Even granite-grey skies that bombarded the earth with buckets of water over the weekend did nothing to dampen the spirits of North Islanders who got their first glimpse of the 2011 Canadian Cancer Society Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock riders.
The riders stopped and joined a packed house at the Port Alice Legion Saturday night to enjoy a seafood dinner/ fundraiser.
They were greeted warmly as members — who were seated with Port Alice community members at different tables — were introduced.
This year’s team of 23 riders will make the approximately 1,000-km ride from the North Island to Victoria and includes RCMP, military police and some media.
One of the latter is Black Press’s Chris Bush, a reporter/photographer with the Nanaimo News Bulletin, who’s already dropped 25 pounds from his stocky frame.
“It’s been seven months of practice, we’ve been training since mid-March with a really great bunch of people,” he said, outside the Port Alice Legion.
“We laugh, we laugh all the time.”
There has been talk the ride itself isn’t as tough as the training that went into the event, but Bush said he’s holding back on that opinion for now.
“I think a lot of it will depend on the weather,” he said.
“Last year it was really grueling for the team for that reason and last year was the first time they had to cancel a portion of the ride outside Port Alberni for safety because of the heavy rain and high winds.”
Despite that, Bush — who’s already raised about $15,000 — said it’s been seven long months and he’s ready to get rolling.
Which is exactly what the team did when it left Port Alice Sunday and pedaled a hilly, winding, 35-km road to Highway 19 and then into Port Hardy, where they were welcomed at Carrot Park by a boisterous crowd under — what can only be described as a Tour de Rock miracle — sunny skies.
The riders continued to the town’s Civic Centre where they met with members of the community and chowed down on food supplied by Malone’s restaurant, while the public ate salmon burgers and dogs being sold outdoors by donation.
Several of the riders had already subjected themselves to fund-raising head shaves before the ride began, and Aaron Murray of the Saanich Police Dept. joined them Sunday. Perched in a chair at the top of the Civic Centre steps while his mates looked on and tossed good-natured jibes, Murray has his hair shaved down to a faint stubble.
Sandra Holman, a police officer with the Nanaimo RCMP detachment, said so far so good with the first day of riding.
“After sleeping in the gym last night, listening to the torrential downpour, we’re pretty lucky to have sunshine today and the community support we’re getting keeps us pumped up to keep riding,” she said from the Civic Centre while taking a break from talking with local kids.
Riders departed Port Hardy in mid-afternoon Sunday and arrived in Port McNeill shortly before 4 p.m. under skies that remained bright and sunny.
“It was a good day riding; I feel like I’m 30 again,” said Bush, at 53 the oldest of the tour’s riders and one of three media representatives on the team. “Everyone has good days and bad days. I’m sure there will be one on this ride that’ll kick my butt.
Day 2 made its case for that job. When the cyclists began the climb up Campbell Way to Highway 19 Monday morning, they did so into a howling wind and lashing rain. At 140 kilometers, the day’s ride from Port McNeill to Sayward was the longest of the tour.
“We know the North Island has the toughest stretches of hills and the long distances,” Bush said. “Coming out of Port Alice to start, there’s no warmup. You just hit the hill.”
While in Port McNeill, participants were treated to a pasta dinner Sunday at The Sportsman Steakhouse, where they mingled at tables with guests and exchanged stories, and enjoyed a pancake breakfast Monday at the Black Bear Resort before taking to their saddles for the trip south.
All monies raised during the ride goes to cancer research, and to Camp Goodtimes, an internationally acclaimed and accredited summer recreation program near Maple Ridge B.C. that provides a unique summer experience for children and teens — and their families — who must deal with cancer.
You can enter to win a Cops for Cancer bike package at bclocalnews.com/tour-de-rock or at the North Island Gazette office.