Spending time at home during the offseason is great, but after having spent so much time moving around Europe and the US, staying in one place (Vermont) for more than a couple of months makes me itch to be back to racing and traveling. That and the sub-zero temperatures and regular blizzards meant I was quite ready to be back on the road again by December. After finishing up a semester at UVM and having a great Christmas with my family, I flew down to Tucson, Arizona on New Year's Eve, landing just about the same time the east coast was welcoming the arrival of 2011.
Arriving at the Slipstream house in Arizona, the year wasn't the only thing that had suddenly changed, as I was greeted by mild weather and a distict lack of snow. After sleeping off the jetlag and travel legs, I got to meet some of my new teammates from my newly named "Chipotle Development Team", as well as a chance to check out some of the new terrain. Tucson seems to be located in a large bowl, with huge mountains surrounding it on all sides. Unfortunately, most of these mountains are devoid of anything more navigable than four-wheel drive tracks. There is, however, this little climb called Mount Lemmon which involves a 28 mile climb followed by the famous "cookie cabin" on the top that serves pizza sized cookies to those who kept their eyes on the chocolate chip prize, so to speak.
It's amazing how different the southwest is from anything I have ever experienced back east. First and foremost, everything that isn't paved is absolute desert, and everything in it has prickles, fangs, or tusks (I saw an angry looking javalina and a tarrantula on one of my first rides)and a general look of danger. The house came complete with a guide to dealing with rattlesnakes that apparently like to take refuge from the heat in the garage. We are also fairly close to the Mexican border, and on my more southerly rides I see signs declaring "Caution: Illegal Immigration and Smuggling Common In This Area" and placards offering $2000 rewards to anyone who can bring in some dangerous cattle rustlers who are on the prowl in the area.
Besides bandits and poisonous reptiles, Tucson is also home to the world famous saturday morning "Shootout" group ride. This underground race/ride usually has more than 100 participants who show up sleepy and shivering to brave the 7:30 am departure time and features many of the best pros in the country who make Tucson their winter home. Since the seven of us staying here have only one (compact) car at our disposal, and live more than 50km from downtown, our only way to make it to the start in time involved six of us motorpacing behind the car in the dark at 6:30 in the desert night time cold. Then I was forced to test my ski/trainer conditioned legs against the eternally in-shape crowd of Tusconians, and was predictably left fighting for dear life to hold my own.
Midnight motorpacing and group-ride sufferfests aside, I've been having a great time down here with my new teammates. We took a trip to see the Titan Missile Museam, an old Cold War ICBM turned museam. Tucson is also home to thousands of retired military aircraft, and I get the feeling that if the cold war had turned hot, Tucson would have been the first to know.
Anyway, I've got less than a week left now dodging smugglers and trekking to the Cookie Cabin before I'm off to my very first professional race. On the 22nd I start the long and circuitous trip to Africa's equatorial west coast for the UCI 2.1 Tour of Gabon. I've never even raced on anything besides skis in January before, let alone a five day race against the likes of Quick Step, FDJ, and Africa's best national teams, so I'm interested to see how I do. I'm also going to do my best to avoid lion and elephant attacks, government coups, and the plethora of exotic diseases infesting the jungle. Assuming I safely navigate the various dangers, it'll be back to training for feb/march before my first Europe trip of my u23 carreer. One thing is for sure, I won't have to worry about being stuck in one place for awhile, especially while I'm dodging cattle rustlers and dangerous jungle creatures!