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Although it’s been more than two months since my participation in The Ride to Conquer Cancer 2013, I’m still feeling the “after-burn” – not the physical one, but the emotional one. The sense of accomplishment coupled with a feeling of doing something worthwhile has continued to play a part in moving me forward to making other decisions requiring the type of planning and commitment that I learned from my participation in the Ride.

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The night before, as I stated in my previous post, had me leaving my bike down at Ontario Place in Toronto, the starting line for the race. If you look closely at my bike tires, there are names written on the tires. These are the names of people affected by cancer. I had asked my donors to submit names that I could put on my tires. Of course, my parents names were there as well.

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I was very excited at the start line – even though the day was grey and cool, I knew that those were actually the best conditions. There were speeches and people sharing their stories. Although I was in a crowd of people, I was alone. And that was okay because even with all of my support, I had wanted to do this part of the ride on my own. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. When my mom saw this photo, she commented that my eyes were “such a magnificent blue” and that she was with me every turn of the wheel – with her photo on my handlebar carrier, I never doubted it!

The start was not a big rush because there were so many riders and there was a bottleneck getting out of the starting area. That bottleneck lasted for quite some time, long after I left the roads that had been closed to traffic. Once on regular streets with Saturday morning traffic and no closed lanes, there were lots of starts and stops throughout west Toronto and again through Mississauga.

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My husband, who had been my inspiration and my coach, surprised me about an hour into the ride and found a place to park to take a photo and give me a cheer. It was a wonderful way to head out onto the country roads! I made all the pit stops and lunch breaks. The food was absolutely incredible and the sites were very well-organized. Without question, the volunteers made the Ride so much more for me. Because I was on my own, I didn’t have people to talk to throughout the breaks, but the volunteers were always cheerful and asked me how it was going, if they could get me anything, making suggestions of what to eat. As a vegetarian, I was concerned about the food meeting my nutritional needs. That was a wasted worry!

I felt very bad at one of the pit stops as the food tent had run out of peanut butter and a man was INCREDIBLY angry and taking it out on the young lady volunteering. He even turned to me and asked if I could believe that she couldn’t even be bothered to go look for some more and wasn’t I upset. I told him that it wasn’t her fault that there wasn’t enough but he wasn’t listening as he was now ranting to others. Although everyone initially stepped away during his rant, many people went up to the young girl and apologized to her that she was subjected to that. She was teary but seemed grateful for the support.

The route from Toronto to Mohawk College in Hamilton winded through many wonderful areas and the scenery was lovely. Calls of “On your left” were frequent, as the faster riders whizzed by me. People often struck up brief conversations and if anyone was pulled over, there were inquiries about whether help was needed. As well, people in tight groups could be seen pointing to the ground at places on the road to avoid, whether it was little dips, potholes or sadly, road kill. Some people were just out to get the job done, while others were more interested in the experience of the large group ride. I don’t know everyone’s motivation, but I definitely know that everyone had a story.

Just before I headed up Hamilton Mountain, the last leg of the long day – and the last of the many challenging hills – my dear friend Laura came with her husband, John, to meet me at a cheering station. They came a long way to meet me and it truly meant the world to me. I was grateful for their kindness and support, as well as the break. It was around this time that my right knee had begun to give me trouble and I was concerned about the climb. They both encouraged me to take it slow and steady and that’s just what I did.

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What a welcome sight! This was the Day One “finish line” – welcome to camp. I was so relieved to get there, to rest my now aching knee.

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I was especially excited when I checked my time for the day – 100 km in just over 5 hours. With an average speed of 20 km, I had more than exceeded my goal – which was actually to not be the last person to cross the line!

I headed to the medical tent and was given great advice and care. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t my knee but actually my right quad muscle that was troubling me. As I “clip in” to my pedals, I was sure that it was the turning motion of “unclipping” that I did more frequently that day that had caused the problem. I knew that Day Two would be less of a tight-knit group and I hoped that would allow me to use those muscles less for that type of action.

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This was quite a sight to see! Mohawk College was the Day One finish line for ALL the routes. That meant over 5000 riders in once place, along with their bikes. My hubby came to meet me and spend some time with me at the Camp. He had done the Ride the year before so he helped me stay oriented. As well, I stayed at McMaster University residences and the busing situation was a bit confusing from Mohawk to that location, so having Tim to drive me was a big bonus. We had a great visit, great food and drink. As well, there were more speeches and recognition of some of the top fundraisers and teams.

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I cannot even begin to tell you how well I slept that night – as a person who rarely has a good night’s sleep, it was wonderful! I awoke early to the sound of birds chirping and the sun was up. I got one of the first busses back to the camp so that I could get on the road early. I visited the medical tent before heading out and visited with my new best friend, Rub A535 and his companion Advil.

As hoped, the roads were not as filled with riders and the day started with a wonderfully long down hill. But as with all good things, comes the corresponding work. Once I got to the bottom, I remembered that, just prior to meeting up with my friends Laura and John the day before, I had enjoyed a long downhill. That meant today, I would have to climb back up. I kept hoping my right leg would be okay and allow me to keep going.

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This photo says a lot. I was feeling really good around 40 km on the second day. I was not only making good time, but I was able to (literally) talk myself up each and every hill. It wasn’t long after this that I was confronted with the biggest challenge of the ride.

As I came to a long, winding downhill, volunteers were at the side of the road with signs to slow down and shouting that there was an accident at the bottom of the hill, around a corner. As I came to the bottom of the hill, there were firefighters and police officers, and a few bikes without riders on the side of the road. Apparently there was a serious collision of cyclists, though I never did hear all the details. It seemed that the injured riders had already left the scene. I slowed completely and followed directions to keep going, not stop. The psychological impact was strong – worrying for the safety of others and the stark reality of the dangers of the Ride.

Immediately ahead of the accident scene was a very challenging hill. It was congested with people due to the slow down from the accident. Several people had stopped and were walking their bikes and a woman suddenly swerved in front of me and put her foot down and came to a complete stop. As I was clipped in, I had to swerve to miss her and yelled out “sorry – swerving left” to anyone coming up behind me. The woman screamed at me to shut up and at the same time another rider swore at me, as I did cut him off. I had no choice but to keep going as I did not have the momentum to unclip.

When I got to the top, there was a pit stop and I sought out the rider I had cut off to apologize. He was nowhere to be seen and perhaps had skipped the stop altogether. I regretted not coming unclipped before going up the hill, but there was so much commotion I didn’t really think to do it. I had been behind the woman who cut me off for a while before the accident and she had cut others off by swerving left without providing notice a few times. I perhaps should have been more aware and either gotten ahead or stayed well behind her.

I felt incredibly deflated by the interactions with the other riders. At the stop, though, a group of people encouraged me to join them for our snack and that helped a great deal.

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When I got to the second last pit stop, I knew I was close to the end. I called my hubby and let him know to head to the finish line. Instead, he once again popped out along the route and surprised me. It was great to see him.

I also called my son, Kyle, to let him know where I was and he too headed for the finish line. I knew the route between this spot and the finish line so well as it is one that I drive often to go visit Kyle in downtown Toronto. There were no people along the route after this point and the roads were not closed until we came well into the city.

I was so happy with my progress and the way that I had ridden the remainder of the route after the crash that it didn’t matter. As I neared the finish line, I checked in with my son and hubby to make sure they were there and then headed in.

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The moment I crossed the finish line, it didn’t hit me what I had done. It was when I got off the bike and could share the moment with my family that I knew.

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I kept saying to Kyle, “I did it! I did it!” The many bracelets I was wearing were also reminders of important people, like my “Not to Worry Beads” that both my daughter, Laura and I have. She lives far away, but is always with me and no less that day than any other. She was the first phone call we made after I crossed the finish line.

There were many parts of the Ride that I loved and some I did not. The riding part was the best experience and the one that I will always remember.

Wearing Tim's 2012 Ride shirt, I crossed the finish line - 200 km, 10 hours of riding time

Wearing Tim’s 2012 Ride shirt, I crossed the finish line – 200 km, 10 hours of riding time

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