Let me take you on a trip. Fly three hours west and add two more hours to pick up bags and drive 100 miles south. Upon arriving at your destination well past bedtime, a massive mechanical jack hammer would be crushing the pavement to smithereens outside the hotel with a staccato beat sure to make sleep trying. Ah, but wait. Your reservation is totally wrong and there is no room at the inn. After haggling back and forth, a room is finally located. With ear plugs stuffed deeply into auditory canals, sleep comes hours later than hoped.
Then there would be rain and rain and rain. The temperatures will never climb out of 50’s and this is the end of May. Your work outside in the rain and cold drag on far longer than logic allows. Taking a break, a scenic run along a beautiful trail ends with a strained hamstring.
Finally, it is time to head for home, if only you could get out of your room. No kidding. The handle will not turn, the locks will not unlock. Trapped. Oh, what fun.
Actually, this is not some dream as nightmarish as it sounds. This was reality for me and Laura last week. All of this happened to us except for being locked in our room, but more on that later. The point of all this would be that our trip with the KU track and field team to Eugene, Oregon, last week seemingly did not go well and was far from fun. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Trust me. Things will get better. However, we need to get right to the bottom before this story can start to climb upwards.
The depths of misery started when a Shiner Ruby Redbird and a laptop computer did not mix well. A pleasant dinner with daughter Kelly the night before the trip suddenly went very wrong. I broke a rule. My laptop sat on a table with fluids. One quick move, a tipped bottle and Shiner’s tasty summer brew was soaking its way through my keyboard.
Leaping to my feet holding my laptop upside down for drainage, I tried mightily to shut down the computer for its electronic health. My first step landed on the suitcase dragged out for the trip. On the dining room’s hard wood floors, the wheels rolled, and I went flying. The crash into the corner of an end table just inside the living room left me with a scraped left hip. Amazingly, through it all, the computer was held aloft with one hand preventing any further damage. The bag received a good swift kick that knocked over a dining room chair. Anguished cries over my laptop’s fate filled the room, but not one foul word.
If only this tragic comedy had a happy ending. A rush to the tech center at the Kansas Union the next morning revealed the logic and video boards were toast. Thank goodness for Laura’s backup computer. Off we flew. Surely, things could only get better after that serious low point, but here is the rest of the story.
Yes, the team did arrive at the inn, a Holiday Inn Express no less, to find the reservation completely wrong. Instead of our arrival on Tuesday night, the reservation said Thursday. The lobby filled with athletes, bags, and tubes carrying vaulting poles and javelins. The outcome left the vaulters and throwers, one coach and the two of us staying while the rest piled back into a fleet of 12-passenger vans for a trip 30 minutes south to another property for the night. The joke really was on those left because even with the problem allegedly solved, the rest driving south still beat us to their rooms. We were too tired to worry about the noise outside. Sleep came quickly.
Until last June, I had never been to Eugene, Oregon. I wrote an ode to Tracktown USA following that trip. Now in less than a year I have been in Eugene three times. Laura has been with me twice. Except for our trip last July, rain filled our other trips. Lots of rain. It is Oregon.
As I stood on the infield of Historic Hayward Field waiting for a KU athlete to throw, the rain fell steadily. I was well protected with good rain gear and good “condoms”, as we refer to the high-tech rubberized protective rain sleeves that cover cameras and lens. We like to say “never dive in without them.”
These were not thunderstorms familiar to all Kansans. Just steady rain with little wind. As much as I love the beauty of Oregon and the luscious green forests, the steady rain simply is not good for a sun lover like me. Soggy is not a fun way to live. Vitamin D supplements would be a must. Pulling my blanket up every morning, I checked for webbed feet.
There were moments when it did not rain. However, until the final hour of the final day, we did not see the sun. Most days reality overcame my hopes. I would pull on shorts sure that the forecast, as often in Kansas, could not be as bad as predicted. Unfortunately, in the parking lot of the hotel before ever leaving, the rain pants and jackets were quickly donned.
During an interlude while showers abated, we took to the famed Pre’s trail for an interval run. In the muddy trailhead parking lot we came upon KU 1,500 meter runners Cori Christensen and Donny Wasinger, along with the KU distance coach Michael Whittlesey. They readied for an easy run on the Friday between their first and second round races. Choosing their direction, we quickly jogged off – the other way.
Finding our pace, we readied our watches for a series of intense intervals. By the seventh timed segment, we were moving with an ease that can only come from the rush it was to find ourselves in the midst of waves of NCAA runners. Passing one group going the opposite direction, we were actually complimented for our efforts. About then the burning feeling that raced through my left hamstring from knee right up to my glute squashed my hubris. Stunned that I actually had a muscle I could pull, I limped the rest of the way back to our car.
Fortunately, I had an abundance of time to let my leg heal as I waited out the many field events where KU is truly strong. My love of track and field can only be tested by two events – the discus and hammer throw. Both are fascinating to watch and very athletic but really awful to photograph. Interesting angles are hard to find due to the cages that surround the rings. The standard photograph from long distance shot with our longest lens becomes very tiring and boring.
Since this was an NCAA preliminary event, the flights grew in size with more athletes than usual. Sixteen, not the usual eight throwers, composed the finals. In the time it took to run these events, not only did the weather change – the seasons changed.
There is such a mystique that surrounds Tracktown USA, being critical is hard. Yet, on second view, the meets were not run as well as the aura would lead people to believe. Never have I been told more often where I could not shoot for no logical reason. The efforts to contest all field events except the hammer throw on the infield is admirable but creates major congestion and poor backgrounds. I can tell you the life stories of many of the on-field officials I chatted up to gain access for photographs from forbidden angles.
Despite it all, I still love track and field as much as any sport at KU because the events are so beautiful and the athletes so much fun. The final handoff in the 4×100 relay is as gorgeous as anything in sport, even if KU didn’t complete that handoff. Watching Diamond Dixon run the 400 meters is shockingly exciting. A tiny freshman, Dixon often lags behind for much of the race before kicking in the nitrous oxide with 150 meters to go. Like a tuner car ignited, she blows past runners with stunning speed that makes her the fastest collegiate in the country.
There is steeplechase runner Rebeka Stowe casually hurdling unforgiving barriers over 3,000 meters, Christensen running with a broad smile, Wasinger with his quiet demeanor, vaulter Jordan Scott with his creatively dyed hair, jumper Andrea Geubelle packed with explosive muscle, Mason Finley’s gigantic size and strength and so much more.
That same diversity makes Eugene one of our favorite cities. We love the food, the people, the casual feel to the city, the glorious trees and the roaring Willamette River. Dear friends Carl and Kim Davaz were again a joy to see.
Finally, very early last Sunday morning, the time came to leave for Portland at 4:30. There was only one problem. Rose Richmond, a volunteer assistant coach, found herself trapped in her room. Her door handle would not turn and unlock her door. Thirty minutes later, what surely was the final issue had finally been resolved.
Oh, but how could I forget the missing bag of vaulting poles upon arrival in Kansas City? Kind of tough to misplace those. Yet, on this trip, everything was out of the ordinary, so why not. Just blame it all on a Ruby Redbird.