Shaking the COVID doldrums on Essex County’s back roads

I rode my bicycle more in August than in all my previous 58 years. My shiny new bike had only been used a dozen times. It took the “new normal” to get me beyond good intentions.

Disconnected, disappointed over cancelled travel plans and caught in the low-level distress of the pandemic, I felt it was time. I signed on for a month-long challenge, cycling to raise money for children’s cancer research at SickKids Hospital in Toronto. I dedicated my effort to my cousin Scott, who died young after a hard struggle with cancer. I’d have pedalled around the world if it could have saved him that ordeal.

I cycled daily, except for a day to recover from saddle sores and learn how to avoid them!

My initial goals were 300 kilometres and $100 in donations. As I became more fit, more enthused, I upped the numbers. Two-thirds into August, I declared on Facebook that I’d aim to match kilometres to dollars donated. Friends posted encouraging words and some made strategic donations to inspire me to pedal on. These kindnesses stayed with me.

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher said: “In difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart.” Pascal didn’t live through a pandemic, but understood hardship. He suffered frail health his whole life before dying at age 39 of untreatable cancer that started in his stomach and reached his brain.

“Over the weeks I found coins, the key to a Harley, and a working cellphone. I gave the money to SickKids and returned the key and phone to relieved owners.”

On Aug. 19, the 358th anniversary of Pascal’s death, I cycled from Kingsville to Point Pelee. The 60-kilometre round trip was the farthest I’d ever gone. It was a gift to realize I was up for it. Cycling the backroads of our county, I encountered frogs and toads, garter snakes, hundreds of rabbits, a family of wild turkeys, soaring hawks, an imperious American Bald Eagle and two varieties of turtles (box and snapping). I marvelled at bright, cloudless skies and at other times raced to get out of the rain. I learned to take water and snack stops under trees, for the shade. I met friends on the bike trails and paused one afternoon to help search for a stray kitten. No luck with the kitten.

Over the weeks I found coins, the key to a Harley and a working cellphone. I gave the money to SickKids and returned the key and phone to relieved owners.

I marked the last day with a “century ride” (cyclist talk for 100 kilometres) from Kingsville to Cottam, then to Essex, on to Amherstburg, through Harrow, (with a pit stop at my church office) and back home for a celebratory slow cruise around Kingsville.

By the end, I’d traded a bit of belly for stronger legs, raised $1,215, and covered 950 kilometres. I’d also learned a little about the power of holding something beautiful in my heart.

Darrow Woods is the minister at Harrow United Church. He lives in Kingsville.

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