Every time I get in a rental car or board an airplane to travel to a competition for the Chronicle, I get a thrill thinking about the endless possibilities at the upcoming event. Each show is a little different and presents new opportunities to learn, meet people in the industry and connect with our readers.
That thrill of the unknown enticed me to volunteer to travel to Gulfport, Miss., to cover the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association International Hunter Derby and the grand prix online, and write a circuit wrap-up for the magazine about the Gulf Coast Winter Series. I was really, really looking forward to it.
So when the weather gurus proved they had seen the images in their crystal balls correctly for a massive winter storm headed straight for Virginia, I calmly changed my flight from the day of the storm to the following morning. Surely the magical elves at the airport could clear the runways by then.
And then snow happened.
Before I could finish my first cup of coffee yesterday morning while watching the snow pile up around my humble abode, I received a very polite, automated phone message alerting me that my flight was already canceled.
I scoured the airline’s website, looking for anything that would get me there in time for the Friday morning derby.
Nothing. Snow happened to two days worth of flights, effectively shutting down the entire region until well after the optimum time to arrive in the sunny South.
As I watched my cat anxiously tried to figure out what gremlins were throwing white stuff off the roof, I briefly felt relief at not needing to explain the concept of a monopod—the sturdy, telescoping stick we use to support the cameras—to airport security. (“No, this is not a weapon. It’s like a broken tripod.”)
Then I felt a little sad that I wouldn’t be part of whatever exciting thing might happen at Gulfport this weekend. Am I going to miss a dramatic jump-off? A great comeback story? A special moment between horse and rider?
Of all the choices we make about coverage, sometimes the ones we don’t make are the hardest. But just like any aspect of horse sport, journalists need to go with the flow just as much as anyone else. Sometimes, snow happens, and there’s nothing we can do about it any more than if a horse comes up lame on the morning of an important class.
The only thing I can do is cancel my reservations, drink some more coffee and start working on making the coverage from Gulfport as good as it can be for the magazine even if I’m not right there to catch it all in person.
And go make a snow angel.
Traveling to competitions far and wide for the Chronicle may seem glamorous and fun-filled, but it also has its more ridiculous moments. The whole editorial staff has stories about assignments going not quite according to plan....
Brazilian Adventures by Mollie Bailey
I should preface this by saying that I’m known around the office for my travel nightmares, so picking just one trip is a bit of a challenge. But my first major trip with the Chronicle really stands out.
In 2007 I convinced the editor of the Chronicle that it would be a great idea to send me to Rio de Janeiro for the Pan American Games. Yes, I was just an intern. And yes, at the time I’d never been to a real dressage competition, and my eventing experience was limited to a few beginner novice horse trials where I’d competed while at summer camp. But I’d lived in Rio, and, aside from being able to speak Portuguese, I knew how Brazil worked. A mistake was made, and my editors and publisher blithely agreed to send me to South America with a credit card and about 80 lbs worth of magazines.
In the end, they’ve admitted, it was a good thing I was there. The big challenge wasn’t with any scandals within the sport (which usually tail me everywhere I go), but just with covering the show. I turned into the de facto official translator and negotiator for the fleet of U.S. and Canadian journalists for the Brazilian organization, which wasn’t exactly used to running international events. I’d like to think I deserve a touch of credit for every North American news organization being able to get their stories done.
Halfway through dressage, my computer keeled over, leaving me to rent a laptop from an Apple store in Rio. Yes, renting a computer is even more foreign a concept there than it is here, but negotiating is just something you do.
I had to bribe my way past Pan Am security guards with souvenir pins and to this day you will never see me at a competition without a handful of pins in my pocket. Those two boxes of magazines I brought across continents? Those were dismissed as “propaganda” by security at the federation and moldered next to the metal detector by the entrance to the equestrian facility.
To be sure, I know my difficulties paled in comparison those of the competitors, so I can only imagine the difficulties for anyone shipping in horses for the event. And I should clarify to say that I adore the country and embrace its dysfunction, which I consider a fair trade off for amazing people and fantastic weather. Still, as an American used to modern working conditions, I’d consider it a better place to vacation than work in.
Who’s ready for 2016?
Nothing Like Getting Your Feet Wet by Beth Rasin
I went to Italy for the 1998 World Equestrian Games, and before the Internet was being widely used for sharing information about trips like this, the organizers would just send out packets of info in the mail on things like press accommodation. There were no photos, no reviews from other travelers. Since it was considered very important to stay as economically as possible, I chose a room that seemed reasonably priced (failing to recognize that it was in lira or to convert that into dollars). When converted into dollars, it was like $12/night. This, I would realize later. At the time, I thought I'd booked a nice hotel in the mountains of Italy that was on par with, say, a Holiday Inn.
When I arrived in Pratoni del Vivaro, I drove through the very small town several times without seeing any sign of a hotel of any kind. Eventually, I came to realize that what I had booked was a room in the monastery. It had two cots and two sets of bunk beds, and it was freezing cold. When I woke the next morning, I could see my breath, and then I realized that a pipe had burst, leaving the floor covered in about 4 inches of frigid cold water.
While the rest of the trip was lovely, I spent two weeks there, very cold the entire time. And the free breakfast that came with it? A Hostess pie.
I'd traveled with a co-worker, and he covered the events in Rome while I was based in Pratoni. On the night before I flew out, I stayed in Rome at the same hotel as him in order to catch an early morning flight. I realized that not only had he enjoyed heat at this hotel, but it also had real beds, bathrobes and heated towel racks! I thought I was in the height of luxury.