Hello again! You’re probably reading this blog post at about the same time as my last one, so you’ll quickly see that I’ve found another way to avoid the blues of sitting on the sidelines as a result of my knee issues. Yup, I’ve decided to still be as involved as possible in the race world by doing it the only other possible way: volunteering! I’ve long mentioned to Jody that I would like to help out at some adventure races and experience ‘life on the other side’. AR is a sport that demands a lot out of not only the competitors, but also of the unsung heroes that are the volunteers. The logistics to put on these types of races can be overwhelming, and without the dedication of people who do it just for the joy of helping out, most races just wouldn’t happen. With that in mind, read on to see how I tried to make a recent adventure race just a little bit easier for all those involved 🙂
Last weekend, I was originally slated to spend the weekend at home, since it was a long weekend, and there had been a few things tentatively scheduled for the weekend already. Well, at the last minute, some plans changed, and I found myself with the ability, and more importantly, the permission :-), to volunteer at the 5-8 hour
Tuesday morning in my inbox was a message from him asking if I could pick up the truck and drive it to the race site on Friday. The truck was located in Gatineau , but he would already be out at the race course at the time the truck needed picking up (4pm). At first, I wasn’t sure if I could swing it with work, but as it turned out, I worked a bunch of overtime that week anyway, so I didn’t feel back ditching an hour or so early on Friday. The plan was to drive the truck up, then do whatever I could on Saturday during the race. I was hoping I wouldn’t get stuck driving around during the race, since that job generally sucks (making many trips back and forth to move huge numbers of bikes for example). Thierry thought he could use me as a runner or floater on the bike section, allowing me to just bike from CP to CP and assist where possible, do spot gear checks, and just generally be available in case anything came up. That sounded pretty sweet to me, so I packed all my things on Thursday, and took my racing mountain bike in to work on Friday, with all my gear packed up.
I went as far as to bring a tent and sleeping bag, in case I was asked to man a CP in the woods, and if it rained all day, in which case I could just hunker down. As it turned out later, it definitely did rain, but my situation ended a bit differently. After the truck showed up about an hour late (driving back from MTL), I hopped in the big rig and drove the hour or so up to Lac de L’Argile, a picturesque Quebec area. The gang was already there, and I was treated to supper. Sweet. Also, I was going to share lodging with Thierry and his girlfriend Annick in a log hotel type place. For the rest of the evening, I helped out with registration, which we wrapped up around 10:30pm, in order to get a decent night’s sleep. The plan was to get up the next morning around 5:30am, so that we’d be back up at registration. Unfortunately, some idiot had left the alarm in the room set to go off just after midnight, so just as we were getting to sleep the damn thing went off! Thierry more or less ripped it out of the wall, and we went back to sleep.
I was the last to get up the following morning, and only because Annick shook me awake before heading out the door. Thierry had left very early, and she was heading up to run registration. As a result, I was about 1.5k from the start, and with no drive. Not the end of the world. I tried a jog, but that quickly fell apart with the pain. Stupid knee. On the plus side, it was 6:40am, and a beautiful morning. I took it all in and enjoyed the walk to my awaiting breakfast. My new assignment was to help get all the gear bags at the right transitions, then once that was done, and the racers were past T1, I was going to help move all the bikes after all. D’oh! Although I wasn’t driving the truck, I was pretty much married to it most of the day due to a couple last minute volunteer cancellations and the fact that there was no other way to get around the course.
I foolishly started my day wearing bike shorts and a bike jersey, anticipating getting back to the start line and my awaiting bike, in order to backtrack along the course. Sadly, that never happened. I even left all my stuff at the start, as Thierry had said not to worry about it, since I’d be back there shortly. What did that mean? Well, I spent the day with no food or drink, and wearing only my shorts and shirt. On the plus side, I found some food, but when the rain started pouring, I had nothing to keep dry and/or warm other than the back of the truck. Ha ha for me, right? I had fun playing Tetris with what was probably over $100k worth of mountain bikes, as you can see in my pictures.
It’s amazing just how fast you have to move to get things to the right spot. We just had time to drop the first bags at T1, then race to T2 to drop off the second bags. By the time we returned to T1, all the racers had pretty much passed through, and we now had to take those bags back, along with all the bikes to T3. As we were unloading the last of the bikes at T3 (after 3 trips and some creative packing), the first teams were already arriving. Had a fourth trip been needed, we might have ended up with a team waiting for gear, which is a real faux -pas. Once that rush was over, we were basically camped out at T3 waiting for all the teams to arrive. After that, we’d be clear to just load up all the bags from there, grab the bags back at T2, and head to the finish.
However, I eventually persuaded Thierry to take me with him to the further checkpoints to see what was going on. In the end, due to some teams having messed up in the trekking section, we instead ended up scouting an alternate route for the back teams to ensure they finished in time. We did that, radioed the modified directions and the proper cut-off time, then went back to T3 once again. However, the truck had since been sent back to HQ, and we decided the last 6 bags would just be taken in Thierry’s car. However, we ALSO had to go wait in the woods to pick up a couple volunteers who’d been in the rain all afternoon waiting for teams. Thierry was a bit frustrated because in the end, he was stuck out there, instead of at the finish line greeting the winners. We didn’t even have radio contact due to the terrain, so we had no way of knowing how the race was progressing.
Rather than go on and on about the rest, I’ll just say it was a great experience to see first hand. In order to make the most of it, I even had my trusty [new] GPS on me, and created a custom map of the day for you to check out. I got to see pretty much the whole course, except for the one part I thought I’d see a lot of, which was the bike leg on the ATV trails. Nuts! By the time I made it back to HQ, it had been pouring rain for a while, and there were only a few teams left to return, so I really wasn’t all that keen on heading out, so I opted for a warm shower instead.
When the ceremony was all over, I agreed to drive the truck back to Gatineau that night. Only problem was the guy who had driven the truck during the day had gone home… with the keys! We had to call him up, and get him to drive all the way back out just to give me the key. We wasn’t too happy about it, but realized there weren’t really any other options. Of course, that meant that Thierry and I were the last two people out at the race. So there you have it. As a volunteer, I had to arrive earlier than everyone, get up earlier, stay out longer on the course, and be the very last one to leave! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. On the plus side, I got the T-Shirt, had a great day, and didn’t have to pay a cent. Well, I paid in blood though, literally, with all the damn blackflies 😉 It was also great to catch up with some racing friends and watch teams in transition to see how they did things. It’s a totally different experience from when I race myself.
Hope you enjoyed my jumbled story, and if you have any questions, fire them off, I’d be more than happy to answer. I realize I tended to ramble up above, and might not have made complete sense to those who don’t understand AR events very well, so if that’s you, and you’re interested, ask me!