Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
A lot has changed in my life since being a part of the Moving Muscles Ride last year. When the trip began last May, I was a recent university graduate, having written my final exam only a few weeks earlier and the prospect of no upcoming school for the first time in recent memory. Since our trip ended last August, I’ve worked in construction - building airplane hangars and other steel buildings, harnessed off and working at heights of up to 75 feet - I’ve gone back to school briefly, I’ve worked as a research assistant on Vancouver Island investigating an ugly fish known as the midshipman, and I’m currently in charge of maintenance at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp, the place I’ve spent the majority of my summer months for the last 10 years. I like to joke that I’ve become transient, moving from place to place and job to job.
As I look back on our bike journey last summer, I think of all the different scenery we saw across this beautiful country, the determination it took to get back on that bike seat day after day, and I think about the incredible amount of money we were able to raise for Muscular Dystrophy. But there are two things that really stand out in my mind: the people we met in the course of our travels and the good times we had among the five of us guys. Even today, it amazes me how people we’d never met before were so generous and willing not only to open their homes to us but also to help in whatever way they could, from providing meals to riding with us for stretches, to helping out with last-minute bike repairs. I think it really speaks volumes about human nature that so many people were so willing to help perfect strangers, especially scruffy, spandex-wearing strangers like us!
And then there’s Mike, Brian, Keith and Pat. You’re never quite sure how well you’ll get along with someone you meet for the first time, but from that first cold rainy day leaving Tofino to the arrival in St. John’s, we all hit it off really well. Going through an intense experience like we did together, I’ve learned a lot about each of the guys and we have forged a friendship that will last for the rest of our lives. As the years continue to pass, I’m sure I’ll look back on this trip as one of the best experiences of my life.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
As I'm sitting here at UBC campus, it's hard to believe that our Bike Trip has been finished for over a month. It seems like yesterday that the five of us were having a weekly video conference, but it has been about 10 months since we had our first meeting. So much has happened since I decided to do the trip; is hard to put into words. I remember Keith's reaction when I first mentioned that I was going to bike across Canada, it took him about half a second to decide that he wanted to do it too. I can honestly say that in that half second my life changed. In that instant, the trip went from being an average cross country bike ride to something extraordinary. Keith's idea to make it a fund-raising effort and the addition of Pat and Jon to the team sparked the beginning of Moving Muscles Ride 2008.
It took months of planning both the logistic and the fundraising aspects of the trip. We all shared the work and by May we were more then ready to start biking. I think the only thing that lacked in our planning stages was training but, in hindsight, no amount of training would have fully prepared us for the first few days of the trip. I always tell people that just worked ourselves into shape over the first few weeks. I remember having lunch in the back of Brian's Dad, Dave's, van and being colder, wetter and hungrier then I ever thought possible; at the same time I was extremely excited to have finally begun and didn't think about quitting for a minute. I had no idea what the next few months had in store but I knew that I was embarking on the experience of a lifetime.
For me, and I think the other guys would agree, the first few weeks were physically the most challenging of the trip. Keith, who had spent more time on a bike in the previous year then the four of us had combined, was definitely the driving factor through BC. On the second day, when the rest of us had nothing left, Keith was the one who raced ahead to catch the ferry (too bad he missed the turn). He was also the one who always wanted to go further and bike longer. By the time we got to Revelstoke, without a rest day and not having done laundry since Vancouver, we were thoroughly exhausted and filthy. We took a day off and, on the advice of a professional, we decided to change a few things - like taking more rest days and spending some time in laundromats. We were always finding out better ways to do things and adapting to situations as they happened.
The most meaningful memories that I have of the trip are of all the people we met along the way. Almost everyday my spirit was lifted by someone who heard our story and went out of their way to show us support. There were lots of simple acts like the lady outside of Revelstoke who stopped at the side of the road to write us a cheque because she saw us on the news the night before. There were also all the great people who offered us meals and a place to stay; most of these people we only knew through friends, or friends of friends. In Brandon, we stayed with the Mennies who were connected to Keith somehow, but neither Keith nor Lloyd could figure out how. Despite this, Lloyd and his family welcomed us to their home like we were family and even sent us a few emails as we continued along the trip; it was very inspiring.
This trip was probably the greatest learning experience of my life. Obviously I learned about biking and maintenance - I can change a tire in record time and can tell the PSI in my tire just by feeling it. I also learned a great deal about Canada, we saw the country from a completely unique view point. Very few people can say that they have seen, and experienced, this country from the Pacific to the Atlantic and I am proud to say that I have. I also learned a lot about the four guys I rode with. I knew each of the guys really well before the trip, but after spending essentially every day with them this summer I know them inside and out. The five of us built a bond over the summer that will last a lifetime.
Monday, September 15, 2008
I walked past Mike McDonald’s room at the UBC frat house one evening last year. Curious to see what he was so excited about I stopped and asked, “Mike, what are you all giddy about?”
“A friend from Ontario and I are going to ride bikes across Canada next summer” he replied. I laughed and walked away. The next day I was walking by Keith’s room, not remembering my conversation with Mike, I asked what they were so excited about; “Next summer we’re going to ride bikes across Canada!” Again I laughed, “You guys are crazy,” I explained, “there’s no way two average university students, Keith with little biking experience, and Mike with zero bike experience are going to ride 8000km across the second biggest country in the world.” Thinking this was another imprudent dream realized by a couple naive college students over a couple beers I knew it would soon fade to an afterthought as the semester moved into final exams. To my surprise two days later I found Mike and Keith were still talking about this epic journey on bikes. I sat down with both Mike and Keith as they explained how people do this trip every summer, how they may get bikes for cheap from Specialized, and how serious they were about this initiative. They asked if I wanted to join the team and not being one to back down from a challenge I agreed. So just like that I was a part of the team, not realizing at the time that this would be the hardest undertaking, both mentally and physically, that I have ever done and hopefully will ever do in my life.
Preparations began immediately following the Christmas break. I changed my workouts in the gym from upper body to lower body, and not owning a bicycle I was on the stationary as much as possible. I told my friends and family of the trip, most of whom had about as much faith as I had originally with Mike. When Keith came to us with the idea of putting our efforts towards a good cause and raise money for MDC we were all excited, but it was impossible at the time to realize just how much of an impact we were to have. Shortly thereafter Specialized and Bombardier gave us the good news of their sponsorships and our dream began to materialize. It wasn’t easy preparing for this ride, sending fundraising letters to friends and family, sponsorship letters to companies, the physical training, creating a website, and purchasing the necessary equipment, while being a full time undergraduate student. But as most of you who are reading this know, the five members of the Moving Muscles Team are not your average twenty-something’s.
Just days before departing from Tofino on May 13th I was sitting in a pool at a resort in Cancun Mexico on a grad trip with a group of friends drinking ‘dos cervezas con hielo’. At that time I was not aware of the fact that in a week’s time I would be in agonizing pain struggling to keep up with the other four riders as we battled our way through the mountains of BC. The first two weeks of our ride brought some of our biggest challenges; an 18% grade hill out of Tofino, a 400m climb out of Port Alberni, 35 degree heat through the Fraser Canyon, and the grueling Rogers and Kicking Horse Passes. I remember thinking at this point in the trip if someone were to miraculously be able to take away one pain from my body I would have a hard time choosing between the large blisters on both my heels, my grapefruit-sized swollen knee that shot pain through my body with every pedal, the sunburn stinging with sweat on my back, the shooting pain between my shoulders from the new posture that comes with biking, or the agonizing pain of the saddle that only a cyclist can appreciate; a true ‘trial-by-fire’ for five non-cyclists. When we arrived in Revelstoke for our first rest day I honestly didn’t know if I would carry on. I saw a doctor in Revelstoke who was also an avid cyclist; thankfully he adjusted my saddle to release some stress from my knees and back, and assured me that once we were through the mountains the swelling and pain in my knee would go down. He was the first of many people along our journey that would give me the confidence and inspiration to finish. At this point we had traversed the mountains of Vancouver Island, the Fraser Canyon, the semi-arid desert Interior Mountains, the Monashee and Selkirk Mountains. All we had left was the Rocky Mountains and it was downhill from there right?
The first milestone, for me, came just before Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains when the rivers changed direction and we began to bike with the flow of the water. We had reached the highest elevation of the trip and even though I knew it wasn’t all downhill from here (far from it), at this point a part of me felt that we could finish. That night we stayed in the beautiful Chateau Lake Louise and I knew that we had earned it.
Apart from the physical achievements that gave us the encouragement to keep pedaling were the reminders that our journey was truly going to make a difference in the lives of others. When we arrived in Calgary Brian’s father (Dave), had organized a barbeque for us and invited some friends. One of Dave’s friends had brought her young daughters who were inspired by what we were doing, and Nicole wrote an incredibly inspiring letter to us. One line of the letter reads: “It was so amazing meeting you, and I truly think meeting you was way better than meeting a celebrity. It makes you realize that normal people can make a difference”. Deb and Candisse Foster from Muscular Dystrophy Canada had also got word of us in Calgary and came that day to see us at the Barbeque. When I met Candisse (the 2007 poster child for MDC) I realized what our journey was going to mean to Canadians like her who will never get the chance to even ride a bicycle.
The Prairie Provinces were a true test of our perseverance. With the wind blowing into our faces from Calgary to Winnipeg we had no choice but to put our heads down and peddle. I’ll spare the details of the prairies as most of you have heard them and truthfully I’m trying to put that experience behind me. When people ask “what was the low point of the trip” I tell them that it was the day out of Brandon MB; riding into 40-55km headwinds in the cold and rain, averaging 11 km/hr. Reading about all the ‘great tailwinds’ in the cyclists log book at a tourist information stop on the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border didn’t help with my affection for this part of the country. There were good parts of the prairies, specifically Caronport, Regina, Brandon, and Winnipeg. We met some of the kindest people along our journey through the prairies and I will never forget them.
The prairies end abruptly east of Winnipeg. Seeing the line of forest on the horizon that was the beginning of the Canadian Shield was a welcome view, however we had no idea that the climbing we would do in Ontario would exceed that of BC. The winds changed in our favour through Ontario and this helped us immensely through Canada’s largest province. Northern Ontario proved to be physically one of the hardest stretches of the trip as we climbed up and down around the great lakes. One thing that will always stay with me is the stench of dead moose lying beside the highway; something we had the pleasure of experiencing many times in this area. It was an emotional moment when we came to halfway point in the journey of Terry Fox at his memorial. It’s an amazing feeling standing next to the statue of Terry Fox knowing that you have an exceptional connection with one of Canada’s greatest heroes. Through more grueling hills around Lake Superior and Lake Huron we finally made it into Southern Ontario. It was quite an experience having the fire department escort into London, Ont. Sirens blaring, lights flashing, blasting through red light intersections we were an important convoy entering the city. London to Hamilton to Toronto to Cottage Country to Ottawa and that was it for Ontario.
The welcome in Montreal was amazing and the support that Keith’s entire family gave us throughout the trip was truly amazing. In Montreal: we raised a few thousand dollars at the barbeque, had a couple nights out on the famous strip, were on four radio stations, signed an infamous guestbook, had lobster dinner at the club, and again were treated like royalty – no big deal. Moving on to Quebec City (the second best city in Canada next to Vancouver) where we were cheered on by a multitude of fans up the ‘Cote de la Montagne’, met Sir Paul McCartney, and sipped champagne on the Plains of Abraham. I may have embellished those last few instances; however it was interesting experience in one of Canada’s oldest cities. Riding alongside the St. Lawrence to Métis-Sur-Mer where once again the welcoming committee of Keith’s family was incredible. I’m glad I had the chance to see this small beautiful corner of Canada that I’m sure many people will not.
Across New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, and finally Newfoundland the mental toughness of the trip started to show. Staying focused for the last 10 days of the journey was much harder than I expected but my 4 good buddies helped make it one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip. Crossing the finish line in St. John's was a surreal moment and an epiphany of inspiration from the other four riders, their families, and my family.
From the rainy hills of Vancouver Island, to having lunch on the banks of a glacier fed river in the Rocky Mountains, to spending the night on a bird watching tower in the middle of the prairies, to swimming in Lake Superior, to the nightlife of downtown Montreal, to a lobster dinner in Antigonish overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, to being Screeched in on George Street in St. John’s, this bike trip was so much more than five young men raising money for a cause. I am forever thankful to my family and the families and friends of Keith, Mike, Jon, and Brian who made this trip possible. I am forever a better person for having seen my efforts making a difference in the lives of others. No matter where I end up in life I know this will remain one of my biggest accomplishments. Thank you Dad for a quote that will always be with me when I think of this journey:
“It is the strength of character that separates the doers from the dreamers… you are 7500 kms ahead of us dreamers!”
As in life, the journey was not all uphill nor was it all downhill however a rare path that offers improvement for those with the courage to go down it.
Thank you for the support that made this ride a success!
Merci de votre soutien!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Well it's been nearly a month now, since we finished our ride in St. John's. Since I have been home, I have had time to relax, sleep, and think about what the five of us did this summer.
For about two and a half years, I had wanted to make this trek across the country on bike. I had mentioned it to my Dad, and all he said was "Go for it!". For a while, I pictured this being something only of conversation, but soon after I decided to make it happen. When Mike jumped on board, I knew it was going to happen. What I didn't know was HOW it was going to happen. With the support of all our sponsors, we were financially set, and with the support of friends, family, and everyone else, we were mentally set!
With our initial goal of $100 000 nearly reached before we even started on our bikes, we upped our goal to $150 000, feeling confident in the support of people across Canada. Not being cyclists, non of us knew exactly what we were getting into. So we set off from Tofino in the rain with Mike's words of wisdom ringing in our ears, "It's just a bike...how hard is it to ride???".
We experienced everything on this trip: Great friendship and comradery among the five of us, rain, sun, sleet, hail, snow, and wind, mountains, prairies, forested Northern Ontario and Quebec, muggy Southern Ontario, and the small town maritimes. The people we met across the country made us all proud to be Canadian. The number of times people opened up their wallets, offered us a place to stay, and helped us with our trip was amazing, and I thank all of you who helped us along our way!
As of now, it still feels like it was just an amazing summer trip. But when I think of all the people we met, the number of people who told us they read the blog everyday, and looking back at the pictures we took, it comes to realization that this far-fetched, hair-brained idea actually happened!
It was our pleasure to show our support for Muscular Dystrophy Canada. Keith has given everyone a reason to hold their head high, no matter what challenges they face through life. Thanks to everyone that has given their support to help this trip become the success that it was.
What an adventure! One that the five of us will ALWAYS share.
A mari usque ad mare,
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Now that some time has passed since the completion of our cross Canada bike trip, I have had a chance to reflect on this 7800 km journey we completed. We had many great experiences and met a lot of awesome people along the way. Considering I only met Pat in person the day before and Keith the week before our trip began, as a group we got along amazingly well. I feel lucky to have been a part of the Moving Muscles Ride and will remember this experience for the rest of my life. I want to thank all my friends and family who supported the five of us in many different ways throughout this trip from making donations, hosting us for meals or giving us a place to stay.
Friday, August 8, 2008
We have ridden our bikes a long, long way.
On Tuesday our journey came to an end as we arrived in St. John's,
greeted by friends and family in the harbour at Prosser's Rock in Fort
Amherst. The day started with a rough awakening. Our ferry got in to
the terminal really late and only got to bed at 4:30am after biking
nearly 10km to the hotel. We were on the road later than we had hoped,
and with 30km/hr winds in our face and rain, we knew that we had a
long 140km day in store.
The landscape between Argentia and St. John's was barren but scenic,
lakes nestled between the forest-blanketed hills that surrounded us.
The road was hilly, and in the wind we moved slowly, but the thought
that it was our last day was imprinted in our minds. It was hard to
imagine that a trip we had been on for so long was coming to an end.
Arriving into the St. John's area, we were greeted by the city's
firefighters who led us to their station in Mount Pearl. We got a warm
welcome from the firefighters who had assembled, and they led us on
the last 20km stretch into town. A few of them even brought out their
bikes to ride with us! Thanks to Craig Cox and Shelley McWilliams for
their help, as well as all the firefighters who came out with us.
It was a special feeling when we finally saw water for the first time,
indicating that we were near our end point. Our families had gathered
at the harbour, and as we came around the final corner they cheered
until we finally broke the ribbon to end the trip! After greeting the
family and friends who had come out to see us, including MDC staff and
two young boys whose lives have been affected by Muscular Dystrophy,
it was time for the trip to come full circle and dip our tires in the
Atlantic. Everyone gathered around as we made our way down the boat
landing, cameras going all around us with applause and cheers. It was
an incredibly awing moment to think about what we had achieved, and
what better way to celebrate than champagne? We popped the corks and
the bubbly went in all directions, some drunk but most of it
completely soaking our clothing, making for some interesting smells on
the car ride to the hotel.
With the trip done, it was on to celebrating it in St. John's, and
what other way to do it than an official screeching in ceremony? Erin
Townsley-Smith, a representative from the MDC office in Vancouver who
has been incredible in supporting us, and Kathy Cuthbert organised to
have Christian's Pub on George Street to give us all an appropriate
taste of Newfoundland's finest spirit, screech. One of the workers
came out dressed in fisherman's gear with an oar, and started talking
speedily in a heavy Newfoundland accent, funny and entertaining. Much
of the act was trying to teach everyone to say "'Deed I am, ye old
Cock. Long may your big jib draw," a response to "Are ye a
Newfoundlander?" and one person after another fumbled as the crowd
roared with laughter. We then got on our knees and he passed around a
shot of screech, and brought out a big frozen cod for us all to kiss
before downing the burning liquid. Officially Newfoundlanders! We even
have a certificate to prove it.
Everyone is taking off over the next few days, and I don't think we'll
forget our time here anytime soon. And now we have an entire month to
rest and relax!
With the trip at an end, all of us will be writing a final blog to air
out our thoughts on the trip (and whatever else comes to mind).
The trip's been an emotional challenge. When I decided that I wanted
to accomplish the feat, I put every ounce of what I had to give into
the project. I'm driven to challenge myself, and I saw this as an
exciting way to see our beautiful country while pushing my body and
mind to achieve what relatively few people have. There were times when
I wondered whether my body would be able to handle it, but it meant a
lot to me to prove to myself that I could do it. Others have, so why
A big motivating factor for me was the fact that I have Muscular
Dystrophy. There have been many times over the past several years when
I struggled mightily to cope with the realization that my body was not
going to function how I wanted it to. I completely lost interest in my
favourite sports over seeing the decline in my performance, and was
unsure as to how to deal with people's reactions to my physical
appearance and the difficulties I had with seemingly normal physical
tasks. Not only did I see this trip as a way for me to deal with my
affliction, but I wanted to be able to turn it into a positive and
help others. The knowledge that my confronting the ailment could
inspire not only others with the disease, but anyone who would learn
about the ride, was a huge motivator and only pushed me more.
It's pretty special to be able to say that we have made a real
difference in people's lives through our actions. I am so lucky to
have been able to accomplish what I have with Mike, Pat, Brian, and
Jon. Not being as physically strong as they were, they helped me by
taking most of the weight, pulling the trailers and carrying the
water, drafting for me when I needed it. Thanks to their unselfish
actions, we moved quicker, and I was able to conserve my body's
strength without pushing it over the edge. When it wasn't helping me
keep up, it was trying to slow me down when I was getting ahead of
myself, or a bit of comic relief when the times got tough. Group
dynamics are a funny thing, and we were blessed with a fantastic team
that got along relatively harmoniously all the way through.
I also need to give a big thank you to my entire family for their
support, but in particular my mother. She was an absolute force in
helping us with various aspects of the organization. I don't know how
many hours she put in, but I know from many past experiences that when
she puts her mind to something, you either have to step in line or get
the hell out of her way, because she will stop at nothing. From
getting sponsorship, to designing donor cards, having the shirts made,
organising media contacts, and who knows what else, she helped us
bring our ride from a simple affair to an event that got attention
from ocean to ocean. We are all incredibly lucky to have had her on
our side. Thanks Nin, I love you SO much.
From mooing at cows to sleeping in a birdwatching tower, swimming in
Lake Superior to swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, drinking beer across
the country to getting screeched in on George Street, we have had some
incredible experiences, and it's going to take us a long time to fully
appreciate it. We're five extremely lucky young men who got to live
the dream this summer, and despite some of the hard times we had to
push through, we're never going to have a better "job" than this ride,
and that's the bottom line.
Thanks for being a part of it with us.