At the finish line.
One of the secrets to finishing an ultra-distance bicycle race is to have a good crew in the support car. A natural place for a rider to look for such people is among his or her friends who ride bikes, because they’re likely to be supportive of such a crazy idea and, hopefully, will have some understanding of what’s required to reach the finish line.
But not necessarily.
Part of the reason I agreed to crew in the Fireweed 400 for the second time this year is that I had a good partner who agreed months in advance to help get the job done.
And she doesn’t even own a bicycle, much less race one.
Two years ago, Sarah Alban was a magazine intern spending her first summer in Alaska. She made two mistakes: 1) seeming to be up for new adventures, and 2) having a supervisor who was desperate to find the second half of a two person crew.
I felt a little guilty about conning Sarah into the job, but every time I tried to recruit one of my bike-riding friends, they would start mumbling and develop a sudden need to stare at their shoes.
It could have been a violating some sort of workplace law regarding interns, but since I had hired her and hadn’t bother to look up any rules, I went for it. “How would you like to see some more of Alaska?” I asked. “Would you like to visit Valdez?”
Then I stared at my shoes and quietly mumbled, “… for a few minutes, in the dark, before turning around?”
She took the bait, and I was happy to just have a live person to fill the other seat and meet the race’s two-person-crew requirement. I didn’t know she’d throw herself into the job and work her ass off for my friend Leonard, a racer she had just met, expecting nothing in return but a long stretch of sleep-deprivation.
Four hundred miles later, we both had learned how hard, exhausting and gratifying it could be to do the behind-the-scenes work that helps a bike rider accomplish something most people could never do. And I had learned to not underestimate the tired young woman sitting next to me as we drove across the finish line at Sheep Mountain Lodge.
This year, Sarah flew 4,000 miles from the East Coast to do it all again. She made sandwiches, mixed energy drinks, took driving shifts, guzzled caffeine and graciously endured what other friends wouldn’t … 30 hours in a car with me.
And when it was all over, she pulled a bottle of rum from her backpack so we toast Leonard’s success.
I think the next time Leonard and I have time for a beer together, we should do a toast to Sarah. Because that poor girl is completely insane. And I’m pretty sure we’re both grateful for that.