The buzz along the banks of the Willamette River began to intensify as the afternoon wore on and a blazing July sun beat down on Portland.
In the parking lot of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Disaster Relief Trials Cargo Fair floated in an easy-going manner for a small crowd while, somewhere out there in Portlandia, about 50 competitors zoomed around performing feats of Cargo Madness.
The concept of Disaster Relief Trials are simple: Show off what support human powered machines might be able to provide in a disaster situation. Competitors ride from station to station, performing tasks and picking up cargo along the 30-plus mile route.
The route itself is challenging. Pick your own route. Just get to the stations and perform your tasks.
Among those hauling around Portland were Bike Friday engineer Willie Hatfield and Co-Founder Alan Scholz. They came to Portland to show off Bike Friday’s new Cargo Bike, the Haul-a-Day.
Willie is no stranger to racing with the Haul-a-Day. He rode one of Alan’s prototypes in the Eugene Disaster Relief Trials in the fall of 2013.
Willie placed second, although he did cross the finish line first. However, part of the challenge was transporting an egg, intact, to the finish line. Willie had broken his egg, and was delegated to second place.
So, back in the OMSI parking lot, as the excitement built in anticipation of the finish, we knew Willie had been among the top three for most of the day. He led at one point, then fell a couple of minutes behind two local competitors.
Willie and Alan, of course, live in Eugene. That put them at a bit of a disadvantage in knowing the best routes to take.
Then the PA Announcer barked that they were getting close to the finish. At one of the last checkpoints they would receive eggs. We looked at each other as the tension mounted. Did Willie learn his lesson?
To best understand who Willie is, rewind first of all to the moment I went to Willie to propose he ride in Portland on Bike Friday’s behalf. Willie said he already committed to riding there, and agreed to ride in support of another local Eugene rider.
See, last year in Portland, a ringer showed up. Depending on who you talk to, he was a professional messenger/delivery biker from New York City. NEW YORK CITY!
Of course, he won in Portland. So the tight-knit gang from Eugene hatched a plan to make sure nothing like that would happen this year. They wanted to put Eugene on the Cargo Bike map, and show the folks in Portland what we’re made of down south.
“So,” Willie said, “I’m not going there to try to win myself. I’m there to ride in support. Are you okay with that?”
“Sure,” I said. “That’s really the Bike Friday spirit, not to mention the spirit of Disaster Relief: Find a way to help out, and be there for anyone.”
In the time between then and the Trials, Willie’s responsibilities at Bike Friday grew. He also came up with some ideas for a modified version of the Haul-a-Day to build for the race.
“I wanted to build something that was loud, and stood out,” the typically soft-spoken Willie said. “I wanted to build something that would kick a– and really show everyone what we are capable of doing at Bike Friday.”Without question, Willie produced something loud, his paint job called Pink Lemonade. He also designed a pair of unique cargo racks that some so-called experts questioned, whispering under their breath, “I think he might have some trouble with those.”
We heard that Willie took the lead by the third station, but then we heard how that station challenged them. They would have to pick up a wooden pallet, and carry it for the rest of the race.
Suffice to say, the imagination of the crowd went crazy. How would you carry a pallet?
“I just threw it on and strapped it down,” Willie said, “I really didn’t have any time to think about it.”
At the seventh station, where they had to pick up a box of food — some as heavy as 30 pounds — Willie arrived in third place, but found the two leaders forced to completely unpack and repack. Again, Willie’s strategy was simple.
“I just tossed it on and strapped it on,” Willie said. “I gained a lot of time there.”
For sure. Willie crossed the line in 3 hours and 11 minutes. Two minutes later, second place Ryan Hashagen of Portland finished, dragging his cargo across as his trailer tipped.
Amazingly enough, it would be 19 minutes before the first true Cargo Bike arrived after Willie. But that came after the PA Announcer greeted Willie as the first finisher, but asked if he could show his eggs. Willie reached back into the pockets of his Bike Friday Compass Jersey, and thrust a third-carton of eggs into the air, unharmed. The victor.
Alan crossed the line 16th in the Open Division, covering the course in 4 hours and 29 minutes. His attention to detail displayed for everyone in how neat and simple his packing was on the standard Haul-a-Day rack.
All smiles, Alan was tired, but had a great time.
“That was quite a challenge, but also a lot of fun,” Alan said.
As for the gang from Eugene, who Willie planned to ride in support of, well, they finished and were thrilled to see that Eugene stood atop the podium.