Solstice Chase and the Missing Plates
Cross country skiing by Walter Rhein
“Bad news Bob, the number plates haven’t arrived,” I said.
“That’s not good, I sent them on Tuesday.”
A hard kernel of anxiety begin pulsating behind the bridge of my nose. It was the morning of Thursday the 15th. Saturday the 17th was the 4th annual Solstice Chase Fat Bike race where a record field of over 300 riders would be coming to compete. Needless to say, we needed their number plates to arrive or there would be a lot of disappointed racers puffing ice clouds at us through frozen beards.
“It wasn’t on that truck that burned up was it?”
“I hope not.”
“Do you have a tracking number?”
I’d worked with Bob of Gopher State Events on several races. He does a good job and handles unforeseen circumstances with a workmanlike approach. The ability to keep a level head is important because racers need their results to be accurate and race day is always a frantic scramble. Athletes train too hard year round to be tolerant of errant minutes added to a published race result. You don’t have the luxury of striving for perfection in race timing, you have to nail it each and every time.
Bob sent over the tracking number and I looked at the last few entries.
12/13 12:39AM—Arrived at St. Paul facility.
12/13 8:01 PM—Arrived at Minneapolis facility.
12/14 12:14 AM—Arrived at St. Paul facility.
12/15 2:14 AM—In transit to destination.
“I need them to arrive tomorrow morning for early distribution,” I told Bob.
“It says they’re in transit, you should get them on Friday morning, or maybe even later today.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Let’s not worry about that for now.
Sage advice, there was plenty of other stuff to worry about. According to the weather service, a blizzard was coming: snowpocalypse, snowmageddon—10 feet at least, enough to shut down highways and bury homes. Also the temperatures were supposed to drop to -181. On top of all that, we were also concerned about the snowmobile trail. Our race wasn’t on the snowmobile trail but it crossed it a couple times. Polk county assured us they wouldn’t open the trail until the day after our race, but there was always the concern of rogue riders.
The pulsing spot behind my nose grew to the size of a golf ball and began pressuring the eyeballs.
I set up a text alert on the US Postal service tracking page and set about the completion of other tasks.
Messages began coming in from sponsors and racers canceling because of the forecast.
“Due to the weather, we aren’t going to make it.”
“You can give our tent space to someone else.”
“Sorry, the roads are going to be too bad, see you next year!”
Race director, Frank Lundeen gave me a call. We spent about thirty minutes trying to calm ourselves. We were already on the third or fourth contingency plan for a number of items. Right when we were about to hang up, Frank brought up the big one.
“I received the supplementary package of number plates, but not the main one.”
Of course. the small package arrived without problem. Doubly infuriating because it showed it was possible to mail something on time, even when it had been mailed a day later. Why couldn’t the main package have arrived and the supplement been the one that got lost? I kept hoping the call would be interrupted by a text from the US Postal service indicating the number plates had arrived in St. Croix Falls.
“How many plates do you have?”
“Four that are pre-assigned and about 25 blanks, but the blanks are all for the short race.”
We’d had it all beautifully organized with color coded plates to indicate whether the racers were doing one or two laps. This was to help the course marshals make sure riders didn’t miss their turn.
“If anyone comes in to register tomorrow, give them one of the blank plates.”
“Whether they’re doing the short or long race?”
“Yup, but maybe we’ll get lucky and the package will arrive tonight.”
I hung up and went to sleep, a thousand concerns racing through my addled brain. All night long I hoped to be awakened by a text message telling me the number plates had arrived. But the morning came, and still no plates.
Race eve had enough tasks to keep the mind occupied. Frank handled most of it and I was just along for the ride. Mainly my responsibility was the plates.
Checking in with the volunteers.
Final taping and flagging.
Are all the steep hills marked?
Picking up bananas.
Picking up chocolate milk.
The store opened at 11AM. At 10:27 there was a text message.
12/16 10:27AM—Your package has arrived at the Minneapolis facility.
I put an apologetic note on our event page canceling early number pick-up and dialed up Bob.
“Sorry Bob, bad news.”
“You got my hopes up.”
“I received an alert from the Post office, they sent the plates back to Minneapolis.”
“Aaaaaghh! Why would they do that?”
“I think we have to commit to the idea of making a new batch of plates. Do you have enough blanks?”
“I’ve got lots of left-overs here, I’ll put it together.”
Time to think about something else. I went to Wal-Mart and bought 100 donuts. The rest of the day evaporated in a rush, mostly spent stomping around in the dark with Frank making the final preparations to the course.
Time for bed. Would the world be buried under snow the next day? Would it be too cold to race? Would we have to shorten the event to keep our volunteers from getting frostbite?
At least a lot of snow meant you didn’t have to worry about high speed crashes.
Up at 4 a.m., open the door to see two to three inches of fluffy new snow. It was 5 degrees with minimal wind.
“That’s not bad.”
Dig out the car and head to the venue for volunteer meetings.
“Listen up folks, the number plates are not going to be in numerical order.”
“Where are they?”
“They got lost in the mail.”
“Were they on that truck that burned up?”
“No, I keep getting USPS tracking updates. For some reason they’re shipping the old set back and forth from Minneapolis to St. Paul. Our timer is coming with a new set of plates.”
“Where is he?”
“There!” I said, signaling as Bob entered with a box with the new plates.
“Are they separated by race?”
“Nope, but they all have tags on them and all the tags are in alphabetical order.”
“That will work.”
We scrambled and got the plates laid out a good five minutes before the first participants arrived. A random sampling of numbers between 1 and 2,500 were issued. Volunteers wrote a big “1” or “2” on the label to indicate the number of laps for the course marshals to read. I kept running back and forth to Bob with papers of corrections and race changes prior to the start time.
“I think it’s going to work out Bob.”
“We’re going to nail it!” Bob replied.
The egg shaped stress knob in my brain began to recede.
I grabbed the microphone and began announcing. Things began to accelerate. Racers in the long event took off, and I let out a sigh of relief. The short race went off fifteen minutes later and I let out an even bigger sigh of relief. There was about 40 minutes of quiet before the racers began coming in. One rider fell into a thorn bush and got some thorns in his eye, but he wasn’t too concerned. The medics took good care of him. A lady came in with blood running down her chin and was also attended to.
“Are you OK?”
“Meh, I banged my handlebars during a crash, that’s racing!”
There were plenty of smiling teeth framed by ice beards. No reports of frostbite or serious injury.
“That was fun!”
The last racer was a guy dressed in a Tony the Tiger suit. He crossed the line, pulled out a fifth, and drained it.
“Everyone’s accounted for!”
I found Frank and shook his hand. He hadn’t slept in about five days as he shoulders the greatest share of the responsibility.
“It’s in the books, crisis averted! Congratulations on another successful event!”
The egg shaped stress knob disappeared.
Just then my telephone buzzed with a text message.
12/17 2:15 PM—Your package was successfully delivered to St. Croix Falls and is ready for pick up.
The plates had arrived just in time for the 5th annual Solstice Chase.