Credit: Friends For Life Bike Rally @ bikerally.org
It’s the morning of the third day, or maybe the fourth. Truthfully, it’s starting to be a bit of a blur, and I’m feeling pretty moody. I can tell that my body doesn’t understand what I am doing to it, and I’ve never done anything like this before. I mean, six days of cycling? Seriously?
We’re all sleeping in tents, on not-so-inflated inflatable mattresses. Everything I own is sort of damp, and I’m beginning to believe that waterproof tents don’t actually exist. This is the setup for a terrible day, but for reasons I’m not clear on, I’m having the time of my life.
My whole involvement in the PWA’s Friend For Life Bike Rally, riding from Toronto to Montreal, was my partner’s idea. For sure, I believe in the cause, and Toronto’s People with AIDS Foundation is obviously close to my heart, but it’s pretty hard to remember why you’re riding when you’re slipping back into the same unwashed bike shorts you wore on day one.
We’ve already had a pretty great breakfast and some divine coffee. Most of us, save some stragglers, have taken down our tents, packed all our belongings into our Rubbermaid bins, and taken it all to the trucks. May the cycling gods bless our food crew and Rubbermaid rustlers, I’m pretty sure I’d be a dead man if this wasn’t a fully supported ride.
Around camp I can feel the nervous energy about the day ahead. Most seasoned riders pretty much know what to expect, but I can hear a lot of the first-timers asking about how many hills they should expect and how steep they are. As much as I dread those hills, I did my training rides, and I keep looking at those experienced riders – the hills can’t be that big if they’re willing to do this trip every year, right?
When we depart we’re all together in a pretty dense line, but this is a rally, not a race, and everyone is settling into their own speed, finding their groove. Riders shouting “on your left” as they pass me, they call out bumps and holes, and I feel a sense of teamwork as we’re hugging the lake the whole day. The enormity of this lake cannot be appreciated unless you’re riding beside it, I swear. I’m still sore, but whatever, it’s actually not as bad now that I’m peddling again. Today, like most of the six days, I know that we have about 100 km to do, and there comes a point right in the middle of my day of riding that I’m neither in the anticipation of beginning nor anywhere near the sensation of conclusion. I’m right in the thick of it, and it’s almost a meditative state. I’ve adjusted my gears to a place between ease and resistance, my peddle-to-distance ratio is perfect, and I’m flying. The lake is beside me, and every time I ask someone which way we go, they say the same thing, “East.”
Our first night is spent in Port Hope. We camp on the vast property of a long-time friend of the bike rally. She and her family mow the back fields of their farm just for us, on these big wild cliffs looking down over the water. Walking to my campsite after dinner, I can see the sun setting over Lake Ontario and glinting off of the sea of tents. “My goodness,” I think, “there are so many of us.” It’s so beautiful.
We have to catch a ferry at one point, to make a connection to Adolphustown. Imagine dozens of cyclists squeezing in between a few dozen cars on a ferry crossing this huge strait. The mayor has come down to meet with us while we wait. “What you’re doing is amazing.” he says, and I think to myself, “he’s right, it is.”.
In Kingston, we have glorious beds. We stay in a Queen’s University residence building. The campus is super close to Gord Downie Pier, which in my opinion is one of the best piers to jump off of. The water is perfect in the summer sun.
Leaving Kingston, we’re into the second half. With the wind at my back I’m flying through the Thousand Islands archipelago, like a giant leaping from island to island.
There is one moment which I’ll never forget. I was alone, somewhere between Johnstown and Lancaster, I don’t know. No one to see in front of me, no one behind, an ocean of golden wheat fields on both sides, and me. For all I know, in this moment I was the only one in the whole universe. This solitary moment was so special to me.
On the last day, there is almost something bittersweet to packing up all our stuff. We go through all the same motions we have gone through five times before, but differently. There is something that happens to you individually and collectively when you experience something truly special together. I’m not grumpy or anxious anymore, I’m so happy and sad.
We gather together at the beginning of day six for a final check in. We’re all here: all the crews, all the organizers, and all the riders. 300 give or take. We talk about legacy, we talk about friends here and gone, and we talk about the transformative impact that the Friends for Life Bike Rally has on us as individuals, but also on those who need us.
Arriving into Montreal with blocked off roads and a police escort to an enormous crowd of cheering supporters with 600 km of cycling behind you. Like, c’mon, how can you hold back the waterworks?
Credit:Friends For Life Bike Rally @ bikerally.org
I’m seeing parts of Canada in a way I have never seen them before, I am pushing my body to do things it has never done before, and I am making friends I’ve never known before. The cause is just the cherry on top.
Written by Zachary Zulauf, Christian Roy, and Stephanie Pearl-Mcphee
PWA’s Friend For Life Bike Rally takes place starting on August 11, 2019. This year the event offers 1-day ride option (110 km) between Toronto and Port Hope, a 3-day ride option (313 km) between Kingston and Montreal and 6-day ride option (600 km) between Toronto and Montreal.