Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Austin LIVESTRONG Challenge Part 2: Getting Settled

I can honestly say that this was the first vacation/trip that I took with pre-determined events that worked out as planned – I left enough flexibility and hours in between events that we could fill in with stuff on the fly.

It should be noted that Four Square, Twitter and Facebook all play very important roles in this trip. Either that’s because it’s what all the cool kids/hipster wannabes do or because most of us involved with LIVESTRONG, and in Austin for the Challenge, are all geeks. Either way, thank goodness for Foursquare. Not only was I able to figure out where friends were so I could meet up with them, but it’s acted as a brilliant diary for this vacation.

We’d signed up for the 10 am tour of the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s headquarters, but I figured we’d arrive early, park, and go for a ride before the tour started. It took us a little longer than expected to get there (Zach turned out, by the end of the trip, to be an excellent navigator, but the first day of reading my GPS on my Crackberry took some practice). We arrived almost an hour early, so we popped our heads in and asked where we could grab breakfast (it was too late to go to Juan Pelota again). The recommendation was Cisco’s Restaurant & Bakery up the street from the LAF, so we hopped on our bikes, went for a quick ride into downtown Austin, turned around, and had a quick bite. Little did I know I’d be sinking my teeth into the most delightful, soft & fluffy tortillas I’ve ever had. One thing has to be said for Texas – you simply cannot get tortillas like these in New York. The melting pot has clearly destroyed any ability to make tortillas this good. We scarfed down our eggs, tortilla and biscuits (served with honey – yum!), saddled up and arrived just in time to meet up with my, until now, online LIVESTRONG Leader friend from Germany, Henrike, throw on something civil and take the tour.

Since Zach was missing a few days of school, and his class will be doing a project on sustainable living, Amber Wadey kindly indulged us in talking about the green features of the building. For example, much of the cement used in the garden area and in the driveway was re purposed from the paper mill that formerly occupied the space. The wood used to build the “conference cubes,” which Zach and I agreed resembled camp bunks, were re purposed from the building, as well. Fluorescent lighting was used, but wasn’t abundant, as the sky lights provide a tremendous amount of lighting. While the walls are decked with beautiful artwork, not a cent of the Foundation’s money was spent on the gallery-caliber décor – they are pieces from Lance Armstrong’s personal collection.

Zach was very excited to see Chris Brewer working on bikes in front of the gym. Chris, in addition to his very important job at the Foundation, apparently doubles as mechanic for every employee in the LAF, at least so it seemed. The bike he was working on when we stumbled upon him was his bike – formerly George Hincapie’s Discovery Channel bike.

Zach then nearly collapsed as an audible gasp escaped his star-struck face when he saw 7 of Lance’s yellow jerseys, signed, from the Tour de France victories. After the tour, we packed up, took Henrike in tow, and headed off to the Austin Convention Center to volunteer.

We signed up to stuff goodie bags for all the riders and runners. Now, conceptually, I knew how many people were participating. Philly had over 3,000 participants. But when the reality hit that, what looked like only 10 or so people were going to have to stuff over 5,000 goodie bags, I nearly died in my new, blue Team LIVESTRONG volunteer tee. Then, the cavalry, in the guise of Jack C Hays High School Leo Club entered the building. Like a scene out of an episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition, a flood of cheering, happy volunteers aged 13-19 came barreling into the hall, throwing on their blue t-shirts, and all I could think was, “WE ARE SAVED!” Not only that, their teacher/mentor, Ms. Espinoza took over and set up a 4-part assembly line that worked brilliantly. We were done in only a couple of hours, with enough time to chat with the students, laugh, and enjoy ourselves.

Almost, that is. About half-way through, my phone rang. I immediately recognized the number as my close and dear friend. I saw he’d called me earlier during the tour at LAF Headquarters, but I didn’t want to take the call. He didn’t sound like himself. His father, who lived in Israel, had been going through diagnosis for what was suspected to be pancreatic cancer. He got the call from his sister that his father had passed away, therefore he’d be unable to pick up Zach and me at the airport on Monday. He was flying to Israel within a few hours. Here I am, in the middle of volunteering for LIVESTRONG, amidst cancer fighters and odds beaters, and his father dies before he has the chance to fly out to see him alive one last time (which was planned the following week). Talk about putting my mission in Austin in perspective. I cried with him for a bit, consoled him, assured him I’d pick him up from the airport upon his return and I knew then and there I’d have his father’s name on my back on Sunday.

After we were done at the Convention Center, we had a late lunch, headed off to Mellow Johnny’s, well, because it had become our home-away-from-home to have some more coffee and ogle at their goods. That night, we were taking our hosts to Phara’s Mediterranean Cuisine – a middle eastern restaurant with live belly dancing. I’ll let the video speak for itself… (the fun starts at around minute 2)

Next morning was to be the first of our official training rides – we were getting acclimated to the weather, a taste of the terrain and landscape and I had to get used to my Speedplay pedals, which seemed very different from the SPDs I’d grown accustomed to…

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