That big breath of air felt right across Vancouver Island is from the 23 riders in the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock wrapping up the final stages of their 1,000-kilometre odyssey.
Only they don’t know if it’s a sigh of relief or one of grief.
“It’s going by so fast,” said Chris Bush, a media rider representing Black Press and the Nanaimo News Bulletin. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a sigh of relief or sad that it’s over. We’re having fun.”
The tour reaches the Capital Region, visiting Oak Bay and Sidney Thursday (Oct. 6) and finishes Friday with a ride through Esquimalt to Saanich and into Victoria.
Starting at the tip of the Island Sept. 24, the riders have visited close to 30 communities, making friends and collecting donations and raising awareness for childhood cancer research and Camp Goodtimes, a summer recreation program that provides a unique summer experience for children and teens – and their families – dealing with cancer.
The tour rolled into Nanaimo Sunday with the riders receiving a warm welcome at a fundraising community dinner at Beban Park. The event raised close to $11,000.
Monday’s itinerary included a stop at Nanaimo North Town Centre for a series of presentations.
Bush, fellow Harbour City rider Const. Sandi Holman, of Nanaimo RCMP, and the rest of the team were greeted by about 50 cheering people.
Donations to the tour included: Gray and Philip families, $1,500; Scotiabank, $1,400; Nanaimo North Town Centre, $1,255; and additional donations, $444.
From there the riders cruised through the city to Diana Krall Plaza downtown, where a large crowd gathered to salute their arrival.
The riders and support crew spent roughly 90 minutes fuelling up on lunch, shaving a few heads, acknowledging sponsors and accepting more donations from the community including a pair of $2,000 cheques from Thrifty Foods’ Brooks Landing and Port Place stores.
Keith Evans underestimated the generosity of Nanaimo residents at Diana Krall Plaza, and it cost him his 40-year-old moustache.
Evans volunteered to get his head shaved to help raise money and while in the chair, gave the crowd an opportunity to have his beloved ‘stache shaved for $100.
A few $5 bills appeared, then a $20, then another. Within a minute Evans had a new look.
“I didn’t think they’d do it. I didn’t think they’d come up with that kind of money,” grinned Evans while watching his former moustache get swept up into a bin. “I feel kind of naked right now.”
Bush said the riders continue to feel strong despite the many challenges of the route. Riding into Nanaimo Sunday provided a few special moments for him personally.
“That was pretty cool – a lot of people out,” he said. “Somebody yelled at me, ‘Welcome home Chris.’ … It’s a pretty good feeling.”
Canadian Forces Cpl. Mary Brigham said it’s been hard to absorb a lot of what has happened because the riders keep moving, always headed toward the next event.
“Once I’m home I’ll be able to reflect on this adventure, see all the pictures and the people we met,” she said. “That’s when it will really sink in.
“I’m getting a little nervous. The riding isn’t that difficult, but I can feel the emotions really starting to surface as we get closer to the finish.”
Louise Hartland, CTV’s media rider, said physically she’s a little stiff and most of the riders have a bit of a cold, but the emotional part is the most challenging.
“But I’m feeling good. Earlier I looked at a map and saw how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go, and it reminded me how impressive this team of people is,” she said.
Hartland, 32, is riding for her father, John, who was diagnosed with colon cancer – now Stage 4 – in 2009.
“This was my chance to raise awareness for the kids and for my dad,” she said.
From Nanaimo, the Tour de Rock headed south to Ladysmith, where the riders took part in a Red Serge community dinner, and Chemainus, where they spent the night.
From the neighbouring community of North Oyster, Bush received a big welcome in Ladysmith and finally had his head shaved for the cause.
“People dropped a $1,000 to see me get buzzed,” he said. “That was totally unexpected. I kept hearing these numbers going up, but I didn’t realize it was all for my hair to come off.”