Monday, July 24, 2006

Tour De Landis

So how many of you paid attention to this (or any) years Tour De France? Lance Armstrong brought attention to the race to the masses in America. Not only with his compelling battle against cancer, but his dominance on the bike after he overcame testicular cancer.

I wasn't sure what to expect during this years tour, no Lance and then on the eve of the race favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were sent home amid blood doping allegations... Not the best way to start this years tour.

From early on it was evident that Floyd Landis was a force to be reckoned with, but he wasn't Armstrong dominant and he lack the flash of past greats. What he did do was pound the petals day after day and while his opponents showed cracks, Floyd rode strong and steady. It was going down as a rather ho-hum tour until the riders hit the Alps.

The Alps have lately been the place where Armstrong made his move and crushed the will of the other hopefuls. We waited and hoped for more fireworks amongst the leaders in this years tour. Landis set the tone on Stage #15 up the legendary Alpe D'Huez, gaining back the leader's jersey his team gave away days earlier. It looked as if the race was over, only two more stages in the Alps and Landis was in good form.

Stage #16. Everything was going to plan when the unthinkable happened, Landis bonked, he had no response to his opponents attacks and ended up crawling to the finish 8:10 minutes behind the new leader...his chance at yellow slipped away.

And then came Floyd Landis' defining moment. Instead of looking forward to wearing yellow into Paris, it appeared all Landis had to look forward to was hip replacemnt surgery for a dying hip socket from a crash years ago. It would have been understandable if Landis would have pulled out and gone home, others have over far less reasons. But on stage #17 Landis rode perhaps the greatest one day race there has ever been.

With 130 km Floyd attacked the Peleton (main body of riders) on the first climb on what some called the toughest stage of the tour. Breakaways rarely succeed in the tour and they have no chance if the peleton thinks the rider is a threat. Yet Floyd Landis went alone and rode those last 130 km like a man on a mission. The peleton tried to bring him back but his will to win was stronger and nearly erased the previous days results, he was only :30 behind the leader with the time-trial upcoming.

Needless to say Landis put in a great time-trial and rode into Paris on Sunday with a lead over his next competitor of nearly one minute. His guts and determination put him right up there with Armstrong, and once again brought a great story to light.

I've watched countless tours, sadly none in person, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the Tour De France is the single greatest sporting event on this planet and the strength it takes just to finish last is incredible.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Grandpa's Day

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Saturday, July 1st, was a great day. Uncle Gaylen, Gaylen B., Grandpa and myself decided to make a day of it at the Museum of Flight. The reason I wanted to attend in the first place was they would be hosted two WWII era bombers, including a B-24 like the one grandpa served as a bombardier on.

When we met up at the museum, the B-24 had just left to give folks a 30 minute ride around the Seattle-area. So we toured the main museum and its extensive collection of all things aviation....and I mean ALL things. It was incredible to see how far aviation has come in such a realitively short period of time. Uncle Gaylen had a story and background info on so many things there I started to feel sorry for all those around us because it is one thing to look at the collection, it is another to have someone passionate about aviation there to explain things to you.

We then left that exhibit and toured the William E. Boeing Red Barn, again I was blown away, this time by the craftsmenship that was on display. The Red Barn was an original site where workers crafted parts for airplanes, boats and even furniture. After taking it all in I decided to head outside to see if the B-24 had arrived back, it had.

I was taken aback when I first saw the B-24, I had seen it plenty of times in pictures but seeing it in person was a treat. I had to chuckle to myself when we got there, grandpa climbed up and under the belly of the B-24 probably much like he did some 60 years ago, perhaps a bit slower but he was in his element. Nothing prepares you for the cramped quarters they had to work in and how they managed to perform incredibly under what must have been hellish conditions.

Seeing that bomber I get a clearer picture of what grandpa did in WWII and I'm in awe of him and realize it is a small miracle that my mother didn't end up an only child and grandma widowed. Before Saturday if you asked what grandpa did as a bombardier I would have probably just said sit at his station and drop bombs with the push of a button...I know different now. Under the belly of the B-24 there is a narrow "catwalk", connected on the outside of it are the bombs. Before making his way forward to release his bombs, the bombardier would walk along this catwalk and arm the bombs...mind you that there is no floor, except the ground roughly 25.000 feet or so below and nothing but a few beams to hold on to as he made his way, grandpa mentioned he would, of course, take his trusty parachute with him. Once armed, he went forward to a freezing little compartment were he would kneel over his equipment while lining up targets. Once the bombs were away grandpa went back over the catwalk to the back of the bomber and on a few occasions he manned the waist gun. An incredible account can be found here of his crews very first mission.

As we walked around the aircraft grandpa met another B-24 vet who also flew over Italy (see picture). I won't bore you with all the details, but what an honor to be able to stand there and listen to these courageous men swap stories... soon others came around to listen to these men and bask in all that history..incredible stuff. I will never know what it is like to have that bond, but it was beautiful to see these two old men relive those times when they answered their generations call to duty and now be recognized, albeit informally as the heroes they are still to this day...The beauty of it for me was I felt like I got to know my grandfather a little bit better...I am honored and humbled to call myself his Grandson.