This is the story of how I managed to burn the skin off my back on fast-moving hot asphalt, and why you should know more Spanish than I do for the Emergency Rooms of Mexico.
I arrived in Mexico on October 7th with a bunch of other people. Matt Chrabot and I were on the same itinerary from Colorado Springs and we met up with Jillian Petersen and Melisa Mantak in Houston to continue our journey south through Mexico City and on to Huatulco.
At the Mexico City Airport we found even more athletes sitting in the Star Alliance lounge, and even more at the gate. There must have been 25 athletes with us on the 90-minute flight from Mexico City to Huatulco on a small prop plane that only held 45 people. It turns out 25 bikes will not fit on a plane that small. In fact, they had been short on room for bikes for several flights already, and the only bikes that made it onto our plane were the bikes being delivered to athletes from previous flights. None of us had bikes when we arrived to Huatulco, and there were so many delayed bikes that the airline had to send some to another airport and drive them on a truck eight hours to Huatulco.
Meanwhile, I was perfectly content to have no bicycle. I was sitting in a hotel room with Mark Fretta watching some of the best television Iâ€™ve experienced outside the US, eating fajitas con pollo, and finishing all my homework for the week. When I did venture out is was to go swim in the bay.
My first time to the beach was frightening. Mark and I went over to get in a swim and found that the beach was littered with jelly fish. They were everywhere, little translucent blobs of nasty sticky jelly. But there were other athletes in the water who werenâ€™t being stung, so maybe they werenâ€™t the stinging kind, right?
It took about 20 minutes for us to brave it into the water, during which time we walked up and down the beach looking for an opening without any jellies. After that proved to be impossible, and after we were assured by at least two people that we would not be stung by the thousands of jellies, we finally ran into the ocean, screaming like little girls, and swam head high until we didnâ€™t see any jelly fish. After that we did a couple of loops of the bay stopping only to shriek and complain about all the jellies that kept getting stuck between our fingers, rubbing our faces and sliming us with their apparently tentacle-less bodies.
The next day we were braver. There were fewer jellyfish, and since we hadnâ€™t been stung before we were ok with the idea of swimming in a bay of gooey gumdrops We got in quickly and swam out to the end of the bay â€“ only this time something hit me in the face and stung. I stopped to shriek (obviously the most effective solution) and found that were in the middle of school of box jellyfish (with tentacles). I shrieked again, then Mark told me which direction to swim in, and I took off with him on my feet. That was it for my pre-race swimming, which was okay since it was the day before the race.
Sunday I felt great. I did my normal pre-race routing and arrived at the starting line feeling confident. I was lined up at the far right of the swim start where only a few brave souls ventured to join me. Unger, Serrano, Fretta â€“ the guys who had as much faith my swimming ability as I did. Unfortunately, beach starts are not my forte, and I found myself behind the right-side-starters and I cut my way across the field and hopped on their feet as soon as I could. I was in pretty poor position around the first buoy, but kept moving up until I was boxed in behind the leaders. The pace felt slow, but I had no escape route. The leaders were swimming four or five wide because all of them were going for the $500 prime at the end of the first lap. It went to Eder Mejia from Mexico, and if you watch the video on the ITU website you can see that at the swim start he waited on the beach, walked in, assessed the situation in front of him, then dove in and swam around everyone. Iâ€™m a confident swimmer, but I donâ€™t have the balls to walk into the water in a World Cup.
Running from the water and into T1 I was passed by Matt Chrabot. This has become a trend over the past few races, as Matt sprints by me and makes it into the front pack on the bike while my running-speed-to-transition gets me a few seconds back that I have to close in the first lap of the bike. But I did, and once we caught up to the leaders I went off the front with Matt and two other guys. We were away for a lap, and then I crashed by crossing wheels with the guy in front of me (Supanov from Ukraine). We both went down at 40+mph on a descent. He got back up and finished, I tried to start riding again (after a bit of bike fixing) but was bleeding profusely and in quite a bit of pain. I gave in and let the ambulance take me to the nearby emergency room.
I was missing a lot of skin on my back from the crash. Maybe a quarter of my back was scraped and burnt from the asphalt, and it felt like blistered sunburn worse than any Iâ€™ve had (and trust my, pasty white guys like me know sunburns). At the ER the doctor wanted to get X-Rays of me, which I was not happy about. Radiation scares me enough at the high-tech radiology labs in the US, but this was an old machine and the guy wasnâ€™t even standing behind anything while taking pictures of me. I tried to ask for a lead blanket while he aimed the machine at my shoulder for the first X-Ray. He dindâ€™t understand. I pointed at the lead vest hanging on the wall (does a lot of good there, right?) â€“ no comprehension. I pointed at it again and said, â€œLead por mi pene?â€ which is probably not even proper Spanglish, and certainly didnâ€™t help with the techâ€™s comprehension. He stood a foot away from me and fired off the first image, then moved the x-ray machine over to the center of my hips, as if to take a picture of the â€œpeneâ€ I was trying to protect from radiation. â€œNo!â€ I screamed, then started flapping my limbs around and moving in any way I could, which must have looked like a lurching seizure, and seemed to confuse the guy even more. â€œNo fractura en mi pene, no fracturas en todos, no fracturas para mi!!â€ was the best Spanish I could come up with on the spot and must have meant something to the tech because he responded, â€œno photographia de tu pene?â€ No senior, no photographs of my penis, but thanks for asking.
I was pretty upset with myself for crashing and not finishing another race. This is the third race this year where Iâ€™ve crashed and not finished, and the fifth time Iâ€™ve crashed. Clearly I need to change something about the aggression with which I ride, or get better at riding aggressively. Luckily itâ€™s an easy problem so solve, and I have a whole winter to work on it (after a few more races).
As for the Huatulco World Cup, thereâ€™s always next year. Besides, the best parts of the race are the monster hill, the after-party (Mexicans know how to make a fiesta!), and the food. The hill was cut from the course because of construction (should be back in next year), and I skipped out early on the party to start my recovery for Puerto Vallarta the next week. At least there was still some great food.