got confirmation that my event, the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival - having received the highest marks by the UCI - would be recognized as Category 1 for 2011. And we would be partnered with our friends at Gloucester one week prior, also receiving a long overdue Category 1 status.

I will dearly need support from all my friends as the promoters of the USGP have decided to move off their date to move on to our date for their Fort Collins, Colo.

We have big plans to be revealed in the coming weeks.

I had dinner, went back to the room, and read about Upton's Charge at Spotsylvania....Where amid the gravest of consequences, he had been told by everybody that his strategy for overtaking an entrenched fortress would NEVER work.

Well, go read about Upton.

The Belgians are coming tomorrow. Be very afraid. This place with have five times the crowd……As an announcer, I’ve been very tame so far at every World Championships done to date. That changes Sunday.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sankt Wendel Course Preview

Sankt Wendel Course Preview
SANKT WENDEL, Germany (Jan. 28, 2011) – I just returned from the venue where I had to the awards rehearsal. This is my third world championships as an announcer and I’m getting it down. I have two sound guys, Roland and Jean Rene, who are French. Between my French, Spanish and English, we’re going to get along just fine.
I also walked the entire course. I try to do this before every race I announce.
This course may be perhaps the best “racers” course I’ve ever seen. The holeshot will not be as important as most ‘cross race as there are several places where a strong rider can advance and make up for a mistake or two. There are three power sections, grinding uphill grades on relatively smooth surfaces, where there will be a selection. There are a few technical sections, but given the weather conditions those should have a nominal impact on the race. There are several crowd-pleasing, white knuckle drop-offs all of which dump riders into sweeping turns.
In talking to Meredith Miller, who should excel on this course, the tire pressure will be kept low – we’re talking 23 psi – to keep her gripped to the course on those downhill turns. Also with us was Danny Summerhill, who planned to ride the course with a pair of Typhoons. There is a lot of talk of file treads as the course drained from super sloppy on Thursday to considerably drier and faster today. And forecasts call for sunshine.
Although frightening to watch, these drop-offs should be handled without incident for most of the fields. But the juniors, who go first, will have the course with its frozen ruts causing the most problem. Expect some blood on the first two laps of their race.
This course was designed for a January race and an expectation of racing on snow. But that is not the case, so we’ll get a high-speed, tactical race that could go down to a sprint on the running track.
Katie Compton will be great on this course. She could win with two mechanicals and a crash, given her form. But Hanka Kupfernagel will be on her best form racing in front of her German crowds.
The juniors are a bit of a lottery. But I’ll study results all night to get some handicapping done. Likewise the U23s have some parity, but we could see a great ride by Danny Summerhill on this course.
In the elite men? This course will favor the strongest team and that will be the Belgians. Will they show the respect to Sven Nys and ride in support? Clearly the strongest pair have been Kevin Pauwels and Niels Albert. I like Pauwels on this course. Zdenek Stybar with his injured knee will have to ride smart to win here, but he could do so. Remember he won a U23 title on this course.
The Dutch will not have Lars Boom. The Americans do not have Ryan Trebon on the start list.
Thanks for reading. Gotta fly.

From Plumbing to Presidents; Lexington to St. Wendel

SANKT WENDEL, Germany, Jan. 27, 2011- Greetings from the Autobahn. I’m traveling at 200 kph inside an Alfa Romeo wagon. I’m traveling from Frankfurt to Sankt Wendel.

Although it is 7 a.m. the sun will not appear for another hour. Few realize how for north most of Europe is on the planet. When the melting ice caps push the Gulf Stream to the south, these guys will be hit with some incredible winters.

But for now there is no snow here. And the temperatures are relatively mild, given what I left in Boston 8 hours earlier.

I apologize for not filing a blog for some time. This is for two reasons: absolutely chaotic life; and really not a whole lot to write about….other than chaotic life.
I don’t wish to bore people with irrelevant pontifications on matters. But this weekend will get some readers as I’m traveling to Germany to serve as the UCI’s official announcer for the World Cyclo-cross Championships.

I must tell you of the complexities of actually getting here. Although I had a lot of the juggling act shared by many folks in my current station in life this past month has proven particularly difficult.

I will let you know it ends up with torches at dawn.

I have the overarching stresses of debt, homeownership, and working my own consulting business which I suppose could be called successful as in a time of 10 percent unemployment I’m pinned down with paying work. But there are also the challenges of marriage and parenthood. We have three kids and each presents a wonderful set of hurdles to our lives each day, especially my 14-year-old daughter Emmy as of late. I’ve learned why folks tattoo LOVE on one hand and HATE on the other. I do adore her.

I suppose the hard times started in November when a woman turned left in front of me on my bike, leaving with a destroyed left thumb. Surgeons had to put all the tendons, ligaments and bone back together. This left me in a cast and sling for six weeks. There is considerable pain in the thumb and I’ve had to endure the inability to open jars, button pants, tie shoes, and control exactly which part of my body and clothing is in the path of my urinary stream…..Especially in portable toilets in winter with a lot of clothing.

Add to this that our first floor heat has not worked this winter. With a wood stove, we can survive just fine….we thought. Just after the New Year holiday all shit went down. For starters we love our kids so much we simply blew way too much money on their holiday experience. Then the exhaust fell off the car. This makes us the loudest family in Lexington and shall be so until a few pay checks hit. Two days later my laptop died, along with much of the data stored inside. A week later our dryer crapped out.

Overall of this we have my sister Kim. After displaying fatigue over the holidays, she discovered severe bruising on her body in early January. She is a survivor of breast cancer, lung cancer, and myeloma. So such issues raise big time concerns. So on January 14 she made the sad trek to Dana Farber Cancer Institute for a painful bone marrow biopsy, with my wife, Deb, holding her hand.

She has yet to leave that hospital.

They admitted her with a diagnosis of plasma cell leukemia. And her condition nosedived. After four days at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, with each of us taking turns being by her side, they rushed her into ICU and decided to intubate her. This means unconscious with a breathing tube. This also means one might not come back; something this family has witnessed. Panting and delirious, she waited until as many of her siblings could arrive. She got three of us: Patty, my wife, Debbie, and then after pounding through traffic, myself. Her sister, Beth, became mired in traffic on I-93 and could not get there in time. They bid goodbye on a cell phone, sheets of tears ran down Kim’s face.

And then she went under.

I fully expected her to die. Her condition had become nearly hopeless. And I questioned traveling to Germany. My wonderful family, starting with my wife, insisted that I go, realizing the importance of the trip.

Throughout this we experienced a deepening, darkening winter in New England. We’ve already received double the average snowfall. And as I readied for this trip we experienced cold weather not felt in New England in six years. In dealing with my sister, I neglected to let the faucet drip as the temperatures plummeted to 11 below.

On Monday morning the baseboard water pipe exploded beneath the stool of my son, Madison, interrupting his enjoyment of Lucky Stars. So we shut off the downstairs heat water….OK, we can live with that. Besides the weather promised a thaw.
Indeed. We received an amazing thaw in two ways the next day.

In the late afternoon of Tuesday my phone started to jingle with text messages. My sister seemed to thaw back to life….Every ten minutes I received a text from my sister, Patty, who was at Kim’s bedside.

”….Eyes are open….”.

“….They lowered the sedation….”

“….She’s breathing on her own….”

“….Numbers look good…”

And then the phone started to jingle with texts from my wife.


“….They’re going to extubate her….”


“The tube is out, she’s sitting up.”


“They’re pulling the other tubes out.”


“Kim says ‘HI.’”

The OFF button on the phone seemed a good option.

I hustled home and dug into the amateur plumbing competition. We had three ruptured pipes. In digging out all my supplies, I did an inventory, ran to Lowe’s before they closed at 10 p.m. I got most of the way through, with my wife re-connecting the dishwasher supply (she’s great at these moments, a beautiful woman who can also figure out shit like this.) We did not attempt the baseboard, but chose to attack the closet as shutting that off had cut off the bathroom water supply. After all the wall demolition, cutting, sanding, flux, etc. I discovered my torches simply sucked….(Don’t get a torch with an ignition button on the nozzle). I had a wild yellow flame that nearly ignited the entire house when I tried to work.

So at 7:30 a.m. I appeared at the Ace Hardware like Dustin Hoffman appeared at the church in The Graduate. I got a new torch, raced home with the blaring muffler, and with a sharp, blue tongue of flame, knocked out the repair, installing not one but two sleeves perfectly!

Sadly, I have rarely solid feelings of competence in any thing that I do save for announcing or promoting bike races. But fixing a pipe like that just filled with me manful pride.

Then, having yet to have a shower , I dashed to the bus to travel to the office, put in a full day, with a brief connection with my sister, and then…..

LUFTHANSA Flight 143 to Frankfurt…..

Ok, folks. Some people whine about flying…..After the two months I just survived, with two working thumbs, bags packed, a Civil War book, and a delicate aroma of soldering paste, I got on this plane. Movies, blankets, wine, dinner…..Quit yer complaining folks. I knew my family had indoor plumbing. I could sleep.

I awoke 29 miles outside of Frankfurt. We hit the deck. The airport shops were closed at that hour of 6 a.m. and I still had no adaptor for my electronics. I met Urs, my driver, who spoke no English. We tore off to Sankt Wendel, completing a Sesame Street education on German.

Upon arrival they dumped me into a Gesthaus that did not match up on my itinerary. But I showered, slept a few arrivals, and then tackled the town. Although cold, I managed with a wool trainier, cashmere blazer, hat and no gloves. I walked about 2 km to the accreditation office, met Simon Burney, a friend. I learned I was not in the correct hotel, walked 2 km back to the hotel, packed and transferred to the Angel Hotel, the host HQ for the event. There I got a snappy UCI scarf for the event and checked in to room 007…..Relax, no stunning blondes awaited me in the room.

I got online briefly to send a limited dispatch home. No phone this trip; just Skype. But the batteries were going fast on the laptop. So I went on safari for an adaptor.

The first shop wanted to cut my cord and re-wire the whole thing. He told me the nearest place get an adaptor was in Saarbrucken, which I think is in Austria.

“Nein, bitte.”

The kid at the T-Mobile Store spoke English and directed me to Alpha Tecc, a superstore.

“Yes it is beyond the train station…”

So with my snappy blazer and dress shoes I started walking.The whole place is like a scene from the The Bourne Identity, gray and cool skies with grim characters trudging to and from work. At the train station the first three folks could not, or would not, help the chirpy American who spoke no German. (You get a little sensitive about the whole World War II thing…) Finally a guy kindly directed me towards the store I needed. I started walking.

The town center gave way to housing. The speed of the cars increased along with the distance between intersections. After 10 minutes of walking I found another guy, and put my note in front of him with the Alpha Tecca name. He nodded affirmatively, and directed me to continue …..”swei kilometers.”

I had to digest what he said. Was that seven kilometers?

I froze….No wait, that’s two kilometers. So I started clicking away with the dress shoes. I got to the equivalent of a Best Buy, found what I needed, and started heading back.

When I travel I love walking. But this was pushing it.

After walking more than 10 km that day in my church shoes, I got back to the hotel, encountered Brook and Mia Watts, stuck in the lobby as other Americans filtered in. Bruce Fina, Joan Hanscom, Betsy and Gregg (of Louisville)filtered into the lobby.

All chatted and then the UCI Honchos came in. I found myself having beers with Pat McQuaid, Michael Plant, and Bill Peterson, along with Brook and Mia. We continued to dinner, with McQuaid defecting to another party.

Cyclists love to gripe about everything in cycling politics. Well, there I sat next to the UCI president, a member of the UCI board and the president of the USA Cycling board. We have some solid discussions on all sorts of subjects, including doping. We must develop these relationships should they serve us any purpose.

Schnitzel, beer, and then Skype back home.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.