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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