I have had an awesome trip so far in Europe over the past few weeks. My first stop was in England, and my trip to Nottingham (Nottinghamshire in Robin Hood) was full of great memories of the 1994 Pre-Worlds, and the 1995 World Slalom Championships that I competed in there, and many training camps to prepare for it… My trip to Nurnberg in Germany was a new place, so it was all new memories, nothing from the past. Oetz, Austria was next for Sickline, and my memories of racing there in 1984, and then again in 1989 (Kristine was with me there, and I remember having a picnic on the green field next to the river), awesome!
Now, in the Pyrenees Mountains, I have many great memories from the past. My first one was the 1992 Olympics, here in La Seu d’urgell. I had training camps that lasted a month in 1991 when they opened the course, again in 1992, and then, of course, we had the Olympics, which is burnt deep into my memory. It isn’t just the course that I remember from here. I remember my favorite eating places, and hangout places, my hotel, the walking paths by buildings, churches, and houses built in 900 ad that are still like new. I even remember some of the people at the course, that have worked there since 1991. I was invited to do a training session with the Spanish Slalom Team yesterday from 4pm-5pm. I borrowed a boat from the coach, who I raced with in the 90’s, he on team Spain, me on Team USA. It was like coming home time. So much fun to jump on this artificial course and remember it like it was yesterday. The meandering water rarely provides a straight line from one gate to the next if you want the fast line. The small holes and eddies are tedious and take time to learn to do fast. The main drop is not so big, compared to today’s artificial courses, but it takes lots of skill to do the moves fast. The conveyor belt is in two parts. The first conveyor takes you up to a shallow narrow canal that you paddle across to get to the second conveyor. It is shallow and has a ton of bottom drag. Everyone paddles super slow across it as it is not rewarding to paddle fast. Your bow just lifts up and you feel like you have an anchor tied to you… unless…. I am proud to say I was the first person, back in 1991, to break the “sound barrier” in that canal. If you sprint full speed, and create a huge bow wake, then lean forward and drive even harder right at the point where there are some cement blocks that make the canal even narrower, you can climb over your own wake and “bam!” you fly forward and plane up to the next conveyor. It was clear that this bit of information hadn’t made it to the Spanish team and was lost somewhere in the past 20 years. I couldn’t help myself but to do it each time I did a lap… very cool.
My next stop- 60 kilometers away, holds even more great memories for me. Sort, Spain. In 2000 the Pre-World Championships were held in Sort, my first time there. I showed up from USA, late, paddled in the hole one time, got kicked out, as the competition was already started, did my prelims and won, and then stayed up all night at the “losers party” and competed the next morning for the finals and won that pre-worlds and flew home. The next year, however, was the special one. I flew in with Kristine, Emily, and Dane (Kristine 32, Emily 11, Dane 8) and we rented a sweet little apartment in the old part of town. Dane would wake each morning and run out the door, slamming it behind him, and go to the bakery, get a chocolate croissant (for free from the cute girl working there) and go to the river and play foam boats, or find Dan Campbell, Junior, and Steve Fisher to play with him (he would wait for hours until they woke up sometimes). Emily would go down to the street market below our window and pick out fruits and vegetables, meats, bread, and cheese while Kristine and I stood on the balcony looking down and directing her to what to buy and drinking our coffee. We ate breakfast, and then went to the river. I would train all day, and we would end up at the Pizza place where we ate outside and Dane got the same “Margarita” pizza every day. The World championships themselves, was unbelievable. The Semi-finals started, began at 11:30pm one night under a crazy crowd, fireworks, loud music, and the entire town going nuts. Dane was MIA until 2:30 am that night after I won the Semi-Finals and Kristine, Emily, and I got back together and spent about 2 hours looking for him. He was people watching.
This is my first time back to Sort, since 2001, where my last memory in this town is the awards ceremony where I won my 2nd World Championships title, 8 years after my first one. I got a flood of memories walking in town. Today I am teaching a clinic to 15 kids in the freestyle hole where I won the worlds, 10 years ago. What is super cool, is that Lluis, the organizer of the 2011 World Championships, still considered to be one of the best ones ever organized, is still a big part of my life, in both the sport (he is head of the ICF Freestyle Committee) and my business, he is the distributor of Jackson Kayak in Spain, France, and Portugal.
My only regret is that I am here alone on this trip. I really wish I had the entire family here for a reunion trip, and adding KC for his first time, of course. You don’t truly know how well you are living, until you re-live something you did a long time ago, and look back and remember it well, and the flood of memories puts a smile on your face. While I don’t like living in the past, revisiting and reflecting reminds me that making memories with those whom you care about is what life is about. New memories, that can be reflected upon sometime in the future. I am so happy to get back here after so much time.
The landscape here is rugged and beautiful. The Pyrenees Mountains are full of old villages built over 1,000 years ago, in little clumps of stone houses, churches, and farms. Still going today, these old buildings are so impressive to see, built to last, like the opposite of a single wide trailer. The people here are super friendly. I wish I had my Mini-Cooper here to drive instead of a Land Rover, but at least i am keeping my speed in check!
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