MS Bike, Vancouver Island, Canada.
Us, sporting our MS Bike T-shirts, with Fiona, Miranda and Kate, ready to start!
Background and training
When Neil died in an accident in Canada in January 2015 we had just booked our second campervan road trip of British Columbia for that summer. We cancelled it, but said that we would go back sometime, when we were ready – when the time was right. Last year we decided that we would do the trip in 2017, and booked a small van for a six week trip.
We arranged to be in Vancouver for the presentation of the third mentorship award, in Neil’s name, at the University of British Columbia, and to start our trip in mid-August. The intended route would take us onto Vancouver Island and then north through the Inside Passage (on a 16 hour ferry running between the mainland and islands of the west coast of BC) to Prince Rupert, then north to Stewart (and Hyder just across the border in Alaska), across to the Rockies, and back to Vancouver, catching up with as many of Neil’s friends as we could, on the way.
Having contacted Fee & Bob on “the Island”, with our dates, in the early stages of planning we were surprised in March to get an email from Fiona asking for sponsorship for a cycle ride in aid of MS in Canada, the weekend we were due to be with them! We sponsored her, looked it up, and decided that we would make this our “2017 Bell’s Bothy Challenge”. The information said that it was for all ages, stages, and abilities, but it was not until mid-June that we discovered that the minimum distance we could ride, over the 2 days, was 60km!
Training started in earnest once we knew what was expected of us by way of gradients, distance and general fitness. I had by this stage lost about 2 stone in six months, so that at least was a start! We set our weekly goals, and trained on our heavy electric bikes, with the batteries mounted for extra weight, but without turning them on (where possible). Our final training ride was the weekend before we left. On the Saturday we completed over 40 miles on and off road around Slochd, Carrbridge and Aviemore. It was cold and wet, some of the tracks were rougher than we had been on, (before or since) and we struggled in places with our small wheels, heavy bikes and lack of suspension! At least the following week it would be warmer, the road surfaces better, the bikes more suited to the rides and there would be stops for sustanance at fruit farms, wineries and other places of interest.
Arrival on Vancouver Island, and the Challenge.
When we arrived in our hired camper van, on Vancouver Island, we still had not had confirmation of the bikes we were going to hire – they were promised but we had no idea if they would actually be there for us on the day. They weren’t waiting for us when we arrived the night before the first ride, but thankfully two brand new and free of charge bikes were ready for us on the morning of the first day, courtesy of Will Arnold of Experience Cycling.
We met up with Fiona, her sister Miranda and Kate (another friend of Neil’s from Vancouver Island) on Saturday morning and we are grateful to them (all seen pictured in first photo) for looking after and out for us, on the first morning. The ride took us through a fertile area in the south of the Island where the biggest challenge was not, as I had expected, the hills, but the traffic. We cycled on the main Island Highway, and on narrow roads and gravel entrances to the rest stops, and as the day progressed, the traffic got worse.
Saturday lunch stop – Blue Grouse Winery
A few other stops along the way
But we made the end of the first day, with several purchases of wine from the vinyards – which were transported back to base by the support team – and set off again on the Sunday for the second trip. Although we had thought of doing a longer route the second day, we decided that a total of 60km was quite enough, and if we were to get back in time for the BBQ finale we would be pushed for time. So we set out to enjoy a relaxing second day and got back without hitches.
Sponsorship and thanks!
We set out to raise $500 each for MS in Canada. It was an opportunity for us to put something back into Canada after all the kindness, generosity and support shown by Neil’s friends and colleagues in Vancouver and the officials we came across during the difficult few months after his accident. We also pledged to donate £10 to The Neil Mackenzie Trust for every $100 we raised. Between us the total we donated to MS was $2,600, and the Trust £260, which with some very generous donations for our challenge, direct to the Trust have brought our challenge donation to nearly £800.
Thanks to everyone who has donated to our challenge, and thanks to MS Bike organisers and Will Arnold of Experience Cycling for their help, support, rent free bikes, $100 Shell “gas” voucher and the cycling gear we were awarded for raising the amount we did.
We are fitter and I am sure, healthier, as a result of our challenge, and we will continue cycling on our little electric bikes. We have thought of getting something different. We hired some real mountain bikes in Jasper for a day, recently. Fun, but no good to take in the van on a regular basis. So we think that by looking after the ones we have, perhaps adding some better tyres, suspension and better pedals, we will make more efficient use of them. After all we are getting older and have never been serious cyclists, so we will continue to enjoy using the batteries to get us up the hills, or fight the headwinds!
Bikes safely returned at the end of the Challenge!