Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Motorcycle Marshaling for Multiple Sclerosis... part 1

After our first experience being Motorcycle Marshals for the first annual Atlanta-Athens-Atlanta Multiple Sclerosis Bike Ride in April we knew we were in.  It is hard work and long hours but infinitely rewarding watching over people, helping when necessary, giving support to people who are working even harder then us by pedaling up all these darn hills in Georgia.  So we signed right up for both days when they were taking names for the 24th annual MS 150 ride at Callaway Gardens.

This time would be a little trickier since we would have to stay a couple nights down there.  The main concern was the pup and we finally broke down and found a pet sitter.  (Wonderful pet sitter by-the-way.  Wish we had found her years ago.)  So our problems were solved.

It was in our best interest to ride down on Friday night since the Saturday morning meet time was 6 AM.  I didn't want to think about what time we would have to get up to ride the 2 1/2 hours to the start time, and still put in a full day of work.  Logistics for leaving on Friday were terribly muddled with working half day, or all day if we couldn't finish work up.  I did make arrangements to work a half day, but stayed an hour later to finish explaining some issues.

We had settled on me just riding down and checking into the hotel and Mr. Oilburner would follow when he was able to escape.  But my leaving late and finishing putting the house in order for the sitter put me behind schedule.  If I left at 2:30 Mr. Oilburner expected he would only be 30 minutes behind me.  If I just relaxed at home for another few minutes I could ride downtown to Mr. Oilburner and pick him up.  So...I finally rode the streets of downtown Atlanta.

[Bad] Luck would have it that some accident had the entire freeway through downtown backed up.  The carpool lane was actually one of the slower lanes, so jumping out of it made the travel a bit more bearable.  But the prime exit for reaching Mr. Oilburner is actually from the carpool lane, so I jumped back in when necessary.  :)

A girl on a loaded bike taking to the streets of downtown as the business day is wrapping up was obviously a sight as many people were looking at me pass and I was getting thumbs up from everyone.  Then I pulled into the public parking garage to see Mr. Oilburner suited and helmeted up and sitting astride his bike ready to go.  I pulled around him forcing the guy he was talking to out of the way.  Mean of me, I know, but the only other option was to sit in the middle of the exit ramp of a public parking garage.  Wasn't gonna do that.  We headed out, professionally navigating the one-way streets to jump back on the freeways past the traffic.

The ride down was mostly uneventful.  The usual confusion of trying to get gas, huge a$$ travel trailers blocking traffic lanes, choosing the wrong exits and a four-way stop in the middle of nowhere that had our direction backed up for half a mile.  But we reached our destination in good time and good order, settled into the hotel and then took a walk into downtown Pine Mountain, GA.  Lovely little place, just not much here.

 On our way back to the motel we stopped at a little BBQ joint that has the best online reviews.

The sign is also a smokestack.

I partook of the pulled pork sandwich that was so big I made it
into two meals.
So hot you can still see the steam.

We were up dark and early the next morning at 5 AM.  Breakfast was being served at 6 and we would be having a riders meeting with our team leads at 7:15.  So you start seeing everyone packing their bikes and heading to the start line in the dark.

It's dark, but don't think for a second that it is cool and low humidity.

Even though we were there and up early there were still plenty of other volunteers there way ahead of us to man the check in booths, set up and serve food and all manner of things.  My hats off to them.  Breakfast was easy and team meetings went quickly.  We just discussed routing, plan of attack, signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, how to help people, who to call in what situations, etc.  Before long it was time to mount up and get in line!!  The excitement is starting to settle in.


Good omens abound with the lightening sky like this.

We line up just in front of the start line for the bicycles.  The intent is for us to leave just ahead of them and start running the route.  For this event there are three routes the cyclists can take: 35 miles, 65 miles and 100 miles.  Mr. Oilburner and I would be patrolling the 65 mile route today.  I would hope it would be obvious to everyone that we don't need to patrol the entire 65 mile route right off the bat.  There aren't going to be people at the end of it yet.  It is important to patrol the route where people are.  So our group heads to the first break point, sits for a few minutes, allowing cyclists to actually begin reaching the route and then we head back individually to start checking everything out.  I head out second and am amazed that the first group of cyclists are only a couple miles away from the break point.  

Our job: Stop and help people that may have mechanical issues, stop and help if someone has medical issues, corral loose dogs that may cause the cyclists problems, try to enforce some of the riding rules like no headphones and ride single file.  Generally, just try to protect the cyclists from others and themselves...  Small task.  :)

Since it is the beginning of the day and early into the course there aren't too many problems.  Mostly of the nature of flat tires, derailed chains and such.  It is more difficult trying to force people to ride single file when they want to chat with friends/teammates and are on small country roads.  They have a tendency to listen more when on larger roads with more vehicles on them.

Still, the start of the day/route is usually fairly quick and easy.  By the time I make it back to the break point half of our marshal group has started into the second half of our route towards the lunch break and the other portion remains looping back towards the start line.  I await instructions on where I am needed and am sent to patrol the second portion towards lunch.

It is still early and not many problems are occurring.  I do have some issues with groups of cyclists taking up the driving lane and prohibiting vehicles from passing.  This is where the fun is.  I zip around this line of cars and reach the cyclists and ask them to ride single file, at least on this busy road because the traffic back up is getting bad and the drivers are getting antsy.  They are all willing to comply and the vehicles start clearing out.

I make it to the lunch point and stop to grab my lunch for the saddle bag.  But here is where more fun kicks in.  I stop and chat with some of the cyclists that I recognized riding a triple seater.  There are quite a few tandem bikes, and apparently a couple triple seaters and one four seater!!  I've only seen the one triple seat and start chatting with the owners.  This bike has to be special made and imported.  Doesn't seem to be a large demand for them here.  But the third passenger is their 12 y/o nephew and this is his 5th MS Ride!!  Way to go!  Always fun to start talking with people and then start recognizing them along the road.

I begin taking a few nibbles from my sandwich and am approached by a gentleman I had met and had [sarcastic] words with the night before at the BBQ joint.  We were lucky enough to be on the same route and lucky enough that he recognized me.  Because I definitely wasn't going to be identifying him under his helmet.  We exchange experiences and names and joke and continue on about our business.  We even meet on the road a couple times and enjoy exchanging shouts.

I eat about half my sandwich and then head on out towards the next break point to patrol.  I'm rolling along, the riders are separating a bit now and stringing out farther.  I'm about 2 miles from the next break point when I see a hand pedal trike pulled over.  I pull into a nearby driveway and check if he needs anything.  First, water!! Second, a look at the map to find out where he is on the course.  That's another duty as the day wears on: provide water and snacks/bananas if necessary.  I grab a bottle of water and we check out the map.  The hill he is currently sitting at the bottom of looks daunting.  As a matter of fact, at the top of the hill another marshal is pulled over with someone that is sitting on the side of the road.  She is cramping and beginning to suffer from a little heat exhaustion.  Have I forgotten to mention that it is darn hot!!  (I never did envision jumping in the rivers we crossed...too difficult to climb down the hills to them.  But I did daydream of jumping into this crystal clear above ground pool on the route in all my gear.  The water was still sloshing around in those little waves that occur when someone has just gotten out and the water hasn't settled down.  The type of waves that refract and reflect the light all over, just begging you to jump in.  I might stop to take the helmet off, but I couldn't say for certain...)

I help my cyclist, he starts on his way and I get ready to continue on.  But my motorbike stalls.  Then stalls again.  Come on...this hill isn't that steep that I can't slip the clutch on.  I manage to keep it running but it just doesn't feel right and my engine light is blinking with that nasty yellow exclamation point.  I find a place to turn around at the top of the hill, restart the bike hoping it was some electronic gremlin and discover I have a problem; the engine is just running rough and feels near to stalling.  I make it down to the bottom of the hill and pull into a church parking lot and just stop in the shade of a tree.  

First I call one of my route leaders to let them know I am having a problem and will not be patrolling.  No, no need to come to me just yet, there really isn't anything that can be done yet.  I then try to call Mr. Oilburner, but he doesn't answer.  I leave a couple messages and tell him where I am.  I have a seat and help people as necessary.  It wasn't a bad location for people to take a break at.  They rounded a corner, saw this huge hill in front of them and just kinda sagged in the seat.  I gave away all my water and bananas and chatted with more marshals as they took breaks with me.

I look through my motorbike manual to discover the reason for the failure lights is that some sort of electronic fault was discovered in the engine and the engine is now running in "limp home" mode. Mr. Oilburner and I finally connect and he will come to me and see if there is anything he can do.  In the meantime I call my trusty dealership 200 miles away and have a chat.  Of course, they want me to bring it in, but I tell them it is going to be a bit difficult to do that right now.  They tell me to check the oil.  If that isn't it there is nothing to do but hook it up to the diagnostic machine.  And the nearest one is in their shop, or the other shop on the north side of Atlanta.

Have I failed to mention that my warranty expires tomorrow?? 

Mr. Oilburner arrives and even though we checked the oil in the morning and it was an appropriate level, the current level wasn't even visible in the sight glass.  The bike had been sitting about 45 minutes by this time and should have been good.  So we fill her up a little, but no dice.  Code and roughness still present.

Hoping maybe the computer just needs to be reset we stop a bicycle repair truck that just happens to be turning around in my parking lot and borrow a couple tools.  (The standard tool kit on the bike doesn't contain the appropriate tools to disconnect the battery.  But rest assured, I have ordered one of them expensive kits that I could put together for half the price if I knew exactly what I should be putting into it.)  That doesn't work either.

Now, I know you always need to check connectors.  But have you looked at the newer incarnation of R bikes lately?  There are connectors everywhere!!  And I did have it in my mind to check the one to the rear of the left head, but I was always on the right side and helping people.  I just kinda forgot.  So I had to slap my forehead and mentally kick myself when Mr. Oilburner sees that the Throttle Position Sensor is disconnected.  Somehow, somewhere, someway that little metal clip and pin that keeps that together has been lost and one of the plastic tabs is broken.  Now that had to have taken a pretty good hit or kick.  And I would have thought I would have remembered that.  But nothing in the ol' memory banks is sparking anything!

No harm, no foul.  We zip tie it back together and she starts running like a champ again.

Missing tab and clip for the Throttle Position Sensor

We all continue our work...these bikers aren't gonna save themselves.  LOL.  I finally reach the break point two miles down the road and promptly potty and tank bank up again.  I realize that I am quite dehydrated myself.  Then I grab a gallon jug of water to help the weary on the road.

I immediately stop for a couple and refill their water bottles with the ice cold stuff I have, and wet down a washcloth to cool themselves off.

The rest of the ride is uneventful for me.  The people I stop and help only need bananas or water.  No medical emergencies, no mechanical issues.  I am most of the way back to the lunch stop when I stop for gas, talk with other marshals and discover the lady we see on the road across from us is the absolute last rider.  No need to go back further.  Let's start helping the last of the riders in!

I make another circuit and head back.  I see my first couple taking a break on the side of the road.  They are just starting to head out when I pull up and we chat a few minutes.  They are good to go, are doing well and don't need anything.

You start collecting people on these rides.  You might have a one-time connection with some people that stays with you.  Other times you will have multiple connections that make you stand out for each other.  All the marshals have them.  And I hear that you start seeing each other each year if you are willing to go back and volunteer again.

I slowly start making my way back to the finish line. And remember that I can actually take a short break in the middle of the road to pull the point and shoot from my tank bag and grab a couple shots.  I just can't believe it takes me so long to remember these things sometimes.

Nice little steel bridge.  Nice paving instead of metal grating.

Quiet and clean little river.

One of many old buildings.

Sighting of more marshals.

I'm sitting at this little crossroad taking a picture of the old store above when a couple of the other marshals arrive.  We discuss how many are still out and how many are behind us.  One of the marshals happens to be a the leader from the century route and inquires if any of us have snacks.  I don't have any event sanctioned ones, but I do have my personal stash and offer it up.  He mentions that there is a riding couple up the road a few miles that needs something to eat.  I inquire as to the clothes the lady is wearing and surmise it is "my" couple.  And I am right!  I quickly put the bike into gear and break the speed limits to reach them.  They are only a couple miles from the finish line, but sometimes you need that little bit of carbohydrates to kick your body into doing the work.

I reach them in pretty good time and we set to munching on trail mix (with chocolate was her only question before "yes"!).  They finished up an apple someone gave them, and snatched the bananas a fellow marshal held out in passing.  Good to go!!

Turned out this was the longest ride the wife had been on and she was doing great.  We plotted out the route and I was able to detail how many hills between here and town.  And it was all downhill once you arrived to town.  Very happy indeed and they finished just before the 6 PM cutoff.  Yay!!

End of day and everyone is tired.  The time, distance and heat have taken there toll.  We discuss meeting at the hotel for dinner.  But Mr. Oilburner and I opt for the free food the event is giving out, catered from Johnny Carino's.  I can feel the headache coming on from the harsh sun all day. I vote for dinner here (free) and then go back to the hotel.

Dinner wasn't bad, but I started feeling exponentially worse when we started eating.  Looking back I believe it was because I still had my armored pants on and the lack of air flow (from actually riding and moving) was trapping my heat in.  Add to that my dehydration and I wasn't feeling well at all.  Finished my salad and laid down on the bench seat to wait for Mr. Oilburner.

I then did something I have never done before!  I striped off the armored pants down to my little bike shorts beneath and actually rode back to the hotel in shorts.  It was about one mile with very little traffic and I was willing to take the risk.  I rode slowly and took precautions when a car was around.  The migraine was starting to hit full force and I took to bed. The air conditioner didn't seem to help at all, the cold, wet washcloth wasn't enough, so I crawled my way into the bathtub and sat in cold water to cool my core temperature down.  That did the trick.

I promptly feel asleep for a couple hours and started feeling better.  I woke up for a little while and took one of those Emergen-C packets of vitamins.  I believe they kept me awake a little while, but it did wonders for my body.  I still slept through the night and luckily was feeling myself by morning.  Another marshal was suffering the same symptoms as I, but I couldn't get her the Emergen-C in the evening.  I caught her in the morning and gave her the last packet to help perk her up for the coming day.

Since I have rambled on enough, this is going to have to be a two-parter.  To give you an idea of route coverage you know my route was 65 miles (actually 63.5 since they had to remove the ride over the dam).  I managed to ride 160 miles on Saturday.  Even stopped for a 90 minute breakdown didn't take many miles from me as Mr. Oilburner's total mileage was 167.  We were at the event by 6 AM and stopped working at 6 PM.  It may be work, it is fun, it is difficult, but you do get to spend a lot of time on your bike and really practice your slow speed maneuvering (espcially u-turns).

Part two forthcoming.  The day was shorter and not as difficult.  But I do have a unique surprise if you are willing to come back for a read.


  1. So good of you to volunteer for this. I say this as a participant in a bunch of these bicycle rides over the years. On many of them, there were moto escorts running back and forth along the route.


  2. Kudos to you doing this! Sounds like hard work, but rewarding in multiple ways, like having nice company, scrumptious food, and also some sightseeing on the side.

    You telling that you were riding in shorts (even though it was only a short stretch without traffic) make my knee hurt once more...

    But I also get migraines when exposed to too much heat, and yes, I have occasionally been known to ride in jeans...

    Cheers from the We(s)t Coast,

  3. Sounds like a lot of fun, and for a good cause! Also, I might need to get out of the house for some good BBQ pork today...

  4. Lori

    The best thing for dehydration is to drink 3 cans of Coke .... worked for me when I had to wade through chest high mud on a hot day wearing a wetsuit (??)following an abortive sail board sailing trip when the tide went out.

    Luckily no videos exist of this period of my life (and near death)


  5. Hmmm, I hope that little clip you lost isn't the one you found after experiencing "Shock Therapy."

    Heat scares me. I suspect being s I'm a transplanted Michigander has something to do with it. I'm more familiar with the dangers of the cold than the hot.

    There were two guys from the local club who marshalled at the event in Central Missouri. It was the first time they'd had scooters. Both of them were running Maxi's. Both of them had a fantastic time.

    Too bad the migraine put a damper on what sounds like a very delightful day, but good on you for knowing how to take care of yourself, if not before the episode at least after.


  6. Lori:

    thank you, thank you, thank you. I never knew anything about these units. I am going to pick one of these models before I leave.

    It sounds like a great product to have with you on the bike cause you just never know when you need to drink out of a river sometime.

    MEC has all 3 models in stock so I will know which one when I see it

    thanks again and happy trails.

    ps: don't worry about wearing shorts. I had to move my bike the other day and had on shorts and sandals, so I just rode it anyway. If felt sort of funny without the armour but good too for the freedom of the wind on your skin. Yesterday I had to do some quick shopping and only wore my running shoes instead of riding boots and it felt so good to just get off the bike and walk into the store without changing shoes. I cannot walk easily in my riding boots. Again I experienced freedom in my little way.

    Wet Coast Scootin

  7. Hi Richard,

    There was a time in my life when I would rather have been on the bicycle. I'm having too much fun on the motorbike right now. :) I hope you enjoy(ed) your time on the ride. It is great to volunteer on these in any capacity.

    A marshal with our group is the same way, he was marshalling to give back as he had ridden a bicycle for many years in the event.

    Thank you very much for your volunteering in these events too!


  8. Hi SonjaM,

    Thanks! This is something that offers so much and takes so little. We have great fun!

    Sorry your knee twinged at the thought of shorts. :) I agree. I've read too many face plant stories to ever feel comfortable riding without full armor. Even just riding a couple miles to the market can result in some nasty accident. There just wasn't any way I was going to slither back into those horrid riding pants!

    Hope you are healing well!


  9. Hi Brady!

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Did you get your BBQ? There is a church between home and work that has a BBQ cookout twice a year. And this is one of those weekends... Always smells sssoooo good! Hope yours was too!


  10. Hi Nikos,

    That is one interesting story that I would enjoy hearing sometime. Read of a women that bicycled and kayaked around the perimeter of the US. She mentions a similar experience portaging the kayaking through mud for a many miles when the tide went out.

    I don't think hers was chest high. That must have been rough and slow going! I am glad you survived the ordeal!

    Do you think the Coke works because of the sodium? I'll try that next time. When I was near the break points I chugged the PowerAde and snacked on salted peanuts.

    Hope you are well and having a adventure!


  11. Hi Circle Blue/Keith,

    Good thought, but the MS Ride took place the week before the shock replacement. I'm just slow on the long write-ups. :)

    You are correct in having to be cautious in heat. But proper precautions and it isn't anything to be overly concerned about. I'd be concerned about riding a motorbike in 2 feet of snow and ice. LOL.

    I can see where scooters would be great in these instances! Easy on/off, extremely quiet, hmmm... I'll have to ask our organizer why they restrict it to motorcycles. Do you think you might volunteer for the next one?

    The migraine sucked. I just know better and still don't do what I know I should do. I will learn someday. LOL.

    Hope you are enjoying your Autumn rides!


  12. Hi Bob!

    I hope the SteriPen works for you. On the bike even if it doesn't go on your trip with you. I generally worked with a chemical (saline) purifier, but that was because I was purifying a large amount of water and not one glass at a time.

    MEC looks like the Canadian version of REI. Nice!

    Have a great trip!! You are going to have so much fun!!!

    As to the PS...there are always decisions that have to be made as to gear riding. I've read stories where people have been in nasty accidents just a mile from home taking the bike for a quick spin. Others insist on wearing helmets whenever moving the bike because of people that accidentally fell over just moving it in the garage. I won't go without ATGATT very often. And it did feel great to have the air "cooling" me down. I can't see it happening too often in the future for any distance riding knowing how much being hit by a bug hurts!!!.

    Have a great trip! Thanks for taking the time to comment while you are packing!


  13. Great and enjoyable read...........and I will be back for part 2!

  14. Hi Raftnn,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. A highly recommended experience if you have the opportunity. Sorry it has taken me so long to write part 2...I'm working on it now! :) -Lori