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Belgium for the Holidays


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As a full-time teacher and a ‘cross racer, I’m used to an often frenetic schedule of working, training, traveling, racing, and working again. My coworkers laugh when they ask about my weekend, knowing I’ll probably say something like “Oh, I was in Oregon” or maybe Europe. Likewise, my racing friends laugh when they ask when I’ve flown in for the race, as I’ve usually said something like “last night around midnight.” I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy the rewards of two careers, though sometimes it takes a concerted effort to manage the tricky balance.

One really nice way the two meld is during Kerstperiod — the Belgian Christmas week of cyclocross —since it corresponds to school vacation. Repeating my trip last year, this year I planned to race the Namur and Zolder World Cup races as well as two C1 races in Loenhout and Diegem, in a seven-day period. Leading up to Christmas vacation, I had worked a full week and had scheduled an overnight flight for Friday that landed Saturday morning in Brussels, at which point my gracious host Tatjana Jonckheere would pick me up and we’d go straightaway to the World Cup course in Namur for the afternoon pre-ride. After work Friday afternoon, my dear friend Jordan Dubé not only gave me a ride to Logan Airport in awful rush hour traffic, but also surprised me with personally designed rider cards for the Belgian fans! Things seemed pretty great up until about 4:30 p.m. when the first leg of my flight got delayed due to congested traffic in Montreal resulting from winter storms all day. “Don’t worry your connections will be delayed too,” the attendant reassured.

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Once in Montreal, however, the screens confirmed that the Brussels flight had already departed — on time. Any energy and patience on that last day of school before vacation had expired around 10:00 a.m. when my student Carlos decided to steal Rafael’s pen and then click it repeatedly on his desk like a metronome — and now all of Canada had just started clicking pens. After waiting in immigration and retrieving my 140lbs of luggage, I hauled myself to re-ticketing. The line was so long that agents were handing out pamphlets with phone numbers to call while in line because the two agents still working were only going to deal with hotel vouchers. I waited on hold for forty-five minutes before a very cheerful women announced that she had two really great options for me: Fly the next day to Chicago, then London, then Munich, then to Brussels arriving Sunday afternoon. Or fly out Sunday night on the same direct flight to Brussels I’d just missed. Both of these really great options meant missing the Namur World Cup altogether, not only my favorite of the four races I’d planned, but also a valuable source of UCI points. With no other choice however, I opted to take the direct flight on Sunday night and the agent suggested coming back tomorrow to get on standby on the Saturday night flight, since it was currently full but there might be some no-shows.

Around 11:00 p.m. I finally got my vouchers and headed to catch the shuttle to the hotel. I had texted Jordan so that she could message Tatjana since I had no Internet access. She also started searching for other flight options and found several but none that would get me to Namur. So, I had one shot: getting on standby the next night. Forty-five minutes later the shuttle pulled up, and I stepped from whipping icy winds outside the YUL airport into a warm shuttle blaring Latin dance music: I was so delirious I started to giggle. The fiesta-happy shuttle driver assisted me in getting my plethora of luggage off the vehicle and wondered what I could possibly be carrying. When I explained, and explained my situation, he seemed amenable to getting some passengers lost on the way to the airport so that I could get a seat on Saturday’s flight, which was kindly of him. In hindsight, getting a great night of sleep in a comfortable bed, waking up at my leisure, getting in a”ride”with openers on the stationary bike in the gym, and putting my feet up all day probably wasn’t the worst way to spend Saturday!

Incidentally, when I went to ride the bike in the gym, BBC was airing a show about Syria and the horrific effects of the violence there: a solid dose of perspective while I worried about making a flight! I believe in putting my all into whatever I do and think that I’ve that effort that makes it worthwhile. But, safe to say that was a reminder of the blessings of safety, comfort, and relative c