"You’re crazy,” I said to my friend Steven when he first told me he was doing the Friends for Life Bike Rally a couple years ago. A 600-kilometre bicycle journey from Toronto to Montreal . . . it seems crazy, doesn’t it? Over the course of his training and preparation, I was intrigued and very impressed, though I was thinking in the back of my mind, “I don’t think I could ever do it.”
Two years later I’m embarking on the journey myself. What changed? I think it’s timing, and, well, sometimes your friends can inspire you. That was certainly the case for me. So here I am.
The list of intimidating factors is long: What if I can’t raise that much money? What if I just don’t have the stamina? What if I look horrendous in spandex? So many mental pitfalls. I just tried to forget that stuff, signed up and started soliciting donations. Lo and behold, the donations started coming in. It was then that those mental pitfalls started evaporating from my mind. When your friends and parents start coughing up money for your cause, you sort of think, “Okay, that’s it then. I’m doing it.” Can’t back out and let them down!
Truth be told, it’s been a while since I was much of a biker. Then I started to remember how much I used to enjoy it. I’m a former resident of London, Ontario, which, despite its flaws, has an excellent network of beautifully maintained bike trails that crisscross the city along the river, through parks and green spaces. Before I could drive I would make the 10km bike ride to the downtown record shop, buy what I wanted, then ride the 10km home with a stack of 12-inch vinyl import singles under my arm. Future DJ or what? Once I’d relocated to Toronto, I cut back on the biking significantly. Not because I wanted to, but congested roads, lack of bike lanes and horribly maintained pathways made biking in Toronto impractical and not much fun. Looking back, though, I realized how much I enjoyed biking, so why not enjoy it again? There’s a freedom in biking that I love.
I’d never thought of it as a technical “sport,” but a trip to the bike shop makes me realize that I have a whole lot to learn. “Oh my god, I can’t wear this! I hate spandex!” I dragged my boyfriend Mike along on a shopping trip and subjected him to a spandex fashion show in front of the changing rooms at Sporting Life. I hate spandex, but the boyfriend seemed appreciative, so what the hell.
Biking can be expensive. The sales guy tried to sell me on a bib (that’s “bikespeak” for a one-piece cycling suit) with a $400 price tag. “Uh . . . can you show me anything else?” I asked, which he did. I left satisfied with some reasonably priced shorts and a bike shirt that came in at around two bills. Like any sport, there’s a lot of money to be made, so don’t settle for the first thing the sales guy brings you to try on. I still have to buy the right shoes for the ride, but that can wait.
One of the great things about the bike rally is that months ahead of the departure date, there are plenty of activities, socials and practice rides to get you into the spirit of things. My first event is a team social “get to know you” kind of thing, and meeting my teammates is a revelation. Normal people just like me! Not super-athletes, primed to leave me in the dust, but really nice people doing the ride for all kinds of reasons. Young, old, single, coupled, straight, gay, positive, negative . . . there is every sort of person doing the bike rally. HIV/AIDS has touched all our lives in one way or another, and here’s this amazing group that is going to ride together all the way to Montreal to raise money to help other people.
That’s both exciting and inspiring to me. I’ve done a few fundraisers in the past, but they’ve been club/nightlife related; this is the first time I’ve committed to something so involved and with such community. After meeting and talking with my teammates, I have a whole new appreciation for the endeavour. There’s something about the rally that is really special — you’re training and conditioning yourself months beforehand, eating better, making changes, taking a week out of your summer to pedal for the cause.
With the first team meeting under my belt and sporting brand-new biking duds, I decide to hit the road solo. The bike rally organizers facilitate weekend training rides for months leading up to departure on July 30. The hours of a working DJ make getting up early in the morning difficult for most, and next to impossible for me, so I opted to start out on my own at more convenient times of the day. My first training ride was a 16km loop on the Belt Line Trail in North Toronto. I love this trail; it follows the path of an old rail line in a northwest arc from Yonge St at Davisville almost to Keele. By Toronto standards, it’s in fairly good shape and offers a good flat course to get things going in a not-too-demanding way. I wasn’t breathless by the end of it, which I took as a good sign, but by July, I’ll be doing a 126km run up to Lake Simcoe and back. Yikes! My next solo journey will be a 75km ride to Hamilton and back the following day. At this point in the adventure, I can’t even imagine how my legs will feel, but let’s just say I foresee many lengthy massage therapy appointments in my future.
My initial 16km test spin made it painfully clear that my city bike would not do me any favours, so my good friend Mark graciously loaned me his feather-weight road bike. Being a mountain-bike rider my whole life, it never truly dawned on me how incredibly heavy they are. A few weeks back, on my spandex-selection outing, I took a look at a few bikes and was blown away by one in particular that was so light you could hold it aloft with your pinkie finger. The price tag was just under $10,000, which I’d definitely classify as a shock. I thought to myself, “Who would pay 10 grand for a bike?” and then I saw one zip by me a few days later on Spadina. After spending some time in bike shops and on the city trails, I’ve really become attuned to the wide world of cycling. Cyclists really are a subculture of their own. I have no inclination to be part of that, but I can’t help but think I’m part of a little, better cult: one of hundreds of dedicated amateurs who will pedal themselves all the way to Quebec for the noble cause of helping out those who need it.
I never envisioned doing the Friends for Life Bike Rally, but I think that’s the point. Do something that scares you once in a while. It’s good for the soul. I’m not a super-athletic person, but I love riding, and being able to help the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation is just a bonus. From the lovely people I have met thus far, getting back out on two wheels with the fresh air all around and the sun on my face, it’s starting to feel like I made a very good decision. See you on the trails this summer, spandex, sweat and all.
Sponsor Shane for the bike ride here: http://bit.ly/w7mY00