Keremeos residents Linda Pillon and Debbie Vernon completed “Scott’s Ride” for Mitochondria disease on August 5.
The 4,400 kilometre bicycle odyssey from Keremeos to Toronto began on July 4 with Linda’s husband Ray providing vehicle support for the two through the Kicking Horse Pass.
“My hands still haven’t returned to normal yet,” said Linda, alluding to the numerous days spent with hands clenched around the handlebars.
“A sore butt is the biggest thing,” she laughed about the pair’s physical tribulations during the trip, adding that Debbie ended up with calouses on her palms after the month of riding.
Pillon and Vernon put in 12 to 15 hour days in the saddle, making their way through the mountains of B.C. in four days.
“I thought the mountains were going to be so bad,” Pillon said, “but I really enjoyed it.” Having high gears on the bikes helped, she added, “You just put the bike in granny gear and up you go,” she said.
A couple of tunnels in Rogers Pass caused some anxious moments due to poor visibility, but other than that the mountain terrain proved to be easily surmountable.
Ironically, it was the trek across Saskatchewan that caused the Scott’s Ride duo the most difficulty.
“We encountered searing heat, headwinds and heavy rain,” Pillon said of the prairie province. It was neighbouring Manitoba, however, where the pair had their best daily run; 240 kilometres in a single day, from Brandon to Winnipeg.
Even though a portion of the pair’s travelling supplies included camping gear, logistics soon dictated that motel rooms were the best way to keep moving on schedule.
“We only camped for five nights or so,” Pillon said, describing one instance where, packing up after a night in a motel room, her bear repellent accidently discharged.
“We suffered with that for days afterward,” she said, “as it had contacted the tent material, and every time we got the tent out our eyes would burn.”
The two interupted their journey only briefly in Winnipeg, where Pillon stopped overnight to visit family. It was a fortuitous break; at roughly midpoint in the ride, spirits were flagging somewhat.
“It was the high point of the trip, seeing my sister and her family,” Pillon relates, “the visit bolstered our spirits and gave us new drive to finish the ride.”
Around the same time, Pillon experienced swelling in her leg after bruising it with the bicycle pedal. There was a short delay to get checked out at a Winnipeg hosptial.
“I wasn’t sure whether it was a clot or not,” Pillon explained, adding that once back on the bike, other than for a little discomfort, the leg settled down.
Northern Ontario brought with it the steep, undulating topography of the northern Lake Superior shoreline, as well as more harrowing road conditions.
“The shoulders of the road were very narrow in places. Truckers would tend to give us room, but campers and tourist vehicles would pass us with no room,” Pillon recalled. Traffic issues were also a problem in Vernon, where construction made bicycle passage difficult.
Pillon and Vernon discovered a great deal of goodwill and generosity during their journey, from complimentary bike service in Revelstoke and Sarnia, free camping and food in Calgary, to police escorts and state police donations in Michigan.
Flat tires plagued Debbie over the course of the journey – she had 19, compared to Linda’s two.
“Debbie got pretty good at changing tires,” Pillon said, “most of the time it was due to an exploded tire remnant – the steel strands that make up the steel belt.” Their tire puncturing woes diminished with a change to kevlar belted bicycle tires.
Debbie and Linda have raised $3,100 so far for Mitochondria Disease research. Donations can still be made at the Keremeos CIBC bank branch.
The duo placed a wristband on Scott’s grave upon reaching Sarnia – while reflecting on the good times and bad during their years in Southern Ontario.
“It was an exciting once in a lifetime event,” Pillon concludes. Both ladies have become highly motivated bicycle enthusiasts since the journey; Debbie is planning a 250 kilometre endurance ride in Canmore later in the year, and Linda continues riding locally for recreation. She is still pumped from the trek – with husband Ray pointing out Pillon’s loss of at least 10 pounds on the ride.
As for another cross country trek?
“I don’t think so,” she laughed, “I think I’ll stick to rides and cycling events closer to home.”