Yesterday’s cross-country day at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon was one of the oddest days of my life.
On the one hand, it was a championship cross-country day. There was the excitement of standing in the mixed zone with a bunch of other journalists watching the action on TV, there were the thrilling moments when the Brits pulled out all the stops to go clear, there were the heart-stoppers as riders fell, there was the fun and interest of talking to riders as they came to be interviewed.
On the other hand, it was the day it seemed like I was going to experience the first hurricane of my life as Hurricane Florence swirled her way threateningly towards us. And as such, it was an extraordinary, bizarre, odd day.
So, here are eight things I’ve never experienced before on a cross-country day…
1. A strange sensation that this is the end of the world. After I’d written my dressage copy for the magazine in the morning, I popped out of the media centre to head to the end of the course and see the fences which had been tweaked. I saw Julia Krajewski and Ingrid Klimke doing their final course walks and had a look at the finish area and mixed zone. So far, so normal. But the sky and the very air seemed to be tinged with an odd colour — somewhere between grey and yellow. It felt like the hue you get in a zombie film when the end of the world is nigh (I don’t watch zombie films. But I imagine that’s the case).
2. Having no idea where I would be spending the night. We left our Airbnb in Hendersonville, 40 minutes drive from the Tryon International Equestrian Centre, unsure where we would spend the night. Would we make it back to our WEG home? Or would the roads be flooded? Would we end up sleeping on the floor of the media centre? In one of the safe areas at Tryon mentioned in the press conference earlier this week? Or would we decide to get in cars and flee the area once the action finished, looking for a hotel a few hundred miles away for two nights?
3. Taking an overnight bag and emergency food in the car “just in case”. Yes, we all took changes of clothes and our wash bags with us. We bought hurricane food for our Airbnb early last week, deeming it a sensible precaution to lay in a stock of bottled water and things that could be eaten without an oven and would keep without a fridge. I did not plan to starve if I had to sleep on the floor of the media centre — we would live on cereal bars, cheese biscuits, dried fruit and nuts.
4. Taking my passport “just in case”. What if we really had to get out suddenly?
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5. Being desperate to leave the venue once the action was over. Normally I will whack up a website story as soon as possible after the action finishes, go to the press conference and then probably make a start on my magazine copy before heading back to wherever I’m staying. Not yesterday. The rain was starting by the time the press conference was over and we headed for our cars as quickly as possible, keen to be on our way home.
6. Sending “just in case” copy. Back at our Airbnb, it made sense to write as much of my magazine copy as possible. Yes, there was a day off to come — a blissful idea, in theory, a whole day to contemplate and check notes and craft a masterpiece. But would we have power? Would we have internet? Would the house fall down in the night? Before I went to bed, I wanted the bones of my magazine cross-country copy written and sent to someone safely in the UK, a back-up copy which was not to be used unless for whatever reason, I could not do my tweaking the next day. Our dressage editor, Polly Bryan, was doing the same with her copy, while our photographer Peter Nixon sent his pictures back. Yes, we would go through and choose our favourites tomorrow if we could, to help speed up the workflow in the office on Monday (H&H’s press day), but we wanted those pictures to be sent before we went to bed.
7. Keeping everything plugged in at all times. With losing power among our major concerns, we wanted to have all our laptops, ipads, phones and kindles fully charged.
8. Working with a torch beside your doughnut, cross-country times sheet and notebook. Self-explanatory.
In the event, we seem to have been very lightly affected by Hurricane Florence here, with just heavy rain through the night and in bursts today. Even quite locally, we have heard reports of considerable flooding and people losing power, so we have been lucky — let’s hope we are not misreading the weather maps and that there isn’t worse to come. As we start to focus on the second week of sport at WEG, our thoughts are with those seriously hit by this storm.