Day 11: Mississauga to Hamilton

The same as every other day on this trip, we were up early for breakfast and to pack the van to get out on the road. Unlike every other day though, today felt like the focus was much more on the festivities ahead of us than the kilometres on the bike that Andrew needed to churn out – or maybe that was just for me who didn’t need to put foot to pedal and ride over 50kms in the elements.

Our starting point was a pancake breakfast in Mississauga, where everything was a sea of red, white and maple syrup, making it a very appropriate beginning to our Canada Day celebrations. MP Stella Ambler hosted the event, who after a quick chat invited us to reach out to her if she could ever offer us any help. Her staff was also incredibly accommodating and got Max to the front of a very long line for a pancake. The same couldn’t be said about the face painting line though and it was a sad Max who had to be persuaded to get in the bike without a maple leaf inked on his cheek.

Andrew and Max cruised along the path which was now a smooth trail all the way back to Hamilton – a far and very welcome cry from the rough gravel he’d battled for most of the ride.  Just outside of Burlington – our first scheduled stop for the day – another family dealing with DMD and a number of their friends caught up and joined Team MBR on the road for a while.

I arrived early at Spencer Smith Park, which was to be the location of our first official engagement of the day. We had a few important things on the schedule, not least of which was lunch with Constable Linda Gardner from the Halton Police. Linda had been one of the very first people to learn about Max’s Big Ride and approach us to see how she could help. Since then she had attended our media launch with gifts for Max, hosted a fantastic fundraising BBQ for us with the Halton Police where Max and his cousin got to ride around a mini township in battery operated cars, and today she had arranged for the delivery of a delicious lunch to feed our hungry team and welcome us ‘almost’ home. We have met some incredibly special people on this journey, and Linda stands out as one of the most genuine and truly wonderful of the lot. We even had the pleasure of meeting her beautiful family, which I consider a true honour.

Linda and I staked out the park and chose what we thought was the best spot for Andrew and Max to be greeted by the waiting media. CHCH TV had been following Andrew en route for much of the morning and they wanted to film his grand arrival into Burlington. I was tracking his travels on Find My Friends, sending multiple texts and calling him to make sure we were on the same page and that he would ride in along the footpath by the road, and not the pedestrian only path down by the lake. So as we all waited, cameras pointed along the footpath and me excitedly announcing to the crowd, ‘about 2 more minutes everyone!’ I looked at my phone to see Find My Friends revealing the unfortunate truth that Andrew was fast approaching along the lakefront path. Not the first time that this had happened, but the first time with a big audience. With the uncomfortable feeling that I was not cut out to be a bicycle tour manager, I gave the crowd the awkward update and sprinted down towards the lake, waving at Andrew so he knew where to turn the bike and head up the hill. Not our finest moment.

Clumsy entry aside, we spent an exciting few hours with a growing crowd of friends, family, media and supporters in Burlington. We met MP Eleanor McMahon, a huge bicycle safety advocate and another supporter of Max’s Big Ride. Her and her staff had ordered MBR t-shirts (in red and white – perfect for Canada Day) and there was some good conversation about how she’d like to support us in any way she can. Andrew and Kendra from Urkai, who had ridden down on another cargo bike, also joined us, and Max was very happy to spend the afternoon playing with their son. Some of the team from Jesse’s Journey had also arrived, and even Max’s school principal had come down to say hello!

Andrew had been invited to speak on stage at 2pm as part of the Canada Day festivities, but at 12.45pm, as Max was playing in the park and Andrew was chatting casually to friends, the call came that we were needed on stage immediately. It was a mad rush to make it in time, and despite having had no time to prepare what he wanted to say Andrew made a terrific speech. When it was over, Max was also handed the microphone and asked if he had anything he wanted to say. Once again we all held our breath, and then sighed with relief when our cute kid said in a big clear voice, ‘Um, I had fun’. So proud.

At around 4.30pm, the time had come for the cargo bike to embark on the final leg of its 600km journey. A small crew of co-riders had gathered to join Andrew and Max for the last stretch, and we waved them off as they pedaled away with the strange sense that this was possibly the last time we’d ever do this now very familiar routine. We then headed into Hamilton where we’d see them again in around 2 hours time.

We knew the organizers of the Canada Day celebrations at Bayfront Park in Hamilton were greeting us at the finish line, but we had no idea exactly what they had in store for us. It was an awesome surprise to learn that they had arranged for some Hamilton Ti-Cats cheerleaders to be there, the presentation of a donation cheque from principal sponsors RBC, a gift basket from the City of Hamilton, and a big sign with the words, ‘Max’s Big Ride Finish Line’ printed across it which even had Velcro in the middle so they could ride right through it – so cool! The finish line was at the entrance to the park, exactly where the crowds were due to arrive for the evening’s festivities. As their arrival time drew nearer, it was thrilling to see so many of our friends and neighbours arriving to welcome us home with signs they’d made, many of them wearing their MBR tees.  A number of Max’s school friends and teachers had also made the trip down to greet us, which was going to be a super exciting vision for Max at the end of his big day.

At 6.30pm, following some rousing announcements over the PA system and the arrival of a fire engine in front of a huge and excited crowd, we were all primed for the final big entrance of Max and Andrew on the Bakfiets. The crowd cheered as a cargo bike rolled by in the wrong direction and those who knew us cried out, ‘it’s not them!’ Another man and child in a Bakfiets cargo bike just happened to be passing by at that exact moment, I kid you not. So after some laughter and then a few more minutes of waiting, the real heroes came into view with their mini peloton of riders following close behind. For the last time on this adventure, we heard the sirens of the fire engine blare as Andrew and Max rode into the thick of the action and rolled across the actual finish line.

600kms pedaled, $50,000 raised for research into DMD, countless people made aware of a terrible disease that they’d never heard of before, and one very happy and tired family. There was lots of hugging and so many people to talk to and to thank – both for coming down and for all of their support along the way. Perhaps most meaningful of all was meeting and talking to the other families who had come down and who were also dealing with DMD in their lives. Beautiful kids who were older than Max and all struggling with the terrible effects of this monstrous disease. We’ve always maintained that the ride was done for all of us, so to see them there at the finish line meant so much. We also received a framed photograph of John Davidson, the founder of Jesse’s Journey and father of Jesse, presented to us by John Davidson himself.

After eating a big celebration cake and saying our final goodbyes, we packed up the van for the very last time and drove home. Parting ways with Grandma and Grandpa after such an epic journey together was yet another emotional moment. They are two of the most supportive, loving and capable people I’ve ever met and we were so lucky and grateful to have their company and assistance for the duration of the trek.

So with the big ride over, we now have some time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and to think about how we might build on the success of this amazing adventure next year. We all consider it a success because of the money raised, the awareness gained and the fantastic people we met, but the fact remains that no cure has been found so we have no real choice but to keep going. A treatment for which Max is eligible is due to be approved in Canada in the very near future – the first ever treatment for DMD – and instead of being excited I’m filled with fear that it won’t be approved for funding by the Ontario government. So although I was alarmed to see Andrew researching a potential path for next year’s ride the day after he’d finished on the bike, I was also reassured to know that I have a husband and a family that will do whatever we can to fight for the life of our little boy. So with that… until next year!

Day 10: Scarborough to Mississauga

After the exhausting demands of yesterday, what we all wanted – and needed – was a sleep in this morning. The media had other plans however, so at 5.30am the alarms went off and it was all hands on deck to get both Andrew and Max out the door and on the road for an early morning radio interview in Toronto.

The interview was with Indie88, and this time Max would be joining Andrew in the studio and making his radio debut – a nervous prospect for the whole family as we wondered what gems our 4 year old would decide to thrill the DJs with today. Thankfully they caught him at a mature moment and he talked about the trucks and deer he’d seen en route, rather than randomly throwing in references to ‘toots’ or ‘butts’ which all kids his age seem to find so hilarious. Big sighs of relief all round.

The riders and the support team congregated in Toronto after the interview. It was still only 9.30am and our next engagement wasn’t until 3pm at Andrew’s at workplace at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), just 28kms away. With time to kill, we headed out to Port Credit and met up again for coffee, a play in the park, burritos, and lots and lots of waiting. Andrew had company on this portion of today’s ride – a fellow employee and bike enthusiast from UTM – and we were also joined by one of Max’s classmates, Max CB, and his mum, Kelly. The weather wasn’t great and it felt like a very long day, but at least ‘Max S’ had some company his own age for the afternoon.

Finally, the time came to head up to the university. Everybody was feeling a little drained, but the second we entered the campus we were greeted by UTM Campus Police who advised us we’d be escorted into the main reception area with sirens and flashing lights. Our spirits immediately lifted. We formed a convoy behind the police vehicle and were led to yet another incredible scene. Hundreds of people were gathered around an enormous ice cream truck that had been brought in especially for Max – every kid’s dream! Staff, students, friends and masses of children from university camp were holding dozens of posters and chanting ‘go Max, go Max’ as an emotional Andrew cycled our boy into the centre of it all. There were speeches and an interview, and most memorable for me was the opportunity to meet some of Andrew’s colleagues that I’ve heard so much about over the last year. He has thoroughly enjoyed working at UTM and has formed some strong relationships during his time there, and judging by the effort that had been made to organize this greeting, it was obvious that his coworkers think he’s okay too. We chatted with the Vice President of the University, Professor Deep Saini, who had also come out to welcome us and tell us he thought we were dealing with a difficult situation very well. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the excitement and fun happening around us, but comments like that are a sobering reminder of the reason we’re on this adventure in the first place, and we’d all swap the sirens, cheers, posters and ice cream for a Max without DMD in the blink of an eye.

As the festivities were wrapping up, our weary crew packed up and shipped out to our hotel. We were staying at Homewood Suites for our final night on the road, and they made sure that it was an unforgettable experience. We were greeted by the hotel mascot, Lewis the Duck, who gave gifts and hugs to Max who is still the just the right age to get a real kick out of a person dressed up in a huge, fluffy duck outfit. He loved it! There was also a card in our room signed by all the staff at the hotel, and an enormous gift basket filled with tasty morsels and thoughtful items for us all to enjoy. We were continually being amazed by the number of people thanking us for choosing them, when we honestly couldn’t be more grateful for everything that has been done along the way to make us feel special.

Tomorrow was going to be our final day on the road – a strange feeling for all of us to think that it was all coming to an end after such an intense 10 days. We got an early night because tomorrow’s Canada Day finish was looking to be the biggest day yet.

Day 9: Uxbridge to Pickering / Scarborough

Today we were expecting a quiet exit from Uxbridge and a smooth ride into Pickering. We got neither.

As we pulled the bike from the van, we noticed an excited individual with a look of incredulity on his face approaching from the left of the parking lot. “Is it really you? Are you these guys?” he asked, pointing to the Indie88 logo on his sunglasses. He was referring to our billboard win that was sponsored and heavily promoted by Toronto radio station, Indie88. We confirmed that it was indeed us, and he started guffawing and shaking his head in amazement. He was a staunch Indie88 fan and had listened to the station throughout the billboard competition, and had even voted for us to win. We bonded over what a great radio station it is, discussed our favourite DJs, took a few photos and then said our goodbyes before Andrew and Max set off on their ninth day.

Uxbridge is a lovely little town surrounded by gorgeous scenery. Tree lined roads, beautifully tended farms and undulating hills as far as the eye can see. Sadly, today was the first day that the Trans Canada Trail deviated from an old rail line, and instead took the Bakfiets through the hilly landscape and deeply rutted paddocks of the surrounding farmlands. An exhausted Andrew pushed on through the rough terrain, which after a couple of hours unfortunately exited into a major construction site. Although signage declared the road open at one end, by the time he’d advanced a few kilometers it was clear that it should have been closed. They crossed a half-built bridge and ended up on a muddy road suitable for excavators, not a cargo bike. Andrew pushed the bike to our lunch spot (also set up on the construction site) and we got some food into the boys before they tried to make up time on the second leg of the day.

Things definitely improved, and some members of the Pickering Fire Service joined them on bikes to guide them in for the last part of their journey.  Moments before the group reached their destination, they came across a fallen tree completely blocking their path. Thankfully the big, strong firemen were able to lift Max and the cargo bike over the tree so they could ride out the last few hundred meters of the day.

The guys from the Fire Service were an awesome bunch. They’d brought t-shirts for Max, Andrew and even ME, and a very substantial donation to our ride. Some of them were wearing muscular dystrophy t-shirts, a demonstration of the fact that MD is the charity of choice for fire departments across Canada. They do loads to raise funds and awareness to support the cause and are also really knowledgeable about the condition. Everybody loves a fireman, but I have to say that now I love them just a little bit more. Before this ride I had no idea about the enormous community aspect to the jobs of police officers, fire fighters and paramedics, but so far all three groups had joined us and made our journey just that little bit more fantastic.

Our second last day was looming and with that came lots of media and additional demands on Andrew’s time. He made the decision to ride about 15 extra kilometers to take some of the pressure off tomorrow morning. This meant that he didn’t finish up until about 7.45pm and when he arrived at the hotel, it was the first time I’d seen him looking really tired. He got a relatively early night, but we could all feel the pressure building as we approached the big city and the end of the big ride. Our energy levels were starting to flag, but not for Max. He was still at his best and having a great old time as the rest of us strategized and organized the remaining couple of days.