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!