Sunday, 18 August 2013

Birthday!

I sit here along the wall, pillow cushioning my back. Just observing. The wall reverberates with laughter, voices, and yells of excitement. A few of the young people organized a euchre tournament and at least 36 people-old and young, male and female, new and from-the-beginning - are taking part! My heart swells as I look onto these wonderful people who have, in a way, become my life. They tease me, celebrate with me, encourage me, challenge me ... they have become like family. Our eighth week is finished. We are camped on the beautiful grounds of Kahnawake Survival School on a Mohawk Reservation just inside the Quebec border. Today we say goodbye to a number of cyclists and are welcoming a few new ones for our final stretch into New York City. This past week of riding has been as perfect as you could hope for- favourable winds, cooler temperatures but warm sun, lakeside routes and SO MUCH food! All the weight we may have lost in the first seven weeks has been re-gained this past week as we've travelled through Ontario. As Al has said, we have “eaten our way through Ontario.”

Last night my sweep team- pink- was up so I reported for duty at the specified time of 5:30 to help prep for supper ... but, due to the large numbers of newer riders that started in Grand Rapids and Ancaster on our team, I ended up doing nothing. I stood by the supper line drinking cup of tea after cup of tea looking for something to do - no luck. I finally caved and joined the cue to dish up my dinner. And, true to form, by the time I had finished eating, all the clean up had been finished!

Shortly after peloton (which I skipped- don't tell anyone!) I rolled out my tent footprint, sleeping mat, sheet, and sleeping bag on the concrete under the gear truck and gratefully fell fast asleep. We had been heartily welcomed to camp on the grounds of the NAV Centre- it used to be the facility that trained our air traffic controllers but has now been converted to a hotel. We had a sauna in our shower room! (That pretty much sums up how fantastic our stay there was). The very cool temperatures have been fantastic for sleeping and last night was perhaps the best of them all! Part of me thinks that my great sleep was due to the slight grade of the driveway and the fact that my head was just below my feet ... I awoke with a foggy head and puffy eyes. I think all the blood drained to my head overnight. Can that lead to a good night's sleep? I don't know. Either way, I slept like a log!

I awoke bright and early (5:15) on the morning of my 24th birthday to the sound of suitcases rolling and tents being packed up. Because I was on sweep I should have reported to help set up breakfast at 6:15, but from past experience I knew that non-sweep people would have had breakfast set up by 5:45 so I opted to lay in bed until 6:30 and take my time getting ready for the day, eating a relaxing breakfast and helping to pack up the truck. My official wake-up call came from John who peeked under the trailer to let me know that Alice had bought Nutella for the riders' breakfast in honour of my birthday and that I should get up soon to get some. Not being a huge Nutella fan, this didn't motivate me all that much, but I did eventually pack up and crawl out from under the truck, moving aside stray bikes in the process so I could squeeze out and stand up straight.


I left around 8 with Tim, John, Danita and Amanda for our 105 kilometer ride into Montreal, Quebec. I left having been wished “happy birthday” countless times. My attempts at hiding this knowledge from people were fruitless due to the pink ribbon that my mom had left in the trustworthy hands of Alice with the promise that she was to ensure that I wear it today. All those who were able to read the white scrawling of “birthday girl” pinned to my chest heartily gave me a hug and wished me a happy birthday. How blessed I felt for the entire day! I think that I have been sung to over 10 times today- in at least two languages!
I had been tagged with the spare tire for my birthday. Dan had found a small while tire in an intersection and it is making the rounds through the group. When you find it on your bike you have to ride for the day with it on and then you pass it on to the next unsuspecting cyclist. Thanks Brandon!

Anyway we left on our ride and I felt great! Strong, alert and ready to tackle the ride. After about 20 kilometers the tea and hot chocolate I had drunk during my “relaxing breakfast” decided to super-inflate my bladder and I have never been so relieved to see a Timmy's in my life! I swung out of the pace line, yelled over my should that I'd meet them at the SAG, and made a bee-line to the washroom. Who knew an empty bladder could feel so good!?

At SAG two I had somehow lost my group and began riding with Eric. Together we flew down the road, dodging the plethora of holes, cracks and uneven surfaces along the way. As I was leaning my bike against the road railing a sudden, unanimous chorus of “Happy birthday to you” erupted from the cyclists standing around the water jugs ... I stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do with myself as they sang, my smile reached ear to ear and my heart overflowed. Then the proceeded to sing yet again, “Bonne Fete a toi...” as we had just entered Quebec and the bilingual singing of the song must have seemed appropriate to them. I think our American brothers and sisters must have had some coaching prior to my arrival because they were belting it out with the best of them.

Carrie presented me with my very own cupcake with lit candle to blow out. I can't describe how loved I felt all day long! While the roads alternated quickly from fantastic to crappy in the blink of an eye, the company, interesting French words alongside the road, sun, cool breeze and waterfront biking, made for a fantastic ride. We arrived in camp by 12:30, I showered in a, get this, individual and HOT shower- how's that for a birthday gift!? I then walked over to Timmy's and was treated to some birthday treats.

Supper was followed by multiple birthday cakes and the day was topped off with a hand-made card from my cousin signed by every single family member I possess. To be honest I teared up reading their best wishes. I am humbled by all the love showered on me today. Two chocolates pressed into my hand and a hug by the camp nurse- Bev. A chocolate from Bonita. Dozens of hugs. Bunches of “happy birthdays.”

I am utterly exhausted. I plan to crash under the gear truck again and I hope for another fantastic sleep. Tomorrow we are venturing into downtown Montreal where we have coordinated a celebration at a large church there. I am excited to see what is in store for us. Our buses are planning to stagger their return times so those who want to can wander around the downtown for a while. I am torn whether I will do this or not as I have been to Montreal before.

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