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Volunteer Spotlight: Gear Drop

This month we’re talking to the fellas from Gear Drop. With the wide temperature ranges fall brings, it’s a true luxury to be able to layer up in the morning and then strip down when it warms up. This crew makes sure your gear gets back to camp that day so you can repeat the process the next.

We talked to Dennis Garbacik (pictured left) and Michael Hoffman (below right) about several things.

How did you come to be involved with Cycle O, and has it evolved over time?

Dennis: My wife rode a weekend event and wanted to try the week-long. I found out that volunteers were needed and submitted my name and skills. Received a call from Ingrid a few weeks later and she signed me up.

Michael: I rode the first CO Weekend event in 2004 and then CO 18 (Boardman to Astoria) in 2005.

I’m not a long-timer in terms of my familiarity with CO, but having been a volunteer now for three years, I see many behind-the-scenes improvements each year. The CO staff does an amazing job of improving on what works well from year to year and fixing what doesn’t.

Obviously, becoming greener has been a big push. In the realm of Gear Drop, CO changed from using plastic bags to hold rider gear (resulting in a huge amount of non-recyclable waste each day) to using re-usable nylon tent bags… which came from the Tent & Porter tents and were sitting unused in the CO warehouse.

Tell us the details of what you (and your team, if applicable) do.

Dennis: Our job is pretty simple. When the riders leave in the morning it’s usually quite cool, so they dress warm. After the first 15 or so miles they are warmed up and are ready to start shedding some of their clothing. We give them an empty tent storage bag with a piece of duct tape that they write their rider number on. They can drop their extra clothing with us at the first rest stop and then again at lunch. We then transport their clothing to the next overnight site, where they can retrieve it for the next day.

What skills or traits are important in your role?

Michael: Many riders are hungry and tired by the time they get to a Gear Drop location. Even a few days into the event they still make mistakes in the drop-off process. Consequently we need to pay attention so proper rider numbers are put on bags and bags make it into the right boxes. A simple mistake can make it very difficult for riders to find their gear at the end of the day.

We haul hundreds of bags of riding apparel each day and we need to get the right bag back to the right rider. Gear Drop has significantly grown in popularity over the past few years. It’s not uncommon for many riders to actually drop gear multiple times each day: once at the first rest stop to get rid of the heavy warm riding coats and then again at lunch to drop armies and leggies.

Why is what you do important for riders, and how does that impact your approach to doing it?

Dennis: It’s important for them to be at a comfortable temperature while riding. I’m not a cyclist, so dropping a few ounces of weight means nothing to me, but it means a lot to them. All I can do is give them an empty bag and assure them their clothing will get back to them at the end of the day. One thing I strive to avoid is having them wait in a long line. A lot of them spend extra time at our stops to relax but some want to get in, drop some gear, get a snack and get back on the route. They spend a lot of time in lines at other places, but I don’t want that to happen at Gear Drop.

Michael: Shed & Schlep: Gear Drop is a free weight-loss program. It’s all about shedding pounds. Riders put up with the weight of many layers of apparel during cold or wet weather, but it’s a burden to carry such clothes on the bike when weather improves later in day.

What would a rider be surprised to know about what goes on behind the scenes on Cycle O?

Dennis: Two things. First would be the number of hours the volunteers put in from the Kick-Off event through the end of the ride. There’s data entry, packet stuffing, HAM radio people checking out the terrain for radio communications, site teams, etc. Second would be the people who volunteer. Volunteers are business owners, engineers, computer industry professionals, people from out of state and out of country, etc.

Michael: There’s a lot of amazing logistics that take place behind the scenes. Many, many people that make CO happen are rarely, if ever, seen by riders, but they provide essential services to make CO run smoothly. When I first became a volunteer, the biggest eye opener for me to see was the Tent & Porter service. Riders may not realize that there are actually two full sets of T&P tents and there’s a crew of kids leapfrogging back and forth between host towns to take down, transport and set up the massive amounts of tents. Those kids are amazing and work incredibly long hours for the entire week.

Why do you keep coming back?

Dennis: As long as my wife enjoys the ride I’ll be a volunteer. Plus, I’d probably never venture out to many of the places we travel through, so why pass up the opportunity when everything is planned out? All I need to do is show up.

Michael: The riders! My role allows me to interact with a lot of them each day.

As a volunteer I frequently get thanked by riders for using my vacation time for the event. I always internally chuckle when thanked: I participate in the cycling culture and camaraderie of the volunteers, I enjoy the great food and entertainment CO provides, I interact with interesting people from all over (riders and townfolk), I get to enjoy the same beautiful scenic routes as riders, I get to do so from the comfort of an air conditioned/heated van … often with a nice hot chocolate or cold beverage by my side … and I didn’t have to train for months ahead of time or fork out a good chunk of change so that I can have such an enjoyable week! Volunteers should be thanking the riders for funding our vacations.

How would you describe Cycle Oregon as an event to someone who’s never heard of it?

Dennis: One of the craziest small towns in Oregon on the move by bike for seven straight days, with almost all the amenities of home included.

Michael: It’s hard to convince people that are used to other large rides that CO is any different from the rest. Many major rides have good services and support. Yet you ask anyone who has done CO and they’ll tell you that the routes, towns, food, entertainment, logistics and support of CO are far beyond any other event of its size. Until you experience CO you don’t realize the significance of such a statement.

Tell us about a favorite moment (or two) from along the way.

Dennis: Every year a few people try to give me a tip. A couple of years ago three ladies came up to me and said they found a $20 bill and wanted me to turn it in to get it back to the rightful owner. We had a good laugh about that one. Then another year I found a man’s wedding band in one of the gear drop boxes. I turned it in but never heard if it got back to the owner. Of course there were a lot of theories about why it was in the box.

Michael: Last year (CO 23) we had a Gear Drop at the lunch stop in Walla Walla. Many riders spent a few hours walking around the town before continuing back to Waitsburg after lunch, and in doing so picked up a bottle of wine or two. Although we couldn’t haul the wine back to Waitsburg for riders, we had many riders put their water bottles in Gear Drop bags and transport their wine in their water bottle cages on their bike… with the help of a little duct tape. That was quite a sight to see.

I get asked quite frequently whether Gear Drop can be used to transport some pretty odd items back to camp: rocks, souvenirs, laptop computers, wine. But one request beat them all. It was CO Weekend 2009, where a lot of families participated together. While one couple was dropping off gear, they asked if they could put their young daughter in a Gear Drop box and have me haul her back to camp.

What year has been the most memorable for you, and why?

Dennis: Probably last year because I was able to attend the Pendleton Round-Up. I thank the person that came up with that idea, because I doubt I would ever have attended on my own. It was great.

Is there a host town that really made an impression on you? Why?

Dennis: Probably Elgin. I don’t get much time to see the towns, but I spent more off time there than any other place. The first year there was a high school football game. I talked with a few residents during the game. They were struggling with the poor economy and had some sad stories to tell. The town supported the ride with all the energy they could muster, from the youngest kids to some of their oldest residents. It matched the stories you hear about people in small towns coming together for a common cause, but that was the first time I had ever experienced it.

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