Monday, July 19, 2010

Bicycle Illinois

I'm sitting in Morton Grove, IL, at some public park. It's 8 in the a.m., and I've laid out a table full of trail mix, pretzels, water, Gatorade, fig newtons, and fruit. You're probably asking yourself what the hell is he doing? I'm on the support end of Bicycle Illinois.

It all started here in the Land of Lincoln a week ago. A staff of three- myself included, drive a truck full of food, supplies, luggage, and 17 bikes along with two suvs from Chicago to Cairo, Illinois. The trip is 600 miles starting at the Mississippi and ending on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, IL, with five over night stops on the tour. I've slept in closets, on gym floors, teacher's lounges, and even considered the parking lot outside- I sleep pretty much where I fall.

My job is simple: support all the riders the whole tour, doing whatever it takes to make the trip as smooth as possible. This is my second year and I was the baggage guy. I would wake up at 4:30 a.m., set up breakfast for the riders, and fill all the water coolers with ice and water, then load the support vehicles for the day.

At 6:00 a.m. the two other support vehicles head out. One scouts the route making sure there's no construction so we don't have to re-route the riders to avoid it. The second vehicle heads out to set up the first rest stop for the riders, then each rider hits the road at 6:30.

After the riders leave, I clean up breakfast, do a "dummy check" to make sure everyone has everything, then head out to pick up the baggage of the people who chose to stay in the comfort of a hotel instead of the local school or reccenter with the rest of us. After I load all the luggage, its off to the second rest stop where I will take over the route scouting.

I drive the course ahead of the riders looking for construction and praying there is none. After about 20 miles or so, I set up rest stop number three and wait for back up. Once all the riders go through the rest stop, one of the support guys comes up to relieve me, and I head into a town to drop off the hotel baggage and get our lodging set up for the night. A few hours later riders start coming in off the road.

The first few are usually the fast riders, and they head back out and do a few additional miles so they can get a century (100 miles) in. The rest of the pack trickles in over the next few hours as I set up water, cut up oranges, and start to restock the rest stop kits with food and whatever else was used during the day, so the next day we can do it all over again.

I hang out and talk to riders as they come in and see how the ride went. After a few hours we head to dinner. We see a few riders there, talk, eat, and laugh. Being vegetarian in southern Illinois is not the best- the restaurants do their best, but there's no tofu, that's for sure! After dinner it's back to the main lodging site to set up breakfast, and find a place to sleep for the night.

The previous year I worked this I always snuck out and had some alone time at this point, but this year I hung out with a few of the riders and staff and had fun. 9 o'clock would roll around and we would think about bed and try to get there by 10. At this point you're so tired, you just fall asleep despite the fact you're sleeping on a hard floor and there is always a light somewhere that's shinning in your eyes. 4:30 a.m.- the alarm goes off, and you do it all again for 6 more days.

This years ride was great! Last year when I got done I felt relieved, but this year there was a certain amount of sadness. It's hard to just be done and get back to regular life.

I watched 17 people ride 600 plus miles (except Lauren and Bruce who did 700+)! I watched them push themselves to there limits in intense heat. I laughed with a lot of them, listened to their complaints, and offered a word of encouragement here and there.

You really begin to bond as a group, and when it ends, there's just a certain void. About halfway through it wasn't about the money anymore- it was about helping these people reach their goal for me. Last time when it was done I never talked to any of the people or read their blogs, but after this year I made some friends who I hope to stay in touch with, and I've been reading the blogs of a few of the riders. Check these out! and

Well, I'm home now. The cars have all been returned and the polo shirts are in the wash. I want to say thanks to my fellow worker Bill, and the guy in charge, Rob (I can say it now- WE DID IT!). And a special thanks to Rob's truck. It's the little engine that could, that's for sure! I took a few pictures along the way- I wish I could have had more action shots, but I never had a chance to see everyone out on the road...

'Til next year


KCmustang said...

you are the best. the riders love you greatly!

PS. my word verification is facks. so you know my comment is true. lol