This year’s Bike MS event was renamed and moved to a new location, with Day 1 beginning in Smithfield, VA and riding 75 miles to Williamsburg, including a ferry ride between Surry and Jamestown. Day 2 was in the opposite direction. As usual, 40-mile and 100-mile options were also available. Our event was organized to run concurrently with a sister event that ran between Richmond and Williamsburg. So the Colonial Crossroads Bike MS event was actually two rides that converged in Williamsburg for a combined evening program. Medical setbacks continue to preclude me from lengthy rides. I still wanted to be involved, so I decided to volunteer. I will share my experience of this event from “the other side” (non-rider).
I’m a longtime amateur radio operator and a new member of the Western Tidewater Radio Association (WTRA). WTRA had been asked to provide communications support for the event. So that was my initial pursuit. I arrived Saturday morning at 6:00am as a radio communicator that happens to have the capacity to carry bicycles. However, it turned out that my experience as a SAG driver (Support and Gear) was also needed for the event. There were only eight drivers available to cover both the 75-mile and 40-mile courses. As a result, my tasking was changed to serve as a bicycle transporter who happened to have radio communications capacity. I left the park with my SAG equipment, radios, a few snacks and an SD card full of good music.
Bike MS participants come from nearly all walks of life and with nearly every type of bicycle imaginable. My first customer was riding a HEAVY steel cruiser with fat tires. Since my rack requires the front wheel to be removed for carrying a bike, the first thing I noticed was the “security devices” which held the front wheel in place. See the photo. “WHOA! How am I supposed to remove THOSE?” I hadn’t seen a wheel nut in ages. HAHA! Luckily, I had a crescent wrench in the trunk. WHEW! Total embarrassment avoided. The rider and I talked about different bicycles on our way to the ferry landing. I hope to see him riding longer and faster in the future.
I picked up several other riders throughout the day. Most had never ridden 40 miles before. Being an experienced randonneur, sometimes I forget that 40 miles is quite an endeavor for many people. On top of that, the route got progressively hillier throughout the day (not to mention the increase in temperature). I have blog entries where I share about my struggles on hills. A lot of randonneurs don’t consider a 3% grade to be a hill, referring them them as “rollers.” Conditioned or not, many of the riders on the Colonial Crossroads Bike MS event are from Virginia Beach, an area that is as flat as a pancake. For them, even an incline that *I* consider to be a roller is a challenge. I saw plenty of riders walking up short climbs, but most of them remounted their bikes and continued on.
I hope I don’t seem condescending to these cyclists. Driving as SAG has exposed me to types of riders that I haven’t been around in a VERY long time. Sometimes I forget that cycling is not as easy as seasoned riders think. It’s a different discipline and “pain management” than other sports. Regardless, even though Bike MS is about raising money, it’s also about rising to a challenge. Even the cyclists who needed SAG transport should be commended for stepping outside of their comfort zone. This is doubly-true for those who crawled out of bed on Sunday and overcame some discomfort to endure Day 2. I remember how sore I was on Sunday morning during my first Bike MS.
Anyway, once it was time for me to move to the 75-mile route, I drove out to the section of the course that was farthest from any sort of services. Some of the riders on this segment were actually riding 100 miles by doubling-back along prescribed points on the course. Three riders remained on this section, one of whom was quite a bit behind the others due to her pace and a flat tire earlier in the ride. She was tenacious and pushing on. Unfortunately, we had to present her with a decision since the course was supported only until 4:30pm: accept a lift to the ferry now and cross the finish line within the allowed time; or continue until SAG had to remove her from the course without crossing the finish at all. She opted for a lift to the ferry, a wise decision which removed 16 miles from her ride, but allowed her to finish. We lucked-out and made it to the ferry without having to wait in line, boarding just moments before departure. The timing was excellent!
We crossed the James River with the two other remaining riders and the vast majority of remaining support personnel, vehicles, and the motorcyclists that had been keeping an eye on the riders all day. The final rider finished her 80-ish miles of riding at approximately 4:50pm. I hung out at the Team Killer Bees tent for a little bit before heading home for the evening.
I returned to Williamsburg at 6:30am Sunday for the 7am mass start. Both the Richmond-bound and Smithfield-bound riders departed together and then split at a designated point early in the route. SAG was already tasked. Sometimes, a long day of riding on Saturday can leave one unable to start on Sunday. This is especially true after a long ride in hills. I know the feeling. Three or four riders rode in a SAG van back to Smithfield. I had two other riders to shuttle to the ferry. They were unable to start on time, so they just needed a little help to catch the main group. This was when I met my second transport obstacle: Disk brakes. My custom bike carrier works for MY bikes, even the one with disc brakes. However, one of these bikes had extra-beefy forks that would not work with my carrier. UGH! I disassembled his bike and put it in my trunk. I put more bikes in the trunk since I had a skewer fail on me later that day (see the photo). It may be time for me to acquire a rack that does not require removal of the front wheel!
Sunday was a little warmer than Saturday, with some riders reach their limits of heat tolerance. All told, I transported seven riders to Smithfield. Then came the bitter end, the point when the last riders were on the course and everyone was eagerly awaiting their completion. The very last rider was a 10-year veteran of Bike MS. I got the call to pick him up about five miles before the final rest stop. He had a flat tire and was eager to SAG to the rest stop and get a repair. I got him to the rest stop, but the bike shop that was previously present had packed up and left. “I have tubes and a pump. I’ll fix it,” I told him. I must admit that I was surprised that this experienced rider was completely unprepared for a flat. Regardless, I got to work on his bike as onlookers lamented the fact that he’d be on the course for another hour or more as a result of my efforts. Ooops! (PS: SAG is more than just a taxi; plus, it was only 2:30pm…)
Knowing that the clean-up van (the vehicle that picked up all of the route markers) was shadowing the final rider, I went ahead and drove to the finish to enjoy the final festivities. I joined a few members of Team Killer Bees for some pulled pork and side items. I hung out for about 30 minutes, said my goodbyes, then left for the one-hour drive home.
What can I say about my first experience on “the other side” of a Bike MS event? I think it went well, especially for an inaugural event. I’m told that recruiting drivers for the two-day event can be a challenge. I understand that since I’m the SAG coordinator for my club’s two annual events, which have fewer miles to cover. I’ve also heard that Bike MS volunteers really work hard over that weekend. SAG IS EASY, so I don’t understand the lack of appeal. I spent my days driving around, listening to music in air conditioning, and rescuing riders who thought I was a great sight for sore eyes. What’s not to like about that? My total driving for both days was 325 miles, amounting to less than $20 in fuel. Sure, I had some pretty long days, but they were EASY days.
Which is better, riding or SAG’ing? At my riding speeds, each day would certainly have been shorter than waiting on the slowest rider as a SAG driver; that’s MY benefit. But what about the benefit to the organization? Since I’m the type of rider who usually raises or contributes the minimum amount of $300, I’m inclined to wonder if the Multiple Sclerosis Society benefits more from me as a SAG driver than they do from my relatively small monetary donation. I’m not sure. The story would be different if I was a “Thousandaire.” Regardless, being there as a SAG driver was certainly better than staying home. I’ll have to wait and see whether the 2017 Colonial Crossroads Bike MS inspires me to ride or drive.