Every randonneur should volunteer a bit of time with their local rando group not just because it’s important to share the responsibility for making sure the rides we love to do can continue to be offered, but also because the experience gives you a different view of our sport.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
NJ Randonneurs offered its 600K ride this past weekend, but the volunteers had been preparing for two to three weeks before riders wheeled out of the Day’s Inn parking lot at 4am last Saturday. Organizers promise a clear and accurate cue sheet; for this ride, three different groups of volunteers rode and checked the route, all without receiving the support that the riders received on Saturday and Sunday. Cue sheet tweaks, including new cue directions to the added sleep stop as well as to an alternate control in the Ocean City area, were discussed and made.
Being involved in this task, you think about what riders need along the route: what are the best places to stop, which are the safest and/or most scenic roads, where will there be shade during hot summer afternoons, where are stores open at 2am? Route planners answer all of these questions and more with the goal of providing the best experience possible for their randonneuring friends. Having helped with this activity on other events makes me even more grateful for the thoughtful aspects of every route I ride.
Which stops will be supported? Where are randonneurs most likely to need encouragement and support along the route? Volunteering to be at a control to sign brevet cards gives you a strong sense of how valuable a little encouragement can be in a middle of a tough ride. NJ volunteer Steve Hallett has great stories about how a few well-placed words have helped discouraged riders continue when they’re feeling like they can’t go on.
Many times, I’ve sat outside a Wawa store for hours, checking riders through. Even though Wawa provides a good food selection and restrooms, it’s nice to be able to provide water for refilling bottles, maybe some sort of a food treat, and a quick signature on the card so that riders don’t have to mess with receipts. Providing a point of contact is probably even more important. It’s nice for riders to know that they are being cared for, to know that their progress around the course is being noted, and that support is there if something goes wrong.
I was also touched by the photos on NJ Randonneurs’ FB page of David Eisenberg’s children helping him staff the penultimate control. The photo of his daughter Rivkah signing Nigel’s brevet card is just plain sweet. One of the best parts of volunteering is that you get to feel how you’re working together with so many others to make an event run as smoothly as it can for the participants. You don’t see all of the other volunteers, typically, but you have a sense of camaraderie, very much like the feeling of doing a ride with others.
On the NJ 600, I was stationed at the East Creek Cabins sleep stop that served about 30 riders between 6pm Saturday night and 6am Sunday morning. A few of the riders, those at the very front, made quick stops and left, most without eating anything at all. For these riders, our presence was appreciated, I’m sure, but they didn’t need much and were focused on taking care of essential business and getting back on the road. Riders arriving later, looking fatigued, some feeling queazy, many hurting just a little bit, these riders benefitted from the encouragement, food, and the opportunity to rest. I watched a few dazed riders just stand in front of the tables of food, seemingly unable to understand what was there let alone decide what to eat. I know the feeling…I’ve been in that state. It seemed to help a few of them to simply point out the possibilities and ask them what they could or wanted to eat at that point.
The East Creek Cabin stint was pretty long (2pm Saturday to 6:30am Sunday), but I have several lovely memories, different from those created while riding, but just as priceless. Before our RBA Joe arrived, Dawn Engstrom and I had unloaded my car and arranged the dining area of the cabin as well as the kitchen. When Joe arrived, he had some different ideas for set-up, ideas that I resisted at first (those of you who know me will find this hard to believe I’m sure!) but when the space was all laid out as Joe envisioned it, I have to admit it worked well. I learned a valuable lesson (again) there (yes, it takes longer for some of us)…listen more, and better, Janice.
Memories with riders: Bill Russell, big grin on his face and in a rush to get back on the road. Bob Torres and Nigel Greene looking really tired when they came through the door. Quiet. Serious. Ready to eat and sleep in order to find the strength to finish the ride. Bill Schwarz also looking tired, but taking time for a cup of tea and a short conversation before he went to his bunk. Our conversation interrupted several times when I got up to help lost-looking riders. Bill getting up from bed because he couldn’t sleep but then going back to give it another go. I hope he got a little rest. Interrupted conversation as well with the always-smiling Patrick Chin-Hong. Wishing all of the riders a safe rest of their journey, but from inside the cabin because I had encountered my first mosquito right after arriving and I was not interested in being mosquito breakfast.
Periodically we heard from Laurent who stationed himself for long, lone stints at a couple of the controls. I’m not sure how many hours he spent at the Hammonton Wawa, but based on my visits to that particular location, I’m sure his presence there was appreciated, and I’m equally sure that it was not easy on him. Judging from the photo of him back at the Day’s Inn, I know he had a long couple of days.
I’ve spent some time at “Arrivee” controls, but not so much. When Leroy Varga was finishing his qualifying series for the 2007 PBP, many of us made a point to be there to congratulate him and cheer him on his way to Paris, to attempt PBP at the age of 80. I have certainly been the recipient of enthusiastic congratulations and have appreciated the reception committees that spend hours waiting for riders’ arrivals. Last weekend, the first rider finished in something over 21 hours while the last rider used almost all of the allowed time. That riders were welcomed back to the Day’s Inn over such a span of time is a tribute to the sitz bones and patience of some of our NJ rando friends. There are some tired but cheerful volunteer faces in the Days Inn photos.
So why volunteer to help with a ride or two in your area? Well, for the some of the same reasons that you ride…. The camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment. And the feeling that you’ve done something to help friends achieve their goals. It really doesn’t get much better than that.