Day 9: University of Ottawa to Parliament Hill

The final day of the ride was here, and with it was all the anticipation and excitement (and a little bit of anxiety) about what the day would bring. 

The night was again a sleepless affair due to our darling daughter's antics, and not at all due to the excellent hospitality we had at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Kanata. It was the perfect set up for our family, but Isla's routine was so out of whack that there's no way she was going to give us a night without her presence. That aside, we were up bright and early to meet the staff of the hotel in the lobby. They had a surprise for us and we were excited to see what it was. 

Everybody gathered together, and we all went outside to check out the bike and the car and to chat about how the past week had gone down. The staff then presented us with a pouch filled with cash they'd raised through a. bake sale / BBQ fundraiser - a massive $1300!! I seriously want to get the lowdown on how they made such a huge amount of money... there must be an pretty epic baker in their midst! To have such immense support from a business is truly unbelievable, and it gives our family an incredible boost to have our efforts recognized in this way. It's nice to know that our story is touching people, and whether it's a $5 donation on the side of the road, or a huge contribution like this, every single person who reaches out to help is making a difference - to our cause and our spirits.

After checking out of the hotel, we made our way to the University of Ottawa. The Faculty of Medicine, specifically the Centre for Neuromuscular Disease, had organized a reception to welcome us to the city and to make a presentation about the research activity in their department, and the advances they are making in the field of clinical trials which will help to speed up the process for patients who need faster access to treatments - a need we are keenly aware of. Andrew made a speech to the gathering of people, which I think hit the mark in terms of what our role was - to give a face, and the experience of a family, to the researchers who beaver away in the lab but who have no direct contact with the patients who benefit from their work. He said that on the ride, about 50 kms outside of Kingston, he saw a young boy riding a BMX bike. This simple thing is something he himself had done when he was a boy, but something that Max doesn't know the pleasure of doing because of Duchenne. For us, the ride is about trying to give Max the opportunity to have normal childhood experiences that this disease is already robbing him of, and it's the scientists and researchers who give us the hope that it might one day happen. 

The people we chatted to after the presentations were sincere when they said they are doing their absolute best to find the answer, and their frustration at how slow the scientific process is was also very real. I told them that it's wonderful for us to be able to tell Max that there are some very smart scientists who are working every day to find a way to fix his weak muscles, and after speaking to the staff at uOttawa, I feel reassured that I'm not just making this up as a way to make Max feel optimistic about his future. We all want the same thing. 

At 11 am it was time to get back on the bike for the final 7 km ride to Parliament Hill. We pulled Max away from the terrific fun he was having on the auditorium microphone and in the lab with a group of students who helped him to do some real scientific experiments whilst wearing his real lab coat, glasses and gloves (possibly the most fun he'd had over the last 9 days). It was about 30 degrees and very humid, so we were all happy the 600 km journey was just a short distance away from its completion point. 

Grandma, Grandpa and I took an Uber to the Hill, while Andrew, Max and of course Isla rode into the city. When we got there, the three of us walked up the Hill greet them at the steps of Parliament House, and on the way I spotted Andrew and the kids on the bike in the distance, waiting just around the corner so he could ride in right at noon. It was an emotional sight for me. The long ride had just about come to an end. Not just 600 kms, but 1800 kms over three years - a distance that represents a huge commitment for not just Andrew who powers the bike, but for our whole family. We don't get paid for the time we're away on the ride, we cover all expenses along the way ourselves (with a LOT of help from Grandma and Grandpa), and much of our spare time and energy is consumed thinking of ways to make the ride a success and in carrying out those ideas. It's a labour of love, but it's labour no less, and nobody bears the burden of this more than my husband who is the driving force behind it all, and upon whose shoulders the success of the ride ultimately rests.  It's a huge undertaking and I hope he knows how proud of him we all are. And there in the bike, looking excited and small and cute and nervous in his bright yellow t-shirt was my Max. He was peeking out from under the sunshade, and who knows what was going through his little mind while they waited there for the grand finale of this years ride, but I think he is just starting to understand that it's all for him and for his weak muscles, and I'm pretty sure that at this point he's happy it's all happening. 

At 12 o'clock sharp, the cargo bike came into view at the top of the hill. A group of Andrew's colleagues, who were in Ottawa for a conference, had gathered in their MBR t-shirts with a huge welcome sign, along with a group of MPs organized by the ever-supportive Karina Gould, and some family friends, and everybody began the now familiar chant of "go Max go!" as they pulled up to the finish line. Another ride was over! 

After some interviews with the media, and congratulatory chats with friends and Members of Parliament, we retreated to the shade where the kids could play on the relatively cool grass and Andrew could finally take a breather and begin to take stock of how MBR 2017 had gone down. On the last day of the ride our fundraising total had reached about $25,000 - a massive achievement in our third year and something that we all feel very proud of. 

At the end of the day I asked Max how he felt as the bike reached the finished line. He told me he felt happy, and a little bit embarrassed at the 'go Max go' chant, but his smile told me that he'd do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, he wants to do it 11 more times - a figure he'd upped from nine more times from the previous day. Who knows how many more there'll be, but I'm pretty sure we'll see you again in 2018...

Day 8: Smiths Falls to the University of Ottawa

Our day was kicked off with yet another hotel breakfast. We're absolutely grateful for them, but after a week on the road we're wise to the fact that someone out there is making a fortune supplying regional Ontario with the the provisions for millions of continental breakfasts.

We unpacked the bike for the second last time, and Andrew and the kids took off for the 55 km ride to our lunch spot in Stittsville. It was a hot day today, so we lingered in our hotel car park applying sunscreen and making sure everyone had lots of water. We had been chatting to a family there who gave us a generous donation before we left - something which gives us a huge boost every time it happens. So if you're reading this, thank you to the proprietor of 'Bin There Dump That'. You have a great business name and a great big heart! 

Both previous rides had passed through the little town of Stittsville, so the park where we had lunch was very familiar, as was the journalist who met us there for an interview and a photo. When we get here we know that Ottawa isn't too far away, so the excitement for our little crew was definitely building. Andrew continued on by himself after lunch, while the rest of us hit up a nearby splashpad for some relief from the heat. Max is a total water baby, so he charged in without hesitation, but sadly our red-cheeked toddler wasn't so keen, so she sat hot and bothered in the shade, missing out on the cool relief of the water. We have some work to do with her before summer really hits. 

When the heat became too much, we headed to our hotel for the night - the Holiday Inn in Kanata who had really embraced the role of MBR sponsor. They gave us two gorgeous suites for the night, and presented us with gift baskets to enjoy in our rooms as well as a letter for Max which acknowledged his bravery for embarking on such a huge trip. Just wonderful. Andrew had ridden all the way to the University of Ottawa - a total of 95 kms - no easy feat in 30+ degree weather. Our dinner and cold beer (and cider for Grandma) tasted especially good tonight. The ride was basically complete, and all that was left was our arrival in Ottawa. Here's hoping for a good day! 

Day 7: Seeleys Bay to Smiths Falls

We have been very lucky with accommodation this year, getting most places fully, or partially covered by some very generous hotels. Our place in Kingston was no different and we were treated to a really nice stay at the Courtyard Marriott which even served good coffee with breakfast. High five! Despite very comfortable beds, Isla graced us with her presence at 2.30 am today - a new record - so it was a bleary-eyed Andrew who set off for Seeleys Bay to complete his ride to Smiths Falls alone. 

He made great time and was able to get in some rest before the rest of us descended upon him. And we all had great adventures while he pumped out the miles! 

Grandma, me and the kids spent the morning in Kingston, (a really lovely town), checking out the lakefront, some playgrounds, and Murney Tower - a Martello (small fort) built in 1846. Max was pretty impressed with the cannons, and Isla tried to steal a cannonball. Then in the afternoon, while Andrew napped, everybody ventured out into Smiths Falls for even more excitement. A boat was making its way up the Rideau Canal, so we saw a swing bridge in action, followed by a hand-operated lock - firsts for us Aussies. Then across the road there was a pow wow in full swing, so we got to witness some music, dancing and real wolf and bear skins for sale. Max made a subtle play for a tomahawk, but thankfully I was able to distract him with the feathered costumes of the dancers. 

After dinner we all headed to Dairy Queen for a pre-bed treat. This ride was founded on the idea of ice-cream stops, and aside from Day 1 and the Ice Cream Ride, we hadn't had any! Tonight Isla had her first ice-cream cone. After last nights burger, I'm not feeling too proud of the food I'm feeding my baby on this ride. Now that it's almost over, I'm thinking about how nice it will be to get home to my kitchen again. 

Day 6: Napanee to Seeleys Bay

No 4 am wake up call this morning. Today our little princess thought that 3.30 am seemed like a nicer time to rise and shine. Thankfully she also decided that daddy's chest was a nice place to get some rest, so after a bit of fussing she settled into a deep sleep next to Andrew until after 8 am. Luxurious! 

Max is a live wire during the day, but when he sleeps, he SLEEPS! This is a wonderful thing when there's a screaming lunatic raising hell in the early hours in close proximity to his head. If he does wake, it's briefly, and it's to suggest that maybe his sister needs to be closer to him so that he can pat her head, or something equally as sweet. People ask me all the time if they get along, and they really do. Max is often a lifesaver when I need help with Isla. She adores him and finds his hijinks hilarious (even when the rest of us could do with some peace and quiet). 

After a sleep in and some breakfast, Andrew and the kids set off for Kingston where we were to meet for lunch. Both kids have absolutely loved their time in the bike this year. Last year was so hot that we couldn't safely put Max out there for very long, but this year has been much better and both Max and Isla have joined him for long periods every day. We have a sun shade and a rain cover, so as long as we slather them in sunscreen, they're good to go. Aside from Max's DMD which does hold him back, he's an extremely resilient little guy with energy to burn. 

After lunch, Andrew planned to push on alone to the final destination for the day, Brewers Mills, but it was a warm and windless day - perfect conditions to get some extra kilometers out of the way. He ended up riding to Seeleys Bay making his ride for the day a total of 96 kms. He would have been happier to have reached the century, but Grandpa caught up with him before he could reach this milestone. 

Back in the hotel, we all had dinner together before hitting the hay. Organizing food is a never-ending job on this trip, and Grandpa and Grandma are absolute champions at keeping us fed and supplied with cold drinks. They have it down to a fine art and there is always something at hand to satisfy everyone. Tonight however was dinner at Harveys, and I can report that Isla had her first junior burger with tomato and ketchup. Proud parenting moment...or not! 

Day 5: Trenton to Napanee

Another 4am wake up call today. Not the greatest way to begin the day, but looking on the bright side, we don't have to set an alarm to make sure we're up in time to eat the hotel breakfasts. 

As we approach the half way point of the ride we are nearing Tweed territory, so today was bookended by visits from friends we met on the very first Max's Big Ride. Will Austin, a Tweed local who we met on year one and who rode with Andrew on year two came out in the morning to say g'day and see the riders off, and this evening we were paid a visit by the amazing Chris and Tristan Lindsay who hosted us for a magnificent dinner after a hard day in 2015 (we still talk about those burgers!) and, most memorably, orchestrated our unforgettable arrival into Tweed two years ago. It was great to see them all, and a definite shame that we only get to catch up once a year in relatively rushed circumstances. 

Today's ride was an easy one (Andrew's words, not mine). There was no headwind and it was blue skies all the way, so even though it's warming up he sailed into Napanee ahead of schedule and even squeezed in a nap before dinner. We're about to hit the hay again, and our fingers are very tightly crossed that all that fresh air is wearing Isla out and tomorrow she'll sleep so late we'll miss breakfast. 

Day 4: Cobourg to Trenton

There was another reason to pull the highlighter out today... we had a police escort out of town! Andrew, Max and Isla, along with a couple of lovely, local riders who were joining them for the first part of the day were at the head of the convoy, followed by the cop car, followed by me, followed by the van with Grandma and Grandpa at the helm, followed by about 25 cars who were forced to drive at about 15km/hr until the police car turned off. Sorry people! I had the music blaring, my flashers on, and not a care in the world as we departed Cobourg in the bright sunshine, for the small town of Trenton which was about 60km down the road. 

The media coverage we are getting on MBR #3 is great. Andrew had done a radio interview that morning before we left, we were on the front page of the Northumberland Today newspaper, we'd had donations along the roadside from people who had seen our appearance on Breakfast Television, and our story was the headline item on the local news as I drove out of town that day. All still very much a thrill, even after three years of TV, newspaper and radio coverage (not to mention the billboards!). 

The day ended peacefully in Trenton, and we headed back to our hotel in Belleville for dinner and yet another early night. With 4am starts (thanks to Isla) and busy busy days, there wasn't much left in the tank come 9.30 at night. Zzzzz. 

Day 3: Oshawa to Cobourg

The rainy weather that we'd dodged the last two days finally caught up with us on Day 3. Andrew took both kids on the bike for the morning, but the rain cover was a necessity to protect the precious (and delicate and sensitive to the weather) cargo inside the box. After a long ride in the drizzle, we stopped for a quick damp lunch and transferred Isla over to the car for some quality napping time on the way to Cobourg. Max soldiered on with Andrew as they were meeting some riders on the road and he was excited to see who they were, but neither he nor Andrew had any idea about the surprise they were in for. 

We've seen it in previous years, most memorably in Tweed and in Smiths Falls, where a single person rallies a small town together to give us a huge welcome, and the town of Cobourg has now joined those ranks. Twenty-five kms out of town the boys were joined by a posse of riders who didn't mind braving the cold and rain, who provided company and protection from the brutal headwind for the last part of the day's ride. As the group pulled into town, the sirens blared (every time I choke up!) and they were met with a large gathering of locals under a tent (it was still raining) who were there to cheer them in and present them with gifts and donations and speeches. Max was also given a huge load of Grossery Gang toys - a gesture from the son of one of the riders - which almost blew Max's mind. To this moment he has not stopped talking about them. To see such support from people who have never met us never gets old. It's extremely humbling to have them thank us for what we're doing and recognize the effort that we're going to for our son and for all boys with Duchenne. 

Once the crowd had dissipated, Andrew's wet clothing and the subsequent chill he was feeling encouraged us to get back to the hotel where we caught up with a couple of the guys who had ridden into town with him. One of them, Ian, we had met on last year's ride. He was a super nice, young guy who was touched by our situation and had kept in touch, and this year had gone to a whole lot of trouble to help our cause and to welcome us to Cobourg. He gave Max a real, personalized fireman's helmet, gave Andrew an envelope stuffed full of donations, and perhaps most wonderfully, had brought with him a cooler full of ice cold beers which we all enjoyed in the lobby of our hotel. Exactly what we needed after a long, wet day on the road. 

Day 2: Toronto to Oshawa

Every year, this trip provides our family with highlight after highlight, but one of the biggest highlights so far (think bright yellow ink, underlined and in bold, probably with italics too), was our appearance on Breakfast Television, a live morning TV show shot in Toronto. We had barely slept because Isla isn't yet used to the heady lifestyle of road tripping across Ontario, and we had to be at the studio for 6am, but in our puffy eyed glory we excitedly prepared to wow the early birds of Toronto and beyond with the story of Max's Big Ride. Of course we had coached Max on how one might behave when faced with such a situation, and our expectations for our six year old weren't terribly high - I mean, we weren't hoping for long eloquent responses to any of the questions he might be asked - but we'd mentioned the importance of using a big voice, and asked him to try to cool his jets when the urge to be silly struck. 

Everything was going to plan. Max and Andrew made their way to the couch and Isla and I were asked to wait outside because Isla's voice (okay, her scream) was being picked up by the mikes. The segment began. And then Max saw himself on the monitor. For anyone who hasn't seen the clip, here it is.

 Father and son 600 km bike ride to help conquer Muscular Dystrophy

For those of you who have, you can hope along with us that the overall impression he left was one of a cute and entertaining kiddo and not of an out-of-control terror with low impulse control. W.C. Fields was right when he said you should never work with children or animals. Gah! 

We took off for breakfast after the filming (a birthday breakfast... happy birthday me!) and then headed to the starting point for the day. As we were getting the bike ready, a group of teachers and students from White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School were exiting the hotel and they spotted the Max's Big Ride signs on our car. One of the students travelling with them had Duchenne. They were on a 3-day trip from Sault Ste Marie to Toronto to see a Jack Johnson gig and to go to Canada's Wonderland and it was wonderful to see a grade 11 student with DMD along for the journey. He was in a manual wheelchair, but he was obviously an important part of the group. 

Day 2 of the ride went smoothly. It was cool but there was no rain, and our lunch of fish and chips in Pickering helped to warm everybody up. Isla and I stopped with Grandma and Grandpa at a conservation area and had fun chasing chipmunks, geese, wild turkeys and a blind raccoon while we waited for the boys on the bike, and at the end of the day we all convened at our hotel in Oshawa for another early night. It was either a very long and tiring day, or I was feeling the year older that I had just turned. 

The Ice Cream Ride + Day 1

Hamilton to Toronto

Over 100 riders gathered to join us on the first ever Ice Cream Ride - and it was amazing! The forecast promised a 90% chance of rain and thunderstorms, so I guess we got exceptionally lucky and squeaked into the 10% window of brilliant sunshine and blue skies. Relief! The riders, who ranged in age bracket from kindergartner to grandparent, took off from Hamilton and arrived in Burlington to a bright red umbrella, grinning volunteers, and coolers chock-full of delicious Rudy's paletas (or popsicles or icy poles or ice lollies or ice blocks, depending on where you live). I treated myself to a pink lemonade and I am still thinking about the intense lemony deliciousness of it... but I digress! After some flavour-packed refreshments, everybody made their way back to Hamilton where some freshly made lunches from Cake + Loaf (Hamilton's best bakery without a doubt) were waiting, along with more Rudy's ice-cream to finish off. The Ice Cream Ride raised almost $7,000 for Duchenne research and based on that alone I think I can call it a resounding success, but even better than that, I'm  pretty sure that everybody involved had a great day.  

We had too at that point, however our day was only half over. Andrew and Max, along with Ryan, Emily, William and Cameron who were riding in their cargo bike for their son William who also has Duchenne, were pushing onto Toronto where they finished up to a waiting television crew from City TV. After an interview, everybody said their goodbyes and it was back to the hotel for a late dinner and an early night. Tomorrow was going to be our live television debut and we needed our beauty sleep!