Friday, January 29, 2010

Lost at sea..

Well, I'm not really lost at sea, but I've been lost to the digital world since I left SEA (SouthEast Asia). I'm back in Minnesota - Minneapolis to be more exact - and its the middle of winter. I haven't been this cold for this long in years! I've gotten a little soft. Not lots of new to report. I'm looking for a jobby job job. Technology Coordinator, Business Analyst, Systems Analyst, Professor... someone even suggested Fireman.
I've decided to plant some roots and dig in here for a while. God has been calling me to get some sound theological training and the church I'm in here is awesome. Started a great class last Saturday called Interpreting the Word I. It's going to be a lot of work, but it's going to be awesome!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tour de Timor 5

We were greeted an ever-changing view over the wall of our encampment. We kept going back for more pictures - they're on my facebook. With such a poor finish the day before I'd dropped out of the top 100. I was number 101 by five minutes. I really wanted to stay top 100 so I knew I'd have to work hard today. It was day five. LOTS of downhill, a good chunk of flat, and pretty good roads. Excellent conditions for me... and for everyone else.

I'd like to thank Grant Knisely for the short prayer he said for me. And as a side note I have to give him, Scott Woodward, and David Flood mad props for all the work they did photoing and filming the Chain Reaction Project girls. They had some long, arduous days stuck on scooters, in the sag wagon, and waiting by the side of the road. Good on you, guys!

There weren't any crashes in the beginning, and we hit downhill right away. I was glad for the tip of shoving a newspaper down my jersey to keep the crisp morning wind out. I discarded it a while later. Riders were taking some risks on the downhills, myself included. One guy ended up with a massive laceration on his elbow and messed up his leg beyond what the hospital in Dili could diagnose.

I was fast and steady all day. I felt really strong on the hills and I just flew down the hills. I caught and passed the Kiwis and they latched on the back. They could barely draft me and I lost them after a while. Fraser and I had stocked up on mentos and I threw some handfulls to the kids as I passed. Fraser threw a huge handful which enticed even the kids from the opposite side of the road to throw all caution to the wind and charge across the road - much to the chagrin of the two riders on Fraser's tail. Everyone was alright, but Fraser was verbally abused later on that day - at least he already knew the guy.

I could almost smell the end and I could even see the Jesus statue off in the distance. I was coming home to Jesus! I tried to catch another group with the help of another rider, but he blew up and I just didn't have it in me to catch them alone. So I dragged him in for about 20km against the strong coastal wind on the condition that he not blow by me at the finish. He did not, but another group did. The finish line was elusive, and I carefully picked my moment to strike back. Only one of them managed to slip by me. I finished 66th. The first of my team and the first "Singaporean".

The riders were led to the Aussie base just behind the Palacio Royal for showers, drinks, and snacks. A hot shower in the men's barracks never felt so good!

The end was a little anticlimactic, but we had a great meal before packing up for our flights home on Saturday. Thus ended my eight days in Timor-Leste. I even came home with an official jersey from one of the Timor-Leste teams.

What a privilege to participate in such an amazing event. I can't wait for next year!

Timor day 4

Waking up to a beautiful beach, it's hard to see anything but the bright side of life. There were, however, three daunting issues I would face on day 4, not the least of which was the 60km long climb with an elevation increase of 2000 meters. That's 37 miles long and 1.25 miles UP for all y'all Mericans out there.

My biggest problem surfaced right after the gear trucks had left. My food mix tasted a little funny again, just like yesterday, so I shook it and popped the top again... it fully exploded like I'd dropped a mentos into diet coke. I now had a bacterial broth of fermented food, with my mix well on it's way up the hill. BLAST!

Fraser calmed me down and sent me to make peanutbutter sandwiches. I made four single-slice sammys and grabbed a baked potato. Fortunately I'd eaten a decent breakfast already.

And they're off... the five minutes of flat were glorious, but I distinctly remember several riders rolling over a rather thorny palm frond. About an hour later I would remember that frond as I pulled a thorn out of my tire. I've really gotta get faster at changing tubes... 15 minutes later... I started regaining my place and I felt pretty good.

We had intermittent respite from the uphill in the form of quick little downhills. I was particularly aggressive on one and the sharp right at the bottom had me worried - that is until I saw the gravel. That worried me more. I managed to leap from my bike as the rear wheel skidded out from under me. My knee took the blow (and a week later it's still bruised and ugly) and I rolled. I was "fine", but it took me a minute to figure out how to get my chain back around the pedal and onto the front crank again.

Back on the road, things were pretty uneventful, saving the gawks and stairs of villagers whenever they noticed the blood flowing down my shin. I started taking a few videos to document what I began to believe might be the end of the race for me. More than once I contemplated giving up, and that's against just about every fiber in me.

I made it to the one and only food zone at 44km with about two swallows of water left in my bottle - camelback on empty. The water and food were rationed to 1.8 liters and 2 small bananas. Hindsight tells me I should have eaten also the black mushy one I found on the ground before I left.

Hydration or DEhydration was no longer a worry, but the food situation was dire. I was soon out of bananas, PB sammys, and the baked potato was long gone. I actually started scanning the road for a dropped gel and unlike previous days, none of the villages had any food carts out.

At long last there was not one, but two carts and I bought the best biscuits I've eaten in my entire life. Coconut Butter! I ripped the package open with my teeth, but I couldn't get them out so I half chewed, half crushed them into my mouth, crumbs sticking to my face and neck, groaning with greedy satisfaction. The kids on the side of the road gave me a few strange looks, but I cared not. Shortly I came across the best news I'd had all day. Spraypainted in the road "1km to summit".

With a great surge I got out of my lowest gear and was actually near my highest as I hit the crest and flew into the 6km of steep, winding downhill. Braking and weaving around killer potholes I escaped unscathed, arriving at the finish in 5 hours and 22 minutes. First place? 2:47. I was 133rd.

At the med tent I dug a rock out of my knee. It wasn't huge, but just about any rock lodged between your kneecap and skin is rather uncomfortable. I was glad to hear I didn't have gangrene (yet) and amputation wasn't necessary.

Now, let me tell you a little about this amazing valley. It is completely surrounded by beautiful mountains and right in the middle is a hill with a beautiful garden and buildings on it. I managed to skitch a ride along side a UN vehicle most of the way up and I was treated to some amazing views, a warmish shower, and a massive pasta, spam & baked beans feast.

At the daily awards ceremony we learned that our encampment, just a few years prior, had been the headquarters of a rebel resistance. That would explain the significant increase in Local & UN police as well as Aussie Military. I decided to celebrate with an ice-cold Tiger beer. How is it that they can keep the beer so cold, but there wasn't any cold drinking water? Hmm.

The cold night air was very refreshing and I slept like a baby.

Timor day 3

So I just got back from Indonesia with 101 7th grade students... wow! I'm wrecked. I've hit a massive granite wall at full speed. I hope it's just that and not Avian Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, Malaria, Dengue, or any of the other baddies...

The morning of day three started off fairly cool and it looked to be a good day. I wasn't too tired, considering my lack of sleep due to the DJ booth fiasco. I placed myself amongst the front 75 riders or so and I found the Kiwis. Have I mentioned them yet? They were three guys I'd met and ridden with a little on days 1 & 2. Baron, Mario, and Steven.

We started off uphill but there was a rough downhill right away. It was plenty wide - fit 10 riders abreast - and it had to be as we had no chance to spread out. All of a sudden I saw a major endo and a rider superman off the front of his bike into a cloud of bike, human, rock, and dust. No one had stopped so I did. He was East Tomorese so I knew there was little hope of communicating with him. I grabbed his arms and dragged him to the side. Then I went back for the bike. Mind you, all the while, 100 bikes are flying by and one guy even had the gall to yell at me for being in his way. Crash man started shouting "ambulancia, ambulancia" and in case you didn't figure that one out, he wanted an ambulance. I didn't see too much damage, but he was bleeding and he had managed to crush one of his bar-ends in the crash. That takes some doing.

Of course the phone I had been issued by the organizers didn't work. I got something to the effect of "you call cannot be completed as dialed..." but I didn't bother to put Crashman on the line to see if he understood. After a few minutes a motorcycle showed up and sent me on my way.

"So much for doing well today", I thought. I kicked it down and made the best time I could. It actually felt really good blowing by all the non-competitive riders at the back of the pack. I felt really fast, but I knew I had little chance of joining a fast pack.

I spent most of the day alone and off to the side I saw the Kiwis madly pumping up a tire after an apparent puncture. A little voice suggested I wait for them and ride in a pack, but I charged forward and continued to pass people. About an hour later, the Kiwis were on my tail with the tiniest Malaysian rider I've ever seen in tow. I jumped on the back and started taking turns at the front. I definitely need to start listening to the little voice more often.

Miss Malaysia wasn't contributing, but she held on for dear life. If my calculations were correct she was the 2nd female rider that day. I, on the other hand, struggled. Just when I was about to fall off the back, however, Mario felt sick. Or was it the $20 I slipped him to fake it? The Kiwis slowed down and I recovered a bit. Steven and Baron were absolute beasts, taking long, fast turns at the front and dragging the rest of us. My only saving grace was that I had a gel and some pure water in a bottle to share with Mario.

With about five km left to go I hit the wall, but the gents proved to be gentlemen indeed and they slowed the pace a little for me. Looking back, I think it may have been something to do with my food mix. It tasted a little funny all day... check out day 4 for more on that one.

We camped right on the beach and I staked out some prime real estate. The organizers had learned from the previous night's fiasco and made sure the film was nowhere near the riders encampment. A bath in the ocean, followed by dinner and I was just about finished.

But the best news of the day was that they knocked five minutes off my time for helping Crashman. I finished 67th for the day. Not too shabby.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tour de Timor 2

Day two began with roosters who had what I found out to be an epidemic in Timor-Leste - seriously out-of-whack circadian rhythms. I mean, really, do you have to start crowing at 4:30am? I don't think so.

Yesterday's top riders got pole position and I took my place wherever it seemed like 77th should go. I'd met some Kiwi's and we rode a similar pace so when I found them shortly after the start line we stuck together. I made a couple of attempts to organize a pack and made it clear that everyone drafting should darn well take their turn at the front. Just as I was about to suggest to some of the stronger guys that we leave the hangers-on behind we hit a fast downhill. I saw one guy loose his bottle on a pothole and a moment later I heard mine go too.

Had it been only water I'd have left it, but it was my food source. Having run out of food the previous day I wasn't about to go 2+ more hours with no food. I stopped and turned back to look for it. After several minutes of looking (and many riders passing) I was stopped on the edge of the road and suddenly a police vehicle came screaming up the hill against race traffic. I couldn't believe how fast it was going and the wrong way UP a hill where riders are sure to be flying down. The president had issued strict orders "ZERO traffic against the riders". Little did that driver know it was a career-ending move. He ended up getting reposted to some remote area. Oops.

Things took a positive turn, though, when a woman called from the bottom of the hill. She had a bottle in her hand and as I approached I recognized the thick brownish drink I was so worried about. A man had found it about 10 meters off in the bush and recovered it for me. I gave him a big hug & continued on.

We hit a big downhill on a VERY rocky... road? Well it was sort of a road, and it was definitely rocky. But nothing like the ice cream flavor. I realized a little too late that I had my front suspension locked out. I guess I wanted to feel every single bump and rock. A mistake I don't plan on making twice. I survived the downhill and made it onto some smooth grass and then... puncture. :( I'd put a 3/4 inch slice in my tire too. Garrgh.

With a crowd of village children watching I pulled the wheel off, disassembled the tire, put a tube patch on the inside of the tire, inserted a Singapore $2 note (for added strength), replaced the tube, and started pumping it up again. But somehow the tire bead came off and the tube burst out like some massive goiter. The valve broke off and I had to stab the tube to get it out & start over. Boo!

I finally got on my way and finished the day 133rd.

The village was lovely and lunch was pretty good. It had been a short ride so we had plenty of time to chill, repair, relax, and enjoy.

Each evening, the organizers set up a massive inflatable movie screen and showed the movie Balibo. It's the first-ever feature film about Timor-Leste and the Indonesian invasion. It was great timing as it's release came along with both the Tour de Timor and their 10-year anniversary. Everyone turned up to watch it! Unfortunately everyone didn't exactly want to go home afterward and who could blame them? This was a big deal and they wanted to party. Someone got hold of the DJ booth at 10:00pm and that's when Jesus got involved. His name is actually Sean, but he looks like Jesus.

To finally get everyone to go home (2 hours later), the UN police force had to start patrolling and the elected chief of the village got on the loudspeaker for a good hour telling them to go home. I wasn't the only one worried, but it all ended peacefully.

Tour de Timor 1

Arriving at Changi Airport we had over 20 riders from Singapore and LOTS of excess baggage. Many thanks to Austasia Airlines for not weighing our bags!

A short four-hour flight and we were in Timor-Leste with a VIP welcome. The four Blackhawk helicopters across the runway set the stage for what would be the most exposure I've ever had to United Nations and Australian Military forces. Though I must say I never felt any sense of danger.

The air was pretty thick with racers trying to get a feel for the level of competition. There were quite a few "finishers", but I was a "racer". I've done well in races in Singapore, but this was something altogether different. 450kms over 5 days with riders from all over the world.

The weather was hot and dry so I actually felt nice an comfortable coming from hot & humid Singapore. Advantage: Greg. But it was my first stage race. Advantage: everyone else who had done a stage race before.

Day one started with some pomp & circumstance at the royal palace followed by over 300 mountain bikes and riders lining up at the start line. The president himself did the countdown. Either my adrenaline slowed down my perception of time, or Mr. President counted back from 10 seconds very slowly.

And they're off! The Timor-Leste teams were given pole positions, but everyone was vying for position from the start. I decided to move out of the pack and take a short stint at the front. I surged about 20 meters ahead of the leader and enjoyed the view from the front. I'm glad I did it because we soon hit a hill and the leaders showed their true colors. Adios Amigos.

One rider broke his pelvis on the first downhill and I can see why. Steep hills, sharp curves, cliffs and incognito potholes make a recipe for injury. But we had incredible views of the coast for hours. Two more big hills and some vast, arid no-man's land followed. In the end I dragged a gal from the Malaysian team and a Timorese rider a few kms until gravity absolutely flung me downhill to the finish line.

We were greeted, as in every village, by hundreds of cheering villagers. After a quick swim, I had a massage and we set up camp for the night. It was a great first day.


Timor-Leste celebrated it's 10-year anniversary last Sunday, August 30th. Unfortunately my flight left the day before so I missed the big party. As the youngest country in the world, they must have been pretty excited. Despite having missed such a great celebration, I was blessed with the tremendous opportunity to participate in their first annual Tour de Timor.

Let's rewind a few weeks. Just off the jet-way into Changi Airport, arriving back from my amazing trip to Australia, I received an SMS from my good friend, Grant Knisely. (To whom I'm forever grateful for filming & editing my best job in the world application video). "Are you in Singapore?" said Grant's SMS. "Yes, why?" I reply. "Check your email." said Grant.

My email contained nothing more than a link to Little bits of information jumped out at me. First annual, 450km mountain bike race, Timor-Leste, etc. Needless to say I was excited. Now Grant had told me about the race because he was hoping I'd be interested in helping shoot a documentary of the ladies from The Chain Reaction Project, but I thought it would be fun to ride. Fortunately for Grant, he got all the help he needed.

So my training began. 3 weeks to get race ready and I have to give major props to Fraser Morrison for the amazing training regimen.

Huge credit goes to Hup Leong Bicycle Shop for the demo bike on which I both trained and raced. Gilbert is the man! If you need anything bicycle, head down to Chinatown - at Pearl's Hill & Upper Cross St.