This is it. The final day. As rides go, this one’s easy for me – I use this as a training and leisure ride, but for many it’s one of the toughest days of the whole ride. Physically that is.
Emotionally and mentally, though, this ride is hard for all of us – me included. It’s the final part of a huge journey across the country, and crystallises those feelings, thoughts and experiences that we have gathered along the way. It’s a biggie for me as I get to come home, and I get to ride into the IWK Health Centre, where i work, and look after my kids.
This morning (late, as usual – NKCR time eh?) we roll out, with a group of ride along riders, (including Matthew, whose daughter i care for). The captains decided to help control the large group a little by having a select peloton of riders up front to help control the pace. They asked me to be one of them – a great honour. It was so much fun. I got to help all the team come in safely. It’s a tough route, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of the police from Halifax Regional and the RCMP, and, of course, Gerry White of the Blue Knights who has helped us every year since 2014. They keep us safe through the traffic right to the end. The pleasure of showing the amazing places in which I live, to the rest of the team is so good, but sadly over too soon, and quickly we are making our way to Halifax, through the streets I ride to work every day, and all too soon, we are at IWK to a rapturous welcome.
For some reason they want me to speak. It gets tougher every year – but the whole team are an inspiration, and the words come easily. To see my colleagues – nursing, doctors, support staff, Foundation members, etc. come out to welcome us in. And cake. Cake is important. And the new kids whom I haven’t met too. They came to see us, not even knowing who we are and why we are doing this.
Finally, the final leg to Point Pleasant Park, and Black Rock Beach. I’ve seen many people reach this point over the years, and it hits everyone differently. From wild excitement, to withdrawal and solitude, and everything in between. I hung back to let everyone else, especially first time riders and volunteers experience this to the max. It’s a very individual thing, with family and friends often thrown into the mix. Very soon we were dipping wheels, taking photographs, drinking toasts and hugging each other more than usual. It won’t sink in for some time, and may take people hours, days or even weeks to fully process. The physical challenge is huge, and the emotional and mental stresses are so underestimated.
But all of us will be changed by this, and hopefully for the better.
Practicality kicks in and soon we are packing up and heading to the hotel. Much scrubbing and cleaning of vehicles, and clearing out of garbage accumulated over 3 weeks. Amazing isn’t it how you can switch from one state to another so easily. At least until you get downtime and it rushes back over you.
I got to ride home. We’d cleared up, I dumped all my kit in the room, and found myself in a wonderfully familiar and secure place – back on my bike. I pushed it hard and was soon headed through Halifax and back home. Only then is my journey done. But not over.
Evening celebrations – big dinner – much food consumed – beer and wine drunk – thanks given – accolades conferred – raffles drawn (well done, Jeff Mitchell on winning Oliver) – photographs signed – tears shed – goodbyes begun. Funny how we then split into 3 groups – one group head out to party hard. One group settled into comfort in the hotel bar, and the third was lost and disoriented – we pulled the back up on the Penske cube van, dragged some chairs and beers out and had a fine old NKCR party in the hotel carpark. A final salute to the dying embers of the event, and, IMHO, a perfect end to a perfect day.
It will take some time to adjust to real life as the NKCR bubble bursts and drops us back into the “real” world. But which world is really “real’? The one we work and live in, or the one where we go above and beyond to shine, push ourselves and make a difference – $1.1 million differences…?