It’s an annual tradition for Hugo and Melissa Sloos. Each September, the Powell River couple participate in a two-day, 200-kilometre bicycle journey in the Lower Mainland to help raise funds for the BC Lung Association.
2019 marks the 35th anniversary for the association’s Bicycle Trek for Life and Breath, taking place this year September 7 and 8. It will be Hugo’s 12th ride and Melissa’s fifth.
“We love the event,” said Hugo. “Every year it attracts a good mix of returning trekkers, and new people.”
Although the distance might at first sound daunting, the couple insist it should not be a deterrent to anyone interested in joining.
“You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to take part,” added Hugo. “Anyone can manage the 200 kilometres with a bit of training through the spring and summer months. Most of us go at our own pace, stopping to enjoy the rest stops, and snacks, and share laughs along the way.”
An avid cyclist, Hugo was first introduced to the ride by Don and Judy Logan, who have been actively involved with the association for many years. When he met Melissa, he invited her to join him on the ride. Together, they are part of Team Ralveoli, which comprises six to eight riders each year.
“We came up with the name by vote,” said Melissa. “We just thought ‘alveoli’ in terms of lungs, and ‘ravioli’ pasta. It was really funny at the time; it’s still really funny.”
Along with the Sloos’ the team is made up of friends of the couple from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. They would love to have more Powell River riders join them, added Melissa.
“It would be great to get a few people from town,” she said. “People should reach out to me and Hugo if they want to ride. The more the merrier.”
The event does, however, have another Powell River connection. It is organized by BC Lung Association manager of events and engagement Marissa McFadyen (formerly Waghorn), who grew up in town. McFadyen has been helming the event since 2007 and said she receives a lot of support from her husband, mom and dad, her brother and his wife, who all pitch in to volunteer at the ride.
“It’s a family event,” said McFadyen.
This feeling extends to the participants, most of whom return year after year.
“Some people have been doing the ride almost the entire time,” she added. “We have one person, it's their 30th time doing it this year and a lot of them are at 15 to 20 years.”
According to Melissa, this is due to the community feeling among the riders and volunteers. The ride typically attracts some 200 cyclists, making up about 30 teams and ranging in age from 18 to 77, along with a team of 40 volunteers who look after their every need.
“It’s so well done and well supported,” said Melissa. “They really take care of you.”
This year, riders will cycle 100 kilometres on the first day from Fort Langley to Cultus Lake, where they will stay overnight. The next day they will travel back through a different, but equally scenic route to Fort Langley, said McFadyen.
The ride is one of the biggest fundraisers of the year for the association. Each rider raises $650, and the group’s goal for 2019 is to raise $200,000. According to BC Lung, one in five Canadians are affected by lung disease, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer.
“Because lung disease is everywhere, people can always make a connection, said Mcfadyen. “Right now there are a lot of environmental factors; wood smoke from forest fires is becoming a big issue.”
The Sloos’ share a personal connection to the cause.
“Hugo and I both have family members who have passed away or continue to live with issues related to lung health,” said Melissa. “It really fits in with the kind of charities we want to participate in, sponsor and give our money to.”
Being able to combine their love of the outdoors and cycling with a charity that matters to them was important.
“It’s awesome to combine your love of being on a bike and riding, and you need good lung capacity to ride,” she added.
To train for the trek, the couple, unsurprisingly, log a lot of kilometres on their bikes.
“We try to do two rides a week; anywhere between 20 and 50 kilometres and we’ll build up the length of rides,” said Melissa.
The local terrain makes an excellent, if challenging training ground, she added.
“Powell River is both awesome and really terrible to train. There are a lot of hills,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll do an alphabet ride. We’ll go out to Thunder Bay and all the streets are in alphabetical order. We’ll do hill training, up one letter and go around.”
Melissa is also the co-owner of a local fitness studio and said time in the gym helps with their conditioning.
“It’s not just all legs in riding,” she said. “The upper body is involved as well.”
Together with their Team Ralveoli, the Sloos’ have so far raised $24,000 in support of lung health research, education and patient support programs, according to McFadyen.
“They are such positive people and we’re extraordinarily grateful for their continuing support,” she added.
The fact that the event is so well supported by volunteers means more of the funds raised go directly to the cause, said Melissa. “Most of the money you donate is going to people who need it. It’s hard to pick out one thing that’s best about it,” she added. “Everything is really great. It’s just that kind of personal, grassroots feeling. You’re not just a number. They really care about you.”
For more information, go to bicycletrek.ca.