Monday, April 27, 2009

AAR from the face of America bike ride, 2009

Let me begin by saying that we, the members of team Chuck Z, Angels and Asphalt, had a great time. I only have last year to compare to this year, and last year pretty much kicked my ass.

This year, I completed the entire ride, both days, without so much as a push from another rider or getting off the bike and walking. For me, that was one hell of an achievement. (and yes, my ass was still kicked, but thanks to a TENS unit and modern chemistry, I didn't have to curl up in bed each night and sob myself to sleep.) I pushed my way through every inch of the 103.18 miles my GPS recorded. (I know it's supposed to be 110 miles, but the Garmin doesn't lie.) Throughout the ride, my faithful companions, Toby Nunn and Blake Powers were constantly at my side,warning other riders of my death-defying antics and telling others to make way. I was occasionally visited by Kathleen P., (aka the soup lady, the nose picker, and the First Angel I ever met;) but she had to keep moving up and down the line as she was also on the medical team. Kathleen S., another Angel rounding out our team, was also the procurer of libations and encouraging voice at my side throughout the ride. (She called her daughter to procure Coronas and limes after my Mrs. went all 18th Amendment on us and refused, on the grounds that we were already really dehydrated or some nonsense--I stopped listening after she said "No.")

So, in atypical Army Style, I will present to you my completely open and honest After Actions Report, which I've focused not on "atta boys" but on things to improve. After all, a pat on the back is only 18" from a kick in the ass, and we don't get better by focusing on what we do well.

Issue: Bethesda Hotel.
Discussion: Hyatt is very nice location, close to start point, and very accommodating.
Recommendation: Ask if the possibility exists to use their service elevators to move bikes and gear to floors, or if it's possible to speed up the elevators, or if the bikes can be stored in the ballroom after dinner. If the hotel (or World T.E.A.M.) could provide security in the parking garage (Patriot Guard, off Duty Cop, etc.) I would even be amenable to leaving the bike in the garage, and we could launch from there.

Issue: Route markers
Discussion: Along the route, arrows were painted on the asphalt at turns and intersections and were helpful when there were no guides posted.
Recommendation: Make sure the markers are painted on the asphalt BEFORE the turn/intersection, not after.

Issue: Spatial awareness
Discussion: The route was a mystery to me last year. I ode until they told me to stop. It is very hard to keep yourself mentally engaged when you don't know what is ahead.
Recommendation: A published route map (more detail=better) distributed electronically a few weeks out would be very helpful. Include items like rest stops, and maybe more local supporters would come out to the rest areas.

Issue: Rider Mentality
Discussion: Last year I met many rider along the course, who would just "hang out" and ride along with me offering encouragement. This helped to take my mind off the pain. This year most of the riders seemed intent on staying as close to the lead as possible, as evidenced by the number who simply passed by, leaving injured cyclists to fend for themselves. The mood was definitely colder, and did not present the "no one rides alone" ideal well. This may have been a function of having my own team, as I never had fewer than three riders with me, but I also saw many hand cyclists get passed by dozens of riders, and left behind, with (maybe) one person riding along with them. It appeared that the teams only sought to help their team members, anyone not on their team was left out.
Recommendation: Less emphasis on teams, although great for fund raising, they seemed to hurt the spirit and intent of the ride. Team jerseys are great, and build esprit de corps and camaraderie, but teams should be reminded that we all support each other.

Issue: Armed Services Outreach
Discussion: I saw every branch of the DoD (and one branch of the Department of Homeland Security) represented by service jerseys. This was great and helped to show how each service supported their members--except it's a lie. No service really supported their members, as no branch of service provided any materiel support for their riders, wounded or otherwise. The Marines were supported by the Injured Marine Semper Fi fund, the Air Force, Coasties, Navy and Army were supported by various charities, most notably Soldiers Angels and the Wounded Warrior Project, (Soldiers Angels supported all the branches and riders, actually.) Services supported the riders by mostly giving them time off to ride. Other than that...
I understand the military can't contribute to charities. But I also understand that the military can contribute to the individual riders, in either monetary or materiel support, in the name of recruiting or "selling the brand." Just like we pay HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of dollars to sponsor a NASCAR vehicle, or pay for TV ads during the superbowl, or spend
HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of dollars for airshows and and parachute teams, the Military could affor to clothe, equip, house, and transport these most honored representatives of military service. IOnstead, the cost for them is covered by charities--and many of us still sport our services' colors and logo, because we are proud to have served, even if they give us nothing.
Recommendation: Explain to the services that there are many avenues to take toward supportnig this event, and exploring those avenues can only help strenghten their brand and visibility.

Issue: Charity Volunteers
Discussion: This year I saw many more volunteers at the rest stops and finish line. They were always ready to lend a hand to anyone, and made every effort to make this ride succeed. we can't thank them enough.
Recommendation: We should honor their service with more than a nod and mention.

Issue: Rest Areas
Discussion: On the first day, the heat was a monster. I was often in the tail of the group, and was being turned around within 10 minutes of stopping. Many rest areas had little shade, and some even had none. Other times, rest areas had little water, or (in one case) hot water.
Recommendation: Ensure the time the rest area is used doesn't start until the last rider trickles in. The last rider deserves as much of a rest as the lead, and likely needs it more. We need to ensure that the water on hand is cold and plentiful, and more importantly, that rest areas have natural or man-made shade. At rest areas with a water source (fire stations etc.) having them turn on a hose with a sprinlker as riders arrive and depart would really help keep us cool, and reduce risk to heat injury.

Issue: Finish line festivities
Discussion: The ride is about all of us being a team. It's about the wounded as much as it is about the healthy. It's about the riders. The speeches and acknowledgement are great--do them at the dinner before the ride. When we get to the finish, we should thank Seamus and get on with it. last year we took pictures galore of the wounded who finished, the teams, the people who made everything happen--and then we ate, drank, and a giid time was had by all.

This year the event seemed much more "cliqueish" to me, and I did not feel the same sense of camaraderie as last year. I had a great time on the ride, and met a few people who I enjoyed spending time with. I still believe this is a tremendous event, and am glad to have been a part of it as well as take great pride in finishing it, and being able to help others finish as well. I will return next year (if the stars, moon, planets, and Army align) and look forward to bringing more riders with me.

No comments: