Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
Whenever a racer shakes my hand and compliments our professional event, I have to stop myself from gesturing over my shoulder and asking, "but didn't you see the bearded woman over there?" Yes, we have the ultimate singletrack, which goes without saying, but it's the band of misfits that create our traveling circus who make each year a unique experience. We don't offer our crew any cue cards or give them 'smile' signs while they are making your foot long sandwiches. The BC Bike Race brand is personality and people; it’s about who owns a chicken suit, plays the drums or cooks the best bacon. Even our trails represent the personalities of the people who design them.
As race organizers, we can only put a framework in place; it is the mix of racers and crew who make our event truly special and unique each year. We travel and live together for seven days and, during that time, we create a dysfunctional and truly awesome family. We bond. We live in the trenches together. We get to know each other intimately, through challenging days, celebrated achievements and thin tent walls.
At the office, we prep for the event just like our racers do: immediately supercharged a year in advance by registration, and then maybe a little less eager through the middle of the year, when the race seems so far away. Suddenly, the countdown is on and we are ordering porta-potties and finalizing last minute requests (because you know I love last minute requests) while racers get their extra miles in. When everyone arrives, we are just as nervous as they are for the week to come. Will our improvements work? Will our untested-until-now theories be proven? Did we order enough porta-potties? We all only get one shot at this each year. Ready or not, here come 550 international racers.
The first two days have racers and crew finding their stride and place in the pack. When the race actually starts, the racers work hard on course, our crew works hard at camp, and we start to form this bond of mutual appreciation. By day two, we are squarely in it together. While our encouraging words and precisely sliced watermelon keeps them going, their expressed gratitude and high-fives keep us going.
Over the next five days of racing, we share in the highs and lows together. It's not like a racer crosses the finish line to find us reclined with a beer saying “Oh hey, so there you are.” We are sometimes in the medical tent with them, cheers'ing our IV bags to the long day we've had.
F#*k Day 4. Day 4 is the ultimate hump day. For crew and racers alike, it is by far our hardest day. We all know it's coming and have a hard time relaxing until it arrives. The logistics of it feel to our crew like the 2,000 meters of climbing feel to our racers. The riding is still beautiful and scenic and so are the necessary floatplane rides that some of the crew and racers take, but damn is it a hard day. We survive through the flat tires, keys locked in vans and surprise climbs, and we know that as each of us finally arrives at basecamp that day, it is only going to get easier. If it wasn't for Day 4, we wouldn't feel the achievement that we do – it can't all be fun and games…. everyone would be losing eyes.
In Squamish, we introduce our guest day. Seventy riders with fresh legs start at the back of the pack. While the fresh faces and eagerness should bring some fun and motivation for our tired racers, their enthusiasm sometimes makes you want to beat it out of them while yelling, "You slept in your own bed last night didn't you?!" Now that we are back on the mainland, our friends and reinforcements have joined us on the crew, providing some much needed relief. Only those who have done the race before understand how to fit in seamlessly. Others, well rested and eager, have my head yelling, "You can't understand what we've been through, this is our 'Nam, man!"
Day 7 is just one more push. We aren't sad about it being over just yet because we all need every ounce of energy to get to the finish line. We do everything we can to get each and every racer there and greet them with hugs and finisher medals as they cross. If I smell like I've hugged more than 500 sweaty people at the end of the day, it's because I have. Seeing those faces is what makes a year of prep and a week that goes by much too quickly the job that I love so much.
Day 8 of the BC Bike Race isn't something we really talk about. It's the day that everyone wakes up and realizes that it's over. While racers' and crew members' bodies alike are grateful for the reprieve, our minds and souls start going through withdrawal. We are suddenly the romantically-entwined teenagers of every summer camp movie, who stand around promising to write each other. We all know those romances wouldn't have lasted and neither would the race stoke, even if we tried to keep it going. Seven days are enough. But it's sad every year and we spend the eighth day uploading photos and adding new friends on Facebook, sharing stories and trying to hold on to what made our week so great, as we slowly slip back into reality. It's not a reality that we hate, it's just simply not race week anymore.
While this girl is finally able to walk around without accidentally seeing men liberally applying chamois butter, the hardest part about leaving it behind for another year is knowing that, even when it arrives again, it will go by just as fast.