Recommended Playlist: White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, Alone Time by Rufus Wainwright, A Well Respected Man by The Kinks, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, Gotta Get Up by Harry Nilsson
A couple weeks ago my beloved Michel and his friend Fred rode in the Randonneurs Ontario Lake of the Burning Plains brevet .It’s a punchy 1,000 km route with lots of climbs. Both Fred and Michel told me it was an unreasonable thing to ask anyone to provide SAG support over such a distance and time. Honestly, it was more for me than them. I wanted to know they were safe during the ride, that included support but also an exit strategy if one of them needed to stop riding. Not to be a pessimist, but a lot of things can happen over 1,000 km and I wanted to help manage those risks.
Thanks to Fred’s amazing forethought and planning I knew how long each break at every control was and where the sleep stops fell. He even hosted a meeting the Monday before to run through the 3 day plan. My role was clear, arrange logistics so they could focus on riding and resting.
Friday evening we packed the car, picked up Fred and headed to Waterloo. There were a few supply stops and we settled in at The Inn in Waterloo. Our room, thanks to Fred, had a patio door that opened onto the parking lot which made bike movement easier. We went through the water bottle routine. Fred and Michel use Gruppo for electrolytes and nutrition: one bottle of Power, one of Ride and a third just water. They brought 6 bottles each, 3 on the bike and 3 with me to have ready at the next control.
The first day of the ride for me was about setting my opinions and ego aside to listen to what they needed. The plan agreed to at one control changed by the time I saw them next. I thought I’d have a lot of down time. The timing of the controls meant I was busy packing up, driving or setting up at the next control. By day 3 napping also became a priority.
I brought a giant water cooler to keep in the car, a food cooler and a few bags of snacks. I was responsible for all meals, bought or made. The first was a 3:30 am breakfast of coffee, bagels, cream cheese and fruit. I was also the time keeper. Our ambitious plan was to keep the first four stops at controls to 15 minutes and have 1 hour stop each day for a sit down meal.
Day 1 rolled out perfectly and according to plan. I went ahead and secured food at each control with replenishment bottles prepared and waiting. I checked us into the motel and brought in bags. The idea being all these tasks would have otherwise been done by the cyclists. I was saving their time, energy and focus for the ride. It was really working!
In fact they hit the Bowmanville sleep control a full hour and 25 minutes ahead of plan. AMAZING! I thought they would sleep longer but the excitement of the day led to everyone struggling to sleep after showers. So after self care activities and a scant 2 hours of sleep they got up and started on day 2.
The Middle Part
With an hour earlier departure on day 2 than planned the first logistical challenge was that the next control, Millbrook, had nothing open before 8 am on Sundays. My riders were going to be there around 7 so I deeked up to Peterborough for coffee and farmers wraps to have ready at the control. I was starting to feel a bit trippy with the lack of sleep but the sunrise was refreshing. I had bought an electric lunchbox for the trip and it kept hot food hot, like those imported farmer’s wraps. It is really hard to predict how far out the riders were and what time they would arrive. Hills make even the best mathematicians liars. Luckily a third rider, Luke, caught up with Fred and Michel. As my riders left I stayed to chat with Luke and offer some support just as the Foodland opened. I would see him at most controls over the next two days.
I loved scouting ahead looking for shady spots to eat and rest. We had a picnic in Norwood in a butterfly garden by a pond. It was a beautiful place to stop.
Oak Lake was a photo control without any services so I cooked hotdogs in the car while driving and kept them warm. My sister Anj called me to check in and keep me company. She did that often over the trip and I’m so grateful. She is very good at problem solving and we talked through a lot of challenges. When Fred and Michel arrived Luke texted them he had a spill and was back on his bike. We agreed to wait for him. So food and water flowed while time ticked on. Luke showed up with minor abrasions that he treated with water and rubbing alcohol I had on hand. A few band aids were needed but he was in good spirits. I was glad I could support another rider and added First Responder to my list of duties.
I leapt ahead to the big meal control in Campbellford. I picked a pizza place called Apollo’s and pre-ordered. The staff treated the arriving cyclists like rock stars. The sun set as they rolled out of town. At this point, the evening of day 2, I was starting to feel the sleep deprivation and time in the car. My friends Gail and Janet called to get an update and check in on me. It was awesome. The cell reception was terrible as I drove south to Coburg but they persevered calling me back a few times
I had been going for a walk once I arrived at a control, then doing my pit crew duties. At the next control I also napped in the car. Fatigue was really messing with me and no number of walks was helping. That night was a mere 2 hours of sleep.
The Third Day
The final day, I have notes and pictures but it is very blurry. Lots of naps. Lots of emotional support. Lots of waiting as the cyclists slowed their pace. It had been VERY HILLY and the third day was very hot. Mercifully no mechanical issues or rain. Sometime after dinner I realized I had stopped to nap close to where their route was taking them. I intercepted them, only to waive and shout encouragements as they rolled past. I saw them looking strong and smiling. I knew without a doubt that they would finish and make it before the cut off.
It was super rough to see them at the second last control in Orangeville. It was dark, they were tired and time was getting away from them. Luke rolled in just behind the. After everyone had tried resting they rolled off together around midnight for the last leg.
I attempted driving to Waterloo and needed to pull over to nap. I was very sleep deprived and needed to stay safe. I set a timer for 15 minutes and fell into oblivion waking up 20 seconds before the alarm. I eventually got to the hotel and set up to receive the riders. I sat down to wait and woke up to Michel coming in the room around 5 am. Fred and Luke quickly followed. They had done it! 1008 km in 3 days.
We slept, you guessed it, 2 hours then packed up the car and came home. There is no doubt that my support played a significant role in their successful completion of the ride. The time saved sourcing food and water, pre-ordering at restaurants, checking into hotels really added up. Sometimes they needed just another person to talk through a challenge. Fred, Michel and Luke were constantly thanking me and expressing gratitude for the supplies, care and company.
Through the days I was getting phone calls and messages from friends and family asking for updates on the guys but also checking in with me. How was I? Those second level support folks kept me going. I could not do the things I needed to without the encouragement and company those conversations offered.
I had fashioned myself a bit of a social media coordinator taking phots and posting updates. I figure it is a great way to show off the sport and what amateur athletes can do. It’s really cool. It helped me connect to other Randonneurs who were avidly following the adventure. All of them also gave me shout outs for my support because they understand how challenging and important it is.
Our kids kept the house, dog, cat, fish and gardens while we were away. Another layer of support. So whenever you see someone achieving something amazing I think it’s important to think about all the folks behind the scenes that are ensuring the awesomeness can happen. It was an honour to be trusted with seeing the riders at their most vulnerable. It made the accomplishment even sweeter.
Overall it was harder than I imagined but also a lot of fun and very rewarding. 10 out of 10 I’d SAG wagon again!