Dirty Words: The Volunteer State

Behind the Glamour


By Sal Ruibal

Admit it, when it comes to volunteering to help organize, set up and take down the bike race finish area and clean the parking lot, we all murmur something like “Hey, thanks guys for all you do! Couldn’t do it without you!,” B.S. to the small army of volunteers picking up your nasty GU packets and paper plates soiled with baked bean sauce and hamburger juice off the grass at Lake Whatchacallit Park.

There’s a very easy answer to why we dash: Riding and racing a bike is a heck of a lot more fun than organizing, authorizing, certifying, insuring, assuring, cajoling and putting on a bike race. We feel guilty because we know our entry check doesn’t cover anywhere near the true cost of putting on a bike race. Volunteers who don’t get to raise their hands at the finish because they’re bent over wrestling with a heavy black plastic bag of your refuse see through your guilty gaze and easy wave.

Yeah, I’m guilty of all that and more. You, too.

Last weekend, I volunteered at the inaugural NoVa Epic mountain bike event in Fairfax County, Va. The NoVa Epic was inspired by our friends across the Potomac River in Montgomery County, Md. They call their ride the MoCo Epic.

The concept is simple: A supported ride (not race) through the county that connects singletrack, country paved trails and as few auto roads as possible to give riders a smorgasbord of what our respective counties have to offer to mountain bikers.

The NoVa Epic offered three options: A 65-mile metric century point-to-point route that started at the former Lorton Prison at Laurel Hill and included 28 miles of singletrack, a 40-mile point-to-point course primarily on our wonderful County Connector Trail (CCT) and a 20-mile loop course at the race finish area at Lake Fairfax.

Sounds like fun. And it was. But step back a bit and start thinking about what goes into an effort like that: the permitting process, course marking, police coordination, shuttle transportation for bikes and riders, on and on and on.

My very little piece of the volunteerism involved “sweeping” a section of the 40- and 65-mile courses, making sure that all riders were on the trail safe and sound: No biker left behind.

The weather on June 2 was bright and sunny, which quickly became muggy and stifling as the morning went on. Riding slowly is not fun, especially along a creek trail in deep woods in 100% humidity. I thought I knew Pohick Creek well until we zigged and zagged and dipped through many creek crossings, adding to our personal humidity levels.

By the time we got to Lake Accotink, the cicadas were chirping a funeral dirge for my legs. The decision had been made earlier postpone “de-marking” the trail (removing the red-and yellow course markings) until the next day. Great idea!

Since I was just a few blocks from my home, I peeled off the route and wished my fellow sweepers good luck and less humidity. My guilt at leaving the remaining sweepers to carry on was magnified when a late afternoon monsoon hit the county, inundating the course, but most if not all riders had made it to Lake Fairfax.

The next day was not a joy. I’ve done 12-hour races that were easier than “de-marking” my section of CCT trail and singletrack from Lake Accotink to Lake Braddock Park and beyond. It not only takes strong legs to ride the NoVa Epic, it apparently also takes several miles of colored course tape. I wondered why people on the trail were looking at me like I was crazy until I realized I had over-stuffed my jersey with a bushel of red and yellow trail tape.

I left some of the red singletrack track tape untouched, hoping our neighbors at Accotink and Wakefield would have some fun riding a piece of the NoVa Epic route. Maybe they’ll sign up next year. As volunteers.

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