I believe I was the first unofficial volunteer for Take The Lake in 2008, the year before it was called Take The Lake. There were no publicity and no T-shirts. My then-neighbor Mark Gilchrist, who is now exploring southeast Asia, talked me into joining him, his brother and a bunch of Lake Waccamaw friends on this crazy notion of riding bikes around the lake the Sunday of that Labor Day weekend.
Because of an injured foot, I told Mark I couldn’t walk my bike through the woods but would ride part of the way, then backtrack alone to my truck, load up my bike, circle the lake and wait on the other side of the woods.
But, when we met up, I got handed a volunteer job instead. One rider’s very fancy bicycle wheel had been damaged on the push through the rough wooded trail, so I used my truck to carry him and it home.
Since then, I’ve participated or volunteered, usually at the run/walk registration table, at almost every TTL. There were always a lot of last-minute registrants mixed up among the already registered walkers and runners, with everybody impatient to get their bibs and sign their waivers. My experience working in a busy medical office, surrounded by screaming babies, came in handy amid the chaos.
The TTL committee members, also volunteers, have streamlined the process more every year as the weekend has evolved beyond its modest beginnings.
I recall how exciting it was in the early years to walk my bike across the dam, something which is unnecessary now since the bridge was constructed connecting the state park trail to the end of Waccamaw Shores Road. One year I talked my sister into coming down from Greensboro for the bike and paddle events.
I have almost all the T-shirts and some memories I’ll call “special.” The first year we had a horseshoe-shaped route, we thought we needed to prove that people had reached the turn-around point, so we gave out wristbands to walkers and runners. We knew bicyclists wouldn’t stop, so we marked their paper bibs with a permanent marker as they flew by. Some of them, arriving in packs, were in such a hurry that I kind of missed the bibs. If your favorite biking shirt still has a Sharpie slash across it, I’m sorry. One guy tried hard to slow down for me to do the mark properly, but he had his feet clamped into the pedals, so, when he slowed down, he fell right over.
One year I started out to bike the whole route but turned back because the heat was doing bad things to me, so I sat at the finish line and cheered for those who made it. I’ve sung with Southeastern Oratorio Society at the kick-off spaghetti supper a few times, too.
Since 2016 I’ve helped to cover TTL for The News Reporter, sometimes taking photos and getting interviews while directing traffic or completing my own fitness challenge. My photographer buddy Grant has captured the crucial shots, but I provided backup so he could run 15 miles without a camera in his hands.
Sometimes it’s been rainy, sometimes scorchingly hot, other times nice. Last year I trained for the TTL paddle event, increasing my distance in all kinds of weather. I’d tell myself, “It could be choppy (or muggy or windy) like this on the day of the paddle.” I’m training again this summer, but, with the virtual format, I can choose my weather for the final showdown.
My sister can “walk the lake” right in her Greensboro neighborhood if she desires. I invite you, reader, to join us. I may even recruit Mark to walk it from wherever he is at that time.
This year I won’t be in my orange vest stopping cars for you, but I will be cheering for you virtually.
Nobody’s going to take back your John A. McNeill Award if you don’t make it all the way, and nobody’s going to stop you from doing an extra 15 miles. It’s free, and you can take your time. Best wishes.