On Saturday I rode in the annual Burke's Garden Century/Metric Century. Burke's Garden is a natural flattened valley within a raised mountain ridge encircling it (pictured above; more about it here). I love the description of this supported ride:
They aren't kidding. It's not at all safe to bike/walk/eat out/grocery shop around town during move-in days and for a few days after."This century has become a tradition for the New River Valley Bicycle Association since 1997 when a long time member initiated this ride for a casual outing to avoid campus traffic on Move In day for Virginia Tech."
I did the metric century (100k = 62 miles) as it fit better with my training plan and my desire to be reasonably functional the following day for a long run. Plus Coach Jim said so. (Let it be known it was NOT easy to drive past the full century riders to the meet-up spot, then again after.)
The ride is all of $8 ($10 day of). What I love is there are no t-shirts, no aid stations (just some stores along the route), no numbers, no fru-fru, but we DO have SAG vehicles, great riders, and a fun course!
This is the only picture I have from the ride, from my one stop, to wipe off my sunglasses. It rained off and on and I, and my glasses, were filthy.
With Justin Hendrix who also trains with Coach Jim
So anyway, back to the story. I saw the SAG (Support and Gear) vehicles, identifiable by their magnetic signs, a few times along the ride and gave them a little cursory cyclist wave of appreciation. I was glad to know they were there in case I had a flat, because that's what they do, right? Later that day, we had a New River Valley Bicycle Association potluck party and I talked to one of the SAG drivers - Kathy. I had met her earlier this summer at the Bike Valet.
Kathy and Jim at the Bike Valet in June
I had NO idea all the things that SAG drivers do for us! I figured they drove around, helped change flats and manage mechanical malfunctions and maybe did some basic first aid. Oh no -- there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes, at least for Kathy!
Kathy was the one who had gone ahead and marked the potholes in Burke's Garden with spray paint so we had a better chance of avoiding them. The road that encircles the town is in pretty rough shape and would require maybe 1000 cans of spray paint and two solid weeks to mark all the holes. But for a stretch, she had marked them all, and added chevrons and all sorts of marks that very clearly conveyed the following:
"Cyclists, this is an example of how bad the roads are and you'd better be vigilant and pick a good line between the holes! I have run out of paint, but you get the idea!!"
She was also the one who had put directional signs out for navigationally challenged people like me. There are a total of maybe six turns, and I've ridden the route before, but I find it very reassuring to see those yellow signs. I don't have to waste energy debating whether or not I am lost.
Here's where it gets even more interesting.
Roadkill removal is part of her job description, according to Kathy. She described removing a dead possum from the middle of a switchback descent on our ride. She said, "I wasn't going to let all our riders go past that dead possum." She put on a pair of rubber gloves (an essential SAG supply she noted), grabbed the thing by the tail, and heaved it over the side of the road!! She explained at another ride, she encountered a giant dead vulture in the road. She said there was no head, just feathers, but she found the feet and gave that creature a similar heave-ho! She no doubt saved some cyclists from their own carnage had they hit either.
Then there is canine management. On this particular ride Kathy dealt with two dogs. A dog leash is standard SAG equipment for her, but after this ride she said it will be more than one. Who knew? The first dog incident was a roaming puppy that she returned to the home where it temporarily belonged. They were looking for a new home for the stray dog, and had no leash, so Kathy left the puppy and the leash, gratis.
The second dog was a large overly-friendly sort that a group of cyclists had stopped to try to manage when Kathy happened by. She loaded the "very shedding dirty dog" into her car and secured him with a 6' bike cable lock because she'd given the leash away. Then called the number on the dog tag only to discover it was out of service. So she went into detective mode, drove toward town, saw a person with a dog, pulled into their driveway, and asked if they knew the person listed on the dog's tag. Amazingly, they knew the owner and the dog, and gave Kathy a colorful description of where to go to return the dog. Kathy completed the dog return and the cyclists had one less danger on the road!
She shared other SAG secrets including having a broom to sweep gravel from roads, and carrying cold, wet washcloths in a cooler to boost weary cyclists.
Kathy of course had other stories related to first aid and bike repair that further convinced me that SAG drivers are the guardian angels, the sentries, the unsung heroes of large supported bike rides.
I am extremely grateful to her and to others who volunteer their time to make these types of rides safer and more enjoyable for us all!