The Growling Beaver Brevet, one of Canada’s most celebrated Parkinson’s rides, was hosted in support of Parkinson Canada this year. That partnership was new for the event, and so was the 2020 virtual ride context but what didn’t change is the magic around the ride… something that putting cycling and Parkinson’s together always seems to engender.
Now in its sixth year, the Growling Beaver went virtual this year with co-founder and host Evan Siddall leading a small group of friends on the traditional route in Collingwood, Ontario on Saturday, October 3. Siddall, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015, reflected on the importance of the ride and its community.
What follows are the hosts own thoughts on the importance of the ride, shared in a post from Mariposa Bicycles’ blog before the ride: “Cycling: It doesn’t get any easier, you just go….slower.”
That’s not Greg LeMond’s famous quote — about going faster, but it might be even more true. I fought it for a long time. I used to be a pretty strong cyclist and I lamented my slowing down. I took for granted the innocence of just getting on a bike and hammering a PR out every few weeks, getting stronger and stronger. The loss ate away at me, like an ageing older man trapped in his past glory.
And like any kind of suffering, I was valuing the wrong things about myself.
If I think about how I used to ride, it’s hard. My deteriorating motor skills are now undeniable, if still mercifully subtle. Every time I get on the bike, I know it’s just a matter of time until my left leg gives up. Dystonia, a symptom common to people with early-onset Parkinson’s, is an involuntary flexion of muscles (without cramping). It feels weird and uncomfortable, like restless leg syndrome — and is treated with the same drug.
My smooth, even pedal stroke is long gone; now, I have to concentrate on my left leg to make sure I’m pedalling in circles. Long rides now require pre-planning, like races used to: lots of sleep, good nourishment and a careful medication regime.
The gift of Parkinson’s is the daily reminder that today is precious, since tomorrow will be ever so slightly worse. So if I think about cycling differently, I can feel strong instead of weak. I feel lucky: grateful still to be riding. Every year, I know I face the challenge of a gruelling Growling Beaver day — a day that I wouldn’t miss, a day that never fails to leave me grateful and smiling. And it’s kept me active and riding. It is keeping me healthy — even as my mobility leaks ever so slowly away. As Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”
Freed from the gritty intensity of training, it is no longer important to log 8,000-9,000 kms per year. Instead, I now notice the rush of wind in my face, the morning’s glow of a ride at sunrise, the cooling sweat on my arms, the tightening in my legs as a welcome, familiar burn sets in. It reminds me I’m fully alive and I have many more rides to do. I now ride more slowly, and I see more.
The Growling Beaver has reminded me of the beauty of cycling, the timeless simplicity of the machine, of self-propulsion, and the childish innocence of a bike ride. The Growling Beaver has reconnected me to the feeling of freedom when as a boy I rode away from my father’s steadying hand and the bike stayed upright under my own power, a rite of passage.
The Growling Beaver has come full circle for me: it’s now therapeutic for me, not only philanthropic. Our event has kept me riding and connected to a group of dear friends. The ride has a certain magic, almost like it has its own heartbeat. We marvel each year at the energy of the event, the goodness in humanity that seems to find its way to greet us again on those gravel roads and at the brewery where we all gather.
It started so simply, with a few friends who wanted to share a love of cycling and do some good. And that ethos is why we have kept it going, even if it’s virtual this year.
Love cycling, be good to others, and … “Live well today.”
This year’s ride raised more than $200,000 from 246 registered participants (the most ever) who logged miles on their own as part of the do-it-yourself ride – you can learn more about the staggering five year fundraising success of this ride in the 2020 Snap Shot shared with participants. In keeping with the ride’s goal of helping people to Live well today (inspired by fellow cyclist Davis Phinney and his Foundation) proceeds will be directed to fund a new app to develop personalized care and help Canadians with Parkinson’s navigate their diagnosis. Details on the 200 person pilot are coming soon, though we are excited to share some preliminary details.
The primary goal of the app is to motivate people diagnosed with Parkinson’s to actively engage with their diagnosis and to take proactive steps to inform themselves on opportunities to live well, while taking and tracking active steps to meet that goal.
Specifically the tool will offer:
- Individual health coaching
- Community building through forums
- Personalized Dashboard for Parkinson’s info, symptom and overall health tracking (including integration with wearable and other health focus technology) and a medical calendar
- An information library with personalized suggestions re Parkinson’s and overall health management
- Integration with family members and health care team
Parkinson Canada believes this app will help improve health outcomes for Canadians with Parkinson’s and supporters of the Growling Beaver have made it happen.
Learn more about the ride in its 2020 virtual launch video: