Carpe Diem, The Series: “RIDING FOR DOLLARS”

"riding for dollars"

Paul Stevens


This past weekend, I participated in another ride to raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating disease that is largely a Canadian phenomenon. For example, a Canadian is 13x more likely to get MS than someone in Argentina. If that doesn’t cause you to scratch your head, not much will.  It remains a mystery as to why a well fed and well taken-care-of population like we have in Canada would lead the world in the incidence of MS but we do and it is not a source of national pride.

I have done this ride for the past three years but always in Ottawa.  Due to a scheduling conflict with one of our fellow team members, we opted to participate in the MS ride centered in London, Ontario.  That was OK by me as the start point for this ride was only about an hour from our place here in Sarnia whereas Ottawa is at least a seven-hour drive.

We were a group of four that included my friend from Ottawa along with a riding friend from Sarnia. My Sarnia friend is also the guardian of a 17-year-old young man who has joined our local riding group on several occasions. Our young protégé actually enjoys pedaling along the old guys and to his credit, he has the ability to stick with a longer ride, something that would have been light years from my thinking at that point in my life.

"riding for dollars"

The ‘Fabulous Four’ arriving in London Saturday afternoon. Pictures taken later in the day would be significantly more incriminating. (Your intrepid reporter, second from right.)

Saturday’s starting point for this ride was a once cheesy beach town called Grand Bend on the shore of Lake Huron.  It’s still a beach town but it has been significantly improved over the years. Yes, the smell of suntan lotion and fried food still wafts through the air and it has more than its share of swimsuit and sunglass shops but it has been gentrified in a large way. Clean, nice selection of restaurants, but still all the fried food you can handle.  It still feels like a beach town and I have no complaints with that.

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The ride from Grand Bend to London would be about 85 km (53 miles), not bad for a one-day effort.  I should note that the London ride attracted some 1500 participants, twice the number of Ottawa. London is a mid-sized city with about 390,000 residents; Ottawa is much larger with some 1 million people. So why the big difference in the number of riders?  A big part of the explanation is that, like so many other large cities, there are a lot of competing events in Ottawa for any number of very worthy and notable charitable causes vying for attention.  The MS ride in London enjoys center stage and it has done a great job of exploiting its top billing.

The day was about as good as it gets for riding – bright, sunny skies, comfortably warm temperature, moderate humidity and very light wind.  The fact that the wind was light in itself would be enough to make it a good day in my books but if offered the other benefits, well, no argument from me.  The route was on quiet secondary paved roads that were generally in very good condition so vehicular traffic was very light. In any event, any motorists were very respectful of those of us on bikes.  Elevation changes were moderate so challenging hill climbs were not a factor.

Refueling stops were provided about 15-20 km apart so there was always a supply of cold drinks, fresh fruit, and energy bars.  These were all staffed by local volunteers that in total numbered some 300 people.  My hat is off to all of those that helped out as they were giving up a fine summer weekend to dole out goodies to those of us sweating it out on our bikes.

Passing through a number of small towns, there was never an absence of people alongside the road clapping hands and cheering us on. One memorable sight was what I assumed to be the father standing at the roadside with his two young sons who looked to be about three and five years old, shouting out a heartfelt “Thank you!” to the riders as we passed by.  I had the chance to quickly reply, “No, thank you!” before I was out of range. What a great sight it was to see those young guys offering their support.  Good on you Dad for getting them involved.

The destination in London was Western University (formerly the University of Western Ontario) as that would be where we would rest up for the return leg the next day.  I knew that we would be putting ourselves to rest in university dormitories so I was not expecting a five-star hotel but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the rooms.  Bright, well-maintained and very clean; even a bag of ice in the refrigerator.  The decor was on the Spartan side to be sure but we’ll leave it the university students to add their special touches when they return in September. It’s amazing what you can do with artistically placed beer bottles.

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Accommodating and feeding dinner to 1500 tired and hungry riders is no small feat and you could not be anything but impressed as to how well it was done. Dinner was done in a couple of shifts and there was certainly no shortage of quality grub – ribs, chicken skewers, fresh vegetables, quinoa, and multiple dessert tarts and squares.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

After dinner, we were treated to a presentation that included a real-life story from a young woman who has benefitted from a very promising treatment protocol.  We learned about this new treatment last year and it was very encouraging to hear that it continues to make progress with tangible results.  From this, the thought occurred to me that at some point, hopefully in my lifetime, a cure will be at hand and that such fundraising efforts, as much fun as they are, will no longer be required. We can hope for such an outcome.

The Outcome

We were told that our collective efforts raised some $1.4 million net, a very satisfying haul for a weekend of well-placed effort.

Sunday was the return trip, slightly shorter at about 75 kms but of equal quality.  Another bright and sunny day greeted us and after a very hearty breakfast, we were on our way.  We agreed that after about 10 kms, we were feeling pretty good.  Time to settle into a nice pace and enjoy another fine day with more pit stops along the way and a wonderful BBQ lunch waiting for us in Grand Bend.

With the ride done, it was only about an hour to return home and the thought of what it would have been if I was coming back from Ottawa burned in my tired head.  As much as I enjoyed Ottawa, I’ll take the hop-skip-jump trip from Grand Bend anytime!

Once home, it was time to relax for the remainder of the day and set my sites on our next ride the following weekend.  This will be the ‘Gran Fondo’ here in Sarnia which I will do with my fellow Manditos (our local riding group) that will see us do 150 kms.  The London MS ride was in that distance range but that was done over two days; this will be a one-day affair with not nearly the same number of pit stops along the way.  So long as it’s not windy!

Your friend, Paul.

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

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