While the team and I are stationed in Deming, NM that does little to explain the variety of which our work entails. Within the city itself we have been shuffled from one location to another, helping where there is need, but beyond that we've paid visit to a few surrounding communities as well. Last weekend was our first introduction to Silver City, the home of last years "Southwest Region Sponsor of the Year, Rocky Hildebrand", and what a fun little city it is. We were brought in to assist with the coordination and running of the 2019 Tour of the Gila bike race, and were welcomed into the community with open and eager arms. After only a few hours in the city it was evident that the infamous "A" and grey t-shirts have been through this town before, we received many inquisitive questions from the community and a few invitations to serve with different organizations. Although we were still a little in the dark as to what our work at the race would entail, the warmth of the city showed us that it would be a good weekend.
The race was a five day long event, beginning Wednesday with the final event on Sunday, however the team was only asked to work for the middle three days, giving us some time before and after to explore and experience Silver City. We arrived on Wednesday morning and were greeted by "Grandpa Rocky" a man who was repeatedly spoken of when Americorps staff heard I was heading to southwestern New Mexico. He's the passionate director behind Fort Bayard, hosted two previous Americorps teams and is eager for another (likely next fall, although he may just steal ours). Upon arrival Rocky met us at the Santa Clara National Guard Armory, what would be our home during our stay, complete with coffee and donuts. After making sure we were settled he took us over to "his" fort for a tour. The fort is ..... It was nice being able to see Fort Bayard on a quiet day and learn a bit about the history of the area before it was taken over by hundreds of bikers and their support systems.
Our first day of work we were thrown right in, scheduled to act as course marshals, directing traffic (both the bikers and vehicles) on two dangerous corners along the first portion of the race route. This was my first time (along with most of my team) attending any type of professional cycling event, so I had no idea what to actually expect from our work. I was continually told how vital our teams role at the Tour of the Gila was, but standing on the side of the road did not really sound like that big of a job to me. Not only was the corner I was placed on a sharp turn for the bikers, the entire intersection was also undergoing construction, adding many more obstacles than were necessary. As the first grouping of bikers sped past us I realized how important our little flag waving job really was, notifying them not only of the turn, but orange barrels and obtrusive curb sides. With the number of bikers and speeds they were traveling at, what looked like an innocent obstacle ultimately could have resulted in major crashes. There was a lot of downtime on this first day, as groups of racers only went by every 30-40 minutes which meant we had time to sit and read or do puzzles, but instead I filled a major portion of that time talking to Chris, our point of contact for the day, an avid biker, Silver City transplant and all around cool guy. I learned a lot about the biking world that morning and could quickly feel myself growing fond of the sport.
When we returned to our makeshift housing at the armory that evening, I decided to go and introduce myself to our house mates. We were sharing the building with Project Echelon, coincidentally a team based out of Milwaukee, WI which I only learned after talking to a few of them that evening. The team members range in ages from 20-30, and almost all of them had some form of Midwest roots or another. I actually felt as if I was back in college with an old group of friends, we went from playing with a toy slingshot (where I nailed the milk jug on my second try) to playing hearts (where I wasn't as successful) all while learning a little more about each other. It was later that evening, after returning to my room, that I decided to google the team, trying to figure out this racing world (pro, amateur, UCI). Upon opening their homepage I really felt that 'college connection', turns out their director, Eric Hill, was an RA in my dorm during my freshman year of college at UW-La Crosse. Talk about small world.
Our second day of work took us to Tyrone for the individual time trials, again I had little explanation as to what the team would be doing here, but the setting was pretty cool and Jack, the man in charge, seemed to be pretty laid back. After helping to set up the fence barriers Jack gave me a brief overview of where the team should be placed: a few at the entrance to the parking lot directing traffic and keeping cars off the route, and a few near the starting line doing the same. There were definitely too many of us for the jobs needed, but my assumptions about Jack were right and he urged us to simply enjoy the day: walk around, talk to people, hang out and have fun. I met a family from Illinois who's son was racing that day, and my favorite part of our interaction was the dad's knowledge of being a F.I.B. this realization coming after we discussed his weekend visits to Lake Geneva. By this point I had begun to recognize a few faces I had met the night before, which made the event a little more exciting, feeling as though I had someone to root for. The day was long and because we had proven how efficient we were with fence assembly and take down, we were roped into deconstructing the hundreds of feet of fencing at the end of the day.
Our third and final day of work was the one everyone had been talking about since we arrived. Saturday was the "big event" for the fact that it took place in downtown Silver City and thus drew the most spectators. Our job was similar to the previous days, wave flags and make sure people don't get hit, but this day there was less down time and more action. The event, the Criterium, was a roughly 1 mile loop around the city, and the pro's could do that loop in as little as two and a half minutes. I was working at one of the pedestrian crossings, occasionally opening the fence for spectators to cross over to the other side, which was equally relaxing and frustrating, there's always someone with a mood isn't there? What's cool about working in Silver City though is that people know Americorps, they've had two teams in the recent years and have seen the hard work and efficiency an NCCC team often provides. Many people were curious about how long we had been in town and what work we were completing, they were disappointed to hear we're actually stationed in Deming, but encouraged us to come back to Silver on the weekends, which we will for sure be doing.
While it was yet another random few days for the team, that sure seems to be the theme of this project, the team enjoyed their time working in Silver City. I can't help but relate the city to something I would have stumbled upon while backpacking Southeast Asia, so of course I loved it. There was such an eclectic mix of people and ages, many of which were transplants, passing through and never leaving - this likely the narrative that reminded me of 'nothing yet everything' towns in Asia. One exciting interaction I had was with a woman from Alamorgordo, a small town I had been considering visiting, as it's near White Sands National Park, a New Mexico "must see". This woman told me her town resembles the vibe of Silver City and upon hearing I was considering a trip urged me to do so, I guess I now know how I'm spending my second long weekend away from Deming.
A Year of Service
My life, being anything but predictable, has taken another turn. Rather than moving to Jeju, South Korea - my original plan for Fall '18, I'm going to test drive Denver, CO and its surroundings, an area people just keep telling me "I'd love".