There is something about firsts that are a bit nerve-wracking; the lack of familiarity, the uneasiness, and uncertain outcomes always throw me a bit off. Today, however, demonstrated that beginnings can be tremendous successes. We awoke in my grandparents’ home to a hearty lumberjacks’ breakfast of eggs, bread, cheese, hungarian peppers straight from the garden, and a heaping pile of bacon lovingly prepared by my dad and nagypapa (grandfather). Following this, we headed to the Windsor Regional Cancer Center where Joda would be giving noon rounds-the first of many stops along our route. Our sweet, sweet ride, the trusty Cannondale tandem, came with us as a teaching aid. The talk was well-attended, and well publicized thanks to the efforts of Melissa, Road to Care’s unofficial PR representative. We took turns giving interviews to the junior reporter from the Windsor Star and posed dutifully for the videographer in our nifty new Road to Care cycling jerseys (thanks, Karen, for making the jerseys!) We made the trip from Windsor to Comber with only the minor inconvenience of a completely missing bridge along Tecumseh Road (see photo).
We would like to dedicate this portion of the journey to my Aunt Helen and her family; as a patient who has lived with ovarian cancer for eight years, she has made the trip back and forth from her home in Leamington to the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre, and to the London Regional Cancer Centre countless times. Seeing her tenacity and strength in the midst of such difficult times reminds us that it is the patients who are the unsung heroes of the fight against Cancer everywhere. Now for a good night’s rest; peace!
What an incredible day of riding! We had the eastward wind at our back all the way to Chatham where we stopped for lunch. At the restaurant, we were spotted by Brian, an avid biker who asked us if he could join us for the ride. For the last 10 km of the ride, the clouds above noticeably became darker; at first it was just a few specks of rain. I thought, “How refreshing!” And then it began to pour, so we took shelter at a gas station. Eventually, the rain subsided and we carried on with our ride. Riding through the after-rain mist was surreal. I just love the smell of rain.
We were greeted by Eunice, owner of the Log Home B&B, and had a warm shower, hot meal and rested our worn bodies. Tomorrow’s a shorter day, only 77km.
We learned our lesson from the previous day of riding and checked the London weather report which read, “Thunderstorms in the evening.” Thus, we planned our day to arrive at our destination before the rain would hit.
Today was a day where we truly experienced a tremendous amount of hospitality. Eunice and Rienus, owners of the B&B had made sure our shoes were dry and water bottles full. In Glencoe, we stopped at a family run diner where the whole Sousa family welcomed us, asked us about the reason for our ride, and served us a healthy lunch. To Nadia Sousa, thank you so much for your generous dontation. And to little 7 year old Christian who advised us to ride safe, “Thanks! We made it to London!” When we arrived at Juliana’s house (Jen’s childhood friend who is putting us up for the night) we were greeted with hugs,words of encouragement, and a superb meal.
We would not be able to do this ride without the help of everyone. A big thank you goes out to the co-trustees of Road to Care, Crystal, Lynn and Melissa for all their help organizing this ride. Lawrence and Karen, thank you for the riding shirts. Thank you Catherine and Vel for helping us edit our media releases. Thank you to Dad for bringing us to Windsor, and for greeting us in London. To Steph who put countless hours into making the banner for our bike, “It looks great!” And a big thank you to all of our hosts in each city.
Good thing we made it before the rain; as I write at this desk in the comfort of this home, I hear the thunder roaring outside!
The best thing about traveling by bike is what you get to see along the way.
The Thames river is beautiful.
I am So thankful to Eugenia, who let us stay in her home, and for her chicken in a crock pot. We’ll update this blog more tomorrow! Good night.
Sometimes, the unexpected happens. The children of the lovely family with whom we were supposed to billet in Kitchener unfortunately contracted a dreaded and contagious case of ‘Pink Eye,’ leaving us to find other accommodations. We are truly grateful to Catherine for her dedication in calling all of her family friends in Kitchener. We will be staying with the Reese’s tonight. Thank you to Jim and Adrienne for taking us in; such hospitality is too much for words.
I use to think that Ontario was pretty flat. Note to any bike riders who want to ride this route in the future – there are many rolling hills between Woodstock and Kitchener. Good thing we packed some peanut butter jelly sandwiches to give us energy along the way. Today, we enjoyed the best of rural Ontario – picturesque fields of corn with blue skies above.
We decided to take the scenic route, heading east from Kitchener, through a town called Hespeler. I never knew there was a waterfall there; it’s truly a beautiful sight.
We stopped in the local coffee shop for a breather. We were drawn into conversation with the fresh-faced barrista, Ryan, who had himself travelled to Haiti and Nicaragua. With sincerity, he posed difficult and poignant questions about the efficacy and ultimate goals of international development work in a world so marked with injustice. Ryan has planned to convene local round-table discussions on these sorts of topics to further explore the ambiguities and tensions of global issues. Reflecting on this, it has meant so much to us to share conversations with people along the way. We said our farewells, and left with a hefty slab of Dutch applecake to save as reserve food stores for the last 35 km of the trip.
As we made our way into the city, the most unlikely thought occured: Hamilton is stunning. The sun was setting over the York Blvd bridge as we were arriving; it was one of the most beautiful sights ever. It is so good to be home.
This morning brought us the comforts of home; we awoke in our own bed, trudged through our own messy bathroom, and drank from our own favorite coffee/tea mugs. Catherine gifted us with a hand-delivered (well, bike-delivered) breakfast consisting of market-fresh fruit, raspberry buttermilk cake, and aged raspberry farmhouse cheddar cheese. Amazing. The mounting neglect of my stretching regime had caught up a bit, and Steph was quick to “encourage” me to exercize properly. I have now developed three ways of holding handlebars, to mitigate the effects of riding’s wear and tear.
We headed up to the Juravinski Cancer Centre for Joda’s noontime presentation; it was our first time riding up the access called the Jollycut. The incline felt unusually difficult, but after a 15 minute warm-up, we were on our way and feeling good about the ride. Following the presentation and a quick stop at home to reattach our paniers, we headed into the heart of downtown to convene with our farewell send-off at Centenary United Church. The photo below, showing a merry gathering of Centenary folks, was taken by a stained-glass restoration repairman who had climbed to the top of the church to remove the Legacy windows slated for much-needed repairs:
Together with Ian, Ralph, and Steph, we made our way from Hamilton to the Burlington grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens, stopping to pick up Willis at the Dundurn Castle, and then at Easterbrooks for a picnic snack before the group resumed their trek homewards. (NB-Joda ate a foot-long hot-dog and an entire cheeseburger).
There is something incredibly soul-stirring about the ability to share this trip with so many people, in so many different capacities-some riding alongside us, some offering stories lives touched by cancer. There are just so many stories….
We rode uneventfully through the Southern Ontario-farm-belt-quickly-becoming-suburbia, through Oakville, Milton, to Missisauga. I found this pear tree on the side of an old farming lot, up for sale as a site for a redevelopment as new homes, and thought I’d share some of its bounty. I should have remembered two things: first, it is not yet pear season. Second, I have an allergic sensitivity to pears. It tasted great anyway.
This entry is dedicated to the Hompoth-Scott family; we send our love and share your sorrows.
As we write this post, we are headed Westwards towards Windsor. Gathered in our family van together with my father and brother, everything looks a bit different from this vantage point.
This is how the road before appears right now. Joda ceased trying to photograph a proper realistic shot, and came up with this distorted image:
Having traveled this past week by bicycle through Southern Ontario, Joda and I have learned to feel the subtle slope of the hill, to notice the graveled edges of the paved roads beneath us, and to relish the fleeting gift of the wind at our backs.
At times, the small victories and everyday preparations of cycling preoccupy us, and we have little time to remember the spirit of our ride. But the events of this evening hit home hard, and we were forced to acknowledge the realities of losing a family member to cancer.
Tonight, my Aunt Helen passed away after a long, hard battle against the disease. The first portion of our journey, from Windsor to London, was dedicated to her—a fact which cheered her in those last days, we have been assured.
Throughout this journey, this thought has remained with me: the life of one woman, whether in Canada, is the same as the life of one woman in Africa. I say “Africa,” because sometimes the suffering “over there” is sometimes portrayed as natural, inevitable, just too bad….
But it isn’t. The human suffering at the end of life, due to cancer unabated, the grief of family and community at the loss of a mother, sister, friend…is the same. This compels me to believe that something can be done, however small, to make a difference.
Through our travels to each and every cancer center, we have met dedicated professionals who give their very best to care for their patients. In Uganda, the dedication is the same, yet few resources exist to support those who are most in need, particularly issues related to women’s health care. And so we ride on.
Thank you to all who have cheered us on our journey, who have given generously to support these brave patients. And thank you for writing to encourage us on our way.
PS-thank you to Melissa and Brandon for your care of us today throughout the moments of crisis, and to Wassie and Lucy for your tremendous hospitality. Our next Blog post will be on Sunday night after we bike from Mississauga to Toronto. Until then.
Bleary-eyed from the sleepless night prior, we were gladdened to spend our day of rest in the company of Melissa and Brandon, and this evening, with Shail and Gobi. There is something to treasure about friendships that flow with ease, where both conversation and silence is comfortable, and hospitality extends to allowing us to simply be our exhausted selves. We rode light today, (save for the Dosa lunch in our bellies), having loaded our packs into Melissa’s Toronto-bound vehicle. The lakeshore trail gifted us with beautiful scenery and open skies along the route, and the weather was perfect. I counted only cumulus clouds, I think 🙂
Joda and I gave ourselves permission to veer down little paths and to explore the little lakefront parks and waterway bridges. Despite the fact that we both have lived in the GTA our entire lives, most of this trail was new to us. NB-the Missisauga-Toronto Lakeshore route is gorgeous, and if you have not yet had the chance to walk or cycle along it—-do make the trip. There were sandy beaches, families gathered for barbecques, and bird and butterfly sanctuaries dotting the way. The towering skyline of Toronto seemed so far in the distance, amidst the green and blue shore. We stopped in at Cafe Du Lac, where we were greeted warmly by Katherine, and ate about a pound of sausage purchased from a local Polish deli before heading in to the downtown core.
We made it downtown at Shail and Gobi’s place, happy to have arrived in the city. Miles, their new Shi-Tzu Poodle pup, licked away the exhaustion and shared his ample doggy love with us as soon as we came through the door. Tomorrow, Joda will give his presentation at at Princess Margaret Hospital, which is one of the top cancer centres in the world. Wish us luck!
After today’s presentation at PMH, we had the chance to speak with Dr. Rosen; he is a gynecologic oncologist who taught surgery for cervical cancer in Eldoret, Kenya. I was encouraged by his shared enthusiasm and heartfelt vision for a better future for women with this disease.
Biking in Toronto from Downtown to Midtown is challenging with the traffic. We took extra care and arrived safely. We also realized a while ago that our route is far longer than the 600 km originally accounted for, since we are straying from the original “by car” routes provided by googlemaps. So we’ve biked 520kms so far, and will likely go over the 700 km mark!
We spent the evening with good friends whom we met while studying at McMaster University. Thank you to Shail, Gobi and puppy Miles, as well as the Strathy family for hosting us in Toronto. Off to Oshawa tomorrow!
Sunnybrook hospital was a tremendous experience today. The lecture hall, in full attendance, was abuzz with such a positive energy. The real honour was the generous and incisive introduction provided by Dr. Gillian Thomas; she underlined many of the systemic issues underlying women’s access to cervical cancer treatment, and challenged the audience to think about the privileges and responsibilities that come with living in a country with access to food, shelter, and high quality medical care. Despite the fact that the problems may seem immense, Dr. Thomas emphasized the fact that small parts of the issues can be approached, that each person can do something. Several people approached Joda and I, before and after the presentation, with their comments. These were encouraging reminders.
The actual ride today was difficult, as it entailed getting out of the city of Toronto proper, and to Oshawa. Our route took us behind TTC busses, random traffic obstructions, and was generally high-stress. When I (Jen) saw the first field populated with cows, I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued the rest of the ride to Oshawa with relative ease.
One of the issues we’ve encountered cycling is the need to constantly crane our necks around to evaluate the oncoming traffic. I always joke that I communicate visually with every passing driver; that way, should something happen (knock on wood), the last thing they will see is my haunting gaze. Kidding aside, we’ve had an extreme learning curve with regards to safety during this trip. We’ve received much wisdom from cyclists along the way. Joanne and Doug Barlowe, with whom we are staying tonight in Oshawa, are two such people; we have benefitted from their 25 years+ tandem cycling experience in innumerable ways. They even offered me a hand-crafted cycling helmet mirror to address the neck-craning-while-driving problem, taking it off of Joanne’s very own helmet. This way, we will be able to see oncoming traffic better. Amazing!
Note: I would post Joanne’s blueberry sauce and blueberry muffin recipe, but am trying not to turn this into a food blog! Tomorrow: Presentation at R.S. McLaughlin Cancer Centre, 12:00 pm, then off to Newmarket on a tandem ride with Doug and Joanne!
Below is a photo of Gerry, a sprightly 81-year-old cyclist, and founder of the Oshawa Cycling Club:
When we met, Gerry was out on his bike for his morning ride (while we were still snug in our pyjamas), and was persuaded by an insistent Doug to come in from the rain for a cup of coffee. In his own matter-of-fact way, eyes twinkling and bemused, he told us of the many illnesses and breaks he had managed to conquer. Each year, he rides the kilometers corresponding to his age. Now, if there is anything that reminds me to not complain about my aches and bumps, it is the image of this inspiring octogenarian cyclist!
Our presentation in Oshawa was held at the Cancer Centre, located on the estate grounds of automotive magnate R.S. McLaughlin of General Motors. His 1920s digs were decked with the fineries befitting a tycoon of such stature-indoor wooden bowling alley, a marble swimming pool, indoors and out, a carriage house for storing Buicks, and a manicured grounds complete with a bevvy of water fountains. Joda’s presentation was well-received by the enthusiastic Radiation department staff. It is nice to know that following each presentation, people are able to take away a sense of their capacity to be involved-as practitioners in cancer care, and as members of an international community able to advocate for systemic change. NB-since we have not been keeping track of attendees, it’d really help us out if you could send us a note if you do wish to remain in contact, or have an idea to share. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Braving the Hills between Oshawa and Uxbridge with the Barlows was not too difficult, since they graciously offered to carry our packs on their tandem for the trip. Alas, such small kindnesses will not be forgot! We parted ways there, and headed on the road to Newmarket. Some sections were so steep that bridge crossings might have been more appropriate:
And finally, we made it to Newmarket! We’ve ridden a total of 656km thus far, and anticipate that by the time we reach Barrie, we will have ridden well over 700 kms. Our life on the road has been kind, each day driven by a new sense of purpose and anticipation. This has certainly been a rewarding adventure, and we hardly want it to end! I (Jen) have been only half-kidding when I suggest that we should ride our bikes home, Westwards, from Barrie just to make Riding the Road to Care a nice, round 1000 kms! We’re confident, however, that this trip on the back of a tandem bicycle is only the beginning.
The final leg of our journey was memorable, not without surprises. Who knew that Bathurst Street is completely unpaved in parts?!
Quite fittingly, the broken trail reminded us of the rural roads in Uganda and the women who need to travel those roads to seek treatment.
As we cycled along the shores of Lake Simcoe, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the scenery and by the the feeling of having accomplished this crazy adventure. Jen’s eyes welled up with tears when we finally stopped in Barrie; we surveyed the serene water before us, and it became real: we had arrived.
It’s hard to believe that this riding expedition has come to an end after 707 km along sideroads, suburban streets, rural highways and at times, muddy paths. We will always remember the tremendous hospitality of our billets along the route; thank you for feeding our empty bellies and sheltering our tired bodies. This odyssey would not have been possible without your help. Through this ride, we hope to have shared the story of the countless Ugandan women who brave the trek to the capital city, in hopes to seek treatment, taking nothing for granted-the provision of food for the journey, clothing and bedding, and shelter. Our telling of their stories is partial, but we hope to have offered something to offer testimony to their lives and to their struggle.
Thank you for following our riding blog and verifying nightly that we had indeed arrived at each destination. We unabashedly ask that you consider sponsoring a woman to pursue curative medical treatment for cervical cancer by clickingwww.roadtocare.com/donate. And do write to let us know that you’ve been reading. Every life is precious.
(We will update this weekend with a report from Barrie, and links to newspaper stories covering our ride. A grand total may also be forthcoming! ‘Till then!)
Thank you for sharing in this journey. Your contribution, together with the dedication of our partner organizations and the will of these brave women makes this initiative possible.