We know how much it means when you’re out on the route and you see that sign: Lunch Stop Ahead. It’s a time to relax, refuel and refresh, and you may have noticed that it usually runs like clockwork.
That’s in large part due to the skills and effort of Jenny Soyke, Cycle Oregon’s lunch coordinator. To get a little insight into what she does, how she does it and why she does it, we talked with her recently. When you read her answers, you’ll understand why things run so smoothly – this is one organized and dedicated volunteer.
What is your role on Cycle Oregon, and how long have you been doing it?
On-course Lunch Coordinator – this will be my fourth year.
How did you come to be involved with Cycle O, and has it evolved over time?
My husband, Jeff Willensky, suggested we volunteer as a way of hanging out with cyclists together, because our bicycling abilities were diverging – he was getting better and going longer, and I was less able to, due to a back injury. We volunteered as a team for two years, then he just had to ride. I’ve continued to volunteer in the same job, last year with a wonderful volunteer co-coordinator, Mary Watts.
Tell us the details of what you do.
Arrangements for the on-course lunch stop sites have been made in advance by the Cycle Oregon staff. The lunch coordinators arrive at the designated lunch site by 7 a.m. on most days, meeting our local volunteer team – new each day – for the first time. We confer with the ride director for any special information about the community, the site, the resources and the volunteer team. We walk the site, look at entry and exit points, and consider the best flow through the site that will keep things moving to feed people efficiently and avoid traffic jams. We make final decisions about where all the components of the on-course lunch stop will go: bike parking, food, drinks, recycling, water bars, Blue Rooms, bike repair, music, seating, gear drop and parking for Cycle Oregon vehicles, our reefer truck and local volunteers – all strategically placed. We then mobilize the local volunteer team of about 20 people to unload the truck, and set up the lunch stop, ready to serve the riders from around 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 or 2 p.m. We then pack it all away, and try to leave the site as clean or cleaner than we found it.
What skills or traits are important in your role?
Organization, tact, patience, understanding of human nature, teaching, understanding of food and water hygiene, appreciation for cyclists, appreciation for our local hosts, and a sense of humor!
Why is what you do important for riders, and how does that impact your approach to doing it?
I want the riders to have a smooth, restful and enjoyable lunch experience with as little hassle as possible. My approach to achieve that is to focus on three goals: 1) easy navigation of the site by keeping bike parking in the periphery and out of traffic flow so riders can easily enter, exit and walk around to all components of the lunch site to get what they need; 2) I don’t want the riders to have to spend time waiting in lines, so we do our best to ramp up and serve faster when it gets busy; and 3) responsible handling of food and drinks for both safety and convenience. The importance of food, water and Blue Rooms is evident.
What would a rider be surprised to know about what goes on behind the scenes on Cycle O?
The amount of time spent by both Cycle O staff and volunteers preparing for this event, and the dedication of the volunteers, many of whom use vacation time from their “day jobs” to come and work their tails off for the riders without pay, year after year.
Why do you keep coming back?
Cycle Oregon is a great organization with principles I believe in: cycling, being outdoors, economic stimulation of rural communities, sustainability, and fostering the next generation of cyclists. Add to that the opportunity to have a “guided tour” of some of the most beautiful and interesting areas of Oregon and neighbor states, while traveling with and meeting a lot of interesting people. Cycle Oregon is a true athletic achievement for the riders, and I enjoy watching and learning from the athletes who take it on.
How would you describe Cycle Oregon as an event to someone who’s never heard of it?
Seven days of having fun outdoors in some of the most beautiful sites in Oregon, hanging out with cyclists, and getting to know the true blood of Oregon, the citizens of the rural communities.
Tell us about a favorite moment (or two) from along the way.
First: In Enterprise, Oregon in 2008, we were setting up the lunch stop and one of the local volunteers suggested blocking a street by City Hall with the Blue Rooms. “I don’t think we have permission to block that street,” I said. The group of local volunteers burst out laughing, saying, “Oh, we give you permission!” I learned something about rural communities. The volunteers helping us were the town leaders – that’s the way it works in small rural communities. Cycle Oregon was going to benefit the town, and they were going to do whatever they needed to do to help it happen. That’s the Cycle Oregon-rural partnership.
Second: A rider approached me as we were packing up one day about 3 p.m., anxious and a little agitated, worrying that her family members coming behind her wouldn’t get to eat. I assured her that we know who’s out on the course, thanks to a great Cycle Oregon system, and that if we leave the site we leave bagged lunches and drinks at the site for those still out on the road. I know what it’s like to have a hard day and ride in late. She came back to me a few minutes later with an apology for her original approach and gave me a big hug and a thank-you.
What year has been the most memorable for you, and why?
Probably the first year, since Jeff and I were new to this volunteer job with Cycle Oregon, and every day was such a challenge. It was such hard work, yet at the end I felt like I’d had a vacation because it was such a complete change of pace and place from my usual daily life. And meeting all the wonderful people in this organization for the first time – that was really memorable. I can’t say it’s ever an easy job, but with each year, I have more systems in place and more insight to make it a little easier. This year promises to be memorable because I have ties to about half of the areas we’re traveling through, and I look forward to seeing them in the light of Cycle Oregon.
Is there a host town that really made an impression on you? Why?
I couldn’t single out one town without feeling I was neglecting multiple other towns who absolutely gave their all. Cycle Oregon experiences the “kindness of strangers” extended from our hosts to the whole moving town of 2,500 riders plus volunteers. The can-do attitude of the hosts and their delight in our presence moves me each day of Cycle Oregon.