Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Behind the Scenes with Volunteer Andrew Mead

My EM1240 experience is best summed up as "A good plan is one that works as anticipated; a great plan is one that can be easily changed to work."

George and I hatched a plan to follow the riders throughout the day Saturday. We figured we'd be able to catch most of them at Pine Grove if we could get up there by 4:30am. Then we'd be able to leap-frog around, staff a secret controle at Middle Creek, and then follow the pack toward Quakertown. We hoped to blog a bit on the way for the on-line followers. Imagine our surprise when we rolled in at 4:15 and saw 3 riders ENTERING the controle. Still more surprising was learning that these were the second, third, and fourth riders to reach the "overnight" controle. Only Henrik, the first rider to reach Pine Grove, was on course and he was a mere 10 minutes out.

Game Plan, revision 1. George and I head out along the course. Heavy fog is forming. We find Henrik about 17 miles out and conduct a brief interview while rolling along. Then it's off to McD's in Lebanon for breakfast and Wi-Fi. As we're waiting for a veeerrryyy slow upload we calculate we can still beat Henrik to the secret controle location. We set out race to Middle Creek. Just for good measure, we head further down to the course to assure that he hasn't already passed. We turn around and meet him within half a mile of the SC location. We fill his bottles and inspect his neck support. George takes video footage and we send him along. By now, we're expecting to receive reports of other reaching PG, taking a brief rest, and hitting the road again. It is, after all, 8:00 in the morning. We check with Pine Grove and find that a few more riders have trickled in, but only Randy Mouri has departed and that was 2 hours after Henrik.

Game Plan, revision 2. Set up camp for a long day at Middle Creek. George has family responsibilities so I'm on my own. A bird watcher provides an interesting lesson and lets me look at a nearby young bald eagle through her scope. As each rider stops by, I cheer, encourage, fill bottles, offer something to eat, and send the riders along their way. In between I update command central. The riders were spaced out quite a bit, but not so much that I had long stretches of idle time. I managed to project a 45 minute gap which I used to drive up to Schafferstown and restock supplies of ice, cookies, and soda.

Game Plan, revision 3. The Olsen entourage arrives, ultimately the last of the official finishers. But wait, there are two more riders behind the Olsen group that will need help. Larry Grabiak arrives shortly after 3pm. The controle is situated on a level stretch following a little downhill. My location has allowed me to spot randonneurs since they coast this section; the day riders generally hammer. Larry pulls in deep into his granny gear and announces that he is finished. I feed and hydrate him get him to a shady spot for a nap. An hour later he remains convinced that he's ready to pull the plug. What's more, Maile is escorting Mike Anderson who's still an hour away from my location. We opt to have Maile shuttle Larry to Quakertown while I take over with Mike. Mike rolls through just as we're hatching the plan, around 5pm. The terrain is easy for the 20 miles to the next controle, but the navigation can be tricky. I pull ahead to the turns, await Mike's arrival, and then move ahead to the next hoping that this will offer him some comfort that he's on the right track. He continues to consult his cue sheet frequently and I sense my presence at this point might actually make him uncomfortable. With 8 miles to the controle, I decide to move ahead to allow time to get something to eat.

Game Plan, revision 4. Bill Slabonik and Keith Spangler arrive at New Holland while I'm waiting. They will escort Mike until 9:30 and I'll sweep up through the field as far as the Schuylkill River crossing. Of course, this is ONLY if Mike arrives at New Holland within the time limit. He has a 15 minute buffer owing to his B group start. He rolls into the controle at 6:29 with 10 minutes to spare. I talk briefly with Bill, Keith, and Mike. Mike is tired, but mentally in decent shape. I head on. The Olsen group is riding in two parts (separated slightly as some stop to add layers). I reach them at the Harmonyville Rd turn at 7:30. Slow down, talk, and let them continue. They are fine. I reach the River around 8:15. I've encountered no other riders along the way, so I assume all must have crossed the river. I start back along the course. The Olsen group, now all together as they approach M744, is riding strong. They definitely smell the barn. I can't comment on how THEY smell.

I decide to take up position at the beginning of the Harmonyville detour and wait for Mike. It's raining off and on and clouds are blocking the harvest moon. A brief detour to the top of a hill allows just enough cell coverage to check in and receive email updates. I wait. Mike arrives at 9:27. We talk briefly and I explain my plans, look him over, and encourage him along. He's making steady progress, but still right at the limit by my calculations. We reach the Schulykill River at 11:15. He now has exactly 2 hours and 25 miles. I fill his bottles, provide food, and talk to him about what lies ahead in terms of navigation and terrain. He took 1:45 to cover the previous 15 miles; it's not looking promising, but he's committed to finishing under his own power. I arrange to meet Maile and Lane at the WaWa on Lewis Rd. Mike rolls past at 11:31. Maile & Lane arrive 15 minutes later. They offer to take up the Mike escort so I can deliver Larry's bike to Quakertown and perhaps see some of the finishers.

I reached Quakertown around 12:30. You know the rest of the story, well except that I finally made it home at 3am, a mere 25 hours after I awoke to begin my adventure. Truly, I was honored to be able to help out on this event and humbled by what I saw. I'm hoping to ride the next one.

road paint - $12
food/water/drinks - $32
the experience - priceless

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