In 1982, the same year the Vancouver Canucks went to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time, a group of seniors also dreamed up the improbable. Few people took them seriously, but they were determined to achieve their goal and wouldn't be dissuaded from the idea of riding their bicycles across Canada. One can speculate whether Terry Fox's remarkable Marathon of Hope in 1980 inspired them, but Allan Buium claims, "the idea got started because of the push for ParticipACTION."
"In May of 1983, 41 senior cyclists set out from Vancouver to ride their bikes all the way across the country to St. John's, Newfoundland," says club member Chris Hodgson. "It took them about three months to complete the trip. The cycle caught everyone's imagination; they received national media coverage, were feted at stop sites with banquets and free camp accommodations and merchants donated items for their trip. Health Canada assigned a team of medics to the group to monitor their health and, by the time they reached the Atlantic, the doctors estimated [the cyclists] had shaved 10 years off their biological clocks!"
Even though the group had formed a charitable society before undertaking that first step, no one thought this would be more than a one-off event. They were wrong. Flush with success from their first ride, in 1984, the Cross Canada Cycle Tour Society took off for their second major tour: a ride around Australia and New Zealand; this time 91 members took part. From there, the group took off and grew to the present day group of about 500 cycling enthusiasts who undertake many rides during the course of the year.
The President of the Society, 69-year-old Allan Buium, notes that the group has grown without any organized attempts at recruitment.
"The only advertising we do at all is to hand out business cards with our logo on them and to have our website up on the Internet," he says. "People are now using the Internet to find us, which is good, but the best way most people find out about the club is face to face. Members make contact with other cyclists in coffee shops, or wherever, and let them know what we are about. The membership is very reasonable at only $30 a year per individual."
Obviously, rides across the country take plenty of time and resources, so the Society started to organize cross-Canada rides approximately every four years, and offer shorter rides for members in the interim. Over time, these evolved into three different types of outings. The first, day rides where a group of cyclists go out for several hours at a time, once or twice a week.
"The Society offers day rides in Ottawa, Victoria and the Lower Mainland," says Chris. "We go out most weeks but not if the weather is terrible. We're not crazy! The Society is very insistent on helmets and the proper rules of the road being followed."
Eighty-year-old Ed Weinstein didn't ride a bicycle until he bought himself one for his 50th birthday. He'd always stayed fit jogging and running.
"I enjoyed cycling immensely right from the word 'go'," says Ed. "I became very keenly involved. It was a physical thing. It is a very different mode of travel. You are more totally immersed in it in every different way."
The second type of outing is the organized tours. Volunteers arrange between 10 and 12 tours a year, and members are eligible to sign up, however, unlike the day rides there are usually a maximum number of participants allowed on each tour. Marion Orser, 70, is planning to join this summer's tour from Quebec City.
"I started cycling in my mid-40s, when my son was a teenager," she says. "He kept talking about cycling, so I decided to try it. I remember reading about the Society's cross-country trip in 1983 and how they didn't think seniors could ride and build muscle, and how the trip proved the experts wrong. The first thing I realized, riding my first secondhand bike, was the sense of freedom I experienced that I could never get from driving a car. You are self-powered. You hear the birds, you see the flowers, you really have to experience it to feel the love of it, to understand the joy you get from it."
The third type of ride the group organizes is what they call Hub and Spoke events. "A cycle meet where we all travel to a central location and then spend a few days cycling around the area from there," Chris explains. "Most days the cyclists have a choice of three rides: one short, one intermediate and one long. The short ride is about 30 to 40 kilometres, the intermediate around 60 kilometres and the long about 70 to 100. These are popular with many members because you can do rides of varying length; they can attract up to 120 cyclists."
The Society does much more than just organize cycling treks. According to Allan, "The Society is involved in advocacy, working with the British Columbia Cycling Coalition, the Vancouver Cycling Coalition and others to get improvements to roads, signage and tunnels. We work with the Minister on shoulders and rumble strips. We are also involved with education of our members regarding safe cycling and we provide workshops on bicycle repairs and other things."
Marion started to advocate heavily about 12 years ago so her grandchildren wouldn't have to. "I helped work towards getting bikes on buses, and SkyTrains, as well as planning cycle paths and routes across the Lower Mainland," she says. "We have put in a lot of work making conditions suitable for cyclists."
One commonality between cyclists is the love of freedom that travelling by bike allows.
"There is just something about the feel of the bike on the road," says Dan McGuire, 67. "It is very different from driving around places. You don't have to have your hand out all the time. No one is waiting for you to tip them."
Chris adds, "It's a physical exercise, which is challenging but rewarding. You could say it's satisfying. You see places you have always wanted to, and see them in a way you never could in a car or a bus, and it's a lot less expensive too." Allan has the final word: "I enjoy the outdoors and the feeling of freedom cycling gives you. You can cover great distances and can see things, the wildlife, the scenery. You can smell the roses if you wish. And it's a good workout."
Each road trip also brings the opportunity to make new friends.
"I've met a lot of wonderful people through cycling," says Marion. "It appeals to all ranges and types of people. Our shared thing is the bike." Dan adds, "Cycling with the club is good for companionship, especially if you get involved with the organization. Some people say it's not a cycling club: it's a social club that cycles."
The Cross Canada Cycle Tour Society is a great example selflessness. No one is involved for monetary gain or to gain advantage over anyone else. The group from that first tour across Canada more than a quarter century ago likely never could have anticipated what was to come from their historic journey. But now, thanks to the ripples that have come from throwing a tiny pebble into the pond, hundreds of active adults of all ages are able to lead a more healthy life, make new friends, discover new roads and vistas, and find joy in working together towards a common goal.
"Everything about the Society is done by volunteers," says Ed. "The planning and organizing is all done by volunteers. It's a great example of cooperative giving in a limited field. It's exemplary. I am very pleased I got involved."
For more information about the Society, or to contact someone in the organization, visit www.cccts.org
SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER - May 2009
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