Dennis on the Road

Friday, September 30, 2005


I’m two days away from my last race of the season and four days away from South America. This week in Barbados has zipped by as fast as their flying fish. Hot and unexpected are the two words I would use to describe the experience thus far.

Once again, doors have been opened to me and I’ve been blessed with kind hospitality. The trend of outstanding food also continues. Raquel, a professional trained Japanese chef prepared a four-course dinner last night, culminating in a sushi roll that brought Barbados closer to Japan than one could imagine: flying fish with island spices rapped inside seaweed and Japanese rice. A yummy cross-cultural fusion.

I’ve been reading a lot since I’ve been here. I’m savoring Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. Although I’m a ways away from the Colombian setting, the heat and Caribbean bring a texture to the book that I can’t imagine it having in the States. My goal is to reread it (or something else by Márquez) in Spanish at the end of this journey. I’ve also been reading V. S. Naipal’s Miguel Street. While I enjoy the uniquely Trini dialog and the reference to places that have become familiar in the past month, his craft, especially beside Márquez, leaves much to be desired.

The riding here has been good. Barbado’s favorite son seems to be the track cyclist Barry Forde, whose family is promoting this weekend’s race. Barry won a silver medal at this year’s World Championships and is back home from Germany. He brought a collection of Euro-trash sprinters with him for a training camp plus this weekend’s racing. We can’t ride a kilometer with Barry without a wave, horn beep, and folks shouting his name. The island is small enough that he actually seems to know half of those who recognize him.

The Forde’s also organized a day-cruise. In the three+ weeks that I’ve been in the Caribbean, it was my first day of playing tourist and the only time I’ve been in the ocean on this trip. We sailed along the coast and anchored to swim with turtles, snorkel at a shipwreck site, and eat a delicious lunch. All the while the rum punch was flowing. The beaches and water here is so beautiful that it seems unreal, like swimming through a postcard.

Meanwhile, in this tropical paradise, immersed in the surreal world of bicycle racing, amongst a lot of white folks in a black and brown region, I feel a long way away from the social justice and education work that has been a critical part of my entire adult life. While I guess that a break is good, and may be refueling, I feel like a sellout at times. I get occasional news of the never-ending war on Iraq and emails of education issues or political actions at home and I am well aware that I’m silent on the sidelines. I have a feeling that I’ll be jumping back in soon, however.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Pictures, A Win, Zen, and Going down the Islands

There are a ton of photos taken by a dozen photographers, from three cameras and several websites, that I’ve up loaded to the photos page. Check them out!

Awaiting the decision (Trinidad's Brown beat USA's Chavez)

The past three days have been a blur. We went to the Women’s World Championship Boxing match Friday night. In addition to five bouts, there was also music and all sorts of entertainment. The most entertaining aspect was the fans behind us, a group of young folks who were friends with one of the boxers. “Knock she gold teeth out she mouth” was just one of the things they shouted. The main cheerleader for the crew was deaf, but he rallied his friends to cheer none-the-less. Non-stop comedy. The evening was running on Trini-time, so the final fight didn’t finish until 1:30 AM. Good thing that the next day’s race was in the afternoon. I slept in until 11 and woke up refreshed and ready to race.

Newsday Classic, Port of Spain, Trinidad. 1st Jamiel Danish, 2nd Glen Rendell, 3rd Dennis Guikema

The Newsday Classic was a criterium around King George V Park, only a couple miles from my hosts’ house. A good field assembled and the Rafmon/Mecalfab crew showed up in strength and numbers. From the gun we were aggressive. Not a single break got away without our guys in it, and we won every prime! About midway through the race, Glen Rendell, a Canadian with two current national championship titles on the track, and Jamiel opened up a gap sprinting for a prime. A lap later I followed the wheel of a Team Trek (Trinidad) rider who attempted to bridge the gap. Once he opened up enough of a gap between the two of us and the field, I put in effort so we could join Jamiel and Glen. Our four-man break opened up a wider gap with each lap. Starting with three laps to go, I put in a couple attacks, but couldn’t get away, so in the final lap I wound it up and gave Jamiel a blazing leadout. Glen is not easy to beat in a sprint, but Jamiel dug deep and took it at the line, while I was able to keep my momentum for third. Behind us in the field sprint the team faired very well, and we took five of the top ten places!

"Whining" Trini style

We celebrated Saturday night by going out to Port of Spain’s hottest nightclub, Zen. Although I’m accustomed to seeing the sunrise as we head out on our 6 AM rides, this morning we saw it rise on the way home from the club.

Going "Down the Islands" with Shivana and Raffy

Five hours later, I woke up from a bang on the door, a blast of light, and Raffy’s loud announcement. “Get ready. We go down the islands in 30 minutes.” Jamiel, Jason, Raffy, Shivana and I went to the marina, took out a boat of a friend of Raffy’s, and headed out to a chain of islands. The weather was overcast and later rainy, but we had a great time, swimming and meeting up with friends of Raffy’s at vacation homes and on anchored boats.

Today (Monday) I’m flying to Barbados. I’ll be staying with friends of the Figuera family (my hosts in Trinidad) and will be doing three races this weekend with the team. Next Monday I fly back to Trinidad for a night and then off to Venezuela!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

girls that could kick my ass!

This trip has been full of nonstop surprises. If told before coming to Trinidad that I would be going to a World Championship boxing match, I would have been skeptical. I wouldn’t have believed it at all if told that I would meet both of the fighters in the title match.

Our friend Shivana took Jamiel and I to the weigh-in and press conference this afternoon. Shivana’s dad was the top doctor in the international boxing federation and she grew up around the sport. Her inside stories are fascinating and won’t be published here.

American cyclists with Trinidad's Lisa "Bad News" Brown

I expected a lot of meanness and machismo, even amongst women boxers, but I was shocked at how friendly they were. We first met Lisa “Bad News” Brown. She talked a little shit when the news cameras rolled, but behind the scenes was congenial and kind. Although more reserved in public, Jackie Chavez was also very friendly. We were introduced to her as professional cyclists here for the Tobago and she asked us for our autographs!

Jackie Chavez kicks Dennis Guikema's ass in preperation for tomorrow's World Championship bout.

Tomorrow is the fight. I’ve never had an interest in boxing, but now I can’t wait to go!

Although it hardly seems like the same day, earlier, after our daily 6 AM ride, Shivana took Jamiel and I to the Asa Wright Nature Center. The drive up into the mountains through lush rainforest was remarkable. A downpour kept us from exploring far from the car, but the flowers, forest, and birds (including a toucan) that we saw were remarkable non-the-less.

Flowers in Asa Wright Nature Center

Tobago Press

If my race synopsis and the team photos I’m posting aren’t enough, here are some more links to info about the 2005 Tobago International Cycling Classic.

An article from the Trinidad Express.

Final results

Photos from the official race website

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tobago Int'l Cycling Classic 2005!

Jamiel reminded me today that in a few months we’ll be camping out in Motel 6’s in the Central Valley, racing in the February NorCal rain. Now, we are truly a world away. I’m writing this post on my laptop inside the perfect beach villa, listening to the waves lap the shore, looking past the outside bar, the pool, and the moonlit bay to the lights of the small town of Scarborough. Tobago is absolutely lovely, but the riding has been harsh as hell.

The team house in Tobago!

Stage One was a 20 km individual time trial. The first rider was off at 6:00 AM, by which time it was already hot. I had an early start time and was borrowing Rafael’s top shelf TT bike. The course started with a series of climbs, then rollers, then a tailwind flat stretch. From the start I felt great: arrow and comfortable on the bike, powerful on the hills and turbo on the rollers and flats. Midway I was feeling that I was having the time trial of my life… and just then the dreaded phssst phssst phssst. Rear flat. Due to a mix-up and a last minute arrival to the start line, there was no rear spare in my follow vehicle, and I lost over four minutes just waiting for another team vehicle to pull over and kindly give me a new wheel. I was disappointed, but much more upset about how dangerous the course was. There were police marshals only at intersections with traffic lights, and those were so congested that I had to slow down and pass between cars. The traffic only worsened for the later riders as Tobagons took this main artery to work or to drop their children off to school. At least two riders were hit by cars. This poor planning and disregard for rider safety is inexcusable.

The Rafmon/Mecalfab Heatwave Cycling Team! (both division 1 & 2 riders)

Stage Two started at 1:30 the same day. At the start line I had the first chance to take in the field. It was small, fewer than 70 riders, but it was powerful. Charles Dion (2-time winner of the SF Grand Prix) was there as was Ivan Stebic, a Serbian who has been tearing up the US pro circuit this year; two pro teams from Germany and one from Austria; national teams from Martinique, Grenada, and Aruba; and other pro and cat one riders from the states and Canada.

We rode 10 circuits, a total of 125 km. By this time the island was a furnace. For the first half of the race I helped to control the front of the field for the team. I made a half-hearted attack, gained 30 seconds, and flatted again. It was quite comedic. I had my wheel in my hand as the field passed, all of us laughing. Our team’s follow motorcycle was right behind us, I got a quick change, and soon I was back with the field. Unfortunately, as I rested at the back of the pack, there was an attack that became the winning breakaway. The heat made the race feel a lot longer than it was and split the field significantly. I ended the day somewhere in the middle of the field, and quite a ways down in the GC due to the flat in the TT.

Me after Stage Three

Stage Three was the next day at 8:30. 135 km over 6 circuits, including a significant climb. The attacks began soon after the start and our first time up the climb was incredibly aggressive. Lap two eased up a bit but the attacks resumed on the 3rd lap’s big climb. On the 3rd climb I dangled at the back of what was left of the field and couldn’t quite reconnect over the top. Descending by myself was crazy. The course was poorly monitored and every corner and intersection presented potential dangers. Imagine flying down a hill into a 90-degree turn onto a one-lane bridge with two deep potholes, a dog, and a car all competing for space. Again, I finished mid-field. Two of our seven riders abandoned on this stage.

The field on stage four (with me on the left in orange)

Stage Four was by far the hardest of the classic and one of the most difficult races I’ve ever done. On paper, it doesn’t look that bad, only 105 km. But the five circuits took us up a mountainous climb that nearly cracked me. Thank god for the tremendous support: Family, friends, and teammates of the Rafmon/Mecalfab crew were everywhere with cold water and Gateraide. The outcome was nearly the same as the day before so I won’t bore you with more details.

Climbing on Stage Five

Stage five was epic. We started with one loop of stage three’s course and then embarked upon a huge loop that circled the island. Somehow through the sweat, I was able to take in the views of the lush jungle and pristine beaches and bays. There were three seemingly eternal grueling climbs. One nearly broke me. Fortunately I once again had the support from the team. This time Rafael and Jason (who raced in Division Two that only had 3 stages) and Jamiel (who had to abandon on an earlier stage) followed in a truck. Ice cubes down the back of my jersey, music from the truck, and cheering kept me motivated. Those guys dealt with a very grumpy cyclist very well. Even after telling them to shut up and barking orders for the drinks I wanted, they stuck with me to the end! They also had the camera and captured a ton of great photos from this stage. All the climbing was rewarded with a fun and fast decent. The final 40 kilometers were rolling hills along the coast, my ideal terrain, and non-stop beautiful scenery. I soon caught two riders and the three of us put in a strong effort to finish.

The final 40 km. was along this beautiful coastline.

The finish of the final stage was exactly as I would stage it for a movie about a Tobago race. The line was in front of a local bar in a beach town; there was a steal drum band with about a dozen musicians playing; and a cold beer was in my hand the minute I clipped out of my pedals. Despite the exhaustion of five stages in extreme heat and mountains, having survived some of the most dangerous courses I’ve experienced, competing against a world-class field, I was on top of the world. Again, I finished mid-field (which continued to get smaller... even Charles Dion dropped out today) and 22nd overall.

And like every golf course has the infamous “19th hole” our race had the 6th stage. At our idyllic villa on the sea, we celebrated Carlos’ birthday (my host and father of my Trini-teammate). Rafael made a huge vat of curried duck for our whole team and supporters as well as other racers, friends and officials.

The rewards of racing in Tobago!

more band launch pictures

Some photos of our crew showed up at while we were in Tobago. I've added them to my photo site. (Go to the "02 Band Launch" folder.) We're planning another night out Saturday!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

it keeps getting better!

Band Launch

Sunday night we had a taste of what Trinidad is most famous for: Carnival. Although Carnival is only officially two days in February, the festivities stretch throughout the year. In Carnival different “bands”, groups from 20 to 10,000 people walk, dance, and drink through the streets of Port of Spain. Each person who participates (which is nearly everyone I’ve met) buys a costume from a particular band, which entitles them to march with that group. Food and drinks are all inclusive.

Around this time of year, the larger bands have their band launch parties. Sunday night we went to the launch party for one of the largest bands, The Island People. I’m guessing 5000 people gathered in the stadium parking lot, turned party zone. The Island People presented their costumes for the 2006 carnival, which were magnificent. Folks said they were the nicest they’ve seen: colorful, ornate, and of course very skimpy. There were even guys on 15+ feet stilts (moco jumbie... a tradition with African origin). Immediately following the costume presentation, actually with all of the models still on the stage, Machel Montano (no relation to Jason and Fred), the nation’s most famous contemporary calypso artist, took the stage. Everyone was dancing, jumping, and waving bandanas. The air was charged with more energy than I think I’ve ever felt at a show. The dancing (“wining”) is very sensual, full contact, with either strangers or friends. I had every size butt thrust against me. After Machel, the DJ kept the crowd moving, even as the rain soaked us more than our own sweat already had.

Small World

The island is small enough that the country’s most famous cricketer blocked us into a parking space for a minute; I went to a concert with a well-known anchorwoman; I’ve ridden with a former world record holder and a former Olympian; and after only one week, I run across people I’ve met before daily.

Pictures, pictures, pictures!

I have two files of photos on-line. The first is of week one, including cycling (most photos taken on a 100+ mile ride with temperatures nearly that high!); my wonderful hosts; food! and a bit of scenery. To see the photos, click here and then go to the first Trinidad folder.

A second folder is all from the Island People Band Launch I wrote about above. Warning... these are some mighty spicy photos!


I love racing in a small country! The photo here is from last night’s TV news: we made both channels. Here is a link to the article in this morning’s paper about the press conference yesterday.

Off to Tobago

The team will be going across to Tobago early tomorrow and returning after the race on Monday. I don't expect that I will have email access until Tuesday.

Friday, September 09, 2005

stan' pipe laugh

A friend emailed the other day and asked how my Spanish was coming along, thinking that Trinidad is Spanish-speaking. I replied that my Spanish was alright, but that my Trini-English needed a lot of work. When we are out on morning rides, the accent reaches it’s peak and the language is spiced with as many colloquial sayings and words as the food is packed with flavor.

To help out, Rafael got me a copy of Cote ce Cote la, the Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary. It was there that I got the definition for “stan’ pipe,” which is a public water source where we fill our bottles on longer rides. A “stan’ pipe laugh’ is a “loud, raucous laughter associated with crowds around a stan’ pipe”. Fortunately the public water here is good, so I don’t have to “stan’ up on mi ches’”, which of course is indigestion. After each ride, we swing by a coffee shop, where I have to fight off the generosity of these guys to “stan’mi han’” or pay for a round.

By the way, here is the website for my T&T team, Heatwave Cycling Team.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

bright and chirpy... two wheel adventure seekers

Believe it or not, I found this in a Trinidad & Tobago tourist brochure….

"We’ve all seen them happily exerting themselves in the wee hours of the morning going God-knows-where decked off in spandex shorts and colourfully designed helmets. We may wonder how they could be so bright and chirpy so early in the morning… These creatures are none other than cyclists. Cycling enthusiasts. Two-wheeled adventure seekers. And if they’re that happy, they must be on to something."

only 2 days here and i'm already brought to the police station!

The photo is of a rugby game with the Trinidad and Tobago National Criterium Championship in the background (taken Sunday)

So right after I posted my last blog there was a bustle and some obvious worry buzzing through the tile store my host family owns. I grabbed my computer and Rafael and his dad and I jumped into the car. It turns out that Rafael’s brother, Ramon, was in police custody. He was pulled over for having excessively tinted windows and he gave the cop some excessive lip. His “what if I don’t go with you to the police station” was replied with “then I’ll have to take you by gun point” which by the time it reached Rafael and his dad had become a tale of a gun actually being drawn.

Fortunately by the time we got to the police station the situation had already calmed considerably. Ramon bitterly peeled the stubborn tint off the window while Rafael and his dad talked to the cop about mutual interests in motorcycle and boat racing.


I’m in love with the food here! For lunch we ordered roti with everyone in the office with beef, chicken, and shrimp dishes, along with rice and dal. Damn! For dinner Rafael did wonders on the grill. Ox tail and ribs were marinated in delicious local spices. Eggplant was also grilled, plus there were potatoes, greens, and black beans. Delicious! Some top shelf rum made me even happier.


This morning I was again up at 5:30 AM. Today’s ride was a hill workout. We rode out the “North Coast Road” where we did hill repeats followed by a gorgeous ride to a lookout of the splendid coastline. I love how the team rides together daily… and laughs a lot. Check out the Heatwave Cycling Team website, or suck salt!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Trinidad & Tobago arrival

Normally the first day in a new country can be disorienting. But coming to Trinidad had a strange feeling of coming home. I had contacted several folks though Hospitality Club before arriving, including one woman who I later found out works for T&T Immigration. Through an email we discovered that I would be arriving while she was working. With my bright green t-shirt and being a tall white guy, I was pretty easy to spot. Before even officially entering the country I hear, “Dennis”. And I’m waived over to one of the booths. There is the person I’d emailed. A smile, a stamp of the passport, and a cell phone number so we can meet up some time during the week.

The baggage arrived quickly and in tact. Outside of the airport Rishi and Heidi found me… now even easier to spot with the huge bike case in tow. We drove directly to the Trinidad and Tobago National Criterium Championships. The masters categories were racing when we arrived and I had time to meet my new teammates before the elite race began. Except for the temperature, the palm trees, and a significantly more racially diverse field, the race felt like a small-town Midwestern, with a tight group of friends, families, and cycling fans cheering on the field as it circled a park while a rugby game went on in the in-field. There was some drama in the final laps and allegations of an intentional crash caused by an opposing team. After the race two riders were nose-to-nose in argument and later a protest was filed. Ahhh… feels just like home.
Rafael, my Trini teammate and host, saying a few words to Gene Samuel, former Kilo world record holder on the track.

I’m staying in the home of one of the team’s sponsor, whose son is on the team. They are warm and generously hospitable. We ride early here, both to beat the heat and traffic, and so that everyone can get off to work at a reasonable hour. We were on the road by 6:00 AM (which was 3:00 AM on my internal clock. I am still making the adjustment to this time zone). About 9 of us did a two-hour ride, most of it flat, out past the airport with a climb at the end through an area called Santa Cruz. The roads here are narrow and cars pass in seemingly impossible places, but it feels strangely safe. That’s the way people drive here, not anything rude or reckless. I feel respected on a bicycle. This is a country that loves it sports. Saturday Trinidad beat Guatemala in soccer and the country still seems to be celebrating.

Trinidad is by far the least “foreign” feeling (from my perspective) Caribbean country I’ve visited. It is not simply that it is English speaking (I’m still only understanding 80% of what is said as I gain an ear for the accent) but even the Supermarkets, interiors of homes, and fashions are not far off from what I would experience in Oakland or Miami.

I love the racial diversity here. There is a large African and Indian influence, and it seems that everyone is mixed. Even my “white” teammate and host, whose Scottish genes appear dominant, is 1/4 Indian and all of his cousins are black or Indian.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

the blur of leaving

yesterday was a complete blur. up early to pancakes and coffee. off on a team ride (pictured here). frantic packing and preparing the room for subletter. hustle to BART and SFO. redeye to miami. (thanks a million for the Valium, S. it was the gift of 4 hours of solid sleep!) i board the flight to port of spain in 30 minutes. yeah!


So… while I am playing hooky from a semester of school, my niece Abigail just completed her first week. Here she is on day one. Before we know it she’ll be a PhD!

Friday, September 02, 2005

going... going...

I can't believe that I'll be on a plane tomorrow! Thanks to everyone that came over last night for the going away BBQ. Damn, that was fun! You can check out the pictures by clicking here. Then click on the first folder. (I should have heald out for the blackmail money... Some of these pictures would certainly fetch a pretty penny!)