22 May 2013

Bryan Chapman Memorial 600: The Helper Experience

Dolgellau Control,  King's YHA hostel, Bryan Chapman Memorial 600
The weekend resulted in sore legs and a serious sleep defecit, but for once it wasn't from riding. Instead it was from helping out at the Dolgellau control at the Bryan Chapman Memorial 600km audax!

Alberto registered for this legendary 600 in Wales early in the year to be sure he got a spot. When Ritchie, the organiser, put out a call for helpers, we figured it made sense to go to Wales together--I had nothing else planned and it would be good to be able to do my bit for the audax community.

A 4:45am wake up and we were heading across the Severn Bridge from our Travelodge to the start in Chepstow. Alberto picked up at his brevet card and I made myself known to Ritchie and went to work in the kitchen helping his wife Claire serve up teas as nearly 150 riders descended on the tea station at exactly 10 minutes to 6.

The bag drop area -- I have to admit I strategically placed Alberto's red drybag so it would be easyfor him to find. 

Once the riders were away, our team of Andy (an LVIS rider who decided not to ride the BCM), myself, Ritchie, and Ritchie's daughter packed the van with riders' bag-drop bags and headed out to Dolgellau. Soon we were passing a long train of audax riders on the road and I got a special boost seeing Alberto pedalling along looking strong. I also gained a new appreciation for how annoying it must get for drivers with no connection to the ride to have to thread their way through an endless stream of cyclists!

We got to the town of Dolgellau and had breakfast at a caf before heading up to the youth hostel and getting everything set up. The riders would come through Dolgellau twice, once at about 200km into the ride and then again at 400km. Since most would sleep after 400km this meant we needed to be set up to feed riders three meals, and that we'd be have riders to look after pretty much nonstop from Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning. We also had to make up the hostel beds for the overnight stop.

How much bacon do you need for 150 riders?
The first two riders were through at 1:25pm, even earlier than Ritchie expected. A few continued to trickle in after that until the big rush at about 4-5pm. Our team evolved a pretty good system of checking the riders in, getting their food order and serving the food. It was good that Ritchie and also Mark (the former organiser) had so many years of experience under their belts!

The hours passed quickly once the riders started coming and the only real thing that 'happened' was that Alberto arrived, with fellow Spaniard Javier, at about 4pm. It was great to be able to give him food and hear how his ride was going. He arrived just ahead of the main mass of riders so I was back to the kitchen pretty quickly, where another few hours passed before the last riders went through at about 7pm.

Dolgellau control early in the day when things were still quiet
We were able to make a quick trip to the pub in Dolgellau before heading back to find that six or so riders had been through already on their way back to Chepstow. On this shift our team was joined by Stan and his wife Jo who had come in their campervan, and Chuffy, who had originally been on the ride until he broke a spoke and decided to stay on and help instead. It was lucky he did because things got really busy at times.

We got all the food going again for dinner and soon enough it was back to the same routine. I went for a sleep at about 11:30, with the alarm set for 2am which is when I thought Alberto would be back. At 2am I woke up and went downstairs only to find that he had literally just arrived! So was able to serve him and Javier again in my slightly groggy state and, as before, then settled in to the busy period with lots of riders coming through. I set myself up mainly taking, filling, and serving the orders--I wish I had worn a pedometer to find out how far I walked running back and forth from the kitchen! I do know that my feet and legs started to get seriously sore overnight and I had to keep reminding myself that I hadn't actually done any cycling!

The front garden of the Dolgellau control in the early morning light
By this time there were also faster riders who were waking up and wanting to eat before heading out again, so it all got a bit hectic. At about 4am we switched over to breakfast food, which involved a period of time where we didn't have any hot food as we waited for the bacon to cook and the beans and tomatoes to get up to temperature. That was stressful as it meant we had quite a queue of chits waiting... but turns out that most people with 400km in their legs and 3 hours of sleep are indeed willing to wait for bacon!

Alberto was up at 6:30 so I was able to look after him and Javier once more before sending them on their way. By 7:30 everyone was gone and we washed the dishes, stripped the beds, and packed up before the drive back to Chepstow by way of the next control at Aberhafesp where we delivered our unused breakfast food. We arrived just as Alberto and Javier were pulling into the control and for once I didn't have a job to do so I was able to sit and chat with them.

I slept for most of the ride back to Chepstow so arrived feeling somewhat refreshed, which was good because the riders were arriving in fits and starts, and soon began to come in greater numbers. Amanda, whose husban was also on the ride, arrived to stamp riders' cards on arrival and Chuffy and I set to work helping Claire in the kitchen--which confused many of the riders as they wondered how we had been transported from Dolgellau to Chepstow. It was great to see the sense of accomplishment as riders came in, some of them having completed their first 600, first super randonneur, and in a few cases even their first audax. Alberto and Javier rolled in at 7pm and it was nice to be able to see them finish. Soon it was  time to say goodbye to the team and all the riders, and head home to London to hopefully get some rest.

Reunited at the end of the ride
We--both the riders and the helpers--were lucky that the weather was essentially perfect all weekend. A rainy or very cold ride would have really changed the state of the riders and therefor the support they would need at the control. As it was, most people were in good spirits throughout the ride and always made a point to say thanks to us helpers, which was much appreciated. That said there were definitely a few riders who looked like they were seriously suffering, and it was educative to see what that is like up close.

When I signed up to help on the BCM, I thought it would be nice to do my bit for the audax community, but I don't think I had many expectations in terms of whether it would be easy or hard, fun or boring. But actually I did enjoy myself (although it was very hard work). It was great to be back in the audax world after not having ridden many this year, and really interesting to see a ride from the other side. I have a renewed sense of appreciation for helpers and organisers now! And despite all expectations to the contrary, it has actually made me more interested in tackling longer distances, rather than less!


  1. Thanks for all your hard work. I really appreciated all the helpers, who were all cheerful and helpful. It makes the ride special. Ok, even more special :)

  2. Thanks, it is nice to feel appreciated! I just felt lucky to be part of such a special ride :-)

  3. I really enjoyed your blog LucyBP, you (and everyone) made this event happen. Thank you.

    I have linked from my own ride report