It was the final day of the ride today, and it had come around quickly. Partly because it was a shorter ride than last year - seven days instead of 11 - and partly because so much had happened - and today was no exception.
Thankfully (from Andrew's perspective) there were fewer kilometres to pedal and the weather was much cooler. He and Max got a later start, taking the smoothly paved Lakeshore Blvd all the way from Mississauga into Burlington where they were to be greeted on stage as part of the Canada Day celebrations at Spencer Smith Park at 2pm. Grandma, Grandpa, Isla and I drove in early to get a parking space and once there we set up camp and met up with Constable Linda Gardner who had - ON HER DAY OFF - come to welcome us 'almost' home with a fantastic picnic lunch. She'd thought of every last thing we (and especially Max) could possibly want. Certainly amazing, but not at all surprising as we have come to know that is just the kind of person she is.
She also revealed a special talent for drumming up a crowd of cheerleaders for the cargo bike as it approached. Anyone in the vicinity was invited to join in, so when they rode up to the park there was a cheer squad to greet them - a great welcome to complete the first leg of the day.
Our afternoon in Spencer Smith Park was both a chance to relax, and extremely action packed! There were loads of people to talk to including the owners of Urkai and their son (who Max was extremely excited to see), old family friends, a family from Max's school, supporters of the ride who had brought gifts for Max, and of course, MP Karina Gould who was as friendly and happy to see us as ever. To make things even more exciting, in the middle of everything the skies darkened and there was an enormous downpour! I parked Isla's bassinet under a tree and crossed my fingers that she'd remain dry and happy. She did.
After lunch and lots of chatting, Andrew was called to the stage to make a speech which was a great opportunity to say thank you for all of the support that Burlington had shown us once again. Then before we knew it, it was time to press on to the finish line in Hamilton. Another 600kms had almost come to an end! Andrew and Max set off for Cootes Paradise where we had invited riders from the community to come and join them for the last 4km of the ride. We had no idea how many people would come along, so it was a fantastic surprise for them to see at least 30 bikes gathered for the final stretch to Bayfront Park.
Meanwhile, a crowd was also gathering at the finishing line. There were friends and family, representatives from the Hamilton Fire Department, Jesse's Journey, Max's school, the loyal MBR supporters from Grandma's tai chi class, and lots of people we didn't know who had come especially to see the end of the ride . They were all there, wearing their Max's Big Ride t-shirts just as they had been the year before, and they were all celebrating the completion of the ride. Amazing!
At almost 6pm sharp, the bike rounded the corner and zoomed along the path towards the large crowd. Everyone was chanting "go Max go, go Max go", and I'm pretty sure that Isla was crying with emotion and not because it was her witching hour and she wanted to go home. For the second time in two years, Andrew steered the bike across the finish line to the applause of the gathering, and I for one shouted a great big 'woooo!', happy that another Big Ride had been completed.
So with everything said and done, I think we can call this year's ride another success. We have raised over $100,000 in two years: 75% of that for research and the rest going towards Max's treatment (another massive milestone for us in the last few months). We have increased awareness of DMD. Once again we made headlines in the media all the way from Ottawa back to Hamilton and the number of people aware of our ride and our cause has most definitely grown. We've made some incredible connections. Last year on Canada Day we met Karina Gould, a very warm and approachable young woman who showed an interest in what we were doing. Since then she has been elected to office and has taken our cause all the way to the Prime Minister! On a smaller but no less significant scale for us, we've also met some incredible people from Fire Departments across Ontario. All the way from Parliament Hill to Hamilton we were shown phenomenal support, much of it due to an individual we met in Smiths Falls, Randy Normandin. Like we learned with Christopher Lindsay last year, all it takes is one person to create a meaningful movement and Randy was that person this year. We will always be grateful for everything he did for us. We also met some brilliant women from within the Earl Kitchener school community. A group of formidable mums with a desire to help who coordinated events which raised thousands of dollars for research and significantly boosted the awareness of DMD within our community. Simply fantastic.
When we got home, despite the ride's success, I felt an undeniable sadness. Last year I was so overwhelmed by everything that had happened that I almost forgot the reason behind the ride, but this year the reason weighed heavily on me. We cheered and laughed and had a fantastic adventure, but the boy we put to bed at night has a fatal disease. He's a force to be reckoned with, but he's sick. Thankfully he still has no idea. Multiple times a day he tells me about his dreams for the future: to drive a car, to be a policeman, to race in the Tour de France, to be a daddy. None of these dreams are likely to be realised with his diagnosis, but we continue to do what we do because we have hope - a fact that Andrew reminds me of every time I feel down. Right now Max is healthy, and therefore the game isn't over. We might just win yet...