Mountains of Misery caused me to fall in love with cycling both as a rider and as a member of the event team. The first bicycle club I joined, New River Valley Bicycle Association, founded both the Wilderness Road Ride and Mountains of Misery (MoM) and offered the two events back-to-back on the last weekend of May. Who does that? NRVBA did for many years and it was mostly an all-volunteer effort.
As a new club member and a new cyclist, I traded riding years for volunteering years which was a pattern followed by many of the club members. I volunteered for nearly every position possible and learned from the ground up how to run a successful cycling event. I rode in the event four times – 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. I took tour groups to experience the misery first-hand in 2014 and 2015.
When David Billstrom and I were dating, I roped him into volunteering for MoM and we served as SAG support along the route in 2010. David’s experience as an EMT was needed as the temperature rose and riders struggled to complete the final grueling climb to the finish.
The following year, the event director asked David to step in as Safety Director. Supporting the riders had always been challenging due to the remote rural location of the ride and the difficulty of the terrain and improved emergency response was needed. At the time, there was friction between local residents and event participants and emotions were running high. When one rider crashed and other riders would not move out of the road to allow first responders to pass quickly on their way to treat the fellow rider, tension mounted, and the future of the event was in jeopardy.
David took the challenge and turned things around. He created the first formal safety plan, formed relationships with first responder groups, hired state patrol officers to monitor the route, and put riders on notice that bad behavior would not be tolerated. He even instituted a “DQ” poster placed at each rest stop to list the names of all riders who were disqualified due to breaking ride rules. Riders took the changes seriously and tension was greatly reduced. No one was disqualified and safety of the event was improved.
Mountains of Misery was held for 20 years before being retired – 1999 – 2018.