The Bavarian province of Germany is a spectacular place to be in the autumn! Even before leaving the Munich airport, we caught a sense of a more than typical upbeat almost carnival-like atmosphere. Of course this clearly had something to do with many of the travelers enjoying larger than typical beers before stepping onto their morning flights, but the general beauty of the season - sweet fall weather and evidence all around of bountiful harvest - were sure to contribute to the positive vibe.
In the countryside, the crisp, night air was filled with the scent of freshly grown hops and the noise of people having a good time and in general taking advantage of the waning temperate nights by spending long evenings outdoors at the many bier gartens.
Mary and I had returned to Europe to attend the final two rounds of the World Cup series in hopes of having some good finishes and to round out our ambitions to contest the World Cup series in its entirety. Our most recent travels were to Australia and included flying back over the United States, with two long layovers and other unplesantries that taunted us along the way, but helped to keep things at least closer to "on budget". Plainly put, this type of travel is not recommended for anyone - and especially if you are racing back-to-back weekends and expecting something special from your body.
We arrived at the RV rental shop in a frantic state of tiredness. I managed to build up the bikes only by propping my eyes open with giant mugs of coffee and we somehow even got out on a damage recovery spin in the last moments of daylight. It felt great to move the legs, but due to our jet lagged state the ride quickly morphed into more of a forced march that ended with me "assisting" Mary back to the RV - both of us in a zombie state.
For the next two days we sat, literally stunned, and did not have the resolve to leave our friends driveway in Ingotstadt still just 45 minutes north of where we landed on the continent. A few more recovery spins, a grocery stock up and lots of short, dreamless mini-sleeps later, we felt "together" enough to make a safe attempt at the eight-hour drive into Switzerland.
After tackling kilometers of highway construction on the autobahn, we finished the drive up some incredibly tiny and beautiful mountain roads that wound up into the stunning village of Champery, Switzerland. As we chose a campsite and again got the bikes out for some more recovery spinning, we were greeted by the familiar buzz of the World Cup circuit. We were treated to a camping spot within sight of the track - but all too soon it became apparent that although it was convenient on some levels, soon the booming PA system would make this a weekend we would never forget. Forcibly loud, nonstop race commentary in both French and English was tough enough to handle, but the inclusion of hours and hours of poorly arranged and better forgotten 80s music was just over the top!
The race track in Champery was awesome - technically demanding and full of tricky roots and rocky trails. Both Mary and I were excited for the prospects of racing on this excellent track.
Mary was called to the second row but the start was super demanding, and it was evident that she was feeling tired from the travel as she lost some positions getting up the initial pavement start. She ended up boxed in and having to run most of the initial sweet downhill, blocked by throngs of crashed and stacked up riders. She was able to use some of her quick on and off the bike skills to stay safe while moving up through the field impressively throughout the race. Mary scrapped her way into the 20s, but by her own recall her, her legs were not good nor was she mentally focused enough to drop the "scary chute" and be at her best throughout the technical track.
In my opinion this was one of, if not THE best race course on the World Cup circuit this season. My race went a lot like Mary's - a tough start, lots of traffic to contend with, but overall a good ride that saw me come up from 110 to an eventual 60th place on the day.
After spending an extra day in Champery, we began to make the drive towards the World Cup final in Schladming, Austria. With only the loosest travel itinerary, we played it by feel and ended up pulling over in a small German town just before sunset. We got out the bikes to get in a spin and more importantly to case the town for a suitable place to park our rig for the night. We ended up settling on a quiet and flat enough graveyard parking area, pulled out a bottle of Italian wine, the yoga mats and made a romantic night of it.
Before getting on the road the next morning, we took a stroll through the "neighborhood" and were surprised to see the number of people who had made it close or into centurion status in the small graveyard. Pondering how many of these people had managed such longevity, brought us to discussing the prospects of all our fitness training and racing helping us reach an old age. Interestingly we decided that what we do to ourselves for the sport is probably more capable of shortening our lives, but in consolation we decided that we should go for quality over quantity anyway.
Schladming brought an exciting end to the World Cup season as it hosted a triple event. The gravity side of mountain biking brings an element of excitement, a lot more friends to the party and on race day crowds that resemble the type of mayhem that as athletes we all hope for in our sport. The racing went OK for us both - the highlight being Mary's 10th place in the overall ranking of the World Cup series!
Although it is just a number, it was hard fought, and I want to mention that I am incredibly proud of Mary and all that we are able to accomplish with our unique team program.
I am also beyond words in being able to express thanks for the support from all our incredible sponsors and people who have helped and looked after us along the way. Being able to pull off such a result at this level of competition is a testament to the influence of all our positive people and the quality of the equipment that we have the privilege to use. A huge Thanks to ALL!!!
As we packed up out of Europe for the last time this year, we had the chance to spend an evening with some new friends and an evening with some old ones. Each experience could have been a week longer without being long enough but we were still on a tight schedule and it was time to head back to the states - to Las Vegas to make it in time for the Interbike trade show.
Although this city is about as out of our element as we can get, Mary and I enjoy the trade show since it is such a great meeting of the US bike culture. In fact we all looked a bit out of place amongst the more smokey gambley types, and I think that this background helps endear one another to the tribe of the bike. For all its difficulties, Interbike really has an undeniable positive influence on many peoples lives, gives us hope, perhaps a bit of fitness and something to get focussed on and stoked about.
We even chose to participate in the Cross Vegas nigh time cyclo-cross race in an effort to represent for and entertain the majority of our sponsors who were in attendance and often do not have the opportunity to see us compete. Our ambitions were really just to be a part of the show, but racing is racing and we were feeling like having a go.
Neither of us had even seen our (singular) 'cross bike in months or raced a 'cross race in over two years, but this was too big an opportunity to miss out on. In an out of character ploy, we had our friends at Notubes.com update our 'cross bikes with some of the latest equipment including a radical prototype set of tubeless 'cross wheels.
The bikes were then shipped to Las Vegas Cyclery (headquarters of Escape Adventures - an eco friendly mountain bike tour company) where our friend and owner, Jared Fisher and his staff of noble mechanics assembled and race tuned our bikes. [That was] pretty out of character, super luxurious, AND the only way we could make a race in Vegas on a Wednesday during a trade show just three days after racing the World Cup cross country mountain bike finals in Austria...
Our bodies were not far off from being in the game and our minds? well, racing 'cross at 9:00 pm was probably weird for everyone, but at this point it was just nice to not be on an airplane.
Being completely at the end of our ropes with travel was starting to come to mind more than a little bit. Even though we don't really have a specific place to call home, we knew we wanted some of what home means. And that is not sleeping two nights a week on airplanes, feeling continually a step or two out of sink with the present time zone or spending more time building up and packing bikes than riding them.
Now at the end of this trip, it seems that we are lucky to have selective memories that focus on the positive things like racing our bikes in foreign lands and the excitement of the experience which blots out negative aspects the hours of cramped travel, logistical nightmares and the like. Even before we were back, we were calling this trip well worth it and a few days ago were alluding to it as being "epic". Now it has grown on us enough to be considered a great experience.
The next phase will no doubt see us signing up for the same thing without hesitation once again. In fact we are already figuring out a fall race program... See you at the 'cross races!
Now is always the best time to get out and go for a ride!
Mike and Mary
For some awareness of some haunting realities about our planet and what we can do to help visit www.350.org!