Conquer Cancer '09

Sal and I headed for Toronto just after 7am on Thursday the 11th. It was a typical TBay spring morning, cool with the added challenges of fog along the lake. The temperature reading in the Dakota would swing wildly all day. We saw a low of 5 and a high of about 19 once we left the shores of the big lake. At one point we had struggled to 14, entered another fog bank and saw 7 just minutes later. Traffic and construction was minimal so the 10 hour drive to Espanola was a good one. We found a roadside motel last year that is cheap and right on the highway so we stayed there again. We also found a good restaurant in the town and headed there for supper but this time around things weren't what we remembered. We brought sandwiches for lunch so a good meal was in the budget, we both ordered the house specialty, prime rib. You know you are in trouble when the prime rib has grill marks, not a bad steak but not as advertised.

We hit the nearby Timmy's at 7 on Friday for coffee to go with blueberry muffins Sal made and headed on to Toronto. At 1:00 we got on the 400 and into traffic with our gps 'Gloria' leading the way. By 2:30 we were at our hotel and after negotiating a parking spot we were ready for some rest and then down to the Direct Energy Center for Sal's Crew meeting. She volunteered for bike parking again. I took Jill out for a 20km ride along the lake shore and up the Humber River. I have as many miles this year as last but not as many long rides. My longest to date was 80km a month or so ago but I had done that with just an apple and one bottle of water so I was confident that I was up to the challenge of a couple of days in the saddle. 'Just another bike ride', I kept telling myself.

Jill had a slight ticking sound as I put weight on the handlebars and I spent some time trying to get it solved. I was finally satisfied that all was good so I turned her over to bike parking for the night, met Sal after her meeting and we headed back to the hotel and then walked to supper at Red Lobster. The new menu is really good as they have moved away from the fast food path they seemed to be heading down for a few years. We went back to our room and watched the Penguins shock the Wings and then it was lights out.

Our weekend began at 4:30am Saturday. Sal was required to be at her post by 5:30 so we were up and out by 5:10. I dropped off our gear and Sal then headed for overnight parking. Everything was moved around the grounds from last year. Bike parking was outside, overnight parking was outside and even the entrance to the grounds was not the same. There was little advantage to having been in the Ride last year as everything I thought was a known was just as much a mystery as it had been a year before. I checked out Jill and then rode over for breakfast, filled my bottles and then headed for the start line. I ran into a rider I had met a few times last year and we talked for a bit, took each other's pictures and waited for the 8am opening ceremonies.

The most disappointing thing happened at the opening ceremonies. The organizers chose not to announce the total raised. Last year when they announced the $14 million the crowd of riders roared and everyone hid their tears behind their sunglasses. The announcement was made at supper in Hamilton this time around but the effect was just not the same. In any case $14.5 million was raised this year and with the economy as it is the number is still staggering.

The time came to hit the road and the mass of 3530 cyclists surged toward the gate of the grounds and slowly moved onto Lakeshore Boulevard. The 4 lane street had one lane dedicated to bikes and things opened up quickly. Within a kilometer of the start people began having flats. I thanked Farzum in my head one more time for suggesting the Schwalbe Marathon tires. I have gone two years and never had a flat. We moved quickly up Lakeshore and then headed away from the lake towards the country roads. A map of the routes was uploaded from a gps and day one can be found here and day two here.

My first day was uneventful. I rode and talked with a few people along the way. As you move through slower riders you lose the people you are talking to, some are slower on hills, some are bolder at passing. Ten minutes may pass and the conversation continues as you settle into traffic again. The route was the same as last year as was the weather, cool and overcast with sunny breaks, perfect for a long ride. I maintained 22 kph over the 106km and came into Hamilton in 4 hours and 45 minutes. The hills didn't seem as tough so maybe my training was going to prove to be enough.

Our gear was unloaded at camp so I grabbed it and claimed a tent, showered and went to the main dining tent to listen to the bands. Sal took a break so we had supper together. We went back to bike parking and the other couple working there took their supper break so I helped out a bit. Things were definitely tight in the compound as there were very few parking spots left. One of the racks had collapsed during the afternoon and the bike shop that was on hand to make repairs had to haul a few out for wheel straightening. A few people rode in and looked like they had been through battle. Whether they had been on the road for 11 hours or spent time waiting for repairs I couldn't tell, but they looked pale and exhausted. One commented "bike for sale".

Once bike parking was closed we headed over to the main tent to relax. Sal and the other 300 crew members were asked to march through the tent and the riders showed them their appreciation with a round of standing applause. Things began to wind down so we headed for the comfort of our tent and new air mattress. Sal didn't forget our long night of 'sleeping' on the ground last year so the air mattress was a necessity. It made all the difference in the world. The camp was very quiet save a bit of whispering, giggling and snoring. We got a good sleep in before rising at 4:30 again for another day.

Sunday dawned clear and cool. I packed our gear once Sal went to breakfast and the parking lot. I checked in our gear and had breakfast before grabbing Jill and making my way to the start for the 7am launch. The route was the same for the most part but we had been warned about a short steep climb that was added as many riders felt the second 100km was too easy in 2008. As we rode along the escarpment the day was clear enough to see across the lake and make out the CN tower.

I arrived at the lunch stop (50km) at 9am so I was very happy with my pace but not so thrilled to learn that lunch had not arrived. I grabbed a granola bar and refilled my bottles and left, it was too early for lunch anyway. We were rolling along downhill at about 40kmh when I heard the gunshot sound of a tire blowing behind me. I never heard a crash so whoever it was must have kept the bike up but I don't know how. Shortly after we headed down and around a sharp 120 degree right and then a very steep hill where Jill topped out at 63kmh with the brakes on occasionally. As we slowed I looked up and knew this was a new stretch, a new steep stretch. In the distance the road made another sharp turn and continued to climb. About half way up my calves started to feel like they would cramp so I decided to stop and push for a minute or the rest of the day would be a mess. I walked for about 3 minutes along with a few others and then had a long drink and climbed back on and finished the hill. I wasn't proud of that few minutes but cramping for another hour and a half would be a lot less fun. The rider that posted the gps maps had the steepest part of the hill at a 17% grade.

I reached the last pit stop of the day at the 82km point and called Sal so she could get to the finish line. We were both happy that she got there this year. I told her I would be about 45 minutes as I had 20 km to go. As we rode closer to Niagara I started pushing Jill in the high gears holding onto about 30kmh. We had a lane to ourselves for the last 5 km or so and I got to an intersection with another rider just across from the finish line. We were held for about 5 minutes to let traffic clear and then got the signal to head in. I anticipated the nod from the policeman and led a pack down the narrow path and through the finish line. Sal saw me but I never found her in the crowd but I knew she was there and that felt good. I finished the second day's 102 km in 4 hours and 16 minutes and am very happy with that even though it's not a race, not officially anyway.

We took some pictures including the money shot with Jill held overhead, I had a rushed lunch (Sal had none) and then dropped off Jill, picked up our gear and boarded a bus that took us to the train station. The train ride back to Toronto took nearly 3 hours but was relaxing. We checked back into our hotel and walked over to the Pickle Barrel for supper. I ordered a half yard of Steamwhistle (the beer that was free in camp), Sal had a huge strawberry daiquiri and since we were both starving we started with a plate of nachos which without a doubt was the best thing we ate during the entire trip. We strolled back to the hotel and were asleep shortly after. On Monday we went to China town and Kensington Market before hitting the road back to Espanola. We arrived home on Tuesday at about 5pm and I still don't know why I wasn't tired for the rest of the week.

I want to thank everyone for the generous support, in two years we sent $10,515 to help with cancer research. I know that it is a small part of the $28.5 million but we can all be proud to have been a part of it. I wish everyone could be at the start line and feel the energy as 3500+ nervously await the start. It is a great feeling and I want to thank you all for your generosity and for allowing me to have that feeling, one that I'll always remember. As for the finish, the fight is far from over so who knows, maybe next year, maybe a new way to join in the fight.

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