Posts Tagged ‘The Big Move’

The Big Move 2018

Posted: September 15, 2018 in Bike, Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,

It’s been a while since I’ve made a post – two months actually – but, honestly, not a whole lot has happened since my July 7th Ironman (click HERE).  Really, it’s been two months of drinking craft beer, going back for seconds (and thirds), sleeping in, and riding my bike with Hailey, my 13-year-old step-daughter.

In other words, things have been just …

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It was with much excitement and anticipation then that I hopped out of bed at the ass-crack of dawn, ready to roll as the official “Sweep Rider” for The Big Move, for the 10th consecutive season.

Yay me!

Here’s a little recap of last year’s ride:

(That’s Hailey’s bib @ 0:32 with my parents’ names on it – how sweet, right?)

Truth is, Hailey and I achieved minor celebrity status a while ago when my (our) story was published in both The Standard newspaper, as well as the official Big Move website (click HERE).

Actually, it was the first time my picture has been taken in, say, a decade or so where I don’t look like a total and complete doofus.

Seriously, look!

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Aren’t we gorgeous?

Well … she  is anyway.

Me?

I’m not quite as photogenic.

So, yeah, anyway, after such an amazing write up, how do you say “No thanks, not this year”?

(Not that I would EVER consider such foolishness, mind you)

The Big Move is as much part of my typical summer competition calendar as, well, all my competitions and I take it just as seriously.  In other words – rain or shine – my buns will be sitting in the saddle at the very back end of the large group of riders all waiting to begin at the Starting line outside of Club Roma every second Sunday of September and, of that, you can be most assured.

And the best part?

I’m not suffering from a fractured hand (last year), or with a severed nerve (the year before that) through torrential downpours (same year), and it’s not even ridiculously hot like it has been lately so, really, there was no reason for it to not be anything short of a spectacular day of riding, so, hey, time to …

Similar to last year, Hailey was riding on her own in the 50k event which started 90 minutes later (9:30am), so I arrived all on my lonesome at 7:15am, parked, fussed around with my bike a bit, made about a zillion trips to the bathroom to whiz, and walked around to visit and talk with some of the amazing riders and volunteers that I have the privilege too get to know over the past decade or so of doing this event.

As always, there is lots going on prior to the 8:00am start and I enjoy simply standing around with my warm caffeinated beverage and witnessing it all go down before the official start when I actually have to get down to business.

Here’s my (our) motivation for this year’s ride:

And, just because I have them, here are some other photos from the starting line just prior to 8:00am (and, in Hailey’s case, 9:30am):

For the second time, I was partnered with Kathleen to ride as the official “Tail End Charlie’s” of the 100k ride.

You can see how cute she is:

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Seriously, how can you not be excited to ride with someone like this?

Karen (see last years post) also joined us for a good spell as well before having to circle back to sweep the 25k route later on.

Now, I’ve mentioned in the posts from previous years about how inspiring and motivational it is to stand at the back of 400 or so dedicated riders (actual number was 468), all preparing to kick them some cancer ass and the few moments before the official horn sound to start the ride is very powerful indeed.  Spirits are high, there are smiles abound, and just enough nervous anxiety among the riders (many of them novice) to be palpable and I absolutely feed on all this as it wasn’t so very long ago that I, myself, would look at something like a 100k ride and break out into a cold sweat.

For most, it’s not an easy task but one they have all taken up either to honor a lost loved one or family member, or maybe to show the world that they themselves – a survivor – can’t be taken down by the Big C.

Whatever their motivation is, it’s a genuine privilege to play a small part in making sure that that happens.

In fact, in the 10 years I have been sweeping this event, I have never – not once – ever had a single rider in my care not make it back to the finish safely.  Take that as more of a perfect example of how inspired these riders are – novice or not – as opposed to my own cycling.

It’s also a statistic I am extremely proud of.

“WE ALL GET BACK.  EVERYONE.  NO EXCEPTIONS.”

That’s our job and I do not take it lightly.

To that point, after a brief delay at the beginning waiting on some stragglers to show up, our first official issues occurs exactly 2 minutes into the ride, a mere 600m from the start, when one of the riders’ (Mary Jane) front break seized up, forcing us to return to the mechanic’s tent at the start to get it taken care of, after which, the chase was on back to the rest of the group already making their way up Pelham Rd. to the dreaded Rockway climb.

Maybe not the ideal way to start a 100k ride but, hey, what’ya gonna do?

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“Shit happens”, as they say.

As we approached the bottom of Rockway, I offered Mary Jane a quick tutorial on gearing and, low and behold, she made her way up to the top as they all do.

Remember, Rockway is one tough sumbitch for the uninitiated and can kind of feel like this:

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No kidding!

This is always the first hurdle we sweepers face in getting up and over the summit to the first rest station at Rockway Glen where the volunteer support is absolutely tremendous; pom-pom’s, cheering, clapping, costumes, et al.

Did I mention how amazing the volunteers are?

There was no stopping for Mary Jane, however, as she was eager to catch up to her friends who were still up the road so onward we pushed.

As anyone who has ever ridden with me will tell you, I like to talk.

A lot.

I can’t remember exactly what we talked about but before we had completed the first loop around 21st, 17th and 7th Ave’s and onto Center St., we had reunited her with her two friends, for whom I can’t remember their names (sorry, ladies).

It was pleasant enough conversation and the Rest Stop volunteers were all amazing as they are every year.  Our little gaggle of riders was always greeted warmly, had our bikes taken and held while we loaded up on Power bars, two-bite brownie’s, muffins, bananas (my own preferred type of “working” fuel) and other treats.

Surely, this is what it must have felt like for Alexander when he first entered Babylon:

One can get used to being greeted in such exquisite fashion.

Just sayin’ …

Having said that, it’s also nice to be remembered by the volunteers at these stations (the Rockway Glen parking lot at the top of the Rockway climb, the Pelham Fire Station on Cream Str., the Pelham Old Town Hall on Canboro Rd., and the First Incounters along River Rd.), many of whom have been working at these Rest Stops for equally long amounts of time.  And, believe me, they are all about as passionate about what they are doing in supporting the riders on their quest as we are about pedaling and I enjoy these brief re-acquaintances as much as I do the actual cookies, believe me.

I love you guys.

Not long after the second Rest Station, part of our little gaggle decided to bid us adieu and instead take a right instead of a left Tice Rd., and thereby follow the 50k route back to Club Roma again.

Now we were but a small group of three; Kathleen, Mary Jane and I.

Onward we pedaled in a loose formation into the wind, up and over the short and steep climb along Tice Rd., down the long decent along Canboro Rd. and into our second amazing Rest Stop experience at the Old Town Hall.

These quick stops might not be long but they are eagerly anticipated by us riders, believe me.  What you receive in encouragement here (not to mention the necessary fuel) is enough to keep the spirits high and the legs a-pumping in order to make it to the next Rest Stop and, eventually, the finish.

As a prime example, this is how you are greeted when you arrive at First Incounters:

IMG_2608Awesome, right?

How can you not be inspired?

Eventually at some point along the scenic River Rd., our little group of three caught up with another group of five, all employees of the St. Catharines Hospital.  Having “found her stroke” as they say, Mary Jane continued to ride ahead and, like that, our group of three had turned into a group of seven.

That’s how quickly the dynamic can change at the back.

Making things particularly challenging this year was the ever-present headwind and by this point in the ride 50-60k), new riders will begin to experience the first signs of true muscular fatigue; especially when cycling directly into a constant headwind.

It’s as these points, I will start to genuinely “go to work” at the front and afford the other riders a change to benefit of drafting behind and thereby minimize the amount of resistance they feel on their legs in order to continue moving forward.  It sometimes takes a bit of coaching in order to get new riders to “draft” safely and confidently behind me but, when they do, they instantly feel the difference and, hopefully, begin to feel like they “could ride forever”.

At least that’s what my step-daughter says whenever she drafts behind me.

I guess I block “a lot of wind”.

Hopefully, that isn’t a hint that I also need to lose a few pounds, but I digress …

“Leading” is a skill I hone regularly twice a week at the front of my own group rides up and down the often windy Niagara Parkway through the summer because, believe me, when you’re “sweeping”, you can expect to do a lot of work at the front “pulling”, and today was proving to be just that.

Eventually, when your group of cyclists starts to ride effectively in what’s call a “pace line”, all functioning together as self-sustaining moveable unit, it’s an extremely beautiful thing.  For my part, I will ride in this position at the front and into the wind all day in order to provide that little extra shelter from the unrelenting wind for the other riders because, trust me, it’s these moments like these in the saddle, that are among my favorite all year.

Inspiring?

And then some!

However, shortly after turning west on River Rd. we had our first serious official snafu of the day, a rider went down.  Somehow, one of the rider’s wheels had slipped off the pavement and into the loose gravel on the shoulder of the road and went down in a heap.

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Okay, maybe not exactly like that.

Anyway, “Shit happens”, sure … but I still hate riding up on situations like this.

Fortunately, the good thing about riding along with hospital employees is that there is a good chance that one of them is a nurse, as was Ben.  Kathleen herself is also a nurse herself so, yeah, if you’re going to go down on a bike and injure yourself this was absolutely the best case scenario.

But the time Kathleen and I arrived on seen (only moments afterwards, I’m sure) Ben was already mid-triage and the downed rider – Julie, his friend – seemed to be okay with no major injuries beyond a bruised pride I’m sure.

Hey, I’ve been there myself.

Seeing that things were well under control, I figured I could be serve by riding up to the First Incounters Rest Stop a short ways up the road and alert the sweep van to come back to assist.  Sure, we have a cell phone for such emergencies but, hey, here’s also a chance to ride up the road a bit and really open up ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning.

A few minutes into the ride to the Rest Stop, I noticed an ambulance coming up the road so I slowed my pace a bit and sat up to get their attention.

As it moved closed I waved at them nicely and …

… it continued to ride right past, with both attendants completely engaged in conversation with each other.

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I hoped that they would at least notice the downed rider up the road (thankfully, they did) but I continued cycling onto the Rest Stop in order to arrange for a van to be sent to pick up the potentially damaged bike.

Once we were all back at the Rest Stop together, a quick inspection of the bike revealed that while a bit banged up, it was still functioning properly and Julie herself, a little shaken up as she was, was determined to continue.

As I’ve mentioned on numerous other occasions, lots of amazing things happen at the back.

Oh, and I would remiss here to fail to mention that it here where I was also on the receiving end of the best surprise Bear hug from Steven Rivers (and his wife Janet), friend and long-time Big Move volunteer.

So it was with well rejuvenated spirits and, of course, more than a few mouthfuls of these:

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… that we all rolled out together again to begin (approximately) the second back half of the ride back to Club Roma for our awaiting hot lunch, beer, and a desperately needed sweater.

Did I mention that it was getting chillier?

It was, so keeping everybody moving and thereby working and “warm” became the new priority as we were definitely moving a bit slowly (largely because of the wind) thanks to “Tropical Depression Gordon” that was also moving in from the southeast.

Having said that, there was no fear of anyone needing to cut the route short as we have in other years as everyone was positively committed to the task at hand and, so, over the course of the next two hours or so, everyone more or less just did their own thing at their own pace.

Keep …

Moving …

Forward.

While Kathleen tagged herself onto the tail end, I toke a few opportunities to ride up the road to each rider in order to briefly check in, offer a Power bar or a little encouragement, or maybe some tips on how to stay comfortable in the saddle.

All was all good and cheerful.

Essentially, everyone was just kind of lost in their own blissful cycling Nirvana.

Albeit, with a lot of wind …

This is what we sweepers call “The Perfect Ride”.

As we continued to weave our way through Pelham and Fonthill, we passed by the road marshals proudly announcing ourselves as the “End of the 100k ride” and jokingly asked them to save us some pasta.

There was always a kind response offered in return.

Eventually, we ran into the second big snafu of the day at the Pelham Fire Station when one of the rider’s seats fell off.

Yes, his bike seat actually fell off.

Now, in my 10+ years of sweep riding, this is a totally new one for me.

Wheels, chains, tires, derailleurs, sure … but seats?

Seriously?

But, somehow, we managed to acquire some twine and this happened:

Yes, folks … we attempted to “tie” the seat back onto the seat post.

Only on The Big Move!

This is usually a very easy repair I’m sure but, for whatever reason, this damn seat simply did not want to stay put.

Where’s a good roll of duct tape when you need one?

We had to stop a few more times to readjust the seat, and it was decided that the other riders would keep going while we sorted out the issue.  By this stage, along with our own support van, we had also picked up two police cruisers who were trailing along behind us and reopening the roads.

We needed to keep moving but if they say they want to finish we’ll get them there!, right Steven?

It’s pretty much “The Sweeper’s Credo” if you ask me.

Finally, I’m not sure from where or how, but a roll of duct tape miraculously showed up at the corner of Roland Rd. and Maple St., or basically, the middle of nowhere.

Hallelujah!

The “Cycle Gods” were definitely smiling down on us.

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Now, I don’t claim to be any real mechanical guru or skilled handy man, but dammit I am Canadian, and if there’s two things any good, self-respecting Canadian knows how to inherently fix provided with a decent roll of duct tape it’s, 1) a leaky canoe, and 2) a broken bike seat.

A quick wrap and a mere seconds later, we were back in business and the three of us set off again at a good pace in order to catch up with the rest of the riders now well ahead of us.

IMG_2604It was back to the front and into the wind for me.

Together we rolled down Sawmill Rd. which brought back lots of memories of riding with my old triathlon buddies years ago when I first started riding.

I am still riding that exact same bike 10 years later.

Later, as a reward for all those kilometers cycling into the wind, there’s the long decent back down Rockway Glen and – get this – after over 6 hours of cycling, the cheerleaders and volunteers at Rockway Rest Station were still there in force and as enthusiastic as when we first rolled by six hours previous.

Over the last few kilometers along Pelham Rd. we managed to gather together again into a small group of four riders and that’s how we eventually rolled across the finish line to a warm reception of family and friends.

Mission accomplished.

As they do every year, Kelly and Hailey were there at the finish to see me cross in last position for the 10th time.

That’s TEN YEARS of being last.

How awesome is it then that it is also something of which I am very, very proud.

Hailey was still pretty jazzed and feeling very pleased with herself in having managed to get around the 50k course rather easily for the second year, and even having made a new friend in the process.

(Note:  That morning, I sent her a text stating:  “Be tough, be strong when other riders need you to be, and have fun”.  I know, I’m pretty much 2018’s guaranteed ‘Step-Dad of the Year’)

As it always is, Club Roma is a bustle with all the volunteers coming in from the course and sitting down to their well-deserved meals and a cold beer.  Here we can all finally sit back together and reminisce, laugh, catch up on other summer activities and, in some cases, actually see what we all really look like under our helmets.

Over the course of the day, I rode for a total distance of 135k, burning nearly 2400 calories (not to mention eating another 4800 calories) in the process, averaging a speed of 22.2kph over almost 6 and a half of tough, windy cycling.

And, just as quickly as it all started ten years ago, my reign as the official “Tail End Charlie” came to another successful close with everyone back safe and accounted for and, most importantly, with big smiles.

As always, happy riding and see you all again next year!

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The Big Move 2017

Posted: September 11, 2017 in Bike, Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,

After a more than disappointing end to this competitive season, I’m just beginning to feel a little semblance to how I was back fitness-wise in June before my wee accident (click HERE).

Throughout this two month period of adjustment, knowing that this year’s ride was going to be my 9th consecutive year volunteering as the “Tail End Charlie” for the Big Move Cancer Ride 100k event, well, let’s just say that it has kept me inspired to get back in the saddle as soon as possible.  And I have.  Where I’ve definitely cycled in some tough situations before – both physical and environmental (lest we forget 2015’s challenging ride click HERE) – I feel good, this morning’s weather looks good, Daisy’s been oiled and the tires are pumped up, and ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning are rarin’ to get under way as I’m excited to see what this year’s event has in store for me.

Let’s get this party started.

As per usual, I was up early and making a breakfast of eggs and toast and washed it all down with one too many cups of Joe.  What’s different this year is that instead of volunteering, Hailey and Kelly are riding the 50k event and seeing as how their ride doesn’t begin until later in the day, I’ll be arriving on my own and starting my ride before they even show up so no family selfie this year.

Sorry.

As per usual, by 7:30am the grounds around Club Roma is a hive of activity with everything in the process of setting something up, securing something down, moving something over there, then moving it right back again and, well, let’s  just say that there is butt ton of stuff going on.

As per usual, pedaling is my jam so I just stand around drinking coffee.

I kind of feel like the grasshopper among the ants but, hey, once that ride starts at 8:30am sharp, my work officially begins and doesn’t let up for the next six to seven hours, so this relax time with a warm beverage helps to get me mentally and physically prepped as well as providing an opportunity to get myself and my bike all squared away and ready to go.  And then, of course, with just mere minutes to the start I will inevitably have to go to the bathroom one last time forcing me to take off my entire kit one more time and put it all back on again but, I digress…

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Such is the routine.

There are some really cool parts that I love about being the “Tail End Charlie” as these rides.  For starters, it’s a very powerful feeling to be situated out at the very back of the pack for the opening speeches before the ride even gets going.  From this vantage point, you can see everyone’s motivation pinned to on their backs; bibs listing all the names of those for whom the cyclists are riding in memory of.

Think about that.

Cancer sucks and it’s just plain stupid how many names there are.  It’s an overwhelming feeling.  I can’t even fit all those who have been affected in my own life on my bib now, so I just go with this nowadays:

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So, really, you’re not just riding with the cyclists themselves but each and every one of those people with whom they are carrying along for the journey as represented by the names written in black magic marker.

How can that not both upset and  inspire you?

This year I was very lucky to be partnered with a friend, Karen Natho whom I first back in the early TryForce days and have since maintained a friendship with since then.  Let me tell you this about Karen: not only is she the nicest person you’re ever going to meet, but she’s also among the toughest triathletes I know so having an opportunity to ride alongside her and pick her brain was inspiring in and of itself.

It also bodes well that Karen can also keep up her end of a conversation over a 100 kilometer bike route as well.

Here we are at the beginning almost looking like a Before and After pic:

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It’s a bit of a different route this year but it’s the same monster climb up to Rockway Glen that starts it all off.  The climb up the escarpment is the first and most significant challenge faced by the riders.   That typically means there is a lot of coaching and encouraging up this segment of roadway.

Being a decent climber myself I am usually able to do all that but seeing how my legs currently may or may not be up to their usual strength yet, this morning I’m even kind of looking at this hill myself like:

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I did manage to get up it however, as did everyone else.

Check #1 off my sweeper’s “To Do” list.

It’s also usually around this point that the little “Lantern Rouge” group of riders, begins to form at the very back.  This is another terrific aspect of being the “Tail End Charlie”, in that you typically get to meet a new group of people each year very, very well, as you will inevitably get to spend 5-6 hours getting to know them as you are riding together.

This year I was fortunate to be riding with not one, but 6 riders belonging to the same family; 4 year old Nova was riding along with her mother and dad was riding with the two boys in tow.

Here’s they are:

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Here’s why they ride:

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Talk about parenting being done right.

Shortly thereafter, Karen and I met up with Maggie and Kelly, a Niagara teacher and banker, and it was with these two girls that Karen and I would end up riding with for the remaining 70-75 kilometers – not that needed us mind you.

I wish here now that I had some interesting stories about all the difficult trials and travails  we had to endure together over this years 100 kilometers in order to get our little Lantern Rouge  back to the finish line safely and successfully, but I don’t.  Sometimes Karen and I rode with the girls, sometimes ahead of the girls and sometimes behind, all depending on who wanted to chat with who.   Of course, as is tradition about being at the tail end of the ride with me, you also have to endure 5 hours of my endless stories and Maggie and Kelly definitely weathered the storm admirably.

Karen didn’t have a choice.

Dare I say it, however, that the going was easy-peasy and before we knew it we were more than halfway around the course and rolling into the ‘First Incounters’   Rest Stop in Welland, and you know what that means:

Honestly, if the Big Move ride wasn’t what it was, the bib on the back my vest might have well read: “I Brake for Cookies”.

Truth!

God bless the long standing volunteer Martyk family for making their rest stop along River Road at Becketts Bridge what it is, something to be enjoyed.  Many hugs were passed, good cheer was spread and, tragically, many cookies met their fateful end, but soon we were a-rollin’ on.

Heading back into Pelham and St. Catharines, Maggie and Kelly wanted to commemorate their longest ride at the 88k mark along Maple Street.   Balloons were even procured for the occasion out of the sweep van riding behind us.

“Always ready” we are at the end.

Here’s the big moment:

And, again, we continued on with high spirits.

Only another short 12 kilometers to go.

Here’s a few more photos of the day:

I’m going to change the story a bit drastically here, as there wasn’t really much left to tell of my own.  The girls made it back, Karen and I rolled over the finish line in last place (my 9th), a delicious pasta and meat ball lunch provided by Club Roma was crushed, and our day officially ended on the same high note that it started.

Here’s the proof:

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DisclaimerThe pasta lunch didn’t last long enough for a photo.

The other story unfolding today involves Hailey, my 12 year old step-daughter who had managed to complete the entire 50k ride on her own, including riding to the top of Rockway Glen on her own thanks to a little encouragement provided by the 50k sweep team.

Thanks Nicole, Christina, and Paule!).

Here’s some pictures of my step-daughter’s own Big Move experience:

This was a huge milestone to cap off her Summer with and I’m thrilled that she was able to do that as a part of the same incredible event that I am also very passionate about.  We have one last big ride to look forward to together later in the Autumn, so she is currently very jazzed about it as she is extremely confident to take it on.

Great job, sweeps!

And a very sincere and heartfelt “Thank you”  as well.

Maybe in the future, Hailey and I will evolve into a “Father and Daughter” sweep team on future Big Move rides.

Who knows?

Definitely something to look forward to in the coming years though.

See you all next year and until then:

Happy Riding!!

Note:  For a little more insight into this years event, please check out this video HERE.

The Big Move 2016

Posted: September 21, 2016 in Bike, Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,

It’s been a year already and that means that the time has come yet again for one of my favorite events of the riding season, The Big Move Cancer Ride in support of the Walker Family Cancer Center at the St. Catharines hospital.  This will be my 8th year participating in the event and my 7th working in the capacity of the “Tail End Charlie” (click HERE for previous years’ reports).

Yup, that’s me…the nameless guy who finishes dead last at the tail end of the entire parade.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’d have it no other way.

Here’s a little video summary of last year’s ride (you can see you’re truly at the 51 second mark):

Given the crappy conditions we rode in last year (click HERE for a little reminder), today was going to be glorious; bright, sunny, and not too stinking hot.  A perfect day for riding.  So there was no trepidation on my part this morning as there was last year and once again I sprang out of bed at the ripe hour of 5:00am.

Exactly like this:

Similarly, this was the third year that I have volunteered with my family who would be working themselves in the support van along the 25k route making sure the riders themselves were supported as well as all the volunteer and marshaling stations along the way.

We arrived together on site at 7:00am sharp so the girls could get to work helping get the truck loaded and the rest stations set up out on the course.

Here’s our obligatory family selfie:

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Me?

I stood around drinking coffee.

Not the smartest thing to be doing given I would have to get myself undressed about a gazillion times in order to take my gazillionth pee.  But there really wasn’t much else for me to be doing until the ride started except keep warm (it was a little on the cool side) and just take it all in.

There are certainly a lot of moving pieces come ride day to deal with and it never ceases to amaze me what an amazing job the organizing staff do in making it all come together.  I mean, I just have to pedal.

Easy, right?

Well, often it’s not and it can be rather like this on the morning of the ride:

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But, I digress.

For the most part, I just pedal.

However, there are just so many other things going on to account for in order to make the day successful and enjoyable for everyone.

I’m sure the organizers checklists look something like this during the days leading up to ride day:

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It really is amazing.

Kudo’s to them for being able to manage it all.

At 8:00am the organizers began calling to the riders for the 100k ride (my route) to begin making their way to the starting line.  Being the “Tail End Charlie”, I gravitated to the back with the other sweep riders.  This year, I was honored and excited to be riding with Kathleen, an ICU nurse at the St. Catharines hospital whom I was fortunate to ride with two years ago.  Kathleen is genuinely kind, supportive and a very capable rider, so I felt very lucky that I was going to get to be in her company all day once again.

I find the opening speeches prior to the ride very motivational.  You get to hear a few personal stories on why the ride is so important to other riders.  Everybody has their own inspiration for participating in The Big Move Cancer Ride.

Here’s my own:

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At 8:15am, the ride got under way.

Here’s a photo of us as we rolled out:

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Those two figures in the hideous yellow vests at the tail end are Kathleen and I (she’s on the right and I’m on the left).

She definitely looks better in her cycling shorts.

The rides begins by heading down Vansickle Rd, left on Pelham Rd. and then directly up the monster climb at Rockway Glen.  However, just as we were starting our way up the climb we got word from our sweep wagon that four riders had started a bit late and were now behind us.  I circled around that hightailed back to greet them just as they were approaching the hill.

Ashley was the last rider to reach the hill and with a little encouragement and suggestions on how to use her gears more effectively, she managed to get up the hill with a lot of huffing and puffing.  In fact, she didn’t even stop at the aid station at the top, she just kept on trucking and I would see her again for the next four hours.

However, Kathleen was there and she was just starting out with the last two stragglers that she had assisted to the top of Rockway.

Perfect.

Our little tail end group had found its way back together again.  In the sweep business, this is definitely a good thing as everybody is then present, accounted for and, most importantly, safe.

I am sensitive to the riders at the back of the pack as they somehow think that this is in some way a bad thing, or that they are failing at something.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, if I had to relate to you what it can be like at the back of the pack, I’d offer you this amazing picture:

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I’m not in this picture, nor is this even my route.  But this picture taken by Kelly (my wife) from the support van, perfectly captures everything I love about “sweeping”.  This rider was just two weeks out from her last cancer treatment and here she is finishing up her 25k ride with a little help from the Sweep Riders.

Out-freakin-standing.

Was it hard?

Yes.

Did she do it?

Yes.

Is she deserving of all the respect in the world?

Abso-freakin-lutely!

She’s an absolute hero.

I just can’t express how meaningful this image is to me.

Well done, sweeps!

Anyway, today, my (our) little group at the back of the 100k route happened to consist of Stacey, a kindergarten teacher, and her friend Jamie (my apologies if I have your name wrong) whose father had passed away from cancer last year.  She had purchased herself a new bike and trained all summer long for this event, even managing to ride the entire 100k distance once a week for the past three weeks.  And knowing how the weather has been ridiculously hot and humid for the past month or so, that’s a huge  accomplishment in and of itself!

Unfortunately, today she was under the weather with a flu bug that had been passed on by one of her students.  What this meant then is that she was constantly fighting waves of nausea throughout her entire ride as well as fluctuating energy levels due to the fact she hadn’t been able to hold down anything substantial in days.  Any lesser rider would have packed it in well before the ride had even started…but not Stacey.

This is the perfect example of the strong mindset that most riders enter into The Big Move with.  They are determined, motivated and inspired and they’re not about to give up…at any cost.  I feel then that it’s my prime responsibility to assist them in ensuring that these goals are met.

I mean, how could I not?

So if they’re committed, then so am I; come Hell or high water.  Sometimes (as there was last year) there’s a bit of both.

And with Stacey, she was all in… 100k or bust.

One of the things I find that’s helpful with “struggling” (and I use that term very loosely) riders is to take the lead and allow them the opportunity to “draft” on my wheel, meaning I pull through the wind and thereby minimizing the amount of resistance they experience allowing them to maintain a manageable pace.  Not all riders are confident in riding so close to another rider, so I use this as an opportunity to teach the some basics of good group riding.  And with Stacey, once she got accustomed to it she pretty much stayed on my wheel as often as she could allowing her to keep moving along nicely.

One of my favorite things about The Big Move is the rest stop at ‘First Incounters’, at the corner of Hwy 27 and Victoria Ave..  In actuality, every rest stop is pretty awesome as the volunteers there offer so much support and much needed encouragement to the weary riders…it’s fantastic.

But ‘First Incounters’ is near and dear to me, largely because of Shirley Martyk and her family.

Shirley has volunteered at the First Encounters rest station for a few years now and besides being one of my favorite people ever, she also has cookies – homemade cookies.  And it’s these cookies that kept me going for the last 25 kilometers.  These are no ordinary cookies, believe you me!   In fact, Shirley even brought little baggies of these cookies in for all the sweep riders to the previous weeks’ Volunteers Meeting on the off chance that there weren’t any left when we arrived on ride day.

How amazing is that?

Fortunately, there were lots left when we arrived at ‘First Incounters’ so I was all like:

pup6mc

I have no shame.

It was here though that I began to get a little concerned for Stacey.  While I appreciate how sick she was and unable to keep anything down, I knew that we were essentially “chasing the dragon” in that if she didn’t eat something – anything – there was a very serious likelihood that she wouldn’t make it to the end.

After all, the body cannot function on will power alone.

We coaxed her into eating half a protein bar and although I know she didn’t want it, nor did she enjoy it, she chomped it down reluctantly and after a few hugs and waves goodbye, we were off again down River Rd…aaaaand directly into a head wind.

Yay.

Fortunately, I have no problem riding at the front and blocking the wind so we reformed our little peloton and rolled out along River Rd. into the second half of the course which, truthfully, is my favorite of the course.  Here we also got to see other riders as they rode past us in the opposite direction and we received lots of waves and support in the form of “keep going”, “you got this”, “you’re doing great”, etc.  This is the kind of motivation that struggling riders need to hear and, lucky for us, there was lots of it.

(Thanks everyone)

We had some trouble along Concession 6 in Wainfleet as Stacey’s stomach began to reject the half a protein bar we’d force fed her only a few minutes ago but she was able to regroup quickly and we continued riding.

Turning back onto Riverside Dr. (Hwy 27) was fun as the headwind we’d fought on the way out and then again down Concession 6 was now directly at our backs and, hey, this is what cyclists live for.

Time to ride.

We formed up our little group again and off we were…temporarily.  We were cruising fine when we had our first flat tire of the day…mine.

I let my little group ride off without me as the support van pulled up behind and I set about the business getting it fixed up and back on the road.  It took me about 5-6 minutes in total I guess to get everything straightened away; just long enough to fall well behind the rest of the group but, here’s my real fun began…the chase back up.

Like last year I used this opportunity to go all Tour de France by drafting behind the support van at nearly 50kph  back to the intersection at First Incounters (about 7-8 kilometers in total).  It felt good to open up the throttle on the legs for a little bit and it about the fastest I’ve ever covered that distance before, minus descending down hills of course.

Having said that, I was definitely redlining it at one point but this is where I channel the memories of my own mom and dad and just keep applying the power to the pedals. I don’t know what it says about me that I like to suffer a bit periodically, so read into that as you may.

Soon, I left the support van behind and veered left on Victoria Ave and then right again on River Rd., still desperate to catch up to my flock.

However, when I did catch up upon turning north on Church Rd., my heart sank.  Stacey and Kathleen were sitting together by the side of the road and Stacey did not look terribly well.  Apparently she had experienced a dizzy spell and made the smart decision to take a break (smart thinking, Stace!).  No doubt that our attempts at chasing the dragon were starting to take effect in that her inability to keep anything down was beginning to pay with her energy levels.

Of course, this didn’t deter her resolve to continue on at all and after the spell passed, we were on our way again…albeit slowly.

So we had a bit of a conundrum now.  Given that Stacey was in no way ever going to back out of her commitment to finish (and power to her), we were running the risk now of being far enough behind that there was the very real chance that intersections up ahead were no longer going to be open for us to pass through safely.  Likewise, just up ahead was the long gradual climb up Cataract Rd. immediately followed by the short summit up to Effingham Rd. back up to Hwy 3 and onward to Tice Rd.  There was a real risk now that these efforts – in her current condition – might have ended Stacey’s quest to complete the full ride for good.  After all, all the motivation in the world isn’t any help when your body is 100% drained of it’s necessary stores of energy.

Not good.

A quiet decision was made then to reroute us around those climbs.  And I’m sorry if you’re just realizing this now Stacey upon reading this, but please understand that it was a judgment call in order to help you complete the ride safely as we all knew that having to abandon the ride would have been the far worse option had those climbs gotten the better of you.

But here’s the great thing, our new route also meant that we wouldn’t necessarily have to sacrifice any of the mileage meaning that, ultimately, her goal of completing the 100k ride would still be honored.

Promises are promises after all.

Unfortunately, the rerouting also meant that others riders were now behind us after continuing on for a few more kilometers so I had to hustle back in order to make sure that all those riders were being herded back together again safely towards the finish line.

After the final rest station along Cream St.and another heroes welcome for the riders, Kathleen and I continued on with a sole lone rider – Ashley, whom I had helped up the Rockway Glen climb at the beginning of the day no less – and together we all rode the last few kilometers back to Club Roma again.  As per usual, we peeled off at the end to roll across the finish line dead last once again, after all the other riders had finished successfully.

I was very happy to see Stacey and Jamie there with their families and very relieved to hear that she had rolled over the finish with her odometer reading 100.1k exactly.

Mission completed – hugs all around.

There were no finish photos of me this year but there was certainly was a highly-anticipated hot pasta lunch saved for us by the amazing volunteers and, maybe, even an alcoholic beverage or two.

Another successful year complete.

As a final word: Stacey, understanding that you may not have been at your best on this particular day, I absolutely think that what you accomplished in lieu of it all was nothing short of heroic and I consider myself very lucky to have to have shared the experience with you.

Best wishes and happy riding.

As for everyone else, I’ll see you next year…for sure.   Maybe I’ll see you at a rest stop, or as you ride past in the opposite direction (make sure you wave!).

However, if I’m lucky, we’ll even get to ride together.

 

The Big Move 2015

Posted: September 14, 2015 in Bike, Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,

One of my staple events every year is The Big Move Ride for Cancer in support of the Walker Family Cancer Center at the St. Catharines hospital.  I’ve been the last person to cross the starting line and last to cross the finishing line for the past seven years; ensuring that everyone…EVERYONE…gets to the end of the 100k route successfully and safely.  However, given my recent back issues I’ve been coping with this week plus the fact that it was cold and rainy, I was rather apprehensive about the ride this year.

Usually, when I spring out of bed the morning of the Big Move I’m all like:

This year, it was more like this:

Rain

Truth be told, I probably shouldn’t even have been riding but this ride is very meaningful to me and I believe that there are people genuinely counting on me for support so, come Hell or high water (we actually got a bit of both), I was determined to show up and make it around; albeit painfully.

This year was also particularly significant as this was the first year we’ve all volunteered at the Big Move as a family unit.  I would continue on as a sweep rider while Kelly and HRH  would work in one of the sweep vans helping to support the riders, aid stations, marshals along the route as well as keep track of all the signage, etc.

Here’s our family selfie:

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We arrived early at 7:00am to get all set up which, for the most part, meant sitting inside the car with the seat warmers on keeping dry and drinking coffee.  Many of the event volunteers were already out in force setting up the starting/finishing line, registration tables, vendor tents, barricades, etc.  Basically, I just sat in the car and stressed about my sore back and the weather. Eventually, it was time to get suited up for the ride itself and start preparing for a long haul into the wind and rain set to begin at 8:30am.

Here is my inspiration this year:

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The whole process went kind of like this:

Pee

After a brief delay though, our ride was out and underway heading out from Club Roma and directly up the escarpment at Rockway.

The climb up to Rockway Glen comes pretty early in the ride representing my first opportunity to begin providing real encouragement and support for some of the less experienced riders; never mind it’s already wet and slick out. I’ve done the climb up Rockway billions of times but for the uninitiated, it’s definitely a formidable obstacle.

Like this:

What they see

I trudged up the steep incline with Bonnie, a lady riding in memory of her husband and sister (judging by the ‘In Memory of…’ sign on her own back).  With some coaxing and encouragement and constant reminders to remember to breathe, she made it to the top to the first rest station.  She left pretty quickly afterwards though and I never saw her again (which, in the sweep business, isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

Around this time, my sweep partner declared that she was going to ride up ahead a bit and that she’d see me later.  I never did. So for the next 30-40 kilometers through Silverdale and down Silver Creek Rd., I rode with Lisa, a local tax accountant, who was braving the elements with a head cold.

There is a bit of a negative stigmatism about being at “the end” and Lisa was bit conscientious about it at first but we filled the next 90 minutes or so with fun, motivational conversation and whatnot and before I knew it she had become my “adopted sweeper” and was happily informing the marshals we passed that we were the tail end of the ride (one of the roles of sweeping).  What this really means is that I probably blabbed on endlessly about all the minute banal trivialities of my day-to-day life while she smiled and sniffed politely and then speaking to the marshals as a way of interrupting the full-blown conversational diarrhea from the crazy person riding beside her.

Like this:

blah

A short while later, I happened across what would, inevitably become the first of my many mechanical issues (another inevitable duty of the sweep rider) of the day.

“Duckie” and her friend had been abandoned by the roadside and were quite distraught that she may not be able to finish the ride due to a flat back tire. Changing tires has never been my specialty, but after 10 minutes or so of gentle reassurance and a lot of pulling, prodding and swearing as the result of a stubborn rear wheel, we had her back on her way and en route. I continued along with Duckie & co. for a while longer until she reunited with her group at the next aid station at the Old Pelham Town Hall.

Now, I have to say, one of the best parts of sweep riding is the hero’s welcome we typically receive at each of the aid stations from the volunteers. They really are amazing in the positive encouragement they provide the riders, especially given the harsh conditions they were enduring on this day. The real awesome thing about this particular rest stop was the fresh, home baked muffins available.

Like this:

muffin

Not long afterwards, I happened across my 2nd, 3rd and 4th flats of the day.  Each rider was in varying states of panic and I’m happy to report that each rider was very quickly gotten back on track with a fresh tire and all made it back to the finish safe and sound.  Yay me!  I was definitely, getting lots of practice changing tires.  At one point, I was introduced to this incredible gizmo (click HERE), the ‘Crank Brothers Extendable Speed Lever‘ and I was all like:

witchcraft

I need to get me one of these.

The problem now though, is that after tending to so many other riders mechanical issues I was well and truly behind the other 100k riders.  In the sweep world this is akin to being separated from your flock.  Not good.  So after that last flat, I peeled out on my own with the intent of making up some time, turned onto Wellandport Rd. and, BAM!, directly into a strong headwind.  Crap!  Fortunately, my sweep van pulled in ahead of me and I was able to draft behind to the next aid station in time to catch the other riders.  It was a real ‘Tour de France’ moment and over the next 7 or 8 kilometers it went something like this:

34 km/h…

Weeeeeee!

This is awesome.

36 km/h …

Okay, this sucks.

Stupid headwind!

38 km/h …

My back was starting to scream.

40 km/h …

Beginning to bury myself now…

42 km/h…

I was almost in tears.

44 km/h…

Fully in tears.

I think for some strange reason, I don’t know why, I felt the urge to suffer for a little bit.

Call it old habit I suppose.

Thankfully, I made it to the ‘First In Counters’ rest station moments before everyone else was set to head back out.  I had definitely burned a few matches in getting back to the group but, once again, fate intervened in the way of some incredible home-baked cookies which were more than enough to keep me fueled and going to the end.

The last 30km was pretty uneventful and lonely to be honest.  By now, my back was in full on complain mode and I was completely sore and uncomfortable as all my pre-ride pain meds were wearing off.  Plus, we were now riding directly back into the shitty weather again that seemed to continue hovering directly over St. Catharines.  I admit here that I had some dark moments along River Rd. as I trailed silently behind the last two riders in the group.  I thought about my mom and dad and just otherwise tried my best to stoically deal with it all in stride.  I summoned a smile and a sincere ‘thank you’ at each turning point to the marshals as my passing would inevitably mean they could now head back to Club Roma for their hot pasta lunch which, hopefully, would also be waiting for me.

My small group of stragglers eventually met up with Duckie and her gang at the last rest stop and together we all plowed onward to the end finishing in just over 5 hours of very challenging riding (6 hours in total) in the midst of a total deluge of cold, drizzly rain…just as we had started it (click HERE). It was all smiles at the end for the accomplished riders as I anonymously crossed the finishing line behind them…in last…and sought out my own cuddles and congratulations along the sidelines from Kelly and HRH  who were there waiting faithfully for me. My back was well and truly spent by this point.

Here’s the big finish photo:

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Thankfully, a pasta lunch had been set aside for me (complete with a much-needed alcoholic beverage) and not long afterwards we pulled out in anticipation of a hot shower and coffee.  Likewise, Daisy had more than earned herself a good cleaning and toweling down as well.

Just another day/year in the life of the ‘Tail End Charlie’ I suppose, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

  • The Big Move (click to see stats) 
  • 114.7k (5:23:17)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 127 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 167 bpm
  • Avg. Speed/Pace = 21.3/kph
  • Calories = 4975

Being the ‘Tail End Charlie’ for the Big Move charity ride has become something of a tradition for me; something to hang my hat on for long, hard season of training.  And while I didn’t exactly – *ahem* – train so hard this year I still did an awful lot to keep myself busy and active.  So that’s pretty awesome.

Usually, the Big Move is my last “fun event” before my big schedule A-event of the year (last year it was Ironman Wales, the year before it was the Cancun 70.3) but, this year it’s just another awesome opportunity to throw on the big pile ‘o fun I’ve been having thus far this year.  This will be my fourth year running being the last man to cross that Finishing line.  There should be some kind of special recognition for that achievement, shouldn’t there?

Anyway, as usual, here are the ride highlights as best as I could capture them.

This years mantra.

This years mantra.

Volunteering again.

Volunteering again.

The Starting Line just prior to the 100k ride.

The Starting Line just prior to the 100k ride.

Birdhouses along River Rd.

Birdhouses along River Rd.

Barn along Concession 6 Rd.

Barn along Concession 6 Rd.

Barn door (Concession 6 Rd.)

Barn door (Concession 6 Rd.)

River Rd.

River Rd.

River Rd.

River Rd.

Barn along Church Str.

Barn along Church Str.

More barn along Church Str.

More barn along Church Str.

Motivation at the corner of Canboro Rd. & Cream Str.

Motivation at the corner of Canboro Rd. & Cream Str.

Until next year cycling fans…

The Big Move (2012)

Posted: September 12, 2012 in Bike, Lifestyle
Tags: , ,
  • The Big Move (click to see stats) 
  • 98.14k (4:55:48)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 98 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 164 bpm
  • Avg. Speed/Pace = 19.9/kph
  • Calories = 3456

Just as I did last year, exactly one week out from my big A-Race, I volunteered myself as the sweep rider (or the “Tail End Charlie”) for the Big Move event in support of the local Walker Family Cancer Center.  I remember full well the inspiration I received last year prior to my Cancun 70.3 race and I wanted the same motivation prior to leaving for Wales tomorrow.  So, as it has been for the past two years, I was the last person to cross the starting line as well as the last to cross the finishing line…a tradition, by the way, I’m looking forward to continuing in the years to come.

And just as it was last year, the day was chalked full of the same marvelous, inspiring personalities, personal triumphs and achievements, not to mention the liberal doses of challenges that go along with events of this nature and it was a pleasure and privilege to be a part of it all.  But instead of boring you again with all the details, I thought I’d try and paint you a portrait from the day.  You can consider this post then as my personal online photo-log of days events.

Daisy arrives in style ready and rarin’ to go!

Yup, even I’m ready to go to…

Kelly even volunteered at one of the rest stations.

This years inspiration.

Just prior to the start of the 100k event. The view from the back.

Awesome barn along Pelham Rd.

The view along Silverdale (minus the smell of chicken coop). A perfect day for riding.

Another amazing structure along Silver Creek Dr.

Yeah, I love me my barns…

Cycling often provides some really serene moments.

The view from the rear…

Gorgeous barn along Elco Dr.

Gettin’ arsty.

How amazing is this?

Taken during an unscheduled pee break at the side of the road.

Tail End Charlie arriving home.

The post-event feeding.

Next stop:  Ironman Wales.  God help me!

The Big Move

Posted: September 12, 2011 in Bike, Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,
  • The Big Move (click to see stats) *
  • 121.73k (5:57:08)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 110 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 169 bpm
  • Avg. Speed/Pace = 21.4/kph
  • Best Speed/Pace = 61.2/kph
  • Calories = 4183
  • Temp = 22º
  • SOTD = ‘Sweet Home Alabama’  by Lynyrd Skynryd

* Information within this link is not accurate as I forgot to pause/reset my Garmin a few times.  The true kilometers and total time, however, have been represented here accurately.

As part of my “Giving Back” strategy this coming year, I volunteered for the local Big Move charity ride to support the building of the new Walker Family Cancer Center here in St. Catharines.  Specifically, I acted as the rear “sweep rider” or “Tail End Charlie”, as I preferred to be known, for the 100k bike ride and, let me tell you, what an extremely rewarding (not to mention emotional) experience it was.

My “hero”

My intention when I first volunteered for this event a few weeks ago was to be the last guy to cross the Starting line, as well as be the last guy to cross the Finish line and both those missions were successfully accomplished from the get go.  It was also an opportunity to honor my Nana, or my “hero” for the day, who although didn’t succumb this past April to cancer in the end, did battle cancer practically her entire adult life.

Starting line of the 100k ride.

The whole idea of the “sweep rider” was simple enough, support the slower riders and motivate them towards their own ultimate goals in completing the days task as well as deal with any random and unsuspected mechanical issues that might have occurred along the way; an exercise we likened to “herding cats” as it were.  But since, all in all, the only mechanical issues I came across was one flat tire and one slipped chain, the majority of the day was spent keeping the rear riders company, perhaps help them better understand and utilize their gearing, and simply talking with them in order to pass the time (as well as the kilometers) while making sure they were mentally fit and well; no real strenuous task there as I didn’t see nor experience a single gripe, groan, frown or otherwise the entire day.  In short, every rider I met was just tickled pink to be there and out enjoying the day.  I did, however, get to hear some pretty remarkable stories of triumph; all added fuel I will use next weekend.

The 100k “Sweep Team”, or the official “Cat Herders”

My first 50k, or so, was spent riding with a group of five individuals. Pam, a resident of Toronto whose personal mission it was to ride in these types of long charity rides throughout the summer; Tom and Jeff, two local riders; and Jennifer and Dale, two absolute sweethearts riding on behalf of lost family members.  Pam, clearly a veteran of these types of event, had come fully stocked and equipped with picnic basket full of treats and radio.  We spent the majority of the first few kilometers listening to Country & Western music and some Lynyrd Skynryd…cranked up loud just for me.  I will always remember climbing the first hill at Rockway Glen to ‘Sweet Home Alabama.  We were a literal, rolling dance party on wheels.  Awesome!  There were a few opportunities to open up and sprint ahead to check on the progress of other riders along the route and spike the ‘ol heart rate just a little but, for the most part, I preferred to hang back with this friendly ‘crew’.

Dale. Happy to be riding last.

Pam, the “Rolling Dance Party”

On the return 50k, I had the pleasure of sharing the afternoon with two extremely personable people: husband and wife, Martin and Jenny.  Jenny a nurse at the Niagara-on-the-Lake hospital and Martin a Hamilton firefighter, couldn’t have made for better company.  Riding in memory of her Uncle Tony, Jenny had to be the happiest and most pleasant person I have ever had the privilege to ride with.  She thanked every volunteer, every marshal, police officer and random onlooker as we rolled on by.  In fact, her positivity was as absolutely contagious as it was remarkable.  We passed the time discussing my upcoming Cancun adventure as well as her (and Martin’s) plans to build and move into their own home in St. David’s shortly.  We enduring the hills together through Fonthill and Pelham, marveled at the quiet countryside down Elcho Road and Centre Street, and munched on carrot muffins with cream cheese at all the rest stops.  They were both marvelous company.  Who needs to go fast when you have such awesome company as these folks?  Hell, I could have ridden all day.

The amazing and wacky volunteer team. Mmmm…muffins.

The amazing landscape along Elcho Rd.

In short, the day was a rousing success and we successfully saw every rider safely to the finish line.  Thunder n’ Lightning performed marvelously and I felt great even after finishing, so that served as some added confidence for next weekend’s adventure.  More importantly, I rekindled a little more of that added motivation I’ve been desperately seeking.

Team “Tail End Charile”, happy to finished but estatic nonetheless.

All in all, if these amazing people can conquer not only this ride, but their own personal conquests over cancer, then I can conquer 5+ hours of heat and humidity in Cancun with no excuses!  Shit, I’ll be getting off easy.