Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Grande Prairie - 55° 11' 13" N 118° 48' 13" W

Adventures can sometimes mean going places you never intended to go.  Last year, we discovered a new source for adventure - The Tour of Alberta.  On a whim, I decided that seeing a cycing race close up would be entertaining and knew from my swimming days that being behind the scenes at major sporting events is a large amount of fun.  The Tour of Alberta is a major cycling event that draws teams from the international circuit to come to Alberta and race for hundreds of thousands in prize money.  Riders that have raced in the Tour de France, Giro de Italia and other world-class grand tours will come to our little corner of the world and entertain the locals.

Two years ago, the Tour came within 100 metres of our house and so Kate and I looked into volunteering for the event.  Last year, we signed up to volunteer as course marshals, which meant giving direction to the cyclists, support vehicles and media entourage as they make their way along the course.  We were there the day before the first stage and found out they were short of traveling course marshals - those that go from town to town for the duration of the six-day event.  We cleared our calendars for the week and off we went ... to visit small farming communities, hang out with the camera crew, motorbike riders, police, mechanics and others that make up the 600+ staff and volunteers that make the race possible.

Each morning has a festival where the riders and teams check in, local politicians make speeches, local businesses set up tents and displays and the whole own seems to come out to see what all the noise is about.  We arrive (there are five teams of seven marshals), get our drops (places where we will be standing to direct the caravan) assigned, then plan a strategy to be in place while the caravan goes by, then pick up the team in the van, then race ahead of the caravan on back or side roads to get in place for the next assigned drops.

This year, I was the designated van driver.  I got to be the first person the caravan passed when they went through our marshaling team's area.  I would be in place, getting them safely past an obstacle or through an intersection.  I would then jump in the van that was parked nearby and drive right behind the police, medical and official team cars at the back of the caravan, picking up my team members as we went past.  Then, I got to drive as fast as the van could go to the next marshaling area.  All this on closed courses, with police happily waving me through.  The highlight of this was a 150 km/hour run between Hinton and Jasper with a 12-motorcycle-strong and 10-police-car motorcade ... with me at the front!  Two of the motos would rush ahead when an intersection came up and ensure it was safe for us all to zip through!  

Being part of the circus as it goes through is just as much fun as it sounds like.  And we get to visit all sorts of places that we might never have chosen to go if we weren't part of the tour.  Beaverlodge, Alberta anyone?










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