Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gushing About Bike MS

Bike MS is unlike any other event ride.  Take it from me, I’ve participated in almost every event ride offered in Oregon, and even many in Washington.  Those other rides are great, but that’s all they are – rides.  Bike MS is so much more than just a bike ride.

In early August this year, a sea of moving vans and volunteers transformed Monmouth’s Western Oregon University into “Rider Village”.  The college campus - our home for the next few days – really did feel like a village; a community gathering spot for a special group of people.  Everyone received red carpet treatment, no matter what their fundraising level. 

It was easy to learn about Multiple Sclerosis and how effective Bike MS funds are in helping researchers fight it.  Smartly placed banners throughout the main stage area educated us on how different MS symptoms are for each individual.  Small placards with a question were strategically posted on the outside of each porta-potty, with the corresponding answer inside.  Finally, someone actually found a way to make port-a-potties fun!

Right from the start, there was a carnival-like atmosphere.  Instead of carnies, we had crazily decorated team booths with anything from Hawaiian décor to strangely funny mascots.  A high energy band was cranking out tons of music from different eras.  auGi hopped up on stage with his usual charismatic, and hysterically funny, patter.  I even had the privilege of standing up behind the microphone and outlining the safety guidelines for riders. 

What about folks who weren’t riding?  Sit around all day and wait for everyone else to get back?  Nosirree.  There were three field trips to choose from, including berry picking at a local farm and wine tasting at a fancy winery nearby.  Plus, there was a pool, a fitness center, and even yoga!
The buzz at the start/finish line was, well, buzzy!  As riders lined up to start with their teams, Amy, who was wearing feathery orange antennaes, was up there cheering people on with a megaphone.  And she wasn’t along – there was a small army of volunteers clad in adorable “Me Stomp MS” t-shirts ringing cowbells.

I had the honor of acting as ride marshal.  We were instructed in advance to help riders in three ways.  The first two were the typical, expected requirements: medical help and mechanical help.  The third requirement embodies just how the folks from the National MS Society think.  Emotional support.  That’s right, ride marshals are guided to really be there for the riders.  We should change the name from ride marshal to hug patrol.

Saturday morning started early, but as ride marshal, I rolled out late.  I’ve never ridden “sweep” on a century ride before and felt a little nervous.  I knew that beyond being helpful, my mission was to stay behind the last riders and to inform rest stop volunteers that seeing me meant the course was closed.  It felt like that Steven King story, The Langoliers, where giant meatball-like monsters (the timekeepers of eternity) clean up what is left of the past by eating it.  Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but it was a long and tiring day. 
The climb up to Silver Falls is pretty tough, but the views at the top make it all worth it.  The rest stop was perfectly located at a viewpoint.  I ate enough snack mix to feed a horse.  Volunteers gave us medals for climbing the hill, which made me wonder why I ever ride my bike without this level of support. 

On the way up the first big hill, I met a really cool dude, rider #619 from Klamath Falls, who had set a tough goal for himself.  His first century, and not an easy one.  He had a very uplifting attitude and it was easy to ride along with him and encourage him.  He ended up taking the SAG wagon back to the finish, or “abandoning”, as they call it on the Tour de France.  I was so proud of him for making it through all of the climbing, and descending, before he respected his body and accepted a ride home.  We had a great chat later, where he confessed that he felt bad for failing.  I hope I convinced him that failing a hard goal is much more meaningful than succeeding at easy ones.

Much later in the day, I felt tired and wanted to rush to the finish.  I’ll admit it, I felt impatient. Then my eyes fixed on the blue bib number flapping in the wind on the bike in front of me.  Suddenly, it hit me.  I work for these riders!  I’m here for them!  It’s my job, and my privilege, to support them.  I dropped back, giving these last riders more space, and enjoyed the rest of the ride.  There’s always potential of character development on any ride and this was mine.
The rest stops blew my mind.  Of course, the Superhero Stop was a favorite.  Everyone was wearing capes and had their own superhero identity.  All of the volunteers were chipper, even though it was late in the day.  By the end of the ride, they had all blurred together into one giant buffet of delicious food and friendly kindnesses. 
Crossing back under the giant inflated orange finish line archway, the energy was super high.  Great music, folks waving pom-poms, volunteers with medals for us.  It was a very festive feeling.  The volunteers worked as hard (or harder) than the riders – standing around in the hot sun, running back and forth filling up coolers with ice and lemonade, smiling for so long their faces probably hurt.

Once back inside the white picket fence area, near the main stage, the party was totally happening.  A banquet of picnicky foods that would please every palette, along with free-flowing beer and wine, was welcome after a long day in the saddle. 

There were lots of teams, and lots of individuals too.  Some teams had their own tent with tables and chairs in the shade near the stage area.  Prime real estate for the weekend!  Those without a team certainly weren’t alone.  It was like a big family gathering with a spot for everyone.
Regrouping with my fellow ride marshals, who’d all finished earlier than me and had already showered, we reminisced about the day’s events as if they happened longer ago.  One marshal saw a bunch of riders turn the wrong way out of a water stop and chased them down, all the way to Salem, creating a one hundred and twenty mile day for himself.  We were all new to ride marshaling, but everyone had a great experience and good stories to tell about the riders they met.

That evening, we enjoyed an obscene amount of candy and popcorn while watching everyone’s old favorite, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  It was the perfect entertainment for the evening - each scene is amusing all on its own.

Soon it was time to head back to the tents and get some sleep for Sunday.  The routes offered on Sunday were completely different than the Saturday ones.  As a ride planner myself, I know what a tremendous amount of work goes into planning each and every route.  So, I was especially impressed that riders could pick any combination and be assured they wouldn’t be re-riding a route, like watching an old Three’s Company rerun.  No one wants that.

Adair Village is a favorite place to ride through and I enjoyed the shorter distance and the beautiful, mostly flat, terrain we covered.  I stopped for blackberries and met Eric from team Broken Spokes.  He’d just purchased his bike and this was his first ride.  People like him blow my mind.  Heck, everyone out there blew my mind in one way or another.  The generosity I witnessed in the way teams worked together, volunteers supported riders, riders thanked volunteers was pretty amazing.  

My friends at the National MS Society have asked me to be the ride marshal lead for next year, and to share the Western Bikeworks shop rides with all of the Bike MS riders as training rides.  Stay tuned in 2015 for more!  And, until then, keep riding bikes.  And keep helping Bike MS succeed at their ambitious, important fundraising goals.

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