A picture of me and my fellow rider Paul at our first rest stop on the 2022 ride.

I’ve thought of myself as a “cyclist” for as long as I can remember. First, purely as a practical matter, cycling has always been my preferred way to commute (so much so that during my early years of post-secondary I rode to school straight through the winter1). But as a sport, there’s few things I enjoy more (skiing and hiking come a close second). The Edmonton River Valley, in particular, has long been a playground to me, with gorgeous paved, gravel, and single track trails that seem to go on forever. Countless are the number of falls days I spent with my wheels crunching through leaves on rolling trails, golden sunlight filtering through the branches overhead.

Then, as is apparently inevitable for folks as they enter middle age, in the last few years I found myself getting into long distance cycling across the beautiful open roads of rural Alberta, and in doing so discovered a whole new kind of joy in a sport I thought I already knew so well.

Throughout those years I’d occasionally thought about signing up for an event like Tour Alberta for Cancer, but I was always a bit intimidated. After all, the physical demands of these types of events are significant (though I would discover, in hindsight, that I’d significantly overestimated the difficulty, or rather underestimated my ability to overcome it), and the fundraising is… daunting to say the least.

But a few of years back, while still working at INVIDI, one of my co-workers put together a team and I decided it was finally time to give it a shot. After all, while an event like the Tour might be intimidating, it’s a lot easier when you know there’s other people who are on the journey with you.

Of course, this first year was 2021, and assuming you haven’t just blanked out that year in your memory–and who would blame you if you did?–you’ve probably already figured out that year was a little… odd. As a consequence, our first Tour ride was in fact a virtual one, which… really wasn’t the same. At all.

And so, while 2021 was technically our first Tour, 2022 was our first real Tour.

Now I won’t lie and say it was easy. The ride itself was challenging, though I have to admit it was not as bad as I’d expected. And fundraising was certainly difficult. But in the end I had no regrets and I immediately signed up for the 2023 ride, having found a new and unexpected passion.

The first thing I came to realize is that the months and weeks leading up to the Tour really do seem to go by in a blur. Life itself never stops but through it you must interleave training, group rides, and the fundraising work needed to reach that lofty $2,500 minimum goal to participate in the in-person event.2

These days the ride is structured as a two day event near the end of July, where each day each rider can choose between a ~60km and a ~100km route, broken by a couple of rest stops and a lunch break. For an average rider, that translates to somewhere between 3 and 6 hours in the saddle each day, which is both physically demanding (a typical rider can easily burn upwards of 2500 calories each day) and mentally very challenging.

As with training for something like a marathon, if you’re like me and find yourself woefully out of shape over winter3, you can’t achieve that kind of distance immediately. Rather, it’s important to gradually scale up training, increasing distance and intensity over time. For me, by the beginning of July, this translates to at least 100-120 km on the road per week (usually split into two or three 50-60 km rides), with a least two or three rides in the 80-100 km range, with the goal of building both the physical and mental stamina necessary to complete the event.

Meanwhile, fundraising itself certainly can be a significant effort, though I have to admit in the past I’ve had it pretty easy thanks to generous support from INVIDI. The result is that, while I certainly always did a bit of self-donating to get over the finishing line, it wasn’t as difficult as it might otherwise have been. I wish I could say the same this year!

This is all to say that, yeah, it’s… a lot of work.

But, then the big weekend comes, and you quickly realize that all that hard work was more than worth it. When you’re there, surrounded by so many others who share the same goal, it’s hard not to feel inspired and uplifted. Whether it’s the always-emotional opening ceremonies, where we hear stories from those struggling with cancer or those who finally rang the bell on the other side, or the always deeply moving ghost bike procession dedicated to a previous rider whose life was taken by cancer, or the wonderful volunteers and cheerleaders at the rest stops, or the excited crowds as you roll across the finish line, the whole experience is moving and inspiring and joyful.

And then there’s the ride itself. If you’ve never ridden in a large event like the Tour it’s hard to convey what it’s like: Each morning, lining up to start, feeling the buzz and energy of the riders around you, then getting the signal to go and feeling the crowd move, pick up speed, form little pace groups, moving and communicating like a larger combined organism. If, like me, you’re used to riding by yourself or with one or two other riders, it’s hard to describe how different it feels. It really is incredible.

And if, in the past, you’ve considered participating and thought “nah, I’m not a hard core spandex cyclist, I’d never be able to pull it off,” think again! It’s absolutely incredible and inspiring to see the wide range of ages, body types, and fitness levels on display during the event. Truly anyone can push through and complete the ride if they put their mind to it.

In the end it’s hard to fully put into words my feelings when I think about my participation in the Tour.

Obviously there’s a deep sense of pride in knowing that I’ve been able to encourage others to donate to an important organization like the Alberta Cancer Foundation. There’s a sense of personal investment in the cause, in that cancer is something that’s profoundly affected so many of my family and friends. There’s a feeling of community and connection, knowing that I’m part of an event that so many others are participating in, whether by riding or organizing or volunteering. And at a time when the world can at times feel so divisive, there’s a feeling of optimism in seeing so many different people from different walks of life come together in common cause.

In fact, in the end, maybe that’s the real answer: I ride because participating in something like the Tour reminds me of just how incredible and amazing and inspiring we can be when we work together.

  1. Often in conditions that, looking back on it, were incredibly dangerous. 

  2. Of course, that I’m not working right now makes some of this easier, but it remains true that life (and weather) still happen. 

  3. Yes I have a trainer in my basement. No, I don’t use it nearly as much as I should…