6 A.M. is early enough to begin with, but 6 A.M. and 2000 people in Spandex tights is another thing entirely. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to adjust that sight — especially when all 2000 of those people are soaking wet and crammed into a giant rodeo barn.
The Ride to Conquer Cancer kicked off in Cloverdale, B.C. on Saturday shortly after seven in the morning, just as the rain decided to switch from droplets to buckets. Herded onto the park pathway like well-behaved cats, spilling out onto muddied fields like an unforgiving muffin top, sinking ankle deep it lukewarm puddles like two-year-olds on a field day, the two thousand and some-odd riders that set out to raise money for cancer research and conquer 250 plus kilometers on the final weekend of the driest August we have seen in years got absolutely, soul-shatteringly soaked.
By the time the ride began, my umbrella had already collected enough rain to develop a droop. With every step I took towards my car, a new stream of water would spring off the top like a spitting fountain and, aided by the slowly building breeze, land somewhere on my face. I was glad I was not riding.
Somewhere along the bike trail, spirits were high as the group of fundraisers, athletes, and the odd ill-prepared enthusiast headed towards the American border. Ponchos lined the streets and cowbells rang in the distance. The riders were wet, but at least they couldn’t get any wetter.
On the outskirts of Blaine, Washington — around the 30 kilometer mark — the rain stopped. As the riders pulled into the first pit stop they ate packaged waffles and joked about how the increasingly strong breeze had dried their jackets.
In Ferndale, WA — the 55km mark — riders pulled off the road looking winded, red and uncomfortably tousled.
“The corn field was lying flat when I drove by!” said the lady in the fleece Tulalip Casino pullover.
When I reached the lunch stop in Bellingham the wind had increased to the point where I was no longer sure if my car had those dents before, or if they were from flying tree stumps. Unable to sit outside without sunglasses for fear of getting blinded by dirt, sand, leaves, or a small douglas fir, I sat in the rocking car, feeling emotional for all the men and women who were pedalling against mother nature’s maximum resistance.
I gave my husband a back rub and ate half his sandwich before he left for the second to last leg of day one.
In the community of Belfast, WA, there were three sets of power lines down. I, thanks to Murphy’s Law, was triangled between all three of them and I sat, without cell-service, waiting for someone, anyone, to come by and tell me what had happened to the riders.
“We sent them back to Bellingham,” one man said.
“We sent them on to camp, in Burlington,” said another.
“They’re just riding on their own now,” said the paramedic who was up-and-quitting.
The riders had, in fact, been sent back to Bellingham. And on to Burlington. And some of them were still riding, unaccompanied by a sweep vehicle, into the 80 kph wind.
Thanks to a good support team, emergency vehicles, excellent camaraderie and the occasional walkie-talkie, the riders did all make it to their final destination, but it wasn’t the beautiful fundraiser day they were expecting, to say the least.
I have often heard the saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but never have I seen so many people apply it like I did on Saturday afternoon — starting in the rain, pushing through the wind, doubling their distances just to be able to complete the ride they promised donors they would.
The Pacific coast took a weather beating this weekend, but there was still work to be done in the midst of it.
The tough certainly got going in this case, but more so, they kept going. A tribute not only to those they were riding for, but to those who can ride no more.
— Andria Parker is an Instagram-obsessed idealist with at least 600 words to share on every topic, ever.