The day starts in an empty parking lot. A cool breeze blows, and the clouds tease with hints of rain. A deep rumble begins, but rather than rain bringing thunder, it is the sound of riders beginning to arrive. Black leather, shining chrome. The smell of power. Closing his eyes, Cam Penner absorbs the sensations, and takes the hand of the boy who made it happen. Today is Doug’s day. These are his friends arriving.
Doug is Cam’s nine-year-old son, and the motorcyclists and others, friends and strangers, are there for the annual Ride for Doug, which raises money for Muscular Dystrophy Canada. Doug has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder which leaves the body unable to manufacture dystrophin, a protein that shapes muscles and keeps them functioning properly.
The following is Cam’s reflection of Sunday’s Ride for Doug, the sixth since 2007:
Bike after bike arrives. Riders from all points of the compass, harking news of the weather. A drizzle here, a cool breeze there. Nothing that can stop these riders from coming. They are here for Ride For Doug.
Doug is on cloud nine. He wanders from rider to rider with a keen sense of purpose. He remembers who has come before, and welcomes those who have come for the first time. Bikes are admired, and many questions are asked and answered by patient bikers with soft hearts.
And still they arrive. The black and chrome is punctuated by bright flashes of colour. It doesn’t matter what style of bike you ride today. Long sweeping cruisers intermingle with high strung sport bikes, a peppering of dual purpose bikes providing a dirty contrast to the gleam and shine.
Once assembled, the ride is ready to move out. Eighty-eight bikes speak with but a single voice, forming a column of support stronger than any bridge girder, and stretching further than the eye can see. Doug rides up at the front with me. His sister Samantha, on a bike beside him. His mother Allison on a bike behind him. I can feel him taking it in, turning to watch the long snake of bikes travel up and down the undulating road.
This is the point where I am usually moved to tears. This show of support strikes deep to the core. There is nothing in the world that can match such an overwhelming experience.
And it’s not just the riders. To get to this point has been hours and hours of work by a multitude of volunteers. Showing their support with the horsepower of their actions. They are with us on the road — perhaps not on two wheels, but definitely in spirit.
We head through the roads of Langley, Abbotsford, and cross into Mission. The weather is holding, the leather staying dry. Our first stop approaches.
At the BC Hydro Recreation Area by Ruskin Dam the riders are greeted by an enthusiastic team of volunteers. Pointing the way and cheering us on. I can feel Doug’s face beaming behind me. Nearly 100 bikes stream into the lot, and the riders dismount for a stretch. Stories are being shared with friends and strangers alike, and smiles abound.
The volunteer team at the rest stop provides water — enthusiastically delivered to the riders by two boys around Doug’s age. This is not their first Ride For Doug either. These bearers of water have volunteered before, and have taken the spirit of The Ride throughout their year — bearing the flag of Muscular Dystrophy on behalf of Doug.
Another highlight takes place here. Samantha and her grandmother have spent the weekend baking cookies. Riders who are RFD veterans make a beeline for her basket. The smiles grow. Three hundred cookies are consumed faster than the starting grid at a Grand Prix race. It seems Samantha has found her own way to support Doug, and Allison and I feel a swelling of pride as sibling rivalry takes a back seat — at least for today.
Back onto the road we go. Twisting and turning through Mission and some of my favourite streets. The pavement here isn’t as smooth, and the corners are tight and blind. These roads remind me of the challenges that muscular dystrophy families face continually: A bumpy ride through life, never knowing what is around the next bend. Gripping the bars and doing our best to navigate through a never ending series of challenges. But then I hear it — the sound of exhaust echoing off the hills beside the road. The thunder that tells me that I’m not riding alone up here. My loved ones are close, and the community has gathered to ride behind me. We can do this together.
An hour or so later, we pull into the second rest stop. Through a quirk of fate, some of the riders near the back took a shortcut and ended up here first. We arrive to the sight of 50-plus bikes lined up and waiting, their riders just dismounting. We share some laughs, and swap some stories of the road. New friendships are forged in the common experience. Happy volunteers spread water to thirsty riders, and their vibrant excitement (and fluorescent shirts) raise our spirits further. The volunteers are some of Doug’s SEAs from school — joining in the celebration, and showing that they too are on Doug’s team fighting muscular dystrophy.
One more leg of the ride to go. Another mile long rolling demonstration of resolve. “We must beat Muscular Dystrophy.” That is what the engines are saying. “We must beat Muscular Dystrophy.”
My heart is strengthened with each mile. How can we not beat it with support like this? What disease dares to stand a chance in the face of Doug and his biker army?
The miles fall away, and almost too soon we arrive back, the sun greeting us as it pushes away the last of the clouds. But not just the sun. The parking holds another radiant sight. Friends, family, and a host of others greet the returning riders with standing applause. As the bikes roll in, one after another, their engine still singing their song, the riders are treated to a royal arrival. Because they are all heros. Doug’s Heroes.
We move inside to a BBQ. A welcome sight to the hungry riders. Tables fill with more than 300 riders and non-riders alike, and stories are swapped. Bridges are built across cultures, and friendships are established in a common cause. The mosaic of people is as colourful as the bikes parked outside. We have riders, extended family, friends. Nurses and researchers from BC Children’s hospital. Doug’s classmates, teachers, and administration. Local government is represented. We have families in the midst of their own battles with muscular dystrophy, and those who have lost loved ones to the disease.
We celebrate with food, and with door prizes. We recognize the generosity of our volunteers and our sponsors, many of whom actually ride with us. I have the opportunity to share a bit of what it is like for our family, as we are currently involved in a research project to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I think I managed to hold back the tears this year, mostly.
The proceeds of the ride will be used to fund research for a cure to Muscular Dystrophy.
And then, it is back to the parking lot where we started. Doug insists on seeing each bike off, thanking them for their support and for the courage to face another year.
As the engines fade away, their cry can still be heard in the distance. “We must beat Muscular Dystrophy. We must beat Muscular Dystrophy.”