Ride to Conquer Cancer – Day One (Part 1)

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)


Ride to Conquer Cancer – Day Zero

Prologue: I want to start by thanking everyone who helped me with my participation in The Ride to Conquer Cancer. From those who donated, to the people who encouraged others to donate, to the people who encouraged me, to the people who provided transportation and helped me with art work and the Internet stuff… thank you very much, all of you. It was one of the great experiences of my life.

If you’re reading this and haven’t read my earlier post on the subject, the Ride to Conquer Cancer is a 200km cycle tour of South-western Ontario, Canada. Beginning in Toronto and ending in Niagara Falls the next day, the purpose is to raise funds to continue the cancer research that takes place at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

I’ve been facing a kind of ‘blogger’s block’ for the last few months, but this seems the perfect subject to use to break it. I’ve decided to take three days to tell you about the three days of the Ride. It is after all how I experienced it.

Day Zero: To say that I was of mixed emotions heading into this is an understatement. My emotions ranged from excitement, to trepidation, to exhilaration, to mind numbing fear. I’m 54 years old (in August), carrying about 25 lbs more than I should be, and my only claim to being in shape stems from the fact that round is, by definition, a shape.

As my brother Alex and I (he drove me down) entered the Direct Energy Centre at the CNE grounds in Toronto I was immediately overwhelmed by the shear number of people there. But even more remarkable to me was the number of medical staff from the Princess Margaret Hospital who greeted us at the door, shook ours hands and offered a very warm and obviously genuine “Thank You!” Most notable for me was meeting Dr. Robert Buckman, a medical oncologist I’ve seen interviewed a number of times on various news and information programs on CTV and the Discovery Channel.

Then began the check-in process which, as is often the case when thousands of people are involved, consisted of standing in a series of long lines for the opportunity to accomplish a rather short task. To be fair, considering the size of the event, the lines moved rather smoothly. We rarely stood still for long, creeping slowly forward, guided by volunteers and staff who made sure you were in the right line and had all the things you would need when you arrived at the front of the line.

As we went along Alex kept taking pictures and marveling at the organization. Then he said said something I wasn’t expecting. He was so impressed with it all that he wished he was going along with me. What struck me most about this was the fact that he was the reason I was there.

You see Alex used to really enjoy riding his bicycle. Then in his last year of high school they discovered cancer in his shoulder joint. At the time (over two decades ago now) the only way to save Alex’s life was to remove the infected area. For Alex that meant amputating his right shoulder, and of course the arm with it.

I will never forget standing on the fifth floor of the hospital as Alex told me how he had considered jumping from one of the balconies. Feeling nearly as helpless as he did, I had little comfort to offer. We stood there silent for a very long time.

Alex proved to be a lot tougher than he thought. Today he has a good career as an engineering CAD technician type. He’s got a great wife – Joan, and a terrific son named Jacob. However, with only one arm, he found that controlling a bicycle was just too difficult for him, and good quality trikes are kind of expensive, so – he wrote it off and went on to other things, all of which he does extremely well.

But I have never forgotten the kid brother who loved to ride his bike. That’s why, when I heard about the Ride to Conquer Cancer, it seemed to right thing to do. Since Alex couldn’t ride, I would because thanks to cancer research, I still have my brother around. Unfortunately, the medical technology of the day couldn’t save our father when he contracted colon cancer a few years later. But maybe, with a lot of dedication, and a lot more money, we can indeed see cancer conquered in our lifetime. The Ride just seemed the best way to give back.

Back to the check-in. Things were going quite smoothly, my donations ($3000- thanks again) were more than enough to qualify me for the ride. All my ID etc. was in order, I’d seen the required safety video, signed my waiver and received my tent assignment. It was tent number F24, I’d find out who my tent-mate was when I got there. Then came time to collect my Ride jersey.

I distinctly remember marking my registration form 10 months earlier “Jersey size = XL.” My paper work said “Jersey size = XL.” And yet they had run out of XL jerseys. They offered me a large and said they would try to get me another one the right size in the morning. Oh well.. at least I’ll have a souvenir and Roberta will have a cycling jersey to wear.

We had attached the survivor flag to my bike (because I was riding for Alex) and were making our way out of the centre when Alex suddenly gave out one of his distinctive, “Ooooh!”s. This is a sound that can only mean, “Wait a second, I see an interesting piece of technology that must be examined regardless of how serious the natural disaster currently in progress might be!

He had spotted a rather impressive tricycle. One that appealed to his sense of engineering more than most others he had looked at. He started taking pictures, making sure that he had enough data to reproduce the technology if the opportunity presented itself. As a final act he stuck a business card into one side of the double water-bottle cage. Scrawled on the back was a plea for information on where such a bike might be acquired.

Well that’s about it for Day Zero. Alex and I had a late supper on the way back to Guelph, and arranged the wake calls to ensure I would be there for the start of Day One. But that’s a story for tomorrow.

Check out the Ride to Conquer Cancer Album on my home page.


Great Art and A Great Cause

Okay.. there two things that I want to talk to you about.

The first is art. The scriptures say that man was created in the image of God. For me the greatest evidence of this has always been humankind’s ability to create. From the earliest cave paintings to the delicate intricacies of an electron guitar, I really believe our obsession with bringing what we can imagine into some degree of reality one of our most God-like qualities.

It’s why I’ve always thought that those who believe in God should support those who make best use of their creativity. To the best of our ability to afford it, there should be art in our homes, original when possible, prints and replicas when necessary, but there must be art. It is an expression of the creative spark that God has placed in all of us. For this reason, I have always made a point of supporting and promoting the artists that come into my life, be they musicians, sculptors, architects, painters, whatever.

Which brings me to my friend Stephen. I have known Stephen Ascough for nearly three decades. And while I have long coveted his friendship, I will confess that what I envy most is his artistic ability. I am proud to have three of Stephen’s original nature drawings hanging on the walls of my home. They remind me not only of a great friendship, but of the wonder of God’s creation expressed in an act of love and creativity.

I know, I’m getting a little mushy here, but it’s hard not too – Stephen’s work always amazes me. Sometimes I look at the three pictures I have in my home, (the mushrooms are my favourite) and I still see things in them I never noticed before. But why am I telling you this now?

Because recently my friend Stephen was accepted as a member of Artists For Conservation, a “non-profit, international organization dedicated to the celebration and preservation of the natural world. The Foundation represents the world’s leading collective of nature artists and an unparalleled pool of artistic talent focussed on nature. The organization’s mission is to support wildlife and habitat conservation, biodiversity, sustainability and environmental education through art that celebrates our natural heritage.” Membership is limited and by invitation, I’m thrilled for my friend that he has been included.

As a result of this for the first time, high quality art prints of his work is available on the web. The picture at right is from his home page at AFC where you can see more of his work and purchase a print. On selected works a portion of the purchase price will go to the AFC Foundation to support their work in world wide conservation efforts. I invite you to visit his home page and consider the possibilities. You can use the following link or the one in the sidebar at right.


The second thing I’d like to mention is The Ride to Conquer Cancer. The Ride is a 200km cycling tour from Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Ontario through the Halton Hills, down through the wine country of the Niagara peninsula, to the natural majesty of Niagara Falls, natural wonder and honeymoon capital of North America. The funds raised through this event will help to ensure that the vital cancer research that is done at Princess Margaret (one of the top five such centres in the world) continues.

I’d be surprises if there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t seen someone in their lives touched by this all to common disease. If you are so inclined to do so I would appreciate it if you would follow the link to my personal page at the Ride’s web site and make a donation in support of my participation in the event.

On behalf of the thousands who will benefit from the work that goes on at Princess Margaret, I thank you.

Dennis Gray