Straddling my bike at the base of Mount Washington, I look high in the sky and squint in an attempt to see the ski lodge at the top. No success.
I know the lodge is 19 kilometres away – all uphill – from where I stand, and the only way I’m getting there is by pedalling the whole way.
I also know that I’m moments away from beginning the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever undertaken. I’m surprisingly calm.
On a cold Sunday in early March of this year, I stood straddling my bike in the parking lot behind the Saanich police department – nervous as hell – surrounded by a group of complete strangers.
It was our first-ever Tour de Rock training ride. It had haunted me for weeks leading up to it. I hadn’t been on a bike in any real capacity in seven years, so I was pretty doubtful of my abilities on two wheels – and rightfully so.
Our first ride was a slow trek along the very flat Lochside Trail to Mattick’s Farm and back. It wasn’t exhausting, but it surely wasn’t a piece of cake.
Now here I am on July 15, less than five months later, standing at the bottom of one of Vancouver Island’s highest hills, and I’m ready to conquer it. It helps that my team is with me, and each one of them is about to tackle the same challenge.
“It’s just a bike ride. It’s just a bike ride,” I repeat in my head.
I’ve thought that phrase hundreds of times since March – any time I get fatigued during a ride – because I know that my uphill battle on a bike is nothing compared to a child’s battle with cancer treatment.
My motivation for riding through struggles, and pushing hard each time I get on my bike is the people I’m riding to support.
Even though the actual Tour hasn’t officially started – that runs Sept. 22 to Oct. 5 – the team has had the opportunity to meet children who have gone through cancer treatment. These kids – some as young as two years old – epitomize the words strength, bravery and fortitude.
They’ve spent their short lives undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, getting pricked by needles countless times a day, and not getting to live a carefree childhood.
These kids are my motivation and my inspiration to fight through burning leg muscles and a sore back, and pelting rain and howling wind, to bike 1,000-plus kilometres down Vancouver Island.
But right now, even before my 17 teammates and I head out on Tour, Mount Washington stands in our way.
It’s been said by many past riders that you don’t remember much of the riding – you’ll remember the community stops, the children you hug, the stories you hear and the emotions of it all, but not the biking.
I made it to the top of Mount Washington on Sunday along with my team – and we were all elated – but I barely remember the ride.
What’s stayed with me, instead, were the emotions I felt.
I remember a few periodic moments of dread, when I looked up the road and saw steep, endless asphalt. And I remember the pride I felt – the smile plastered to my face – when I pulled in to the ski lodge, sweaty and panting, after conquering Mount Washington.
Those emotion-filled memories, on both ends of the spectrum, are what I will take away from my experience as a Tour de Rock rider – it won’t be the Vancouver Island scenery or the six-hour rides along rolling Island roads.
At the end of the day, I’m riding for the kids and families dealing with pediatric cancer – they’re the fighters. All I’m doing is riding a bike.
–Kyle Slavin is a reporter for the Saanich News and a member of the 2012 Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock team. To support his fundraising efforts, visit is.gd/TourdeRock.