Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Excruciation Exam 1/7/2012

My pal Patrick is all big into mountain bike racing (or as those in the biz refer to it: MTB racing). I was a temporary member of the cool kids club and was invited to a race in Warda, Texas (yeah, it's a place. They have a post office.) 2 weeks ago. The Excruciation Exam. I was supposed to be the Sporting Press and give tweet updates on the progress of Patrick vs. Devin. I was picked up at 5:00am on a Saturday (I know, right?), and we drove through the fog for approximately 7 hours (give or take 5-6 hours) then arrived in some pasture where apparently they often do this sort of thing.

Warning: this is a complete outsider's view of the world of MTB racing. I fall off my bike because I forget to kick my feet out of the clips. Seriously. And I didn't take a lot of pictures, and the ones I took aren't that great. The tweets weren't even clever. Just factual. You should probably stop reading now and save yourself.

No? Okay. Bear with me. The race was delayed because of the fog. I admit I didn't see why this was an issue. I mean, it's one thing if you're driving fast in a car, but a bike? Oh. But you see, these guys (and girls - I'll get to that in a minute) GO REALLY FAST. Like not at all leisurely.

The fog cleared, and everyone lined up. There was a stretch of 200 yards or so that they had to run (in their clippy shoes!! What the heck?!) to their bikes, THEN they could officially take off. The running part (if I would have been racing, I probably would have forfeited right there. Something dramatic like lying down in the middle of the path.) helped space them out, I'm told.

So there were some fast people at the front.... OH GOOD FOR YOU.

And some people who would have been my friends.

We (Derek and I) took their (Patrick, Devin, and some other dudes) bags to Rocky Hill, the next big time checkpoint (some 20ish miles from where they started).

The volunteers have this sort of thing down to a science. They made 57,000 sandwiches in 5 minutes. A guy brought all the bags and coolers and laid them out on big plywood boards (did I mention it was wet and foggy?). We took our crew's bags and kept them to the side. I'm picturing that everyone will arrive at the same time and a bunch of high maintenance guys in spandex would be all, "Where's my Evian water?"

They weren't at all high maintenance. They were actually incredibly chill. This guy wins best gear award. He used a cat carrier. Who does that?!

So then the clouds decided to open up and finally the sun came out!

Good thing. It was pretty gross. Kinda like my lame tweet updates. I blame it on the fact that I had no Press Pass badge. I would have felt a lot cooler (in a Liz Lemon sort of way). I digress.

Here's Devin coming in to Rocky Hill...

And here's Patrick just before his Dublin Dr. Pepper fix. It's true: water and gatorade aren't all that can be poured into a water bottle. Sidenote: Patrick has since bought all remaining Dublin Dr. Peppers left in existence after the evil Dublin DP buyout.

And here's some random 7 year old that was kicking everyone's tail... I keed. He was 16. I met his mom. But still.

So yeah. We helped people with their energy bars and water bottles and what not. And when I say we it was really Derek. I just moved around trying to act busy with a dumb smile on my face as if that would encourage the people in the race. After all the hard work of not riding a bike and not really contributing anything useful other than saying helpful things like "enjoy the sunshine!" to downtrodden riders, I was hungry. Whew - good thing there was a food trailer on site! Check this monstrosity out.

All that for $6. All in a day's work, my friends. There may have been a can of Shiner Bock involved as well.

OMNOMNOM what? Oh yeah, the race. It was 85 miles long. Incredible. Devin beat Patrick by a few minutes, which apparently was all that really mattered in The Grand Scheme of Life. Here are the results. Here is the trail. 2,787 feet gained in elevation?! And they were all laughing it up and talking afterwards like it was nothing. Are you kidding me? Incredible.

After being so motivated, I drug Amy on a little 12.1 mile ride the following day and had a whopping 651 feet gained in elevation and we almost died (Houston, how I miss thee). So quick note on girls. Top 3 guys got a prize, as did the top 3 girls. Even though their times were a good 1.5 - 2 hours behind the guys' time. SO not fair, but such is life. I need to find a race (that's not 85 miles long. I want to win, I don't want to DIE) where there are very few girls competing (like no more than 3). Bucket list that one.

Go boys.

The end.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Europe Trip - Part 2: Scotland

Yeah, yeah, I'm busy, ok? Here's the next leg of the Europe excursion: Scotland. My favorite. Bear with me - this will be long.

This will not be in chronological order because apparently I can't remember how to add photos in sequence. Hopefully it won't make the story unbearable for you.

We arrived in Scotland and proceeded to rent a car (Enterprise!). It was in my name, why I don't really know, as Amy is a much better driver than I am... I think I was more confident about my untapped ability to drive on the right side of the car. Within 15 minutes of driving I had already smashed the left side rear view mirror to shattered uselessness.

Here's where the steering wheel was NOT:

Thankfully we had the good sense to rent a navigation system (goodness what in the WORLD would we have done without her?!). We named her Pippa because she had a classy British accent and, well, we are silly Americans. Roundabouts were EVERYWHERE, and Pippa clearly had little faith in my skills in successfully taking the right road while circling in a clockwise fashion. I swear she changed her tone when she urged: "Entah roundabout." The roads were more suited to a horse than a car. More on this later.

This is the Edinburgh Castle:

This is Amy at the door of our precious bed and breakfast. Brother/Sister duo Maria and Edward kept the house and cooked breakfast. They were so dear! Amy was convinced Maria looked like Julie Andrews as Maria in The Sound of Music, but there is no truth to that. They both had short blonde hair, but that was about it.

We happened to be in Edinburgh for their annual festival (perfect timing, totally planned it). We packed a picnic dinner - see photo below - a highlight of the trip was discovering flap jacks. They aren't pancakes, but are little squares... sort of like a soft granola bar but SO good. Plenty of red wine. Funny to observe the people sitting around us who were drinking MGD and Budweiser and Smirnoff (Amy: "like that's cool").

(coming up the stairs to watch fireworks after a day of driving drama and plenty of "entah roundabout" said in a treacherous tone)

Sitting on the hill, waiting for the fireworks to start....
  • Amy: "OMG..(thinking her wine spilled onto her camera bag... then discovering everything was okay)...PTL!"
  • Emily: "I'd like to have four kids. My great grandfather was one of 14 or something. I could do it.".......Amy: "You do have wide hips."
  • Amy: "oh Pippa. You know, there's probably going to be a great influx of girls named Pippa now." .....Emily: "Yeah, or William. And Kate." (cheesy William and Kate memorabilia was everywhere.)

Fireworks!! And they were super long and super great! They were shot from Edinburgh Castle, and below there was a full orchestra with - get this - coordinated music!! The folks on the hill with us were no dummies, and many brought portable radios with them so we could listen, because oh yes, it was being broadcast.

And now for my favorite part of my favorite country on the trip: the Braemar Highland Games. Think burly, strapping young (and old) men in kilts throwing capers (telephone poles) and massive weights and armed forces (!!!) gents in tug-of-war competitions and young lassies in highland dancing competitions.... all the while with bagpipes playing constantly. Heaven.

And gingers. Redheads were everywhere. Here's a photo of the cutest little redhead I saw on the trip. He was terrorizing his older sister a few rows in front of us.

OH AND GET THIS. The Queen of England was there!!! And she totally looked at me and waved. Click on the picture and zoom in - I'm serious.

Tug-of-war.... and number one looking out for his team:

Glenfidditch single malt scotch whisky was the main sponsor of all the heavy lifting sports. Oh! and the announcers were elderly gents who said things like, "Oh! Off you go then" when the runners started, and so-and-so won by a "wee bit." Sports announcers in the US could take a lesson or two from the Braemar announcers :)

See what I mean?! All the guys were huge! I felt so small and dainty! Heaven.


After a full day at Braemar (2-3 hours north of Edinburgh), we thought it would be a good idea to drive two more hours north to LOCH NESS (a not-so-small obsession o' mine).

Lovely views on the way... I have a ton of photos of this part of the trip. There was a lot of road construction ("road works") and detours and delays. The signs at the end of the construction said "sorry for the delay." Likewise, signs in the US could take a lesson from the kind words in the UK. BUT their graphics were really amusing - "warning: elderly" was the same as "warning: disabled" - both featured two people hunched over with canes.

"Oh my soul, thou art capable of enjoying God, woe to thee if thou are contented with anything less than God." ~Francis de Sales

Emily: "I'm Scotland. I have narrow roads."
Amy: "We just got passed."

And then we arrived. Magical. Breathtaking. All I was hoping for. It was eerily quiet and roaringly majestic at the same time, if that's possible.

So the Loch Ness monster (Nessie) was in the middle vertically and far left horizontally of the photo below... can you see her?!

And I was going to insert a picture of Nessie to make it look like I was petting her, but I'm too lazy.

Lovely, lovely day. Smaller than all small worlds, at Braemar I ran into a girl I shared a bunk bed with at Impact Camp waaaay back in the fall of 2002 before my freshman year at A&M! She is now married and has a little girl and lives in St. Andrews, Scotland! We made plans to meet in St. Andrews a few days later (and sadly Kendall and I didn't get a picture together).

Taxi driver who took us from the train station into town:
Driver: "Why would you ever leave the US?! There is plenty to do there. Why did you come all the way here?"
....um... because we wanted to travel to the Motherland??...

I have a ton of photos of old churches and cemeteries in St. Andrews... here's only a few: this one is an old Episcopal church that has the stations of the cross on the ceiling:

Walking through the ruins and imagining how regal these structures were 500 years ago

St. Andrews campus, and no I didn't spot Prince William or Prince Harry. Incredible campus! So old! They're celebrating their 600th anniversary!!

St. Andrews golf course. Fabulous, and I don't even know how to play golf. We walked across the 17th hole fairway... one of the fairways it's best not to walk across, but thankfully weren't hit in the head with golf balls. We had "high tea" (read: loads of empty sugary calories in the form of mini sandwiches and scones and tarts. I felt like a pasty white Brit for sure).

It was an absolutely gorgeous day!

This has significance if you are a golfer. The old hotel? Toughest hole? Something like that.

I really want to go back. Now. The price was pretty steep, but the people were wonderful, the scenery superb, the history just fascinating. I will definitely come back!!

View from the train as we crossed a little river on the way to the port for Ireland.... I will detail the ferry ride in the next post. Farewell, Scotland!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Austin Police Department

We just got back from a neighborhood watch meeting. There have been three homicides in our small neighborhood in the past few months. The apparent goal of the meeting as advertised was to meet the neighbors and form some sort of "street captain" to serve as the point of contact for nearby neighbors.

The meeting turned into an inquisition of the Austin Police Department. There were a bunch of men and women in uniform there, and Police Chief Art Acevedo came and spoke, too. (Amy: "I can see why you like men in uniform so much" as she stepped in between me and a particularly amazingly attractive policeman who pretty much is my soul mate. I'll be running a lot of red lights in hopes of finding him again. You're welcome, City of Austin residents. I might singlehandedly pay for all sidewalk improvements.) I digress.

So after sitting through an eternity of questions like, "Why didn't the police officer get out of his car?" "Have you revised all your policies after the New Years Day murder?" "What's the percentage increase for crime in my neighborhood over the last 6 months and have you increased your forces by the same percentage?" and "Why don't y'all use bloodhounds?"

....I decided I really didn't want to have to meet all these loons. Granted, I will definitely take Chief Acevedo's advice and be a good neighbor and a nosy neighbor, but COME ON.

Thus, Angry Elf Emily dragged Amy out of the auditorium as Emily gazed into aforementioned policeman's eyes and meaningfully said, "Thank you for your service."

Someday....I will find you....