Day 1 – Cowichan Valley

“STUFF (that’s not the word he used)…is getting real hard to do LB. Would love a visit. Be good to see you”

Those were the last words my friend Jimmy G ever shared with me… in a facebook message no less… Thanks technology.. I didn’t get to making that last visit, before ALS  delivered him its final blows. Nor did I ever really forgive myself, for letting that happen.

We shared plenty of laughs though. Even when he no longer could laugh, with anything more than his eyes. We tabled some final crazy thoughts, and agreed on most.  As we often did. Not the least of which being, It would be my turn. My turn to tag in and have a go at Lou Gehrigs disease for him. Sure it was my idea. But slim agreed, My odds were, well,  better than his at that point.

Aug 5th marks four years since “Lou”, as he called it, finally took him out. It’s also the very day the 2015 ALS Cycle of Hope awareness journey rolls out on their fourth year. The year that I asked to join them. Coincidence? No idea.. but they’re interesting numbers  And that day got even better.

It’s not been an easy road for this team in 2015. Though I doubt it ever has.. these people don’t take take the easy route. The Cycle of Hope society would not exist if they did. My kind of people..Huge, determined hearts. This year brought lots challenges on the fly during our training season. The team has ridden through many changes of plan, on and off the road, to prepare and make this possible. Relentless dedication.

Our biking journey needed to shift gears and begin with two local Vancouver Island stages. Those stages opened the doors for other amazing opportunities we’d of never had otherwise.. Like our first stop this morning.

MillBayAfter a cloudy & cool ride over the malahat. (Really? in THIS summer of fire??)  We meet with Jimmy’s lads and their mum for their annual memorial moment along the Mill Bay waterfront. It is that day, right…Fishing lines dangle. A home fab bottle boat (the ss Jimmy) sets sail burning on a single candle power.. Peaceful..positive..heart wrenching. Catharsis. New connections are made and the comfort reaches across a common, agonizing understanding ..

Time to roll.

We savour cruising some favorite Cowichan Valley routes. Rolling farm field back roads. Vineyards & tree tunnels. Meandering toward the sea air of Cowichan bay though postcard scenes. Much needed win in the face. After that first stop.

BAMM! and my rare explosive rear flat halts progress just south of Duncan. Spare wheels whip out of the shadowing support unit with the efficency of Hesjedal’s team car… well , ok …but I did have that fresh wheel on and waiting long before another nature call was answered.

In Duncan we roll into two of our local bike shops. The first has my friend, instantly donating a new tube & skin for my freshly flattened wheel. Installed. On the front glass display!..while teammates browse and do what bikers do in bikes shops…Showing thanks for the generous support they brought the team’s fundraising efforts. I’m happy to connect my Victoria team with the great Cow valley folks who’ve always backed my charity rides. The next shop’s owners have a friend now living with ALS. We introduce warmly while sharing yet more photo ops.  Another friend is here, who also lost her man to ALS 10 years ago.  Emotions escape through some eyes before we can say farewell. Further connections are made. The team’s reach broadens again, in both the ALS and biking worlds. All through one door.

But  we’re just halfway on the days ride. Needing to head south for a big reception & cake finish. Yum!

More rolling backroads and farm fields (with ripe farm air in spots)…few cars and some quiet moments despite the cobbled zones and no shoulders. A touch of highway and were rolling through the center of metropolitan Cobble Hill and into downtown Shawnigan. For a quick pit at team favorite cafe. These, are my towns. Where my childhood hillbilly biker roots branched from to reach this big city team. They like riding my hood. Though I don’t think any of them believe the sun ever shines up here. But that’s another story..

Cruising the east side to south Shawnigan we churn back up onto the malahat. Pause briefly and begin a riotous rip back into goldstream. A purple streak so smiling at the bottom you could smell adrenaline across the high 5’s.  Even ‘Late Night’ got caught in the descending fun! Off

the brakes and on the wheel. Testing her high speed bike handling on those rumble strips. Surviving with a smile !

Regroup in the verdant greens of goldstream and continue toward Victoria with some healthy tailwinds gracing weary legs. I hear laughter on that wind..not all of it from my visible teammates.. All day we’ve heard horns too. Honks, smiles and waves have cheered us on along our entire route.

cakeBack into city traffic, and daylong dreams of cake get real..the Esquimalt Country Grocer is hosting a reception. With cake. And more super delicious treats from the teams special nutritionist. Who has kept us well fueled all day with her incredible home made super foods!  Families have gathered. Friends are there. Applause warms our final pedal strokes. My two young nephews have hand drawn a cheering sign that will make it onto the wall in the toy room. To hang quietly with other reminders of great achievements.

130+ km have been cranked to launch the 2015 Cycle of Hope with a sensation of astounding success on day one. We make our way to a much needed reload feed at a team sponsor’s superb eatery. We have more ‘cake’ (spelled b e e r) the night is coming fast and we could all use some rest before tomorrows 130km second stage gets rolling at 7am.. and I still have this to scribble out…piece of cake.

Jim was the closest of my friends lost to ALS. But there have been others. Friends of friends. And their stories have reached me as well. Considering the national stats in Canada I have a frighteningly disproportionate amount of relation to it. all before joining this group. Now, it’s terrifying.

This disease has reared its hideous head into my world far too often to be ignored. Witness to its brutality has changed the way I view my own life and what I should be doing with it. Such shifts in perspective and course don’t often come without a serious price.  I ride with this team not because I planned to. It’s a reaction to what’s been dealt. I want those now living with this to know that there’s dedicated people. Lot’s of them. Working hard to make this a treatable disease. They have the puzzle pieces, and just need to put them together. They’re convinced this will happen soon. And because of that, so am I.

If the solution to this disease were a bicycle. Then the Cycle of Hope is a link in the chain of that machine. A tire on the ground. An integral component. Rolling out to inspire hope for those trapped by ALS, that a solution, is heading their way. Cranking relentlessly toward the days when this diagnosis is no longer a death knell. I’m delighted and honoured to be part of this amazing group of such selflessly driven & compassionate individuals.

See you along that not so easy road slim.  I’ll keep listening for more of that laughter in the wind pushing at my back. Rest easy bud.  It’s my turn.

By Les Bronee

Posted in ALS Cycle of Hope.

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