Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Ride To Conquer canser: Thousands of Journeys. One Destination. Part 1

Aug 7, 2015

The Ride to Conquer cancer. It was finally here! It allowed me to zero in on it and block out anything else. For one weekend, riding was the only thing on my mind. They say The Ride is Epic, and it truly was. It was one of those life events that you never, ever forget, and talk about until you’re old and grey.

 I will never forget my first Ride.

The kids were having a weekend sleep over at our parents – they each took 1 kid – divide and conquer lol. The night before Phil and I were wired. I was excited, and scared and nervous all at once. It was finally here!! That thing that had come into my life and forever changed it, and that I had been actively training for for months…

Last year I was bald and about to go in for my 6th round of chemo. I cheered my team from the sidelines, and cried a good part of the weekend from being so overwhelmed with emotion. I looked at them like Gods… Or Angels.

My Mall Angels.

And now I was about to embark on the same journey that led my beloved teammates to me.

The Tuesday before the ride was the day after the tornado that happened in Calgary, and the weather in the NW where we ride from was dark and ominous. So we spent our last Tuesday team training ride with the team, drinking in the pub. Which is funny because that’s exactly how we spent our very first Tues team training ride with the team – also due to bad weather! I thought it was a fitting end to our first season of training. The first of many….

The night before the Ride we had some practical stuff to do – a run through at COP for the ceremonies the next day,  pack for the overnight stay, attach the identifying tags to our helmets and bikes, check over our bikes (ie admire our bikes lol). We just kept grinning at each other at odd moments throughout the night and saying “I can’t believe it’s tomorrow!”. It was kinda like Christmas Eve at our house that night. I didn’t know how we were going to ever get to sleep.

My happiness though was tinged with sorrow.

As excited as I was, I also found myself reflecting on how canser had impacted my life, and those I had met, and sadly lost. Taking my cue from Matt, who rode with his survivor flag covered in names – I started writing down all those I was riding for.  Matt rides for lots of people – but the main person I think on his mind is his friend Jordan . There were 4 of them that went through treatment together. A while later Jordan had a relapse, and died. It gutted them. So he rides for Jordan. For me, I was doing the Ride for my Dad. My Dad never made it to 36. He was diagnosed with pancreatic canser at 35 and died at 35. So I decided my 36th year would be the year I conquered cancer twice – once for me -  in treatment- and once for my Dad – on my bike. I made a sign with a pic of me and my Dad when I was 9 months old in PEI to put on my back:

I felt like my Dad had been with me while I was training. Sometimes when I was flying down a hill, or witnessing some particular beautiful sight on my bike, I felt like he was close to me. I had no doubt he would be with me during The Ride - and now everyone else would know too. Because he died when I was 2, he wasn’t able to be part of my life. It was through no fault of his own. In those bad moments when I wonder if I’ll see my kids grow up, my biggest fear is I’ll be the mom they don’t really remember. I feel sad to think my Dad maybe worried about that too.  I never really found a way to honour his memory – until now.

4:30AM came fast the next morning. I think it took us until 4:45 to be up and in the shower…we were on the road by 5:45…and by that point we had our coffee and were so excited. I thought back to my car ride last year to COP to cheer on One Aim. I cried when I saw all the different license plates from all over. This year I was just too damn happy to cry. And it probably helped that I had an idea of what to expect. I kept stealing glances at Phil to see if he was as enthralled with everything as I was. He was. The smile never left his face either.

It was chilly that morning. And it was still pretty dark out when we got up and parked at COP, although the sun had started rising. Everywhere we looked, there were cars. And bikes. And people in bike gear. I felt a thrill move through me as we unloaded our bikes and started to walk toward the stage to meet up with the rest of our team. We saw teammates in the parking lot. Hugs all around. My stomach was a bit knotted because of the part I had coming up in the opening ceremony. And at the thought of the over 100k I’d be riding that day. And the over 100k I’d get up and ride again the next day…

We loaded up our gear that was going on one of the many colour coded trucks to camp, and then we ran into a few more teammates as we carried on. More hugs. First stop, pick up my survivor’s flag pole, which attached to my bike.  Anyone who has had or has canser gets a tall yellow flag on their bike. It’s extremely inspiring to see all the yellow flags at the start – last year it gave me hope. This year I would learn that those riding with a yellow flag are treated with a kind of reverence by the other riders. It’s kind of hard to explain.

I’ve gotten used to walking with my eyes downcast, which probably started after I shaved my head. When I realized I was doing this I was bothered by it and have tried to stop doing it. But like any habit it’s hard to stop once you get used to doing it. Well, as I walked with my flag towards the meet up spot for our team, every time I raised my eyes and met another riders’ eyes – they smiled at me. This simple act encouraged me to walk tall – and smile back. I thought it was just the camaraderie between all riders who were united for the same cause, and was happy to be part of it. I think it was partly that, but I think my flag may have played a part as well. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

We finally got to the spot in front of the stage. We ran into even more teammates – more hugs. I had a moment when I was standing looking around, taking it all in. It was like a hum of energy . All the memories of the previous year standing there with a bald head came flooding back. A huge lump grew in my throat. And next thing I knew, tears were falling. It was a such an emotional moment. Last year I was a baldy on the sidelines, standing with my handmade sign of encouragement and a heart full of hope. This this year I was at the start line, with a head full of (short) curls, dressed proudly in my Ride To Conquer gear, about to take on the biggest physical challenge of my life.  Everything in the last year had led me to this spot. I guess I should have expected the tears, but they still caught me by surprise.

My wonderful team took it in stride. I got pats on the back and knowing smiles. They got it. After all, they were there last year. And they had been with me ever since, encouraging and helping me get to this very spot.

Then I saw Matt. My tears quickly dried as the joy filled my heart. I hadn’t seen Matt in months, and he had never met Phil. I introduced them and gave Matt a big hug. My inspiration to sign up for this crazy ride was here – this day was almost complete. I just needed to see Nigel.

My nerves started to amp up as we got closer to the time for the opening ceremonies. We met up with my mom and a couple of close friends of the family. I found out later that Phil's parents and Em were there too. The ceremonies hadn’t even started and it was already such a great day. All the challenges since ending treatment and going back to work slowly faded into the background. I was completely present in the moment. I wanted to drink it all in - enjoy and cherish every second.

And then Nigel was there, arriving in a bustle of energy trying to get all the last details nailed down and organising the last bit before we crossed the start line. Hard work being the leader of a team of over 100 riders! But when he saw me and Phil he got a huge smile on his face, and gave us a big hug. Typical Nigel. Then he was off, making sure everything was in order. 

Suddenly I was called to the other 3 survivors who were holding the riderless bike, and the Opening Ceremony began. We were set up right in the middle of the whole crowd, with an aisle leading from us right to the start line. Nigel told me there was usually 2 ways to handle the emotion of the part I had in the ceremonies – completely stoic, or balling like a baby…I figured there’d be no hope for me – they’d have to walk behind me with a mop…

Quite surprisingly as we walked the bike up to the start line, I didn’t ball like a baby. I did everything I could to hold the emotion in, though not sure “stoic” would be the right word for it…The MC was talking about how the bike represents those we’ve lost. And how us survivors represent the hope. As he was finishing up, that was our cue (the ones walking the bike) to go get on our bikes so we could take off with everyone once they said Ready, Set RIIIIIIDE!

I cried from the moment I crossed the start line with Phil and my team by my side, until we got to the highway. They were tears of pure emotion. Happiness. Sadness. Loss. Change. Celebration. Exhilaration. Hope.

And so began my Epic weekend, with my Epic team, riding an Epic 236 km across Epic scenery, united in our Epic goal of Conquering canser.

It was a hell of a start.

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