Remembering a side trip in Italy and a departed colleague

Getting lost in the Italian Alps can be scary. Getting lost in the Italian Alps around 1 a.m. is that much scarier.

That’s what happened to me at the erratically organized 2006 Olympics. I had two “off” times — one day in which I met up with a Duke friend of mine and scrambled around a train station to find Platform 9 3/4 (OK, it was something like “6a,” and it was nowhere near “6”) in time to go to a curling session. For the other, I wandered out of the media center after blogging 10-12 hours of action and hopped on a bus to the mountains at Sestriere.

Actually, it’s two buses — we were required to hop off in a gravel lot near Oulx, then catch the bus to Sestriere. At that transition, I was nearly left in a portapotty for what might have been an hour or an evening or who knows.

Night view of the main square in Sestriere.

Night view of the main square in Sestriere.

I got to Sestriere but hopped off at the wrong stop. I called the person I was meeting, who realized I wasn’t near the neat, cozy apartment he and another staffer were sharing. And I mean cozy — his roommate slept in a bunk bed in a closet. (Somehow, they still found room for a bidet.)

A mild panic set in when I gave a landmark — I could see the slope where they held Alpine slalom skiing. As I described over the cell phone, they turned out the lights.

But the guy I was meeting patiently found me and took me up into the charming village of Sestriere. I looked around, got a halfway decent night’s sleep wedged between the sofa and the radiator, and we went to a charming little coffee shop in the morning before I went on to biathlon. (Where I got lost again. It’s a wonder I got back from Italy without being frozen in the Alps for future generations to discover.)

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The view from my window the next morning. Not shown here: The entrance to the apartments is actually across the street from the apartments themselves. Italians love tunnels.

My Sestriere buddy had been encouraging all along the way. He described the bus route, which was hauntingly beautiful in the moonlight, and said to imagine I was Lance Armstrong. The Tour de France occasionally crosses borders, and Armstrong won a famous stage of the race there in 1999. (We now know a few more details about that.) He was awfully nice to me considering I wasn’t doing anything for work — just scrambling to see the mountains one time during these Olympics, which Torino itself never really welcomed.

He (my Sestriere buddy, not Armstrong) was exceptionally good at his job. USA TODAY’s website had managed to find a few people who had just enough of the “big idea” mindset to make things interesting but also had the pragmatism to get things done. He did a lot of grunt work to give us multimedia content for those Olympics. Then he was promoted time and time again to lofty titles at USA TODAY — pretty impressive for a guy my age.

And he did a lot of this while fighting cancer. He was diagnosed a few months after the Olympics. At least once, he was told he wasn’t going to make it. But he persisted. In addition to getting promoted several times, he got married and had a daughter.

His name is Dave Teeuwen, and I find it exceptionally cruel that after all that, he passed away this week. Life is absurdly unfair.

So if Heaven has the Internet, I hope he’s reading this and getting a good laugh about rescuing me from a frozen night in the Alps. If Heaven doesn’t have the Internet, I suspect that he has started plans to wire the place. Give him a few months. It’ll get done.

Belated thanks, Dave, and all the best to your family.

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