Trent Ernst, Editor
September 10. Five days before a group of 15 riders are set to leave on an 850 km bike ride to raise awareness and funds for kids with cancer, and the long range forecast is for snow. Welcome to the north. Welcome to the Tour de North.
As media rider, I joined a group of RCMP officers, a pair of BC Ambulance members, a Corrections Officer, a Conservation Officer and a handful of community riders on a ride from Dawson Creek to Williams Lake.
Along the way, I kept a blog of our adventures; here are some excerpts. You can see the whole thing, as well as photos and videos at tourdenorthblog.wordpress.com.
September 15: Dawson Creek to Fort St. John
The morning dawned crystal clear, but bitingly cold. We had breakfast at the Stonebridge Hotel, where we stayed the night. It was awesome, by the way; make your own waffles, all manner of juices, fresh fruit, cereal, muffins, eggs, bacon and a bunch of other things besides. It was the start of a week full of dining.
For the entire trip, we will have an RCMP vehicle protecting us from traffic ahead, as well as an ambulance doing traffic control from behind. Between these two vehicles, we will be riding in a peloton. While the definition of a peloton is fluid, it is similar to a flock of geese flying in a V formation. The lead riders basically punching a hole through the air, while the following riders are pulled along in their slipstream.
We ride from the hotel to South Peace Campus to speak to the teens there, then made our way to Central. I spoke about my visit to Camp Goodtimes, the Canadian Cancer Society Camp at Loon Lake in the Lower Mainland where kids who are dealing or have dealt with cancer can go as a chance to get away from it all. I speak about how when you are the only person in a school of a few hundred people, even if everyone is supportive, even if everyone treats you like nothing has happened, you still feel like you’re the only one who understands. Strangely enough, when everyone around you is dealing with the same thing, you are no longer the only person who understands and it is a freeing experience, allowing you to explore your new limitations, or just have fun and be a kid.
With our first two school visits out of the way, we go to LakeView Credit Union, who help with Dawson Creek’s phenomenally successful Jail and Bail, which raised over $20,000.
We posed for a photo with some of the people from LakeView, then hit the road. Quite possibly every single on duty RCMP member escorts us out of town, blocking traffic at the corners, letting us run red lights and getting us out of town with as much pomp and ceremony as I’ve ever experienced.
Less than five minutes after the last light, we have our first flat. Off to an auspicious start. Fortunately, it is also the last flat of the day. There were a couple other issues, but nothing major. My water bottle bounced out of its cage when I hit a bump going down the hill to the Kiskatinaw Bridge (it survived), and on the way up, one of the rider’s cycle computer fell off going up the other side. But that was it for the day.
We stopped in for our third school visit at Parkville Elementary in Farmington. Here, the kids came and interacted with the riders, picking up the bikes and asking questions of the riders.
By the time we got out of there, we were running a few minutes late, and we cut our lunch at the aforementioned Kiskatinaw Bridge a little short to get a jump on the ride to Taylor.
There’s lots of construction happening between Dawson Creek and Taylor, including resurfacing and realigning the road on the way down to the bridge. Instead of trying to ride this section, we pulled over at the top of the hill and loaded them into the trailer, getting a ride through the construction and missing the one major downhill section of the day.
We visited the school in Taylor for our fourth and final school visit of the day, then made our way up and out of the Peace River Valley. This was our first major uphill, and it went awesome. The group road it strong and together and we made it to the top in good time.
We hit Fort St. John about half an hour early, so we stopped at the UFA for a rest and to make sure we didn’t arrive at the Canadian Tire event before they were ready.
I get to speak again, this time telling Zoe’s story. Then, we loaded up the bikes into the trailer and went to our various billets and hotels. I’m staying out of town at a rather posh place, complete with outdoor hot tub. Should have brought a pair of trunks, I suppose.
The first day of riding has been shockingly easy. The pace is easily managed; there are more than enough breaks to allow for one to rehydrate (or dehydrate), or to go get some food. Ah, yes, food. Every time we stop, the lead vehicle and tail vehicle’s trunk pop open and the food and water comes out.
September 16: Fort St. John to Chetwynd
That was a bit of a grunt.
150 km. 1500 m elevation. Quite possibly the hardest day of the tour, according to the riders who have done it before.
It was cold and foggy in Fort St. John, which froze to my glasses as I rode. Fun. Fortunately, the fog burned off by the time we hit the Highway 29 turn off.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t burned off in the Peace River Valley. After a few warm up (and down) hills, we hit the top of the first big descent. We bombed down the hill, and, within a few minutes, the fog was back, and my glasses were frozen over again. Which is a little more challenging when you’re riding down a hill at 60 kph.
About halfway down, we caught up to, then passed, a cement truck making its way down the hill. Which is a first for me, having never before passed a vehicle on the highway. Especially when I could only see through the crack above my glasses and below the brim of my helmet.
Of course, having got to the bottom of the hill, we had to climb back up above the fog to a viewpoint before the last descent into the valley.
We posed for a photo against a sea of white, but by the time we filled our water bottles and grabbed some food, the fog had started to burn off, and by the time we hit the bottom, the fog was gone.
This is easily one of my favourite drives in the province, and it’s even nicer when you have the time to look. It’s a perfect fall day, and it is gorgeous.
We pass a sign that reads “Hudson’s Hope, 40 km.” I look at my cycle computer. We are going 40 kph. “At this pace, we’ll be in Hudson’s Hope in an hour.”
A while later, someone calls out “30 km to Hudson’s Hope.” I looked down. We’re going 30 kph. Hmm. At this pace, an hour to Hudson’s Hope.
When someone says we have 23 km to go, and are were going 23 kph, I start to get worried that we’re trapped in a Zeno’s Paradox, and would never actually arrive in Hudson’s Hope.
But we do, and man, it is awesome. We bike up to the school, where the principal is on the corner, waving us into the parking lot.
There, a bunch of the older kids are cheering us into the school gym. Instead of stopping figure out the entrance plan, as we normally do, we ride straight into the gym, while the kids inside chant “Cops for cancer! Cops for Cancer!”
After a hard pull to get there, the enthusiasm of the kids was inspirational, and picked up everyone’s spirits. It even kept us going into the afternoon, when we encountered the first bit of rain we’ve seen on tour.
While it only sprinkled on us, it had rained fairly good along the way, and everyone wound up with muddy faces and glasses from the spray off the riders in front of them.
We crossed the Peace River and began one of the toughest hills we’re going to face this trip, an 8 km hill, gaining nearly 300 m in elevation. Not the steepest hill of the trip, but a good combination of distance and elevation.
There are a couple riders who have difficulty on the climb, and, when all the riders save for those two and one more who was encouraging them had made it to the top, the team went back down to where they were, and rode up the last few hundred meters with them.
It’s only day two, but the team is becoming just that; a team. The strongest riders will frequently ride alongside the weakest hill climbers and, putting a hand on their back, push them along to help them get up the hill without falling behind the rest of the group.
September 17: Chetwynd to Powder King
Day three started with Breakfast at the Chetwynd RCMP station. We are joined by Chase and Zoe, our two junior team members. Zoe rode with us from the RCMP station, and had a blast as we were escorted by the police who blocked traffic for us. She and I lead the way, and quickly picked up the whole communication system we use on the ride, pointing out gravel, manhole covers, railway tracks and cracks bumps and holes in the pavement. It being the north, there was one every few feet.
Chase, who is much younger than Zoe, joins us right before we pulled into the school. Both of the Junior Members enjoyed the experience of riding their bikes through the school halls and into the gym, where they were cheered on by first the high school students, then the elementary school students. Zoe even gave a speech to the elementary school students, telling about her experience with cancer.
Not much to say about today’s ride, other than we create one sexy peloton. Oh, and we got rained on, again. Still not a lot but enough to force us to break out the rain jackets. Supper at Powder King is steak, prepared by the Mackenzie Elks. It’s awesome how well people have been treating us along the road.
September 18: Powder King to Mackenzie
The shortest day, and should be the easiest, but today, the skies open up on us.
Easy? Ha! I can still taste the grit from the water kicked up off the wheel in front of me.
Nobody is really interested in taking it slow, so we blow through most of the scheduled rest stops on the side of the road, pausing only at Mackenzie Junction for a half an hour to warm up inside, and then straight on into Mackenzie.
In Mackenzie, we make two school visits, to the extremely boisterous Morfee Elementary, where a half a dozen kids were shaving their heads; between them, they raised well over a thousand dollars. Then to Mackenzie Secondary, where they have the principal duct taped to the wall, raising over $200 there.
After a quick meet and greet, most of the riders went to the Rec Centre and to the pool. Well, to the hot tub to be more accurate. After not being able to feel my feet for a few hours, the heat was blessed. Then, over to the Elk’s Hall for supper (turkey dinner) and Rip a Strip, where three of the riders volunteered to have their chests waxed to raise funds.
Well, three of the riders volunteered, while local rider Brodie was pushed into it. He was also convinced (for about $500) to do a pair of body shots off two of the other riders who were having their chests waxed at the time. A couple who had heard about the fundraiser on the radio and just decided to show up, proclaimed that this was “the most fun thing happening in Mackenzie this Friday night.”
With that, and the money from a bottle drive, and two spectacularly generous donations from the Elks to the local riders, as well as some other donations, we are leaving Mackenzie with over $10,000 more for pediatric cancer research and Camp Goodtimes. It was an awesome end to what might have seemed to be a rather poor day for going out for a bike ride. Which just goes to show you that you never can tell.
September 19: Mackenzie to Prince George
I thought I knew what rain was yesterday. Pah. Today it really rains. Sheets of it. The road becomes a river. It’s the longest ride of the tour and also the wettest. But it’s warmer than yesterday, and I’m actually having a lot of fun.
There’s a rumour that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Not true. It’s freshly chip sealed. The last 50 km into Bear Lake are freshly chip sealed. It is awful. Fortunately, the shoulder hadn’t been chip sealed, so we rode 50 km on the side of the road single file.
Unfortunately all the debris collects on the side of the road and the running water made it hard to see, so we had seven flats in 50 km, our hardest day on tires.
We also had our first major mechanical when yours truly broke his rear derailleur. So I’m riding a spare bike until the end of the tour.
We also lost a rider today. In an attempt to keep the rain out, one rider had taped the wrists of his jacket to a pair of latex gloves, it was a little tight and with that and the cold, he lost contact with his hands. He pulled off to the side, hit the gravel and biffed it. It seems to be only the cold but he’s done something to bugger up his knee. He rides with us after lunch, and for a few hours the next day, but then he’s out, as the pain is too much.
We meet Audrey, one of our Junior Team members, who has a string with over 500 beads on it, each one symbolizing an awful thing that has happened: chemo, needles, operations. This becomes a touchstone for the rest of the ride. Oh, we also meet Trevor Linden.
September 20: Prince George to Quesnel
What was worse? The torrential rain of yesterday, or the cold rain of two days ago? The riders are divided, so today the rain is both torrential and freezing. Yuck. But as one of the riders, Colby, points out, this is just one bead; compared to the 500 beads that Audrey had. Uneventful day.
September 21: Quesnel to Williams Lake
Last day, and the first day since, well, the first, that there’s no rain. The sun even breaks out of the cloud at about noon. A perfect day for riding. Even some of the longest, steepest hills on the trip can’t ruin it.
We picked up an extra rider today. Dave Dixon out of William’s Lake is an alumni rider who joined us for our last day after spending two days riding with Tour de Valley.
And original Dave, who hurt his knee, joins us for our victory bomb down the hill into William’s Lake, where we had our last Community Welcome at Canadian Tire.
There were hugs all around, and even a few tears once we made it, and we got to meet another Junior Team Member, a boy named Chase.
The next day, we do a school visit, then hop into the tour vehicles and head for home. Just like that our group is a group no more, each of us heading back to our own homes, our own towns, carrying the message of what we did and, more importantly, why we did it, back to our own communities.
If you still wish to donate, you can do so at bit.ly/trentrider.