Newsletter - 2008 Archive

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My First Brevet
by Gary Baker

I believe that volunteers are what makes much of the important things we do and enjoy possible. Since becoming a randonneur I have observed many volunteers on the brevets I've ridden. They clearly seemed to be enjoying the service they were providing riders, no matter how exhausted they themselves were at the time. To me it was important that somewhere along the line I had to give something back to the club and the brevet volunteers who gave me the opportunity to experience this wonderful, strange and weird sport.

At first I volunteered to staff controls ….great fun. You get to meet and talk with riders you might usually only see at the start, when conversation time is limited at best. But as a rider, and seeing the organization that brevet coordinators clearly had put into mounting their brevet, I must say I Iwas reluctant to step forward to take on a brevet organizer role myself. This said I knew I would do it in due time.

Well the time came. I volunteered to do a 300km but was asked to work with Jeff Oh on a 600. It was also his first go at a brevet organizer. Well what the heck, other than doing the Rocky or a Populaire (with those huge numbers of riders) could a 600 be that much different than a 200 or a 300.

The first issue was the route. We wanted to do something new and that would be a good stepping stone to the Rocky. Several routes were considered, a variation of the Cache Creek 600, and a totally new route through the Fraser Valley and into Washington State. We also wanted to find a suitable Vancouver start/finish location.

At this point Ron Penner stepped forward with an offer to assist with the route planning. He suggested the Merritt Loop as a possibility. We like the idea but struggled. The first drafts were consistently too long or too short which required shifting the start into the outer 'burbs' or adding diversions to side roads to add mileage. In the end our classic Vancouver start location (4th & Boundary) proved to be a great start/finish location. Through all these machinations Roger was a wonderful support answering all my questions about the overall planning process.

Then there was the task of finding good control sites, ones with services as we wanted to minimize the need for supported controls. Again this worked out. So far so good.

We used the discussion list to call for volunteers to assist at the start and with staffing the finish control ( Thanks Tracy and Danelle).

The Saturday before the ride I had a leisurely drive around the route; confirming the control sites, room arrangements, and checking the road conditions, etc. Throughout the following week I was constantly monitoring the weather forecasts, I have to say I was becoming very concerned. Snow on the Coquihalla was a real possibility.

The night before the ride, Jeff, Sarah, and I enjoyed a pleasant dinner together; and Jeff and I finalized our plans for the ride itself. We were at the start (way too early) to set up. The weather looked promising, but we put up the canopy just in case and were glad we did. The rain started and lasted past the control at Dogwood (150Km).

We shared our best guess as to the number of riders ( high teens, low twenties) and were very surprised to register 29 riders.

We sent them on their way at 6:05AM. We waited the required 60 minutes before closing the start control. Jeff headed home to visit surprise guests and to have breakfast. I drove to Danelle's to drop off the pins and registration list as she was to staff the early morning hours at the finish control. Then I headed for Mission and home ( Cultus Lake) for a late breakfast. Then it was off to the Dogwood control. The plan was for me to stay with or ahead of the front riders with Jeff to follow (as an unofficial sweep) and to meet up at Spences Bridge where we thought we might have to set up a secret/food control. Fortunately the local Inn agreed to stay open so food was available for riders who wanted to top up their water or get a light meal.

At Spences Bridge most of the riders were giddy over the tailwinds they had through the Fraser Canyon. They were literally being blown up the hills. All was not well however. We could not account for three riders. With no cell phone service along this part of the route we could not check for messages from riders who had withdrawn, and all we got were recorded messages when we contacted their emergency contact numbers. I tend to worry about missing participants, particularly individuals I don't know very well or at all.
We didn't know their fate until we regained cell service in Merritt. They had withdrawn.

On leaving Spences Bridge this route has a long sustained climb to Merritt, and those tailwinds were now likely to become very strong headwinds. This is a very lonely stretch of road, with many rural dogs. One ripped a water bottle from a rider's hand. He ran after the dog only to be confronted by a small pack of LARGE dogs. The bottle was recovered, but with numerous holes in it. Scratch one bottle. This section of road really put the riders to the test, most riding in the dark, some late into the night.

I arrived in Merritt shortly after 10pm. Exhausted!. After some friendly banter with incoming riders I dove into bed at 11pm with the hope of getting some sleep. With riders coming and going to get their drop bags, sleep was hard to get. Note to self, next time leave the bags outside if possible.

By 2 ish riders were moving about, so much for sleep. At 4:30AM I got up to see if all the riders were up and away. Thinking they were, I went back to get another hour or so of sleep. Oh, it was cool.

At 6Am just as Jeff and I were about to go get some breakfast, there was a knock on the door. It was Ron. He was had been quite sick through the night and had decide to withdraw. Good timing. Five minutes later and we would have been gone. We loaded his bike onto Jeff's car, and the three of us went for breakfast.

The night before Jeff and I had decided to position one car as sweep until everyone was over the Coquihalla. We'd suspected the conditions were going to be very challenging
(and they were as we would find out). It was cold, wet and the headwinds were dreadful.

One's heart goes out to riders who for whatever reason find themselves struggling. Sadly at the brake check at the top of the Coquihalla Roger and Ali had had enough and I loaded their bikes onto the car. I felt very badly for them. We also rescued a 'roadie'. He had ridden up with light clothing and was near hypothermic. He was very grateful for the lift down.

Assured that everyone was off the Coq we stopped in at the Hope control. Five riders were there. Their facial expressions told it all. They were VERY glad to be down in the valley again. You could tell that they felt confident that they would succeed in reaching the finish with time to spare. I felt relieved as well. Roger, Ali, and I said goodbye and headed for the finish control.

Being at the finish control was a hoot. Getting to greet the incoming riders, to hear of their experiences on the ride, and to share ( in a very vicarious way) in their success made all the work involved worth it.

I was envious off their experience, but know that because others would volunteer to organize some future brevet I'd have my turn to challenge a route ( and the weather) soon..

To all who started this ride congratulations. I hope to have the opportunity to ride with you sometime in the future and to ride on a brevet that you have volunteered to organize or assist with.

Happy riding.

Go to Merritt Loop 600: Results & Photos


June 11, 2008