23 October, 2008

Why I changed my name

“Frank McConnely”. That was the worst massacre of my name by a mountain bike race announcer that I can remember. It wasn’t the only massacre, just the worst. The most frequent was “Franklin McConnell” or “Frank McConnell”, and there were others, but “Frank McConnely” just blew them all away. I told the officials over and over that my name actually was “McConnell Franklin” and that I hadn’t filled out the entry form incorrectly but they never got it. Even when I started doing well at races, even winning some, they refused to get my name right.
I finally gave in. My coaches and I discussed it and we decided that it was probably hurting me to have my name massacred over and over. First of all, the UCI (Union Cycliste International) website had me listed as “Franklin McConnell” and we were worried that I might not be getting all of the international points I should be. Secondly, my coaches said that if I wanted people (and sponsors) to remember and recognize my name then I needed to use something that was easier to remember and impossible to confuse. So “Macky Franklin” I became (at least in the cycling world).
Fortunately, USA Cycling made it really easy to change. I talked to one or two people at the USA Cycling office, changed it online, and that was that. They changed all of my past results as well, so any time USA Cycling license number 0215111 comes up, so does “Macky Franklin”. Unfortunately, UCI has not been as easy to contact and I am still working on getting them to change my name.
I have been going by “Macky” since I was little, so the actual change wasn’t a big deal, but it was a little weird to see my nickname on all of the “official” results instead of my “real” name. I’m used to it now though and it seems to be working because announcers no longer call me “Frank”. Success!

20 October, 2008

Copa Chile Jeep #3 – Parque Aventura Geoexpediciones

Short track on steroids. That’s the best way to describe these Chilean World Cup style cross country race courses. They are longer, steeper and harder than short track courses, but still remind me more of short track courses than of cross country courses. Also, racing them tends to be more like a short track race than a cross country race: you do the same course over and over and you have to stay far enough ahead to keep from being lapped by the leaders and pulled out of the race.
That is very much how the race this last Saturday, October 18th, seemed to me, except I wasn’t especially worried about being caught by the leaders. The Elite (Pro) and Sub-23 (Under 23) racers did 6 laps on the 3.85 mile course and by the end, I knew every turn, rut, and tree like I’d ridden the course every day of my life. The course was full of short, steep climbs and rutted, loose descents mixed in with fast, flowy singletrack that was a dream to ride. There were a few flat sections that were a little rough on the hardtail and a few road sections, but most of the course was singletrack and amazingly fun!
The race started off fast, like last weekend, but fortunately the starting stretch was nice and wide so I was able to sprint around the outside and sit myself somewhere around 10th place right from the get-go. I spent most of the race somewhere around 7th place until the 4th lap when I felt like I was beginning to bonk. At that point I pulled myself back a little bit and focused on hydrating and “Hammer Gel”-ing until the last (6th) lap when I felt good again and put in a big effort to catch the two guys ahead of me. I ended up catching both of them (and even putting a few minutes on them) and finished in 6th place overall.
Once I finished, there was a bit of confusion. I’m not sure exactly why, but apparently the UCI officials had thought that I was racing Elite so they originally told me I finished 4th (in the Elites). I was happy to hear that I had done so well, but was slightly annoyed because I figured I must have done pretty well in the Sub-23 race as well. Once the judges figured out that I had indeed registered as a Sub-23, they told me that I had finished 3rd and that I needed to get to the podium ASAP. So I ran over to the podium and was waiting around for the awards ceremony to start when I was called back to the finish line to be told that the judges had been wrong and I had actually finished 4th in the Sub-23 race. I was also told that the Sub-23 racer who finished 3rd had only finished 1 second ahead of me. I wondered if there had been some kind of mistake because I knew that there had been no one near me when I finished but I didn’t want to annoy the officials, so I accepted it for what it was and went home. The next day though, when I was checking results, the website said that I had indeed finished in 3rd place, and had been accidentally tricked out of my first chance at an international podium and a medal (they only award 3 deep in each category). And now, 3 days later, I checked the results again and they said that I did actually finish in 4th. Because I thought that I had missed my chance at a podium shot, Victoria drew a podium picture for me (see picture). I think it does it pretty good justice (if I had finished 3rd).
I am also not sure how many UCI points I got. It was either 6 or 16. Unfortunately, I do not know which because according to the UCI website, the race was a Category 1 UCI race, but according to the Copa Chile website, it was a Category 2 UCI race. Either way, I got some points. I really hope it was Category 1 though...

19 October, 2008

First international race abroad…of many

Last Sunday, October 12th, was my first international bike race abroad. It was the “Copa Suzuki by Scott” bike race in Santiago, Chile. As of right now, I plan to race abroad regularly, so I figure that not doing as well as I would have liked in my first race was not all that bad.
I chose to race the Elite (Pro) race instead of the “Sub-23” (Under 23) because according to the website, UCI points were only awarded in the Elite category, as well as money (I admit that I had tricked myself into believing there was a chance I would win some money at that race). I now know that UCI points, along with the prize money, are awarded as if the Sub-23 and Elite categories were one category, so I should have raced Sub-23 so that I could have had a slightly better finish. My official finish position was 6th of 11 Elite racers, and I would have finished 4th of 8 Sub-23 racers, which put me in 9th place overall (of 19 racers). 2 UCI points for me!
The morning of the race was terrible. First of all, the time changed, FORWARD, the night before the race, so getting up at 6:00 AM felt like getting up at 5:00 AM. Then, my palm pilot, which I had changed the night before, automatically changed itself overnight so the alarm went off at what felt like 4:00 AM. This wouldn’t have been too bad, but I was so nervous about the race that I couldn’t go back to sleep and ended up getting somewhere around 6 hours of sleep. It wasn’t enough.
Once we got up at “the new” 6:00 AM, Victoria and I made breakfast, got everything together, and went out to meet Tito, the “Colectivo” (a kind of taxi) driver. Unfortunately, being a foreign bike racer living in San Alfonso, Chile, means that I have ended up taking quite a few Colectivos. Aside from being expensive, they are not big enough to comfortably transport my bike which is forced to hang out of the trunk with only a towel and bungee cords to protect it. Anyway, Tito picked us up, we got to the race venue, I got registered, and I still had a couple hours before I had to warm up so I decided to put on a new rear tire in place of the very-worn semi-slick I had on at the time. I checked with the Giant Chile team and they pointed me in the direction of the nearest gas station with an air compressor so I headed off.
Partway down to the gas station, my rear tire went flat. I was slightly annoyed, but concluded that as I was already on my way to change it, I needn’t let it get to me. Once I got to the gas station though, things got worse. Again. The air compressor at the gas station would not work for my tire. The problem was that it wanted to fill the tire VERY, VERY slowly, which was exactly the opposite of what I needed it to do. If I had wanted to fill my tire VERY, VERY slowly, I would have pumped it up by hand and saved myself the time and trouble of riding to the gas station.
At that point, I realized that there was no way I was going to find another gas station with a better compressor, so I flagged down a taxi, unceremoniously threw my bike in the trunk, and headed back to the race venue. At the venue, Jose Antonio Riquelme, the Giant Chile team manager, gave me a CO2 and I was able to get my tire mounted. Then I noticed my helmet was missing. I realized that I had left it by the air compressor at the gas station. I found someone to give me a ride down to try to find it, but had no luck. Unsurprisingly, someone had noticed it and picked it up. No more helmet for Macky...
By that time, I only had 30 minutes until the race, so I quickly got dressed, borrowed a helmet from another racer on the Giant Chile team (they REALLY helped me out) and got on my bike. I began to feel better and wisely decided that I needed to stop stressing about the morning and focus on the race.
My warm-up was fine. I actually got a slightly longer warm-up than I was expecting (30 minutes instead of 15) and got a front row spot on the starting line. When the race started, I immediately ended up near the back (I didn’t want to insult anyone or do anything illegal during my first international competition) and had to fight for position the whole first lap. I had not had a chance to pre-ride the course, so I didn’t know what was coming, and that slowed me down quite a bit. The climbs were all short and steep and some of them were barely ride able when you combined their pitches with the mud on some and loose dirt on others. Most of the descents were loose and twisty which was very difficult during my first lap because I wasn’t prepared for any of them and lost quite a bit of time simply from not knowing the course.
I did learn one very useful thing during the race though, the two words that you need to know for Chilean bike races: “pista” and “gracias” (pronounced “pi’ta” and “gracia” because of the Chilean habit of dropping the letter “s”). “Pista” translates loosely to “trail” and implies “get off the trail because I’m faster than you and need to get by”. “Gracias” simply means “thanks”. If you wish to get more sophisticated, you can always add “izquierda” (left) or “derecha” (right). These few vocabulary words served me quite well throughout the race and everyone was very nice about yielding the trail.
Unfortunately, my incredible mastery of Chilean-bike-racing-Spanish did not keep me from bonking and I realized on lap 5 of 7 that this was exactly what was happening to me. At that point, I had no choice but to continue on as quickly as I could (now that I knew the course) and try to keep from being lapped by the fastest racers. I was successful in this and finished all 7 laps, although I was the last person not to get lapped.
Overall, it was a great experience. I met a ton of great racers and riders who were friendly, kind, helpful, and supportive and got my first taste of World-Cup-Style international mountain bike racing. And I got 2 UCI points!

10 October, 2008

Chile: The land of “HERE WE ARE...Now what?”

Santiago is big. And confusing. Seriously. First of all, the ATMs at the terminal wouldn’t accept our debit cards. We tried with both of them, but to no avail. Finally, we gave in and exchanged 300 Argentine Pesos at a less-than-great rate so that we would have enough money to last us until we found an ATM that would accept our cards. After that, Victoria and my first goal was to get ourselves and our luggage to Cascadas de las Animas, an adventure resort 45 kilometers southeast of Santiago, where we have family of friends-of-the-family. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done.
First of all, we didn’t know exactly where Cascadas de las Animas was. When we finally figured out the general area and explained it to one of the cab drivers at the terminal, he told us that getting down there with all of our luggage would cost something around 200,000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $400 USD). So we immediately nixed that idea and began look into the idea of taking various metros and buses, as had been suggested by one of the members of the “family of friends-of-the-family”. The problem with that plan was that there was no way we were going to be able to transport 2 bikes (in boxes), 2 suitcases, 2 bike bags, 1 backpack, and 1 messenger bag 45 kilometers via metro and bus.
This is where the next useful piece of information came in: at bus terminals, there are frequently “custodias” (cheap baggage storage). Overjoyed by this new piece of information, we paid a luggage carrier 1000 Chilean Pesos ($2 USD) to transport our luggage to the nearest “custodia” and paid to have our bikes and 3 of our remaining 6 bags stored overnight. Then we had to figure out public transportation in Santiago, Chile.
First we had to get on the “Linea 5” metro. We ended up asking the ticket lady, and after she gave us our tickets, she pointed to the stairs directly behind us. When we got down the stairs, we realized that we were on the platform for “Linea 1”. Because “Linea 1” is not “Linea 5”, we went back up the stairs and asked the turnstile guard. He also pointed us back down the stairs. Getting slightly worried, we trekked back down. It was at this point that I realized that “Linea 1” would bring us to “Linea 5” if we got off at the correct stop. One down.
Once we reached “Linea 5”, we knew that we had to take it to the “Mercedes” stop. When we realized that we had 20 stations to go, we relaxed slightly and began to look around. The first thing I noticed was that we were getting closer to the mountains. I was overjoyed by this prospect and pointed it out to Victoria roughly a million times. This started our discussion of where we wanted to live in Santiago, and we both agreed that we would be perfectly content to live outside of the city. Two down.
At the Mercedes stop, we had been told to get on bus #72 to San Jose de Maipo. Unfortunately, we watched 10 or 15 busses go by in a matter of minutes, and none of them was #72 to San Jose de Maipo. So we walked across the street to the shopping center called “Puente Alto Shopping” and used the pay phone. We spoke to Pangal (the son of the family) and he gave us the following directions: “Take bus #72 to San Jose de Maipo. Then take the bus to San Alfonso and ask the bus driver to drop you off at Cascadas de las Animas.” That seemed relatively easy, so we crossed the street again and as we approached the stop, we saw bus #72! Three down.
Once we hit San Jose de Maipo (fortunately, the bus driver told us when we were there) Victoria and I almost immediately decided that we liked San Jose de Maipo and would be content to live there. We bought 4 empanadas at the corner store where the bus dropped us and were given directions to stay on the same corner to await the bus to San Alfonso. Imagine our surprise when the bus to San Alfonso (it said San Gabriel, but we asked the driver and he said he went through San Alfonso) was also #72. We decided not to let this phase us and finally arrived at Cascadas de las Animas, which people kept calling Cascada de la Anima (I found out later that that is because no one pronounces the letter “s” at the end of words in Chile). At Cascadas de las Animas, we met Pangal (after having spoken to him multiple times on the phone) and he brought us up to his family’s beautiful home on the side of a mountain above San Alfonso. We met his parents, Sergio and Gordita, ate a light dinner and went to bed. Four down. Success!
Note: we didn’t take many pictures during this part of our adventures. We were too concerned with survival...

09 October, 2008


Considering that we only had to go from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, it turned out to be quite an adventure. It started off easy enough: we got to the bus stop, got all of our bags and ourselves on the bus, and began the journey. Then it became more complicated.
First of all we had to fill out immigration cards to get into Chile. This wouldn’t have been too difficult if the English translations hadn’t been just as confusing as trying to understand the Spanish. For example, “Address in stady country” was the English translation of “Dirección en el país de destino” (address in destination country). Personally, I have never heard of a stady country and it took some deciphering to figure out what we were being asked. We also realized that we had about 8 mandarins and 4 kiwis to dispose of before we reached the Chilean border because you cannot bring foreign fruits, vegetables, or animal products into Chile. I quickly sat to work on a couple of mandarins and a kiwi while Victoria drifted off to sleep.
As we got closer and closer to the Andes, we began to realize how tall they were. I kept trying to get photos that showed cars at their base so that I could blow it up to show how small the cars were compared to the mountains, but every time I tried, the cars seemed to disappear because I had to zoom so far out to fit the mountain into the picture. And they were BEAUTIFUL. Most of the mountains we could see were snow-capped, and we were told that what we saw was “nieve eterno” (eternal snow) that stayed year-round.
When we finally hit the border with Chile, we had quite a wait. At first we simply sat on the bus and looked at the snow-covered peaks but then we decided we wanted to get out and walk around. Unfortunately, immediately after we left the bus, we were told to go back and get our passports and proceed to the border office to get approved to pass into Chile. And that’s when things got a lot worse...
First of all, it was cold. Not just chilly, COLD! I wasn’t all that surprised, seeing how we were 3,000 meters (9,000 feet) above sea level in the middle of the Andes surrounded by snow. I was alright, but Victoria had decided to wear shorts for the bus ride, so she was freezing. Then someone started smoking near us and it really affected Victoria. First she started complaining about being light-headed, and then she said that her vision kept slipping away. I was getting a bit worried, but we needed to get through customs and we were at the front of the line, so we gave them our passports and they stamped them and everything seemed to be going fine, until Victoria swooned. Fortunately, I was right next to her, so I caught her and some nice people in line with us helped me get her and our passports to the medical center. At the medical center, they put her on oxygen, and laid her down while she recovered, and I ran around getting the rest of the customs things taken care of (more stamps and papers and bag searching). The nurse explained that altitude sickness (“apunamiento”) was a relatively common occurrence at the border because we were so high up and told me to give her lots of fluids and keep her from getting excited. Fortunately, we still had 3 or 4 hours on the bus, so it was pretty easy to keep her from getting too excited; she also immediately went back to sleep once we got through the border.
The rest of the bus ride was relatively uneventful (thankfully) and we got to the Santiago bus station sometime in the afternoon. There started our next adventure.

08 October, 2008

Argentina: The land of $10 steaks and terrible drivers

I am in love with Mendoza! It is a beautiful city full of wonderful, helpful people. Victoria and I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina October 1st at 9:20AM after an 11 hour flight during which we got to watch “How to Eat Fried Worms”. We promptly found a taxi and set off for the Terminal Omnibus (bus terminal) because we had been warned that Buenos Aires was not a very safe place to be, especially as a couple of tourists loaded down with 2 bikes and enough luggage to last us 8 months. We were able to find an ATM almost immediately and made the first dent in our summer savings. It cost us about $30 USD to get to the bus terminal (not including the $20 in tips that we spent paying everyone to help us move all of our bags and bikes from point A to point B at each stop) but the experience was priceless. The drivers in Argentina are TERRIBLE. According to one travel website I saw, Argentina had 7,500 deaths from automobile accidents in 2006 (which averages 20 deaths a day) and I can see why. Although there is some road signage, drivers seem to follow their own rules and no one seems to care. Turn signals are never used, lanes have absolutely no meaning, and honking is a popular pastime. Drivers seem to drift from lane to lane, or simply straddle the center line as if they cannot decide which lane is the one they wish to occupy.
At the Terminal Omnibus, we bought tickets to Mendoza, Argentina ($50 each) and then tried to entertain ourselves for 5 hours while trying not to attract too much attention from the locals. Although we look pretty similar to many of the people in Argentina, our clothing gives us away. Shorts, t-shirts, and brightly-colored Keens don’t seem to be in style in Argentina right now...Oh well. I was very worried about whether or not we would be allowed to put 2 bikes, 2 bike bags, and 2 suitcases on the bus, but no one seemed to mind and the baggage guy seemed content with a $3 tip. Then started our 16 hour bus ride.
We slept. Kinda. But mostly just sat in the relatively comfortable seats (better than a plane) and looked out of the window. Most of the ride took place after dark, so there wasn’t much to see aside from the occasional lit-up town. We stopped sometime after 21:00 (9:00 PM) and had a delicious dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes that was (apparently) included in our bus fare and then kept driving.
When we arrived in Mendoza, Alberto Aristarain (a family friend from Mendoza) had someone waiting to pick us up. Fortunately, he waited around even though the bus arrived an hour late and we were able to cram all of our stuff in his mini-van like car and eventually made it to our first destination: Casa Glebinias, Alberto and Maria-Gracia’s Bed and Breakfast, 15KM south of Mendoza. We introduced ourselves to Alberto and Maria-Gracia and ate a late breakfast on their veranda overlooking the sprawling grounds of their B&B. That afternoon, we took a cab into Mendoza and got a room at the Adventure Park Hostel, just blocks from Plaza Independencia, the center of Mendoza.
We spent the night at Adventure Park Hostel and spent two days wandering around Mendoza Casa Glebinias in one of Alberto’s cabañas with a cute little veranda and amazing breakfasts. It was all very surreal and enjoyable. Our third day in Mendoza, we slept in, ate breakfast, and eating delicious food and being tourists. Our second and third nights in Mendoza, we spent at then took a 45 minute bike ride around the community surrounding Casa Glebinias on two very old bikes with HUGE, incredibly uncomfortable seats. It was an interesting experience and difficult for me, as it was the first time in a long time that I had ridden for more than a few minutes on a bike that did not belong to me wearing something other than spandex! That night, we went to Patio de Pastas and I ate one of the best steaks of my life. It was well done, juicy, covered with cheese and mushrooms, and only cost me $10!
The other exciting event that night was that we were mistaken for locals 3 times! Considering that all of our other experiences had told us that we were very obviously tourists, this was quite an improvement. Unfortunately, stammering that we were not from the area and couldn’t give them directions quickly informed two of the three groups that we were indeed tourists, although I did successfully direct one taxi-full of people to continue “al derecho” (straight) to find the road they were looking for.
The next morning, October 5th, we left Casa Glebinias at 8:45 in the morning to catch the 9:45 bus over the Andes to Santiago, Chile. I was sad to leave Mendoza and the Argentine population, but hopeful that the Chileans would be just as hospitable.