Day Six: The Riders

Today has arrived. I’m here in St. John’s to welcome the Tour du Canada riders as they climb Signal Hill and complete their cross-country trip to the tune of 7600 kilometres. These cyclists are my heroes.

I’m sitting in the Bagel Café, a few blocks from the start of the climb. I have my lawn chair and my feet are ready to go. I’ll talk to you at the top, or earlier if I’m pooped.

***

At the top! Complete with a pounding heart. It’s so humbling to be far less fit than I was two months ago … oh well. It’s still a fine life.

I’m pretty sure that Webster, when he was doing research for his dictionary, found the definition of “steep” on Signal Hill. An old gentleman, not from the tour, was riding his bicycle up the 10 to 15% grades. Later I saw him descend and I tried to warm him with applause. He didn’t acknowledge me at all. Once I was settled beside the ancient tower at the very top, I glanced over to the parking lot and saw him again. My goodness – he was doing laps!

On my way up, I passed lots of folks walking down. I decided to say the same dumb thing to each one of them: “You’re not even breathing hard!” Most of them smiled. That’s the thing about people new to me: they’ve never heard my silly lines before.

A few minutes after plunking my lawn chair down out of the wind, I see two more bicycles crest the parking lot. And these ones have the telltale TdC reflective triangles under the seats! I hurry down the path to the smiles and handshakes of Tony and Chris. So glorious to see them again. Neither has words yet for what the tour has meant to them. That’ll come.

Jim from Colorado is the next rider to top the hill. I head out into the wind with my hood up and sidle up to him. “Nice day to finish riding across the country.” “Yes it is, Bruce.” So much for surprising him. We stood on top of the tower and talked about the journey and about how very much Jim longs to be back with his wife Margaret. A little smile.

An hour later, there’s a whole string of cyclists climbing the hill. As they reach the top and dismount, the world is full of smiles and hugs and handshakes. I join in. “So happy to see you.”

The wind whips letters off a poster that family have created. “Congratulations, Carolyn” becomes “Con ratulatio s, arolyn.” A great family portrait ensues.

Then there’s Paul’s crew, all the way from Nanaimo, B.C. Large orange signs laud the achievements of “Paul/dad”. Three women are beaming at the man.

Soon it’s time for the group portrait. Nineteen cyclists, Bud our tour director and Grant our truck driver pose in front of the tower. I look on from afar, bittersweetness filling my mouth. Congratulations, my friends. May your monumental achievement touch the rest of your lives. I was part of your family for awhile. In fact, I’ll be part of your family forever.

Tonight’s the Tour du Canada banquet. I’m going. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Sleep tight.

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