I refused to look at the weather forecast all week. Weathermen are alarmists, they exaggerate, they are often just plain wrong. I had spent countless hours over the past year planning and organizing the Bloomfield Bike Fest – I refused to face the possibility that it might be cancelled.

Why not have it another weekend, people asked.

Simple, the insurance coverage was limited to the weekend of April 30 & May 1 and a new policy would have been way over budget. Not to mention the effort and time it took to coordinate the businesses & groups attending the event, the arrangement and transportation of the borrowed equipment that included pop up tents, tables, stakes, flags, podiums, ramps & obstacles – all of which were piled throughout my house making my family look like a pack of hoarders. Then there are the limitations of time around my race and work schedule and the availability of Wright’s field. All of these factors brought me to one conclusion – this was going down rain or shine.

I woke up at dawn to an overcast sky and a very slight drizzle. Sweet!  A light sprinkle – that I could deal with.

I was anxious to get the race course setup, so I headed over to the field at 6:30 am with a car load of stakes and tables. With no real plan in mind, I headed to the middle of the field and started staking.  Around 7 one of my MTBNJ teammates arrived. Together we figured out a way to create a short loop contained on the field for the younger kids. With 2 quick stake changes, we could link the short loop to the cinder walking path around the baseball field for the older kids. Perfect.

By the time we finished the course the first car-load of supplies arrived. I had arranged for volunteers to swing by my house and load up with gear before heading to the field. Meanwhile, the clouds were a bit darker and the rain was coming down harder. I pretended not to notice but my shoes were soaked through. We unloaded and setup the equipment, huddling underneath the tents until the next car-load arrived.

By 10:30 am just about everything was setup. Coffee arrived, along with a dry set of boots. I took a moment to survey the scene – the race course was looking good – I don’t know what possessed me to bring balloons to this thing, but I was glad I did, hanging different colors on the stakes to designate the start and finish line. The PA system was pumping out upbeat tunes for a positive vibe.

I was aware that most of the kids in town probably had never heard of a bike race, let alone thought about being in one, and neither had their parents. So although the races would be an incentive for some, for many a race would be intimidating. Hence the name Bloomfield Bike Fest instead of Bloomfield Kid’s Bike Race. My hope was that the idea of a festival would draw a wider crowd, and I’d have the chance to spread the bike racing bug to unsuspecting victims.

For this to work, the parents and the children would need to be occupied. If the parents are bored, they’ll head home with their kids. If the kids are bored, they’ll wine until their parents take them home. Either party being wet and cold would only shorten their attention span.

Seeing the setup, I hoped we had enough going on to keep everyone happy enough to forget about the weather.

Under the many tents we had a Montclair Biker mechanic working on race whips, Nadra’s juice co handing out samples, Steve & Kate’s camp running a stop animation station (totally random, but a very cool activity), the WHSA grilling hot dogs and selling snacks, t-shirt for sale and there was a selection of my personal bikes on display with information tags under the Jamis tents. The Bloomfield health department gave out free helmets and flyers on healthy living & safety initiatives. There were a few groups that either couldn’t make the date or didn’t show because of the rain, but overall, I felt there were quite a few things that would appeal to young or old. Not bad, not bad at all.

In an effort to give the kids the full race experience, each racer received a race plate for their bike and a Jamis swag bag stuffed with a Superfoods cookie sample, the Best NJ Trails for Kids pamphlet, mtbnj info, kids race info, coupons, and a Bloomfield Safety council flyer. Each racer also received a participation ribbon when they crossed the finish line. We held award ceremonies for the top 3 racers in each group, giving them engraved medals once they climbed up onto the podiums.

The rain let up and the sky looked brighter.

Kids started appearing around 11am, checking in with the mechanic, getting their swag bag and tying their numbers onto their bikes. Immediately the kids were drawn to the ramps.

The first set of races were the youngest children who stayed on the short course where parents could keep an eye on them at all times.

The parents on kid’s bike race followed. I jumped in, along with almost a dozen other parents. The kids cheers drowned out the parents relentless giggles. Our high centers of gravity combined with the wet grass resulted in numerous wipe-outs – inflaming the kids’ cheers even louder.

I was laughing so hard my face started to hurt.

Following the crowning, the police department gave a bike safety talk. The rain had almost completely stopped at this point.

The moment the police finished their talk the children resumed riding the obstacles.

The older kids headed out on the course, pre-riding together. I hadn’t expected that.

All 7 kids races went smoothly, with MC BJ doing an incredibly entertaining job of commentating and engaging the crowd.

I watched as the other children cheered on those racing. I saw kids who had struggled with the ramps earlier in the day ride them now with ease. I watched competitors hive-five one another at the finish line.

I saw kids on the start line who didn’t want to race when they first showed up. I heard parents say their first time racer couldn’t wait for the next one. I saw kids wet and muddy grinning from ear to ear.

This. THIS. This is what it’s all about.

The first annual Bloomfield Bike Fest – success!

{photo credit: Dian Lofton / Bloomfield Bike Fest 2016 }

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