Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tip to Tip – A Spirited Adventure of Spandex and Generosity


The Night Before

I decided to give the gym a miss for the second day in a row, temporarily relinquishing my ‘gym rat’ tendencies. I had pushed myself far too hard earlier in the week, with two workouts per day on both Monday and Tuesday. I was still might sore in the legs and arms for ‘Mean’ Gineen’s bootcamp class and early morning PT session and figured I should be kind to the body that would be carrying me from North Cape to East Point over the next four days.

Just to be sure my body knew how much I appreciated it, I gave it a few samples of the yummy Bulk Barn treats I’d bought for trailside energy boosts. It responded by asking for more of the same and, of course, I obliged. Then, with my belly full of licorice allsorts and chocolate-covered pretzels, I set about the simple task of packing lightly for a four-day bike ride. Three hours later, I was almost there. In the end, I decided I didn’t need to bring my black boots and one jacket would suffice. I also ditched about half the trailside snacks I’d purchased and sampled a few more, just to lighten my backpack. Woohoo – I was packed and ready to take on the four-day odyssey ahead: 320 kilometres, 28 riders, 4 days, 3 nights, 2 legs and one way to the finish line.

Sleep did not come easily that night – nothing like a bit of anxiety to keep one awake into the wee hours. But I finally fell asleep and woke to a misty, gray Friday morning, May 16th – Day One.


A Breakdown and Blast Off

The first thing I did was turn the radio on to listen to the weather report. I’d not been so obsessed with the weather since my last flight out of PEI in the dead of winter. 100.3 promised sunshine and temperatures in the mid-teens by the afternoon, which was when we’d start biking. Yay!

Jen picked me and my gear up and we drove to the pick-up spot in the Smitty’s parking lot. The Trius bus was there and a bunch of well kitted-out cyclists were milling around and loading their bikes on the trailer. I still hadn’t asked myself the obvious question ‘What did I get myself into’? Instead I concerned myself with more important matters like whether the spandex pants I’d borrowed from Rob were flattering or WAY too revealing. No matter, I’d already deduced this was most certainly not going to be a sexy weekend.

We hopped on the bus and sat down. I saw only two other familiar faces – Cynthia Dunsford and my friend, Ryan, who showed up with Rob Paterson (my unofficial guardian angel and an all-round brilliant person). It seemed Jen and I were skewing the average age down just a bit. I reckon that most of the riders were between 35 and 55. After roll call we were off, headed west to North Cape. As we left Charlottetown, the organizers, Max and Andrea started making announcements and handing out necessities including a handy map of the Confederation Trail. When I unfolded the map, I almost laughed at the absurdity of having volunteered to bike across this Island I grew up on. And to do it on the old rail line, which essentially goes through EVERY little village that had sprung up during the rail era. No, we most certainly weren’t cycling the shortest distance from tip to tip.

We had our first (and only) breakdown about 30 minutes into our bus ride. The coach stopped alongside the Lotus Garden restaurant in Kensington, which just happens to be the town that I grew up in. We had an air leak, so we pulled in to wait for a new coach. While we waited, I visited the Petro-Can to say hi to a high school friend. Some of us also took a tour of the liquor store and some suitcases got heavier while waiting in transit.

Finally, we were on our way again and by the time we got to North Cape, it was about quarter past twelve. The gray clouds were still clinging to the skies above, but there was little wind, which was unusual since North Cape is home to a wind farm. We were told we would ride the first fifteen kilometers together into Tignish on the road. Once we hit the Confederation Trail we could set our own pace. Total kilometer count for the day was 63 and dinner would be served at the Mill River Resort at 6.30. There was no way I was missing dinner. I set my iPod to shuffle, did a few stretches and headed off with the pack. I quickly found myself near the front, without intending to be and Cynthia invited me to draft her. Well, sure, why not? My first taste of drafting was sweet and easy. I didn’t know it then, but drafting would become the saving grace of my ride over the next few days and the means by which I made friends with virtual strangers while riding behind and in front of them on the trail. Nothing like a bit of butt-viewing to cement the bonds of friendship.

And then I found myself alone, caught between the racers ahead and the leisure pacers behind. That’s how I spent most of my first day – alone on the trail, chewing on peppermint gum and thanking myself for the foresight to add songs to my iPod before the trip. It was only in the last ten kilometers that I found myself joined by Bruce, one of the ‘trail shepherds’ that was on the trip to make sure we were all safe, happy and not lost. It was so reassuring to have these guys with their yellow vests and vast amount of experience in patrolling ski hills and bike trails on the trail with us – they were our safety nets and we would need them throughout the weekend.

Finally, I found myself on Route 143, taking the turnoff to Mill River Resort, where beds, showers, food and the bar awaited us. I was surprised to find that I was the sixth biker to arrive at the hotel. I biked in around ten to four, and calculated that, not including my short break, it had taken me about 3 hours and fifteen minutes to bike 63 kms. Not bad. Even more impressively - I was able to walk, my legs were in fine shape and I had only a slight pain in my lower back.

Come Together

A couple of pints of Keiths later and I had met a few of my fellow cyclists. I sensed immediately that I was amongst a friendly, welcoming group of people. And while we were diverse group in terms of our ages, occupations, hometowns and cycling abilities, it became clear that we were all on the ride to challenge ourselves and enjoy a good ol’ bike ride.

During a pasta buffet dinner, Martha, the founder of the Tip to Tip for Africa also spoke to us about the reason we were on this trip – to raise funds for people in South African townships that needed micro-loans to start-up or expand their small business. We learned that the banks in South Africa do not want to lend money to their citizens, especially not to women, so it’s virtually impossible for most South Africans to raise the equity needed to start a business through the normal channels an entrepreneur in the westernized world would employ. And that’s where the Townships Project comes in. We had raised money to provide South Africans with the equity to start their own businesses, to become self-sufficient for the foreseeable future. And we were told that most of the loans were $50. Each loan had a positive influence on 5 people. Wow. That’s mind-blowing when you think of it. That’s about the same amount one of us might spend at Tim’s in a month, or the cost of a pair of jeans that we might buy and wear once before deciding they aren’t flattering on the behind. Martha told us that 98% of the micro-loans that had been given out, had been paid back (or were in the process of being paid back). Hopefully, banks would start to realise that making loans to South Africans was not a risky business, but rather the most important means by which to stimulate the struggling economy. Because there's no question that self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship are the backbone of any thriving economy.

And so it was that we were all here. 28 strangers from the East Coast of Canada had come together to bike four days across a red island, in hopes that we could make a difference in the lives of many more in Africa, the only continent on the face of the Earth that is getting poorer with each day that passes.


fromaway said...

Hey Shannon, a nice read, I'm looking forward to the next installment.


Rob said...

wonderful - the Homer of the Trails Shannon!

More soon please