In 2010, I did something I’d been scared to do for years before: I did a charity bike ride from Toronto to Montreal, the Friends For Life Bike Rally. It might sound simple, but looking back without having done that, this project wouldn’t exist, and not just because it prepared me physically to do a long bike ride. It taught me a bunch more.
I learned about the Bike Rally in 2007 about the time I as just getting up the guts to ride a bike again. I still remember that year being really proud of myself because I rode 30 kilometres. All by myself! By the end of the year, 50 KM wasn’t too hard to do, and I’d started commuting to work by bike on many days and even started riding a bike in the winter. I knew my bike could take me anywhere, and I wanted to try riding somewhere outside of the city. A google search directed me to the Bike Rally and I loved the idea of riding for a cause. After all, riding a bike a long distance is pretty great on its own but if it’s possible to raise money for a good organization that’s even better. Except one thing stopped me. I had no faith that i could raise the minimum amount. I talked myself out of it that year, and two more years after that. Some might say I guaranteed my own failure. And they’d be right. Finally in late 2009, I made the decision, I would just try. I would either raise the minimum $2,200 and go, or I’d raise a smaller amount of money and if it wasn’t enough, I’d have done some good. As most of you know, I didn’t fail that year, or the year after. And between those years I raised about $7,000. What impact could trying when the inspiration first hit have had? Regret is not productive, but learning from it is. If the inspiration hits, I now try to do it right away. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but other times, like with this project, it works so well I surprise myself.
The ride itself taught me a lot as well. Some who have known me for a while, know that I have a pretty cynical side. And it was much worse back in 2007. You know what the best treatment for cynicism is? Being surrounded by kind people. The Bike Rally is a six day ride across eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Three hundred or so riders and about 100 crew participate. Everyone there is there because they want to help. They want to support an organization that supports men, women, trans women and men, and children who are living with HIV. After a week spent with people like that I began to realize: I share a city with amazing people. Heck, I share a world with people like this, quietly doing good. As we rode along the route we would meet people, sometimes in towns, sometimes just at little houses along the way, who were sitting outside to cheer us on, offer us snacks and water, or just give a wave.
It’s an amazing opportunity to see the power of commitment. Sure, there were many obvious athletes on this ride. But I was surprised to see how many riders were not the stereotypical cyclists. I rode with people close to twice my age, some with chronic illness, others who had mobility issues when off the bike and even with blind riders riding as the stoker on a tandem. Why were they there? Because they believed in the cause they were riding and with that passion came a great deal of power. They inspired me to question what I was giving. Not just physically, but all around in life. The riders all showed me that if I worked as hard as I believed in something than amazing things would happen.
Six days is all it took to realize that while 600 kilometres sounds like a huge and possibly unattainable goal, it isn’t. Not when you break it up into pieces. It’s a 30 KM ride to the first snack, and another 30 to lunch and another 20 to another snack before riding 20 more to dinner. And each one of those was the size of the small ride I did around town not long after getting on my bike for the first time as an adult.
Six days is all it took to realize what happens when you build kindness upon kindness. It infects everyone around you, it inspires people, and in our case it raised over a million dollars a year (This year over $1.5 million) This wasn’t over a million dollars donated by a wealthy philanthropist, this was raised by coworkers who gave a few dollars to support their colleagues, it was given by people having yard sales, or bake sales, selling items at $1-2 each. It was made by people sitting on a bike trainer on a city street with a hat on the ground in front of them pedaling hard to encourage people to toss a loonie or toonie in to help.
How can you not watch this and be inspired about how the world could change if everyone just did a little? I sure couldn’t, and that’s how this project came about.
And so just a few days before this year’s Bike Rally participants left Toronto, I signed up to ride in the Bike Rally again. And so you’ll see me, July 27th, along with these guys, on what will no doubt be the source of even more inspiration. If you’d like to sponsor me, you can make a pledge here. And if you’re in Toronto (or want to come here in July 2014), I encourage you to join us. You can sign up here – and prepare to be inspired.