If you were up really early in Kelowna on Saturday, June 22nd, you might have seen the snake of the Ride to Survive (R2S) ‘péléton’ or ‘package’, as they call it, as it wound its way over the Coquilla on a 400 km journey to Delta. The 80 or so participants all have their own reasons for participating in this annual ride, which raises money for cancer research in a grassroots fashion. One hundred percent of donations go to the Canadian Cancer Society and the event is organized and supported entirely by volunteers, like me this year.
Riders either sign up for the full 400 km, or they can just do half (Kelowna to Merritt or Hope to Delta) and the entrance fee of $200 (or $100 for a half distance) covers the operating costs and support (food, rentals, fuel etc). They also commit to raising at least $2,500 for charity. Group training sessions start in February and are scheduled for every other weekend, with increasing distances and difficulties to prepare riders for the gruelling ride. It’s not just the distance and elevation that are challenging, riders have to practise riding in a large, fast paced group.
On the Thursday before the big day, riders dropped off their bikes in Delta where they were carefully loaded onto a transport truck to be taken to Kelowna. Early the next morning, the group met at Caps South Shore Cycles and the convoy left for Kelowna. On arrival, a few hours later, bikes were unloaded, handlebars and pedals replaced and food and equipment distributed to the fleet in preparation for an early start on the Saturday. The ‘last supper’ was served – pasta of course – and everyone was buzzing with pre-ride energy. After the meal and some last minute instructions about the ride, all participants had an opportunity to share with the group why they were doing the ride and what it meant to them. This was incredibly powerful and tears sprung to our eyes as we talked about how cancer had affected us and our loved ones. The stories, both tragic and heartwarming, drew us closer as a group. As the sun went down, we all went to bed to get an early night before the long-awaited big day.
The big day arrives! At 2am the alarm goes off, we pack quickly and stumble outside. I get a ride to the church where an amazing group of volunteers has prepared a light breakfast and we are ready to go. It’s a perfect day – no rain or wind, and a reasonable temperature (for 3.30am). Riders are mounting up, lights are coming on and I am sure that there are so many flashing red taillights that we can be seen from outer space! At exactly 3:30am the riders roll out, heading towards Merritt. There is a full convoy escorting the group – known as ‘the package’ – consisting of a lead police vehicle, a pace vehicle, about 80 riders riding two-abreast, a rear pilot vehicle, an ambulance, a SAG/Mech support vehicle, and a “tail end Charlie” sign truck. The package forms a rolling road closure that provides a safe zone for the riders to travel in.
Every 30-50km there is a scheduled rest stop – most stops are a maximum of 10 minutes with two longer stops of around 40 minutes. Riders roll in and the support crew has set up food, spare gear, portable toilets and mechanical support. In the blink of an eye, the riders are back on the road again.
Riders and support vehicles are connected by two-way radio, to keep the riders together. In the event of a flat the mechanics swap wheel (similar to the Tour de France). In the extreme event that a bike breaks and cannot be ridden, spare bikes are even available!
The SAG wagon is always close by in case a rider is struggling, and he/she always has the option of jumping in with the group again at the next stop. This is a great back-up especially for first-timers (as I will be next year) as the prospect of a 400km ride with 3,600m elevation is pretty intimidating!
The training rides pull the group together and forms a tight knit team out of a bunch of individuals. Everyone is very supportive and the goal is for everyone to start and finish together. More than once, I saw cases where stronger riders were riding alongside others who were struggling, and put a hand on their back to give them a helpful push up and over the big hills.
The group finally arrived in Delta at 10.30pm on Saturday night, exhausted but elated. What a great ride, and a great cause. I’m looking forward to riding with them in 2014.
Volunteer for the 2013 R2S and future participant in the 2014 ride.