“Are you running a zoo?” I’m stood at the checkout of Aldi with two hundred bananas – but surely the dozen cakes, two jars of coffee and mini packs of haribo sweets give the game away… I’m organising an Audax.
At the end of the 2017 season of Audaxing in the UK, St Helen’s Church and VeloClub 167 collaborated in the organisation of a pair of long distance cycling events; the Humber Bridge 100km and the Humber Bridge 200km. These events attracted over 120 entries from as far afield as Cumbria, Wales, the South East and Northumberland.
For me, being an Organiser is a mixture of sacrifice and hope. There is joy in the sacrifice, but not a religious self-flagellation: more a bittersweet joy of giving up something I really love doing, so that others can have a good time.
This involves choices: I could have made this a low key affair. I could have recruited a team of volunteers to cover for me while I rode the event. Instead I was blessed to meet every single rider personally, to set them off… and patiently wait for them to return: hoping they are all okay and hoping that they are having a good time and hoping that they are safe and hoping that the route is good and hoping that I’ll have enough of the right food to feed them when they get back. Sacrifice and hope.
I wonder whether I was lucky, or blessed, that nothing went horribly wrong. There was plenty of scope for this to be an utter disaster. For example I’d ‘route checked’ several times and felt confident that everything was nice and accurate – but when a friend rode it with fresh eyes he found loads of problems and made a significant contribution to the route-sheet being friendly and decipherable. Another potential problem was the Humber bridge itself because with two weeks to go I had a telephone call from the bridge authority ‘Events Manager’. I hadn’t asked permission to run my event over the bridge! A quick turn-round with the forms – and – thanks to the Audax UK insurance I was cleared to go ahead. Never mind the near miss with the Hull Marathon using the bridge the following day.
Organising an event could be a smooth operation for detail focussed people, but for big picture people like me – where the idea of failure never crosses our minds in the planning stages – there is a massive potential for failure. The route. The Humber bridge. The parking: with two weeks to go I had so many entries I was worrying about the car parking! Thank goodness South Hunsley School stepped in with a solution to avoid me becoming a pariah in the village.
Another aspect of organising – and this blog is not a detailed checklist of things to consider – were the wonderful volunteers who baked and helped on the day. My church community really gave me a massive boost by surrendering an entire day of their time to support this audax; there were at least twenty people involved on the day and I was blown away by their enthusiasm for our sport. The baking was tremendous and on top of that they showed an honest interest in each rider, really keen to hear that they had enjoyed themselves.
I was also delighted that Jess and Will had gladly agreed to photograph the start. Will is a professional photographer and the quality of his work is stunning. There is a high quality Flickr album of the photographs by following this link.
The telephone rang. “Hi Graeme. There’s a problem in Goole. The bridge through the docks is shut.”
This was the moment when panic struck and the blood ran from my face. Over a hundred cyclists were heading for Goole and the bridge was out – the first riders through, Gill and Ian from Selby, had called to break the bad news to me.
Do I drive to Goole? What do I do?
A web search revealed a map to the footbridge crossing in the middle of Goole docks – something which turned out to be a highlight of the ride for those who found it. I started texting riders who’d given me their mobile numbers. I share instructions on twitter, facebook and through the yacf cycling forum. In the depths of my anxiety something spoke to me… pray. In church, I walked to the altar and kneeled down. “Lord Jesus, please keep everyone safe. Please help them to find their way: I trust in you even in my failure. Jesus – I pray that everyone finds their way home safely and in joy. Lord, in your mercy – hear my prayer.” What else could I do?
I waited with breath held – waited for the first riders to return…
(I think I’ll leave the feedback to the comments section where I’ve posted some of the really lovely emails I’ve received since the event.)