THE LOCALS ARE PAINTING MY NAME ON THE ROADS

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It feels time to wrap up Trinidad and Tobago. It’s been languishing like that mother-in-law that’s been knocking on death’s door for two decades, sitting in the back of my mind, needing to come out (read: die), whining incessantly, but I’m a little torn. Part of me wants to do this:

"So the race went like this in boring cycling jargon, I worked my ass off, got in the break for 90km, but the race bible was inaccurate and the stage was 120km instead of 96km…"

And the other part wants to go:

"Oh my God, how did I make it out alive? That was AWESOME."

I think the latter will be far more entertaining than detailing the specific mechanics of a bicycle race in terms only .0003% of the globe’s populace can comprehend, yes?

Yes. 

So, Trinidad. As you may have inferred, the last couple days of our exciting journey were fraught with (surprise) peril. Yes, I was in the break very early, as planned. With one other guy. ONE. At least he was a super-chill Danish man-beast who helped me annihilate the Colombian track team holding yellow, as planned. And we got brought back, as planned, after completely turning ourselves inside out. Cesar (how I love that Colombiana Greyhound) attacked at exactly the right moment, snapping off from the peloton like a man possessed. As planned. In fact, he held virtual yellow - as planned. Then, in typical fashion, the course was not as planned. Cesar crossed the 96km mark - the supposed finish, yet there was no fanfare, no crowd, no finish line…because the finish was, in truth, another 20km away. In bike racing, efforts are metered for exact distances with little room for error. Cesar’s room for error was about 5km, and he was spent. Our chance at total victory was vanquished like an errant fly in a spotless operating room, and we’d end up settling for third and fourth in the general classification. I’d sacrificed any hope I’d had at a decent finish by destroying myself in the break for the team, and would finish somewhere in the nether regions of the GC. 

The night before the final stage, we found ourselves in a hotel that likely gave a number of members of the peloton Dengue fever - but there was something a little more pressing beyond questionable food and the languishing manner in which it was served. The two story building was picturesque, lying directly on the beach, with almost nil in the way of telecom infrastructure. We were residing on the eastern shore of the isle of Trinidad, the most remote area of the nation - and a true black hole of modern communication. We weren’t sure if the hotel even had a land-line.

The morning of the final stage, we were assembling in the usual manner for the jaunt over to the start line - which is to say, pretty slowly, because we’re in T&T…and we be limin’. The food the night before seemed to have afflicted most of us in terrible, porcelain bowl-destroying ways. Cesar and I opted to visit the bar down the street for breakfast - a safe haven of food cooked in 350F oil that no amoeba, virus, bacteria, or other tiny organism hell-bent on annihilating my GI tract could survive in. We returned from our greasy sanctuary to pack up for the trip out. As Cesar wandered to the bathroom of our second-floor room to gather his assortment of belongings, the floor beneath him began to make suspect noises. What was at first though to be nothing more than a loose tile revealed itself to be an actual sinking of the floor beneath him. A loud crack announced our immediate departure from the room. I gathered my stuff like a Russian peasant fleeing the approaching Mongol horde. As I clambered down the stairs, losing bits and pieces of kit from my arms, I spotted one of the proprietors coming the other way.

Nate: “Hey, so our room is uh…it’s collapsing. The floor is collapsing.”

Proprietor: “Oh. Ayekay.”

She continued up the stairs at her herded gait, as if the collapse of second-floor rooms was a regular occurrence here. We got on the bus, and the laughter began. Laughter and smiles. 

More later. 

Posted at 2:30pm and tagged with: trinidad and tobago, cycling, cesar grajales,.

Carib Impressment.

Things got hairy. With shortened and canceled stages on Tobago, race direction thought adding a mild Cat 3 climb to our first foray upon return to Trinidad would be something akin to a concession prize. 

The bike had other plans. As the peloton rounded the Queen’s Park Savannah, its stem began swinging wildly around the steerer without any regard for its pilot’s desired trajectory. Back through the caravan, seeking assistance in the form of a four-mil hex key. Shock or chagrin on my part was absent when the hunt for the key became akin to a search for the Fountain of Youth - after all, this was Trinidad. Grinning, I fell off the back, gingerly navigating the Dogma up the switchbacks of Lady Young Road, losing time by the seconds, then minutes. One of the team cars was going on a quest for the Holy Allen Key, and would return to my position when it was unearthed.

As the sag ambulance ripped past, I contemplated my fate riding stag in traffic with a broken stem. Not dwelling on the some twenty-minute gap that had been opened between myself and the tail of the peloton, I laughed about an encounter on Tobago two nights prior. Cesar and I were (wisely) investing in some essentials (note: beer). Ensnared in friendly conversation with some locals outside the market, we started chatting cycling. Not only was the Lance an unknown to them, they were huge Cuban Missile (their verbiage) fans: The one and only Ivan Dominguez, whom I’d had the chance to race with at San Dimas and Speedweek previously. 

The blaring of the team’s shitty Mitsu’s horn awoke me from my 300-watt daydream, and I could sense the wagon careening up the road towards me at a perilous rate of speed. In the blink of an eye, I was rolling whole again. The sag ambulance reappeared on the roadway, as if delivered by a reset button in a video game. I soon found myself motor pacing a Red Cross ambulance at 70KPH, until the traffic got to the point of overwhelming. The timegap was estimated at 30 minutes, and I was alone on a six-lane highway. And smiling. 

The other team car took pity, and dropped back in a vain attempt to assist the day’s runt back to the field. When using vain, it isn’t meant disparagingly…but poor Ronnie couldn’t figure out the mechanics behind motor pacing to save his own life. I grew tired of whiplash accelerations/random braking, and instructed the valiant assistant director that I’d be better off in the wind. 

I settled in for the long chase, staring down at the Joule computer to keep me apprised of how much pain to self-inflict. The kilometers ticked away, and the sky threatened as I plied south into the wind, rocketing past a few of the unfortunate dropped. Ronnie shouted something about the gap coming down from the car, now driving parallell to my position. As is Tour of T&T tradition, the skies opened almost as soon as the route headed off the highway onto narrow roads. Waves of the most intense precipitation I’d ever seen smothered like a warm down comforter. The course rolled through oil refineries with brief wall after wall, every descent slick as if it were a greased cookie sheet. Traffic. A shit-eating grin appeared as I knifed through the stopped cars and trucks like the bike messenger I once was.  

The road parallelled the sea, and I was met by a pair of our motorcycle club escort who did their best at keeping me from getting flattened by errant oil trucks. My gratitude was short lived, as water levels on parts of the road crept upwards, forcing dexterous maneuvering through oncoming traffic. The course tilted skyward for a few hundred meters, bringing me out of the dregs of the waterlogged asphalt. A shout from one of the motorbikes vaguely sounded like “TWO MINUTES!”. Invigorated by the news, I opened the throttle through my waterlogged shoes and plowed forward. The odometer read 80km. 

Again, traffic. Again, weaving. But this was different. This traffic wasn’t even moving. In a matter of seconds, I found myself in the race caravan, and discovered why it had stopped. The road ahead had taken a meter-deep bath, littered with stalled vehicles and rubberneckers. Yet, there were no cyclists to be found - a cursory conversation with a commissaire confirmed my amused suspicion: The race had continued. I splashed on, smiling. Riding through water, as it turns out, is a lot like riding through air. Except harder.

I emerged from the floodwaters in about 500m, finding the entire peloton throwing down its best “drowned rat” pose in the parking lot of a car audio shop. While we’d all likely gotten dysentery and/or tapeworms, the mood was nothing short of positive. At this point, the race had become anecdotal to the biblical story of JobOr the Plagues of Egypt. No one had died (yet), so there wasn’t much left to do but laugh. We grinned, joked, and slogged back to the caravan through the water. 

The stage was nixed. My chase had been for nothing, on paper…but damn, it felt good. 

While I was busy staying alive behind the race, one of my German teammates earned a DQ after verbally tussling with one of the motorbike cops. Not only that, but he managed to convince his countryman on our merry band of miscreants that continuing the race was fruitless. We were down to three: Myself (~2 minutes), Cesar (~30 seconds), and Jaime (~10 seconds).

To quote my favorite Colombian, “Holy sheeeeit.” 

Two more days - and we were certain the next stage would bring an earthquake, a coup (staged by us), tsunami, plague of locusts, or mass cholera infection.

Posted at 11:55pm and tagged with: flood, cycling, trinidad and tobago, cesar grajales, water,.

Day 3.

I’m not feeling very wordsmithy. It’s hard to express things creatively when my nerves are frayed. The racing here isn’t physically exhausting, but it requires a degree of mental resolve I haven’t experienced before.

It started nicely enough. Another night crit was on deck for the third stage, so Cesar and I took the day to go on a downtown Port of Spain adventure. After cruising around for an hour looking for a bakery, we ended up at the downtown square and Cesar’s gluten sense picked up the trail. A few cheesy pastries later and after telling multiple sketchy-looking inquiring locals our bikes cost $600TT (a little less than $100 US), we cruised down the square where I got distracted by the street food - par for the course. While a local college student chatted us up, I had my first experience with the local dish known as “Doubles”. 

Doubles are pretty basic. Two pieces of cumin-flavored dough are pan fried, and some soft-curried chickpeas are slapped between them. Going rate on the street is between $.25-75 per, and it’s about as much food as three street tacos in the US. Filling and delicious, a wonderful curry-cumin assault on the senses. Apparently there’s lots of different varieties…I intend to try a few more while I’m here. 

The square was soaked up for another few minutes, and we ripped through traffic back home. The race in the evening was held around the Queen’s Park Savannah, essentially a massive grass field surrounded by what the Triniboganians claim is the “World’s Largest Roundabout” near downtown Port of Spain. Start time was set for 8 PM, but…this is Trinidad. 

We sat around for two hours waiting for the start. I regretted leaving my camera in the room. The police plodded to close the inner two lanes of the road for the race while our legs cooled, and our guts rumbled with hunger. Meanwhile, the TTCF took its time to get things rolling with the eccentric announcer making bizarre jokes as the amateur racers completed single-lap contests around the 5km course. I was skeptical, to say the least - our protection from the outer lane of thick traffic was a line of intermittent cones about the size of a large Big Gulp cup. In the dark.

Racing started, and my fears were confirmed. This was going to be much like the Speedweek shenanigans I’d encountered in the spring. Guys with no place contesting the GC for the race were riding like men possessed, chopping every corner with little regard for themselves or others. A good chop by a Jamaican sent me into one of the aforementioned cones, but after locking up both wheels and sliding for a meter or two, I managed to keep things upright. We were screaming along at almost 40mph on the straightaways with a few guys ripping outside the cones to advance, and the corners were jam-packed with so much divebombing you’d think it was Pearl Harbor. 

The danger intensified as random cars wandered onto the course. There was the occasional fender intrusion, but the true crescendo of insanity was encountering a 40-foot boat on a trailer exiting one of the last turns. Had it been a mere twenty meters back, a massive pile-up would have ensued. We were lucky. Emile Abraham, sitting in first, had his crew at the nose of the race. As the sprint went off on the last lap, I sat back and let the fireworks go - no sense in going for a hospital trip on the second day of racing. All of our guys stayed upright, a success in my book.

We rolled back to the hotel moderately shellshocked, but figured the day after (our first road race) would be a much safer affair, as they typically are - and in the daylight. How very, very wrong we were.

Posted at 8:36am and tagged with: tour of trinidad and tobago, trinidad, port of spain, cycling, nate king, cesar grajales,.

Welcome to the lovely island nation of Trinidad & Tobago!

I’m here for a ten-stage race that’s part of their celebration of their 50th anniversary of independence from Britain - it’s called “The Unity Race”. Pretty rad stuff! CCRT teammate Cesar Grajales and I got an invite from a contact, figured we didn’t have anything else going on…and went for it. Being able to see places I never would’ve been able to before is a huge reason I race bikes at the level I do, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity! Thanks to PetroTrini (our composite team’s sponsor) and Roger Farrell (our manager) for the chance to race is in order, as well as to Reynolds for hooking up some race hoops last minute.  

Anyway, T&T (as colloquially known) is an interesting place. Fairly wealthy by Carib standards thanks to a fossil-fuel boom, it’s a melting pot of culture, language, food, and customs thanks to being passed around by a few colonial powers, emancipation of African slaves, and the indentured servitude of East Indians in the 1800s. The people here are incredibly friendly, and the way of life is decidedly laid back. We’re learning that the islands run on “Trinitime” - you can pretty much count on everything starting at least thirty minutes after the stated time, and that’s perfectly okay. The dialect of English spoken here is sweetly melodic with some Creole spice thrown in.

Our first day here involved a mellow ride around the capital, Port of Spain, with some of my temporary teammates and a few other teams here from all over the world. Recently relaxed regulation and newfound wealth has led to mass-importation of cheap, relatively new (used) Japanese cars that can no longer pass stringent Japanese registration inspection for purchase by most of the populace of T&T. This, coupled with ridiculously cheap fuel prices, has lead to nightmare traffic problems. However, drivers are, in reflection of the concept of Trinitime, friendly as hell to cyclists. Traffic is a flowing amoeba with few discernable rules, but nobody is in a rush to get anywhere, making everyone rather agreeable. Nobody seems to ride for transportation, and I’ve only seen a single cyclist here not for the race - making us something of a novelty to motorists. Traffic follows British patterns, leading to this ugly American getting a little confused in the roundabouts, along with occasionally riding my bike on the wrong side of the road. Emile Abraham, T&T’s native cycling son, successfully negotiated the purchase of Cokes for everyone at a local market after we figured out that not everywhere in the world bows to the great American Dollar (see above). 

After the quick ride, we went to meet some of the government officials responsible for the race in downtown Port of Spain. Modern office buildings, most belonging to the government, are a reflection of the petroboom. Positivity is definitely the vibe from everyone here! T&T is very proud of its ability to maintain a peaceful, democratic state with so many ethnic and cultural groups. The nationalism on display is one proud of its internal accomplishments, unlike the variety often encountered in the US.

Enough babbling for now. Expect a prologue/first stage report tomorrow after a few Guinness Foreign Extras. It’s like Guinness…BUT GOOD.

Posted at 2:35pm and tagged with: the unity race, trinidad and tobago, cycling, competitive cyclist racing team, nate king, emile abraham, cesar grajales,.