On Tuesday I put Durango behind me. I am so appreciative of all that Mike, Nancy, Tad and Evan did for me this spring. They welcomed me into their home, treated me like family, and gave me an unprecedented opportunity to focus and reflect on this whole bike racing thing and my future. Regardless, upon leaving on Tuesday, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I pointed the Subaru which has become my permanent address, west toward the ocean again.
That day I drove through what I thought must be the most forgotten place in the country. Last Tuesday, I couldn’t imagine anything more desolate and lost than the Navajo reservation…no trees or greenery for as far as I could see, broken bottles, barbwire and singlewide trailer parks in dirt lots. Every 40 miles a grade school modeled after the Walla Walla Federal Penitentiary would rise on the horizon. Today that the gross expanse of the 89 highway through Northeastern Arizona, with it’s mini-vans and trash removal services, seems like a land of opulence. I figure most people have at least heard of what I thought was the most “Forgotten Reservation”.
But 3 days of looking out the hotel window at flea bitten dogs, tin shacks, trash fires and skinny begging children can changes one’s perspective. But, there sure were a lot more smiles on the shores of that neon green lake than in any airport McDonalds I have ever been to.
Which makes me ask what my desperately poor Guatemalan acquaintances have that all the anti-depressant junkies back home don’t have. It’s not the ‘perspective’ I traditionally account for, because I get the feeling that the most luxury (by our standards) many of those smiling Guatemalans have ever seen is the back of a rundown Toyota pickup to sleep in and two solid meals a day. I saw one school during my trip, on our way to the airport this morning, and appeared far too expensive for any of the children working over the hot, smoky skillets of fried fish I saw while walking through the street market yesterday after our races. I don’t know what I can do for those people right now in my life… maybe just smile back, and exploit all these opportunities that keep coming my way… it would be a disservice to all those who will never have the inconceivable fortune I have been granted.
For all they may lack down there, the bike racing sure proved to be spectacular! Albeit the racing was held on the outskirts of a huge city… the only place I have seen such a huge positive spectator presence is in Europe. People, dirt poor and obscenely rich, came out and cheered for their Guatemalan compatriots, but cheered almost as hard for all of us gringos.
Thumbs were up and horns were honking while I warmed up on the local roads, and even the security guards found time to shoulder their shotguns long enough to clap as we raced past. The course was fast... way fast, and dry too. Turns out even the Jungle dries out during a 4 month drought. It was completely non-technical… and after a pseudo-false start, things just turned into a drag race. I grabbed the hole-hot (which never happens), and then tried to control the lead group. Turns out South-Americans are scrappy and just attack on lap 1. So that’s how things played out. We all just rode on the rivet and held on as long as we could. It’s a tough way to race… just out in no-mans land red-lining it for 1:40, but alright. I ended up crossing the line in 7th… a couple spots off Rob Squire who ended up 3rd, and Russel Finsterwald was behind me in 9th. So all the American U23’s came in the top 10, which made Gulli (Marc Gullickson) pretty happy. Todd Wells won the Elite Men’s race, and Willow, Mary and Heather swept the Elite Women’s Podium. Team USA did work.
After the racing action we turned into celebrities for a few hours… everyone and their brother wanted to get photos with one or all of us, and people were asking to swap jerseys and sign autographs. I can’t wait to see how many facebook friend requests I have… It was so cool to be part of such a close group, and be part of something that was so positive for cycling down in Guatemala and central/south America at large. We all come from different teams and routines back home and in Europe, but this group really came together as a team for the weekend and I was honored to be part of it.
So now its back to the real world (or my semblance of it) arrive in Santa Barbara around midnight… hang out, ride, hang out some more J I’ll pick my dad up tomorrow and head up to Sea Otter… then home for a week, and Europe for a month. Perfect.
I wonder if I have Mafia clothing I can rock this weekend in the Sea Otter? Hope so, and thanks for all the support from our sponsors (Felt, GU, PBR, Shimano…) and friends and family. Couldn’t do this without you all.