Day 55: Ride Away Stigma Group Ride to the Closing Ceremony 50km
Now this is going to be a hard blog post to write. How am I going to capture the best day of my life but here I go…
I had a quiet breakfast by myself to try and calm my nerves. My friend Tova had been organizing all the volunteers in the park and along the route for today. She assured me I had nothing to worry about and it was all running smoothly. I was stunned by how many people offered their help for today. I kept telling myself that it was all going to work out. I had been planning this event for so long and tried to be proactive about anything that could possibly go wrong.
I went upstairs to say goodbye to my friends and give them another hug before not seeing them until closer to the end of the ride. I was really grateful this morning to have a 10km ride by myself. It was a great way to calm all my nerves and also prepare for the day. I headed to the meeting spot in Guelph to be there an hour early as some cyclists were going to be starting around then to ensure being back in the park for the speeches. As I cycled along I kept an eye out for other cyclists or cars with bikes, as I knew it could possibly be one of my friends who was joining me. Sure enough I saw an SUV with a bike on top and as it passed me I saw someone wave out the window. My excitement started building! I got to the meeting spot in Guelph and was astounded by everyone who came out. There were about 7 people who left in the first group of cyclists and then as it got closer to the meeting time there were another 30 or so people who were going to cycle in with me. I definitely did not think there would be that many cyclists coming all the way to Guelph. Some of whom I did not even know. It was so great seeing familiar faces and getting to meet new people who just believed in what I was doing and wanted to show support.
As we cycled out it felt funny to be the one leading the pack. I kept thinking why is everyone behind me I’m sure they can go faster than me. But I also felt great at how much faster I had become since my departure in July. We were flying along the route and way over 25km/h. I became worried thinking that I was getting carried away and people would be falling behind. I kept checking to make sure we were all still together. It was amazing looking back and seeing such a huge group of people cycling with me to support a cause that is so important! It was great having an opportunity to cycle with everyone and having time to catch up with the people who were there. We also had lots of people meet us along the route too. Our group kept getting bigger and bigger. Once we got half way we stopped at a bakery to get water and a snack. Mainly for me to get a snack. I think only one other person got a baked good. This is a bakery that I have cycled to so many times for my training rides and knew each turn and each hill that was going to be coming up for the rest of the ride. I started to feel overwhelmed knowing how close we were to the park. I think I was also overwhelmed as for majority of the summer I have cycled by myself or with one other person and now there were so many people and the number kept growing.
I was trying to multitask on my bike while riding, as I didn’t want everyone to have to stop as each time I stopped. But this did not work out so well and I dropped a screw from my Go Pro camera on the ground. Everyone stopped and was looking for it. I was starting to feel the pressure of everyone being there for me and getting worried that we would be running late if we stopped too long. Just as I started to give up and walk back to my bike someone yelled that it was found. I was relived but tried moving quickly as everyone was waiting. I always unclip with my right leg and have it on the ground, however, this time for some reason I was unclipped in with my left leg on the ground. I was in between a lot of people so tried looking out to see if it was safe to start. Just at the moment a pickup truck came flying by and startled me. I went to lean back on my right leg as I always do but forgot I was clipped in and went crashing down on the ground. I was so embarrassed falling in front of over 30 people. I got up as quickly as I could and cycled away without saying anything. At that point I was feeling so flustered and just wanted everything to go smoothly, however, I heard a noise on my bike and had to get everyone to stop again. When I fell I landed on my bike rack and broke one part on it. My friend came over to check it and we thought it would be fine for the rest of the ride so we carried on.
At that point my feelings of being overwhelmed kept growing stronger and stronger. I usually can calm myself down but I had so many people around and everyone wanted to be supportive so they wanted to chat with me. I was trying to push the feelings aside so I could carry on conversations but it was getting worse and worse. Then up ahead I saw a Ride Away Stigma jersey. There are only a couple people who have this jersey and I knew right away who it was. It was my cycling coach and friend Mandy! This was the most perfect timing for her to cycle up to us. She joined along and through talking to her I was able to begin to calm my nerves. Well that was until we hit Waterdown and someone yelled for me to stop because little parts of the rack were falling off. It is funny because I had told one of my friends who is a bike mechanic that I wanted him on the ride because I was worried something on my bike was going to fall a part. Luckily we did not have to do any repairs there and I just put the pieces in my pocket. I was very flustered and just as I swore out loud I looked up to see one of the chair members of the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton. It was not the best timing on my part but I think he understand what was going on. We all began to cycle in through Waterdown.
When we cycled past one of the parks in Waterdown there was a huge group of people waiting on their bicycles to join us. I screamed over to them to say hello and thank them for coming. I did not want to stop the entire group again. We then went down the awesome hills through the tress to get up towards Snake Road. At the bridge there was a group of people cheering. I spotted a few of my friends and jumped off my bike to say hello and to thank them for helping organizing the day with the signs and making sure the cyclists were not getting lost. I also saw Dr. Brasch who I later found out had recruited a bunch of her neighbours to be there to welcome us and cheer us on. It felt so special. We continued down the road where two more of my friends were standing to make sure everyone made the sharp turn. Due to the turn I wasn’t able to stop again as it probably would have caused an accident. Mandy was still cycling beside me as we approached my Dad’s grave. We were almost past it when I shouted to her to turn right with me. It was a very last minute decision. I did not know if I wanted to ask everyone to stop again but I knew I would regret not stopping there. Everyone waited on the road as Mandy and I cycled to my Dad’s stone. As soon as I had turned in I had tears pouring down my face. I think part of it was that I was having alone time and was able to let out all my overwhelming feelings of how the day was going and for what was about to happen. And of course the main part was how loosing my dad was the inspiration for what started this whole ride. I miss him so much and know if he was around we would be doing crazy adventures together but I do feel like he has been with me the whole time. When we got up to the grave I hugged Mandy and cried. I starting getting flashbacks of all the times I had been there before including when he was buried but this time I felt different. I was no longer yearning for him to be around rather I was feeling stronger and at peace with him being gone. I took a photo to capture this moment to remember how much I have grown from this experience. As we cycled out of the graveyard I was feeling so strong and empowered it was a magical experience. Everyone waited there quietly until we got back up to the front.
Once we got closer into Dundas I noticed three people waiting by the dog park on their bikes and realized one was my mom. I yelled for her to get on her bike and get ready to cycle. We also told everyone behind to slow down to make sure my mom had time to get ready. It was so exciting to have my mom cycle beside me. She looked like she was glowing it was so great to see. We cycled into the Garden Gallery together. I was worried thinking that they would be upset having so many cyclists in their parking lot but I was greeted by one of the staff members with flowers sharing how much they care about the cause. I really just overwhelmed by how much the community was coming together. It was so amazing! I then spotted my brother and one of my sisters and my sister-in-law. I gave them the biggest hugs and told them I wanted them to cycle right beside me. The police came over to me to explain how the escort was going to work into the Driving Park. There were so many police vehicles and a truck from the fire department. I started looking around to see all the people and was gaining more and more excitement. So many people had come out.
Just as we began to cycle out my brother’s chain fell off. I thought to myself there was no way I was cycling into the park with him and delayed us moving as long as I could. The only problem was that we were already on the road and the police only let me stay there for so long. They turned on the sirens as I think a sign to start moving I slowly cycled and we all began to chant “Mark Mark”. I was so happy when he caught back up and the three of us rode through Dundas together.
As we got to the entrance of the park they began turning on all the sirens to make a lot of noise and let everyone know we were coming in. At the edge of the park I saw the parents of one of my childhood best friends, Helen and Harvey. This made me so happy to see them and calmed my nerves, as I was getting nervous thinking about who would be there. I then saw one of the social workers from the office I did my internship with, waving as big as she could. My excitement was growing out of control. I could not see initially how many people were in the park as the police cars were blocking my view but as they started to pass, I saw the street lined with people. There were signs welcoming me home and so many people cheering. I could not believe it. I waved and smiled to everyone just feeling so so happy. I then started to panic thinking about not knowing where to stop. Do I stop in the middle? At the end? Do I do a loop? Then I saw another childhood best friend’s parents and I cycled right into Tova’s Dad. I don’t even know if I used my breaks or used him as breaks. I started balling as soon as he hugged me. I was so overwhelmed with the powerful energy that was in the park. So many people approached me to give me hugs and show their support. My other sister came up to me right away and gave me a huge hug. As I started walking off the road Helene gave me the phone to quickly say hello to Jessi.
I thought it was really special how it worked out with where I stopped and the people I saw. On the day of my Dad passing I was with the Morgenstern’s who were the first people I stopped to greet. My friend Jessi was away at summer camp and could not come home but her mom Helene was there and made sure to get her on the phone. It was like I was reliving the experience but it a new way. Kind of like I was finally having the opportunity to close the chapter of my life with me being in control. I had always felt that the suddenness my dad’s death and me being so young made it feel like the chapter just all of sudden ended and I never got to do anything for him. Now I was able to and it is a way of letting him go. He will always be with me but now in a different way as I am ready to move to that next step.
I don’t even know how to explain the power of presence of everyone there and all the speeches. It was unbelievable how many people came out to support the cause. After the speeches lot of people came over to me to show support, share their story or memories they had of my dad or of me as a kid. It was challenging trying to have enough time for everyone and I really wish I could have extended the day to be able to chat with everyone. I am beyond grateful for all the support Ride Away Stigma has received. It motivates me to know that I need to continue riding away the stigma of mental health and encourages me to know that there is such a huge community of support out there. Mental health awareness is gaining so much momentum right now and I believe we are going to become a supportive society where we understand that mental illness are not a choice and rather it is an illness just like any physical illness.
I don’t know how or what my next step will be but I know through this campaign I have created a path that I will continue on, as it is my passion, drive and purpose. I will always continue fighting for those that are fighting their battles in silence and help them know they are not alone. This may be the end of this chapter of Ride Away Stigma but really it is just the beginning.