Time and its winged chariot and all that…hard to believe that this year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer was my 15th straight ride. And it’s thanks to your support, dear friends, that I’ve been able to maintain this streak!
According to stats provided by the organizers, there are 90 riders in the 15 year group, less that 1% of the estimated 40,000 participants. Certainly the Ride treated us very well, beginning with a free “diamond” helmet.
Because of COVID, the Ride’s past two years went virtual, which meant I’d been taking it easy, doing 200 km in four 50 km segments in the week before our designated weekend. Back in the Real World though The Ride was 100+ km each day over the weekend of June 11/12. I had work to do to get back in shape!
First the good news: I had a great training buddy, Peg, an old running friend who wanted to cross The Ride off her bucket list. Now for the bad news: she’s a machine. Not only is she a super-fast runner, she’s a veteran of quadrathons where you run, swim, bike and kayak. ARGH! Needless to say, trying to keep up was agony, if not impossible, but it got me back on track!
June so far had offered up perfect training weather but predictions for June 11/12 looked dire. Two days of rain back-to-back? Mind you, I have done The Ride in the rain though it was only one day. And I did get drenched despite my then rain jacket. Wisely, as it turned out, I bought a new, truly impermeable jacket.
Day 1 of The Ride dawned…stormy. All the 15-year vets gathered on the steps of Princess Margaret for a group photo.
We then rode in a peloton down to the starting line at Exhibition park. That added 7 km to the 103 km distance to Hamilton, but so what? Totally worth it to be part of such a wonderful group of people.
Day 1 went smoothly. The rain held off except for a few sprinkles though the skies did look unsettled for the whole journey. The route has improved a lot since 2008: fewer hills, excellent signage alerting you to hazards, traffic police stationed at busy intersections. But The Ride still owes a lot to its intrepid volunteers who man the rest stations and who sweep the route in cars or on motorbikes to fix broken-down bikes, get riders medical help and even to pick up the exhausted ones and their bikes.
The route ended with a fab 5 km downhill zoom into McMaster University where the 15 yr vets had another treat waiting: champagne and nibbles reception at the PMH / KPMG tent. Ed, my faithful road crew every single year, I indulged! Great to connect with fellow riders. I especially love this guy’s shirt BTW.
Day One was the easy one, Day Two was…not! At 6:30 am, I retrieved my bike from safekeeping and hit the road for Niagara Falls. There’s a long climb up onto the escarpment, a low gradient bike trail 7 kilometres straight up. It’s a doable grind with a spectacular view at the top. I could see across the lake all the way to Toronto – and the storm clouds gathering overhead.
The rain started – with determination. I’d stopped by the side of the road to pull on my new rain jacket when a fellow rider hailed me. She’d taken shelter under the eaves of an old barn. The weather app on her phone showed a rapidly approaching thunderstorm.
As I made my way over, the heavens opened. In the ensuing downpour, our shelter was rapidly filled up by storm-tossed riders. Crowded in like the Tokyo subway, we waited for the thunderstorm to pass.
As the rain eased up, I set out, having ridden in wet conditions before. Soon I discovered that the helpful vents in the side of my jacket didn’t keep out serious rain. Oh, well. Ed brought me hot Starbucks coffee at the next rest stop. He got several cash offers for it from other riders!
But the rain hid something wonderful. As I passed through Jordan, I spotted our friends, Bill and Lynda, standing by the road. Turns out that this year, the route passed right by their house! They’d braved the storm and gotten soaked to cheer me on – I couldn’t believe it! We hugged and cheered – and then I was back on the road.
The rain continued sporadically as I rode through the farms and vineyards of Niagara. Though flat, this point in the journey can feel endless. I marked off the Thorold drawbridge, the town of Pelham and at long last the Niagara River. Amazingly, people have docks and boats that close to The Falls!
During the last stretch to the finish line, I chatted to another 15 yr rider who, due to back issues, has done the distance every year on a recumbent bike. And I thought my 120 km were hard work. Great to cross the finish line.
More great surprises: I ran into my yoga buddy, Della and her riding partner, also veteran riders!
So how did my training buddy, Peg, make out? Well, I saw her at the start of the ride on Day One and then didn’t see her again. We kept missing each other because she was leagues ahead of me. We celebrated our successful Rides a few days later at The Granite Brewery – out of the rain!
Best of all, this year 3700 riders raised $16 million for cancer research at the Princess Margaret Hospital. In 15 years, The Ride has raised $250 million to fight cancer, the most successful charity fund raiser in Canada’s history!