February, 2007

February 17, 2007

The Trials of Travelling

Or . . . . . $%&^ and Double #*&^(*&@3!!!!!!.

As I mentioned in the last post, my luggage was misplaced on the way to Doha, Qatar, when I transferred flights in Madrid on Sunday morning. I knew something was wrong when I arrived to Barajas airport in Madrid, to Terminal 4. Barajas is split up into four terminals, and Term 4 is the newest, biggest addition to what is already a fairly large airport. It's so spread out, that to transfer from Term 4 to the other three, you have to take a thirty minute bus - if you're lucky enough to get ahold of one! I landed early in the morning, about 8AM, and was then sent scurrying through the bowels of the airport, passing through passport control, security checks, and at the direction of the information personnel, taking an underground train to what I thought would be Terminal three. . . .

Actually, I'll back up a little bit. Saturday night, I went out with my buddy, Luke, a Canadian living in BCN with his lovely girlfriend. Little did I know that his Dunlop Socks would be the fluttering of the butterfly wings that would wreak havoc with my entire week.

I rolled the clock around, like I always do before I take a long flight, so that I would be able to sleep during the journey and hopefully wake up fresh when I landed. I caught this on a scooter in BCN on Saturday evening, met up with Luke, and then spent the remainder of the night packing my bags. Correction - packing my bag. Normally I like to travel with two small pieces of luggage, like I did when I went to Australia the previous week, but this time I thought, "Hmmm, since it's only six days, and it IS Qatar, one of the less interesting places we go to, maybe I don't need as much gear as I normally do. . . . maybe I should just cram everything into ONE bag. . . ."

So, single bag packed full of my street clothes, my uniforms, my dopp kit, all the little things that make a hotel room survivable, my AXIO hardpack, and my imitation Prada computer bag that holds Olga and a ton of paperwork, and I was off in a taxi, dozing on the way to airport in Barcelona. Big thanks to the Catalan fellow who charged me for Every Single Bag as luggage - you're a champ. I checked in, nice and easy, and thought I'd grab a photo of this - the Post Office of Spain (well, just one of the many offices). Correos has sponsored riders in GP for years, including Max Biaggi, the Camel Pons team, and various other teams and riders. The US Postal Service takes care of bicycle riders who compete internationally, because naturally anyone from outside the US is going to send something with via USPS.

Ever seen an F1 car sitting around in any of your airports? This baby was Sharp!

Anyhow, brown cow, back to Barajas. I woke up once we landed, got into the airport, and was sent on my merry way by the helpful informaticos people down a couple escalators to the train. The train is nice, fairly quick, and I thought that I'd get to the next terminal with plenty of time to spare.

Only to find that once I stopped, I was back in TERMINAL 4!!!! ARGH!!!!!!!!!! @#*&^$@*&!!!!!!!! ^&^QW%E&*^Q@!!@!!!!!

Everyone I talked to seemed to pass the buck. "Si, si, ask the next person when you get off the train and they'll direct you." SO I TOOK THE TRAIN AGAIN. WTF!?!? CATSO! I was back in TERMINAL 4, AGAIN! I finally bulled my way through Passport Control a second time, which really threw them for a loop because I'd already been stamped that morning, and made my way out of the airport Terminal to catch the bus. Best moment on the bus was either A) running into the same group of obnoxiously loud teenage Spanish girls who were on my flight from Barcelona, or B) letting an obnoxiously rude American mother/daughter combo know that they speak Spanish in Spain, just like in LA, thank you very much. Not that I speak Spanish all that well, but when I approach a stranger, I just don't start rambling on and bitching about this and that, and then demanding directions and advice. Who the hell are you? "Si. . . ? Lo siento, no hablo Ingles, hahahaha." So I get to Terminal 3 in time to see a huge line waiting to check in at Qatar Airways, and right at the front were my Spanish teamates. SCORE! I jumped in with them, checked in, Verified that my luggage was being transferred to the flight, and then climbed onboard the older plane and wedged myself in to the 1950's, too-tight seating arrangement. Ohhh yes, it was going to be a long, cheap flight. Every other time I'd bounced to Qatar, I'd flown out of Heathrow, and the plane and crew was always top-notch, spic-n-span, and NEW, with tv's and video games built in to the seat in front of you. This time it was grubby, packed full of people from who knows where (Not Spain, haha), and absolutely Reeked. Seriously, like a heard of dinosaurs had passed through and left us some special prehistoric presents. But we made it. A small success in itself, until a couple of us realized that our bags weren't there. That meant waiting in line to report them missing, filling out forms, and dealing with people who really care. I handled the business, made it to the hotel, and woke up early the next day to head to the Losail International Circuit.

If you see the star in the picture above, that's a great big mall, rivaling anything I've come across before in the States. There are bigger and better ones around the world, but in this corner of the globe, this thing was pretty massive, clean, and well-stocked. I forgot my camera when I went there, but trust me, it was nice. For a mall.

I really like the traditional boats of this area. Abras, I think they're called.

Much of Qatar is still under construction, the city having boomed in the last decade once they realized how much oil they were sitting on. Everyone wants a little palace in the desert now.

And the desert hasn't changed at all. Still big, still imposing. This is not a place I'd like to get stranded in. Maybe in response to how we drove last year, I noticed they installed some radar cameras along the freeway to the circuit, so we slowed down appropriately once we figured out exactly where they were planted. This time around, we had what Martin called, the "pelicula americana" cars, because we were loaded with a Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe Z71, and some other big Chevy SUV. We proved they can do all sorts of things with the right motivation, and at one point, I thought we'd pull a Dakar washing machine, which is when you roll your truck enough times that come out with all your colors mixed together. . . . heh heh. The roundabouts were great, big wheels spinning and clawing for traction as we tried to maintain that perfect balance of control and the psychotic.

Ahhh, they call it Lusail out here. This would be the sixth time I've been here since January, '06, and it's where I got my start on the international scene, so I have fond memories of the place. The track, that is, not necessarily the drivers or the roadways (which are nearly impossible to navigate). Even after all this time, I still managed to get lost due to the lack of recognizable landmarks. The constant construction also makes it tricky, because everything is in a state of flux. Doesn't help when you're always in a different hotel each time, either.

Setting up at the track was fairly easy, because there's so much space in the garages that it's not a problem to place your flight boxes somewhere once they're emptied. I made myself a nice little area, hooked up Olga, the router, the printer (we ended up buying a new one in Qatar, because they're dirt cheap), and proceeded to get to work. Sometimes at the track, if we finish a little early, we'll go for a jog around the track. Well, those people who like doing that sort of thing. I'd rather bike it, and maybe I'll be able to get one of my BMX's to a couple tracks here in Europe. I doubt if I could even run one of the tracks, anyway, because my knee is so jacked.

This team, which shall remain nameless (and blurry, too) to protect the innocent, set about cutting their hair. I like to do this sort of thing once a week, too, except I find it's generally better to do it in the hotel where I can take a shower immediately afterwards. Best of all, I don't have to really do a super clean up when I'm done, and that's one of the nice perks of having room service.

The garages lock up nice and tight at Losail, because everything is new, but a lot of good stuff stays outside the main garage bay in an area protected by awnings and cloth walls. That didn't sit too well with me, so we got ahold of these great big brass locks, made in the People's Republic of China. You'd think they would have cost a dollar or something, but here in Qatar, they ran 15 (FIFTEEN) euros, nearly twenty bucks! At least, they made me feel a little better, even if one of them came with keys that were all bent. A few minutes with a hammer (Ducati and Harley special tool number 1), and a vise, and everything was good to go. Brass for the price of gold, hahaha.

The three day test passed really quickly for me, and I hardly noticed it go by. We'd finish up late every night, 9:30, 11:30, etc, and then I'd try and get a beer in the hotel. Being a muslim country, alcohol is hard to come by, and two beers will set you back about twenty bucks or so. I think it's definitely worth it. I'd have a nice dinner buffet first, loading up on Qatar versions of international food, which like a lot of things in Qatar looks good on the outside, but then tastes just a little bit different once you're getting into it. The second night without my stuff, my roomate and I decided to get the guys together who were missing stuff and make a run to the store to stock up on toothpaste and things like that. I drove us to the mall, we shopped for an hour, and then had dinner at Applebee's. Don't get the Nachos there. The next night, my stuff had arrived, but no word on how to claim any of the things we bought because no one would give me a straight answer on the phone. "Yes, yes, please speak to the airline representative at the airport when you're checking in to leave." Yeah, right, and monkey's might fly . . . . We packed up after three intense days, and we did really well on Thursday so I was quite pleased despite knowing that I had a ton of stuff to do because Barros had laid it down with a couple minutes left of the final session. That's racing, so no worries there. We dragged our boxes outside into pit lane so the shipping company could load up the trucks, and went back to the hotel so that we could get a good night's sleep before our lunchtime flight the next day. Oh, hardly noticed that Valentine's day had come and gone, the only difference being that the hotel bar was filled with slightly more Filipina and Korean girls that night, and there were hordes of drunk English guys in tight pants looking to buy some affection. I can't believe that stupid hotel bar wouldn't let me in with slippers on (and arabs wear slippers everywhere with their robes), but if you're a working girl? Come right in and sit down. . . .#*&$%@#*&^ You!!!

Super Sergio, Barro's telemetrist, is a great guy with a really cool accent. He's optimistic about the season ahead, and the teams' current line of thinking is that if we have the right pieces in place, we can really go places.

The next morning, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so I said Arrivederci Qatar, and we loaded up five oversize boxes to Madrid. . . because it's time to get ready for the IRTA test in Jerez, and we're going to look pretty this year.

It ended up being another overbooked flight full of crazy people, but because we were flying West, I got to follow this sunset for hours. It was magnificent. Incidently, I spoke with the Qatar Airways service desk about my lost luggage, because there's a per day reimbursement for lost luggage, and they fed me a another line of crap. Basically, they tried to hand me off to the Qatar Airways people in Madrid, because they were the ones who lost the luggage in the first place. I said, look, I don't even live in Madrid, so pony up some Reials ($) because I bought some stuff and you guys owe me. No dice, the guy wasn't having any of it, so a hearty Muchas F'n Gracias to those guys. Now that I think about it, on the flight from Madrid to Qatar, I had a big shard of glass in my dessert, and when I bit down on it, I heard a weird crunching sound. I didn't know what it was, but it ended up stabbing me deep in the tongue and when I pulled it out, my hand was covered in cake, and I was holding a bloody splinter of glass about half an inch long. I filed a report on the plane, but haven't heard anything or gotten an email from them, so yet another Gracias to Qatar Airways. What a trip. And it wasn't even over at this point.

I also spent some time talking to Rahkman (Rock-man), and he was a really cool Pakistani who imports trinkets to Spain and France. His English was good, and I helped get him some vegetarian ravioli so that I could have more of the lamb. He told me later that it was dog, but either way I figure it tasted alright.

And finally, perhaps foreshadowing how I would be feeling in a couple hours, I snapped this pic of Jose, the electronics guy on the team sitting behind me on the flight. I mentioned to my boss in the hotel back in Qatar that I thought they'd lose my luggage again, and sure enough, THEY LOST MY LUGGAGE AGAIN! TWICE. 2X IN ONE WEEK. (#*&%(#*@&*(@$(*@&#($*&@#! It only gets a little better, because I also missed my connecting flight in Madrid. The plane out of Doha was delayed by an hour, and when we flew in to Madrid, they were experiencing a thunderstorm. Let me tell you, it is freakin' awesome to fly by huge bolts of lightnings, so strong the whole plane lights up and you can actually see the beam in place as the place goes by at 600 MPH. AWESOME. Everyone on the plane got pretty scared, and it definitely smelled different after the first really big blast, but I was just jamming away with the iPod, and let's face it, whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. So we land at Terminal 4, and then taxi the plane for thirty minutes to get to Terminal 1. THIRTY MINUTES. Sheesh, it almost would have been faster to get out and walk. We disembark, I have ten minutes to catch my connection (so I already know I've missed it), so I proceed directly to find the travel desk to get another flight arranged. Spanair Terminal 2 hands me off to Spanair Terminal 3, and mind you I'm lugging around 20 kilos of gear on my back and in my handcase, so I'm hustling around, sweaty, and looking for someone who can finally get me squared away. I get another flight, which is delayed an hour due to rain, and I wait another three hours in Barajas for that flight. I get to BCN, find out my luggage is lost, and end up waiting another three hours because the counter girl says it's coming on the next flight. Then, "No, no, I meant the next next flight." Oh boy. Three hours waiting at BCN while they're cutting marble/granite/whogivesa#@$^ tiles to renovate the converyor belt next to mine (fantastic sound, really), and tons of people are waiting with me. It got so bad, people were lighting up cigarettes inside the airport, which is illegal, and no one cared. No one said anything, so I joined them. After waiting until 3AM, I gave up, gave them my information, and caught another expensive taxi home. I need to add, it's a little stressful, because all my team gear is in that luggage, and I'm flying out Monday morning at dawn, so I could really use my stuff. They have two days to find it before I'm screwed, because if I'm not here to receive it in BCN, who knows where it will go. . . .

The moral of this story is that I'll always pack two bags, just like I did last year, and like I'll be doing everytime from here on out. Work and personal effects will be split up, so that in the event of one being lost, I've got the back-up. Same line of thinking that I use with my computers, my cameras, everything. I always have a back-up. And if both bags get lost? Then it was meant to be, I guess. These are just a few of the trials of travelling internationally to go race motorcycles. Not having your essential gear at the hotel/track when you're out there with the team really stinks, but it's something every member of MotoGP goes through. These are some of the ties that bind us.

I decided to get out of the house this afternoon, take a nice bike ride down to the water, and get some pizza. It was great. Then a huge thunderstorm hit when I was riding away, and I got immediately drenched head to toe. I pulled over, ducked under a building's overhang, and watched the storm for about thirty minutes, dancing a little to the music. It really makes you feel alive to be in something like that, and if didn't have my computer and other electronics in my backpack, I would have just kept on riding. Later tonight I think I'll go home and collate some more data, and in the meantime, I'm STILL WAITING FOR MY LUGGAGE.

February 15, 2007

When in Qatar. . . .

Be a Rock-n-Rollah Ayatollah!

I'm exhausted, thrilled, and deeply satisfied tonight. There might not be much to the nightlife in Doha, Qatar, but I always find other ways to have fun and relieve some of the stress that comes with this job. I'm headed back to BCN tomorrow after breakfast, and should be home before midnight. Just enough time to catch up on some much needed sleep and get organized for the following week. I'll update in the next few days. And congratulations to my boys, the Hoff, and Alex Barros, who was upbeat and in good spirits tonight after falling during a fast qualifying lap today, just before the test officially ended. We ended the afternoon session in 3rd and 6th position, and overall for the day were 4th and 9th. We're getting stronger.

My luggage was lost coming from Madrid, so that meant nearly three days of scrounging around for something to wear. I made it to Carrefour, which is a large European superstore akin to Kmart, and managed to find something suitable. I am a little bummed by Qatar Airways (or whomever lost my gear), because I had to resupply with underwear, socks, bathkit, the works. On the plus side, I did get ahold of something I'd been meaning to since last year - and you're looking at it here!

I'm at the recently renovated airport in Qatar, and although it's still too small for it's own good, at least they have a form of Wifi in place.

I just had a root beer float at this place, and while I try to stay away from fast food, the Papa Burger was too tempting, especially after eating the Qatari way for the last week.


February 10, 2007

Let's get ready for Qatar! Preseason Test this week!

I'm flying out at dawn from BCN to Madrid, and then on to Sunny Doha, Qatar. I am extremely glad I won't be stuck at Heathrow (the World's Greatest Airport, right up there with Boston's), like I was so many times last year.

This marks a full year since I caught the Qatar tests while I was working on the Losail National Cup, which is posted here. A year later finds me actually working with one of the GP teams, and I'm incredibly thankful for everything that's happened in that time. It really HAS been a Wild Ride so far, and I think it's only going to get better and better! Lots to prep, and lots to pack, but this afternoon I took a break and went for a bicycle ride with Hiro Aoyama to get some thick, Argentinean Pizza in the Borne district. Then, we took some time to check out every page of the latest Motocourse MotoGP and WSBK annual, which features 2007 World Champion Nicky Hayden on the cover. Tonight was quiet, and I spent my time catching up with old friends online. It's not almost 4AM, which means it's time for me to head out. I'll be bumping to this in the meantime!

Qatar Preseason Song!

February 09, 2007

Down Under Preseason BIG Wrap-up

It's like your own private racetrack!

I'm often asked about Phillip Island - how I like the circuit, the facilities, the people in Australia, generally just what it's like going out there to play with motorcycles. And here's some of the answer.

As a racetrack, it's one of the most spectacular and magical places I've ever been to. The views are phenomal, and the countryside surrounding the track really lends to the atmosphere there. You're looking at sheep one minute, and then VRRROOOOMMM, there go some crazyfast, loud motorbikes! The way the track itself cuts through the gentle hills, the places to pass, it's all magic, and maybe because it's in laid back Australia, the team personnel just seem to be more friendly. If you watch a crew at a big European race, the vibe is totally different. There's really nowhere to disappear to at night, so you'll see teams and riders in the small town of Cowes all week long, which is pretty cool. The island offers a variety of leisure activites, like mountain biking, fishing, canoeing, golfing, you name it, and you pretty much can't go wrong on an island doing anything. Especially if you're from an island - like me! Anyway, the wildlife is ever present and you know you're really in Mother Nature when you're out there. With Motorcycles. YEAH!

Loris goes golfing with some of his crew, Massimo, Marco, and Mark. Just to give a size reference of how small these pilots are, Mark (far right) is 5'6" and 160 pounds. Just kidding Mark!

The track facilities, however, are a little primitive. Much like Laguna Seca, the paddock is small (smallest pit lane in the World Championship!), and the team offices are nothing more than cheap, portable rooms. Just like Seca. Normally, I don't really care about what that kind of stuff is like. The main thing I care about is whether or not they have actual toilets that you can sit down on, because I can't squat, and if they have decent paper. Sachsenring? Bad Paper! Phillip Island? Decent Paper. Mugello? NO WAY!

But I digress. Security is pretty good at Phillip Island, but it's so spacious and out in the middle of nowhere, I'm pretty sure clever or determined people could get in. And that's what worried me. This season I'm far more aware, and more responsible, for the equipment the team brings to each and every race. The photo above shows the Paddock door to my garage, which is connected to a roll-up door that is so flimsy I'm sure I could kick it down if I tried. But I wouldn't have to, because this little key is the only thing keeping people out at night when we're not there. Granted, there are a bunch of security people on premises at all times, but my teamates and I joked that our millions of Euros worth of equipment was being safe-guarded by this little ole' key.

There's a common sense of brotherhood in the racing community, and it's particularly so in the GP paddock, so the last thing I would be worried about would be another team trying to see what we're up to. Last year, I wondered if team's spied on one another, whether it was video'ing or recording sound, because often you can hear what's going on the garage next to you and it wouldn't be hard to rig up something. It doesn't happen at all, and I think it's because there's such a huge level of respect that the teams have for one another. Besides, none of the data would be relevant. I am continually amazing that these completely different motorcycles, with different tyres manufactured specifically for each brand, each racetrack, that all these totally unique and specialized machines can go head to head on track and end up coming in within a tenth of a second of each other. Think about that. Hot Lap at Phillip Island? 1:30 seconds, more or less. And 1/10th of a second is? One Ten Thousandth of a percent, or .0001111%, of the total laptime. It's that close, and that's just one lap. Thinking about Estoril last year, where Toni Elias bested Valentino Rossi by .002 seconds at the finish line - just thinking about how many laps that meant, roughly 45 minutes - can you believe that different bikes with different riders, styles, tires, everything that makes up the technical and human package, finished that close? NOW THAT'S CLOSE!

This Rusty latch is the only thing holding my babies back in their garage at Phillip Island.

About this time, I realized my Sony camera was on the fritz, and it started doing all manner of strange things, from constantly vibrating internally, to taking pictures that were downright artsy. I haven't had time to even think about replacing it yet, so for the next couple adventures, I'll probably be using my trusty 2.2 megapixel dinosaur. It's a little hefty, but hey, I can always use the excercise. I thought this photo turned out pretty neat, because we're the Squadra delle Pecore Nere. At least, that's how I like to think of us. Oh, any of you guys have an inside line on pocket sized mid/high-resolution digital cameras? MotoLiam is looking. . . .

Here's another example of what I'm talking about. The Repsol boys were absolutely flying on the third day of the test, throwing down some incredibly fast laps on Q's in the afternoon. I think we'd rather save a little something for the race, but those conditions will be completely different, and chances are our bike will be further developed at that time, so who knows how it will turn out? That's the beauty of this series, it's constantly evolving.

But enough about racing and motorcycles, haha. I love real life. Another of the photobugs on the team is Andrea, and now and then you'll see some of his pictures grace this website. Andrea is the main telemetry and electronics guy for Alex Hofmann, and he's just a nice guy in general. Not only does he tweak the settings of the bike, he repairs watches, too!

Meanwhile, I did my best to look sexy in my preseason gear. You have no idea how happy I am to be wearing Bridgestone on one sleeve, and Ducati on the other. 1-2, Bam Bam!

This is the "Hot Set-Up" in Australia. The sport Ute (utility something or other) with a trailer. I like to think of it as a downsized El Camino or Ranchero, and I'd probably own something like this if I lived and worked in Australia.

I spend a lot of time learning from the living computer, Davide Baraldini. He's the best there is, for now. . . . . .

The first couple days we were in Australia setting up for the three day practice, the weather was a bit cold and rainy. One of the restaurants we ate at, Taylor's Waterfront Rest., overlooks this cool little cove. This looks like a great place to have a picnic. I miss picnicing, but ce la vie.

I was frozen, wind-blown, and getting rained on when I took these. We've got places just like this in Hawaii, but the rocks are black or dusty brown - not this reddish stuff. The people in Australia really impressed me. The best description I can come up with at this time is "RUGGED". These people are rugged. They're a hearty people who are self-reliant and quite creative when it comes to fixing problems that occur in their day to day lives. Most of the kids I've met have an idea of what a brake caliper is, and they can change tires, too, haha. They fix things with tape, chewing gum, and backyard welding, and while it might not be the cleanest or most professional looking stuff, it's really neat to think that they don't have to go out of their way to take things to someone for repair. I like it. Real Mad Max type stuff, serious. This ingenuity translates over into many aspects of their lives, and they just put their heads down and go to it. You can see a bit of this in their racers, who get down to business and really work hard, no matter what the circumstances.

Alex Barros set the fastest times on day 1 and 2 of the test, and the entire team was ecstatic about it. This is the first time I can remember seeing this team's name at the top of the charts, and Alex Hofmann wasn't far off, either!

AB celebrated that night with one of these, while we all enjoyed a fantastic meal as well.

After dinner, I always had some work to get done. Some nights I would tweak the English Press Releases, but usually I'd have my hands full with Parts orders and inventory type stuff. My boss, Lele, has been invaluable in helping me get on my feet and started on this learning process, so a huge thank you goes out to him. The running joke is that "Olga", my laptop, is a crazy, big, white woman from Eastern Europe. And she's "fragile", too. Mudah pecah!

But that didn't mean we didn't have fun at dinner! I really get a kick out of how expressive these Euros are. They're constantly messing around, and it helps to relieve the tension and pressure that we're al under.

Payback's a bitch, however! Jaws, anyone?

Hof got in on some neat video action, assisting Bridgestone with an onboard camera (in the backpack) for something they're working on. He had a great run during the tests, and now that's he's on the GP7, I'm really anticipating this season.

On two of the test days, we were joined by my Australian family, the Staggards, and their niece, Vanessa. Some people work on the bike set-up. I work on the team set-up. We were well set up.

Incidently, Vanessa is available for shooting, so any of you Aussies looking for a spokesmodel, or something similar, should contact me. I like to think that she slowed a couple of the riders down as they passed the main straight - looking sideways!

SCORE!!!! No offense to my Dunlop friends, but I'm so stoked we're on Bridgestones this season.

I also had a chance to meet with Australian racebike fan, Dave Wallis, who was kind enough to supply the team with a glut of Choccies, which I packed away for the trip to Qatar! I only hope they don't all melt, something I thought of later. . . . gulp.

The Mustasche has to go.

After some exhausting and brilliant days at the track, we spent the night in Phillip Island before making our way through rush hour traffic on the way to the Melbourne airport. There were quite a few bikes on the roadways, mostly commuters.

I entertained the guys in my car by proving that I can snore while sitting up. They took photos. And laughed. Sometime later this year, there will be an intense battle between myself and the man they call, Tormenta. Apparently, it's going to be like Godzilla fighting Mecha-Godzilla, while juggling chainsaws.

Melbourne airport, which was suprising well -stocked with some good people watching that night. Unfortunately for my team, the check-in girl was suffering from a disorder of some kind, which meant standing at the counter for 20 minutes just to check in. And even after that, our seats were still messed up.

Here's some trivia for you. I bought this Australian Ninja Mask, which Andrea is modeling, while I was waiting for my flight. Who can tell me more about it, and the historical significance this played in Australia?

After the bounce in Malaysia, I snapped this somewhere over Uzbhekistan. It's snowy, and it's also fun to see different countrysides from the plane. Growing up in Hawaii, I'm used to only seeing the ocean when I'm on a flight, but when we're flying over Europe, Asia, or Australia, it's cool to see how things change and wonder how that affected the development of the people there. I think I even saw a salt bed Down Under!

The team got stuck in Heathrow, AGAIN, but after some frantic phone calls to our travel agency, and the switch of a counter person at Iberia, the guys made their flight to Madrid, while I headed to BCN with Toni Elias. He's a great guy who I enjoyed speaking with, and while I hope he does well this season, I hope my guys kick his ass. Lots of good stuff on the plate just around the corner, so stay tuned this week. I hope to debut some really cool stuff, some more multimedia type posts, and then some!

February 07, 2007

A handle on it.

Early this morning I received a reply to an email I had sent out to Billy Lane, of of Chopper's Inc. Some of you may know him from the Discovery Channel show, Biker Build-off, and from some of the other motorcycle specials that have appeared on TV, but I've known Billy since '99 when I first contacted him while going through MMI in Phoenix. Haha, I almost moved to Florida to go work with him - who knows where I would be right now had I followed that life path! Anyway, I consider Billy to be one of the most talented, creative forces behind the custom movement here in the US, and he's regularly featured in various international magazines, like Vibes. In fact, and that's where I first learned of him. Others of you probably only know of him because of the horrible tragedy he was involved in last year when he was driving home drunk one night and he killed another biker. While I will never condone Driving Under the Influence, you have to think that life moves on, and I'm sure for him it's just been a nightmare. How do you live with yourself after going through something like that? How can you deal with the guilt, the despair, the sense of loss, and how do you go about putting everything back together when there are pieces missing you can never replace or rebuild?

I was up early this morning to get a head start on my day, but his email kind of shook me up a little and I find I'm having trouble concentrating right now so I thought I'd throw out a post and send some positive vibrations his way. I hope you guys can all take a moment to think about how lucky we all are, and to give a thought to all the bikers that have met with an untimely end and are no longer with us.

Billy made these one-off handlebars for me, long before his shop blew up and he became successful enough to start making parts in large numbers, and I promised him that I'd run them on one of my bikes. Life has a way of distracting you and running on, like the waters swirling along the edges of a stream, and it took me a couple years before I finally mounted them on something. But I did. I hope it doesn't take Billy a couple years to get back on the horse. Peace out y'all.

Direct Link for "Liam at Work" YouTube Video.

Video For Mac Peeps.

By special request, the whole MP3.

February 05, 2007

Random things I hear

I got a new phone for my birthday last year, courtesy of Nacho and Movistar, and one of the neat features it has is a voice recorder. I tried it out this trip and here are a couple soundclips I grabbed along the course of the two weeks in Sepang and Phillip Island.

The Birds outside the paddock garages in Sepang.

The first time I heard our GP7's fired up ths year.

The dualing banjo's on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne.

The poor bastard who was holding the kid. Gotta love Coach!

Cowes, Phillip Island, Aussieland, day two

After the free/travel day I spent with Dags driving down to Phillip Island, I expected to be at the circuit bright and early the next morning. Well, because of the vintage bike races going on, we weren't allowed in the paddock area, and besides, our flight boxes hadn't arrived yet. That meant a second day to see the sights and smell the smells, and while I did manage to get a little work done at the house (paperwork-wise) I was a little worried because if there's one thing you can't get back, it's lost time. I really don't like it when my boxes show up late, because that's one less day we have to get ready for the riding sessions, and it makes me a little nervous.

I woke up later than normal, had a small breakfast, and made my way into the township to have lunch with Alex Barros' crew. Everyone from the team had split off to do their own thing, whether it was mountain biking through a neighboring island, or waking up at dawn to go boat-fishing (like Mark Elder and some of the Factory guys did). I ran into Mark later that afternoon and he invited me to get some golfing in at the racetrack, but I had to decline. I may wear pink. . . but that's as far as I go (just kidding you golfamaniacs). Here I am at the entrance of Cowes' pier. After lunch I took a nice walk and after showing everyone some photos, Barros and crew decided to make the same journey. More time for me to take pictures and eat candy, haha!

Dickie says eat your Breakfast! I wish I was a little more "fat-free", because I really felt I was packing it on during this trip. All the good food in Malaysia was hard to resist, though some on my team feel that I don't have "good eating culture". Who says you can't have spaghetti and watermelon on the same plate?!?

On the main strip of Cowes, which you can't miss because there are only four blocks worth of "town" in this place, there are a couple Italian places that the teams and riders have been going to for years. Right across the street there's a place called Pino's, which my team ate at a couple times. There's a grip of memoribilia on the walls, including mini replica bikes, leathers, and lots of autographed pieces, and people tell me they've watched the daughter of the owners, Romi, grow up. That means she's off-limits.

Anyone who's been here will recognize all these photos, but if it's your first time, the only place to really get a drink and people watch at night is on the corner and it's called, Hotel. Show up on a race weekend night and be prepared to watch 15 year old girls slap the crap out of the dullards.

There's the pier I mentioned earlier, and while it looks super bright and sunny, there was actually a cold wind blowing heavily. You couldn't even really feel the sunshine, and everyone ended up getting burnt that day. My head just finished peeling, but other people had it worse!

The beaches were great for taking walks on, and while it was a weekday (I think, I can't remember the days, just the dates), there were still couples here and there, laying down or having mini-picnics in the shade of the trees.

I took a walk myself! It was great, and not unlike the dinners I have alone in Barcelona. Lots of time to think about "what have I gotten myself into this year?!?".

I managed to give two of Australia's finer treats a ride on my lap. The Crunchie was very interesting, like a very dense honey comb/dried-out pumice stone, but I'm saving the Chokito to eat in Qatar next week.

I think this is actually a Bay, but it still smelled like Ocean to me. You really can't put a price on the water, and I hope I never have to live far from it ever again. I tried something different with this shot, taking the pic through the polarized lens of my sunglasses. It turned out ok, and I think it's something I'm going to try again in the future.

Those of you Australians who couldn't get to the tests really missed an opportunity to meet and greet with the riders. They were everywhere in the town, just walking around, window-shopping, and just hanging out. We caught up with Carlos Checa (who looks like he's lost some serious weight!), Toni Elias, Marco Melandri, and Loris Capirossi was just walking around by himself for a lot of the day. We were all buying little souvenirs but I was waiting to see something special before springing for anything. I ended up with more chocolates, though, because you can't get the kind I like here in Spain, and they're neatly stashed away ready for the rest of the preseason tests. If they last that long, haha.

Great sunset that night, and everynight I went for a short walk around the house to try and see the McNaught Comet! I was successful, and I like to think this gave us a little extra boost during the tests. I couldn't capture my own pictures of it, but it was awesome, and seeing something like that reminds you of just how much spacedust we really are.

Dinner that night was at the Panhandle, a place advertising Texas BBQ. Do NOT be fooled. The ribs? Ha! We were joined by the Ohlins on-track technicians, Hopper's crew from Suzuki, the Marlboro team, the Black Sheep Squadron (as I like to refer to us), and some of the people from the vintage bike event. They'd come over to the table and ask for autographs and pictures, and it was fun to watch the locals do their thing. Our waitress was a crazy kind of girl who taught us the meaning of the word, "root", and later in the week she even tracked down The Hoff on Myspace. Definitely weird, but not as strange as seeing our old Ducati Engineer, C2, gobbling down on some beer and ice cream. He's such a health nut, always going for runs around the track after work, but I guess even he has his weaknesses.

The next day we made it to the track bright and early and proceeded to get to work. We had gotten some great data in Sepang and were keen to put it to good use.

February 04, 2007

Australian Summer Gold, getting to the Phillip Island Test

Another intense and amazing week Down Under! I met with some very special racefans, and continued the work necessary to put my team in the best position possible for the 2007 World Championship - namely, in first place! After three days on-track, we managed to post the fastest times on both the first and second days of the test, and on day three we were exactly where we needed to be, with Ducati's making up four of the top six places! In fact, on day two, Ducati's were top three and four of the top five. But then, this is only preseason, and I'm looking for results come raceday!

Immediately after landing in Melbourne, we grabbed our rentacars and proceeded to get some food. Most of the team ate pretty light on the plane, because they just don't mix well with Malaysian airline food. Come to think of it, I don't really mix well with it, either, haha. Anyway, just like the last time I was in Australia, the first place we stopped at was McDonald's! Argh!!! That makes twice in a year I've had to eat there, and both times were in Australia. But each Mickey D's is different, and the Down Under adventures were just beginning!

Nothing says Australia like a Holden! There's a big Holden (GM)/Ford rivalry here, but it's not at the point where you see those stupid "Calvin pee'ing" stickers on the back of everyone's cars like in the states. I caught up with the owner of this '57, and he told me it's been his daily driver for the past 9 years with no problems. Alledgely, I was conceived on a road trip my parents took between Perth and Melbourne. . . . . . in a Holden.

While I was at the Mickey D's with the guys, I shot off a call to Terri, a woman who had contacted me through the website to inquire about being a MotoGP Grid Girl. More than that, she explained that her whole family was made up of race enthusiasts and that if I was in town we should get together and have a "yak", which is a big talk in aussie-speak. I learned a ton on this trip about some of the more local terms. Here's one of my favorites:

Initally, I was headed directly to Phillip Island with the rest of the team, about two and a half hour's drive from the Melbourne airport, but Terri offered me a place to crash for the night and after checking with my boss, I decided to spend the night in Melbourne. The boys took off and I waited at the BP gas station for Terri's husband, Daggy, to swing by and pick me up. It was fun watching the local kids playng around with their suped-out cars and stereos in the parking lot, same as anywhere else. Dags picked me up, along with Terri and their niece, Vanessa, and after the introductions we headed off to Romsey, where the family was located. We joked about all kinds of things in the car, and I wolfed down an Australian Milky Way bar that Terri had brought for me (as you'll see later, candy is a great way to get on my good side). Once we got to the house, mind you, it's close to 11PM at this point, I was greeted by a veritable ton of people, all welcoming me and sitting down around the kitchen table to talk about life and bikes. All told, I think about 14 people were there, including me, comprised of seven adults and seven kids. Almost all of them knew a bit about the bikes and the racing, and it was really cool just to sit back, have a beer (apparently I drink them too slow), and talk. Vanessa's dad came over to Australia from Calabria, Italy, in the late 60's along with his brother, so between the families there was some good cross-breeding going on and everyone was multi-cultural. I don't care where they end up, once you're Italian and have lived through the Ago years, you end up knowing the bikes and some of that crazy european passion bleeds down into your kids. We spoke about all kinds of things, from bikes, to life in southern Europe, to life in Austalia (and it's magnitude of licenses and fees), the Abo's, and even managed to get into dirty jokes (yes, they really do all revolve around Kiwi's and sheep), so it was a pretty cool night for me. Just watching the kids asking questions, and the parents joking around together was great. Actually, I cannot express enough how nice it was for me to hang out with a real family for some downtime. I really miss my own family, because these days we're all living in different places and when we get together it's either one group or the other Besides, there's just not that many of us around, haha. After our Yak, I switched houses to visit with Terri's menagerie, which comprised of a massive, square-headed dog, a midget horse, some birds, and a couple freaky looking Mexican Walking Fish, (just kidding, Troy!). The horse, Turner, would wake up the household by kicking at the sliding door to beg for pieces of bread. Speaking of bread, the next day we had a huge breakfast of eggs and some serious bacon, all over fat slices of buttered toast with instant coffee. The coffee totally reminded me of how my Dad drinks his morning cup of joe, so that was another really cool flashback for me. Oustanding! Here's Turner, all three feet of him, by night, and to think, they only spent 50 Aussie dollars to get him. Used.

After breakfast, Dags gave me a lift up to Phillip Island, and we had some more time to share stories and adventures. We talked about all manner of things and it was really cool to get some of the background on that area and of Australia in general. Did you know Batman has a huge following in Australia? I found Batman Ln, Batman Avenue, all sorts of Batman places. Technically, this photo is a little out of sequence, but it's got Batman in it!

Anyway, Dags and I took off in their Holden station wagon, and we were making good time despite the horrible speedlimit in that huge country.

For the most part, Australia seems pretty flat, with some gentle, rolling hills breaking things up a little. The weather is notorious for changing rapidly (as evidenced by the race last year), and as Dags says, "If you don't like the weather, just hang around for ten minutes - it'll change!". It started raining on us a couple times as we made the journey to the circuit.

Here's a great shot of Melbourne as we sped by. I'm always really happy when a picture I've taken from a moving car turns out, because so many of mine are taken that way. The shot of the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur was taken from a taxi window late one night!

Here's yet another reason to remember 420!

Crossing the bridge to Phillip Island showed that the Roxy Women's Surfing Competition was going on. Would wonderful things never stop happening?

Right on schedule, tem minutes later, the weather changed again, and Phillip Island was a golden paradise. The weather changed that often, that drastically. Kind of like Hawaii. The lingo reminds me of home, too, because the culture is laid back, and people actually "hang out". It seems the surf culture runs deep out here. I'm all for it - Bring on the Endless Summer!

Although I spent hours in cars, I only saw one patrol car. This is what to watch out for Down Under. Pretty cool, huh? This guy turned out to be off-duty, with his wife in the car. I hear the Officers Club in downtown Melbourne is the place to go, but then, I haven't been there for myself so I really can't say.

Once we arrived to the main town of Cowes on Phillip Island, we stopped for some coffee and ran into my buddy Dave and his Australian family, originally from Galicia but having transferred over many years ago. We shared a hot cup in some cold, rainy weather, and then spied some classic bikes across the street. Apparently there was a vintage show/races going on at the track and some of that bled over into the town. That's Dags on the far right of the photo; take care of him if you ever meet him.

One British Small Arms 650? Check!

While over in the background there were a couple trumpets and this great cafe'd Guzzi. Look at that neat pipe set-up! Good stuff, and I was stoked to see these bikes up close because at the end of the day, I still spend a lot of time thinking about what kinds of bikes I'd like to build and own for myself one day.

All that aluminium shure is purty!

Also saw this neat old ride, which kind of reminded me of a little Datsun 510 wagon. The front end was ugly as heck, though, something that Holden should have done a lot better. Oh well, if they were all nice, then there'd be nothing special about certain rides, right?

I said goodbye to Dags and thanked him for a fantastic time spent with the family, and then it was time to get into team mode. Top of the agenda for the day was what we were going to be eating later that night! We all ended up at Dutchies Stone Grill, and although the food was great, the service was pretty curt and left a lot to be desired. I guess they just don't like people eating really late at night, like 9:30PM! We finished up and headed back to the house we were staying at, and for me it was a womderful day filled with new sights, good eats, and mostly, really good people. Big shout out to the Staggard and the Gara families, and to all the children, keep on doing what you're doing. Mitch, hope the knee gets better for some serious lawnballing, Vanessa, work on your projects, and Troy, don't worry about staying up too late at night. The rest of youse? Keep riding those minibikes and watch out for your collarbones! I went to sleep in a good mood, but I knew the next couple days were going to be a killer.

Oh, one last thing, the Phillip Island Preseason Test song!

February 03, 2007

Our "Free-Day" in Kuala Lumpur!

We've just completed the Phillip Island tests in sunny Australia, and the team is headed back to Europe on a 30+ hour journey that will take us through my favorite airport, Heathrow in Londres, before we separate and go back to the cities we live in. Some will head to the North of Spain, Basque Country, while others are going to the island of Mallorca, Galicia, Madrid, Milano, Bologna, and best of all, Barcelona! I can't wait to get back to the new pad and unwind for a few hours with nothing to do but sleep! Presently, I'm sitting in the "Jungle Room's smoking lounge" at the Kuala Lumpur airport on a short stop-over from Melbourne. Actually, the travel started mid-afternoon on Phillip Island when we departed in a three car caravan to drive to Melbourne. Because our rental cars needed to be back at Avis before 8:30 that night, we made that our priority to save the team an additional three day rental charge. Alex Hofmann, "The Hoff", was flying out earlier than the rest of the team, around 8PM, so we got to the airport with plenty of time for him to check in. He's bouncing through Dubai and then on to Switzerland. Meanwhile, the team spent the evening surveying what little the Melbourne airport had to offer in terms of entertainment, which meant people watching until our flight departed at 12:45 AM. Six hours in the airport? No problem - we're professionals, haha.

How professional? How about this snap I grabbed of my roomate for the season, David Lopez, past midnight at Sepang. We're behind our boys 100% and I hope it will show later in the results.

Which brings me to KLIA, and their fantastic free Wi-Fi. I spent an hour sorting through some work emails and trying to get my head back in the MotoGP game for a bit, and then after everything had been checked, I decided to throw out some pictures I took last week on our free day after the Sepang test. Overall, both tests were great as far as rider performance and the overall package we've assembled for 2007, but almost equally as important (in my mind) was the time the team spent away from the racetrack. I'm really happy with everyone and I like the fact that we can go out together and do things. We're "gel-ling", and it's only going to make us more unified when things get rough later this season.

So what's Malaysia like? For me, I'll always remember the insects from this trip. The mosquitos were vicious! I got this bastard!!

It was a real fight to keep the blood in your body. The temperatures were high, the humidity was typically at 100%, and everything was to be expected in such a tropical place that's right on the Equator. What really got me was that some bites or stings seemed to provoke an allergic reaction from me, and big red splotches were the result. There was also some swelling. . . . .

Sometimes I'd get back to the hotel pretty late, and we were forced to order room service because we missed the restaurant hours. I'd try and sit outside to catch a breeze, and there's nothing more distinctly Malay than a plate of hot Satay and a cold Tiger.

The morning after the tests, we slept in, had a late lunch, then caught some taxi's in to Kuala proper to get some shopping done. First stop? The electronics mall in downtown.

I'm happy to say that most places in Malaysia are "English-friendly", and a lot of people are bi-lingual, the result of being a British Colony. I spent much of my time translating with my team and negociating the "best-price, best-price". Barros is a game-junkie, haha, stocking up on games for both the PSP and the PS3. I picked up a jump stick for work, and a mem stick for the PSP, and for the life of me, I couldn't get ahold of a coconut so I had to make do with chugging Soy bean milks.

We left the mall to head to Chinatown, where you can buy all manner of imitation clothing and more. There's a great metro system in place and it's easy to navigate.

"Don't you wish everyone used Dial?" The trains were full, and the crush of people made it a real challenge to get a hold on anything. Most of us taller types went straight for the ceiling, as Sergio (Popeye), one of the shorter types looks on enviously.

One of the creepier photos I've ever been in. The guy on my right was cool, the guy on my left?!? Not so sure. . . . You can see how tired I am in this shot, because working at Sepang really put me through the wringer. I felt stressed and under pressure the whole time - not only to keep from screwing up, but also because this was something of a "trial by fire". I knew there was only so much I could do in the off-season, and getting it started in Sepang was the real-deal where I'd learn how far off the mark I was and what I was going to have to do to make sure I was getting it done. Just as I expected, I was going to have to polish up the ole multi-tasking abilities, because I'm working on a whole other level out here. This is MotoGP, baby!

After Chinatown, we went back into downtown to one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, Modesto's. There are tons of famous people's photos on the wall, mostly GP riders and F1 drivers with the owner. This photo is a little blurry because there were huge "misters" in place spewing water into the air. Actually, this foreshadowed some huge camera issues I'm having now, namely that my Sony DSC T9 isn't working anymore. The motor for the internal lens is broken and it constantly shakes and vibrates, so taking photos is a near impossibility, and a gamble at best. I think only one out of every six photos came out this trip. I guess six months is too much to ask from a small camera these days - at least for MotoLiam usage!

The interior is sharp, fishtanks and all. Here you can see Fotti Zio flashing us the "V, for Victory" sign.

I also learned that pie "ala mode" comes from this area in Italy, ala modesto, capiche? How sweet is it to get some good apple pie in Malaysia? It's Sweet!

The next morning we headed out to Australia, for what would be a fantastic series of tests and also a chance for me to meet with more race-fans from around the world. More pictures and updates to come after I'm back in BCN, but for now, it's ADIOS MALAYSIA!