As many are already aware, I’ve been an active participant in the Ride for the Breath of Life for more than 15 years now. I haven’t ridden every year, but I’ve ridden most of them (and I’ve managed pretty much every year in the last decade). That is an accomplishment that I’m particularly proud of, given that the ride I support is in Edmonton, a city that I haven’t called home for the last ten years.
My normal routine is to fly to Alberta, borrow a motorcycle from a friend, ride to Edmonton, participate in the ride weekend, return the motorcycle, and fly home. Since the advent of the pandemic, that hasn’t been possible. Last year’s ride was virtual, and while there was a scaled-down version of the ride in Edmonton this year, travel restrictions and common sense made in-person participation more than a little impractical.
This year was once again going to be a virtual ride. I set my sights on Tobermory, at the top of the Bruce Peninsula (it’s the pointy bit of the arrowhead that is southern Ontario, separating Lake Huron from Georgian Bay). From where I live, it’s about 300 kms away; the ride is a 600 km trip, give or take. It’s a long and full day, but a manageable one. Better in good weather, mind you, but still doable.
Approaching my planned weekend, however, the forecast was looking questionable. My planned day was Saturday, with Sunday as back up if the weather was truly horrible. Thunderstorms were likely in and around where I live, which was not awesome (you really don’t want to be riding a lump of metal when there’s lightning on offer). Late Friday evening, I resolved to shift the ride by a day, which at the time promised to be a much nicer day.
Up early on Sunday morning, I prepped to head out with one eye watching an impressive amount of fog. The weather forecast was now for gorgeous weather where I lived (once the fog cleared) and a pretty solid expectation of rain throughout the Bruce Peninsula. Such is life.
While the fog had not completely lifted by the time I was ready to hit the road, I was hopeful and cautiously set out. Riding in fog is a little different than when you are in a car; you are out there in the world, experiencing the weather as it really is. Fog is pure humidity, and coalesced as droplets of moisture on my visor. It’s a lot like rain, without the active involvement of water falling to help things along.
The sun emerged as I crossed north of Stratford, however, and I was able to settle in to a warm and comfortable ride towards the coast of Lake Huron as the rest of the world gradually woke up and ventured out.
Doing a ride virtually and on your own is very different than what usually occurs on ride day. Normally I’m surrounded by sixty riders or more, all sharing a common interest in motorcycling, community and making a difference for a cause they care about.
The cystic fibrosis community is a close one. They have to be. They share in marriages, births, deaths and hospitalizations. They look out for each other and they provide emotional, physical and logistical support. They share in triumphs and tragedies. They are amongst the few that understand phrases like “Sam is in the hospital for a couple of weeks for a tune-up” or “While we were out, Jessica was flagging, but I tossed her a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips and she perked right up.”
When I first started the ride, I did so to support my friend Abe. Showing up that first day, you felt the strength of the community, but it didn’t necessarily include you. At the beginning, I was the tall, red-haired stranger. Then I was, “Abe’s friend.” That eventually became, “Abe’s friend that raises a bunch of money.” Eventually, I just become Mark from Ontario, but that was a hard-won accomplishment. Showing up for the ride, it was great to feel like a welcomed part of the tribe. It’s the part I miss most in riding alone. The scenery is gorgeous, the riding is great, and there will still be a barbecue at the end, but it’s still just me in on my own in my helmet taking it all in.
It was not an entirely isolated experience, though. Friends of mine, knowing my route, invited me to make a small detour for morning coffee. They have a cottage at Sauble Beach on the west coast of the peninsula. Tobermory is at the tip, and I’d then weave down the east coast towards Owen Sound in the afternoon.
That was also about when the rain started. Not heavy, just persistent. It went away for long enough that we were able to enjoy coffee outside, and then started up again as I prepared to wave goodbye. It kept going for pretty much the extent of my ride on the peninsula. That was great for traffic (everyone went home early) but soggy for lunch. It also made some of the scenic riding that I enjoyed last year a little greyer, but it is still a beautiful part of the countryside.
One of the truly remarkable things about riding a motorcycle is the way that it invites conversation. You can drive the nicest car, and while people might ogle, they are unlikely to talk. Show up on a motorcycle, and people magically appear to ask questions, reminisce about bikes they had or talk about ones they aspire to.
At my last stop, at a lookout just north of Owen Sound, an older gentleman magically appeared and proceeded to interrogate me about just every feature on my bike and how it compared to other Ducatis he was familiar with. Was the headlight original? The speedometer? The mufflers, obviously. He shared the lengthy history of sports tourers that he owned (starting with a precursor of mine) before disappearing as abruptly as he arrived, wishing me a good ride as he did so.
The ride home was uneventful. The rain stopped as I left my final rest stop, the sun emerged and the traffic stayed blissfully quiet. My route was largely backroads through farming country, which is no guarantee you won’t get stuck behind someone. Fortunately for me, everyone already seemed to be home. I was able to make my way at a comfortable speed with almost no interruption.
I pulled into the driveway tired, slightly sore but less soggy than I had been. It was an eleven hour day in total, and a distance of 621 kms. Thanks to the support of some incredibly generous sponsors, the day raised $4,630 as I write this. That’s a bit shy of the goal that I had set personally; my team collectively raised more than $23,000 and the Edmonton ride as a whole raised more than $32,000. For a ride in a more-than-difficult year, that is an incredible accomplishment.
For all who made the day possible, thank you. I’m sincerely grateful to you all for your contributions, your support and your generosity. You are helping to make a difference for the cystic fibrosis community, and your contribution moves us a little closer to helping finding ways to manage and cure what continues to be a horrific disease.
I have always ridden on behalf of Erica, the daughter of my good friend Abe. This year, I rode in her memory. Her passing last year was felt by many. It was another loss in a community all too familiar with what that means. They keep rallying, they keep supporting, and they keep riding, because that’s what needs to happen. I am proud to continue to be riding virtually by their side.