Early in 2011, at the coffee bar she manages in Lethbridge, Ria Pickering was talking to a customer. He was telling her about the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, and looking for people to donate to his ride. As he described the event, a two-day ride through Southern Alberta’s foothills, Pickering, then 59, thought “I’d like to do that.” She went home and registered before bed. “I awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking, ‘Ria, what have you done?’”
Sponsor Ria Pickering and her team, and read her poem reflecting on the ride, Ode to Bugger Hill.
“I hadn’t been on a bike for longer than 10 minutes in years,” she says. “I didn’t even own a bike.” It was the middle of winter and she started training at the gym. She joined a team, the Old Spokes, and started raising money. Together, they raised more than $53,000. (This year, younger riders have joined and the team is now the New Spokes.) Once the weather turned, she joined her Calgary-based team occasionally on training rides outside. “I had to learn how to use my gears, and tackle the bigger hills,” she says.
The June ride was transformative for Pickering. She had been through some significant life events in the previous years, and she took her approaching 60th birthday – and the milestone ride – as possible turning points. She hoped she could finish the ride.
“At the beginning I got caught in a knot of riders and lost my team,” she says. Intimidated by the throng (2,280 riders registered in 2011), the unseasonably cold, wet weather and the prospect of long hills, she wondered what she’d gotten herself into. “But after I climbed that first hill, I thought, ‘Bring it on,’” she says. That night, in her tent, she reflected on the first 100 kilometres. She knew she’d be able to make it and that she’d reached the turning point she was looking for.