BWR 2015 recap: After the dust has settled

The story of the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride was the story of a bunch of people, the majority of whom didn’t even do the ride.

My slog across the dirt and somewhat-paved roads of North County San Diego was essentially a mosaic image of good-hearted volunteers, beginning on Saturday morning when scores of orange-shirted SPY employees began setting up the expo area. The weather was rainy and cold and it seemed as if the day of the big ride would be a true Belgian mudfest, but no one seemed in the least bit perturbed. Dispositions were as sunny as if the sun had been out and forecast for the next 48 hours.

Led by Victor Sheldon, volunteers like Logan Fiedler, Brian Zink, Stephen Lavery, Tait Campbell, Dan Cobley, and a whole host of others sallied forth to put up markers and hammer in wooden staked directional signage for over 125 different turns, many of which were set along dirt paths miles from pavement.

The pre-registration tent was staffed with people who cheerily took on the task of putting names and ID’s to packets, and of course dealing with the inevitable registration snafus of “Where’s my fuggin’ packet?” and “Can I register for my pal Dilbert?” and “I ordered an S but do you have an XXL?” Didn’t matter. They were equal to every task.

The day of the ride everything was more intense by orders of magnitude. A giant start/finish area had to be set up and a short cobbled section was installed, but participants saw none of that effort because we were welcomed to the area, seamlessly and flawlessly, by more orange-clad volunteers. It’s easy to believe that they were smiling at the beginning. It’s incredible that 8 or 9 or 10 hours later they were still smiling and cheering us on as we crossed the home line.

For sheer survival the vast majority of riders could not have finished without the volunteers who staffed the refreshments stands. The bananas, electrolytes, energy gels, cokes, and gallons of water made the difference between finishing and not, and the aid stations provided their services under incredible stress: A group of 20 or 30 would roll up, screaming, gasping, choking, famished, begging, elbowing, and in a matter of seconds each rider would have multiple refilled water bottles, pockets filled with food or gels, a pat on the back, a shout of encouragement, and a push to get going again.

The volunteers did this for twelve solid hours.

Our survival was further abetted by the turn volunteers. Tricky or potentially problematic turns like Lemon Twist and Questhaven (staffed by my friend Serge Issakov), or the turnaround at Del Dios, had small crews to slow or stop traffic, wave us along, and make sure that our safety was paramount. They did all this with smiles and extra bottles of water for those who needed them. The small crew who had set up their own tent en route to Fortuna saved my BWR by plying me with the last two bottles of GQ6 electrolyte. Without it I’d still be out there somewhere, mumbling, dessicated, looking for the beer garden.

Getting back in one piece was also a function of the sheriff’s deputies and city law enforcement who stopped traffic at intersections, provided rolling enclosures for the leaders, waved us through intersections, and made sure that the cagers gave us a wide berth. They were professional, expert, and seemed to appreciate Sam Ames’s giant waffles heaped with ice cream, fruit, and chocolate fudge after their shifts finally ended.

The physical act of survival was one thing, but the mental part was a whole other world. My mind had come unhinged going up Double Peak when up jumped the devil. “Want a push?” he asked.

“Hell yes!” I said, and he gave me a fiery lunge that propelled me yards up the road.

Another bystander watched me flail and gave me another huge push (was that you, Kelsey?), and just as I caught my breath cresting the top I got the cheer of all cheers from Jenna K. who made me feel, despite my earlier faceplant and ragged appearance, like the champion of champions.

Each person who shouted, cowbelled, cheered, encouraged, handed up, and stood out in the hot sun for our benefit made the ride, to say nothing of the bikini-clad babes and guys at the Oasis who bathed our sore eyes in the most beautiful of sights while simultaneously offering us kudos, cold cokes, and a hug if we needed a shoulder to cry on. And we did, right Marvin and Pablo?

Once the ride finished “we” had done our job, but the people running the BWR still had hours of labor ahead of them. The Strava validation table worked feverishly to ensure that riders had in fact completed the route; the Gear Grinder folks cranked out miles of sausage and yards of chicken; the Lost Abbey beer tent loosed the heavenly fermented waters; and David Wilcox at the Rapha tent slung the world’s tastiest espresso like it was last days on earth.

And none of this even touches on people like Maddy I., who poured out the pre-event PR and made sure our inboxes were populated with funny and enticing emails. Trina J. is probably having nightmares from the thousands of emails she got asking if “I could move my registration to next year ’cause I got a boo-boo on my bo-bo,” and if Phil T. ever reads another message starting “Can I get into Wave 1?” he will probably shoot his iPhone. Roving SPY johnnies-on-the-spot like Aden, Zach, and slew of other people whose names I don’t know were always there and always getting ‘er done, whatever the ‘er of the moment happened to be.

In sum, this year’s BWR was so big and so seamless and so well executed that it transcended ride status and ascended to the status of cultural event. And how did that happen?

I’m honored to say that it happened by dint of the imagination, inspiration, originality, and relentless quest for improvement of my friend Michael Marckx. Great things only happen with great vision, and the BWR has, thanks to Michael’s efforts, turned a fun gathering of friends into a broad-based cultural event that spotlights bicycles, food, drink, fun, camaraderie, challenge, and Belgium in the epicenter of Southern California’s bike culture.

Michael’s passion for cycling and his restive will to always make it better than it was before have infused the BWR with a new and funny way of looking at the world. And while I wouldn’t say that pounding the pedals on some dogforsaken stretch of gravel-studded mountain path made me any happier, finishing my fourth BWR and relishing the accomplishment sure did. For that little piece of serenity, we’re all in Michael’s debt.

If you missed this signal good-time-gone-great in 2012, 2013, 2014, or 2015, don’t worry.

We’ll be back!



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29 thoughts on “BWR 2015 recap: After the dust has settled”

  1. I was driving and thinking about my life and the whole thing (as I do) and decided that as a business, what separates SPY from a lot of other companies is the sense of joy that is injected and inspired from the top down. Something I aspire to.

  2. Not everyone can work the phrase “sallied forth” into a write up. Nice work!

  3. I was not staffed at the Questhaven turn nor anywhere else. I drove part of the course late in the afternoon with my daughter just to spectate and stopped at that turn to hang with friends Heather Nass and Richard Lee for a while, and snapped a photo of them there.

    That said it allowed me to see what they had to do. The riders coming from the west came around a blind downhill curve just before the left onto Questhaven. Heather and Richard were stationed on the south side because they had to be there to see when riders were descending through a hole in the trees. The opportunity was only a second long so if they looked away they would miss seeing them coming, which was the trigger to walk to the north side and block eastbound traffic so the riders could make that left turn smoothly without having to stop. For hours. With only bars for sustenance. I was impressed.

    1. It is a terrible thing that you have assumed anything in this post was either factual or worse, true. However, the discrepancy is noted.

      1. LOL. While I have your attention I will add this observation. The BWR is rare in that it is a popular race. Even the first wave has over 200 racers. That’s huge. Anyway, just observing for a couple of hours was all it took to convince me that somehow some way I have to do it next year. I’m due a new bike and it might just be one of those gravel-loving jobs.

        Congratulations on your fantastic time of 7:42, though a co-worker of mine managed 3 minutes faster. Let’s just say she is Quick.

  4. Congratulations to you and my other friends who finished this incredible event. However, the pre-event PR had some hiccups. Apparently someone (MM?) thought it was a good idea to post some very disturbing misogynistic “encouragements” on facebook which offended a whole slew of women who ended up withdrawing from the race. (I’m not sure what donkey punch has to do with the BWR, and I had to look it up on the urban dictionary to even know what it means, but the phrase was on the page because it’s referenced in the comments under Maddy’s attempt to control the PR damage). I’m hoping next year there are better controls about who gets to post what (and offend whom) on facebook.

    1. I didn’t know what a donkey punch was, but from what I’ve read it is gender neutral. I like people who are willing to take risks when they write and then apologize if they feel like they’ve misjudged. It’s infinitely preferable to self-censorship.

      I hope SPY continues to be edgy even if it pisses people off, especially since they’re willing to back off when it goes too far. Pushing the envelope, trying to be funny in a stilted and self-conscious world, taking risks, these are good things.

      And when you fuck up, there’s a “sorry” for that as long as it’s sincere!

      1. After MMX’s apology which sure sounded sincere to me it’s very disappointing to see this issue still being raised.

    2. Dear Tamar, thank you for citing the event as “incredible.” I see what you are hoping for next year, but my hope is that YOU sign up for the 2016 BWR so that you might experience the values promoted by SPY and the positive culture fervently being created by a legion of people with HTFU as their mantra.

      I think Maddy summed it up best: We hope the tone, point of view, positivity and uniqueness of the BWR continues to inspire 100% growth in its participation while a tiny minority can look for smaller and smaller irrelevant blemishes to cling to as the HTFU spirit overwhelms…

      1. As if! Thank you so much for suggesting that I could possibly survive the sufferfest. Congratulations on putting on such a challenging ride.

  5. Like I told MMX: “Dude. Since I met you I’ve done many things I never would have done otherwise. Thanks for that!”.
    If good company is the spice of life, the entire BWR Krewe is equal parts saffron and cayenne pepper.
    Top ten in 2016!

  6. Great post and a great event from a great company. Looking forward to riding in 2016!

  7. Thanks for your instructional post on how to do the BWR (three jerseys). It was immensely helpful and I survived the day with your advice. Great ride especially the dirt. And, like you said previously, the jersey is the same for first, last or in between. And a beautiful jersey it is!

    1. Hey, thanks for this kind note. I often fear that I’m casting my 0’s and 1’s into a sea of indifference! Makes my day to hear that some of these ramblings actually work. Congratulations to you!

  8. Dude…I never would have attempted half of the stuff I’ve tried with out your 1s and 0s out there. They are f’ing inspirational.

    Short list of cycling things your writing inspired me to try:

    Renting a bike on a work trip and climbing to 10K feet just because it was there.

    Or may be it’s just your infectious personality. Either way THANK YOU!

  9. I’ve worked BWR the past 3 years. Ran the Double peak station in 2013, marked course on the Saturday and rode “moto 1” at the front of the ride in 2014 (an amazing POV), marked course again on the Saturday in 2015 only to have the storm wipe out what we’d done. Kudos to Victor who was out until midnight redoing the first loop and part of the second.

    On Sunday right before the first waves left I was out marking the second loop and checking out conditions on Lusardi. As chair of the Black Mountain Citizen’s Advisory Committee a quick call and rendezvous with Sr Ranger Ed Christensen enabled us to get Lusardi back in the course for the afternoon (big thanks to Ed who did full recon and put up the course markers).

    I finished marking the second loop 10-15 minutes before the first rider crossed the line. A quick bite and then it was back out on the road to pull all of the course markings for the first loop. Made it back to Lost Abbey at about 7pm just in time to start tearing down.

    BWR is a great event, a unique event, and for as long as the formula stays true I’ll be there working my ass off. The badasses are you riders, I’m honored to be behind the scenes assisting the other volunteers and voluntolds in bringing together something special.

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