A Jamaican Train Wreck; "Yah Man"
Immediately after finishing up my talk at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday October 30th I was quickly taken to the Orlando Airport to head to the land of reggae and Rasta, the island of Jamaica. The trip marked my winnings from the NYC triathlon Underwear Run theme contest. Part of the trip was an entry into the WATA Rose Hall Jamaica Triathlon taking place on Halloween. My guide for the race would be fellow Big Ten triathlete Andrew Starykowicz. I arrived on Friday around 4pm and luckily I met a nice Jamaican man on the plane that agreed to help me out in finding my ride. Once we exited the airport doors we were bombarded by cab drivers salivating over the opportunity to land some prey. I had no idea how I was going to find Jamaica Tours to pick me up but somehow the friendly native steered me past the persistent cab drivers and in the right direction. I laughed though because they asked me if I was Mr. Chadez. It took me a minute but I put two and two together and agreed that indeed this was me. I jumped in the small tour bus and we drove off. As we drove down the road, the driver proceeded to honk at everyone and then we randomly pulled off onto the shoulder and picked up some random locals. At first I was confused whether I was on a metro bus or a tour bus but I quickly found out that this is the way they roll in Jamaica. It wasn’t long before we pulled up to the gates of the RIU Montego Bay and Andrew was there to greet me. We were on a tight timeline. The race was the next morning and it was already 6pm. There was one problem that was looming.
We had not received any info on the race and could not find anything on the race website about packet pick up or bike check-in. I proceeded to call the race director Rain Russell over and over but to no avail. We began to put the Burley tandem together but ran into another major problem. Matt West and I could not get off one of his pedals following our race in Australia. The bike had not been ridden since and we had the task of trying any possible option of getting this thing off. We didn’t have the exact sized pedal wrench. The thing was locked on so tight that the Jaws of Life would have struggled to prevail. To tighten the fit of the two pieces Andrew tried everything from zip ties, electrical prongs, a fork, a knife and more. Each of these was broken before putting a dent into this thing. We even used some of our chemistry learning’s and put the crank arm in the freezer for a few hours to compress the size of the hole. This also failed. Finally, Andrew proceeded to take apart the pedal leaving only a metal rod left. We then called up the plumber at the resort and he brought up the largest wrench I have ever seen in my life. If this thing couldn’t get it than we would be S-O-L. Thankfully the mega-wrench was magical and we were in business.
We finally heard back from Mr. Rayne Russell and at 12 midnight he stopped by the hotel to exchange our race packets for the bike. Everything was on Jamaican time and since we didn’t really know what Jamaican time meant we were a little hesitant about the scheduled bus pick up in the morning but we said our prayers before bed and headed to bed for the 4hrs we had to sleep.
At 4:30am our wakeup call sounded. I quickly proceeded to have the most unusual pre race breakfast ever. At dinner the night before I realized I had nothing to eat and grabbed the only semi-appropriate thing left, spring rolls. Not something I would do again nor would I recommend pre-race but that’s all I had so I just went with it.
As we got on the bus, we had no idea what to expect from this event. We knew the race was going to be different but we were in for a bit of a treat. Upon arrival at the race site, we were directed to the transition area which was only a tad larger than a 3 car garage. Body marking was on your own and the race start time was a ball park estimate of 6:30am. We also found out later there were no mount/dismount lines and riding through transition is totally acceptable. I don’t even know if helmets were required. Despite this there was a competitive field including multiple ITU professionals, the best of which Nicolas Becker from France.
Twenty minutes prior to the projected start time we walked down the long hill to the race start. A warm up wasn’t really necessary considering it was already 80deg and humidity through the roof. We still got into the ocean that resembled a local YMCA pool cranked up to 90deg to keep the older population happy. At 6:30am, they announced the race would start in ten minutes and then they said the same at 6:40 as well. The gun finally went off at 7am (6:30am Rasta time) and we jetted out towards the first buoy. The course was a rectangular loop after a 200m swim out to the loop. We settled into second position behind Becker right from the gun and kept this position until the end. The entire swim though we had a pesky Egyptian pro sitting on our feet enjoying the enhanced draft sitting behind two people’s feet. The swim felt descent considering I had had next to no sleep for the previous week and was fatigued from a large week of training. We exited the water in a time of 21:40 and in 2nd place with the Egyptian drafter bolting ahead briefly upon exit. The transition involved a ¼ mile uphill run on a rock path. The thick air and the salt in the water left me parched.
Transition one was a bit slower than we wanted as Andrews shoe strap had slipped through the loop but regardless we mounted the bike and headed up the winding hill leading to the highway road. With a sweeping right hand turn onto the highway we expected to start blasting at high speeds but instead the timing chain on the bike randomly fell off and we had to stop. After a short stop we continued cautiously, hoping for no more chain problems. A few miles up we made a left hand turn into the unknown. We had been told that there were a few big climbs on the course but living in Seattle, it takes a major hill to intimidate me. As we made our way up the second climb it happened again. The chain popped off for no apparent reason and this time the chain became tangled. I took charge of the bike and ran it up the hill as Andrew proceeded to finangle the chain back into working condition. At the top of the hill we mounted our bike and began descending down the backside of the hill. The road began to look a little more third world like including increasing gravel, rocks and holes in the road. We entered into an “S” turn and as we leaned to the right into the second turn Andrew spotted a T-shirt in the road. It was too late to swerve around the road debris considering the bus-like nature of a tandem. As any normal person would do, Andrew decided to roll right over it. Unfortunately this is not what happened. Only seconds later, the front wheel collapsed underneath us into a taco and we were both launched over the handle bars and onto the gravel lining the road just missing a giant boulder that would have doomed us both. Andrew took the bulk of the impact considering that I used him as a cushion and landed on top of him. Both of us sustained some nice road rash to serve as evidence of the encounter. As we picked ourselves up Andrew pulled out the t-shirt lodged in the remains of our front wheel. The bike was nowhere near ridable and our chances of winning the race were now over. Now the primary focus was somehow getting bike support and cleaning up the bloody abrasions from our backsides.
Ten minutes later, a truck picked us up and took us to transition 2 which would be our only possible hope for medical attention. Upon arrival there was no medical staff available and Andrew proceeded to expose his back side in a full moon in order to clean the dirt from the wounds. I told him he should at least stand behind a tree but he just continued to walk around with his bum hanging out.
Once we halfway cleaned our wounds, we decided our day wasn’t over and we would head out on the run. We waited for Becher (the leader) to start his run and then we proceeded to try and catch him. We were both a little sore and wounded but as they say in boxing, “You can get knocked down, but never get knocked out.”
The run course was a roller coaster ride through the Rose Hall golf course. This course may not have had a straight away on the entire 10K. Regardless, we were making up time on Becker and decreased his lead from 1-minute to 30sec by the 5K mark. Just after the 5K mark the run turned into a resemblance of the Escape from Alcatraz run course. The trail became very steep and seemed to never end. I had to push with my hands on quads just to keep moving forward. Lactic acid had oversaturated my muscles and my pace lowered substantially. Mile 4 to 5 could not have been correctly marked because if it was we would have run a 14 minute mile. Becker gained back 15seconds as we headed into the last turn around before climbing the very steep 200m hill to the finish in front of the Rose Hall Hilton Resort. My legs were toast! The up and down pounding of this ridiculously challenging and probably a bit long run course had done me in. We ended up running right around 40minutes for the run that was probably a bit closer to 6.4miles. Our goal following the bike accident was to finish and that goal was accomplished. It was tough accepting the fact we had a good shot at the win without all of the chaos but there was nothing we could do.
After the race, we chatted with some of local Jamaican’s before picking up the scraps of our bike and loading them in the bus back to the RIU. Since it was Halloween, there was a post race Halloween party later that night. We were told a bus would pick us up at 7pm. We decided we would wait until at least 7:30pm for the bus just in case it was on Jamaica time. Come 8pm the bus was still nonexistent. The RIU was having special Halloween entertainment so we made the convenient decision to attend.
The opening act of the show was definitely a spooky display of contortionism. This guy managed to balance his head on a chair that was balanced on three glass bottles. From this position he somehow brought his legs all the way behind his back to pick up a hat that two volunteers were holding. He then used his feet to put the hat on his head. It was the most sick and amazing act by a contortionist I had ever seen.
The following act was a Halloween rendition of Michael Jackson. This act was also very good but nothing beats the real King of Pop. To finish the night, the entertainment crew got the crowd involved with a song they like to call Reggae Night. Nothing more fitting than to end the night with some local flavor!
The remainder of our stay in Jamaica was meant for rest and relaxation. We did however go for a few runs despite feeling as though we had been hit by a train. Each and every run along the beach included a man on a row boat hovering just off shore and continuously attempting to get us over to talk to him. We always told him we didn’t want any of his goods but he seemed to never take no for an answer. On the way back to our room we stopped to enjoy some of the Jerk Man’s amazing cooking. The Jerk Man had a little hut on the beach where he cooked up Jamaican jerk chicken and sausage. He was known from all around to have the best jerk chicken in the area. After taste testing some of his good, I would have to agree with these high honors.
The following day was Sunday and we decided we would venture off the resort and see what “real Jamaica” was like. The cab driver dropped us off at City Center and we proceeded to walk cautiously through the streets of Montego Bay. Again, the cab drivers all wanted to give us a ride. Comically, one of them yelled “No man. You shouldn’t walk. It’s bad for you to walk.” Another man yelled from about 400m away to get our attention and then began walking towards us until pooping out after 100m. Along the streets were locals with big hatchet knives cutting sugar cane to sell. We figured it was probably time to walk the mile toward the Hip Strip where our cabbie would pick us up. As we did so we walked by a man (David) sitting along the road. He noticed us from the RIU resort where he worked. He was also wearing a K-Swiss shirt which immediately made him a cool Jamaican. He warned us that the road ahead was very dangerous and that he would not recommend walking on it. We told him we were just out to see what Jamaica is really like. Resorts give a distorted view. He said, “Yah man, I will show you real Jamaica, Yah man.”
We proceeded to follow him through all of the sites of Montego Bay. He explained the history of the two witches (Rose and Annie) which were a large part of the culture of the city. We went to the grave of the good witch Rose as well as the city court where people were publically hung many years ago. We walked by the market where there was a Jamaican bobsled along the curb. Then we headed into the Bob Marley bar where David sang some of his own reggae music. To end the tour we jumped in a cab and headed to a nearby village to see how the majority of Jamaicans grow up. In the village was a village pub which was nothing like the states. To best describe this bar, I would say it was the dive of dive bars. Regardless, it was a culturing experience. Following a drink at the village pub we hopped back in the cab and paid off the cabbie to take us back to the RIU. We were a little hesitant as to whether we would be taken directly to the RIU. Thankfully, the cabbie did not stray from the path back to the resort and before long we were safe and sound at the resort. The following day marked the end of our Jamaican adventure. If nothing else, we return from Jamaica with great stories to tell. Yah Man!