I literally don’t know how or where to start this post. I don’t even know how long it will take me to put it together. At the moment it is the night of Day 34 and I know I will only get so far tonight. Please forgive me if this all gets a little disjointed. By now most of you have learned of the tragedy that befell our group.
Yesterday started from Thunder Bay with our first stop being the Terry Fox Memorial. I should point out that the memorial to this Canadian hero is located on a stretch of the Trans Canada Highway that is closed to cyclists and pedestrians. This means that for the tribute to the man who ran a marathon a day on one leg halfway across Canada can only be visited by those travelling in a motor vehicle. You cannot run to it in honour of his accomplishment. You can’t walk to it. You can’t even cycle to it. To me that is a little bit of a national disgrace.
In any event don’t ask me how I got there. Let’s just say I was teleported there and leave it at that. The memorial is a powerful sculpture of the man who gave so much to Canada. Located a short distance from where his Marathon of Hope ended, the memorial commands a stunning view out over Thunder Bay.
As I rode the rest of that day I kept thinking about Terry Fox, especially when I was struggling to get up a hill. This man ran 26 miles every day. A full marathon every day! He ran up and down these same hills. Suddenly my huffing and puffing became somewhat insignificant. What an amazing feat for anyone let alone a guy doing it on one leg.
Later in the ride we stopped for a sandwich. While we were relaxing we saw Bob and Irene riding by. They must be having a good ride I thought as they were ahead of quite a few of the riders. Sandwiches done, we were once again underway. Soon we overtook and passed Bob and Irene.
As we passed I exchanged a few words with Irene and she indicated she was doing well.
We continued on as the road became increasingly hillier. A strong headwind all day long just added to the challenges of a hilly ride. Eventually we arrived in camp just west of Nipigon. Megan and Aussie Greg were already there but the truck was not. Moments later Clarke and Becky arrived followed by Gee and Larry. Clarke indicated that Bob and Irene should be in pretty quick as they had passed them a ways back stopped beside the road having sandwiches. Irene had told them she was feeling really strong and was having a good day. Gee and Larry said they had passed Bob and Irene a short distance back and that they were back on the road riding.
At the same time as these people were arriving we could see emergency vehicles, first OPP then ambulances, racing down the highway. As neither the truck nor any other riders were arriving we started to get increasingly concerned. From a lack of eastbound traffic we started to get the feeling that something bad had happened and that the highway had been closed.
Clarke tried phoning the hospital who referred him to the OPP who referred him to Bud. To make a long story short an OPP constable arrived a short time later and confirmed our worst fears. Bob (age 65) and his wife Irene (age 70) had been struck by a pickup and both had been killed. The highway was closed at the scene to all traffic and Adam, the truck, and the rest of our riders were on the other side. It was unknown how long the road would be closed.
By 6 pm it was starting to get cool as the sun sank lower on the horizon. Without warm clothes (we only had our riding gear with us), tents, or food it became clear we couldn’t wait indefinitely for the truck to arrive. There was a Husky station about a kilometre away so we made our way there. At least we would be warm and would have food. Not long after we ordered, two ladies from Victim Services (I believe from Thunder Bay) arrived to inform us that they had been led on a trail through the bush around the accident scene along with the rest of our riders, who would be arriving soon. The riders had stopped at the truck and had picked up changes of clothing for us. They also advised that the Town of Nipigon was opening up the arena for us to stay in overnight.
Moments later the rest of our riders arrived. It was a pretty tearful reunion. After everyone had eaten we made our way to the arena. A local B&B had rounded up a few mattresses for us, others brought blankets, pillows, etc. It was a restless night for most of us.
In the morning some locals cooked breakfast for us. Adam had arrived finally at about 12:30 with the truck. Bud had caught a flight to Thunder Bay and rented a car to join us. After breakfast we sat around as a group for a while to talk about things. The deaths had hit all of us hard.
About mid-morning many of us decided that we wanted to go ahead with the scheduled ride. Some did not feel like riding. Each of us had to decide what was best for them.
I hadn’t got to know Bob and Irene as well as some of the other people on the tour. With a group our size you tend to get to know some people better than others but I had certainly talked enough with them to get a feel for what a wonderful couple they were. Bob had done the tour in 2009 and this year Irene was doing it with him. Bob was a life long cyclist having ridden competitively in his younger days. We will miss them both and my heart goes out to their kids and grandchildren.
I also have to say that the kindness, compassion, generosity, and assistance of the OPP, Victim Services, and the people of Nipigon really helped us to get through this trying time.
After breakfast those of us riding set off in groups of 2 or 3. I rode with Elaine. Some elected to start halfway. Between Bud and Adam they ferried those wanting to start mid-way to Rossport and those who weren’t riding at all to Terrace Bay.
The ride was quite hilly and there were some great views of Nipigon Bay. There wasn’t a lot along the way. At Gravel River was a store that had some interesting road signs. We also stopped in Rossport at the Serendipity Gardens Cafe for some outstanding blueberry shortcake. Mmm delicious! We arrived in Terrace Bay in late afternoon. It was a good day of riding and was the right decision for me to ride.
After all that had happened along with 2 nights in the dorm in Thunder Bay and one night in the arena in Nipigon it was somewhat comforting to be back in my cozy little tent.
Total distances ridden:
Thunder Bay to Nipigon – 113 km
Nipigon to Terrace By – 107 km