Riding for Canada’s Fallen
Four days, 520 kilometers (312 miles to us Americans) on bicycle. Piece of cake, right? That’s what I thought standing in front of the Quebec City Parliament Building on a sunny Friday morning in September. I was one of two Americans joining 100 Canadian paramedics for the second annual Tour Paramedic Quebec. I was also the oldest of the riders, with more than 30 years on some others.
I took a moment to reflect. One, I was getting older, the oldest rider on this ride. Two, this was my 18th EMS ride in the past 12 years. Three, these kids were going to kick my butt. (On that I was correct.) I was also concerned about a language barrier; I don’t speak French, and this was mostly a French-speaking group. However, everyone was helpful and friendly, and the language barrier was not the problem I feared.
The purpose of the Tour Paramedic Quebec is to raise funds to build a memorial in honor of Canadian paramedics who have lost their lives in the line of duty. We also rode to raise awareness of mental health/PTSD in the paramedic community. Canada has made great strides in recognizing mental health issues in emergency services workers, having passed several bills and dedicated funds to assist with programs. This year more than $100,000 has been raised for the memorial.
This ride was over four days, September 15–18. We started in Quebec City with a quick ride through Old Québec. The route followed the picturesque St. Lawrence Seaway through farmland and rustic villages with views of the river as we traveled. We crossed the river four times, three by ferry and once by bridge when we rode into Hawkesbury, before finally arriving at the parliament building in Ottawa on day four.
We had four days of sunny, warm, slightly humid weather, temperatures running in the 80s to 90s Fahrenheit. This was unusual, as we were riding above the 48th parallel and fall comes quickly to this area, but none of the riders complained too much.
Releasing the Demons
One of the young female riders shared a story about a call. She was on a routine lift assist for a very confused and delusional man. He was refusing transport and trying to convince EMS to let him drive himself to the emergency department. While arguing his case he went to retrieve an old pilot’s license to prove he was still a pilot (he wasn’t). He rummaged around in a metal safe, then turned back around just as my friend recognized the type of safe it was: a gun safe. He pointed the gun in his hand at her from 12 feet away and pulled the trigger—nothing happened. Fortunately the gun was unloaded—unlike the seven other guns he had stored. The police arrived just as this unraveled and quickly subdued the patient. My friend peed her pants.
Now, imagine if this happened to you. You get to go clean up, put on a new uniform and then roll on to the next call. But where is your mind going to be? How safe do you feel now on the job? How trusting will you be with the patient on your next call?
I think most of us in public service have similar stories. How do you deal with it? I’ve sought professional help outside the workplace and gotten a different perspective on my issues. My coworkers knew of this, and I felt no stigma in reaching out for help. I also have the outlet of these long-distance bike rides, rolling along with others, talking about work, family and experiences. We lean on each other for support and let the exercise help release of some of the demons we can carry around with us. Try it, you may find it helps.
On to Ottawa
This was a fast group. I was always bringing up the rear, making sure everyone got in OK. The lead riders were riding 30–50 km/hr (18–30 mph). I averaged 25 km/hr (14.9 mph) for the four days of riding. I had two episodes of angina pain on the first day from trying to keep up with so much youth, but thankfully nitro tabs resolved the discomfort. The following days I took them prophylactically each morning—that kept the angina at bay. I do have a good cardiologist.
Our four days of riding started with rising early, breakfast, then a morning briefing, along with the reading of the names and ringing of a bell for those lost. Then we clipped into the pedals and rode, moving forward one stroke at a time. At times the riders would be spread out for miles, then all gather at the next rest stop.
The first two days covered 160 km (96 miles) and 164 km (99 miles). Day three was 130 km (80 miles), and the last day was an easy 65 km (40 miles). On the last day we gathered for a lunch pause in Gatineau, and there we acquired another rider: Dr. Michael Austin, a good friend of mine from EMS in the States. He is better known as Dr. Mike to the Ottawa/Gatineau EMS community. Together we rode his recumbent tandem the final 12 km (7.2 miles) to the parliament in Ottawa. Along the way we made one last stop, where we met up with 150 more bicyclists who’d ridden from Toronto to Ottawa in their own memorial to the fallen.
What a fantastic sight it was to see these riders, 250 strong, riding two abreast, being led and followed by several ambulances and support vehicles onto Parliament Hill. Once there we held our closing ceremonies and said good-bye to new friends and old friendships renewed.
Until next year, across Canada and the U.S., we’ve all got your back.
To learn more:
- Tour Paramedic Quebec
- Other Canadian rides
- U.S. National EMS Memorial Bike Ride
- Video, group ride to Ottawa parliament
- Video interview, Karen Calder
Mike Kennard is a 39-year veteran of EMS who currently works as an emergency department paramedic. He has been involved with long-distance bicycle rides since 2006, doing the Muddy Angels ride in the U.S. and the Tour Paramedic rides in Canada. Mike lectures occasionally on EMS topics and still teaches providers both old and new.