Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Raetihi, The Bach, and The Neverending Climb Of Mt. Ruapehu

Seems like just about everybody in this country has a holiday house somewhere. It's always some run-down little shack in the middle of a wilderness area, or on a lake, or on a beach, and it's not a holiday house. It's a bach. We drove down to the Starr's bach in Raetihi after christmas to spend a few days out of the big city. This is the perfect antidote for a brain fried by the Auckland metropolis. Tired of traffic? Tired of other people? Looking for some nature outside of a city park? Come to Raetihi, population 1,000. It's a 5 hour drive on two lane roads through some killer landscapes, so the time goes by reasonably fast. The landscape of the central North Island came about when God loaded a shotgun with volcanoes, grass and trees, took a few random shots, dusted the whole thing of with 50 million sheep and 30 million cows, then went off to finish the Grand canyon. It's quite a bumpy place.

Looking out the window of the bach in Raetihi, you can see what looks like the biggest, gnarliest mountain on the planet. This big bastard doesn't have a peak, it has three big glacier-covered crags, jutting up at the sun like enormous Leno-esque chins. In short, it's huge. I think as cyclists it's a natural reaction (even for those of us who aren't the best climbers) to say, "We should ride up that."
And we did.
It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life.
Correction. The first 10k was actually quite pleasant (as climbs go). The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. It wasn't too steep, and it was what I would imagine a ride through the Amazon would be like. Green, intense forest. Lush canopy. Tropical plants. Thousand year-old trees. With 10k down and 10k to go it gets steeper. Much steeper. This is where I run out of gears and my heart rate strays above 200 and refuses to come down like a freaked-out cat in a tree.
And my brain starts to hate me.
I think, "I should really concentrate on track next year. There are no mountains on the track."
I think, "I sould finish college and get a real job."
I think, "I should take up lawn-bowling."
This goes on for half an hour.
At 5k to go every pedalstroke feels like squatting 500 pounds on the 30th rep. My speed is embarrassing, my heartrate is frightening. I will die on this mountain, I'm sure of it. We've climbed above the treeline, nothing grows at this altitude, just rocks and snow. Around every corner is a steeper pitch, more road and the next corner to shoot for. Tunnel vision sets in, my heartrate has now been at 220 (its limit) for 30 minutes, plus 45 minutes of 200+ before that. Things are looking desperate. My exertion and the lack of oxygen at this altitude (somewhere above 6,000ft.) turns my breathing into ragged, uncontrolled gasps. An hour has passed with my effort red-lining completely out of control. Eventually one corner becomes the last, and it's over. Finally.
When the spots and red patches dissapear from in front of my eyes I find an amazing sight. These mountains, these huge monstrosities bursting out of the grassy hills could put the Rockies to shame, could make Park City look like L.A. There are a total of 3 small clouds in the sky, and they do nothing to dampen the view. Then just like that, it's time to descend.
Large portions of this road we climbed at around 8k an hour, the same sections we descend at just under 90k/hr. It took us almost two hours to get to the top and maybe 15 minutes to hit the bottom.
Total ride time wasn't anything to write home about, maybe about 3 and a half hours, but at the house I eat and immediately collapse like I'd been out for a 7 hour death march. I was so twisted that I was still tired the next day after 12 hours of sleep. I blame genetics for making me into a sprinter... And my loathing for climbing, that probably doesn't help either. Nope, just genetics. Thanks Dad. DT

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Bunch of Boxing Day Bullets

It's December 26th, Boxing Day, and you know what that means. Boxes and wrapping paper are cleared away, turkey bits are washed off the walls, and it's time for a bullet list.
  • The hole in the Ozone layer down here becomes painfully apparent when a 3 hour cloudy ride yields deep red farmer-tan lines.
  • Kiwis eat a lot of asparagus. (nasty)
  • Aucklanders try to be very fashionable people (Italian envy maybe?), but instead of doing it by dressing well many do it by covering themselves in as many designer labels as they can get.
  • They average pay in Auckland is lower than in the US.
  • The designer clothes are (no joke) 3-4 times more expensive (a $20US Billabong shirt is $90NZ here, or about $70US). A pair of Diesel or similar jeans will run you $300+. I see a lot of Armani and Gucci... I'm afraid to even look at those prices...
  • Coffee is on a different level here. An awesome level.
  • NZ is far more secular than the US, making for more liberal laws and culture.
  • Speaking of laws, recently a law passed to outlaw smoking in bars and clubs. Without ciggarette smoke, other equally less desirable smells become more apparent. Club owners are buying air freshener in huge quantities to mask the smell of body odor and stale, spilled beer.
  • My next race is in 7 Days. It's a hilly race. It will hurt. DT

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Very Kiwi Christmas

It's Christmas morning in NZ, RoboSapien is waddling robotically around the house, new CD's are blaring from the stereo, the sun is shining away at 65 degrees, awesome food is already cooking and I've eaten enough chocolate this morning to choke a rottewieler. The Starrs have made me part of the family for Christmas morning (Santa even brought me a stocking!) which takes some of the sting out of being away from home, family and friends for the holidays. I just want to wish everybody a merry Christmas, happy holidays and all that jazz, I'm having an amazing time here and hopefully things are going well back in Portland, Texas, California and Washington. Talk to you all soon. DT

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Wolves, Darkness, and Maori Holes

"Quick, come inside! The wolves are out there!"
This is just about the only thing Andy said for the first couple of hours we saw him yesterday afternoon.
"Hurry, the darkness is coming... Darkness all around..."
By one in the afternoon, at least he was awake. Apparently he had quite the Wednesday night. We started out as one big group, but after the first evening establishment (yes Mom and Dad, I'm talking about a BAR) was done and done it was all a question of where to go now. Long story short we get separated and Walker and I can't find Andy, Troy and whoever was driving everybody around. Bummer. Text messages are sent, the club we're in is really loud and the people are awful, phone calls are made ("what? WHAT? I CANT HEAR YOU!!") and before you know it it's 2 o clock in the morning. I'm still sick, Walker's not feeling top notch either, so it's time to call it a night. No car, not enough money for a cab and we're about an hour's walk from home, but we're athletes. We're endurance athletes. An hour is nothing.

Fast forward to 7:30 in the morning. I'm fast asleep. Comfy, warm, someone's cat curled up by my feet, and in burst Andy and Troy. "HEY MAN, WHERE'S YOUR PRODIGY CD? WE NEED IT NOOOOWW!!" I point and groan a little bit in the direction of my small pile of music. How can they be up this early? "YEAH MAN, SORRY WE GOT SPLIT UP, YOU SHOULD HAVE COME TO GLOBE, IT WAS AAAAWESOME!!" How can they look so fresh? Why are they still in last night's clothes? Simple really, they just never went home, never went to sleep. By the time the sun came up the auckland clubs must have finally emptied so they were forced to head back home and knock my door down at stupid o clock in the morning for a CD that Andy already owns.

Fast forward again about 5 more hours and I get my revenge. Andy's in a coma. Near dead. Twisted beyond belief. Walker and I are nicely rested by this point in the day and it's time to wake up the birthday boy. Eventually the sun pokes out from behind the clouds and we head up to Mt. Eden to sit in a Maori storage holes (old fortified shelter on the side of a large hill, now just a big hole covered in grass) and have our pictures taken by Asian tourists who are shipped to the top of Mt. Eden by the bussload to take as many pictures of the city skyline, the holes, the grass, each other and the local guys sitting in the holes as possible. These places used to be used as lookouts, storage and other important things, now we use them to chat about bike racing, people we don't like and last night. Eventually we'll drift off, find a kebab or a burger, i'll go ride somewhere and Andy will go back to sleep, but for now you can watch the clouds roll in over the Waitakere mountains and toward the city, and life is simple.
Then a bug bites you in the ass and it's time to get out of this stupid hole. DT

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Aucklanders Need Driving Lessons

Apparently 31 people have died in auto accidents in this city since the beginning of December. Auckland police are urging people to "STOP DRIVING LIKE IDIOTS."

In other news, Kiwis think Donald Rumsfeld is a complete mang. In other words, the opposite of intelligent, rational, compassionate, funny and good-looking. The NZ Herald seems to think Iraq would be a much happier place if Rummy would have gone into a more suitable field, such as plumbing (maybe not, as the guy seems to have trouble fixing things). I'm glad we're on the same page here, this gives me a bit of confidence in the kiwis, despite thier atrocious driving skills. RUMMY QUOTE OF THE DAY: (after that nasty Abu Gharabalab prison thing) "Stuff happens in war sometimes." That's truth kids, write that down...

BACK TO ME. I've been a bit sick lately so things have been slow. Got back into it today to much complaint from my achey legs and weak lungs. Andy's birthday was yesterday, so tonight we're heading out on the town. "What?" you may ask. "Why go out on a Wednesday?" Aucklanders were never quite satisfied with just one weekend, so they've created Friday Night 2 (otherwise known as Wednesday). Works continues on Thursday, but productivity must not be a big deal, one guy at a coffee shop calls it "New Zealand's answer to the Spanish Siesta." Sounds super duper to me, I'm sending a letter to my local congressman ("screw global warming, saving wales and all that deficit crap, I want another Friday"). DT

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Weekend Down The Tubes...

Someone in Portland is putting a curse on me. Someone is doing their cross-Pacific rain dance. As I stood in front of the giant kitchen window this morning with Walker's dad, watching the hail pound the palm trees and avocado trees out back, he said "I have nver seen weather like this here. It doesn't even get this bad in the middle of winter." Well gosh, glad I could be here to witness it. And ride in it...
The weekend actually started out peachy. Friday was great track weather, sun and65. Did an easy 50k then headed out to Manukau for the evening's racing. Track racing at Manukau velodrome is a touch different then back at home. When people were chatting about throwing on 94 inch gears I thought they were joking. 4 Laps into the scratch race I was breathing through my eyeballs going mach 10 with 25 laps to go thinking "this is a very mean joke..." I suffered like a dawg through everything only to find out that the guys sticking it to the field were all juniors fresh from the Oceania games. Punks.
The kierins were fun, kiwis are much more willing to put a shoulder into you in the interest of holding a spot than Portlanders, but a few fancy manuevers and 150 pounds of fury kept me chillin' like a villain. My fatal error was in the semi-final... Thought I was safe with 10 meters to go so I let off the gas and some stealthy bastard stole it on the line. Rode the point-a-lap and elimination to much the same result as the scratch, Walker came out with a few second places and a handful of cash, so all was not lost. From there we proceed directly to the all-night kebab stand, devour a mighty feast and sleep the sleep of the dead.
SATURDAY. Oh saturday. If there's anything that makes you nervous about racing a national championship crit, it's getting your lunch handed to you the night before by some punk junior. This crit wouldn't just be the punk juniors (although there would be some in the field for sure), this particular race had the best riders NZ has to offer. "Sure, whatever, I'll ride it anyway. Can't puss out now right?"
Then the hail storm hits. All day, Auckland gets soaked through by rain and hail, and all day I am looking out the window thinking... well... shit. The race doesn't even start untill 8pm, so I have plenty of time to think this. Anyway, in the interest of keeping my bike and skin intact another day, I save 30 bucks and Walker and I do some lawn-chair secret training on the sidelines. I feel sorry for those poor guys that weren't in the finishing group of about 8. Scratch that, I feel sorry for everybody who froze thier asses off only to get pummelled by a trackie who didn't even break a sweat. Long story short, the four guys capable of wining tear the field to bits in the first 5 minutes and nobody has any fun (except for scratch race world champ Greg Henderson, who won).
Post race parties are good, we start out at a barn (seriously) and later upgrade to a bling house on the beach in Takapuna. The previous has a boombox blaring eminem and 50cent, and the latter has a killer deck overlooking the water and people screaming Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at full volume. Guess which one was more fun? No one sang Born In the USA for some reason, probably just forgot it... DT

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Number 5 With a Bullet

Hey folks, long time no talk to, glad to see you again. The early day was spent on the bike in the driving rain so 100k later I deserved a major present. This means chumming around with Walker the Stalker sampling Auckland's finest coffee beverages and coincidentally (not really) an attenion span as short as a shi-tzu. HENCE: The Bullet List. This is my new favorite thing on the planet, and a great way to get accross information in a timely, somewhat organized fashion. Better yet, I can do it at blazing speeds, all the better to get on with more of heaven's bean and rasberry buns...
  • The Asian population in Auckland is fairly significant, and from what I can tell, not too keen on learning English or watching out for bikes while driving around the city. Normally I dislike steriotypes, but it's a bit tough when you're nearly killed 37,000 times a day by one particular group of people.
  • Rain in Auckland is warm and therefore superior to Portland rain (for riding at least). Very rarely in P-town do you show up for a rainy group ride and no one has jackets or legwarmers.
  • The Simpson's is still the greatest show ever created (sorry Donny Trump). Every night, a full hour of Springfield hijinks on NZ's biggest network is reminding me of why I became such a sarcastic goon.
  • No one wears shorts here when the sun is out.
  • Cricket is seen as a cool and manly sport. Cricket. Seriously. Wickets and degrees of rotation and all that pompous crap. Ugh. I rank cricket somewhere between bowling and golf. Yeah you need skill to do it well, but who cares? At least rugby's big as well, that should make up for it. Maybe. DT

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Rain, Rain, Go Away, You Too Donald Rumsfeld

Sydney's nearly underwater today and looks like Auckland's next on Nature's hit list. Rain and hail storms ripped through OZ yesterday and shut down airports, trains and sunbathers. The poor weather-lady looked like she was delivering a eulogy as she pointed out the driving fronts coming in from every direction on the map. We're surrounded. I blame myself. Looks like I brought a taste of puddle-town with me. Good thing I've spent so many hours on the bike in the last few days wandering aimlessly, it appears the next couple days will be a bit easy.
In other news, my favorite government hack Donny Rumsfeld just taped a "KICK ME" sign onto the collective baks of the world media. He's bringing back the much-protested "Office of Strategic Planning," otherwise known as the "Office of PSYCH!" This department was half-created then shut down three years ago and is a pentagon unit tasked with spreading fake information to domestic and international news agencies in order to "throw off the enemy." Recently they tested it out on CNN, who on October 14 reported that the US had begun operations in Fallujah (a full three weeks before they actually began).
Quote of the day from Lawrence de Rita (man or woman?) a senior Pentagon spokesman regarding the program, "In the battle of perception management where the enemy is clearly using the media to help management perceptions of the general public, our job is not perception management but to counter the enemy's perception management."
That takes a bit of the fun out of calling the government on thier lies doesn't it? It's like the ultimate legal fine print at the bottom of a commercial, "Some of what we're saying is mostly true, but maybe some of it partially isn't, or is it?"
I say media sources should now go on strike from the Pentagon. As long as they're pulling a bag over everyone's head and whispering useless crap into reporter's ears we might as well just not listen to anything they say. Let's bring back real journalism. Wierd concept for sure, but who knows, maybe finding facts for yourself instead of relying on the talking head might be rewarding, or at least a little higher on the journalistic integrity scale. Even better, that may give media sources somthing to do aside from trumpeting Martha Stewart's prison cell remodeling tips.
Anyway, now that's out of the way so it's time for a quick rainy ride and some killer fish and chips. Also much work to do yet on judging Mt. Eden's row of coffee shops. So much to do, so little time. DT

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Why All Countries Should Drive On The Right Side Of The Road And Use The Metric System (plus a small ode to meat pies)

This whole riding on the left side of the road thing is driving me nuts. Granted it hasn't even been a week yet, but nevermind, it's still stupid. Being somewhere new doesn't help the situation much as I'll be riding along, checking things out, trying to remember (or figure out) where I am, take a turn and ride on the right side of the street for about fourteen feet until some kiwi comes driving up my side and I'm thinking "what's she doing on MY SIDE of the road?" Bust a quick manuever to keep for getting killed and usually I'll realize she's not such an idiot after all. What can I say. I'm a slow learner.
On the other side of the coin is the metric system. Cool in many ways. Much easier to understand than the... non metric system or whatever we have in the states. Everything's in increments of tens, hundreds and such. Awesome. Also nice for rides, makes you feel like you're actually doing a fair amount of distance ("yeah, I did a pretty easy hundred k today..").
I can understand why American's will never switch to metric ("I aint usin none o that sissy euro talk!") but why we don't have meat pies is beyond me. It's such an American thing, it surprises me that you'd find it anywhere else. It's a simple and brilliant concept. Take a crisp flaky pie crust like the kind you'd find on a apple pie, make it about fist sized, then fill it with steak or chicken or whatever, add sauce and BINGO. You've got a 2 dollar lunch made in heaven. Awesome post ride and probably pretty good for those with hangovers, but I wouldn't know. DT

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Walker Starr: "Who Am I?"

If you don't know Walker Starr, all you need to know is that he's the man. Not like "The Man" who's always trying to get you down, but just lowercase "coolguy" the man. I'll get to why Walker the Stalker is the man in a jiffy, but first you should probably know that things at the Small household have plunged into complete chaos.
I found out a few weeks ago after all arrangements had been made that Andy's mom had run off with some dude and left the family for good. This puts my stay in Auckland a bit up in the air. Nevermind though, because Andy assures me that although this sucks the big one, it's all good and he could use the company. Fast forward a few weeks, here I am and everything seems allright. Everybody's moving on and outward appearances show that things could be worse. After the first 2 days seemed like nothing had ever happened. Life was moving forward, Andy goes to work, his little brother goes to school, his other little brother plays computer games, his dad goes to work, I do some riding and bum around town for the day bothering people with my stupid "American accent." This morning shit goes pear-shaped. Andy stays in a guest house out back that you can see from the computer room window. We've had breakfast, chatted and Andy's out in his villa getting ready for work (works at a bike shop, SURPRISE!). Anyway. I sit down to check my emails and notice what looks like wrestling going on in Andy's room. Poke my head out the door and Andy and his dad are engaged in a full all-out fistfight. Whoa. Run in, tell Nick (Andy's 15 yr old bro) and he laughs like I'm joking. Not joking. We both hear muffled swearing and he knows it no joke. By this point they're on the floor in Andy's room, Nick breaks it up, Andy calls the cops and I walk out the door with Nick. Time to dissapear. They were both at work by the time we got back. Enter Walker Starr.
Walker's a kiwi with dual citizenship who races in America (trying to get on the American track team), so of course he gets heaps of crap from both sides. He's a great guy but doesn't help his reputation by showing up at the crit last night in an Australia national team skinsuit, Rudy Project stars and stripes glasses and a kiwi bike. Identity crisis aside, Walker the Stalker is a unit on the bike and a cool guy off it. He walks in a few minutes after we get back and says he heard about Andy's troubles and offers me a room at his place. We'll sort everything out with Andy tonight, sounds like he might be staying with Walker for a while as well.
As far as racing goes, the weekly crit's a pretty cool deal. 10 bucks kiwi gets you a half hour of windy bayside racing with hot spot sprints every 5 minutes. Pretty hard on the legs if you're going for it, and money's good enough to make it fast. Andy finished 5th on points and pulled down 20 big ones. Mitchem could learn a few things about prize money from these guys. Cool course as well, couple hard corners, a big sweeper and a long finish straight. Couple of true wankers out trying to kill themselves in every corner and each other on every sprint, so its just like home. I stayed out of trouble and checked out who the hard units are for next week. With the ride beforehand, the ride to the course and the ride back it ended up as about a hundred km day in shorts and a jersey. Sweet. DT

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Staying At The Four Seasons

Thirteen hour flights are no fun but survive it I did, and I've arrived in Auckland city. Just woke up from a little 15 hour nap and now I'm back on my big feet. Racing tonight at a downtown crit, should be fun with Andy kitted out in the Orange (by his own request). They say this place has four seasons in a day, true enough as yesterday it was brilliant sun for half a day, torrential rain for 10 minutes and rain/cloud indecision for the rest of the afternoon. Could've been six or seven seasons but I wouldn't know as I passed out around four o clock and woke up this morning. Anyway, wanted to let everyone know that I made it safe, everything's all sorted out and I'll talk to you all later.DT

Sunday, November 28, 2004

7 Days Till Summer...

So it's Portland to LA to Auckland to Nelson to Invercargill to Palmerston North to Wanganui, back to Auckland, LA, San Francisco, Merced, then back to Portland. Three months and thousands of miles later it'll be pictures and memories but for now it's still a very exciting idea. It's a crazy concept to wrap my head around: Put off college to race a bike for the winter on the other side of the world.
How insane, how awesome.
In the last month nearly every person I know has asked how much room is in my bike case. "Enough room for a person? How about your carry-on?" Too bad, but I wish I could take everybody with me. It takes a lot of work (from other people) to be an unemployed athlete, and without you guys, I wouldn't be going at all. Now, this close to the day I leave I need one last favor. After all this preparation there's only one thing left to do, find a picture for my racing liscence. If anybody has an eye patch and a pirate hook I can borrow, call me.
Next time I write I'll be half a world away, so for those I won't see before I jet away, many thanks, and see you next spring.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Name Yourself a Verb

Bono's got one thing going for him (aside from the rediculously successfull music gig). He's got a sweet name. So does Sting. So does Hubert Ice. Even Nicholas Cage has a pretty cool name. None of these people popped out of thier moms with such snazzy rockstar monikers, oh no. Like Dana Carvey hilariously pointed out, one day Sting had to start reminding his friends "could you please call me Sting from now on?"
So anyway, from now on, call me Brenden Benediktas.
It's much cooler.
Trust me, I'm a rockstar.

U2's Sucky Crap continued...

So maybe I was a tad harsh on the legendary band but lemmesplain... Every person on earth is born with a certain finite amount of genius or creativity. Some have more, some have less, some have none.
There are people who exibit a steady flow of creativity for long careers, they never do anything truly groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but they are consistent. People like author Tom Robbins and Robbin Williams are members of this group.
Then there are the people who use all thier genius up in a short, brilliant flash then fade out. Jack Kerouac was one of these. The guy wrote a book that defined a movement and created a whole subculture, then he failed to repeat his masterpiece and drove himself nuts. The members of U2 could be considered a part of this group. They used thier creativity and genius to create massive anthems of social commentary, political protest and personal conflict. The problem was, the genius ran out, but they refuse to quit.
Now they're the "biggest band in the world" so no one will tell them that thier standards are at rock bottom, the music isn't that great anymore, and if they didn't have the name U2 on thier CD cases, they probably wouldn't sell squat.
Here's my plan for U2. 2 Options: #1 Go out "on top" while people still think they're the biggest and greatest band in the world so they can pursue all the great charity work they've been known to go or #2, Bring back the mullet.
Seriously. Mullet. Think about it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (and other sucky albums by U2)

Let me start by saying that if I hadn't heard "Where the Streets Have No Name" about 13,000 times, it'd be a damn good song. Same goes for "War," an album that rates pretty highly in the anit-war pop music category. That said, I pose the question: WHY WONT THEY JUST RETIRE ALREADY?
Holy crap, Batman, I've heard that awful new U2 song more times than I care to admit and it sure doesn't get any better with every listen. If any band that wasn't called "U2" sent that odd collection of scales and vocal posturing to a record label, this is what would happen:
RECORD EXEC 1: Jesus, Don, what the hell are you listening to?
RECORD EXEC 2: Not too sure Jimbo, sounds sort of... what's the word I'm looking for?
SECRETARY: "Crappy?"
RECORD EXEC 2: That's it Sandy! Now I remember why I hired you, apart from your gorgeous figure and saucy demeanor!
SECRETARY: (giggling)
RECORD EXEC 1: Hey Don, if you don't need that tape, I'll take it.
RECORD EXEC 2: What, are you going to allow this refuse to pollute the airwaves?
RECORD EXEC 1: (laughs) That's a good one! Nah, I could use a new coaster though!
Lights fade on shot of portly pinstriped douches smoking fat cigars...