Eganville -- The (almost) legendary Twins fundraising bike ride for Hospice Renfrew, delayed for four days by bad weather until Wednesday, October 6, raised about $20,000 but took its toll on the esteemed member of Provincial Parliament from Renfrew County.
On the return lap of the 40-km route, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 20s, the taller half of the Twins, Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski, found himself light-headed and dehydrated in Augsburg and was ordered to finish the route by vehicle. That left the ‘short and portly one’, Gerald Tracey, to wobble his way to the finish line.
The morning dawned cool and clear for the small but determined group who gathered at the Legion Field at 10 a.m. to share strategies and determine for once and for all, where exactly the turns on the route were.
“I don’t have that clamp thing on my bike,” Yak says, showing off his complex knowledge of bicycle components.
“It’s for your water bottle,” someone volunteers.
“I’ll make do without it!”
Several others were concerned about air pressure and a tire gauge was produced and it was decided after a series of complicated calculations that there wasn’t enough air in Yak’s tires.
“Not enough air around Yak! That’ll be the day!”, announced the short and portly one, wearing a professionally padded biking ensemble borrowed from Chris Hinsperger, over his Twins tee shirt. “And you’re wearing the wrong shirt!”, pointing at Yak’s 2020 orange sponsor garb.
“You said the one we wore last year. That’s this one.”
“Wrong shirt! We have full-colour pictures from last year to prove it.”
“Never mind! We haven’t got all day.” Ever the consummate politician, Yak stays on message. “I have work to do. Let’s go!”
After some pell-mell circling of the splash pad, the five riders, ranging in age from 64 to 78, ride off madly, eventually settling into formation on Hwy. 512 heading along Sand Road to Silver Lake Road with Yak behind (Dr.) Mike O’Grady who easily sets the pace. We pass what used to be called the Grattan dump, the landscape serene under the cloudless blue sky.
At the ‘tin church’, a decision has to be made. It seems Gerald has been reluctant to share his mapping of the route which forces Yak to wait up for a consultation. The MPP, in the lead, is impatient to charge on ahead.
Meanwhile, Gerald is leaning against a stop sign in Augsburg.
“If Yak wants to race, that’s fine, but I’m taking my time. This one is harder than last year. Zig, where is my water bottle? My tongue is hanging on the pavement.”
“A professional would have a bottle of water strapped to his bike,” Yak scoffs.
The team from Hospice Renfrew arrives at this break point to take some photos and to thank the participants for their pledges and contributions.
“We appreciate this so much,” says Hospice Director Marjory Joly. “We need donations as our ongoing funding is simply not enough to meet the great need.”
The six-bed hospice was the first rural residential hospice in Ontario and accepted its first patient in 2008. The operational funding has an annual budget of over $1.2 million much of which has to be raised annually by events such as Hike for Hospice, various golf tournaments, the Valley Heritage Radio telethon, personal and memorial contributions, and events such as the Twins Ride.
After photos are taken, the Hospice Team departs. Gerald finally reveals to the MPP that the route will continue on Silver Lake Road to Zadow Road. Yak leaps aboard his bike and heads westward followed by Alison (Bimm) Collins and her spouse John.
A rooster at Stephanie Keon’s house crows enthusiastically. At Firefly Meadows, where a sign announces fresh brown eggs, a pair of horses look up curiously from their pasture. The road winds past several little cemeteries -- scenic rural spots such as Salem Evangelical Missionary and Zion Lutheran.
Yak is forging well ahead, his orange shirt visible in the distance at the top of the next rise. Gerald is finding it tough going and he dismounts his bike and walks it to the top of the hillock.
He is having technical trouble with his gears. Or maybe that’s just an excuse…
“When I want to go fast, it goes slow,” he says.
He’s obviously not ready for the famed Tour de Bonnechere up the Foymount mountain, although the oldest participant in the ride, Jim Fulcher, admits he has pedalled up that imposing hill. Gerald remounts, finds his stride and pedals vigorously off again.
On Zadow Road the tour raises a pair of ruffed grouse and a blue heron which unfolds itself out of the reeds and cattails amidst the clever weavings of beavers, intent on damming up the wetland. On foot or on a bicycle, one notices so much more than we ever see as we speed along our country roads.
Time and time again, people in palliative care mention the consolation of nature in their final days. It is as if the greater world is reassuring them that ‘to everything, there is a season’.
At Hospice Renfrew, large windows look out over serene gardens, home to birds and other wildlife. Deer occasionally visit. A vital component of Hospice care is the home-like and companionable atmosphere. Here the aroma of freshly-baked muffins fills the kitchen and social area. Families and friends gather to chat and visit, able to relax as experienced Hospice staff take over caregiving. With an aging population, the need for Hospice beds -- and for more funding -- increases each year. The Twins and their fundraising efforts are sorely needed.
At the corner of Zadow Road and Ruby Road, there’s a confab. Yak wants to know who surveyed and planned out this route.
“You said there were no hills,” he says to Gerald. “Some road surveyor you are. I wouldn’t hire you to run a waterline.”
Gerald is undeterred by the complaint.
“If it’s tough going, you’ll lobby harder at Queen’s Park for better funding,” he retorts. “That’s the only way you get to stop doing this ride every year.”
A furniture delivery truck pauses to make the turn.
“Stop” someone yells. “Yak needs
Yak shrugs off this insult and wants to push on but cannot find his sunglasses which he claims are worth more than his bicycle. A search ensues and finally Gerald spots them draped over a handlebar.
“You’re not much of a road surveyor but I guess you could run a lost and found,” Yak concedes.
The autumn oranges of the landscape seem to mourn the loss of Indigenous children as do the orange shirts, flags and signs that we see all along the roads as we approach Pikwakanagan and turn right past the museum and the Band Administration Office. Further along, Gerald urges his bike up another hill. Yak is nursing a sore arm and the bicycle authorities in the group point out his handlebars are misaligned with the seat. Discomforts aside, they are headed homeward now and both Twins summon their last reserves of energy. They stop at the corner by the ‘tin church’ to consult on the final lap. Here it is determined that Yak’s sudden light-headedness and exhaustion is the result of not drinking enough liquids during the ride. He is given Gatorade and ordered to ride in the support vehicle back to the Legion Field, leaving the short and portly Twin to wobble his way back via a series of flat parking lot shortcuts, by the St. James schoolyard where he is greeted by enthusiastic shouts of “It’s Lilly’s grandpa on a bicycle”.
At the Legion field, rivalries forgotten, the Twins congratulate themselves and the other riders and marvel at the battery revealed to be on the e-bike pedalled by John Collins.
“I wondered how you were so tireless going up those hills” one slightly envious participant said. “Wonderful invention!”
The big winner of course is Hospice Renfrew and the local populace it serves. If you would like to show support for their efforts, the Twins are still gratefully accepting donations by cash or cheque which can be dropped off at the Eganville Leader. As of press time, the MPP has fully recovered and promises to speak to his boss about increased funding.
Anything to avoid a third Twins outing next year!
Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader