Confessions of a Velogaine course setter, Bruce Greenhalgh

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The final stanza of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’

I imagine that many rogainers can relate to the sentiment expressed in Robert Frost’s famous poem because route choice can make ‘all the difference’. However, the poem is usually interpreted as a celebration of individualism, a call to venture off the beaten track, to go your own way and do your own thing. That’s a perfectly valid reading of the poem. The origin of the poem, though, is less elevated. Frost actually wrote it as a joke, making fun of a poet friend of his, Edward Thomas, who was an inveterate procrastinator and who, when they went walking in the woods together, would agonize over the choice of paths and often later rue the path they’d taken.

Edward Thomas, I suggest, would probably have made a less than perfect rogainer. I’ve learnt that when faced with two (or more) route choices that appear to take roughly the same time the best thing to do is to decide on one quickly and not give ‘the road not taken’ any head space once the decision has been made.

I confess that as the setter of the Velogaine I tried to create a couple of situations where riders were presented with just such a choice of routes, where the best course of action was to opt for one quickly. Whether anybody fell into any of my ‘procrastination traps’ and wasted time needlessly deciding on a course I really don’t know. I might only have created a planning problem that was quickly solved before the riding began. But if you wondered why controls were set in a way that created route choice dilemmas, now you know.

While I’m confessing, I should own up to ‘under setting’ the course. My aim was to have the winners getting all, or nearly all, controls and then finishing with next to no time to spare. On the day there were three teams who ‘cleaned up’ and all were comfortably within the time limit. Getting course length right isn’t easy. Riding and measuring routes only gets you so far. I find it near impossible to replicate the pace and application that I can muster during competition, and conditions, notably the weather, change. While setting the course Scott and I encountered a range of weather conditions with cold (occasionally) and wind (usually) lowering our speeds. Conversely, the weather on the day was perfect for going fast, just the right temperature and minimal wind. I’m going to blame the weather then, for my not getting it right and so avoid having to admit that I’m getting slower with age. The annoying thing is that I dropped two controls from the final version of the map which, if retained, would have provided almost the perfect length. Ah well. I won’t do an Edward Thomas and worry too much about it.

It’s not all about the winners though, and if I needed proof that the course suited the less competitive it was provided by Vincent Loye who described to me a tidy route around Mt Pleasant that he and his granddaughter, Fleur, rode – a ‘Goldilocks’ of a course complete with a satisfying number of control visits.

Before the event there were suggestions about having a points bonus for visiting all four cemetery controls. I thought about it, but it was a ‘road not taken’. My personal preference is not to have such scoring variations and, I’ll admit it, that influenced the decision more than anything. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Some might have wondered about the rather macabre name for this year’s Velo, ‘The Four Cemeteries’. There are no less than seven cemeteries in the area covered by the map and one just off the map that featured in early versions of the course, as well as a ‘Cemetery Road’. The place is a veritable necropolis! Naming the Velo to reflect this was irresistible.

A final confession; fundamental to my course setting and decision making is a desire to create a course and an event that I’d like to compete in. It’s really as simple as that, and to be able to realise what is, in many ways, a personal vision is a privilege granted only through the efforts of the volunteers who joined me in making the Velo happen and the riders who competed and made it a great day. Thank you one and all.