In a post I wrote last spring, I mentioned that son #1 was going to be riding in a 600 km bike rally from Toronto to Montreal. This 6 day event is an annual fundraiser in support of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.
I was incredibly proud of Jordan and two of my other “adopted sons” – Trevor and Dempsey – who took on this challenge in spite of having no long distance cycling experience. They borrowed and bought whatever equipment they could, spent months training and fund raising before the departure date at the end of July.
I was horrified when we heard the stories afterwards. Not only had the weather been unkind, it had been outright dangerous. I cried when I read accounts written by some of the riders which had been posted on Facebook.
… but they had persevered. These amazing people felt that they had been sponsored to ride to Montreal … not to ride only when it would be easy.
Jordan recently sent an email to each of his supporters describing the event and what it meant to him, with photographs from their journey. With his permission – and that of Dempsey and Trevor – I am sharing his email with you. I apologize in advance that this post is much longer than I would usually post, but I think it is worth the read. All the photos in his email belong to Jordan, Trevor, Dempsey or as otherwise indicated.
Two months have passed since Dempsey and I joined hundreds of riders and crew members on an epic 600km adventure to Montreal on our bikes. We are extremely grateful for your generous sponsorship, as you made it a reality for us to be part of the Friends For Life Bike Rally, an amazing cause supporting the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA). For being part of our reason to ride, we would like to share with you the highlights of our journey.
After the anticipation, July 27th finally came and we were greeted by our fellow riders, crew, and supporters at Allan Gardens, located in the core of downtown Toronto. This was our first impression of just how massive this undertaking would be.
It was an incredible feeling to finally see the culmination of the many months of training and fundraising we’ve done in preparation for the event. Not to mention, the reality of what we were about to do was hitting us – we had to get on our bikes and actually pedal to Montreal! We departed Allan Gardens full of excitement and exhilaration!
The first day of our ride was sunny, hot, and at times stressful as we navigated our way through traffic out of the city. It was inspiring to see our supporters cheering us from the sidewalks as we pedalled our way to our first stop – just outside of Port Hope. After 108km, we arrived in great spirits, set up camp, and socialized with our new bike rally friends.
What we didn’t know at the time was the massive storm headed our way, due to hit later in the evening. In fact, we only heard of its severity with roughly 30 minutes notice. Severe thunderstorms, high winds, hail, and a high risk of tornado – and it was passing right over our camp!
Did I mention that we were camping in a farmer’s field and there was no shelter but our own tents? We secured whatever we could, crawled into our tents, and hoped for the best! We were lucky in that we woke up with no water inside our tent. Others woke up drenched, with inches of water in their tents and little to no sleep to prepare them for the longest day’s ride of the rally – 126km.
A fellow rider took this picture from his tent:
Because of the storm, our food crew was unable to provide us with hot breakfast (and more importantly, no coffee!). The second day’s ride started later than planned because the organizers weren’t even sure it was still safe for us to ride. It was still pouring rain, and would continue to be for the entire day. In the end, those riders who were not comfortable going out on the roads were transported by bus to that evening’s camp, while the rest (Dempsey and I included) got on our bikes.
It was by far the most difficult day of cycling we had ever experienced – with very little sleep and food, we faced heavy rain, strong winds, slippery roads and cold conditions. To top it off, we had completely forgotten to pack any rain gear or a jacket. We rode that day with our sweaters and garbage bags.
As first year riders who survived a challenging day of cycling, making it to camp in one piece that evening was incredibly rewarding. We set up camp once more and looked forward to day 3 of the ride.
The third day is traditionally known as “Red Dress Day”. The red ribbon has always been the symbol of HIV/AIDS awareness, and all participants wore red dresses for the cause. It was a fun and impactful way to raise awareness, as hundreds of cyclists in red dresses wove in and out of small towns in Eastern Ontario – a sight for locals and passersby.
Luckily, it was also the shortest day of the bike rally. We arrived in Kingston at Queen’s University after 51km of cycling in our dresses.
Days 4 (110km) and 5 (104km) were long rides but felt relatively easy after day 2. The scenery was spectacular, especially through the Thousand Islands. I had done the drive to Montreal via the 401 so many times and had no idea what I was missing by venturing off the highway.
Day 5 culminated with the Candlelight Ceremony, where many participants shared their reasons for doing the ride, and talked about their personal connections with the cause. It was quite an emotionally charged experience. It really brought home why this ride is so important, and why the funds raised are so desperately needed by the PWA. The ceremony ended with the releasing of 16 Chinese lanterns over the St. Lawrence River in Lancaster, to celebrate 16 years of the Bike Rally.
We woke up the next day knowing we had 101km to go until we finished our journey. Departing for the final ride was bittersweet. As excited as we were to arrive in Montreal (and to not have to sit on a bike seat anymore) we didn’t want the experience to end. Prior to departure, Bike Rally organizers and representatives from the PWA expressed their immense gratitude for all the participants and sent us off for one last time.
It was a pleasant ride as we finally crossed the Quebec border.
All cyclists rode in to Montreal together – arriving at the Old Port in downtown Montreal. We were greeted at our welcome party in the Old Port with loud cheers from crew and supporters.
After cycling 600 km in the span of 6 days, we finally completed our journey! We had all accomplished what felt like an impossible mission. With bikes proudly raised up, we knew right away that we would be back again next year to do it all over again (in fact, we are already registered for the 17thannual ride!).
In total, the bike rally raised $1,148,506 for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA). The ride is the sustaining fundraiser for the PWA, with which they are able to provide the essential support and services so desperately needed by its clients. As a sponsor to our rides in 2014, we would like to express our sincerest thanks for your support.