I started writing this days ago, once I could get through an hour without falling asleep at my desk, trying to figure out how to tell you the story of the Rally, to tell you all the hard things and wonderful things and I realized that there was so much I couldn’t tell where to start. I decided to begin with the pictures, and see what I could show you. I thought the pictures might reveal the words.
Almost as soon as I did that, I realized that these images are only the tiniest piece of what happened, the smallest hint about what it was like. The pictures don’t show you what I really wish I could show you. My sister Erin took a picture of us leaving. It’s moments after the horns and bells and whistles blew and the whole rally (326 riders this year) rolled out of the starting gate. Jen and I are smiling and laughing, but that picture isn’t the whole feeling. It doesn’t tell you how scary it is to ride with that many people at once – how afraid both of us were of making a mistake that toppled hundreds of riders and bikes like dominos. It doesn’t show you how my heart had leapt up into my throat with fear and excitement, or how two seconds after that was taken, someone in the crowd yelled "Thank you!" and Jen and I both burst into tears. It says nothing about the feeling of sweeping along in a force bigger than yourself, of realizing an idea to do something big and crazy, and it doesn’t show you how it’s only at that moment, as you push off on your bike for six solid days of riding, that you realize that it is an absolutely insane thing to do, and that you’re doing it anyway.
I wish when you look at these pictures, you could see what the bike part of the rally feels like. I’m a woman who falls up stairs and can’t catch a ball and I have always, always been the person picked last for teams, and there’s an excellent reason for that. I’m clumsy, I’m not graceful. I’m not good at physical things and I have actual scars from learning how to ride a road bike clipped in last year. I know that’s who I am.
This year on day five, it rained hard. My vision is very poor and my glasses got covered in rain. The path was winding and covered in gravel, and I couldn’t see where I was going, and I got afraid. I struggled and panic welled up in me, and finally I had to ask my little group to stop. I stood there, telling my friends they could leave without me, watching them freezing and dripping in the pouring rain, and knew I was making it worse for them, and I was so embarrassed and humiliated. They didn’t leave me, and I love them for it, but it was a low moment for me. Eventually, the rain let up and we kept going and I slapped a smile on my face but inside I was feeling like a fraud. I felt like my frailty had been revealed, like Jen and company could have kept going, and I couldn’t, and the disappointment was a hard feeling to shake.
I was standing in line for supper that night and talking to another rider, a stranger to me. We were chatting in line about the rain, and this guy looked at me and said "well, I’m sure you were fine. You’re a strong rider."
I blinked, and tried to figure out what was happening, but it didn’t seem that he was trying to flatter me, and it really sounded like a simple statement of fact as far as he was concerned. I stood there trying to imagine myself in those terms. Mostly, I think I get the rally done because I am persistent and stubborn, not physically strong, but when he said those words, I liked the idea a lot, and you know what else? That bad moment was just a moment, because this year for whole minutes at a time, I felt good on that bike. I was better at it, and I think that maybe this is something I could get good at. Maybe, if I keep trying and working on it, I could be someone that doesn’t hold a group back, someone who doesn’t have to apologize for how slow I am. Maybe I could be someone who flies on a bike.
(Jen seen here, loving that we are obstructed by a train. It whirled by us so fast, so big and real that it made us feel the same way.)
I wish I had a picture of how it feels to meet a challenge. Not just the riding part, but so many things that I’m not usually good at. Things like getting up at 5:30 in the morning, or being dirty and exhausted all the time, or being around so many people all day… or putting on clothes with sparkles. I am, despite my ability to fake the opposite, a painfully shy person, and it is like the Rally was invented to remind me that leaving my house and taking a chance on other people and practicing being outgoing almost always results in something wonderful, and that the wonderful isn’t always what I was expecting.
I wish I had a picture of the feeling in my chest on the fourth day, when everyone who is a top fundraiser wears a yellow jersey, and our little team looked like a ray of sunshine. The overwhelming feeling of pride I had, not just in me or Jen or Ken or Pato, but in everyone who sponsored us. You all did what you did because you believe the world is a wonderful place where if we all help each other, things will be better. It’s such a simple idea, and I almost laugh out loud with sheer happiness when I think of how many of you believe in it. What you all did for the rally matters, and I know you believe that, or you wouldn’t have sponsored us the way you did, but I feel like I have to say it over and over and over again. You are amazing, good people, creating change and helping others with your choices and we were all so grateful.
If I had another picture, it would show you how I felt about the people I love who did this ride with me. I’m so proud of Ken, for being the inspiration to do this at all. It was him who took the first step and dragged the whole family down this road, and it was him who convinced all of us it was possible. He’s amazing. (He also did Jen and me a huge favour and put up our tent every day he was at camp before us, and that was every day.) Then there’s Pato. When he wandered into our family at 15, I liked him instantly, but with every passing year I love him more, and he’s grown into a remarkable young man. At only 21, he’s just used his vacation time to raise money for charity, and was good natured, cheerful, helpful, funny and kind about it – again. I adore him, and I couldn’t count the number of times I heard someone say "Pato’s a great guy, isn’t he?"
I wish I had a picture that would show you how proud I am of Jen too. The rally is hard. The rally asks a lot of the people who do it, but the extra effort that you have to put in when you’re a mum of little kids? Ridiculous. It was Jen’s first r
ally (see what I did there?) and she was bloody fierce. Not once did she cry (on the outside, at least) not once did she complain (except for the morning there was no coffee, but my God. She’s only human) and not once did she waver in her commitment to the cause. Also, she took the spiders out of the tent and I’m really super grateful for that. She was more than fabulous, and tough as nails on a bike.
If I could have taken any picture, it would have been of the way it is when a lot of people do the same thing at once. There’s a way it feels when you’re all committed to one big idea, saying "this matters, and look what I’m willing to do to show you." If you had that picture, you would carry it around in your pocket all the time, that’s how much you would love it. That unity is amazing, but who is united matters even more. I meet the best people on the rally. The kindest and sweetest and most decent of all people, and I know that shouldn’t be a surprise, because not a lot of total jerks are going to give up days of their summer to training and a week of their vacation time to sweat for a charity, but still – every person from Road Safety to Rider was amazing. There should be pictures of the thousand million little kindnesses I witnessed. The encouraging words, the help, the people going out on a limb for each other, making a point of trying to be their best selves. I saw people taking big risks and doing scary things and being met with nothing but love and laughter and acceptance. The best of people were with us, and over the course of a week, I think I came to love a number of them.
(This picture was taken as Jen and I crossed the border into the Province of Quebec. We have about 90km to go before we’re in Montreal, but that’s not why I look so happy. I look happy because this year, before I proudly hoisted my bike aloft, I remembered to take my water bottles out so that they didn’t fall on my head in front of everyone like they did last year.)
I cried this year when I crossed the finish line. There’s no picture of that either, but I think everyone does. It’s part relief, and part exhaustion, and part pride and part joy. It was the culmination of months of work, and it felt good. (If by good, you understand that I am not speaking in the physical, but rather spiritual sense. My arse has asked me for a trial separation.) We crossed from the world of the rally, back into the arms of the people who love us (after a shower) and that was it. It was over.
These are the pictures I have, but they aren’t really pictures of what happened.
From these pictures, you would think I went for a very long bike ride, but it wasn’t just that. It was a record breaking fundraiser, it is real money to help real people and real families with real problems, and it was another kind of journey for me. One where I got to think of myself as another kind of person for a little while, and got to see the best in some people I love a lot. It was so, so hard, and it was worth it.
Thank you for helping me make it possible. You’re all fantastic.
I need another nap.