We always do our best to let you know about all the hard work our amazing corps of volunteers puts in to make Cycle Oregon happen. This year, we decided to let some of the volunteers tell you about it in their own words. Each month we’ll let one or more members of one of the volunteer “teams” answer our questions for you. We hope it provides insight into the logistics – and thankfulness for what these folks do.
This month, we focus on the sign team. And unless you’re a first-time rider, you may already know that this crew is renowned for its, shall we say, puckish sense of humor. If you are in fact a rookie, well, you’ve been warned.
We talked to sign team members Mike Stevens and Don Moir. Mike is part of the sweep team, which goes behind the ride, and Don is with the team that goes ahead of the ride. Besides being on different teams, the two also take somewhat different approaches to answering questionnaires.
What is your role on Cycle Oregon, and how long have you been doing it?
Mike: I’ve been volunteering on the Sweep Sign Team for the past three years.
Don: During the Vietnam War, the navigator/bombardier of the F4 Phantom was nicknamed GIB (guy in back). I am the GIB of the sign van. I get to hide in the back, once in awhile allowed out to remove road kill, animal droppings or broken bottles from the roadway, and often sent careening down snake-infested gravel embankments looking for places to hang pinkies (directional arrows, not fingers). Meanwhile the pilot Bob Mathews and copilot Christine Heffernan lounge about in the cockpit sipping Perrier and receiving adoration, high-fives and praise from cyclists and the like.
How did you come to be involved with Cycle O, and has it evolved over time?
Mike: I’ve ridden CO six times. Being an aggressive and fast rider who had little appreciation for the small towns we went through, and being an early riser and non-partier, I often got into camp about 1 p.m. Basically, I got bored each day. I watched the set-up crews work, and often asked how I could help. Ingrid suggested I volunteer, so I did. (Frankly, I think she got tired of me asking how I could help.) And I love it!
Don: My cycling buddy Bob Mathews, long-time leader/guru of the sign team, told me tales of adventure, romance, travel, sleep deprivation and rewarding hard labor gained by signing on with the CO sign team. Since my application with the French Foreign Legion had been denied due to my lack of a criminal record, I jumped at the chance to see Oregon.
Tell us the details of what you (and your team, if applicable) do.
Mike: We have a team of three folks and a truck. We leave camp about 10 a.m., supposedly well after riders are on the road (late riders cause us to be out late, sometimes very late). Our task is to collect all the paper signs, highway warning signs and sometimes trash left on the route as CO leaves an area. We eventually catch up with the last rider of the day. At that point we also act as encouragement and support while we monitor the progress and condition of these riders. As we get into the destination of the day, we collect additional signs, and sometimes help set up signage for the next day. Often our day ends around 7 p.m. – although sometimes later.
Don: The sign team’s mantra is cyclist safety, first and foremost. Each function we perform, from clear signage, hazard information and debris removal to providing coffee for the ride director, is geared to getting the cyclists from camp to camp efficiently, safely and hopefully with a few things to laugh about along the way. It is also an unwritten responsibility of the sign team to confront the ride director with an outrageous prank or two if and when his game face gets a little too severe.
Why is what you do important for riders, and how does that impact your approach to doing it?
Mike: Our goal is that “no sign gets left behind” showing that CO was there. We want to make sure the community doesn’t have to clean up after us. This demonstrates that CO really cares about that community and for the roads that we travel. When the 2,000+ of us come by, we want to leave no trace. Once we leave camp, our team is the “last chance” to make this impression.
Don: Rider safety and efficient navigation are two factors that make CO such a great event. It really motivates us to get it right, really right, and make it a fun experience for all concerned.
What would a rider be surprised to know about what goes on behind the scenes on Cycle O?
Mike: The key thing is the incredible teamwork that happens. For example, often at the end of the ride there are two or three vehicles (meaning five to eight people) behind the last rider: the sweep team, a SAG vehicle, and possibly some of the event organizers. And it’s amazing to watch the crews that pull down the tents; it’s like watching a ballet!
Don: The average rider has no idea what great planning and detail go into the event. The communication between the CO team is excellent. They are not afraid to make independent decisions, they are all good listeners and react to events such as road closures, accidents, inclement weather, forest fires, etc. with great speed and clarity. The logistical organization, the attention to detail, is really a marvel.
Why do you keep coming back?
Mike: The CO leadership team is the best I’ve ever worked with. They care about the people doing the work that needs to be done, that the work gets done, and how communities are impacted. They work harder than any volunteer organization I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with many. They really care! And because of this, they make sure the sub-teams like ours are folks who can work well together.
Don: The people we work with, the humor, camaraderie, the punishing hours. Bob Mathews has evolved the sign system over the years, yet we continue to streamline, improve the process, make the van more efficient. I also enjoy seeing parts of Oregon that are really spectacular. It’s a good feeling at the end of the day, knowing two thousand-plus cyclists are safe and sound in camp, ready to gear up for the next leg. My wife Susan volunteers in retail sales, and although our schedules are vastly different, it’s fun to help each other through the week, and see the event through her eyes, which involves much more rider contact.
How would you describe Cycle Oregon as an event to someone who’s never heard of it?
Mike: For a rider, it’s the best-supported ride you’ll find anywhere (and I’ve been on most of them). For a volunteer, your work is appreciated and making a difference in the small communities of Oregon.
Don: It’s a two-wheeled circus, adventuring across rural landscapes. It’s serious cycling, yet a playful week. CO is a really good vacation bargain for cyclists, and a keen physical challenge.
What year has been the most memorable for you, and why?
Mike: 2009 was the most memorable for me. I backed the truck into a ditch trying to get to a sign we had missed, and got stuck. Eventually a small pickup with a tow chain came by and we had that small two-wheel-drive truck pull our “four-wheel drive” truck out of the ditch. Sigh… I avoid backing up now.
Don: My first year as sign team volunteer. I showed up with shorts, Tevas and T-shirts, expecting a lark of a week. I soon realized I needed really good work clothes, strong shoes, gloves and a whole lot of stamina, sunblock and patience. The physicality of the job was greatly underestimated, and I believe is misunderstood by those who have not done it. My experience has shown that it is easier to ride the course than to work it.
Is there a host town that really made an impression on you? Why?
Mike: Paisley was the first city on my first ride. I remember the cowboys, the high (SOFT) grass tenting area, the ladies in their era-accurate dresses (just like in the movies), and the friendliness of everyone. It was part of a great adventure!
Don: The sign team does not get involved in the community like most of the other volunteers. We are in and out, often in the dark, and rarely get to see what the community provides or offers for the event. Having visited Happy Camp, Calif., on a pre-ride check, I found it a sad place, nestled in great natural beauty. When the actual event occurred, however, the community had transformed itself to enjoy and celebrate the biggest event that had ever visited their remote location, and it was very cool to see the pride and hospitality they shared with us.