Casablanca, Morocco 25 years ago Pt. 8 - conclusion

The final diary entry:  

Friday:

Today I got up at 9:20am, ate breakfast, then went to bed. I re-awoke at 11:30 and went for a ride at 12:00. I rode with Mike. We seem to get along OK. It’s only when Aaron is around that he ignores me. Aaron told me he hates Azdine – right after I said he was really nice. No one I know would be so abrasive. I have to put up with things like this all the time, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of Morocco – of being accosted at every step by poor greedy starving people. On my ride I noticed a huge pipe going out to the ocean – I never saw it before because always the tide was high, but at this time it was low and riding past, I was hit with and incredibly powerful smell. It was sludge – pure human waste – there were hundreds of thousands of gallons of it just spewing out – making the whole bay brown.

After the ride, I ate lunch – the best one I have had since I’ve been here – steak and French fries.

I then went with Azdine to the market to look for shoes. We went to many places – he even took me to expensive places downtown – too much for me – 300 durhams for a pair! So we finally found a pair I liked. He wanted 240 for them. Azdine got him down to 160, but he wouldn’t go lower, so we started to leave. He went to 140. I was ready to buy, but Azdine made me leave – I didn’t understand. He then explained – “We go back and offer 120” – so we did and I got a $50 pair of shoes for $12.

We then started to go back to the bus and I stopped to look at some watches. One in particular caught my eye. It was really slim and expensive looking. I asked how much – just out of curiosity. He said 200 durhams. I was really surprised.! So I bargained him down to 150 durhams and I bought the other possibility for a graduation present – an expensive watch!

So we left and I paid for the bus fare again (a whole 44 cents for the both of us). Then I showed everyone what I bought. Instead of dinner here at the hotel, we went around the corner to the Italian restaurant. It was so good – I’m really tired of lamb and liver. I had a pizza and an order of lasagna. After this I returned to my room and read “The Son of the Morning Star” – I’m pretty far – I’ll probably finish it before we leave. After that I’m going to see how far I can get into the “Lord of the Rings.”

Then Azdine came down and we talked, and then went to his room and talked until 1:00am.

Oh, when we went to the market I brought a pair of jeans to sell – they were too small anyway. Anyways, Azdine wanted to look at them, so he pulled them out of the bag. Immediately, without exaggeration, over 20 vultures converged on them and almost started fighting over them. The kept shoving money into Azdine’s pocket and then trying to take them. But none of them offered enough – cuz they were just going to take them and sell them themselves. So finally I grabbed them and quickly walked away. A boy had tried them on yesterday and liked them so I took them to him and sold them to him for $8 – the jeans were 2 years old.

Azdine told me in his room that there are 4 kinds of people here – the rich, with 4 houses and 10 cars. Then the wealthy – with 1 house and 1 car.

The two previous are rare. The working class are the third – which has an apartment and not else. He said the average worker makes 1000 durhams a month. That’s $110 a month. He says that their apartments cost 600 durhams a month on average, so that leaves $45 a month to buy food and clothing. And this is the richest city in the richest country in Africa.

The final class is the unemployed. They are 50% of the population. He said that they rob or beg to get money, and they fish or steal corn for food. Many times have I seen desperate faces gathered around small fires with corn placed on top. It always comes out black, but that is what these people eat.

He makes 1000 durhams a month but he doesn’t have to pay for food or a place to stay – the hotel provides that. I asked him what he does with his money and he said he puts it in the bank. He said that after he gets a promotion, he will take the money, buy a house, and get married.

(Azdine works 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He makes $100 a month, $4.22 a day, or 35- 40 cents an hour. At my Stanford Library job, I will make more in 1 hour than he makes in a day.)

Saturday: The Big Race

 

Today I got up at 12:00pm then ate lunch. Then I went out and watch the line up and start of the road race.  There were 184 riders. The King was there – sitting on a pavilion next to the starting line. I watched the start and took pictures for Clark.

I then started walking to the far end of the course. The farther I went from the hotel, the more obnoxious the people became. I decided I was absolutely sick of all this “attention”. Everyone had something to jabber at me as I went past. A cop

(here’s where it ends)

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One other undocumented event is worth noting. The closing ceremonies were held at a new developed aquatic center complete with swimming pools and a high dive – 10 meter platform. For some reason I became obsessed with jumping off the platform – I had always wanted to jump from the 10 meter, but never had the chance. So after instigating some “dares” I climbed up with several Americans, French riders, and I think a few Moroccans.

In my suit and tie, I jumped and plummeted into the pool. I don’t remember if anyone else followed my lead, but I do remember that the noise from the pool area drew the attention of Craig, and some of the Moroccan royalty. I remember Craig looking pissed even as a lower member of the Royal family shook my dripping hand, saying something in French that I interpreted as being, “I’m happy you American’s are enjoying our facility.” After that Craig didn’t say anything, and I finished out the evening sitting on towels someone found for me and shivering a bit. Still, I had a small silent pride for daring to pull off the stunt.

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25 years later, sitting around w/ Stefan and Scott at a cafe in San Francisco we reminisced over our adventures. For each of us, we realized that this trip, despite its hardships and culture shock,  laid the groundwork for a perpetual wanderlust. Being 17 and unsupervised in North Africa, the souk with its shiny treasures, the shanty town slums, the contrasts of  royalty and slums - something about the sights, smells and experiences - and some unique attribute of our own personalities melded together to form a lifelong passion for travel. In the annals of "really living" and the supporting thesis that you can "make time" or "kill time" we also found that these 7 or 8 days had filled a much broader expanse of our memories, and that with the patina of time, those days have become years of living memory. Further proof came in the form of the impressions and value of shared experience: 25 years later, friendships that were formed in just a few days and in quiet moments watching the Atlantic crash upon the rocks, were rekindled as easily as if we had been childhood friends for years.

PS: Stacie - if you ever read this, I want my Moroccan leather jacket back...

Casablanca 25 years ago Pt. 7

Days 2 through 10 of the never ending junior world trials began the next day… The next 10 days were hell. Each day I headed to the track for a new set of seemingly arbitrary evaluations, (though the first day Jamie didn’t show up.) Standing starts, flying 200’s, motorpaced 200’s, side-by-sides jumps from corner to corner, all head to head with Jamie, all potentially determining a trip to the world championships. Each day brought about another version of the trials. It quickly became clear to me that Jamie was unaware of his “shoe-in” position (if it were real). If Eddy and Craig had already chosen him, they didn’t bother to tell him, so each day we both showed up with something to win, and something to lose.

The worst part is that we often timed each other… For example, in motorcycle-led 200m sprints, Anje would ride the motorcycle and wind it up with one of us following and the other timing. Then after an appropriate rest, we’d switch places on the bike or with the watch – and Anje would write down the times in between.  

I felt good on the bike and felt I performed well, pulling up to the side of the motorcycle after significant accelerations, but my times were mid-tens (10.4, 10.5) – at least according to the watch Jamie was holding. 

When I timed Jamie, he performed well, 10.2, 10.3, so I asked Anje to pick it up in subsequent rounds.

He did so, but still, my times were slower… at least according to Jamie’s stopwatch.

Finally, Craig showed up, and Jamie and I both did a few more  traverses around the track. This time Craig had the watch. Jamie went first with a good time, and then I lined up behind Anje. He winked at me and said in his thick accent, “If you stay me, no matter what watch says, you are fastest.”  He lit it up on the motorbike and we accelerated through corner – tilting completely sideways and continued accelerating hard down the final straight and into the finish.

“10.2 Carney,” Craig said, “9.9 Coyle,” and Anje winked again. Craig also smiled at me after Carney sulked off. It seemed he wasn’t necessarily in Jamie’s corner either and was just following orders.

Finally, a week or so after the trials, the announcement came from Craig: “Coyle, Carney, you both qualify for the junior world championships.” Jamie and I were both immensely relieved and for a period our rivalry was subsumed by our relief.

Still my distrust of the coaches, the process, and the team underpinned the trip I had finally earned… and it showed up in the diary of my 17 year old self...

(On a lark, I decided to search for Jamie on the internet - now 25 years later. Since 1986, we've only met once - summer before last at the Downer's Grove Nationals. Jamie was super fit, but not racing. I had just finished the cat 2. race and come in third. We shook hands. He noted my finish. And then he started, "you know I retired last year, but decided to jump in a stage race up in the pacific Northwest a few weeks back - good money - and I ended up winning the whole thing!" Nothing had changed.

Here's a race from 2006 on the track - a "Keirin" that is led out by a motorcycle until 2 laps to go. If you start a around 3:00 in, you can see the carnage begin. Jamie is in 2nd and backs off the lead rider with 1 lap to go (looking, looking) and then accelerates, riding another up the track and then crashing him...a simple mistake? Then, after the finish Jamie gets cruely taken down for no reason after the finish by another rider... (slow-mo at 6:30)or, if you read the comments...or watch the father of the other rider at 6:51?) No.. nothing has changed.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGnLDr6jRSI]

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Back to the diary: Casablanca 1986

My repechage was a 4-up, taking only the winner. In it was an Italian, French, and Australian. I started 4th (highest) and since you can’t go slow on the banking, I ended up 4th on the pole. On the back straight I jumped into 2nd behind the Australian. He led at a decent clip until 1 ½ to go when all of a sudden the French rider sailed to the front. If I would have realized he was going for it I would have jumped but I just thought he was going to the front – until I saw the gap he had. Instead I waited – cuz I thought he would sit up and the Australian would get on his wheel.

As it was, he got a gap and by the time I realized he was going for it, the Italian had gone around me.

I then jumped and by the corner was coming around the Aussy. He rode me up – for no reason really, then I passed him. The French and Italian riders were long gone. I caught but didn’t pass the Italian – bridging 50 feet to him on the last lap. The French rider won by 40 feet.

I was out.

I was really disappointed – I thought I was as fast as or faster than most of these riders – I just didn’t do it. The East German beat everyone in the 8th final by 2 bike lengths, finishing 5th overall. I had to settle for about 16th.

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Wednesday:

Today I got up at 12:00pm. I ate lunch then walked down to the beach. There were trillions of people there once again. Today is some funky holiday – the King’s 25th year of reigning or something. His palace, or one of them, is near our hotel. I then ate lunch, then read, then went to the track. The East German who barely beat me won his first ride against a Russian, then lost his second, then won the third. In the third ride, he led it out and the Russian didn’t come nearly as close as I did to winning. I should be in the top 8 at least. The East German is now top 4!

 

After the races I ate dinner, then went out to the rocks then started writing.

Oh, yesterday, Craig took us all out to eat at the Hyatt Regency. It is the nicest hotel I have ever been in. The floors are all highly polished black marble, and everything was lavish and highly decorated. It was like a palace. I had a shrimp/lobster crab salad, a “Copacabana”, and a sirloin steak. For the finale it was a banana split – the only ice cream I’ve had since I’ve been here. It was great.

Thursday:

Today I got up at 11:30. I took a shower and ate lunch. For the appetizer they had 5 fish. Head, fins, eyes, everything but scales. I picked at it for awhile. It tasted OK, but it wasn’t worth the effort to pick the meat off the bones.

Anyways, after this I went with Anje and Craig and Yuri to the bazaar. Anje wanted a leather jacket like mine. We searched 6 leather stores – but not one had one like it – even the place I bought it from. It was the best one – and I got it. Anje bought another one instead – for $50 – cheap. It is nice but not like mine.

I tried to trade my Levis, but even with them the first two shops wanted 600 Durhams and my jeans. So we left. Back at the hotel I got ready for a ride, but discovered that I didn’t have any wheels. I found my front wheel  - it was on Stefans’ bike. My rear was nowhere to be seen.

So I finally borrowed Clark’s wheel. But it really bugged me that they would take my stuff without asking. I rode hard, doing the road course twice, but extending it down the coast – past the city to the other side. I went fast and when I was finally almost finished, I got a flat – a mile from the hotel. Since it wasn’t my wheel, I took off my shoes and carried it back to the hotel. The sidewall had blown out.

It made me mad because my tires would have been just fine. I later found out that Aaron took it. He bugs me – he is always negative. He is almost exactly like Carney – sometimes worse – always bragging about something and telling you how bad he’s going to beat you. Definitely just like Carney.

This girl Lisa the the OTC was telling me that she was in the Sports Med. Building the day after the World Team Trials and that Carney was in there, and that he had just had them test him for an iron deficiency, mono, and a couple things including anemia. He just had to have an excuse for me beating him at trials. She said he didn’t believe it when the tests came back negative and that he wanted to be tested again.

Anyways, the sprint finals were tonight – I was stranded here at the hotel with a flat and no wheel, but I heard about them.

For the 5-8 final there was 2 Russians- including last year’s world champion (I guess the drugs wore off) a Japanese racer, and an East German I rode against. The East German won, Japan 2nd, and the Russians 7th and 8th. I should have been in there! Third and 4th was between a French rider and an East German. The East German won both rides.

For first and second it was the really fast French rider (11.23) and the Russian Kilo World Champion – he was in position to win two world titles in 2 days! In the first race, the Russian led it out, then rode the Frenchman up – but he still came around and won. In the second ride, the Frenchman led it out and the Russian came around him!

They must have been so tense for the final ride. The Russian led on the pole, and the French rider sat back 5 bike lengths, almost taunting him to Kilo him. So he did – with 1 ½ laps to go he took off. It seemed clear that this was his favorite place to go because he could accelerate that long.

The Frenchmen jumped, but he didn’t close. With ½ lap to go, he was gaining quickly now, but still far back. He was three lengths back there, but caught him near the end of the corner. He then came around and passed the Russian by less than 2 inches. I guess it was pretty awesome. The 200m time – even after 1 ½ laps of sprinting – 11.5 – incredible.

Dinner was lame lamb so we decided to hop over to an Italian restaurant the Kirkbrides had discovered. It was awesome. I had lasagna and a stuffed Calzone and chocolate ice cream. Scott, Stef and an I then went out on the rocks but I got soaked walking out. I stepped in a hole while wading with my pants rolled up, and found myself up to my waist. That’s all that happened today. I miss Stacie. I haven’t gotten her a souvenir yet either.

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Next up - final diary entry from the 1986 Junior World Championship in Casablanca , Morocco, and an evaluation of the Moroccan society, income, and classes.

Casablanca 25 years ago Vol. 6: The perfect race Pt. 4

The Perfect race - finale:

Jim Michener was vomiting into a trash bin in the center of the track, his muscular hulk shuddering, rattling the metal against concrete. He stood up and wiped his mouth as I passed by. “Good luck against Jamie – he’s tough, but you can beat him.”

These encouraging words came from my defeated semi-final round competitor at these Junior World trials. Jim had given me a run for my money two races in a row, possessing an uncanny ability to wind it up from 300 meters and keep the acceleration going all the way to the line – a race strategy directly in contrast to my ability to produce surge of speed and then try to sustain. Jim confessed to having thrown-up after each and every race.

Match sprints and short track speedskating have much in common in terms of the waves of lactic acid induced nausea and weakness after each event and the need to recompose in a relatively short interval of 15 minutes for the next round.  Showing back up to the line after a maximal anaerobic effort is parallel to spooning up another plateful of whatever food you just threw up – “as a dog returneth to its own vomit…”

My stomach troubles were further exacerbated by the self induced pressure that had been building for 6 months since the day I hadn’t been selected to the national team training camp. I could hear Ed’s voice in my head, “What are you getting all high and mighty about Coyle?…If you are as good as you say you are… just come back in July and win the trials." Jamie had pulled out of the last sprint and was probably fresh, I was still shaky and breathing from the effort.

Jamie and I lined up at a safe distance 15 minutes later and without theatrics the 4th gun was fired for the potential finale of the Junior World Championship trials. By now, all the Juniors had clustered right down by the line and were on their feet yelling at us from the moment the gun went off. The “cool” kids were cheering for Jamie but I noticed that I had adequate representation in the stands.

I drew pole position and was required to lead the first lap and did so without deliberation, setting a pace of 20mph and following the black pole lane for one lap.

We came around with 2 laps to go and as soon as we crossed the line I swung up and slowed. I had seen Jamie’s face on the line - he’d been bested despite the theatrics and tactics – his guidance would be to take the race on merit. Sure enough as I slowed, he paused and then pulled through on the pole lane and we continued around the backstretch and into the far corner, 1 ¼ laps to go.

We entered the final straightaway with 1 lap to go and the bell began to ring, Jamie moved up the track and began upping the pace such that we were traveling 25mph by the time we hit the start/finish line. I kept about a 3 bike length space between us and I rode high towards the barriers where the juniors were leaning over, screaming almost right in my ear as we streamed by. I kept “slingshot room”

We sped through the corner high up the track, both of us out of the saddle, Jamie ever vigilant, watching me, riding down lower to intersect any early attacks. As headed for the far side of the turn Jamie jumped and dropped down to the pole, accelerating to more than 30mph as we crossed the 200m mark.  I followed, halving the distance between us in order to capture the benefits of the draft. Whether he knew it or not, Jamie was coldly eliminating my strengths of a quick acceleration, short sprint and bike handling. If the race were to become a straight out drag race it would be close.

Then pride interceded: midway down the straightaway, Jamie paused in his constant acceleration and, looking back, dodged up to just above lane two ( about 5 feet above the pole lane) providing a tempting hole to dive through. I was not foolish enough to spring that trap and hovered above waiting. The pace stabilized for a moment - breathing room.

The final corner approached and I started to accelerate laddering up the track out of the saddle to keep the distance between us steady while increasing my potential energy. Jamie bobbed and weaved trying to own all three lanes looking back. As we began the turn in earnest, Jamie committed, turning his head forward and hitting it hard. Back out of the saddle, he scissored down to just above the pole lane and our pace leapt from 30mph to 40mph in 20 meters – it was on.

The even pace on the backstretch had given me a moment to reload my springs and I uncoiled everything I had remaining. The G-forces in the corner pressed me into the saddle and as I leaned far to the left, the cracks in the track rattled through my forearms. I arched over the bars forming a protective shell over the motor of my quads and calves thundering below and that warm hum began as power throbbed through my legs into the pedals. I matched Jamie’s acceleration and more: despite having the outside lane and longer trajectory, I closed the distance and began riding up on his back wheel.

As we exited the corner I had drawn even with his hip and my front tire had come into view. Jamie flicked up and we had momentary contact and then he dropped and locked onto the pole lane. Any movement from there and he would be disqualified. Meanwhile the liability of the outside lane around the corner delivered its double rewards of higher rotational velocity and declining altitude as the corner flattened. I burned the remainder of my reserves and loosed the catapult, now shoulder to shoulder with Jamie, both of us hammering into the pedals.

Pulse hammering in my brain, my head, hands and hamstrings delivered a pulse of speed down the short straightaway, elbow to elbow for a moment, I then surged past Jamie to cross the line with a ¾ length advantage.

Sound returned and a sudden roar filled my ears and I realized I had done it. As I swung high up the track to absorb my speed I realized that I had won the Junior World Championships Trials and the one and only spot to the Worlds in North Africa. I raised my hands… again only to cradle my head – this time in relief – and spun down around the corner, cheers echoing from the far side of the track.

I finished the warm-down lap, slapped high fives with a core group still at the fence and then retreated to the apron. Richie and a few other juniors were there to catch me and hold the bike as I unstrapped, and Richie shared the unofficial 200m time – at 10.96 possibly a new junior record.

I quickly gathered my things, and as I prepared to leave, there he was, the “man” himself, Eddy B., who shook my hand, smiled stiffly and in his thick accent said, “Yes, good racing. Jamie not race well though…  Perhaps we must bring two sprinters to Junior Championships…” and then he was gone.

Disappointed that I would potentially yet have to face the threat of my mortal enemy across continents I was thrilled with the outcome of the most stressful and rewarding races of my career.

I crossed the track into the shadows of the stands and as I re-emerged into the lights, was humbled to find two dozen junior elite athletes waiting to escort me back to the Olympic Training Center. The sun had set yet I could feel the warmth radiating from the stucco buildings and we parted the trees on the sidewalk as we passed through the park for the 10 minute ride back home.

Conversation was mostly hushed but I rode at the arrow of the peleton with honor guard coverage for street crossings. As we entered the parking lot, an arbitrary paceline formed to give me a leadout to the PedXing sign and I took the bait, winning the parking lot prime sprint with a surge towards the line and a bike throw and we all laughed as we headed for the cafeteria.

It was Richie Hincapie who brought a dose of reality back into the ceremonies. “Great race – I hope you get to go – you earned it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, my voice turning shrill, “I won the trials, of course I’m going.” I paused and thinking said, “but I guess Eddy B. thinks Jamie should go too.”

“No Coyle…, that’s not what I heard. I heard Eddy talking to Campbell about maybe they should bring you too…”

My mind raced back to Eddy’s words, “Perhaps we will have to bring two sprinters to Junior Championships.”  “No,” I said, mind blackening with the darkening sky as realization set in, “they were talking about Jamie – Jamie might get to go – I won…” “I won the trials..”

“Sorry John, but all these trials disguise the reality that it is coach’s discretion – Jamie’s going already. That was decided long ago. But the good news is you still might get to go if you keep beating Jamie at practice…”

Seeing my face he added, “Sorry man, thought you knew…”

Days 2 through 10 of the never ending junior world trials began the next day…

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(Video – this is the 2007 world championships, final race. This race went down in a classic match sprint pattern almost identical to the race w/ Jamie. If this were us, Jamie would be in blue, and I’d be in orange)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kVb1JteAV4&feature=fvsr]

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Back to the Diary:

Tuesday – sprint day:

Today I got up at 9:20, ate breakfast, then slept until 12:00pm. My neck was still stiff – yesterday I couldn’t even turn it to the left. I couldn’t see traffic coming. Anyways, after getting up, I got ready for a ride, only to discover my front wheel was missing. I later discovered that Scott had taken it on Craig’s advice when he discovered he had a flat. I was the only one racing today and I couldn’t even go for a ride so I waited.

I decided to go to Azdine’s room and listen to my Brian Adam’s tape I loaned him. I was really shaken by his room. It is about the same size as mine at home. I figured Azdine had a pretty good job and would be reasonably well off for a Moroccan. I was wrong. All that Azdine owns in life can be easily laid in a normal suitcase. He has no furniture other than his bed. He shares this cement floored and cement walled room with another worker. He has no other furniture besides a small table. On it he has all his worldly possessions – a half-full suitcase of clothing, 2 magazines, 7 or 8 copied cassettes, a walkman type tape player (no radio or recording) and two small speakers powered by the walkman. My box of tapes is worth more than all he owns.

His tapes are funny. He has one for the English class he is taking, along with a magazine-like textbook, one store bought tape of “1984 Superstars!” a K-Tel type tape of top-40 music, a couple of Arab music tapes, a couple copies of American music, presumably off the radio, and his second and final store bought tape, “Canary Birdsongs,” for his 3 canaries.

I don’t know what he does with his money – maybe it isn’t much and it all goes to pay rent and for his class or maybe he is saving it.

At the track, I waited while the coaches and Mr. Kirkbride (who, by the way has been staying in my room since Friday) put my bike together. I guess the tread had flaked off my white, light tires, so they put Panaracers on those wheels. I tried warming up on the new tires, but they are narrow profile and slid very easily – I almost fell when I slid from 2 feet above the red line to the pole line, so I switched to my trust old heavy Wolber rims and tires.

My first sprint was a 3-up. I was the 6th ride out of 8. I was up against a Bulgarian and an East German – both big and muscular. The Bulgarian had qualified 11th and the East German 5th – their times 11.6 and 11.5 respectively.

I drew lane 2. The East German led slowly on the pole until the backstretch. He picked up speed and climbed the banking. I was about 10 feet behind him when the fat Bulgarian came underneath me, then hooked sharply and hit my front wheel – trying to knock me down. I made it though, but I didn’t want 3rd, so I dove underneath and was in first by the end of the turn. I led across the finish with 2 laps to go and around the corner and down the backstretch. Then the East German dove to the pole and started leading. I dropped down in second and was sitting comfortably a little below the red line where the German was riding when I was slammed from underneath again! The Bulgarian had slipped underneath me and from the apron he shot up and hit me. I bounced up, and then down a little and still, before I had time to recover my composure he came and hit me again.

At about this point I got mad. I don’t know if he was just trying to intimidate me, if he wanted 2nd position that bad, or if he didn’t like the USA, but I didn’t like him, so at this point – about halfway through the corner, I took a steep angle down the track and chopped that stupid Bulgarian.

He was 5 feet onto the apron after that – there was no doubt about my intent on that move – he knew then that I wasn’t intimidated.

The German steadily picked up speed – apparently thinking that the Bulgarian was the one to worry about – and that the Bulgarian certainly couldn’t come around from third.

The Bulgarian made his move around the second corner. I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye, waited until he overlapped my wheel, then rode him up past the third line before diving back to the East German’s wheel – who was sprinting now. I was just he and I now…

I knew it would be nearly impossible to pass in the uneven corner so I waited. I felt good, so I let a small gap go then made a run at him at the end of the corner. Into the straightaway we came, neck and neck – but the East German had a very strong kick, and the straightaway was short (wide turns, short straightaways) so I missed beating him by 6 inches. Oh well.

Craig was very pleased with my ride and I knew I had ridden well but I didn’t win and if I lost the repechage round I was out – done.

Back at the hotel I talked with Azdine at his house on the roof. There is some garlic up there in a corner – who knows why – aging I guess, or to ward off vampires. Anyways, I showed him how to freak people out by throwing it (the garlic) into the street.

Not about to be outdone, Azdine grabbed one, went to the back part of the hotel roof, leaned over and pointed to a lady seated by the pool of the hotel next door. I laughed because I thought he was joking, but then he threw it – hard.

It shattered on her table. She freaked out screaming and was looking up in all directions. I was on the ground I was laughing so hard. Azdine is a lot of fun. We talked for an hour and then I went to bed.

Casablanca - 25 years ago Vol 3: The Perfect Race Pt. 1

Northern Africa - dreams of wind, sand and stars. After the failed junior camp and the alienation I felt from the team and other riders, my thoughts in between began to fill with the idea of Casablanca, Morocco. Like the call of the muezzin I could feel what it might feel like to race my bike in the land of the sun and souk, the Fez, of blue eyed Berbers with engraved faces and crisp white cloth.  Months later, my chance to prove out Ed’s challenge and travel to Africa presented itself: the Junior World Team Trials. Colorado Springs: The sun was white hot in a metallic blue sky and just beginning to angle west, etching a crisp web of the lattice of my spokes onto the shimmering concrete. My hands were shaky on the bars of my red Serotta “Murray” bike and my stomach was a cavern of nausea.

My coach wheeled me to the line first – high up on the apron of the track. Jamie rolled up beside me, but instead of parking 10 or even 5 feet away on the 20 foot wide track, his handler pushed him so close that our forearms were touching. He leaned in, jostling with each word, “Whatcha got Coyle? “Whatcha got?” He laughed. “You’re going down – down – down.”

I ignored him and waited for the starter. “Toreador, “Attencione, “Go!” We were off. Vibrating with energy, we tuned the strings of our fast twitch muscles and eased off the line, looking at each other, twitching.

The “match sprint” event on the track is a 2 man showdown. Time matters for nothing and there are few rules – contact is permissible and the first man across the line wins. Three laps and one kilometer long, the dynamics of the race and the qualities of aerodynamics find equilibrium at a magic set point at around 200 meters to go. Should a racer start a sprint much prior to 200 meters (about 10 seconds at 40mph) then the competing racer can use the cover of the “draft” or reduced wind resistance in the wake of the lead rider to slingshot around prior to the finish line. Should the lead rider wait to start a sprint too far past the 200 meter mark, then the first man to “jump” or accelerate has the advantage – and the following rider has the advantage due to lack of visibility of his actions. A human on a bike can accelerate for 7 or 8 seconds before faltering – the first rider to jump with even a minor advantage after the 200 meter mark is able to accelerate through the stall point that might otherwise enable a chasing rider to accelerate past.

These subtle elements of position, timing and advantage filter backward into the first 800 meters of the race, and the “cat and mouse” game often starts right from the start line. “Track stands” – moments (or even minutes) where both racers come to a complete stop and balance without moving to avoid being the in the slightly disadvantaged forward position are common.

The starter shot the gun, blue smoke fading into the metallic sky and Jamie and I slinked forward. I was face forward, all muscles relaxed yet on full alert. Jamie rode below me with his head cockily angled at 90 degrees to our progress, taunting. 10 feet, 20 feet, 50 feet, we progressed at 5 mph.

Without warning he leapt up from the saddle – and I matched instantly – but without forward progression – a fake. Just as suddenly he sat down, and even as I matched, he steered upward, and rammed my front wheel at 6mph.

On the slippery embankment, both tires lost contact, and we both slid out and skittered to the bottom of the rack, bikes entangled. “That’s it Coyle? That’s all you got?” He continued to barb as we loosened our straps and exited our bikes.

I quietly returned to the line and mounted my bike. Seconds later he materialized, lining up even closer so that this time his elbow could touch my abdomen and our handlebars were touching. “Welcome to my track Coyle – MY Track! You are going down again, and again and again…”

The starter raised his pistol…

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Back to the Journal:

Friday:

Couldn’t sleep last night – did much today. Got up at 9:30 and ate a light breakfast – hard boiled egg, croissant, French bread.  After breakfast I was about to go for a ride when Scott and I decided to go to the bazaar. We went to the bank first where I exchanged $80 into 720.80 durhams – their money is similar to Canadian except the bills are a trifle shorter and wider. Each bill has the picture of the president. Exchange is $1 = 9.1 durhams.

We then saw the bus right outside, so we ran and caught it. It took us north into downtown past the main street I rode down, to the market. At first it was very similar to Tijuana where haggling is concerned.  It is just trillions of small shops selling everything – food, spices, clothing shoes, appliances, utilities – everything. It had a distinctly foreign smell of mingled food, leather, sweat and refuse.

We walked down the crowded cobblestone streets about 10 feet wide. At first we couldn’t find anything but women’s clothing (I should have shopped for a Caskan but I didn’t). We walked for about 30 minutes through shops full of brightly colored women’s clothing until we finally turned around and went through and alley and back the way we came. The alley was behind the shops and we discovered that there actually people living in these horribly run-down buildings – all of which would have been condemned in America.

We finally found the men’s stores. Curious I walked into a leather store – just to look – but the storeowner wanted me to do more than that – he had me trying on jackets like a tornado. All of the jackets were very nice and of the finest quality. One in particular caught my eye – it was the finest in the shop to me, and the owner quickly affirmed that opinion – though he might have said that about any one of them I’m sure.

Anyway, this one was not a motorcycle type jacket – although black, it was very dressy, “Straight from Paris,” said the owner. It looked really cool as he tried it on me, zipping it up and doing the belt as well. I then took it off and asked Scott if he liked it. He said he did, but then I started looking around. The shopkeeper would grab anything I looked at and try to put it on me. I had Scott put a stop to this nonsense – every time I looked at something I would tell Scott and then he would explain that I didn’t like it.

The Arab protested loudly in French and broken English, but at least he stopped putting them on me. The one jacket I had admired was the only like it in the store – it was the best one and th shopkeeper knew it. We found out when we priced the two I had narrowed it down to. The one I really liked? “1700 durhams, but I give it to you for 1200”.

That was too much, so Scott haggled with him for a while on the other one, - very much like my friend Bill’s jacket. In a short while we had it down to 450 durhams from 900 so I knew I could the other one cheap. I wanted the other one so Scott went at it.

He started yelling “500” in French while the Arab yelled “1100!”. This continued and the volume escalated. Scott anchored at 500 and the Arab moved to 1000, then 900, 850, and then 800. We got stuck at 800 – he wouldn’t go any lower – so we headed out.

He literally yanked me back in, put the jacket back on me, zipped it up, and then put a mirror in front of me. “For you, 750 durham…” but Scott refused, saying “impossible” and jabbering away even louder in French. He was literally shouting “550! 550!” and the shopkeeper was shaking his head shouting even louder “700!” even as he was wrapping it up. Once again we started to leave.

The owner relented.. “650!” he yelled. Unimpressed, Scott yelled, “600!” (this was all in French). Finally after another 10 minutes of haggling we got him to 630 durhams. At this point with a nudge from Scott I opened my wallet and handed him 620 durhams – he counted and then demanded the other 10. He almost gave it all back rather than sell so low, but he gave in and handed me the jacket – 620 durhams - $68.80 – for the finest leather worth well over 200. It was odd, but everyone seemed pleased that it was a hard fought battle. Me - for the jacket, Scott for his mastery of French and haggling, and the shopkeeper for… a real foe?

I also bought another jacket – gray Denim – for 160 durhams – we could have gotten it cheaper, but we had to get back – we had spent 60 minutes in the leather store. I had to borrow 60 durhams from Scott to do this. It was so much fun shopping there – I’m going to buy some nice shoes next time I’m there. We finally left because Scott had a team time trial practice as 2pm. We found a man who spoke English on the way out and he found us a taxi and haggled it down to 15 durhams for a 5 mile trip for 2 – that’s $1.50 – cheap. The bus was only 2 durhams – 22 cents, but they were so crowded with assuredly smelly people we decided to take the taxi.

Everyone like my jacket and they all want to go there. When I go back I may buy some leather pants for the heck of it.

After returning, I went for a ride. I rode to the track – to make sure I knew how to find it – then I decided to take the scenic route back to the coast. I headed back toward the poor section (slums) to see what they were like – BIG MISTAKE!  The homes were made out of sheet metal (corrugated) or rocks – they were terrible. I was following a pretty big road and there were black fires burning everywhere and it was getting harder and harder to see any distance in front of me.

When I turned a corner, the road dead ended into a huge garbage dump maybe 4 stories high. It smelled awful, but what was the worst were the adults and children scrambling over the top “fresh” layer looking for food – it was pitiful and it made me sick. I knew I shouldn’t be there in all my cleanliness and expensive bike and so I turned around and cruised out of there because people were starting to yell and it didn’t sound nice. I trucked out of there and turned towards the coast. (Mistake #2 – I should have turned and gone back the way I came)

It was more slums with more dead ends. I was getting pretty scared because I didn’t see one kind face and I was turning around and around at every other street because they kept dead ending and the roads kept getting dirtier, narrower and rougher as did the people. Finally I saw an alley that served as a tunnel to the main street by the coast so I sprinted down it as shouts rang all around and behind me. I think some men were following me and had cut me off – there were 7 or 8 men in their late teens sitting outside their slum that I swear I had seen before. Fortunately I was almost past them before they saw me – who knows where I would be now if they had – but as it was, when I was 100 feet past them, a brick thrown at high velocity struck the ground next to me and the shattered pieces skittered forward under my tires and bounced, tinking, off my frame.

After that I time-trialed like crazy for the next mile on the bigger road because still the people didn’t like to see a beach boy like me invading their slum. But I had made it to the coast, only to be cheered by the more satisfied people of this huge crazy city. (Jamie was also attacked and a big dent in his camera showed what saved him from a brick…)

I made it back just in time to leave for the opening ceremonies which were held at the velodrome. I will explain these later – goodnight!

Really Living: Casablanca, Morocco, 25 years ago, vol 2.

 "DeathPace 2000"   Day three, junior cycling camp in Colorado Springs: I had been dropped again. Flying out, I had imagined very different circumstances - instead of being heralded as one of the top junior cyclists in the country I arrived instead to a camp and culture that viewed midwesterners and sprinters as pariahs, worthy of contempt. I proved them right by falling off the back of the peleton yet again on an uphill ride east out of Colorado Springs. Buffeted by the cold cross winds, I came to a stop with a flat tire high up on the plateau, exposed to the elements. The pacing vehicle, a station wagon with a half dozen bikes astride the roof, was manned by famed sprinter and crazy man Les Barczewski. He skidded the wagon to a stop and helped me switch wheels. Then he grinned broadly, leaned in with his pink face and, jabbing me, said, “hang on to the door – I’ll pace you up”. I grabbed the door jamb with my left hand, grabbed my handlebar stem with my right, and he began to accelerate, cackling through the open window, “Hold ON!”

Knuckles white on the bars I began to ratchet back and forth – the 25 mile an hour cross winds bouncing me against the car causing my wheels to angle underneath due to the sheer forces against the gyroscope they had become. Les’s gravely face leered at me through the window, “hold on! Taking us up to 85!” and he laughed again as my bike became a bumper car for the wind, terrain, and tiny adjustments from the one free hand guiding my handlebars. He announced speeds through the open window, "75! 80! 85!) I was terrified and knew I would be pulled under the car and die if I let go, so I held on and contained the onslaught of winds, road, and tires to regain the shelter of the peleton.

This was all part of the qualifications for the 1986 Junior World Team - though I certainly didn’t know it at the time - the first of many lessons of how other factors can matter as much as actual performance.  Annual training camps were held as a pre-selection to hone the “best and brightest” at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. A few dozen riders joined for a late winter camp, then about 20 or so were invited back for a spring camp. Finally, a select few were elected by the national team coaches to stay as “permanent residents” for the summer training to be conditioned and trained and coached not only by Craig Campbell (the junior coach) but with Eddy Boreysewizc (Eddy B.) himself.

Many of the riders had attended prior camps, but I missed my opportunity the season prior due to competing at the speedskating world championships. Instead I joined the ranks of the 7-11 junior development squad and, wearing the green, white, and almost-red jerseys of that team, spent the summer training in Indianapolis under coach Roger Young (son of Clair and Dorothy, brother of Sheila) along with 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mark Gorski, Scott Berriman and Frank Filardi.

When I finally made it to that first camp in Colorado Springs in late winter of 1986, I found myself a fish out of water. The coaches had their favorites and the riders were surprisingly clique-ish. Already pretty shy, but fiercely competitive, I turned inward and said little in the early days and grew more isolated with each passing day.

Over time I began to learn the names and faces that would surround me in the desert of north Africa months later: Stefan was a slight, shy individual – the caricature of the athlete-as-intellectual. At first Stefan seemed to be just another wallflower in Scott McKinley’s circle of admirers. Over time though it became clear that Stefan and Scott were friends and that despite Scott’s sway over the rest of the team, he would sometimes defer to Stefan’s quiet but firmly stated opinion. I don’t have a memory of meeting Stefan – he crept slowly into my awareness over time, mostly for his prowess in climbing, and his odd lack of ego. With Ed Johnson we shared aspirations for academics – Ed was going to Duke, I was going to Stanford, Stefan to Berkley.

Scott McKinley, however, I remember meeting very clearly. Scott was a caricature of the athlete as extrovert, the Tom Cruise of cycling. Outgoing, gregarious, good looking (he actually did, and does look very much like Tom Cruise) Scott carried the air of someone who attended to such matters like a training camp out of his own good graces - a favor to the coaches and riders. Scott made his mark just a few days into the camp.

Each morning Craig Campbell and Andrej would call us out at about 7am for calisthenics by the back fence outside the dorms, but on this particular morning after a few jumping jacks and toe touches, Campbell suddenly said, “where the hell is McKinley? Anyone seen McKinley?” There were smirks and nervous titters from the group, but no one said anything. Campbell sent one of the assistant coaches, along with a roommate back up to the third floor barracks. Moments later Scott appeared, groggy, but all smiles, sauntering casually down the steel grated steps despite prods from the coach to hurry it up. In his sternest voice Campbell got in Scott’s face and started to berate him, but stopped suddenly, pausing, then sniffing, “Are you drunk? Have you been drinking?” Shameless, confident, and without a touch of malice, Scott calmly looked up, smiled, and said brightly, “I sure am.”

Everyone laughed and Campbell didn’t know what to do. This was one if his superstars from the prior year. After a moments pause he said, “I’ll deal with you later – send him back to his room.” It was hard not to admire that calm and courage.

Then there was Jamie Carney. Jamie is a whole other story. Jamie and I had history. More on him later.

I quickly grew to hate the camp. There was no “racing," no criteriums or sprint finishes – none of the things I was good at. Instead there were long rides in cross winds in pacelines that provided no protection, odd tests of endurance like max situps, max pushups, max back-ups, max leg-ups, time trials and for some, the dreaded V02. They did do some specialized tests for sprinting capability, but due to my very slight build (6’, 140 lbs) and my resume of road racing wins, the coaches assumed I was a “roadie” – an endurance racer.

Slotted with the likes of a Greg McNeil, Mike McCarthy or a Stefan Spielman, I quickly found myself at the bottom of the pecking order, the bottom of the lists, and off the back of the pack during the road rides. I grew bitter and aloof, trading self doubt for a facade of arrogance.  At the end of the camp, when the selection for the spring camp was made, I somehow managed to assume I’d be chosen - that my race resume would carry me through vs. the arbitrary tests of the camp. I was wrong. My name was not on the list and I grew furious.

Holding my empty piece of paper as we left the meeting I vented loudly, arrogantly to Ed Johnson - one of my few friends - about my race resume, the arbitrary nature of the “tests” and the bias of the coaches against “new” riders. He turned and quickly gained my attention, ire, and then respect.

“What are you getting all high and mighty about Coyle? "If you are as good as you say you are, then who cares whether you made some arbitrary cut to a camp you don’t want to go to and a team you don’t want to join? "If you are that good, just come back in July and win the trials. "If you aren’t as good as you say, then this is all false bravado and you should beg for them to let you in because deep down you know you probably can’t cut it and need their help. “Which is it Coyle? Either way cut the arrogance and stop bitching.” I stopped short. No one had ever talked to me that way. He then smiled and said, “I didn’t make it either, but I don’t care because I hate these people and I’m going to Duke in the fall, and THAT is my future.”

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Back to the Diary: Casablanca, Morroco, 1986:

Wednesday (actually its Thursday – I forgot about the night flight over). I woke up when my alarm went off – at 2:00pm. I went downstairs to eat and was told I missed lunch. I didn’t wake up with the rest of the guys because I have a room by myself – no one wanted to room with me – who knows why?

I get along the best with Stefan and Scott – they (Scott and Stefan) went to the bazaar today with some guys they met at the bank. I guess these two guys took them to their house, fed them, and showed them how to take the bus to the bazaar and haggled for them. Scott bought a really nice jacket for $20.00 and they both bought leather sandals - $6. They said it is really cool and that there are hundreds of shops and thousands of people – I want to go so bad! Meanwhile I was asleep!

Oh, today I found out that Mohammed was arrested. Stefan said it was the most pitiful sight he has ever seen. He said that the president of the cycling federation here is also the chief of police and that he recognized and arrested him. Craig said he was known as a common thief. He thinks that Mohammed was a con artist and that he was going to rip us off – including our bikes. Anje thinks not. He said that Mohammed stole something 2 years ago and that now he would be beaten and whipped and God knows what else. He thinks he was just trying to help.

I don’t know – he certainly seemed nice enough but maybe he was after Craig’s briefcase with $15,000 in it. All I know is that when he was being dragged away he was groveling and crying and pleading in the most pitiful way – making no attempt to protect himself from the rough scrapings as he was dragged across the pavement – acting as though where he was going was worse than death. Jamie has his address (or fake address?) I’m going to write him next year and see what happens…

Anyway, after lunch, I unpacked my track bike and then went for an hour ride by myself. I rode North along the coast until I was even with the center of the city. I then turned right and headed straight downtown – I was looking for the bazaar – but I never found it. I rode about 6 miles and the city never stopped, so I turned around. The people weren’t as friendly to a lone rider – not as many waved – but no one was hostile.

I returned, then I went down to the beach. There must have been 100,000 people on the beach running around in the tidal pools and on the wet sand – all playing soccer – how they know whose ball it is I don’t know. I wish I had a camera. The beach is about ¾ of a mile long and is full from 10am to 4pm. Otherwise it is not as full. None of them go in the water unless they go in huge groups of at least 100 – in which they form a triangle of link hands and move a short ways out. I have never seen them go over their waist in the water. If anyone goes too far the lifeguards blow whistles – at least that is what I have determined is the reason for all the whistle sounds constantly coming through my balcony door. I have a great view of the beach from my window – here is how it is situated. (I’ll draw a picture shortly)

After going to the beach I went to eat with the other track riders because we were going to miss the Hotel-served dinner. Once again finding a place to serve us was hard – we finally ate at the Hotel Bellevue (on the map). We had rice and lamb again – but it wasn’t as good as our Hotel. After this we went and rode the track. It was awful. It has joints every 15 feet or so – whch are smooth enough – but aren’t actually in angled alignment with each other – which creates a very bumpy and uncertain ride at any kind of speed except slow. Which brings up another point – you can’t ride slow.

I’m afraid to ride the banking at under 20mph. I tried riding around 10mph really low on the banking and fell and re-opened the newly healed wound on my hip. If you go faster than 20 that is bad too, because the woop-de-doos in the corners flip up your back wheel. Riding out of the saddle is very dangerous. The pole line is fairly smooth, but it curves to nearly flat at the pole line so in a sprint you end up riding at the red line most of the time. Another problem is that the track is steeper at the beginning and end of the turn than the middle by quite a lot, so when coming into and out of the turn up high and at high speed, you can “lift off” quite a scary jump.

Jamie and I did 4 jumps. We were pretty much even at the beginning of the jumps but I could come around him at the end when he led, while he could not. Before we started he told me he was riding a 45 front chain ring (small gear). After the jumps, he looked at his bike and said, “Oh, I was wrong I’m riding a 46.” Craig then made us do a wind up sprint because otherwise we would be going too slow and fall. I led it out, not climbing the banking until the last lap. I led fast early. I finished and still Jamie still hadn’t come around. I looked back and he was 10 feet behind. Getting off the track, he had two things to inform Craig and I with: #1 - he was indeed using his 45 (I guess it’s worse getting beat in a full out sprint than a jump, so a better excuse is needed for the sprint) and #2 “You can’t pass on this track, "its too bumpy," "I almost fell," "I shot tot the top of the track" etc. etc.

Jamie and I are getting along fine though – I just have to put up with a lot of his B.S.

Thursday continued: Our times at the track were really slow – my fastest 200 was only 11.92 and I felt incredibly sluggish. I hope I feel better for the time trial – if I don’t make the top 24 cut, Craig said he’ll send me home (Jamie too?). Jamie and I are going to go shopping tomorrow even though Craig doesn’t want us to. Oh, by the way, Jamie and Ted set up this little betting pool – giving out a piece of paper with everyone’s name on it. What you do is put the place you think each person is going to get in their respective world championship event. Everyone did it – even Craig, though he crumpled his up cuz he said it would be bad for team morale if they saw how he put them and they thought they could do better. I guess he’s right – but I saw it before he crumpled it – it said: Coyle – 4th, Carney – 5th. I wish Jamie could have seen it. I myself put Coyle – 5th, Carney 6th. Jamie did see that one – Goodnight!

(Next Up - a trip to the bazaar and then I am lost in the slums and attacked)

 

 

Really Living: Casablanca, Morocco... 25 years ago (vol 1)

After nearly a year long hiatus primarily due to work demands, I'll be re-launching this blog over the coming weeks and months. I say re-launching vs. re-starting because I will be re-branding it as well. In the next few weeks this site will be re-named "Really-Living" and will be re-organized around that concept. I will also try to post regularly - shooting for every Thursday. Discovery: A gift from my 17 year old self:

My basement last summer: grey light slanted through the sliding glass doors and pooled around puddles of warmer light under the bare bulbs and their dangling strings. Squatting in a far corner I sorted through piles of books, shoeboxes heaping with old letters, and a plasma globe from the 80’s. There, under a pile of receipts for products long since gone was a pair of unlikely objects. I had a sense of déjà vu as I drew them from the bottom of the box, a sudden wave of haunting intimate knowledge yet unfamiliarity: a tiny spiral bound notebook, and a thin red hardbound training diary bound by a rubber band. Two 25 year old gifts from my 17 year old self – jaggedly scrawled journals of my first two trips to compete in the world championships – first, the 1986 world speedskating championships, and  second, the 1986 junior world cycling championships.

Of the two artifacts, my curiosity was piqued the most by the latter. Africa, Morocco, Casablanca – the scents and sounds came flooding back - torn pages of memory now whole: senior year of high school, graduation, the 7-11 cycling team, Eddy B., the Colorado Springs Olympic training center, and a return to a familiar yet alien place where I was yet an outsider. A dozen 17 year old kids dropped in North Africa with little supervision absorbing the sights and sounds of a completely foreign culture... Then… yes then, a sudden smile, a memory of that day that preceded it all: the heat, still air over shimmering concrete, and the crisp latticed shadow of bicycle wheels on the velodrome, and the “perfect race” an exquisite combination of adversity and triumph, surprise reversals, and vindication.

No. Nothing since had ever topped it. Not any of the following world championships, not the Olympics or the medal race. No, the “perfect race” of that summer possessed all the elements of a McKee plot – the inciting incident, progressive complications, crisis, and resolution. Never again would the outcome of a race so utterly possess all facets of my existence. More to come on that race, but first the denouement: Casablanca, Morocco. (Pictures complements of Stefan Spielman, journal is un-edited except for punctuation)

The creased binder creaked as I eagerly opened to the first page of the journal and read those first words, penned by that familiar stranger. Walking backward into a dream I read:

(Tuesday) The plane flight was 6 1/2 hours and I didn't sleep at all. We left at 8:00pm from New York and arrived at 7:30am in Casablanca, Morocco.

The people at the airport treated us very well, although they didn't speak English. We drove through a dry wasteland - shrubs and dead grass - to our hotel on the outskirts of downtown on the ocean. I wish I had a camera - there are so many strange sights and smells. Men hold hands with men and women with women - a social custom that apparently you do with friends.

It is flat here for the most part. The people here are generally very dark skinned and many seem to have some black as well as arab ancestry. There are also some full blown african natives here. About half of the people are wearing long shawls in town while the rest have 'normal' clothes, but the further from downtown you get, the more the traditional dress gains a monopoly. The traditionally dressed women usually wear hoods and veils.

Armed and unarmed soldiers are stationed occasionally on the highway and in the city. There are nice modern buildings in town, but there are a lot of rundown chipped stucco apartment buildings too. There are some nice houses, but otherwise the average household dwelling consists of a small vegetable garden surrounded by a white painted wall on three sides and a shabbily built flat-topped, low-roofed house comprising the fourth wall. The floors appear to be dirt. There are also houses made of cheap corrugated sheet metal rusting into the dirt - very poor.

The people seem to like us very much - I'm not sure if it is because we are Americans or because we are cyclists. After unloading our stuff, we set off to find a place to eat at 10:00am. Apparently restaurants serve meals only at certain times, so we went to three places before being able to get someone to serve us food.

When we arrived at the hotel, no one spoke Arabic or French in our group so we were having a hard time. We weren't making much progress until a young man - approximately 22 years old - very nice looking with nice clothes (casual) and a cheerful attitude introduced himself as Mohammed and told us he would help us. He helped us unload and get our rooms and found us a restaurant. He kept asking us about "Rock and Roll" and if we liked Chuck Berry, E.L.O., or Ray Charles. He was very entertaining.

He explained that he was an English major at the university and that he wanted to be a translator someday, so he was practicing. When we finally found a restaurant, Mohammed ordered for everyone. While we were waiting for the next 15 minutes we were accosted by approximately 17 "street sellers" selling sunglasses, chains, ornaments, wallets, and shoe shines. I was smart enough to give a definite no and look away, but some of the guys looked at the stuff, while others would say no and then watch the men with interest in their eyes. Some of the guys (Mike and Greg especially) got rude - which didn't help much. One of the peddlers had open sores and pustules all over his body - talk about culture shock! The man selling sunglasses was trying to sell them for $25. Before he left, he was asking only $5.

Mohammed and the owner finally drove them off so we could eat. Lunch was composed of French Bread (very good - it comes with all meals) and steak and French Fries with Coke or Orange juice to drink. I  had Coke - I wasn't going to risk getting sick. I ended up eating a Shishkebob someone had ordered (Stefan) as well. It was pretty good but everything has a weird taste.  The smells are weird too - our Hotel has this strange musty smell. Scott says it is incense. After lunch we slept until 4:00pm then got ID cards for worlds, then went for a ride.

The people loved us - everywhere we went people would wave – hundreds and thousands of them (a far cry from a ride earlier in New Jersey prior to Somerville and Nutley where after 100 “hello’s” only one small boy returned our greeting) . They also all had something to say – everyone would always wave and yell something in French or Arabic. We rode 20 miles – first we went to the track then South along the coast, and then finally around the 8 mile road course loop which is relatively flat with one 180 degree turn and was marked with arrows painted on the road.

We then went to eat the correct time at the hotel. At one point, as we returned our bikes through the parking garage, we came upon our hotel staff removing dead chickens from the trunk of the car – bodies complete with feathers intact and simmering (festering?) in the heat in the trunk. No surprise, we had French bread, bean soup, an omelet with spices, and – of course – chicken for the main course w/ apple pastry for dessert, all with mineral water to drink – pretty good!

After dinner, Stefan, Scott and I went out to the beach, walking down the shiny cobbled steps to the sand. Every night about 8:00 it gets cloudy and foggy until morning – whereupon it clears up – all the cars have yellow headlights for the fog.  The tide was coming in and we climbed around the ruins of some old castle or other building, then sat on the rocks that the ten foot high waves were crashing on. We looked across the 1000’s of miles of water back to home. It was really beautiful.

I’m going to bed – its still Tuesday.

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Next up: Where Mohommed is arrested and dragged away by his hair, screaming...