Wow. Where do I begin? The Ride to Conquer Cancer happened this weekend, and I just now woke up from a delicious sleep after two days of cycling. My body is 50% sunburnt (though I applied lots of sunscreen — when you’re outside for at least 12 hours, it’s bound to happen); I have a small blister on my finger (I wore gloves but one pinkie rubbed against my handlebars every time I grabbed my water bottle); but my legs feel fine! I was luckier than some — one girl we camped with had a broken hand by the end of the second day.
The ride started at the CNE grounds, with over 2,800 cyclists congregating at the starting line, where orchestral music (with a house music beat for motivation) played over a loud system. The crowd was wild. The crew (all volunteers) were overenthusiastic, and cheered on every single rider on their way out the gates. Most riders (including myself) were wearing the same official flourescent yellow jersey with black bike shorts, and so there was an even greater sense of community, empathy… togetherness.
The first 20 km was slow, before the real pros moved forward and others stayed back at a more comfortable pace. Our route took us into Mississauga (how beautiful!), up Cawthra Road, past Eglinton W., and on and on. Our first stop was about 30 km from the beginning. With every stop we made sure to eat something, refill our water bottles, and STRETCH! It felt good to be out of the saddle for at least 10 minutes before getting back on the road.
Let me tell you: my teammates and I could not stop talking about how well organized this weekend event was. The Princess Margaret made the journey so much easier for people. Most intersections had cops directing traffic. The food was terrific and the line-ups were short. The enthusiasm was overwhelming! Many passerby’s were smiling, holding hand-made signs, cheering, pushing us to keep going.
My teammates who had ridden a bit ahead told me of one man who fell over his handlebars and bloodied his face. I saw him later on, first noticing the dried blood on his grey shorts. He was wincing in pain but said he wanted to keep riding! I would have stopped, but this man sure was dedicated!
It was a very long first day to Hamilton. We had a really fun downhill jaunt in Dundas, Ontario just outside of Hamilton. Some cyclists hit speeds of 70 to 80 clicks bolting down that hill. I liked the thrill of it but I still needed to apply the brakes a bit — we were biking with cars and approaching an intersection at the base of the hill. One of my teammates zoomed past me and ended up sliding narrowly between an SUV and a guardrail — he admitted later it was a stupid thing to do, but luckily nobody got hurt. I think many cyclists were just happy to coast down a steep hill after biking through a thundershower (brief but heavy) and conquering several inclines along the way.
Our camp was at Mohawk College in Hamilton, above the downtown core. The last hill was not so fun. One thing I’ve realized is that I’ll take a short but steep hill any day than have to bike up a gradual incline for several kilometers. We were turning a corner and saw an intersection. “The hill must be done,” I thought. But not so. A new hill was starting to our left! At that point, our morale was low. So we stopped to catch our breath and take a moment.
We arrived in Hamilton at around 3:30 after biking 107 km and stopping at numerous points on the route. At Mohawk College, we ate a splendid meal, drank some beer, threw off our socks and shoes, and laid on the grass looking at the sky. My teammate Brian had two visitors — his wife and his mother arrived to congratulate us. It was really nice to relax after so much exercise.
Our tents were already set up by event volunteers, and our luggage was at the site as well. Couldn’t have gone any smoother. We also had hot showers, a luxury after the long day on the road.
My friend told me one woman arrived in Hamilton to huge applause from about 200 people. She had ridden the entire 107 kilometers with a single leg. She was a cancer survivor and she lost her unborn twin children because of the disease as well. At that point my teammates and I stopped complaining about any muscle or joint pain that we had. This woman had taken the same hills as us, and our own problems seemed superficial in comparison.
Day 2 to Niagara Falls was easier because there weren’t as many hills, but we seemed to be fighting a strong wind for much of the ride. The forecast was grim — thunderstorms — but we lucked out. NO RAIN. Not a single drop. We kept a reasonable pace for half of the day, and then increased it for the last stretch of the ride. By the end of the day as we were approaching Niagara Falls and could see their buildings in the distance, we were flying. I felt intoxicated by the rush of adrenaline, the whizzing noise of wheels turning and turning, and the feel of the pavement rushing underneath. I loved the downhill rides when I would switch to the top gear on my bike and pedal until my tires were spinning at full speed. Then I would motor up the hills with as much momentum as possible. I remembered my yoga instructor Nancy telling me a week earlier, “Remember your yogic breathing.” I focused on the road ahead, found a cadence and pedaled, thinking of how much I loved riding my bike in Toronto, and how that had brought me on this journey.
Finally we entered the touristy area near the finish line, and everybody on the sidelines was cheering wildly. As I looked to my right toward the Falls, I thought of my Dad and the people in my life who were affected by cancer. I felt tears coming to my eyes and at one of the last intersections, stopped and wiped them away. Oh, what a feeling. To be in Niagara Falls after starting the morning before in Toronto. To have raised almost $3,300 and as a group of 2,800 riders — 14 million dollars for the Princess Margaret Hospital.
We rode single file down a runway, through the finish line arch. An emcee announced each person’s arrival, and a crowd of cyclists and families cheered. Our trip was over. We dropped our bikes off with the event staff and stood by the Falls, exhausted and content.
And so thank you to each and every one of you who donated to this cause, and who emailed with words of encouragement. We would not have been able to do this without your help. As a team of four, Brian, Stephane, Pete and I raised almost $13,000. I think most of us will be riding in this event next year and hoping that some of you may want to join our team and ride with us.
For now, I’m hopefully purchasing a new bike — a proper road bike — and might go on some longer rides this summer. I have found a new love. Maybe I’ll write a song about cycling. You never know.