Cycle of Hope tours Lower Similkameen

The ALS Cycle of Hope pedalled into Keremeos on August 15 as part of the group’s 650 kilometre pedal through the interior of B.C

Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer (center) generously treated members of the ALS Cycle of Hope bicycle tour to lunch as the group spent a day in the Lower SImilkameen on August 15.

Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer (center) generously treated members of the ALS Cycle of Hope bicycle tour to lunch as the group spent a day in the Lower SImilkameen on August 15.

The ALS Cycle of Hope pedalled into Keremeos on Wednesday, August 15 on the final legs of the cycling group’s 650 kilometre pedal through the interior of B.C.

The six women began their cycle in Kamloops on August 8, making their way through the Okanagan with stops in Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and Osoyoos prior to arriving in Keremeos.

This is the inaugural run for the ALS Cycle of Hope. The team – which consists of six women from the Victoria area – and the idea for the ride began with team member Cindy Lister, who lost her father to ALS last fall after a three year battle.

“I was so full of sadness at the time, trying to deal with my father’s death, when I was asked, ‘What are you going to do with all that grief?’ That’s when the idea took hold.”

Lister began recruiting fellow cyclists who learned of ALS through Cindy’s experience. They acquired a coach and began to plan the ride.

“The main goal of the Cycle of Hope is to raise awareness of the disease and try to explain to people what complex support is needed to care for people afflicted with the disease,” she said.

The team’s intitial fundraising goal is a modest one initially  – they hope to raise $5,000.  With the positive response they have received through their journey, however, plans have already begun to make the ride an annual event.

“It would be by invitation only,” Lister explained, “we are thinking of expanding the ridership to 20 or 30 cyclists, and we are thinking of maintaining a similar format to this year’s, in order to make it something that can be done in a week or so, and be sustainable.”

This year’s intial ride was designed to symbolize the nature of the disease. It begins with relatively little elevation changes, becoming more challenging as the ride advances. The last day’s ride – through the Coast Mountains – will be the toughest.

“It’s similar to the way the disease progressses,” Lister explained, “getting progressively worse right up to the end.”

Lister’s mother, Solange Grenier, accompanied the riders in a support van. She spoke of the final years of her husband, Marcel, and his struggle with ALS.

“It started intially as weakness in his right arm,” she recalled. “Over the course of the next five months doctors performed a series of tests, eventually determining it to be ALS.”

Grenier said that the symptoms were few and mild at first, but Marcel’s condition worsened considerably last year. Eventually confined to a wheelchair, Marcel had to have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach as swallowing became difficult. With increasing immobility, he fell victim to pneumonia, and on  October 17 of 2011 he succumbed to the disease and complications arising from it.

“The last six months were difficult,” Grenier recalled tearfully, noting that Marcel wished to be at home towards the end.

Both Grenier and Lister spoke of the particular stresses family of ALS victims are forced to bear. Often the only solution for them is home care, and watching a loved one succumb to the disease can not only be painful emotionally, but extremely taxing physically.

“Each day is more of a challenge,” Grenier said, “you ask, ‘how do others handle this?’ There was nothing we could do  – it created a strong need to have a support group.”

The ALS Cycle of  Hope has also been about communicating.

“It’s been really neat throughout this tour –  at every place we stop, and along the highway, we have made random but meaningful connections,” Lister said.

The ALS Cycle of Hope spent the day in the Cawston – Keremeos area, touring a couple of local wineries and enjoying a Similkameen summer afternoon on the river. They end their journey in Hope on August 18.