The 10th annual Ride to Conquer Cancer, a major fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation, will no longer end in Hope Sunday, Aug. 26.
Thousands of cyclists were meant to cross the finish line in Hope, a community by its very name symbolizing what many of those riding cling to in theirs’ or their loved ones’ battles against cancer. Due to wildfire activity along Highway 7, organizers decided to re-route the second day of the ride to end in Chilliwack instead and are delaying judgment on whether the race can go ahead at all as the region experiences very poor air quality.
“The Mt. Hicks fire that is burning along Highway 7 is not going to be extinguished any time soon and the BC Wildfire Service needed access to the area and would not be able to accommodate the two to three thousand cyclists that will be participating in the ride on Saturday and Sunday,” said Lindsay Carswell, director of the ride at the BC Cancer Foundation. “After getting thoroughly acquainted with the situation at hand, we knew there would be too much risk to participant safety to proceed.”
A final decision on whether the race goes ahead may not come until Friday, but Carswell said if the air quality health index reading is 10 plus, the event will not go ahead. As of Tuesday, Aug. 21, the index reads high risk (10) on a scale of 1 to 10+.
Rain is expected in the forecast as early as Thursday, which is good news for Carswell. Until then organizers are speaking with health professionals at the BC Centre for Disease Control about the risks.
Those who have been training for the ride are generally at a better position to withstand poor air quality, Carswell said, although there will be some people riding who are at greater risk.
“We will absolutely be making it clear that people who are predisposed to challenges with the cardiovascular system or with their heart take extreme caution and consult with their physician before participating in the event,” he said.
The air quality advisory for the Fraser Valley in place on Tuesday, Aug. 21 warns people to avoid ‘strenuous outdoor activities, particularly during mid-afternoon and early evening.’ Those with underlying medical conditions as well as infants and the elderly are most at risk.
As of press time, the finish line of the two-day, 200 plus kilometre ride has been moved to Chilliwack’s Heritage Park, which is also where the cyclists are staying overnight Saturday. Of the 2,400 to 2,500 people signed up for the fundraising ride which raised $8.3 million for B.C. cancer research last year, 15 are from Hope.
“It’s a big bummer for the ride not to be finishing in Hope, I think that’s a big disappointment for a lot of people,” said Tammy Shields, former executive director of AdvantageHOPE and participant in the ride.
“I’m still riding I’m still excited about the event. Obviously disappointed that for this year it’s not going to be able to finish in Hope. But the circumstances are so wildly beyond anyone’s control and safety has to come first.”
For the first nine years, the ride started in Cloverdale and finished in Redmond, Wash. Organizers made the decision to redesign the route through the Lower Mainland this year, starting in Cloverdale and finishing in Hope.
Shields got involved from the time ride organizers started thinking about moving the finish line to Canada. For her, the ride was an opportunity for people from neighbouring communities to experience a town most only know through gas and washroom stops.
“With the ride you’ve 3,400 riders registered… and they’re predominantly Lower Mainland-based. They’re a good demographic. They tend to have better income than average, and they’re well-educated and things like that. And Hope is literally they’re backyard. So it was an opportunity to expose a really big part of our neighbouring communities to what we had to offer in Hope,” she said.
The community and the ride organizers will feel the effects of the route change more than AdvantageHOPE will, said executive director Patrick Earl. Together with the District of Hope, AdvantageHOPE has provided $2,500 as a sponsor of the event, but Earl is speaking with the BC Cancer Foundation to find a way to push this sponsorship to next year.
While this year is a bust for the town, organizers say the ride will come to Hope in 2019.
The symbolism of riding to Hope is what Carswell calls ‘organic’ — riders have already worked it into their team names, taglines, slogans and hashtags ahead of this weekend. If nothing else, it will be good practice for next year.