Adjust and Adapt

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail.  – Unknown
  • No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.  – Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
  • Long range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.  – Peter Drucker

The bike ride projects were developed as a way to let leadership studies students work together to organize and execute real and complex projects.  The rides are very complex projects and require a lot of pre-ride planning and daily on-the-road adjustments.

Planning starts with an analysis of where we want to begin and end the ride.  From there, we determine cities along the route that could serve as places to stay overnight each day with an account of mileage between each city.  Before we finalize our overnight cities, we scan the route using Google maps–which has a bicycle mode in the transportation options that shows the elevation along the specified route.  Changes in elevations are useful to know when determining daily mileage goals and the expected time to complete each day’s ride.  While in Google maps, we also scan the proposed roads for the route using a street view.  From the street view, we can get a look at the road conditions, width and safety of the highway shoulders, and try to gauge the amount of traffic that we might expect on the road.  If certain segments of the road don’t look safe for riding, we can make adjustments to the route before arranging lodging.

Once the route takes shape, we begin making contact with churches, schools, and family connections in the overnight cities.  With our university being a church-related institution, our calls for assistance are usually well received at churches or we can ask to be referred to others who might lend assistance.  “A place to take showers and throw down sleeping bags” is how we describe our needs.  On close to half of our stops, we’ve had generous and giving hosts feed us supper and provide breakfast.

Once on the rides, students take turns serving as “Road Captains” each day.  As such, they are responsible for the planning and decision making on their RC days.  Road Captains determine the plans for riding, eating, breaks, and adjustments caused by construction, road conditions, or weather.  The Road Captains and the team are responsible for the tactical changes to the plan that arise when we meet the road and encounter obstacles to our initial plans.

On the third day of BRAT1, for example, we encountered road construction on our planned route to Andrews that would have prevented riding that particular stretch of road.  One of our students had already scouted an alternative road during the early phases of planning and route determination.  We quickly followed the alternative roads, which added some extra miles to the day’s total, but was better than the alternative of skipping miles.  We also discovered that we underestimated the miles that we could ride that day and ended up cycling 80 miles past our overnight stop and then driving back to our lodging for the night.  The next morning, we re-drove the 80 miles to the starting point to begin cycling.

On BRAT2, we learned that thunderstorms were expected to come through our region in two days and drop as much as five inches of rain across our planned route.  We realized that we would be unable to ride in those conditions and that we would have to skip a day–which would delay our return to Abilene and make us miss two school presentations and television news appearance on our mid-point break.  We decided that the best strategy was to double the number of planned miles on the next day so that we would be past the rainy area before it blew in.  To do that, we’d have to ride 200 miles as a team from Premont to Uvalde on just our second day of riding.  It was hot, most of the team hadn’t developed their riding legs, and it was the longest distance traveled in a single day on any of our BRAT rides.  We did it!  With the exception of one 11-mile stretch of no-shoulder road with heavy oil truck traffic, we completed the ride to Uvalde shortly before dark and a few hours before the line of thunderstorms rolled in.  It rained all night and into the morning.  We left Uvalde about 10 a.m. the next morning and made it all the way to Junction before driving back to the H.E.B. Foundation Camp for the night.  We arrived back in Abilene in plenty of time for our school presentations.

We had a similar experience on BRATS4 when we arrived in Enid, Oklahoma.  The forecast showed severe thunderstorms for our next 2-3 days of riding after a planned day of rest in Enid.  We opted to forego the day of rest and make it to Kansas and then drive back to Enid for the night.  That turned out to be the right decision.  Even though we put an extra 160-180 miles on the two support cars driving back to Enid after reaching Kansas and then driving back to the Kansas border the next morning, it ended up getting us out of harm’s way.  While riding in Kansas the following day, we heard reports on the radio that a few of the towns that we had passed through the day before, had tornadoes touch down in or near the towns.  Good call.  Crisis averted.

One of the worst sections of highway that we rode was a section in Kansas from Winfield to Augusta–it was the day we started riding in Kansas.  The road, which didn’t look busy from our Google maps street view, ended up being heavily traveled on the day that we rode through.  The shoulders were much narrower than what we experienced in Texas and much of Oklahoma.  Our support vehicles had to ride with the left tires on the shoulder and the right tires off of the shoulder.  Heavy traffic in both directions forced us to stop and find alternative and less-traveled roads–which we did.  Again, the change added miles to the day’s total, but the winding country roads that ended up riding to Augusta were very scenic and pretty.  The traffic was very light and it ended up being an enjoyable section of road.

To date, in more than 6,600 miles of riding, we’ve only encountered ride-stopping rain two times.  In the final 9.3 miles of first ride to Canada, we had a fast-moving storm blow over us and dump a lot of rain for about an hour.  We watched the weather radar and forecasts on our phones and saw the storm pass over us and blow out into Lake Superior.  Once past us, we completed the final 9.3 miles and finished the ride.  Our other rain delay happened as we rolled into Valentine, Nebraska on our second ride to Canada.  It was almost noon when the rain started falling.  With our planned overnight stop already scheduled for Valentine, we stopped early that day and enjoyed the attractions of Valentine.  Our shortest day of riding was planned for the next day, so stopping 30 miles short in Valentine on the previous day did not drastically affect the plans for the next day.

One of the things that makes the BRAT projects so valuable and worthy of repeating is the practice that the students get solving real problems.  Rather that just reading about organizational planning and contingencies in their course textbooks, BRAT participants get to experience the concepts that they study in their classes first hand while out on the road.


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