Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Riverwest24 That Almost Wasn't--for me at least

Team Garage 707 Crashers at the finish line

It's the morning of Friday, July 25th--essentially Christmas eve morning for us heathens.  I hop in the car to pick up some last minute provisions (ie beer, salt, fat, sugar) for this year's Riverwest24.  I get about a mile down the road and start to smell gasoline.  When I pull into the parking lot another block down, I realize the smell is coming from my car.  After inspection, I discover the resident chipmunks in my yard--which are cooking in a large pot as I write this--had eaten holes in the fuel hose and gas had been sputtering all over the engine.  Well shit.  In three hours I was supposed to have the car loaded with bikes, one of my five teammates, gear, and be on my way to Milwaukee.  The auto shops of course can't fit me in, and the auto rentals are booked on my side of town.  I start making emergency calls and thankfully, an angel loans me her Mountaineer.  I haul ass across town by bike and comically find myself in a hulking V8 SUV--mind you I drive once a week, and it's a Toyota Echo--but it's big enough to carry everything and the kitchen sink and it will get us to Milwaukee.

Once we make it through the cluster construction around the zoo interchange, and we find ourselves in Riverwest, I begin to relax, as well as get excited.  Those who have seen me at events, know I start doing this funny little "hop thing" when I'm excited.  I actually start bouncing like a bunny...and bounce I did.  I had no idea what to expect from the event this year, I never do, but I was excited to be hanging with two teams of friends for over twenty-four hours while riding, eating, drinking and NOT sleeping.

Lining up for the start

Waiting at Locust with a friend on the first lap

As in years past, half our team were RW24 veterans, half were newbies.  Our cycling experiences ranged from triathlons to gravel to trials riding.  We were bonded together by our love of cycling and our love for acting like kids.  I got to lead out the first few laps since I was the only one present with RW24 experience (our other two veterans were on their way from Madison after work).  Nothing unexpected, which was such a nice surprise after last years downpour and multiple crashes due to the rain, just hurry up and wait and while waiting, chat with friends at stop signs.

Midnight manifest hand off.  The purple bike is the one that was stolen--if you see it, let me know.

Part of team Riverwestfalia doing their first Beers for Volunteers laps

The laps, bonus checkpoints and riding shifts clicked by.  Evening turned into night, the course became a wave blinking red lights, different music could be heard from every corner along with the stream of "thank yous" to the selfless volunteers for helping keep the major crossings safe and all was good until...

Somehow, in the middle of the night, around 1:30am, my husbands brand spanking new bike was stolen.  It had been leaning against the garage we were all stationed out of, lit up by garage lights and in plain sight, but just in the shadows enough to be snuck away by someone coming through the alley.  I was out on course when it happened.  I came back to hand off the manifest, did the quick switch, and noticed my husband sitting on the curb with a queasy look on his face.  He told me what happened, and I didn't believe him.  How the hell could this happen?  I knew each year at least one bike is stolen during RW24, but we were so safe.  Also, for some stupid reason, I thought my love for Milwaukee (I openly gush about it on a regular basis) and my love for RW24, would shield us from something like this happening.  Besides, I had already paid my dues with the car trouble earlier, we didn't need this--it's supposed to be a happy weekend!

As the thoughts about this incident began to fade, either due to lack of sleep, busting out more laps, being around really cool people who wanted to help or just needing to enjoy an event we look forward to all year, I began to have fun again.  Yes, we were still down a bike, and that sucked the big one, but we were in it with an extended family who fed us, kept us liquored up and got us to smile again.

Getting my first Riverwest24 tattoo

Me after hitting three foul balls while playing soft ball
As part of my bonus checkpoints I got to play softball, fish garbage out of the river, play poker, dance the hand jive and get tattooed.  Yep, for the first time in three years, I chose to get inked.  It wasn't that big of a deal since I've got plenty of body art, but for me, getting inked by an unknown artist is a bit sketchy.  I picked the artist because he co-owned a shop in New Orleans.  Stupid, I know.  But for me, during a crazy weekend, I saw this as a sign because of my infatuation with New Orleans.  So around 10am, my teammate Dan Hobson and I went down to Truly Spoken and I met Terry Brown, my tattoo artist.  I will jokingly say the universe aligned.  First, getting inked in a bike shop is fantastic, second, Terry knew who Dan was since he saw him play with Killdozer at concerts and loved his music, third, another friend who I didn't know if I would see, Tristan, came in and it turned out to be a little party while Terry stuck a needle into me for fifteen minutes, fourth, getting the tattoo pushed our team over to beat our last years lap count (not that I was counting, and not that this is a "race").

Jake showing his love 
As so many people I know who have done RW24 say, the hours between breakfast and four or five pm are odd.  Everyone is a bit tired, the heat usually starts to build, people get a bit edgy, it always feels like you have a headwind and traffic starts to build again.  Things "could" get ugly during these hours--but you know what, they don't.  Folks may choose to take some quiet time by rolling off course for an hour or two or they may choose to walk around the course to get a different angle, but somehow people stay sane.  From five to seven pm, people begin to "smell the barn" or "see the light at the end of the tunnel".  Times are calculated to see if folks can get another shift in or if it's worth hitting another bonus checkpoint.  Similar to how I feel during the last couple days on a bike tour, I get a little emotional.  Although I'm more than happy to end the event so I can shower and eat real food, I'm also a little weepy and I dread having to say goodbye for another year.  I build up this event in my head so much every year that when it's over or almost over, I don't really know what to do with myself.  This year, at the last minute, right after our two teams did our "victory lap", I chose to bust out one final lap with sandals and a skirt on.  I had less than twenty minutes to do it and I knew I had it in me as long as the traffic lights and marsupial bridge congestion cooperated.  Seventeen minutes later, still on my single speed, I showed up one hell of a hot mess.  I don't want to know what I looked or smelled like, I was just happy to do one final spin.

Finishing a previous haircut from bonus checkpoint "snip snip"

Twizzler hand ups

Our "family" just kept growing

I do love surfing

So now, I sit here in my kitchen, and instead of licking my wounds from the shitty things that happened during and before the event, I get to baby my tattoo and graze over all the pictures people posted.  I am so happy to have once again been a part of this magical event.  Thank you Steve, Wendy, Jeremy and all the other organizers who gave up so much time and energy over the last year to make this happen.  Thank you to the 400 volunteers who made the event a possibility.  And thank you to my team, as well as the team who housed us yet again.  As Dan would say, through a construction cone of course, "You are winning!"

Most of team Riverwestfalia--their other member is in the formal finish line picture

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