250km left on the road, 250km left…knock one down, don’t look around…249km left on the road…
Well, I know the ol’ drinking song used ‘bottles of beer on the wall’ but I needed something to keep the mind on the task at hand, as the miles rolled by. We made it, we rode just over 250km from Guildford Mall, Surrey to downtown Redmond, Washington. Both Josée and I are proud of our accomplishment but this pride is far overshadowed by the experience of riding with so many people whose lives have been touched, directly or otherwise, by the scourge of cancer.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty details (well, maybe a little) of the actual ride but suffice it to say that it was extremely well organized, a mammoth task unto itself when one considers that there were over 2200 riders involved, nearly 400 crew volunteers and over 200 actual organizers. Think of the logistics of transporting luggage, setting up tents, feeding, providing porta-potties (I’ve never seen so many), and arranging a smooth border crossing for this many people.
We started Saturday morning with a luggage check-in, breakfast and brief opening ceremonies. Once the speeches were done, the cyclists were ‘released’ onto the road. From the helicopters above, it must have looked like a swarm of army ants. Due to the volume of riders, it took us a good 7-8 minutes from the official start for us to get out on the road. The route, well sign posted and marshalled, was smooth and fairly flat. We rode for nearly 15 km without a stop as police cars cleared intersections and motioned us through red lights. Eventually we were out of south Surrey, into the farmland. The pack of riders slimmed a little but at all times we were riding with a dozen riders strung both behind and ahead of us. It took just under an hour for us to reach the border, at which we had our first pit stop, complete with massive buckets of fruit, granola bars, waffles accompanied by various sports drinks and water. Each pit stop also had a mechanic section plus a first aid tent. The border crossing was efficient and took us no time. In fact, we were later informed that the entire 2500+ group of riders and crew crossed in under 1.50 hours.
Pitstops were plentiful, averaging about 25 km between stops. Generally, we paused 10-15 minutes per stop, forcing ourselves to eat and drink even though we didn’t feel like doing so. We pedaled through farm land, past Birch Bay and a number of small communities, which was a real treat as my normal route through Washington consists of 120km per hour on I-5. It was a beautiful ride, fairly flat although we did encounter some headwinds. Lunch was at a Washington State Park, around 90 km into our ride, and, unfortunately, once finished, we commenced climbing a five or six kilometre section of hill – very tiring! From there it was flat riding, although a bit windy, to our camp, located in a nice town called Mt. Vernon.
Along the route and at every pit-stop were dozens of spectators, “cheerers” and well-wishers. Many of them were ordinary folk, sitting in a lawn-chair with a coffee in hand as hundreds of us streamed by them. Consistently, their ringing shout was “Thank you for riding”. They appreciated what we were doing and their energy helped us to stay motivated during the odd moment when we (or I should say I) wondered what the hell I was doing on a hard bike saddle for so long (butt-balm anyone?).
The camp consisted of a covered area with a buffet-style meal section, drinks and desserts a-plenty and a stage for speeches and entertainment. We could have booked a massage and there was a medical tent which housed a few banged up riders who looked like they’d had a run in with a rogue lawn-mower. We quickly located our tent, grabbed our luggage from our colour-coded truck and headed off to the shower trucks. This was an amazing set-up – 2300 riders had hot showers and our wait time was less than fifteen minutes.
Supper over, we listened to a band for awhile then had some speeches. Some official with the BC Cancer Society informed us that as a group we had raised $9.20 million (up from $6.90 million last year) and the rider count had increased from about 1700 in 2009 to 2250 in 2010. Needless to say, we were proud of the little bit we’d done – thank you again to all the people who donated to our fund-raising efforts. The two keynote speakers were exceptional. The first lost his son to brain cancer a few years ago (read about his team here) and spoke of how we must keep fighting in all facets of our life, as his son did whilst battling cancer. The second, also a Dad, gave a talk about how his son developed brain cancer at age 3, recovered from it for a year or two but then it came back and he succumbed to it in late 2009. He suggested that we can all play a role in beating cancer and that it doesn’t matter how small or seemingly insignificant the effort – it all adds up. Both Josée and I felt these two speeches were the highlight of the weekend, although I must say that just the sheer fact that I completed it without dying is a big one for me!
Day two saw us up for breakfast, packing up our stuff and on the bikes by about 7:15. We found ourselves next to Mike Gillis, GM of the Canucks, for five minutes so we had a chat about the upcoming draft picks. Actually, we didn’t mention hockey at all as we figured he must get that all the time. He was quite gracious with his time and said that this was his second time doing the ride and he would be back again in the future.
The first 80 or so kilometres were fantastic – riding through undulating farmland, through lush crop fields and alongside meandering rivers. We averaged about 29km per hour over these first three or four sections. As we sat down for lunch, it started to rain, a gentle shower at first, slowly developing into a nice November sou’-easter (minus the wind!). Josée was getting cold so on we trudged but we quickly ran out of farmland and into hills, hills and more hills. Around kilometre 108, we finally dropped out of the hills, to our final pit-stop and from there onward, we rode on a flat river walk, 15 km to the finish.
Our ride consisted of about 6 hours riding the first day, at an average speed of 22.6 kph. The second was shorter, about 5 hours on the bike, at an average speed of 23.6 kph. My maximum speed was about 51 kph. For a complete fly-over of the 250km route, you can click here.
250 km ridden; 2500+ riders and crew, $9.2o million raised. These numbers are staggering but are nothing compared to the battles fought by people who had cancer, who have cancer or who will have cancer. The BC Cancer Society has a simple mission: To See Cancer Conquered In Our Lifetime. We believe this will happen. Thank you for your support and we look forward to doing it all over again in June 2011.
PS…We’ll be forming our 2011 team sometime in September. If you are interested, please let us know.