Friday, June 20, 2014

Volunteering at the OD, part one

The OD is essentially the East Coast's version of the Tevis Cup.  It is managed by Old Dominion Endurance Rides and offers distances of 25, 50, and 100 miles.  The terrain is very rugged and heat and humidity can be a factor, making it one of the most challenging rides in the country.  Because of those potential challenges, I hemmed and hawed with myself about whether I should make the 25 mile OD Nimo's and my first endurance ride or if we should sit it out and I could use the ride to get more volunteer experience.

Finally, at about 3 weeks before the ride, I had to make the call.  We had had an usually warm and humid spring. Nimo still didn't have quite the climbing conditioning that I wanted him to have for an OD ride.  I'd had a lot of fun volunteering at the OD No Frills ride back in April and I'd been told that if I volunteered for the Laurel Run away hold, I'd be done by 2:45, making it a fairly easy day.  And so I decided to be a volunteer instead of riding.  I made sure the volunteer coordinator knew my preference for the Laurel Run hold (this would come back to haunt me...), and I went on about my life.

(Note:  There is going to be a negative overtone to this post because that was my experience.  However, I don't want anyone to think that volunteering isn't valuable or that I regret volunteering in any way.  There was just a set of circumstances that ended up making my experience less than optimal.  And while I could have "spruced up" the description of my experience a little, I ended up deciding to tell it like I felt it.  Just because I did have a less than perfect/happy time, it should not be construed to mean that there was anything wrong with the ride management, the volunteer coordinator, or the alignment of the universe.  Sometimes things just don't work out as well as you hope...)

About a week before the ride, lots of e-mails started coming out for the volunteers with lots of attachments.  And by lots, I mean like 10.  At one point, I realized I would need to organize all of this information, so the Thursday before the ride, I started reading, printing, and organizing the volunteer handouts, which consisted of ride and hold schedules, volunteer names and contact info, procedures for the volunteers to follow, maps, directions, and generally more information than could fit into one person's head.  So I put everything into a binder in hopes of making sense of it all.


And that was when I discovered that by requesting to volunteer at the Laurel Run hold, I would not in fact be done at 2:45 in the afternoon.  Instead, I would be done at 12:30 or later the next morning.  While it is true that the Laurel Run hold was closed by 2:45 for the 50 milers, it was re-opened at 6:15 until 12:30 am for the 100 milers to come back through.  Had I known that earlier, I probably could have worked something out.  But, with less than 2 days before the ride, I knew any requests from me could put the ride management in a bind by not having enough volunteer coverage.  So, I negotiated with my husband.  (Remember that the day after the ride was Father's Day.)  And bless him, he agreed to keep down the fort all day and night on Saturday and allow me a few hours sleep Sunday morning before getting his requisite Father's Day "alone time."  (My husband and I have found that we don't really want gifts anymore - just some time to do our own thing and get a break from the fun, but exhausting, world of parenting with no extended family to help with child care.)

I have to admit that I was a little angry about the miscommunication on the time needed for volunteering and in hindsight, I really should have confirmed the time I would be volunteering as soon as I submitted my name, so the person I was most angry with was myself.  I absolutely understand that these rides need a lot of volunteers and that many people give much more of their time that I do.  But, I work and I take care of my daughter every day and I try to condition for endurance riding and sometimes I even shower or eat (it's often an either or kind of situation...).  Generally, volunteers are not women with very young children at home because it's just too much.  And I have recently given myself permission not to be Supermom, Superwoman, or any other Super-being.  I've decided that it doesn't matter if something can be done or if someone else I've heard of or know has done it.  If it feels like it's too much for me, then it's too much for me, and I don't have to apologize or feel guilty about saying no or not doing it.

That said, I felt like I was boxed in to this task, so I mentally prepared for what would be a very long day.  The one good thing is that I didn't need to be at the hold location until about 9:30 in the morning, so at least I didn't have to get up super early.  Because I live about an hour and 45 minutes from the ride location, I decided to drive in the day of the ride and drive home after I was done.

One other thing about volunteering for the OD ride that caused a bit of difficulty for me was that there was volunteer meeting at 5 on Friday before the ride.  That meant I'd need to drive down for the meeting and I would need to bring my daughter, Gemma, with me because my husband wouldn't be home from work before I needed to leave.  For those of you who don't have kids, but do have pets - it's not the same thing.  If I'm taking the dog somewhere, I pack some treats and some water and throw the dog in the truck.  If I'm taking my child somewhere, it requires at least 24 hours of advance planning because things like meal times and nap times may need to be shifted to accommodate travel time.  I also have to figure out what snacks and drinks to make and bring, and in this case, I had to plan for dinner too.  And diaper changes.  And clothing changes (because sometimes meals and diaper changes do not go as planned and there was a threat of rain...)

I won't bore you with the minute details, but I worked out an ambitious schedule which I hoped would allow me to push my daughter's nap time from 1 pm to 2:30-ish.  And I was completely successful.  While I left the house 15 minutes later than planned, I achieved nap time within 15 minutes of leaving and my daughter slept all the way to ride camp.  I now count this nap among my Top Ten Life Accomplishments.

Once I got to ride camp, I began to understand that the OD is not like the No Frills or the Fort Valley rides.  I wish I'd gotten a picture as I pulled into camp, because it was packed with trucks and trailers (very well-organized, but full!).  No Frills and Fort Valley had plenty of parking, but by 4:45 on Friday, the OD ride camp was very full.  I don't know where they parked the rigs coming in after me.  I ended up parking in a ditch, along with other volunteers, because that was all that was available and we didn't want to take up trailer space.

When I checked in, I was told to get a ride t-shirt, which I needed to wear to identify me as a volunteer.  I had to hoof it to the registration building and once there, had to wait for about 15 minutes as a couple of volunteers had difficulty with the t-shirt distribution system.  Apparently, t-shirts could only be dispensed by one person, who still needed to count the t-shirts in a recently delivered box before any t-shirts could be dispensed.  And said volunteer was very busy contemplating the meaning of life (or something), so the t-shirts could not be counted at that moment.  Finally, another volunteer, who perhaps recognized that standing in a crowded, small room with frantic activity is not the best place for a woman with a 20-month old, went over to the designated t-shirt box, counted the t-shirts (I believe there were about 50) and officially dispensed the t-shirt.

Once I got back to the volunteer meeting, I realized it had already started.  So I got my binder open and tried to get caught up while Gemma admired the horses doing their vet-ins and trot-outs nearby.  I'll be honest, I truly wish I could say that this meeting was helpful.  But it really wasn't.  I already knew what endurance riding was and had already volunteered at a ride, meaning that the first 20 minutes didn't apply to me.  Then, there was a lot of discussion about how important time is to a rider, so the in- and out-timers really needed to be understanding of that.  While I was scheduled to be either an in- or an out-timer, many of the people at the meeting were not, so I can't imagine how this information was helpful to anyone who wasn't a timer.  And what I discovered the next day is that nothing can really prepare you for being an out-timer except actually doing it...

Luckily, before I decided to shoot myself to put myself out of my misery, thunder started rumbling in the distance, causing the meeting leader to quickly conclude the proceedings.  I should probably mention that I spend an inordinate amount of time in generally useless meetings for work, so my opinion of meetings is very low and I have virtually zero tolerance for anything other than the most efficient presentation of immediately relevant information.  It is entirely possible that other people found the volunteer meeting to be very valuable.

And, while I had hoped to see if I could find Liz and another lady I knew before I headed home (I didn't know Saiph was riding until I saw her the next day at the vet check), the threat of a storm sent me scurrying to the truck with Gemma valiantly trying to tell me she wanted to see more horses and pet more dogs (one of the volunteers brought her lovable chocolate lab over for Gemma to pet and she was in love).  We had a quick dinner and I got on the road, trying to outrun the storm.  As it turned out, the storm was coming from the direction of my house, and while it never really affected the ride camp, it did make much of my drive back home challenging, especially because Gemma was well-rested and not ready for another nap.  (I consider my ability to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm while producing realistic animal noises for about an hour while driving in a colossal downpour to be among my Top Fifteen Life Accomplishments.)

Now all I had to do was pack my backpack with supplies, try to get some sleep, and be an out-timer from 10 am until 12:30 am the following morning:)

11 comments:

  1. I drove from Denver to Pocatello, ID with a 10 month old, who screamed the last three hours of the drive, except when the Baby Tad we had sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (that was all it sang - not the rest of the song). Driving and small children is always a challenge. I'm impressed with your ability to sing, moo and drive at the same time.

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    1. OMG, Karen! I can't even imagine attempting that kind of a drive - with a child of any age. Hats off to you and the Baby Tad...and may you never have to hear Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star again:)

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  2. Gail, I don't know how you do it! And then you still manage to find the humor in the situation (at least in retrospect!), which is especially commendable. The people organizing the volunteers were having issues all around it seems. My friend Carol who drag rode her mare Katie had her route changed 3 times after arriving at the OD. They weren't really able to explain to her in advance what her exact responsibilities were as a drag rider. And the organizer wasn't able to tell her how many miles she would be covering, a particular concern for a mare that has had knee issues in the past. Carol was pretty frustrated going in but thankfully it all worked out for them and she had a great time. I would have been so upset in your situation - 14 hours is a really, really long day, especially when you're volunteering almost 2 hours away from home. Kudos to you for still coming. Thank you for being there! Your presence at Laurel Run made such a difference for us!

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    1. You are very welcome! I'm glad that I was able to provide a familiar face:) And yes, there were some problems with volunteer organization - my station head was talking about it a little. I think they have lost a couple of more experienced volunteers and the ride is just so big that it's hard to coordinate. Having seen some of what needs to be done, I'm pretty impressed with what does get coordinated!

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  3. I have to admit that I'm on pins and needles waiting for the rest of the story! I know what it's like to cart a baby around while also fulfilling other obligations - not fun but sometimes necessary - but they are so worth it.

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    1. Hopefully I can get the next post done today or tomorrow:) And you are quite right that the little ones are worth all our efforts. I just hope someday we can be going to the ride with our horses!

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  4. Now you should come camp and play and volunteer with some small duties at our Ride Between the Rivers ride in August! Its super kid friendly and dog friendly. Swimming hole and lots of good food and fun. ;-)

    Giggled a good bit about your top life accomplishments haha.

    Can't wait for the rest of the story.

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    1. Oh, and you know, if you did want to come to our ride, you could bring Nimo and we can ride the trails the couple days preceding the ride just for fun if you weren't competing!

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    2. Thanks, Liz. Unfortunately, I'm tied to work during August this year, but it sounds like a ride worth keeping on my list:)

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  5. Holy shit, crazy. I don't think even Tevis is run quite like THAT. (I mean, I volunteer most year, but not At A Location; I do the webcast stuff so I just follow the thundering herd down the trail.) And "normal" rides, you just show up and find the RM and say you'd like to volunteer, and they say "oh goodie, would you like to do X?"

    I hope there was some late-night drinking at Laurel Run, at least. Waiting patiently for part 2!

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    1. Ha! No drinking...:( And now feverishly working on part 2:)

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