There I was standing on a street corner waving in the men.
Yep, that’s what I was doing on a beautiful Saturday in March. How did I get there? Let’s go back in time to November.
In November, I surprised my husband with a birthday gift: a new Specialized Diverge. He had been drooling over them for some time, but other life expenses had kept the bike on the wish list instead of putting it in the stable. This fall I was able to take the bike off the wish list and put it in the stable. Once he had the bike; he, of course, wanted to do gravel rides. He took the bike out and did a few rides including Dirty South #1 – Rend Lake Edition.
After struggling to complete the Rend Lake ride, Jeff became interested (obsessed?) in the Dirty South Roubaix 100K+. He talked about it. He trained for it. He prepared for it. He talked about it. He talked about it. Did I mention he talked about it? I heard a great deal about this race. I didn’t mind. His excitement and enthusiasm was endearing.
So he trained and talked about the upcoming race and I listened. I listened to his plans and made plans of my own. I planned on going to the race, maybe sitting and reading my Kindle, enjoying a massage from one of the therapists from Stress Knot Massage who were scheduled to be at the event, and then see Jeff cross the finish line. That was my plan.
I don’t remember why Jeff needed to go to The Bike Surgeon of Carbondale. Maybe it was a tire. Maybe it was an adjustment on the new bike. I don’t remember the reason, but we arrived there to find Pat Work also making plans for the race. Pat was as excited to be involved with hosting the race as Jeff was to be riding in it. They began chattering and I half-listened as I watched the local color of Carbondale stroll past the shop windows. Suddenly, Pat turns his attention to me and asks, “ Are you going to be there?” What? Where? Are you talking to me? Seriously dude, I was zoned out. He is looking at me with his intense stare awaiting an answer. “Ummm, yeah, I’ll be there getting a massage,” I reply.
“Great!” Pat replies, “I’ll have you probably be at a corner…” He continues talking, and I hear my plans change.
What? Work? When did I say I wanted to work? OK, sure.
So we left The Bike Surgeon and headed home.
Over the next few days, I spent time with a family member who was undergoing some medical issues while Jeff trained for his event. We met on Friday afternoon at Touch of Nature, a summer camp which is part of Southern Illinois University located on Little Grassy Lake. The race was, in part, a fundraiser to build mountain bike trails at the facility. I expected to see a good number of cyclists staying at the lodge.
I drove down the tree lined drive to the lodge and pulled into the parking lot to see my husband’s car parked in the empty lot. Jeff and I were the only two people staying in the lodge. It would be amazing to have the place to ourselves . . . Just two crazy kids staying at an abandoned summer camp. Isn’t this how all the horror films start?
My husband had arrived first and checked us in. The room was large, but basic; something akin to a dorm room or a motel room from the 1950’s. There were 2 standard beds without headboards, a wooden desk, a wooden chair, a mini-fridge and a microwave. There were several lamps in the room with low-watt light bulbs. There was a small bathroom with basic fixtures. It wasn’t fancy or luxurious, but it was serviceable and clean. There was plenty of room for a bike and gear.
We made ourselves at home in our room and Jeff made his preparations for the morning.
The next morning we awoke, dressed and headed toward Alto Pass, Illinois. We drove through Giant City State Park, then through Makanda as the sun sparkled through the trees. It was only the beginning of March, but it felt like May.
We arrived in the small town of Alto Pass to find the main street swarming with cyclists. We were adding around 100 people to the town population of 383. Most of the parking on the main street was taken. We circled the town and found a spot. Jeff began his preparations and I wandered the boardwalk to find registration and see if I could help in some way.
There wasn’t much for me to do, but I lent a hand here and there. Before long it was time to start the race. I must admit to some jealousy. All these people ready to ride and I was standing on the sidelines. It wasn’t that I wanted to do this particular ride. It was rumored to be brutal, but it was a great day for a ride. The sun was sparkling on the riders as they listened to the ride instructions. I gave Jeff a good luck kiss and left him on the street as I headed to the boardwalk to watch the start. The riders took off up the hill and the few spectators scattered to various posts. Suddenly the street was empty and I was left behind.
I sat on a bench, read my Kindle, helped carry in food, visited the local market, and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather. After chit-chatting with the ladies in the market, I headed to my assigned corner at the intersection of Highway 127 and Main Street. I was located at the last turn of the race. The riders would turn off Highway 127 onto Main Street and enter the finishing chute. I set up camp which consisted of a lawn chair and a water bottle in a little grassy area and waited.
I waited for about 45 minutes before I saw the first rider come up route 127. He was an older man riding slow and looking as though he were hurting. I told him he was the first rider I had seen. He stated he had quit the race. I settled back into my chair and waited for another half hour or so until I saw another bike approaching. This one was moving much quicker. The rider looked strong and confident. I told him he was first and he just smiled at me as he entered the finishing shoot and finished his ride. It was several minutes before the next riders approached. They too, looked strong as they finished.
The next hour I spent on my feet signaling riders to make the turn from Highway 127 onto Main Street and talking to drivers about the orange cones in their path. Most of the drivers were courteous with a few exceptions.
I saw a few riders I knew including Lee Messersmith and Shon Hargis. I saw more I didn’t know. There were young riders, older riders, men, women and tandems riding past me. More and more riders were finishing. Still, I had not seen Jeff. His goal was to finish the ride. As I counted the riders going past me, I was wondering if he was going to finish. It seemed there weren’t many riders left. The riders were looking more tired as they came in. These were the ones for whom a finish was a victory. The time between riders grew. I waited and waited, but still did not see Jeff. Finally, a rider came into view. It was Jeff. He was riding fairly strong. I found later he had lost a great deal of time to a flat tire. He rode past me and finished the ride. A few more riders finished and then I packed up my lawn chair and drove back into town.
Most of the riders stayed for the post-race events. Many of the riders had thanked me for volunteering as they rode past me. I was surprised how many riders made a point of thanking me for volunteering when they saw me later that day. While this was a competitive race, I was impressed with the camaraderie of the riders. It was a very chill group of people.
I have ridden in several (non-competitive) events and relied on other people to volunteer. This was my first time volunteering. I’m glad I had the chance to help and give back to the cycling community. I would definitely do it again. I would also encourage you to volunteer at an event.
And that is how I ended up on a street corner waving in the men . . . as well as the women, and tandem riders.
Have you ever volunteered at a ride or race? Have volunteers impacted your race or ride?