The last Friday in June I cut out from work early and set out for Dillon, Montana, to volunteer at RATPOD. Huh? Well, it stands for Ride Around The Pioneers in One Day and it’s a 130-mile bike ride to raise money for Camp Mak-A-Dream, a summer camp for kids with cancer. Camp is a client of PartnersCreative and most folks in my office have volunteered for as long as the event has been around, but this was my first year. I drove over with my mother — she had volunteered previously doing motorcycle support. Yes, Mom owns and rides her own Harley; she’s pretty bad ass.
We got to Dillon and headed to the University (Montana Western) to check in to our dorm room for the night. Then to the Patagonia outlet to work rider check-in. This was intimidating for a newbie, but I quickly got the hang of it and loved checking people in. It’s really inspiring seeing people from all walks of life and all different fitness levels coming together for such a great cause. When a rider raised $1,000 or more we rang this huge cowbell, which usually embarrassed people but was so fun. Those folks deserved recognition and they got it. I loved ringing that cowbell, very fun. After check-in there was a big spaghetti feed for the nearly 650 riders. So we had a couple beers, chatted, ate and eventually headed to our dorm room.
The following day Mom and I drove to the ride’s breakfast stop, about 20-30 miles from the start. We cheered the riders as we passed along. We saw riders in tutus and wings just meandering in happy groups as well as those in full Spandex gear riding in straight lines drafting off one another, each wheel mere inches from the next.
The breakfast burrito definitely lived up to the hype, and so did the scenery. I saw several people I checked in the night before — including a guy from my alma mater, The University of Maryland, who was riding with a buddy from Colorado. After breakfast we returned to the start/finish line, unloaded boxes and set up various stations, but the best part was cheering the people crossing the finish line.
The first to cross was a couple. The man rode years before, but was sick this year so they started at the pie stop before the finish and rode in. It was incredibly inspiring seeing a man so determined to ride RATPOD. I definitely got a little choked up. As they arrived each rider got a hearty cheer and a healthy dose of cowbell.
Mom and I set up the merchandise tent with my co-worker Leta. (That’s me with the short red hair and Leta at my side, post rain-run. Mom was avoiding the camera.) We had everything set-up for about 45 minutes when the skies darkened, thunder and lightning came and then it POURED. Not just rain, but pouring rain. Sideways, pounding-you-in-the-face rain. With wind.
Remembering lightning plus a metal tent does not equal good things, we kicked off our sandals, grabbed whatever we could and ran inside. Back and forth we ran until all the merchandise was inside. We set up a makeshift store in the area outside the dining hall and waited out the storm.
The Camp’s bus deployed to pick up riders still on the course and we later learned that riders not only got wind and rain, but also hail. Lovely. My boss Susan was out in a SAG wagon but most refused a ride — they had peddled most of the 130 miles and they were determined to finish.
After dry clothes and dinner, Mom and I headed back to Missoula, blue skies the whole way home. Go figure.
I definitely won’t forget my first RATPOD and can’t wait for next year. The people I volunteered with were kind and funny and a pleasure to run in the rain with. The riders were so inspiring. And Camp itself brings such a light to people whose lives have been afflicted with darkness. Everyone involved has her reason for being there and I was just so happy to be a little part of it.