Monday, September 15, 2008

Pat's final blog

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!

Patrick Cuthbert

2 comments:

proud, proud grandparents said...

All your blogs are as awesome as your ride was. You have given us all a wonderful summer, inspired so many, and we, like you,will never forget your accomplishment.Congratulations and thanks from grateful grandparents. xxxx's

Anonymous said...

Patrick... forever an inspiration... we appreciate that you and your friends set the bar and rose beyond.. we recognize your abilities and challenge you to be what you know you can be!
Know that your family is with you unconditionally and that the world is for you to find your way... this trip is proof of the possibility.
We are so proud of you and your friends ...for making our lives and the lives of others richer
Aunt Kerry, Uncle Bruce, Jens, Keir, Tineke, and Kajsa