I had the chance to take part in the Tour Disaster on Saturday, July 26th. It was a simulation / scavenger hunt / race that saw cyclists pedal around Victoria and hit 16 checkpoints. In theory, cyclists would have an easier time navigating obstacles around the city after a major disaster. A similar activity took place in Portland in mid July, called the Disaster Relief Trials, but it was also a showcase of cargo bikes.
Rob Johns, the coordinator of the Victoria Emergency Management Agency (VEMA), presented to the 20 participants the mock disaster: a powerful earthquake had struck the Greater Victoria region at 3:15 am. Cyclists have been dispatched to aid VEMA for the following purposes:
• Move goods
• Move information
• Assess damage
• Assist the injured
We had 16 assignments, or checkpoints that needed our attention. We could pedal to them in any order that we liked. Some required checking in with VEMA personnel (volunteers), and at others there was information to be found or collected. We were given an answer sheet as well, which was to be submitted once we completed the course/race.
The participants, their bikes, and the scoring
There was a mix of participants, both women and men, young and old. Some chose to team up in groups. As an example, Foster and John did the event last year, John even comes from Alberta to compete. There were 2 cargo bikes, mine and the one owned by the GVCC, a three wheeled, three geared Christiana bike. Some participants chose to have backpacks, others elected to put their gear on a trailer. Whatever method we chose, we all had to carry 12 litres of water, which added to the challenge. In talking with some of the participants prior to the event, the sister event in Portland saw cyclists have to carry a pallet regardless of what kind of bike they had. Yikes!
Part of the rationale for carrying the water was that it created an even playing field. There was a points system for the event in three ways:
• Pre-trip: this was about your cargo capacity and what items you brought. You earned bonus points for additional things you carried in/on your bike.
• During the trip: this was about getting the correct answers for the assignments or questions. It was also about how much collaboration you demonstrated. Rob Johns said at the beginning that “disasters are about helping [people], we want to see that.” Lastly, it was about eggs. We all had to carry 2 eggs. We picked these up at 2 checkpoints. If our eggs broke we lost 5 points per egg.
• The race itself: Whoever finished first earned 50 points, 2nd earned 49 points, etc.
The event itself
It was a very well organized event. Beginning in Topaz Park, there were multiple tents for signing-in, registration, and Vélofix was there to check over everyone’s bike. BC Ambulance offered 6 volunteers, 2 of whom pedaled the course. There were numerous City of Victoria volunteers at the command center at Topaz Park, and CTV was there to interview participants.
We were given our assignment sheets, but weren’t allowed to look at them until one of the volunteers started the official timer. Then there was a hush as we all scanned the assignments. I did a very quick look over and decided to a) tackle the biggest hill first and b) work north to south. This meant climbing The Rise off of Vista Heights to the water reservoir. There we collected our first egg and had to lift our bikes over a 3 foot high concrete barrier. I needed another participant’s help with my bakfiets (thanks Shannon!). We were allowed to unload our gear though when doing this.
From the Quadra area, I then moved to Fernwood (Oaklands Park, Vic High, the fire hall on Yates), to Rockland, where I had to visit the water tower off of St Charles. Then I moved down to Fairfield. where I hit Pemberton Park, Clover Point, Olive Street, Beacon Hill Park, and Fisherman’s Wharf, all in that order. Then there were 3 checkpoints over in Esquimalt: the Selkirk Trestle, a park off Kimta Rd, and one on the new E & N rail trail. City Hall and Central Park were the last ones before I finished. Many of the locations were infrastructure related: in an earthquake, the water tower in Rockland and flag pole in Beacon Hill park would likely suffer significant damage.
Knowing the city helped enormously (there was only one location – Kimta Rd – that I wasn’t familiar with), and allowed me to group the checkpoints in a logical order. Because it was a race-like event, the adrenalin was certainly motivating me, and I found some of the climbs gruelling. The bikes did take some abuse though, as though they would in a disaster. Lifting the bikes over the concrete barriers, as well as wheeling through a giant rocky field adjacent to the Vic High track, had me worried that my bike might need a tune-up.
All participants at the finish line could choose between a water bottle or a deluxe first aid kit, and there were goodies and coffee and watermelon as well. There were also prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place based on points. These were a sample of different bike equipment – patch kits, lights, tire levers, and a pump. I finished in just under three hours, and when the prizes were awarded at the four hour mark, there were still half a dozen participants who had not yet finished.
The event, despite having an element of fun, was an excellent reminder and test for when a disaster does occur. I spent the night before the event trying to think of items to bring that would be essential in a disaster (and what could also earn me bonus points). In my cargo bike I carried:
• 20 litres of water in a big round camping water jug
• a 2 person tent
• 3 blankets
• a backpack
• a candle and matches
• camp pots
• a small backpacking stove
• swiss army knife
• hand crank radio/flashlight
• first aid kit
• a hoodie
• my camera
• a hat
• a picture of my family
VEMA had some great reading material/handouts, and they have them on cards. They’re called “Recipes for Disaster” and there’s one for your pet, for work, and for home. They estimate 8 hours to put together the family disaster kit. This highlights the seriousness of being prepared for a disaster. The Tour Disaster will empower me to follow through and put together a comprehensive disaster kit for my family. I also need to ensure that it can be efficiently packed into the cargo bike. As was proven by the participants at the Tour Disaster, cyclists will be major assets in helping their families, and others.