Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Let's Ride


What was going through my mind on the morning of June 12th?


There really are very few words to describe the panic that was going through my mind, my heart, and my body. I thought I was going to vomit the entire car ride to Exhibition Place, the Ride's starting point. I got out of the car, and I was literally shaking. It was 6:45am, very grey, and very, VERY windy. It felt like a hurricane was about to start.


So there we were, in a sea of 5,000 cyclists, listening to the opening ceremony, and I am still freaking out. Once the Chair of the Princess Margaret Hospital spoke, they had a cancer survivor say a few words. He told us about his fight with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, how his son played an integral part in his recovery, and how they were here today doing this ride together. Then I looked over my shoulder, and saw a dear friend standing there quietly, probably thinking about his father, and how much he would have liked to spend the weekend with him had he not lost his battle with this disease a few years ago. And suddenly, I realized I was the biggest jackass in the entire world. What I was about to do was nothing compared to what most of the people there had dealt with. Suck it up and fight, Mohamed. This challenge is less than one-one hundredth of one percent of what others here faced. You have nothing to complain about.

Soon enough, we were out on the road. It was really hard getting used to sharing the road with so many cyclists. Previously, the most I had been out with was three, let alone 5,000. People were riding all sorts of bicycles, including multiple variations of tandems, people using mountain bikes, not to mention the elderly lady riding a bike that was likely older than her with a milk crate attached to the back as a basket. I even saw a women with one leg powering her way through a massive specially built bicycle.

The first 50km were slow going through city streets in Toronto and Mississauga, and it was a little uncomfortable knowing how and when it was safe to pass someone. About 3km in, I saw an older women, maybe 60ish, do a horrific face plant just off to my left. I saw her glasses broken on the pavement an inch from her face. I pulled over to the side to help, but by the time I looked back, she was already surrounded by 10 others, so I kept going. It took a while to get to the first pit stop, but only because of the amount cyclist traffic. The amount of energy I still had left me cautiously optimistic.

The best part of the day came at a Cheering station in Mississauga, where I saw so much of my family cheering me on. My daughter Sofia was even wearing a t-shirt that said "Go Daddy Go". I had to hold back tears when I saw so many familiar faces, offering so much support.

I was brought back to realty a few km later when my odometer fell off my bike going over a bump. Aaron and I pulled over to run back and get it, when a nice women pulled over herself and picked it up for me. As she approached us, she said she didn't want to stop again and would toss it to me. Ummm, okay. Toss it to me, and if I don't catch it, it will fall on the soft grass. Except, the women wasn't very good at throwing things, and instead, threw the odometer directly into the pavement in front of her. Great. It was now broken, and I would have to go the final 180km without any idea of where I was. Perhaps, she should have just left it.

At least she was trying to be nice, which was a common theme the whole ride. Everyone was always so nice, looking out for each other, encouraging each other. It was like a 5,000 member team, and no one was allowed to be left behind. Often I would hear a volunteer or supporter yell out "Go Mohamed!", or as someone was passing me, they would yell out "On your left, Mohamed!" At first it freaked me out that all these people somehow knew who I was...until I realized all of our bikes had nameplates on them.

The optimism dissipated rapidly as the second 50km began. Steep climbs, roller coaster hills, and the feeling that race organizers had just been toying with my emotions. And then the big kahuna: The Ancaster Hill. Not the steepest climb we had on the day, but trust me it was steep enough coming up from Dundas Valley, and for a good 1.5-2km. Everyone was moving at a snails pace up the hill, not wanting to stop out of fear of not being able to start again.

Aaron would start out after each stop with me, but inevitably, I would fall behind. Of course, the Ancaster climb was no different. Except this time Dr. Harris, with the best of intentions, was up to his old antics. He was well ahead of me when I started climbing, and about halfway up the hill, I looked across the street and saw him coming back down. He must be coming to see if I am okay, I thought. I tried to wave him down, but I don't think he saw me in the sea of yellow and black spandex. About five minutes later, I looked to my left and saw him leisurely coasting past everyone going back up the hill. In the time it took me to finally make it to the to the top, he had had time to go up the hill twice, pull out a laptop, connect to the internet, and do his taxes online. He was grumbling something about non-refundable tax credits when I caught up to him.

I made it up the hill, but was not feeling good physically. The last 5km were the most painful I have ever experienced. My back, my rear, my shoulders, my neck, my arms, my everything were seizing. Aaron was with me for those last few km, and he was trying to encourage me, but I totally tuned him out. I was just dying, and I think both us weren't sure if I was actually going to find the day one finish line.

But I did.

I could barely talk at the end of it, was shaking, and could barely walk. The weather just held up long enough for me to park my bike, as the skies opened up about 5 minutes after we got to the camp site at Mohawk College. We got out of the rain, and rested for a few minutes before Corrie picked us up for the ride home. It was at this point that I discovered the power of Advil. They were handing it out like candy at the first aid tent. People were laughing, clinking their tablets together in a toast, then locking arms to through them back like they were champagne.

After a good night's sleep, we were back on the road by 7:45am, except this time the rain didn't cooperate, and we got a little wet for the first 20km. Rain can be a cyclists greatest enemy. Not only do you have to worry about slipping when going around corners, and being more cautious when braking with wet tires, there is also the dreaded chaffage. But thanks to the advice of a work colleague which I told you about a little while back, I was well prepared, and aside from discomfort in my, uh, nippular area from the cold, all was good (Thanks LC).

Day two was not nearly as treacherous, but was a little longer than we had thought. It actually came in at 115km, as opposed to the 102km of day one. And my body had not fully recovered from the previous days corporal punishment. Whereas the day before my back pain began at around the 65km mark, on this day we were barely out of the driveway at Mohawk college before I started to feel it.

The day wasn't nearly as eventful as day one, just long. I kept chugging along, making sure to replenish at each stop. I was also getting much more comfortable riding with others. I found myself getting burst of energy, often passing multiple riders at once. Finally, after about 5 months of this stuff, I felt like I knew what I was doing on a bicycle.

The organizers of the event did an incredible job, especially with making sure we had enough to eat and drink. At each stop there was water, Gatorade, apples, bananas, oranges, pretzels, bagels, crackers, popcorn, granola bars, chips, nuts, brownies, and on and on. It may sound like a nine-year-old's birthday party, but it provided the crucial mix of salt, sugar, protein, and potassium that you just can't get enough of at that level of physical exertion.

I stupidly did not have enough to eat and drink after pit stop number three, and I was feeling it. Luckily, I would stash a little food in my shirt pockets at each stop just in case, and boy did it come in handy between the 70 and 92km stops. I finally had to pull over and have a handful of corn chips and about half a litre of Gatorade before I struggled to the last pit stop where Aaron had been waiting about 20 minutes for me to arrive. I replenished, and we set out on the final leg of a very long five month journey.

I was feeling good knowing that we were almost done, and somehow got another burst of energy. Aaron and I took turns leading, and we just bombed it through those last 20km, passing just about everyone along the way. It felt great flying past everyone with such speed and confidence! As we were about one km from the finish line, there was a team of about 10 cyclists trying to cross the finish line together. I couldn't help it. I signalled to Aaron, then pulled left, and then just powered right pass them, into the home stretch. It felt so good doing that, I actually laughed out loud.

I was shocked at how many people had congregated along the final stretch to the finish line. There was music blaring, an announcer calling the play-by-play, and thousands cheering us on. About as close as I will ever come to feeling like a rock star. And as I finally crossed the finish line, I fought hard the urge to cry, instead focusing on where to find my personal fan club, Corrie and Sofia. They soon made their way to us, followed by my big brother and his family. The lump in my throat just got bigger and bigger.

One word: Overwhelming.

So, that was it. Done. All that training, both physical and mental. All that time spent in spin classes, at the gym, on the road. All that work, and finally POOF! Its over. To be honest, it reminded me of my wedding day. You spend months preparing and planning for one of the most important and special events of your life, and then it is over in one day. And it both instances, at the end of each day, I had my favourite person in the whole world standing next me.

I don't have the words to express about awesome my wife Corrie has been through all this. The first five months of raising a child are hard enough, and let alone with me at the gym or on the road after work. And on weekends, when after being out 2- 4 hours riding, I would barely be able to move my body the rest of the day, essentially being useless around the house. And through it all she never wavered, never got cross with me (well, not more than I would usually provoke), and never gave up on me, despite me giving up on myself multiple times. Daily. Even on ride weekend, she took care of everything, chauffeuring me and my friends to and from the rides, making dinner, getting Sofia that adorable shirt, and cheering me on in Mississauga, and spending hours in traffic with a restless four month old just to see me cross that finish line. Corrie and Sofia were my enablers, and my inspiration.

I also have to thank Aaron, Heather, and our team captain Peter for their unrelenting support and encouragement. While they may been the receiving end of much of my frustration, and in Aaron's case my wrath on this blog, they refused to let it get the best of me, and they succeeded.

And finally, I thank you for reading this blog, and sharing it with so many people. Your indulgence in keeping up with my adventure kept me motivated, and your generosity with your wallets will save many lives.

Alas, my blog will come to an end. But it was a lot of fun for me. Maybe, if I come up with something else to write about, you will tune in again? Huh? Anyone? Bueller?

In the meantime, give me a shout if you want to hit the pavement. I will be up for it.



  1. I had been waiting for this update -what a story, what a journey, what a beautiful person you are, dear Mohamed. The Trepanier-Arnold family is so proud of you! Congratulations on your hard work training (mental and physical), fundraising, managing your time, writing this blog, and the many other important actions you followed through on to make this happen. Bravo mon cher ami! xo

  2. Wow - an amazing ending to your fabulous journey. Great blog Mo and congratulations again on setting such a big goal for yourself and reaching it in such amazing fashion. We are so proud of you. Corrie & Sofia