Monday, 6 August 2012

Dog Handling at the Big Dog

The heavily laden van stood alone in the field surrounded by the damp grass of the early morning.  The air was quiet but filled with a sense of expectancy.  In a few hours time over 500 riders would be racing around Stanmer Park fighting it out to be the Big Dog of 2012.

Wandering over, two figures could be seen in the form of Rory Hitchens and Simon Catmur.  As we set to work we were soon joined by others and the big inflatable Start/Finish arch was erected.  Following the photocopied plans, posts linked with the Big Dog tape dictated the course route while I was marking out the car parking areas.  Without thinking I found myself ensuring the posts were colour coordinated, equally spaced and perfectly aligned.

Giant pegs were hammered into the ground for the two marquees while various vehicles arrived with gazebos for the trade stands.  The once empty field was now buzzing with a harmony to get the Big Dog in motion.

Cars with bikes, vans with bikes, and people on bikes all started appearing.  Excited participants and some rather confused locals wanting a quiet morning were arriving in mass.  Sometimes it was not obvious as to who should be directed where.  Identifying some of the soloists, I did try to point them a place near the track as this is so important for them.

Filling up the field with vehicles, we opened up the next part of the park for the overflow parking.  The cars just kept on coming.  One rather smart car arrived with just a few characters on its number plate.  Establishing they were here for the Big Dog and directing them to the gate, I received the response “You mean you want me to park in a field?!”

Big Dog start
The hustle and bustle in the centre of the arena increased as the race prepared to start.  Setting off with squeals of delight to the thumping PA system, it was a complete contrast to the docile field just 6 hours earlier.

The main part of my work was done, time now to drink tea, eat cake and catch up with friends.  This process was repeated many times during the afternoon.  My daughter had kindly made some cakes for the occasion and I later found myself handing out endless refills of tea for the thirsty riders and spectators.

Lorna's cakes
The atmosphere of the Big Dog is one of the best in the racing calendar.  Still not able to ride from my South Downs Triple, I needed an excuse to get to the Big Dog.  Having received so much from others on my Triple ride, giving something back here seemed most appropriate.  It was also a nice opportunity to see and thank all those who came out to meet me when I was on my ride.

As the race was drawing to an end and the tea urn was running out of water, the focus turned to the prize giving.  With so many categories and some prizes going down to 5th place, the numerous boxes of goodies were overwhelming.  The challenge was to get the right prizes to the right people.  Working together we found a process that ran smoothly.  

With the Big Dog raced and won and with everything said and done, the crowds dispersed.  Marquees came down, the big arch was deflated, rubbish bags filled up and everything was stuffed into the cars and vans.

Leaving the empty field little remained of the excitement and fun of the Big Dog, except for the lasting memories and the will to come back again next year.