Amidst the honking horns, yellow cabs and craziness, Noelle Wansbrough felt nothing but bliss as she rode into Times Square with 41 other Lycra-clad cyclists on a sunny September afternoon.
“When you’re inspired, it does a lot for your mentality,” said Wansbrough, a Collingwood cyclist. “It was the most incredible feeling.”
Almost two weeks have passed and Wansbrough still struggles to find the words to describe her experience participating in the second-annual Ride to New York City (R2NYC) for Camp Ooch.
The approximately 800-kilometre journey from downtown Toronto to the heart of New York City was broken down over five 150 to170-km days of riding, culminating with all four teams arriving together in New York City on the fifth day.
Along with the obvious goal of making it to Times Square, the group of riders leveraged the trek to raise money for Camp Ooch, an oncology camp in Muskoka that gives children diagnosed with cancer the chance to enjoy being a kid.
Jesper Wahlberg, the founder of R2NYC and a member of the Collingwood Cycle Club (CCC), approached Wansbrough about the event in the spring.
Wansbrough, an avid cyclist and the president of CCC, had opted not to participate in her usual fundraising ride this year because she felt she may have tapped out friends and family in asking them for funds. But after Wahlberg explained the event, she signed up without a second thought. Bruce Bond, Sean Huycke and Alex Churchill, also members of CCC, would join her.
Wansbrough said it wasn’t hard to get people behind an event that supports such a good cause.
“When I signed up I didn’t even look at the daily kilometres, I assumed it would be 80 to 100, a long but doable ride for me,” Wansbrough said, remembering her ‘oh my’ moment after she learned what she had gotten herself into.
“I ride a lot, but I don’t normally ride those distances,” she continued. “I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to do it.”
Along with the physical commitment, participants had to commit $1,750 of their own money to cover trip expenses, as well as a $5,000 fundraising minimum.
Wansbrough was surprised by how easy it was to collect the funds, and quickly dedicated her summer to readying her body for the trek.
When departure day arrived, Walhberg addressed the four teams — a total of 42 eager cyclists — in front of the Camp Ooch office in Toronto and told them this trip will change them; once you reach Buffalo, the whole experience will be different.
And he was right.
Wansbrough said it only took one day of cycling before she felt like she was part of a family.
“It’s a strange feeling I can’t even describe,” she said. “And the feeling got bigger and bigger every day. Every day I was a little bit more inspired.”
The days were spent cycling down beautiful country roads, through crowded cities and tiny towns. After each full day of riding, the group would meet up for an aprés hour before breaking off into their teams for a delicious dinner.
At the end of every evening the cyclists would gather for a campfire chat. They put a braid around their neck — a Camp Ooch tradition — and would discuss the day’s ‘rose and thorns.’
“They created a sort of camp-like experiences for us,” said Wansbrough. “You really bond with this group of people, you’re with them all day and all night, and then to share the campfire chat… It was like we were participating in a camp of our own.”
Wansbrough praised the flawless coordination of the whole fundraiser, and thinks the purpose was to keep the riders on an adrenaline high the entire time.
“Once you do it, you realize just how much your body can handle,” she said. “But I don’t think I could have done it on my own. You need that power from the experience just to be able to get up every day and ride your bike for that long.”
The first R2NYC happened in 2018 with nine cyclists. Wansbrough hopes to use her connections in the Collingwood cycling community to help the fundraiser grow even bigger next year. She hopes one day to have a CCC team make the trek.
“There was a low moment every day. It seemed to happen for different people at different times, when you doubted your ability to keep going,” said Wansbrough.
“But you have this momentum. I think that’s why they packed our schedule. We never had the opportunity to think about backing out,” she laughed.
Wansbrough said when the adrenaline high crashes, it crashes hard. But she would do the trip again in a heartbeat, and suspects many of her teammates feel the same.
“I’m still tired. It’s probably going to take me a month, coming down from the high, the whole experience. It’s hard to describe on an emotional level. You have to do it to understand.”
“It makes you feel like you’re a kid again, and you’re doing this for kids. It helped us to identify… This is what it feels like to be a kid again. This is what we want to give to these kids who are sick, some of them dying. This is what it’s all for.”