I was a little surprised by the fact that I actually did sleep that night. A pretty good sleep at that. Even so, 4am comes mighty early. We (Alex, Roberta and I) needed to be back at the CNE as soon after 6am Saturday morning as possible. On the way in we dropped off my single duffel bag in the truck that corresponded to our tent assignment. Tent F24 = truck ‘F‘. Then inside for a continental breakfast (fruit, juice, McMuffins(c) and coffee)and to pick up our bikes.
It did not surprise me that they couldn’t find an extra large “Strength in Numbers” jersey for me. Like I said, Roberta will look good in it. Fortunately I had the blue promo jersey to wear. I wasn’t alone, there were a few of us. After breakfast we assembled in the parking lot across the street where music was playing loudly and the crowd started to assemble. With each passing minute more and more bikes and riders and family and friends were filing in. We complained about the cool a little, talked about training and riding a little more, and wondered when things were going to get started – a lot.
Alex was taking pictures the whole time. He disappeared for a while, then I realized where he’d gone. To take pictures of the Canadian National 6213, a northern class steam locomotive on display nearby. It’s the sister to the 6167 that sits in downtown Guelph. The whole family is kinda the same way; can’t resist looking at a train locomotive.
Back in the crowd I notice there was something oddly uniting about thousands of people all dressed the same way, packing the same gear, riding the same vehicle, pointed in the same direction, intent on the same goal. Okay, maybe not all that odd, but I found myself taken aback by how quickly it went from ‘me’ to ‘us’. I was finally coming to a true realization of just how big this thing was. The sea of yellow and black (accented with blue) seemed endless, every imaginable kind of bicycle was represented. This was a lot of people and a lot of bikes.
The opening ceremonies finally got started about 7:20. There was the expected welcomes and thank yous, and the announcement we’d all been waiting for, second only to getting rolling. – the numbers! And what numbers they were.
Alex and I were right on target – 2,850 riders!! And we had raised an incredible $14,000,000 ! That’s right -14 million dollars! We were told it was the most successful cycling fund raiser in Canadian history. The cheering was in credible, counter-pointed by the odd sound of muffled applause. But then hey! what did you expect? We were all wearing cycling gloves.
The the horn went off and away we went – really slowly. Believe me, nearly 3,000 cyclists don’t just take off all at once and tear up the asphalt. The first few get started, then the next few, then more and more mount their bikes and slowly jockey for a starting point. My brother Alex videoed the whole thing. According to him it took 20 minutes to get all 2,850 of us out of the parking lot. It doesn’t surprise me.
We took off along Lakeshore Blvd towards Hamilton. several lanes had been cordoned off for us and police were stationed at all the intersections so we could keep up our speed. People lined the streets, some cheering, some waving, some using a variety of noise makers, a lot of them just looking at the shear number of riders and shaking their heads in amazement.
I though about taking a few pictures on the fly, but I was concerned about safety. I had never ridden in such a crowd of bikes before. Even when I used to race a little back in the day I was never part of a peloton this big! It was totally exhilarating; as riders passed each other we exchanged cheers, we waved to the crowds, the excitement built, and almost before we knew it we were at the first “Pit Stop.”
I couldn’t believe it! 27km in already, it had only been minutes. But the fact was it had been a touch over an hour. I was so astounded I completely forgot to take any pictures. I barely registered were we were – Woodlands Branch Library. Set up on the lawn were a several portable canopies under which water, three flavours of Gatorade, fresh fruit, and cut-up bagels were available to the riders. There was also two rows of portable toilets that were never unoccupied for long.
Ten minutes later, after a quick text message exchange with Roberta, I was on the road again. Next stop – lunch; but in the meantime there was actually a lot to do besides pedal. There were people to meet as we rode along. Conversations came easy; “Where ya from?”, “Is this your first distance ride?”, “So, you’re a cancer survivor?”, and a dozen other ice-breakers.
There was the couple from Houston, Texas on a tandem, Bob from Scarborough on a rented bike, and then there was Peter. Peter, who appeared to be in his late 60s or early 70s, was obviously an old hand as distance cycling. He did his best to encourage me to enjoy the ride but understand that there are “much better organized rides than this one.” Such as the Friends for Life Rally, a six-day Toronto to Montreal run being held in July to raise money for AIDS research. Actually, it does sound like fun, but not this year Peter.
Before long we were turning into Omagh Bible Camp for lunch. The set-up was much like the ‘Pit Stop” only on a larger scale. Swiss Chalet, the official presenter of the Ride, provided the food: a chicken wrap sandwich, lentil salad, a butter tart, and your choice of orabge, apple or cranberry juice. Again water, Gatorade(c), fresh fruit, and other snacks were also for the taking. And spread out on the ground around us – bikes – and their riders. the grass was almost blotted out by the bikes and riders sitting everywhere you could find a space, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, sharing. It was an amazing experience. ( I know, I keep saying that. But I keep saying to myself all day long. At every turn I found myself muttering, “This is amazing!” over and over.)
I spent an hour at Omagh. There didn’t seem to be any reason to rush, so I ate at a leisurely pace and took some time to reflect. I’ll be posting these reflections in the last of these posts. there also doesn’t seem to be much reason to rush these posts. I was thinking to do three of them but I think Day One is going to need two all by itself. There is a lot I want to record, for myself as well as for those of you who might actually be interested.
So I think I’ll sign off here for now. I’m fed and rested and headed back out on the open road with a touch over 150 km to go. See you later…
(BTW – Day One (part 1) photos have been added to the album)