Riding for Charity…

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Good day friends and followers of ActiveSteve! As has been my theme as of late, this post is coming to you all just a little bit later than I would have wanted it to. In fact, I’m going to detail for you all an event I took part in a full 3 weeks ago! Yikes! Where does the time go, right? Well, in this case, my time went into a Toronto trip, and preparations for a Timmins trip, as well as my continued string of focusing more on having fun rather than telling the world all about my exploits :-). So, what event am I referring to? It was called Velogaroue, and was a 2-day staged Mountain bike ride through Gatineau Park. Note I said ride, not race! Yes, that’s right, it was a social thing through and through, and I wanted to make the most of it with the fall colours. It was the inaugural year for the event, and one of the big goals was to raise funds for a charity, whichever charity you wanted. I chose to support the Ottawa Regional Cancer Center, as I didn’t take part in the annual adventure race earlier this year that normally benefits them. For the full story of the weekend, please read on. Also, you can browse through some pictures I took of the weekend, as well as click on over and check out a custom map that I made of the whole ride!

Before I get any further into this blog post I’d like to start off by saying a huge thank-you to all those who supported my ride. I decided that I’d make it a short campaign by only soliciting people the week leading up to the ride, but I still had great response, and ended up raising almost $735 for my charity. The kindness of my friends never ceases to put a smile on my face. Your funds will certainly go a long way to help those that need it!

I’d signed up for this ride a long time ago, after my friend Tanya, the organizer, first mentioned it to me. Originally, I think she had hoped for a better turn-out, but for the first year running this event, I think she was happy with the sub-20 number of participants she had, just to get a taste for the logistics required in such a race. I tried convincing Deanna she should join me last minute, but she’d also made plans for that same weekend, so unfortunately, i was riding solo, and would have to suffer 2 weeks away from her :-(. Yeah, I’m that pathetic. Ha ha! But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and time apart and on our own could only help put things into even clearer perspective for us.

Luckily for me, preparations for a ride such as this are pretty straightforward. Just had to get the bike tuned up, and pack a 30L backpack with the bare necessities for an overnighter in a dorm at the other end. I had decided to bike to the start line as well, so I was only taking what I could fit on my back with me. Sleeping bag, change of clothes, and some light toiletries. Of course, on the bike I also packed snacks, lights, GPSr, Blackberry, camera, etc. My plan was to also take part in a bit of Geocaching while I was out there on the bike. After all, I don’t always get to these spots, and the weather looked like it would be good to do a bit of stomping around. Were it a race, I certainly would have forgone this, but as a ‘tourer’, it would be awesome. Ride morning came, and it was chilly! Summer days definitely seem to be behind us now, and the dream of swimming in the lake at the far end seemed unlikely. I put on a toque and gloves, and hit the road. Managed to be the first rider on site. I was that excited! it took all of 3 minutes to register, then I just bummed around chatting with people and waiting to get underway.

As it turns out, getting underway was largely a matter of just going. This was a more or less ‘free-for-all’ event. We got little maps of the trails we were to take, but were told to just make our way at our own pace. Seeing as I was solo, and was going to geo-cache, it quickly became clear that I’d be on my own most of the day. No big deal, as I love being on my bike on the trails :-). I started out, and shortly thereafter, realized I had taken a wrong trail. This theme continued throughout the first day for me. A number of times I chose the wrong branch of a trail and ended up biking extra distances. All’s well for the training though, right? That’s what I kept telling myself. The caches also seemed to be elusive today as well. Admittedly, trying to scramble through woods and around rocky cliffs in bike shoes is a bad idea on the best of days, but when you have at least some schedule to maintain, it becomes downright impossible! Upon arriving at the first food station (there were 2 en route), I found out that I was basically at the very back of the pack! Oops. However, I had all day, and there was little else to do at the other end, so in that sense the journey truly was the destination that day.

All told, on the first day, I ended up cycling about 80km, and managed to grab 2 caches. At the end of the route for that day, I made another trail selection error, but it ended up being the funnest part of the ride to me. True bike-whacking, and even climbing over a beaver damn and crossing a lake with the bike on my shoulder. I later found out that was definitely *not* on the official route. However, I believe I convinced Tanya that it should be an ‘optional’ segment for next year’s ride.

Lodgings for the night were at Camp Gatineau, which is normally a camp used for children with various disabilities, so we had dorm rooms, and there were some common areas, as well as a big kitchen and multi-purpose area. I assisted things by getting the A/V gear working so that we could watch, what else, but a mountain biking video of the 2009 Trans Rockies race. All the riders sat in a semi-circle watching the movie. Pretty relaxing stuff (and inspiring to a degree). Afterward, a great meal of lasagna, salad, garlic bread and desert. To close out the night, we wandered down to the fire pit to start up a bonfire to chase away the night chill,and yes, it was quite cold. Once again, I volunteered my services to get the fire going, but there were a number of other backseat firebugs trying to intrude ;-). I kept telling everyone to be patient, as you need to start a fire out right for it to burn well, but they kept wanting to throw more tinder and bigger logs on. Oh well, majority rules and I eventually just sat back and let it go. We ended up with a respectable fire to warm our toes by (and me to dry my socks, gloves and shoes by, as s result of the lake crossing).

Probably the most amazing part of the night was the starry sky above us in the inky black space. Stepping away from the fire to enjoy my beer in the crisp air, I gazed up and was floored. It was absolutely stunning. Since we were quite remote in the park, there were no lights at all to pollute the view. There were also no clouds at all. I was reminded of one of my summer camping trips with Deanna where we lay outside taking in the Perseid meteor shower. I really wanted to send Deanna a quick note to share this with her, but unfortunately, we were so remote there was absolutely NO cellphone coverage. I felt totally incommunicado. Well, I suppose one night away couldn’t hurt, right? It was tough, but I managed, and the time apart probably gave us each even more time to reflect on what we have, and where we’d like it to go 🙂

After staying out a little bit longer, it was getting time to pack it up and head to bed (bed being a sagging cot with my thin summer sleeping bag!). Temperature was dropping, so I wanted to crawl into my bag and get some sleep before it got too cold. After the long day of biking, you’d think I’d go right to sleep, but I actually stayed up listening to music and writing out another blog post! However, once I finally went to bed ‘for real’, I slept quite soundly till the morning.

Dawn broke crisp, and luckily, dry. It still wasn’t raining, and I was ready to double back and do the whole trail again, only this time I had plans to actually follow the right route! We had a great breakfast of french toast and bacon, cereals and muffins, with juice and chocolate milk to wash it down. I definitely had my fill before packing up my stuff and heading back out. I started sort of at the front, as I didn’t want to be the last in the group today. I stayed in front until the first food station, but after that, I was back on my geo-caching kick! I picked up several more that day, which ended up putting me a bit further back in the group. However, I had all day to get it done, as our closing meal wouldn’t be until 5 or 6 back in Gatineau.

Lucky for me, the ride was fairly uneventful this time. No flat tires, no rains, no bad terrain, nothin. Just really fun riding and thinking about how lucky we are to have something like Gatineau Park in our area. Before I knew it, I was flying through the final kilometers of the course. I had a smile on my face, and the sun warming me up. I got in early enough that I opted to head home and have a good shower before the closing meal. After all, it would be dark once that was done, so I decided I’d just drive back.

Upon my return, I was surprised to learn we still had a rider out there, missing! There was a bit of a scramble and panic, and we dispatched a few people to try a search operation. We also called the park patrol folks, and they took over the operation. Long story short, the final rider made it in safe, and had just taken a completely wrong turn adding quite a bit of distance, which explained why no one had seen them. The rider was quite tired too, so their speed wasn’t the fastest. We were very relieved to see them walk through the doors.

After that excitement, we finally sat down for our post-ride meal, and a look through some of the pictures and videos of the 2 days. I managed to raise the most money of everyone, and was given a some applause for my efforts (and the guarantee of a 2nd piece of cake if I wanted). There were prizes drawn for (I snagged some really warm winter cycling gloves), and a few little speeches. Plans are already in the works for next year’s ride, and pretty much all of us said we’d be interested in doing it again. If each of us brings 1 person, we’ll be at maximum capacity for next year. Hopefully this is the beginning of an annual ride. There aren’t any other mountain bike charity tours, so I really like this format.

Well, that’s it for now. It’s taken me too long to get this out, and I have to get crackin’ on some other things around here. Snowshoe racing season is just around the corner after all! Thanks for checking in folks!

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