Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Portland Century

I hauled myself out of bed at 4:15 Sunday morning and trekked on down to the PSU start line of the Portland Century. It was still dark outside, so I took a head lamp, which got me lots of points with the other volunteers. My first task was making a run back to base for some forgotten items. After that, things got eerily smooth. It was a far cry from the first year when Jess and I registered and rode the event. Thanks to over 900 day-of registrations for the then, first time event, the organizers were swamped. I ended up leaving Jess to wait in line and volunteering at registration until she got to the head of the line, just to try to make things go faster. Which is maybe why they ended up hiring me for future events.

Jensi and I reminisced about those olden days while we practically stood around twiddling our thumbs behind the registration table. The volunteers were on top of it, the lines were short, thanks to a pre-reg party the day before, and there weren't even that many unusual issues. It was almost *too* easy and we agreed it was kind of weird.

I hung out behind the reg table, pretending to be a t-shirt runner (handing shirts to the reg volunteers to give to riders). Another volunteer, Patrice was also working t-shirts and mostly she was far too quick for me, so I spent most of my time chatting with her between her mad dashes for cotton. She was totally charming and sweet and very new to biking, which I could tell when she rolled her Magna bike over and parked it nearby. Turns out she got back into riding a couple of months ago, telling herself firmly, "No more excuses!" Part of her reason for volunteering was to get involved with the bike community, learn more about what's out there and meet other cyclists.

She said, when she finally got back on her bike and went for a ride, she came back with a huge perma-grin on her face and from what I saw, it hasn't gone away. She asked me lots of questions and I did my best to answer, and pointed out random things about the vast variety of bikes, how they were different, why they were wearing those funny shoes and why that woman on the cruiser with the big pannier was dreaming when she signed up for the full century.

It turns out Patrice is also pretty close to my size, so she might even end up buying my Scott that I've been commuting on for the last few years. It's great bike and I hate to get rid of it, but with my crazy rampage of bike buying, and our not-very-large garage, something has to go. My Cross check will be my new fast commuter and who knows, I might even ride it in an actual cross race someday.

At 8:20, I headed out to my rest stop at Maywood Park, the only rest stop for the 25 mile riders. I had a Honda Element Zip car to pack up and return my supplies when I was done. I'd never driven one before and I found it to be fun and zippy (no pun intended), and the seat fold up feature is pretty handy.

Tom arrived with the Penske to drop off my supplies. Maywood park is a pretty spot and the grass is lush and green and perfect--and also sits atop what seems to be a permanent mud bog. The skinny legs of the rented tables sunk deep into the mud and had to be shored up with scrap cardboard. And the more feet came through, the messier it got. Since I'd worked this rest stop last year, I at least remembered to change out of my sandals and into my tennis shoes.

Tom left me with my pile of food to organize. It was 9:45, 15 minutes before the official opening of the rest stop. My volunteers, scheduled to arrive at 9:30, were nowhere to be seen. All three of them flaked completely and didn't even bother to call.

Despite that, this rest stop session was one of the most organized and relaxed I've had. A few riders came early, while there were still boxes everywhere, but they knew they were ahead of schedule and were chill about waiting. One claimed she was just going to get water and move on, but she changed her tune quickly once the shortcakes were prepared and the whip cream on the table.

For the next few hours, I had no trouble keeping up with demand, keeping everything stocked and chatting with the riders. I fixed another helmet that was strapped so loosely, I hesitate to even use the word. People were generally happy when they came through, even the ones who got lost on the detour from the 205 bike path. I literally heard not one complaint, and the biggest injury was a scrape from a run in with a car that I think was parked. I also had mechanic support from the Bike Gallery, who showed up just minutes after the first person asked me for a pump.

My rest stop closed at one and the last riders came through at 12:45, a woman riding with her 7 year old son. The most challenging part of the day was wondering if I could really fit all my supplies into the Element, but my UPS training came to the fore, and with help from the BG mechanic, I shoved it all in there and then dropped it off at the Smith and Bybee rest stop so they could incorporate my leftover food into their stop. The whole ride was short of volunteers (not just my flaky ones) and there were only two women working the Smith stop and they had to cut up watermelon. Also they were the last rest stop before the finish so both the century and 50 mile riders came through. Things were hopping. I unloaded all the stuff and we made a little self-serve shortcake station so it wouldn't be any extra work for the volunteers. I would have stayed to help, but I had a short window in which to finally pick up my Bike Friday.

After that, I headed to the finish line for some grub. I limited myself to one sample of my rest stop short cake and I was starving. It was nice, after Seattle, to get there when the food was still fresh and warm (although the Seattle dinner was great, even cold). I saw a few people I knew who had finished successfully and Patrice was looking good after her 25 mile ride--probably her longest yet.

Things still seemed to be going in that eerily stress free fashion, so after I ate, I headed out to return my Zip Car. But first I went home and put my Tikit back together (only took 30 minutes, even without instructions). I folded it up, stuck it in the back of the car, and headed back to the parking space across from PCC. After I parked, I noticed a brand new coffee shop on the corner of Killingsworth and Albina. Too bad they didn't open while I was still attending at that campus, but it looked pretty nice inside and there were a couple of people inside with their laptops. I went in for a minute to chat with the woman working and said I'd be back. Then I grabbed my Tikit from it's spot just inside the door, whipped it open and rode home in a drizzly rain.

As I was heading north on Willamette, approaching Rosa Parks Way, I saw a group of five soggy bikers on road bikes. As I got closer, I saw a tell tale red jersey. "Are you guys on the Portland Century?" I asked. It was about 6:30 by this and the finish line closed at 6:00pm.

"Yes, we're team 'got lost'" said one of the women. Despite being on mile 100 (with their detours) of the ride, being soaked and probably hungry, they were in remarkably good spirits. In fact, they were posing for pictures, so I offered to take one of their whole group and they accepted. Afterward I told them the quickest way to get back to the finish line.

When I got home, I called Jensi and let her know the stragglers were on their way. Hopefully, they saved them some food.

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