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On the road with Friends for Life

Xtra asks what it's like cycling from Toronto to Montreal

This year bike rally participants raised $1.5 million for Toronto PWA. Credit: Friends for Life Facebook page

It’s almost home free for riders in the 15th annual Friends for Life Bike Rally — a 600-kilometre bike trip from Toronto to Montreal that raises funds for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA). The six-day ride ends today (Aug 2) when cyclists arrive in Montreal. Robert Tomas, the director of philanthropy and communications at PWA, gives Xtra an insider’s look at what it’s really like on the road.

A typical day starts with a 5:30am wake-up — rising at 6am is considered sleeping in, Tomas says. The morning routine consists of packing up all tents and supplies so the crew trucks can be on the way well ahead of the riders, a 7:30am breakfast and a group stretch before kicking off at 9am.

The first two days of the bike rally are the most gruelling, as riders cover the most mileage — day two is a whopping 127 kilometres — and encounter the steepest hills.

“The saying goes, ‘It’s all downhill after day two,’” Tomas jokes.

Cyclists enjoy a break approximately every 35 kilometres to hydrate and eat something high in protein. This year’s snack of choice? Hummus and pita.

The fastest cyclists start arriving at the lunch location around 11:30am, with the rest of the group finishing by 1pm. Tomas stresses that it is a rally, not a race. However, participants’ fitness level must allow them to finish the day by 5:30pm.

Day three stands out to Tomas for a few reasons. It’s the shortest day on the trip — cyclists have to cover only 52 kilometres — and has been dubbed Red Dress Day, as the cyclists have a tradition of wearing red to show support for HIV and AIDS survivors. Some take the day quite literally and wear red dresses as they cycle, while others come up with “bizarre concoctions” to wear as they cruise into Kingston.

The last bonus of the day? Getting to sleep in the dorms at Queens University, complete with hot showers and actual beds. The only other time the cyclists have this luxury is at the final stop in Montreal.

Friends for Life is more than just a name, Tomas says. Cyclists train together, attend group socials and bike side-by-side for 600 kilometres, with many returning again and again.

“The bond lasts beyond six days on the road,” he says.

This year participants raised a record $1.5 million for PWA