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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Thursday, December 8, 2022
Healing Cycle: A two-wheeled personal journey in aid of palliative care
A small crew of volunteers and supporters gather to celebrate the completion of Santa for Palliative Care’s (aka Tim Taylor) month-long, 700-kilometre ride in support of theNiagara-on-the-Lake Palliative Care Service. From left around the semi-circle: John Roynon, William Roberts, Pat Balasiuk, Trish Anthony, Patty Garriock, Bill Garriock, Terry Mactaggart, Ron Balasiuk, Sandy Sampano and Lou Sguigna. Kathy Taylor, centre. And Santa and Bonnie Bagnulo, in front. Supplied

My original idea was to cycle around Prince Edward Island on the new Island Walk Trail, 700 kilometres of panoramic beauty along the backroads and inlets of our smallest province.

For the 10th year in a row, I was joining hundreds of other Ontario cyclists raising money in support of palliative care services around the province.

It’s called the Healing Cycle.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake peloton (a French word for concentrated group of cyclists) is called The Pedal Pushers and we were planning a short one-day ride around Old Town, gathering pledges to back their kilometres.

A few riders, dotted around the province, opted to use the entire month of September, typically riding much longer distances in their own communities or elsewhere, to demonstrate and collect on their support for palliative care.

I chose the month-long option.

Ten years ago, my sister Terry Mactaggart, then program co-ordinator of our local palliative care service, asked me to join with a few sometime cyclists to raise money to strengthen the services of their volunteer organization.

The idea tugged at my heart. Just a few years earlier, my father and our family had been supported by palliative care specialists, during his last days.

The first year was a modest effort, gathering a few thousand dollars largely from friends, family and a few community businesses.

The work of these volunteers (now 45 strong) is important.

The objective is simple: “We believe that the ending of a life deserves the same amount of attention, care and nurturing that the beginning of life does.”

The team provides care, support, education, equipment and companionship to the residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illnesses.

The Healing Cycle Foundation is a provincial organization. It supports participating palliative care organizations across Ontario by providing event and fundraising infrastructure and inspiration.

Its website declares: “The Healing Cycle Foundation funds and empowers the hospice palliative care community and champions the right of all Canadians to dignity, compassion and quality in end-of-life care.”

The work of both organizations is inspiring.

Over the last decade Niagara riders have participated in many ways — provincewide in-person rides, community single day rides and virtual longer distance rides around the countryside.

In 2021, I set as my September goal, riding virtually to Quebec City, a distance of just over 1,000 kilometres.

After each local ride, I tracked the distance against the Google bike route to the Quebec capital, reaching the Chateau Frontenac on the last day of the month.

That year, for the first time, I adopted the Santa for Palliative Care persona, dressed in red cycling gear from head to foot. The get-up became a recognized brand to many local drivers on the backroads of the region, honking horns in recognition of the effort.

Santa for Palliative Care was born some years earlier as another way to support the organization during the Christmas season. Santa makes appearances at gatherings of all kinds, in return for a charitable contribution to the local palliative care service.

This year, I planned to double-down, riding the actual trail in PEI, with my wife Kathy as my sag-wagon (backup support), cycling most mornings, becoming tourists in the afternoon.

It just wasn’t to be.

September became quite crowded. After planning and booking all our rest stops and lobster dinners, it became clear that the month was filling up with must-do events — family weddings, anniversaries and so on.

But we were determined to make it to the east coast for at least the final three days of the month to ride the last portion of the trail back into Charlottetown.

So, once again, you could find me most days, pedalling an average of some 50 kilometres daily, trying not to be bored, looking for new routes to keep me interested, mentally solving life’s challenges along the area’s byways.

Arriving home, after a long soak, I blogged my experiences, the distances, both real and virtual, posting whatever thoughts captured my mind during that day’s ride.

I had no idea what to expect from the rustic PEI trail, so I needed to make sure I got up to 600 (of the 700) kilometres completed around home, before we headed east. In total I rode 38 hours or so around Niagara.

As the days flew by, everything began to add up — the donations, the kilometres and the excitement to complete the effort on the ground in Charlottetown.

Once again, it wasn’t to be.

Hurricane Fiona literally shut the door to Prince Edward Island.

Our car was packed, the GPS programmed, the B&Bs booked … an hour before we were set to depart, it all fell through.

We did finish. Late in the month, a small peloton of friends, rode the final few kilometres around town, arriving at the virtual finish line to cheers of palliative care volunteers and donors to the cause. It felt like Charlottetown, but there wasn’t any lobster.

This year the Pedal Pushers, with the help of a matching donation from NOTL developer Rainer Hummel raised more than $50,000.

Well worth the effort.

For more information about Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Palliative Care go to notlpc.com.