Saturday, August 6, 2016

RW24...the view from the other side.

This is RW24!!!
It's 11pm on the last Friday of July. My legs are tired, my eyes burn, I'm half buzzed from the free espresso shots donated by Colectivo and half drunk from Hamms and bourbon. I'm sitting in a garage in Riverwest, Milwaukee, a garage I've called "home" each year at this time for the past five years, with great friends watching the world go by. The Smiths and The Cure pour out of the speakers. I'm realizing I'll need to actually stand up soon to get over to Checkpoint 1 for my volunteer shift, because this year, for the first time ever, I'm not racing/riding Riverwest24, just volunteering and

For the first time in five years, I'm not on a team. It feels weird...really weird. I feel this sense of disconnect and am not sure I belong. Oh sure, friends from all over the midwest are here around me, and I'm still a part of the event as a volunteer, but there's still a slight pang in my heart, remembering what every year before has been. My legs, however, are happy I'm not racing since I just finished biking 100 miles out to the event, and will have to do the same Sunday for my return back home.

I somehow drag myself out of the camp chair, finish off the last sip of beer, and roll over to CP1 with my ex-husband and previous team mate. We wanted to do this together since every previous May Day, we'd make the trek to MKE for RW24 sign up and every previous year, we'd work on building up our team. This was our event and I was so happy he chose to ride out with me to volunteer.

Markham, my ex, working CP1

Steve Whitlow, THE MAN behind CP1 plus so much more (including peach whiskey)!

Jacob, one of my close friends, pulling the night shift for the tea

CP1 is in a way the quietest checkpoint. No huge parties, just a ton of camp chairs full of spectators, volunteers, and friends. It's on the northern most end of the course, and has honestly always been my favorite checkpoint because I love riding up to it in the middle of the night--having the Christmas lights lead the way. It's been run by, and in front of, Steve Whitlow's house (one of the founding organizers for RW24) since the beginning. Every couple hours, new bowls of food appear for riders coming through. Watermelon and bacon always seem to be the favorites. Because of my love for this checkpoint, I knew, when I wasn't actually riding in the event, I'd want to volunteer there. Oh sure, CP2 and 3 are just as fabulous with parties and music going all night long, but during the witching hour, I actually prefer the quiet, and of course the smiles on every volunteer's face.

Proving this is NOT a race!

CP2 and Robert after about 20 straight hours of volunteering

Visiting with friends. This event is about all types of bikes and riding styles.

I've volunteered for many alleycats in my life and many other types of bike events, but this one has got to have the strongest hold on my heart. I half considered volunteering all night long, but knew I'd be a waste the day after and wouldn't be able to roam the course and visit friends. Robert, a guy who drives to Wisconsin each year for this event, somehow pulls 24 hours of volunteering at CP2 each year. He is a god in my book and I would say in most RW24 rider's book. People like Robert, the organizers, and selfless volunteers truly make this event. Its magic would be completely lost without their energy and time. There is no way an event like this would have the same amount of power if it were run by a professional race company. It would feel robotic and I can assure you, I'd never participate again.

As our shifts ended, and we rolled back to our airbnb for a bit of sleep (just another odd thing...sleeping in a bed vs. in the car or a Westfalia for the event), I thought about what this event means to the local community and even to other communities across the Midwest since folks come from all over to participate. Although my love for it stems from it being a giant "family" reunion of sorts, I have also written blog posts and articles about it changing a neighborhood in the finest form of grass roots work. Almost every homeowner, and certainly every business owner, has to sacrifice something for this weekend. Whether it's a front yard, parking spot, not being able to pull your car out of your driveway, having to stay open longer hours, having a ton of sweaty, dirty cyclists essentially pillage your shelves (they pay for things of course...they just wipe restaurants, grocery and convenience stores out of their stock), or having to listen to music you may not like all throughout the night, there is a lot of patience and love that comes from this neighborhood even if the residents aren't cyclists. And in that lies the beauty. People who never ride bikes, sit out on their lawns cheering those who are riding on. I've called it, so many times, a 4.6 mile "block party" and I'm not sure how the community would react if it disappeared.

Towards the end of the 24 hours, we made our way back to Garage 707 to see the team we consider family off on their last lap. We were invited to join along, but it just didn't feel right since we weren't signed up for the event. Instead, we sauntered back to the airbnb, ate at Corazon, and just sat quietly for awhile...realizing the impact this event has made on our lives.

Will I ride in RW24 again? Honestly I'm not sure. I will most likely volunteer again, and may choose to ride solo next year (still basing myself out of Garage 707). People, events, and feelings change. Not for the bad, but life is organic. I'm guessing, come April, I'll be ready to head to the May Day sign up once again, but for now I'm just going to cherish the memories of this year and past years.

Once again, huge thanks go out to the community for hosting such an amazing event, the organizers for all the tireless and unpaid hours they put in, and the volunteers who make this thing happen!

Witnessing the rollout of the final lap for Riverwestfalia at Garage 707

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