What A Short Strange Trip It Was

Toyota US Open
2008.10.05 – Dallas, TX

This weekend’s trip to Dallas was remarkable for several adventures that had nothing to do with the race. The race itself was remarkably unremarkable, so I’ll spend most of the time talking about everything else, and very little time on the race. Generally speaking, I tend to think most race reports are not particular noteworthy, as things like the following snippet, which my former employer and race-car driver Bob Akin relayed to me, rarely happen in triathlon. In automobile racing, you can collide with another vehicle, be launched into the air, and remain airborne long enough for other speeding vehicles to pass underneath you before you come crashing to the ground. Gasoline power has an inherent potential for excitement. Even cycling with it’s spectacular cols and mass sprints (and mass crashes) has great potential to make you stand up and gasp. Triathlon, generally, is like a slow, methodical production where the final outcome seems like it was almost inevitable if you replay the key moments in your head after the race. Along those lines, I will give the race report in summary now, so that we can get onto the more interesting parts. I swam well for 750m, but not well enough, and so was all alone swimming directly into the blinding sun during the second 750m, which meant that I needed to bike faster than I ultimately did to catch the lead group (which I did not), thus ultimately requiring a faster run than I was capable of on this particular day in order to finish in the money, which is, honestly, all that really matters when you claim to be a professional. I finished 13th, which was also my number, and also the number of the spot that I totally coincidentally parked in yesterday afternoon. With that bit of triviality done with, let us move on to what was actually interesting in Dallas.

The strangeness began before actually arriving in Dallas, when I was forced to book an absurdly expensive flight and an equally absurdly cheap rental car for my journey. I got a very nice SUV into which my bike box fit quite easily for the same price as an econocar that usually requires some sort of Sysiphian ordeal to insert said bike box into the backseat/trunk/combination-of-the-two. I received this rental car after deplaning from a flight, the cost of which probably could have taken me to many more desirable locales than downtown Dallas. Upon checking into the rather bizarrely (and inexplicably) “Asian” (or “Oriental”) themed Hilton Anatole hotel, which was successfully Asian as much as anything can really summarize the various ancient and historic cultures of an entire continent, I realized that the host hotel for the Toyota US Open Triathlon Presented By Lifetime Fitness was also the host hotel for the Major League Gaming 2008 Dallas Tournament. I had never actually seen a professional video game player up close, and they varied from the expected pimply-faced teenager with baggy jeans containing, at all times, his own special XBox controller and a t-shirt bearing some slogan along the lines of “Video Gaming Ruined My Life… Good Thing I Have 3 More” to a group of balding middle aged men wearing matching bowling-style shirts with some a somewhat militaristic ASCII-impregnated name like v3nDett@ stitched on it. Pretty much everyone was drinking an “energy” drink of some sort, regardless of what hour of the day it was. A lot of them smoked. And at various times throughout the trip, I feared I might be forced to bludgeon some of them to death with my torque wrench, none moreso than at 2AM the night before the race, when several of them decided to play a game called “Wow” outside of my room, the rules of which are very simply, as far as I can tell, hide somewhere on the floor and then yell the word “WOW!” very loudly in exchanging choruses. The hotels lack of foresight in segregating the floors into triathletes and MLGers was really the only strike, albeit a major one, against the otherwise very nice hotel.

The hotel was actually astoundingly well appointed in many ways. The “health club” consisted of an adjoining private spa and private recreational club – the Veranda Club – complete with a 20-25yd (I’m not sure exactly which) lap pool; croquet green, which I sadly did not get to use; and a 400m rubberized running loop, the width of two lanes of a track that wound an undulating path around a very nice little garden, complete with koi pond and miniature waterfall. I did all of my pre-race runs on this track, and I would gladly stay at the Hilton Anatole again in the future solely because of it. I’d like to build one in my backyard, if I ever have one. In addition to the track, the hotel also boasted one of the best restaurants in Dallas – Nona. Nona sits on the 27th floor of the hotel and has a fantastic view of downtown Dallas, which is modest in size, but nevertheless very pretty, as most city skylines are at night. It serves very haute cuisine, with a menu much too complex for me to remember. I don’t even remember what my father ordered, beyond the fact that it was a chilled cucumber soup appetizer and a sweetbreads entree. The details escape me. Before we even got down to our ordered food, a small (very small) plate with a dollop of fresh goat cheese topped with a parmesan fritter and paired with two small preserved cranberries was our opener. It was delicious. As an appetizer, I ordered a selection of lightly pan fried quail wings, which, unsurprisingly, are very small and difficult to eat with any semblance of dignity. They were served with a light sour cream and also a peanut-based relish that was really delicious. For my entree, I ordered a slow braised pork belly, that was served with sauteed banana slices, each topped with a crisp plaitain fritter, and few candied walnuts. I probably should have taken more detailed notes, but I was very hungry. I should also mention that I consumed an entire basket of bread during the meal; the basket contained three slices of a wonderful dark olive, raisin, and nut bread, as well as five slices of a reasonably good sourdough that was vastly overshadowed by the olive bread, which I ate first. For dessert, I had a selection of three small brulees, each topped with a fresh local berry and a thin sugar wafer, which probably has some more technical term that I do not know. The fact that a restaurant that was this good sat atop a relatively non-remarkable hotel that is also heavily “Oriental” in decoration was confusing on many levels. But I did not complain. My father and I made up for the culinary adventure by consuming all of Saturday’s meals at Whole Foods, my favorite pre-race eatatorium.

The Dallas Whole Foods, specifically the one on Alto Loma as Dallas as Dallas is home to many Whole Foods, is not particularly remarkably except that you are forbidden to carry a concealed weapon on the premises, whether you have a permit or not and except that you are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages on the premises, and they even offer wines by the glass in the little eating area. Whether or not these two decisions coincide I cannot say, though I cannot imagine that they are entirely unrelated. I partook of neither the wines by the glass or the typically extensive Whole Foods beer selection, but this made my father very happy, though his unwise decision to choose a Brooklyn-made Belgian-style beer instead of buying a Chimay somewhat dampened his mood. Why you would trust a brewery known for its lager to make a very good Trappist-style ale, instead of choosing one of the great classic true Trappist ales is beyond me. But he did. He made up for it by purchasing a Chimay Cinq Cents to drink in our room, which ultimately meant that “For A Few Dollars More” had to be watched an increasingly louder volume after each commercial break.

Among the typical trends that I have noticed on my extensive travels this year, I confirmed that yet again the nicer the hotel, the more likely they are to lack free internet access of any sort, or free parking, and the more they are likely to charge you more for either one than is really reasonable. I also noticed that Chili’s is slowly but surely coming to dominate the airport cuisine options, with Dallas Love Field boasting a Chili’s immediately before and immediately after the security checkpoint. For the record, I seem incapable of spelling the word “immediately” correctly, as I incorrectly typed it as “immeadiately,” and then immediately corrected it, twice in rapid succession in a single sentence. Airports also like to charge you an exorbitant fee for internet usage. Perhaps Congress should tack on a few extra billion, if it would even cost that much, to ensure reasonable access to high speed internet for people that must be boosting the economy. They seem to be an spending mood lately. Diehard sports fans, the kind that refer to the exploits of the their favored team with the use of the pronoun “we,” as in “we won the game” or “we just acquired a great new pitcher,” continue to baffle me. There was a guy in the airport who answered his cellphone and engaged a friend of his in discussion of a recent game between “his” team, the identity of which I could not discern, and his friend’s. He repeatedly announced to his friend, in a most unhappy tone, that if “you are calling to gloat, I’m hanging up.” He then proceeded to explain that yes, he had seen his team lose to the friend’s team, and that he was in a foul mood a result. He then reiterated his threat to hang up if the sole purpose of the call was to gloat, which he did after a brief pause which led me to believe that gloating was indeed the purpose of the call, something which I find equally odd. This is why, partly, I hate Red Sox fans. Red Sox fans feel an inherent ownership of their team. Red Sox fans cry when the Red Sox lose. Personally, I am a Yankees fan. I like the Yankees for several reasons, not the least of which is that they generally win. But mostly I like the Yankees (and not the Mets, who are much too similar to the Red Sox in my opinion) because of the Yankees fans. Yankees fans expect their team to win. When the Yankees win, especially when the Yankees win the World Series, Yankees fans are happy because the order of the world is correct. Things are working the way they should. When the Yankees lose, Yankees fans, generally do not become upset. Certainly they never cry. The two acceptable emotions for a Yankees fan in the event of a loss are disgust and indifference. If the Yankees lose, and Carl Pavano is a pitching (which is a rarity), then I generally express a sense of disgust, because Carl Pavano is not a true Yankee and never should have been, at any price. But mostly when the Yankees lose, I express indifference. When the Yankees lose, they do not exist. For all practical purposes, the Yankees have truly existed for only 26 individual years. Maybe 40. But not more than that. Who were the ’95 Yankees? I have no idea. I think all fans of teams should react this way. To paraphrase General Patton, losing is un-American. Perhaps this same sense pervades my own reflections on my racing.

As I spent more time thinking about the race, in an effort to entertain those of you who might actually care more about triathlon than either food or the Yankees (which is probably impossible), I actual thought of something else that was worth noting. Yet again, it is not something that happened during the race, but something that happened before. David Thompson, who I like because he is an engineer and because he rides a bike very fast, showed up in Dallas with a soft cast on his wrist. It has been an unlucky year for David. Just as he got over some knee problems, he crashed on his bike in the rain and broke his hand. This was four weeks ago, and the doctors gave him a soft cast to protect the recently healed fracture as he gave it the “old college try” during the race. David had showed his cast to head referee Charlie Crawford the day before the race, and Mr. Crawford had, apparently, okayed David’s racing with that, perhaps in large part due to David’s assurance that he had done very little swimming as a result of having a broken hand and David’s confidence that he would be well off the back of the swim. If David had been likely to bludgeon Greg Bennett during the swim, I don’t know if Charlie would have been so forgiving, but we’ll never know. In any case, come race morning, one of the other referees becomes concerned by David’s cast, which resembles a rollerblading wrist-guard. She double checks with Charlie, who revises (at least accordingly to David’s account) his previous stance and now requires that David wrap the cast in neoprene. The suggestion is that David ruin his wetsuit, which he has with him, for this purpose. The idea of hacking apart a very nice wetsuit for such a purpose seemed absurd to me. I was sitting talking with David about other things as this drama unfolded before me. As is my preference before races, I was wearing a pair of compression socks, one of several pair of SLS3 (pronounced SLS “Tri,” somehow) Compression Sox provided to me by Sebastian, president/founder/etc. of SLS3. Sebastian loves to talk about his socks. So I devised a clever idea that would help David and hopefully, once I send an email to Sebastian, give him some good, if random, press. I asked if my socks, which I was about to take off in order to start the race anyway, could be used to cover David’s cast. After some consultation, the referees agreed that if we doubled over the socks and used both of them, creating a layer of four-sock-thicknesses over the cast, that would be acceptable. I laughed at the prospect of David’s right arm being clad in two soaking socks, which David confirmed weighed about five pounds by the end of the swim, but David seemed happy enough to just race, so I whipped out my trusty Olfa silver razor, which I find incredibly useful for cutting tape, zip ties, race numbers, and many of the other things that I seem to inevitably need to cut at a races, and we set to work making sleeves, complete with little thumbholes, for David’s cast. The fact that I traveled with a razor was surprising to the referee, who would probably also have been surprised that I also travel with a torque wrench, digital level, tape measure, ratchet, wire cutters, teflon tape, electrical tape, two disc wheel pump adapters, two spare inner tubes, a spare tire, a bundle of assorted zip ties, and several other “necessities,” all of which I store in a specially-tasked plastic bin between races so that I know that I will have all of these essentials if I simply place the contents of that bin into my suitcase before going to a race. This is the way engineers operate. I am not sure that David operates the same way, but I trust that as a fellow engineer, he would appreciate my system. At the very least, he appreciated my socks.

If this seems like a lot to write about a relatively unremarkable trip that lasted roughly 48 hours, that’s because it is. Sitting on a plane gives you ample time to write these sorts of things, should you be so inclined to commit pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. If you struggled to make it this far, blame Southwest for not flying faster, but only after you chastise them for having crappy snacks. Fortunately, I also travel with my own bars and my own supply of Green&Blacks organic extra-dark 85% cacao chocolate, which continues to far surpass any gel I’ve ever tried in both taste and efficiency of caloric delivery. I actually only use gels now when I race, because of their convenience, preferring to have a small piece of chocolate as I head out for a transition run or if I need some good calories, but something that won’t fill my stomach, before a hard run workout, which I usually like to do no sooner than two hours after a meal.

Sometimes, as if you could couldn’t tell, I like to imagine becoming a chef. Then I remember that being a chef is perhaps even more full time than being a professional athlete, and may, in many ways, be even more physically demanding. I bow to the daily endurance of a professional chef as well as to the long-term fortitude they must display in order to get to the point where they actually get to do the things for other people that would-be chefs aspire to do in the kitchen. Cooking is hard work. By this point, you may feel the same way about reading what I write, so I’ll stop here, rather abruptly, in much the same way I ended up at the dismount line at T2 with one foot still in my shoe and that shoe still attached to my bike due to an unmentioned course change or an impossibility of driving the course the same way that we rode it or due to an inability to navigate the roads of Dallas correctly due to the seemingly boundless number of construction projects taking place in the immediate (remember, no “a” after the “e”) vicinity of the American Airlines Arena, home of the Dallas Mavericks and, briefly, the finishline of the race.

© 2008 Kerry Yndestad, Yndecam.com

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