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...