Last Sunday, I spent hours standing in the middle of a road, constantly pointing east as I told one rider after another to stay in the left lane for the upcoming portion of the bike leg in the Gold Nugget Triathlon. Like most volunteers, I also spent a lot of time playing cheerleader to passing riders as they came by again after their turnaround.
Once upon a time, I thought it felt phony to cheer for a passing stranger in an amateur event, but when I started doing an occasional race or mass public ride, I learned how beneficial a few words from a stranger could be.
When I first started getting seriously into cycling years ago, I rode my first (and only) charity ride: the 50-mile course in El Tour de Tucson. Fairly late in the ride, I found myself alone while bridging to new group. Pedaling down a two-lane highway through the desert on the outskirts of town, I came across a pickup parked on the shoulder. Three or four people were partying in the bed of the truck—lawn chairs, cooler, the whole bit—as they waited for a friend or relative to pass by. When they saw me coming, they erupted into cheering and yelling that continued as I rolled by and waved to say thanks. I felt re-energized for miles.
Last year, I again found myself alone and suffering, riding through the middle of nowhere in a cold rain, deep into a century race and far, far behind the real racers who were probably already eating hot food and changing into dry clothes. Then I came across a man solemnly standing by the road, soaked to the bone, playing bagpipes. It was beautiful.
He could have gone home after the bulk of riders had passed. He could have been warm and dry, and sipping a well-earned martini. Instead, he was out there playing for every last suffering fool who was death-marching up that hill. I think he had the wisdom and compassion to know that we needed his music far more than the leaders ever would.
It felt good to pay a little back by encouraging Gold Nugget riders last weekend, and to get tired but happy smiles in return.
I only wish I knew how to play bagpipes.