Over the last year or so I’ve ridden a fair few endurance rides. A couple have been solo, some with crew, and a handful with crew as well as official support. A lot of the rides we’ve done you can get away with it being unsupported, as we ride from bakery to bakery, from dunny block to dunny block, and from servo to servo (or, in the case of the more recent gravel rides, from water tap to water tap). However, it’s on the rides with official support stops that you truly appreciate the value that volunteers bring to events. Being able to (semi) collapse in a heap for 5-10 (20… or 30…) minutes while someone points you towards food takes a huge weight off your mind, and allows you to focus on the goal, whether it’s finishing the ride, or just getting to the next pitstop.
The 24 hour Oppy though is another kind of ride all together. While it’s completely feasible to ride it unsupported during the daylight hours (assuming you’ve route planned to ride from town to town), it becomes trickier during the night shift once everything starts to close, especially in country Victoria (unless you want to carry a heap of food/gear/clothing/water on the bike, which is always possible but not always ideal). Last year’s Oppy was a roaring success, with the team from the Macedon Ranges taking away the distance award for Victoria for the third year in a row, crewed by the phenomenal support that was Jem (aka: Eat More Lard). Mutterings had already started about who would ride in 2018, and if perhaps, perhaps, it was time to try something different.
Eventually the general mutterings started to turn into conversations about trying a gravel version. It had been discussed for a couple years, and with the ride this year ending in Ballarat it became more feasible to give it a shot. When the guys finally started planning it, I immediately jumped in and said I’d crew. I’m still not sure why I felt so strongly about crewing at not riding it (though it could have been that it was still “too soon” after last year’s 24 hour… and that way they couldn’t talk me into riding it). I did request a back-up person to help on the support crew as I thought it might allow me to get some sleep, or keep me awake the entire night. My suggestion was someone who had ridden an Oppy before so would be familiar with the format, as well as what the guys would want/need along the way. This narrowed the support crew options significantly. And someone who wouldn’t annoy me (and vice versa). Narrowed the field even further 😉 So my 2IC in the car would be Blair Calvert: previous Oppy rider, Ol’ Dirty alumnus, chatterbox extraordinaire, and all around nice guy.
So what’s it like to crew (and be the social media correspondent) for a 24 hour event? Here’s the Top 10 things that Blair and I learned along the way.
1. Organise Organise Organise
Our starting point was Daylesford, and when they guys all turned up they threw bags and bags into the support car. This included (on average) a food bag, a spare clothes bag, a bag of clothes to change into later, and a bag of miscellaneous things like lights, batteries, spare tubes, and spare parts. Most of these bags they wouldn’t need to access at each stop, so I shifted those bags to the back of the boot, rather than have the guys trying to rifle through non-essentials every stop to try and find their bags. Water and food got shifted to the front, as this would be what they’d need asap at every stop. And ideally Blair and I could unload all the food from the car at the pitstop so they guys weren’t all trying to get in/out of a small space.
Later on we had this down to a science:
- Arrive at pitstop, unload the car (if possible) and get setup for their arrival
- Take picture of the guys entering (so that I had a time stamp on my phone)
- Get them in, off the bikes, and sitting down (if possible), ideally somewhere dry
- Find out if there are food/drink requests
- Check any bike repair/maintenance
- Change over any lights/batteries and put into the car for charging
- Charge up phone’s/Garmin’s if need be
- Get brevets signed
- Top up all water bottles
- Grab wet gear for drying (more on this on point 8)
- Quick chat about how they were doing, make sure everyone is still vaguely cognitive
- Take pitstop picture
- Confirm what the next pitstop location is, distance, and timing
- Get them on their way
- Pack up the car, clean up the checkpoint location
- Send social media updates
- Drive to the next location
2. Spreadsheets: They are your world. Learn to love them
Marty had spent quite a bit of time on the spreadsheet as well as the route on Ride with GPS, so ours was not to question why, but just to do. We didn’t need to know why certain sections had them at 22 km/h and others at 17km/h, or why it would possibly take nearly three hours to ride a ‘short’ section. Marty knew what he was doing, so that’s the plan we worked to.
Timings were worked out, and we needed to stay on top of them. Early on this was easy as they guys were 10-20 minutes ahead of schedule. But the Axedale to Spring Gully segment ended up being trickier than expected (more on this later), and the guys lost 40 minutes… then another 10 on the next section, which put them 30 minutes behind. So Blair and I became part crew, part time keeper, letting them know where they were tracking at each stop so that they could push it a little bit through the next section if possible.
3. Navigate like a boss
Due to the nature of gravel, the paths the boys took and the roads we had to take were often different. As we wanted to get ‘cool gravel pics’ early in the day when it was light, Blair had to triangulate the guys’ positions via Ride with GPS and our position using Google maps to find the cross roads. Another key was to confirm with the guys exactly where they wanted us to park: near a bakery, a dunny block, a cross roads, etc. The last thing you want is to have them wasting time riding in circles trying to find you.
We did have a few ‘fun’ moments where the roads we took lined up with the guys paths. Blair was able to take some great shots of the guys riding down the gravel roads in the pouring rain. I however was incredibly stressed trying to give the guys enough space so I could get past them, while simultaneously trying not to drive the car into wet sand/gravel on the side of the road.
Often our crew stops were off-road, so Blair’s navigational ability was tested a number of times before we got the hang of it. There were a number of times, most often at night, that I was incredibly grateful for the company in the car: country Victoria is very dark, and very spooky. Of course, Blair and I suggesting horror movie plot ideas while driving didn’t help…
4. Don’t forget the brevets
One of the things about The Oppy is you choose your own checkpoints, and once chosen, you HAVE to stop and get each point signed off. So brevets are key. It took about seven checkpoints before the guys started remembering to give them to me. In many cases I was grabbing them out of the back pockets, signing all five, and putting them back in their pockets, especially when they were tired and couldn’t figure out where their back pockets were. Again, because it was a gravel route and most checkpoints were off road there weren’t a lot of people, if any, to ask to sign them, so keeping the brevet’s dry while signing off all checkpoints became one of our roles.
5. It’s not about you
As we had time between checkpoints, Blair and I were able to handle most requests, including help with dressing Wade who seemed to have frozen fingers for the first half of the ride, and requests for additional food. It’s funny on endurance rides, you think you’ll know exactly what you want to eat, until you don’t pack ‘that one thing’ and then that’s ALL you’re hungry for. On a ‘normal’ ride they guys could hit a bakery, servo, or grocery store and pick up what they wanted. Not so on a gravel ride when the checkpoints aren’t anywhere near civilisation. Lucky for us most food requests came during the day time so we could swing past the grocery stores while they were still open and have food ready for the guys.
As stated in point 1, most of the pitstops followed the same pattern. Except for Taradale…
So after Spring Gully the guys were behind. They didn’t lose any time heading into Castlemaine, but they didn’t gain any either. The next stop after that was Taradele, which on the spreadsheet was listed as a roll through without any time for stopping, but had been put on the brevet. Which meant that even though they hadn’t allocated time, they HAD to stop and be signed off.
Blair and I were aware that time is hard to make up during the night, so wanted to make this stop as efficient as possible. And the guys arrived 10 minutes early, which was exciting as they made up the time… which they then lost. Even the most efficient stop ended up taking 10 minutes. But we got them in and out as quickly as possible. High fives for the car crew, and back in we went to get going.
Key turn…. tick tick tick tick…. key turn…. tick tick tick tick.
Well crap. Flat battery. Blair and I looked at each other. It was 0:45am and we were in the thriving metropolis of Taradale (not thriving, nor a metropolis). It’s okay, it’s a manual, we’ll push it down this little hill and I can jump start it… except for the super efficiency of the electronic handbrake that STAYS ON WHEN THE BATTERY IS DEAD.
Crap. Crap crap crap. Contemplating what would be worse, calling his wife or my husband for help, Blair started googling RACV to see if we’d be able to get assistance. Luckily a local just happened to drive down the side road we were parked, and also luckily he stopped at my mad arm waving in the middle of the road. And even more luckily he only lived 5 minutes away so was able to drive home, grab jumper cables, drive back, and get us going again. Good samaritan for the win!
However, back to the ‘it’s not about you point,’ we didn’t tell the guys any of our adventures until much much later. Nor did we put anything on social media until we had arrived at the next checkpoint and had enough battery charge.
Because it’s not about the crew, it’s about the riders. While Blair and I had heaps to talk about, time to get lost, and lots of funny stories, the guys didn’t need to know about that. They needed to be 100% confident in their crew taking care of them. So that’s what we did.
6. But don’t forget that it is about you when they aren’t there
Yeah. That. It’s easy to get caught up in the madness that is crewing and forget that the crew also needs to be taken care of. That included eating our own food, staying hydrated and, later on, caffeinated, and sleeping when we could. I reckon Blair and I started taking cat naps each stop from about Taradale onwards, even if they were only 15 minutes. Because the last thing the guys needed was to be worried about us.
Though bless their hearts, they did ask a lot if we were doing okay.
7. Hurry up and wait
While some of our time was about lining up mid-checkpoint pictures, a lot of the day was about getting to the checkpoints ahead of time, setting up, and then… waiting. Early on this was surprisingly short, but then came along Spring Gully. We arrived in Bendigo nice and early, found a perfect spot for dinner, laid out all their food supplies on a nice bench, and waited for the guys to arrive. This was their dinner stop, so the spreadsheet had a 30 minute break allocated. I set the timer on my phone so it would go off 10 minutes before they had to roll out again to give them heaps of time to prepare to leave.
Blair checked Marty’s tracker, which hadn’t moved in an hour. No drama, we thought, it’s glitched again and will pop back on any minute.
Soon enough my “time to leave” timer went off, but the guys hadn’t arrived yet. Blair and I looked at each other, worrying about how late they were. I walked down the road to where they should pop out off the tracks and waited, camera ready, hoping they wouldn’t be too much longer. Finally they rolled through, over 40 minutes past their expected arrival time, bleeding, a little broken, and more than ready for a pitstop. Turns out there was quite a bit of hike-a-bike involved, so Blair and I went into full support mode, ignoring the time they were down, hoping they could make it up later.
Later on we’d still struggle with finding Marty’s tracker, as it just didn’t seem to want to pick him up and would often be up to an hour before it would give us their position. This did cause us some concern as Blair and I drove straight through a massive thunderstorm, worried about the safety of the guys out in the dark on their bikes. But luckily their route skirted around the storm and they missed the rain for once.
After Daylesford the only drama losing the tracker caused was making their coffee too soon, and perhaps over-boiling the water in their tea.
8. Get used to the smell of ripe bananas and wet dog
So it was wet. Even with Marty’s assurances that it would clear after checkpoint X, it never did really clear up until much later in the day. And even after that the rain was on/off (usually on just before they rolled into a checkpoint, then off again once they were through). Our role was to get their clothes dry so they could change back into warm gear later. Which meant hanging the clothes and gloves over the heaters in the car and having the fans on hot and full blast. Fine early on, but after 2-3 changes the clothes started to smell a bit whiffy. Combined with all the food we had in the car… it wasn’t pretty.
From the guys perspective, it was great being able to change out of their wet clothes and into something warm and dry. From our perspective… let’s just say Blair and I became very adept at driving with our heads out the windows of the car. We do love you guys, really we do.
9. Don’t forget the fun
Crewing can be tough work, but Blair and I had a ball. We also went through a lot of caffeine and numerous karaoke sessions. Enough said.
10. Cheer. Don’t stop cheering
The guys were absolutely amazing throughout the ride, with no major grumbles apart from the normalities of tired riders after 20 hours on the bike. Jim decided to pull out once he hit Daylesford, as with just over 300km of gravel his body decided he’d had enough. But then he still rocked up at the finish line to cheer the other four guys in. Matt was very very tired when they hit Clunes (the last checkpoint before Ballarat) and with less than two hours of time left on the clock suggested to the guys that they ride on without him if they needed to make up the time, as he was concerned about slowing them down. But you never leave a man behind, and they finished the ride together with six minutes to spare.
I can’t say enough what an honour it was to crew for such a strong group of riders, who rode together in true Oppy spirit. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we were there to do: get them to the finish line. And capture the moments along the way.
Congrats to the Dirty Dudes Do Dirt for their epic 402km gravel grind for The Oppy. We didn’t take the distance award this year, but it was definitely a ride that will go down in history, if only for it’s madness.
- Total distance: 402km
- Total vertical climbed: 4623m
- Start to finish elapsed time: 23 hours 54 min
- Moving time: 19 hours 47 min
- 20.6km/h average speed
- Avg temperature: 15 degrees C