Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A snippet from last year...

I was just reading my emails from the 2003 San Deigo event and realized that what I put down into words last year is still appropriate this year for the 2004 events. So, apologizing to those who read this last year, here is the best way I can describe at day on the route for a MotoCrew member...

Let me describe a typical day for me on the motorcycle safety crew, or MotoCrew as we were known. It was nothing like I expected. I had an image of those motorcycling Shriners you see at all of the large parades running down the edge of the walkers to make sure no one gets in their way. Not quite what happened. My day started with a 4:30am alarm so that I could be on my bike before sunrise and make it to our morning breakfast meeting at the camp site. Our team of 10 men and women met with our captain, reviewed the route and “hot spots” for the day and then, around 6am, took off to our “spots”. A spot is a location where walkers may have a challenge crossing a street or getting to the next part of the walk. At our spot, we dismounted our bikes, and started pressing buttons, if there were any. That means that for intersections with lights we pushed the walk button then held traffic for the right turning cars to make sure the walkers made it across safely. For intersections without traffic signals, we stepped out to halt traffic and still ensure the walkers were safe. Going between spots (three or so per day, 3 hours or so at each) we rode the route, honked and cheered. Really, we were watching for walkers in trouble to make sure that whoever was having issues was attended to. Doesn’t sound like much, and it really wasn’t. I found out in the first 30 minutes, however, that that was not my real job. I was a cheerleader. I was an information booth. I was a hugger. I was an inspiration to use the words of several walkers. My job was to get them to the next spot emotionally, if not physically. So, from 6am until 6pm, I was on the course supporting walkers.

I fully expected to be a small cog in a very large wheel. There were over 450 crew members and many more volunteers out there. Why would I or the motorcrew be any different? Well, there was one big difference; most of the 450 other folks were stationary. That means that they were in a pit stop or in a camp or driving around looking for walkers who needed a ride to the end. What made us different? We were with the walkers. They would walk for a mile or more with their walking buddies or, often, alone before they saw one of us in our bright orange “Safety” T-Shirts. They had no idea how far they had gone or where the next porta-potty and food stop where. I could see them coming and the smiles would start. Through the blisters and bruised knees, they would smile. They smiled because they knew we were there to talk to them, to hug them (and there were A LOT of hugs), to cheer them on and to tell them what was next. By the end of day two, about a 1,000 walkers knew me by name. By the end of day 3 nearly all of them did.

That was my typical day. To feel what the other 2,400 people did, they got up at the same time, then packed their bag, collapsed their tents, brushed their teeth and, in the morning dew, wearing shorts and tennis shoes, they started walking. 20 miles later, after a lunch that, depending on their walking speed, came sometime between 9:00am and 11:00am, they arrived in camp to do the whole thing again. Oh, and to add insult to injury (literally), they had to set up their own tent when they got there.

The amazing thing was that, even though they were sore, they never stopped smiling. Some were singing the whole way. Others invented cheers to yell. And every time one of our motorcycles went by, we honked and they yelled! Thumbs up meant, “I am still doing great and don’t call a sweep van for me”.

On Day 0, the day before they started walking, there was a video. It was proclaimed that the motto, slogan and jingle for the 3-Day was simple, “No Whining”. I heard that from a lot of walkers. “How are you all doing?”… “Two new blisters but I am not whining! How far to the next pit stop with the medical tent?”

And, in the end, I stood on the sidewalk as they were 100 feet from the finish line. We all cried. The ones who still had a spring in their step and the ones who were limping. The ones helping someone else make the finish line and the ones being helped. Hugs, kisses, tears; all of them in the last few feet. And who was lining that walk way? Family and friends for sure but mostly walkers who had already crossed the line. They all came back to clap for their new friends and camp-mates.

This year, unlike last, I camped along with the walkers. That meant that I too had to set up my tent, grab a quick shower in the trailers and hit the sack at 9pm to prepare for the next days 4am wake up call.

Oh, and by the way, I am already signed up for 2005 (at least one event)!

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