Carpe Diem, The Series: Riding for MS

Paul Stevens

Carpe Diem (But in a Relaxed Sort of Way)

As introduced in my previous article, I was scheduled to participate in a fundraising ride for Multiple Sclerosis last weekend.  The ride would go from Ottawa to Cornwall, located on the St. Lawrence River.  The first leg would be on Saturday, and then the return journey would be on Sunday.  Each trip was about 100 km so that would make for some serious saddle time.

As a bit of background, Multiple Sclerosis (“MS”) has been called the ‘Canadian Disease’ since we have, for unknown reasons, the highest incidence rate in the world.  It also affects three times more women than men.  Why it affects Canadians more than all others is a mystery.  We’re well fed and we have a high quality health care system that is taxpayer funded. 

Is it the lack of Vitamin D we might get during shorter winter days?  Well, other northern nations are equally affected by the earth’s tilt and don’t have the same rates of MS. It remains an unsolved puzzle, but MS has been linked to a deficiency in the immune system.

How Multiple Sclerosis Affects Different People

 Multiple SclerosisMS affects all suffers differently and it will progress at different rates for each individual.  The brain and spinal cord lesions that are evidence of MS will cause a variety of symptoms, including loss of balance and motor controls, vision problems, weakness, loss of sensation, and even psychiatric problems.  Those affected can suffer symptoms and then go into relapse, only to have the problems return.

I was introduced to this ride through a long-time friend from high school, now a resident of Ottawa, whose wife has been battling MS for several years. We had the pleasure of meeting her last summer in Ottawa and although she is confined to a wheelchair, she instantly impresses with her unyielding positive attitude and ‘can do’ spirit.  I wonder from time to time how I would react to a difficult illness, as I have never had to deal with anything of that nature.  The worst physical problem I have dealt with was a couple of broken bones and soft tissue damage over the years but these are just injuries and they get better with time.  MS is a terminal disease and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

As said above, the Ottawa ride is a fundraiser, one of many the MS Society runs across Canada.  I tapped friends and family and was able to scrape up just over $1000 in donations.  Thanks to all who helped out!  The Ottawa ride was attended by about 650 riders and raised some $650,000.  A little later, I am going to tell you where this money is going so please be patient and hang on; I think you will like what you hear.

Ride for MS in Ottawa

Ottawa is about a seven or eight hour drive from our place in Sarnia, so not wanting to do that in one stretch, my plan was to drive to the town of Brockville which is in the 1000 Islands area of the St. Lawrence (and yes, that is where the salad dressing by the same name originated) and about one hour south of Ottawa.  My timing could not have been better.  Arriving in Brockville around dinner time, I was informed by the owner of the B&B where I was staying that there was a ‘Rib Fest’ at a local park about a 10 minute walk down the street.  I had of course heard of these things but sadly, I had never been to one. Big mistake on my part! 

Rib Fest

Upon arrival,  there were a number of highway trailers set up end to end, each unfolding into an instant BBQ kitchen complete with any number of banners and trophies extoling their expertise in the world of BBQ ribs – “Best Sauce” from this fair,  “Best Ribs” from that fair and so on and so on.  There is a summer long tour that these trailers visit, all in the name of BBQ ribs.  OK, throw some chicken in there for good measure.

So, you look at the menus – and you would have to be blind to miss them – and the prices are all the same. So you can’t use that as your comparison. Each location has any number of awards and banners, so that can be tossed out as well. Throw a dart at the board and hope for the best – and that is what I did. I ordered up a small rack, along with some homemade beans and coleslaw, grabbed a fresh corn on the cob from the vendor across the way, and made my way over to the band shell, where a pretty good blues band was belting out the tunes. It was a warm evening so sitting outside was very comfortable.

I made my way back to the B&B once it got dark and had a couple of beers with the owner as we watched the opening of the Rio Olympics. I had to rise quite early the next morning so I hit the sack at about 10 pm.

Ride Day

Early Saturday morning (5:45 am if you must know), I was on my way to the starting point that was located in a small farming community just south of Ottawa called Metcalfe.  Warm and sunny skies greeted us and riders were sent off in in groups so that there would not be one mass and jammed start.  This was not a race so everyone was able to go at a pace that was comfortable for them.  There are, of course, always a handful of keeners in these events. Some riders shot out from the start like rockets from Cape Canaveral. Good on you mate but I’ll see you at the BBQ later today!

This ride has been going on for at least 25 years so it is very well organized.  There were refreshment stops along the way at 15-20 km intervals where you could fuel up with liquids, fresh fruit, trail mix and the like.  These were staffed by community volunteers who I must give special mention to as they were giving up their weekend for our comfort.  The ride would not have been as pleasurable as it was without them.

The Route

The ride to Cornwall travels through the Ottawa Valley which is a broad and generally flat bit of countryside framed by countless farms.  We travelled secondary roads so competing with vehicles was never an issue. Our lunch stop was at a large park on the St. Lawrence where a BBQ was in full swing.  You were not going to leave hungry as there was no shortage of sausages, hamburgers including the vegetarian kind along with drinks, salads and snacks.

From this point, we were to continue east along the St. Lawrence through national park called ‘Long Sault Parkway” that would take us into Cornwall.  This is about a 15 km stretch that travels along some quiet roads and biking pathways while connecting a series of small islands.  It’s about as sweet a spot as you are likely to find and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a relaxing place to ride, camp, walk or just enjoy some time by the water.

Riding Discomfort

From my last writing, you may recall that my long ride the prior weekend with the Gran Fondo was punctuated by considerable saddle discomfort.  How would the undercarriage respond this time around and would I be OK for the return leg?  I had considered buying a new bike seat but that would come with its own problems. What if you spend the money only to discover that you are no better off and maybe even worse?  What are the chances of returning used bicycle seat? 

Plan B was to try a seat switch with a couple of other bikes that were hanging around or garage.  With reluctant permission from our son, I traded his seat with mine a few days before the Ottawa trip and headed out for a test run.  No issues at all so it’s a keeper for the time being.  When comparing his seat to my old one, all I could see was that his was a bit narrower than mine.  How that could make such a difference I do not know but when it comes to comfort, success is the only issue that matters.

Arriving in Cornwall brought relief on two levels; Day 1 was now in the books and no discomfort anywhere on my person was evident. Whew!  Time for a clean-up, relax a bit and get ready for dinner. 

Charitable Benefits of the Ride

As introduced above, I am to tell you where your money is going.  After the dinner, there were a couple of speeches, one of which was particularly eye-opening.  As a Canadian disease, it was encouraging to learn that a Canadian research team has done some pioneering work to deal with MS.  In particular, they have developed a protocol which sees the patient undergo a round of chemotherapy that effectively destroys their immune system.  Using blood stem cells, the researchers are able to implant the stem cells in the patient and then grow a new and improved immune system.

This treatment is most applicable to MS sufferers who are in the earlier stages of the disease and who are experiencing aggressive progression.  We were introduced to two recent recipients of this treatment and their stories of improvement were nothing short of jaw-dropping.  From facing a bleak and degrading future to the chance of substantial recovery as the lesions that evidence MS had all but disappeared. Standing O’s all around after their stories for work exceptionally well done.

Rest came easy on Saturday night and we were sent off Sunday after a great buffet breakfast.  I made the comment to one of my co-riders that this may be the only long ride I have been on where I might actually gain some weight.  The things we will do for a good cause!

Ride Summary

The day started out with some light winds but about an hour into the day, they picked up significantly. Of course the wind was in our face the entire return leg which made even the slightest incline challenging.  Slowly passing one of my fellow riders, I commented, “Did you order this wind?”  “No,” he promptly replied, “I ordered a pizza!”  Such is the spirit of those who were riding that weekend.  It may have been a tough slog on the return, but we don’t have MS to deal with every day so let’s consider ourselves fortunate. 

At one of our pit stops, one of the local groups provided a ‘mister’ – a device that gently sprays out a very fine mist of cool water.  This was a master stroke and I have attached a picture of our group enjoying the benefits of someone’s foresight. 

The end was inevitably in sight and thus concluded a great weekend.  Lots of riding in the sunshine with outstanding comradery among the riders and volunteers.  It was a long drive home but a good time to relax and reflect on what was and the welcome fact that I was not the least bit sore – anywhere. I am already looking forward to doing this again next year.

Your friend, Paul.

And remember – Carpe Diem (but in a relaxed sort of way)!

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 1.32.22 PM

Some of our group enjoying the ‘mister’.  Blue shades, third from left is yours truly.  In the cup? Just Gatorade.

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