cycling · fitness

Reflecting on the what we learned, loved, and were challenged by #F4LBR


Joh and our wonderful bike mechanics!
Joh and our wonderful bike mechanics!

I wrote this on the train bringing me back home in 6 hours instead of the 6 days it took to get to Montréal by bike last week. I am a first-year rider who uses her bicycle mostly to commute. It was my first long road biking experience, and I trained for 7 months to get ready. As a francophone, it is much easier to write in French, so here it goes:

Qu’est-ce que j’ai appris, aimé et ce qui m’a mise à l’épreuve lors du rallye cycliste Friends for Life?

J’ai appris à traverser les épreuves en groupe et je me suis rappelé le réel pouvoir d’une communauté œuvrant vers un but commun. Celui-ci était certes de se rendre à Montréal, mais surtout, d’appuyer une cause et de continuer les efforts de financement tout au long de la semaine. L’annonce la plus touchante pour moi fut celle de l’atteinte de notre objectif, à la toute fin! Nos efforts ont rapporté, non seulement au plan physique, mais au plan financier.

Ce qui m’a le plus mise à l’épreuve est le fait d’avoir été toujours en groupe, malgré la qualité des gens qui m’ont entourée toute la semaine. Disons que faire du camping à 300 personnes près d’une autoroute n’est pas mon idéal de quiétude! Je faisais partie de l’équipe des “matantes bougonnes”, alors le calme arrivait inévitablement, mais souvent un peu tard pour moi (eh oui, j’ai besoin de 8 heures de sommeil avant de pédaler 100 km!).

Ce que j’ai aimé? L’entraide; les amitiés instantanées; l’appui incroyable de la part des équipes de soutien tout au long du parcours; ne pas avoir à penser, juste pédaler, pédaler, pédaler; les beaux paysages sur une route que je connais tellement bien; mais surtout, le leadership de deux personnes d’exception, Sam et Susan, et les liens créés avec les membres de mon équipe. Merci, Bike Rally!



What I loved: The weather! Other years have been all about the rainstorms and the thunder and lightening. Or the heat alerts. See Cycling in a heatwave versus a torrential downpour. This year on the other hand was pretty consistently just nice. Sure there was a rainy morning. Sure there were a few warm afternoons. But generally speaking it was pretty ideal cycling weather. Warm, but not too warm, sunny, and no real wind to speak of. The one rainy day even came with strong tailwinds which in my mind almost makes up for the rain. Also, more seriously, I loved our team. But see more on that below.

What I struggled with: On Team Switchin’ Gears there were a lot of “old lady” jokes. Turns out after 40, we need our sleep. We were the team who were vocal about our sleep needs. Eight hours please. With breakfast at 6 and wake up before that, that means in bed around 9 pm. But quiet time doesn’t start that early. Susan wisely travels with ear plugs. Cate and I engaged in some hushing. And we all agreed that should we ride together again, tent placement in a quiet zone is key. Turns out I can easily bike 100 kms a day and feel good but take away my sleep? Grrr.

What I dealt with: The need for speed! I’ve written before about riding at a friendly pace on the rally. See here. Seems I mostly, happily, switch into support mode when I’m on the rally. Last year I rode with Susan and she drafted. This year I rode with Sarah in the draft spot. I spent entire days in heart rate training zone 1! That’s my heart rate when I’m walking, for example. Strava awards you a suffer score after each ride telling you hard you worked and I got my lowest scores ever, even a 13! The harder bit was seeing my Strava ranking for segments since I’ve done the ride twice before. I didn’t like seeing “third best time.” Instead, I raced up some hills to break it up and waited at the top. I’d occasionally latch onto the back of a fast group and wait at the next rest stop. Also, on Day 1 we zoomed to lunch so we could serve lunch and arrived with the first group of riders. So I had some bursts of speed and some PRs along the way. Looking forward to riding fast again now the rally is over.

What I learned: Susan’s written about sports and leadership and I’ve been mulling about that too. I was worried about being a team lead with Susan in part because our team was a mix of some very close friends, some people who weren’t necessarily as close but who knew us and who had selected our team, and some people who’d been added to our team who we didn’t know at all. But it turned out to work out very well. I was worried that having friends would make others feel less welcome but instead the friends turned out to be huge helps. There weren’t just two team leads. It felt like there was a whole leadership team. We had a range of strengths and abilities. We also bonded as a team early on in the rally since we had team chores to do on the very first day. That helped. While middle aged queer women formed the core of the team, the age range was actually pretty big. We had some men too. Probably PhDs, doctors, and engineers were over-represented among us! We had a very big range of cycling backgrounds and abilities so we didn’t ride together that much but we camped together at night and often had meals with one another. We did ride together on red dress day and again on the last day, coming into Montreal. I loved getting to know my team members. It’s this mini-community within the larger group that makes the bike rally work so well, I think.



Although I’ve ridden since my teen years, and have commuted by bike (up to 50km a day) off and on throughout my life, I’m only a relatively recent convert to road cycling. While I’d owned a road bike for a few years thanks to a team effort by my knee surgeon (who said “no more jogging”) and my sister (who sold me her old Specialized Dolce), and of course I fell in love with the feeling of flying along on two wheels and became an instant “roadie”, I hadn’t done many rides longer than about 75km until this past year.

Susan and Sam changed that, tempting me with long rides in good company and at a manageable pace, and convincing me that completing the Friends for Life Bike Rally would be possible for me, if I could commit to the training.Knowing that it would be hard to fit training into my busy schedule I signed up before the winter training season on the basis that the terror of suffering through 600km would be good motivation. I managed to squeeze in just enough to survive. Barely. There were many moments where I struggled against hills and headwinds and a few others where I fairly flew down the road, but mostly Sam kindly rode in front of me, at whatever pace I could maintain, keeping me company and encouraging me through the toughest parts.

What I loved: The rally family. From our team to the riders to the extended crew of volunteers that feed us and care for us and keep us on track, I felt like I was on vacation with a couple hundred new friends. Some I became quite close with, others were simply smiling faces that cheerfully exclaimed “Good morning, on your left!” and that I wouldn’t see again until camp that night.

What I dealt with: Less than two weeks before the rally, my beloved road bike was stolen. It says a lot that within hours I had many wonderful offers to lend me bikes, and I was truly blown away when Tracy (that’s right, co-editor of this blog) told me she would lend me her magnificent carbon-fibre Specialized, a bike that would be nearly identical to mine in terms of feel but lighter and flexier, with acceleration and performance to spare. That said, with the limited time frame remaining it was a challenge to get Ruby fitted to feel exactly like my old bike, and without the benefit of a professional bike fit. Instead of spending my precious remaining training hours putting in the distance and hills/intervals that would help I was shopping for seats and riding a few kilometres at a time while tweaking settings.

What I struggled with: My barely-adequate level of fitness meant that I struggled to keep up with the people I was hoping to ride with. I ended up being the one drafting behind the stronger riders, so close to my aerobic threshold that the smallest hill or a moment’s acceleration was enough for me to come off the wheel of the person. In a race I would have been dropped from the pack but instead my friends, especially Sam, would patiently slow down enough for me to catch back up. But riding slower definitely means more time on the bike. New-to-me bike meant that by the end of Day 1 my trapezius muscles had hardened into solid knots that no amount of RMT attention could fix, and they stayed that way ’til the end of the rally. By the end of each day simply being in riding position on the bike was agonizing. We stopped frequently at the break points provided road safety and wellness vans to let me stretch and give me a mental break from the unrelenting ache, but that also meant longer days. And finally, getting into camp late meant no naps before dinner, no catching up on sleep interrupted by tossing and turning from one sore shoulder to the other.Despite all of these challenges (and all of my whining, thank you patient understanding sympathetic teammates!) I would do the Friends for Life Bike Rally again in a heartbeat. If not for 6 days, for 1, or as a volunteer. If I couldn’t ride for whatever reason I would love to sport fabulous costumes and cheer everyone on.

But who am I kidding? I spotted a road cyclist from the car yesterday and felt a pang of jealousy. I’ll be back on the bike in no time!


Day 7… Wait, there is no day 7.  When I was riding yesterday, there was a point where I truly felt that there was nothing but riding, no before, no future, just the now of riding.  That’s what the Rally does — creates a community, a bubble, where the outside world recedes and there is this mindful now, filled with your body pushing against the edges of your strength, your entire soul flexing like calf muscles rotating the pedals that are attached to your feet.

My riding over the past 6 days was strong — the training I did, that crazy 160 km in the hills and wind of PEI, gave me confidence and muscle memory that pushed me through the headwinds, the rain, the long long days, the lack of sleep, the collapsed thermarest.  It felt really good to have that backdrop to be present in my amazing team, to be weaving together community and caring and a sense of doing something bigger than us with every circle of the pedals.
I didn’t know the people on this blog a year ago.  But I found my way into this world, and onto this rally, into a tribe of people who want to ask their bodies what is possible, and to reflect on what that means for them as people, as community members, as humans in a complex world.  I am so grateful I found this welcoming, questing tribe.  When we arrived in Montreal yesterday, Sam and I started dancing as we looked for our real shoes.  I felt the supreme joy of doing the thing bigger than me, the thing that I could only do by finding every centimetre of myself.  Of all of us together.


I’m awake on the Sat morning after the Bike Rally at 6:30am. I don’t have to be up but my body, exhausted, sore, spent, has a memory in it that drives it. I should be up already, in my bike clothes, finishing breakfast, on my way to the team camp area to take down the tent.I should be thinking about the route and wondering if I ate the right thing for breakfast. You know, that magic combination that will get me to the next camp site in 4.5 hours or less.I should be laughing at the ridiculous jokes of my most spectacular yet exhausted friends. I should be holding them and telling them how wonderful they are. I want to go back to a place where I can enact my adoration of them freely, without having to schedule around the rest of my life to create two precious hours for dinner. I want to have all day, out on the road, to tell them what they mean to me. I want I want but that isn’t how it is today, or maybe ever again quite like this was. I wonder about how to find the moments where I am my best me more often. Then I think, well, that’s now, and now, and again now. I’m moving into the next moment, with the gift of the Rally in my heart and my best me, always.



What has struck me the most about the Rally is the sheer enormity of the network of support riders tap in to. Donations poured in from my friends and family right up until Day 6. Thank you for ensuring we raised enough money to fully fund PWA!

Road crew helped me get from point A to point B. Wellness crew folks held my hand when I cried, adjusted my cranky back and taught me stretches for my specific aches and pains. Thank you!!!

Food crew got up at 4 am. Yup. At the ass crack of dawn and hustled all day to feed a hungry hoard 3 squares a day in different sites. Thank you!

Rubbermaid wrestlers lugged and slugged my gear  to groovy tunes and sometimes in heels. I could not have done the distance if I had hauled my own gear.

My partner Michel has made sure the home front went well and provided so much logistical and emotional support. I can’t even count how many times he helped me get the things done that needed doing.

The groups of PFLAG chapters and Scotiabank volunteers along the route cheering us on were astounding. Thank you!

I got to be part of Switchin’ Gears and we gathered together and amazing group of kind, supportive and skilled humans. So thankful for the help in just doing each day.

My sister Anj wrote 5 cards, one to open each night. They made Susan, Cate and I cry. So touching and thoughtful.

I’m thankful to have met so many folks, especially us at the back of the pack. We got to have great chats, commiserate and share tips and tricks. More than that we got to laugh or complain or distract ourselves during difficult moments and share tiny triumphs. Thank you!

Finally I’m thankful for a body that did the cycling and camping with only minor aches and pains.

I learned a lot this past week about what it means to be active in community. It’s so much more than just getting back on the bike.


Vanessa, Sydney, and Val

This was my second year doing the rally, so I knew that I could make the distances. On the whole, I was faster and the rides felt easier, though Day 6 felt like a bit of a slog.

I was always an urban cyclist, but hit a bit of a shock when I showed up for the first training ride in 2015 and was the slowest rider by a lot. Back then, I planned routes carefully to avoid anything resembling a hill. During the training that year, I fell in love with road biking and picked up the speed, skill and endurance to make it to Montréal.
This year, my schedule let me train more, though in some ways I felt less prepared for the ride to Montréal itself. The heavy headwinds on Day 1, followed by the rainy morning on Day 2 were challenging, but by the time I hit our Day 2 camp I felt like I could keep riding forever. My parents showed up on Day 5 (on their way to meet me at the finish line) and rode with me for about 35km, and I enjoyed getting to show them what the rally is like.
I had ridden a bunch with Sam and Susan last year, and was excited by having a team of mostly women – a big difference from much of the rally and from road biking in general. It was nice to have a little enclave of mostly women within the bigger context of the rally.
I continue to be amazed by the little rolling community we create, and everything that goes into planning and making sure it all works.

4 thoughts on “Reflecting on the what we learned, loved, and were challenged by #F4LBR

  1. Awesome stuff. If one is a cyclist and rides often, I really do recommend a long ride with at least a friend or 2 –whether it’s 1 full day or several days in a row. It is a humbling, life-affirming experience.

    Unlike all of you, I’ve only cycled in 1 group ride for 4 days between Toronto and Gravenhurst where our gear and clothing was transported. All other bike touring has been just myself and partner with our own gear.

    I totally agree with Nat’s comments that the volunteers along the way: I’ve always wondered about them because they aren’t cycling , they aren’t running. Those rides, those races aren’t just about “us”, it’s about them supporting us.

  2. Very nice! Et premier blog en français aussi! Woot! Je trouve tout le monde bien brave de s’être lancé dans cette aventure! Je suis heureuse de supporter cela chaque année!

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