Friday, May 18, 2007

Nevada Passage 2007

Long time no talk. You see, I never made any promises about how often I would update this damned blog. Turns out not very often. That is not to say that I don't like writing...the pay is pretty good, oh wait, it sucks. It's just that the mood has to strike. Nothing worse than trying to force out a few hundred (ok, ok, ok THOUSAND) words when you are not feeling that funny at all. Well there is a time and place for everything I suppose, so here is my newest attempt at writing when not having the time to do it right, or the creativity to make you laugh, you have been warned.

How'd the hell did I get there?
Nevada Passage 2007 was a 4 stage "adventure" race across beautiful parts of western Nevada (that is pronounced Ne-vaaaaa-dah not Nev-ahhhhh-dah as I was corrected close to 1,237 times). It is put on by the Nevada Commission on Tourism as a way to promote tourism in Nevada and to get people to realize that it has more to offer than Vegas, gambling and brothels. I didn't believe it, but I was willing to be proven wrong.

I got invited to participate based on some close ties I have with the XTERRA Triathlon Series. (If you are new to this blog it is almost entirely what I write about). We are paired at random with someone of the opposite gender based on our profession, so I got matched with another "programmer". I have always hated that term, kinda like calling a highly trained chef a "cook", but I digress. I was teamed with the energetic and sweetest southern bell, Jackie Ryan. She is a very accomplished XTERRA athlete from Alabama. The rest of the group were from all over our great nation nearly all them are triathletes of some kind at some point and all of them were very talented.

Another cool aspect of the race is that it will be televised nationally (dunno what channels but sometime in August). So this is in effect a "reality" show that happens to be about Nevada and Racing. I figured that this is quite possibly my one chance at fame and glory so I was going to ham it up and see if can parlay this into my rightful position atop Hollywood (NO!!!, not in the porn industry). Ok. Well, I know I would not be a superstar, but I was determined to let the "personality" fly, um, because...I never, EVER do that. Heh.

I get to Vegas and the Hooter's Hotel and Casino (boys, we are NEVER staying there for one of our trips, that would be the worst decision since the seafood buffet...Coach, I'm looking at you) I get in at 1:30am, that is 4:30 am east coast time, when I normally wake up, so already I'm off to a great start.

First day has us meet the press, practice throwing an Atlatl, and do our entrance interviews & get some much needed camera time. By this point, I know already that I'm going to have fun this week. People are not really opening up juuuust yet, but I can see the cracks in the armor, not to mention I already have verbal diarrhea so I was thinking it would not be too hard to crack some of these nuts open.

That night they throw a welcome dinner for everyone. There is a ton of support crew that goes into making this happen and it was good to hang and get to know a few of them. I'll just thank them now in case any of them are reading this.

For the rest of you that have made it this far, congrats and I'm sorry, it is about to get a whole lot longer. And you thought I TALKED a lot.

Stage One
This was a desert run (about an 8k I'd image) in Nevada's oldest state park, Valley of Fire. Words cannot accurately describe how incredible this place was. If you like to see nature at it's most creative, this is the place. The rock formations, vistas, and colors were IN-credible. It's is unquestionably worth a visit, even if you have to drag your sorry ass away from the craps table to do it. Just bring some water.

Speaking of water, it was dry in Nevada. Not just, "Wow everything is sand here" I mean dry like your entire head is chapped within a few hours of landing. Throat gets dry and raspy (right Linda ;-) ), chapped lips, crusty nostrils, eye boogers, the whole enchilada. Um...or maybe it is just me? Anyway, chapstick was my best friend all week, I always kept it with me for fear of death.

Our stage started with a 4 mile road run over rolling hills, at the 4 mile mark we headed off road through rock canyons and formations for a little over a mile to atlatl throw just before the finish. My teammate Jackie had a hamstring injury and was worried about it, and I am still recovering from an ankle explosion so I knew we would not be setting any course records. This run became one of pushing ourselves as hard as we could without aggravating any injuries.

At the horn we all head off up the first hill that was about a mile I would image. The string teams got a gap on us real early and immediately we were in 9th place, so I just wanted to try to keep some of the other teams in site and reel them in over the next 5+ miles. On the uphills I would go behind Jackie and push her up the hills to help out and on everything else I just let her find her rhythm. By mile 2 we had crawled into 6th place and the field got really stretched out after that.

Hanging a left we head into the sand and run through some really incredible rock formations as we make our way around towards the finish. I was on the lookout for rattlers, but luckily they knew to keep their distance. Italian Stallions normally win out in the old stallion/snake battle. As we get to the Atlatl we see the 5th place team (Journalists) just heading to the finish, so we figure if we can each hit the target (each hit get s 1:00 time bonus) that we can finish in 5th and not 6th. Jackie misses short, then I let out a battle cry and hurl my atlatl. Not only did I miss the target, but I think I took out a jet liner on it's way to Hawaii. I overshot the target so much that I was worried that I might have impaled someone that the finish line. Oh well, no time bonus, but Team Programmers storm to the line for a 6th place finish an no mention on the Nevada Passage daily race report :-)

After the race we ate some sandwiches and got to explore some of the nearby rock formations and views. It was completely incredible and gorgeous and everyone FINALLY opened up. There is something about finishing a race together. I can't put my finger on exactly what it is, but there is a bond formed between the competitors and after this stage everyone started to let loose and it was great to be in the middle of that.

Stage One: 6th place.

Stage Two
After stage one left the comfy confines of Vegas and headed to Beatty, NV at the mouth of Death Valley to stay at the glamorous Stagecoach Motel/Casino. Now I know it may sound like the middle of no where, but rest assured, the buffet was gloriously poured from pre WWII lead cans each night to make sure we were fuel'd up right for the competitions. The pool was ice cold and the beers were warm, so more or less we were good to go.

Our first night in Beatty was our only night to really throw down since the next day we were just riding dune buggies, not running, biking, or anything else physically exerting, so off we went. After a long soak in the pool & hot tub (I think we set a world record for most people in a hot tub, 243) and many cervesas, we were "ready" for dinner. Oh yeah, we also got subjected to Papa Kahuna's lovely boxer shorts bathing suit. Thanks Dave, we needed that just before dinner. Post dinner was countless hours hanging with our 2 best friends, Jack and Ginger. Now I I don't recall just how many I had, but it was more than I can count on one hand.

The next day Stage Two took place on the sand dunes of the Amargosa Desert. We rode 30 horsepower dune buggies on a makeshift figure 8 race course. It was a relay with the fastest combined team time winning. One teammate was sent off to drive the course and when they came to a complete stop in the pit, the second teammate was sent off. There were 2 buggies, one yellow (the fast one) and one red (the slow one).

Our practice runs were hilarious with many people not making fast enough up the dunes to clear the flags setup as gates. It took a bit of time for everyone to realize that there was nothing special about the course, you slammed the gas pedal to the floor and did not lift it up until you were done, real simple, but easier said than done.

Times were coming in fast, the yellow buggies roughly in about 1:07 and the red one at about 1:12. Jackie went first for our team in the yellow as I sat in waiting in the red buggie, hooting and hollering. She had a great start and was cruising the course as well as could be expected, as she rounded the 2nd flag I was some long distance fishtailing happening and I was hoping that would not effect her run at the 3rd flag. As she disappeared behind the column of the finish line chute and obscured from my view I watched as the crowd let out a groan of disappointment. Alas my teammate was stuck and did not clear the 3rd flag. That foiled our plans for world domination but somehow we eeked out a 9th place finish. Dropping us to 9th overall.

Afterward we got to watch a lot of the crew take runs on the course, most of them not faring as well as the racers. I guess it was not as easy as it looked. It was fun as hell hauling ass on those buggies, my only regret is that we did not get more time to play. We got one practice lap and one race that, that was it. So all told, 5 hours out in the sand, 2 minutes of which we were riding in the buggies. Oh well, at least I got an Adonis-like tan, er, burn.

After dune buggying around we got to visit the Ghost town of Rhyolite, home to the world famous Goldwell Open Air Museum. Lots of crazy art just hanging out in a very inhospitable desert. High temps are claimed to reach 125 degrees in the summer. At least Lady Desert's curtains matched her drapes and she wont get any tan lines.

After the dunes and the ghost town we were ready for more cold pool, warm beer, and buffet. A little Blackjack took place before an early night. Where the hell in the world can you find a $2 minimum blackjack table? At the Stagecoach casino that's where. I played for 2+ hours with $20 and left with that same $20 in my hand....unheard of.

(ok, I know, I need to cut it short...I'm doing my best)

Stage Three
We head out to the Alkali Lake Bed outside of Goldfield and Tonopah. It is a dried up lake bed where were were to do our bike relay. The catch was that the bike relay was on 3-speed Electra Rally Sport Cruisers (no link, stupid flash site).

It should come to no surprise that here in the desert in a dried up lake bed that it was dry. Real dry. My throat was chapped within in minutes of stepping off our bus. In fact, it was so dry my throat is getting dry just writing about it. We were given about 30 minutes or so to toll around on the bikes, fit them to ourselves, work on transition strategy, etc. Of course we spent no time strategizing, just goofing off. It was mroe fun that way anyway.

The relay race had the following format. Twelve 1.3 mile loops on a one million-year-old, bright white, hard-packed, sun-cracked and crusty dried up lake bed. The first 3 laps were done by my teammate, then 3 by my, then 3 by her, and finally 3 by me. In between the 3 lap sessions there was a 100 foot long transition area where you were to hand off the bike b/w teammates. Luckily Jackie and I had roughly the same length legs so we did not have to worry about switching the seat height on hand off.

At the horn Jackie was off and rode a smoking fast first 3 laps. We were well positioned although in 6th place at the first transition. The hand off was a bit shaky but then off I went. The first thign I realized when trying to go really fast on a bike that was not meant to go fast was....holy $@#t this is hard. My legs felt dead and I was not clipped into my pedals like I'm used to. During my 2nd lap Dave Ruby caught up to me and we decided to work together to try to reel in those ahead of us. We climbed up 2 places and after a fast transition Jackie was off for the next leg.

She rode another great 3 laps while I wept, wheezed, panted and coughed on the sidelines. Coming into the final transition she kept us in 5th place. Once out on the course the wind picked up fiercely. I would guess they were whipping at 20-30mph and it made the course BRUTAL. Just into my 2nd lap John Madden caught me. No, not that John Madden. Not having much gas left in the tank I decided I was going to draft him for as long as possible, so as he came by I grabbed onto his wheel. It was obvious after freeloading for a lap through the awful wind that he did not want me drafting him anymore. He started to slow down dramatically and swerve back and forth then surge trying to drop me, but like the little bastard that I am, I held on tight and would not let him go. This went on forever, I was definitely giggling at one point.

Coming into the final turn my "plan" was to hold tight around the corner and try to out sprint him to the finish. I did not have much left in my legs but hopefully neither did he. As he let out a final surge to drop me he got about a 5 foot gap. Just as I was closing that gap up comes a minivan driven by the camera crew to watch us in action. The combination of the minivan and the wind blew up an immense dust cloud that made me cough up a lung and lose my draft. John easily beat me to the finish, we would have to settle for 5th place on the say, and only climbed up to 8th overall.

It was fun as hell out on those cruisers in the middle of the desert. It was also by far our most strenuous day physically of the entire passage. We would all sleep well that night.

Afterwards we had a 5 hour bus ride up to Reno, but not before stopping at the one place that would make the entire trip worth it. The Glory Hole. Now in the western parts apparently a "glory hole" is a mine, and the largest silver mine in Nevada was dubbed THE Glory Hole. Well, where I come from there are no mines (at least none that I know of) so a glory hole is something else entirely. I think I may still be laughing. Yes, I am still 8 years old mentally.

4,378 glory hole jokes later we arrived in "The Biggest Little City In The World" Reno and our final stop in the 2007 Nevada Passage.

Stage Four
Our 4th stage would take place on Mount Rose just outside for Reno. The stage required us to ski for 45 minutes UP the mountain (more on that in a minute) then downhill ski through a set of gates to the finish. You had to cross the finish line together with your teammate. Now, back to skiing UP a mountain. I had never heard of this before, but apparently it is called alpine touring and uses a special binding called a Randonnee binding.

Being from the south, my teammate had never skied before in her life, so we took this opportunity to see if she could learn REALLY fast. After about 5 minutes it was pretty obvious that at best she would not be able to get down the mountain in any decent amount of time, and at worst could hurt herself in the process, so we made a strategic plan that once up top she would just throw her skis over her shoulder and literally run down the mountain.

The race started with a 1/4 mile run (in ski boots) to the first transition area. This was awful. Not only was it impossible, but it also hurt. turns out that it was just as fast to walk as it was to "pretend" to run, but for the camera's sake I kept pretending. Once we got our skins on we started our slog up the mountain and let me tell you, it was fantastic. Now some people will call me "slow" but I love climbing on a mountain bike, I dont know what it is, it hurts and it not even close to easy, but it is so much fun. The same can be said for this. The views were incredible, the workout was tough, and annoyed everyone around me b/c I would not shut up the whole time up the mountain. Oh well.

The top came far too soon, and now it was time to lock in our bindings and head down the mountain to finish off this journey across Nevada. Since Jackie was running down I took off and got some good skiing in. I even stopped to make a few snow angels and enjoy the scenery. The Pilot team in front of us had another non-skier, Steve from Mississippi. (Those dang southerners just can't ski). Turns out that between him falling all over the mountain and Jackie running, that she actually caught him and passed him briefly. Once he saw Jackie's stroke of genius, he took off his skis too and beat us to the finish. it was a great stage and now HAVE to do alpine touring more often. For the day we finished 9th and held on to our 8th overall position (out of 10)

Later that night we had our awards dinner and time again to tear up the town. Kahuna gave out sheriff's badges and nicknames to all the competitors, and generally kept us laughing for the entire night. After dinner I joined Kahuna and many more of the Nevada Passage crew at the craps table where he literally talked the dice into submission, most of us winning quite a lot of money in the process. The dice LOVE well they should.

Stallion Brand Novelty CigsAfterthoughts
The week that was spent tooling around Nevada was a truly incredible experience. I had the opportunity to make some great new friends and experience some very different things that I would have otherwise had no opportunity to enjoy. It also gave me many many hours to say highly inappropriate things in front of TV cameras and (for a short time) people that I did not know at all. I will most likely never get the chance to do something like this again (I wont stop trying though), it was incredibly unique, the people that I got to know were marvelous. I have countless memories that I will fondly remember, and I am certainly better off in this world having done it.

I suggest you try it.