Trying to get to Dalby

American couple shares first Guatemalan experience

It's hard to believe we were racing in Guatemala a little over a week ago. And crazy to think an incredible volcano in Iceland is royally messing up (inconveniencing) millions of people's plans... ours included.

Mike and I got back from racing Pan Ams last Wednesday, planning a quick stop over at our home on the east coast of the US to prep up for our European racing campaign. It was going to be a short, but sweet four days at home and then off to pick up our RV in Europe so we could have time to drive and take a ferry to North Yorkshire for the first World Cup of the year.

Well, here we still are - flight cancelled, unable to get a rebooked ticket in time to stick to our original plan. I've been online for over a dozen hours trying to find flights and combinations of travel itineraries in hopes of making it to the United Kingdom for the World Cup opener this Sunday. The options are looking very grim, extremely expensive and horribly timed to be at our best. There's also the possibility that the flights won't even depart if we spend the dough. Hmm, garumph!

I am trying to relax and surrender to the reality of the situation... the lesson here is that Mother Nature rules, not me.

Anyway, on positive note, we are not stranded in an airport, but on a beautiful island that is bursting with springtime. Outside the current frustrations, Mike and I have been enjoying the quiet of this place and despite our distraction and stress over our current situation, we will try to make the most of this extra bit of time to catch up with ourselves.

Going to Guatamala

Our trip to Central America for Pan American Championships was successful, and the travel experience was eye opening.

Mike and I arrived in Guatemala City after three weeks of training and racing in Puerto Rico. Tired of the bad traffic and dogs barking at and chasing me, I was ready for a change of scenery; we were both excited to visit this country for the first time.

We arrived a day before the rest of the US National Team and had to fend for ourselves to find the hotel... Lago Atitlan? or Amatitlan? Two completely different places and both names on the directions from USAC... Luckily, I did a little research and practiced my phrases of how to ask in Spanish to be taken to our destination... Amatitlan, 45 minutes (with traffic) south of the sprawling and busy Guatemala CIty, not the beautiful tourist destination lake/volcano/coffee growing region, Atitlan. Too bad.

We were glad to have an extra day for a relaxed transition and a little time to absorb our foreign surroundings. Some of the first things I noticed were all the clunky old cars on the road and the seemingly chaotic and thick traffic, which made Puerto Rico seem tame. We were glad that we were going to the outskirts.

There also seemed to be a lot of guys guarding various establishments with very big guns... our hotel and the race course included. It must be normal for there, but I still could not get used to it and had to ask to have my picture taken a few times.

I also noticed the air was really smokey from burn piles, which added an oppressive heaviness to the to the already parched climate; it was evident that this place had not seen rain for months. Lucky for us, the day after we arrived a huge deluge downpour washed the streets and cleared the air, freshening things up quite nicely.

Outside the guarded walls of our plush (by Guatemala's standards) hotel, we could see the bustle and color of the town passing by. Some people were walking barefoot and carrying huge bundles of sticks on their head, groups of school kids out for their PE class, running, getting exercise. The local street vendors sold candies, baskets, colorful woven cloth, coconuts and tropical fruits. Guys fished in the (gnarly) green canal of water with hand-thrown nets, kids swam, dogs barked, buses honked to announce their arrival every hour. I loved seeing so many bikes in town, even the taxis were pedal powered and some of the carnival rides hand cranked. It is always refreshing to visit places where even though the people may not have a lot, I can see they are content and can enjoy life, living simply: a good reminder.

There were racers and staff from all of the Americas, Canada and the Islands - with each nation bringing its top cross country, downhill, and four Cross riders to compete at the Continental Championship. The international bike flavor mixed in with the small lake town's permanent carnival was a sight to behold. I could just see the look of bewilderment and surprise as we passed by on our blinged out mountain bikes, clad in lycra, helmets and sunglasses, trying to keep a good cadence to warm up; I don't think many of these people had ever seen our types, let alone female versions. A smile and hearty "Hola, buenas!" was enough to melt most stares into smiles.

We trained and prepared for the days leading up to the race, taking care of our bodies, eating well, and mentally visualizing success. The team vibe was relaxed and quite nice with a smaller, more intimate group. Even though we all race for different teams and are competing against each other on race day, we can come together as the "US National Team" for a few days and enjoy each other's company - it was good to laugh together and catch up since we saw each other last summer. But when the gun goes off for the races, we are all business.

The race track was set in a manicured forest on top of a hill above Lago Amatitlan. The course was pretty fun to ride, but relatively tame, compared to some of the race courses we experience. There was some really nice, fast, flowing singletrack, some doubletrack, steady climbs, a few chutes, but nothing extremely challenging - other than the fact that the elevation was at 5,000 feet - which doesn't seem that high until you try to exert huge efforts and then blow up.

So the races went well... the US women swept the podium: Willow Koerber (first) was about 45 seconds in front of me (second) and Heather Irmiger battled the Canadians a few minutes back, earning the bronze. I got a good start, but could not attack very hard to close the small gap without blowing (thanks to the elevation), so I maintained a steady pace throughout - happy enough with second... and the healthy stack of UCI points to help our country's international ranking (as well as my own). We are all aware and working to earn maximum start position for the Olympics in 2012 - and the US women are well on the way to making it happen.

The US men did great, too. It was fun to watch and cheer from a quiet shady spot in the woods with Heather and Willow while the USAC crew took care of the tech and feed zones for us all. Todd Wells brought home the gold with a good battle with Brazil and Columbia. The rest of the US men finished in the top 20 - Sam Schultz sixth, JHK 10th and Mike in 16th (of 85 elite men). Mike was definitely hoping for more, especially after his fourth place at Pan Ams last year and his rock solid fitness right now. But I think the course did not really favor his riding styles; it was not super challenging or technical and the elevation probably tricked him.

Yet, all in all we were stoked and grateful for the experience and perspective racing in Guatemala brought.

All the best,
Mary & Mike

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