Sunday, 2 October 2016

Ride for Ralf: The Final Stretch

I want to preface this (final) blog to explain why Christian finished the ride for Ralf.
It was the summer of 2015, weeks before Ralf's Ride and I overheard Ralf talking with Christian out on the deck. He said to Christian “if for some reason I don't finish the ride will you finish it for me?” I was stunned by this verbal request, it sounded so ominous. I interjected after I heard Christian agreeing to finish the ride for Ralf. I expressed my shock at such a dire request... and told Ralf not to ask such stupid questions.
So to honour his father's wish, Christian was determined to finish the ride for Ralf. On Thursday August the 11th Robyn, Megan, Christian and I flew to B.C.


Thursday August 11
Up at 0330 hrs. Megan up too! Megan can be somewhat tardy. Robyn REPEATEDLY told Megan “we are leaving at 0415”. Christian up at 0345. Robyn walked through front door at 0400 and asked “is Megan ready?” And good morning to you honey. Our plans were to drive to the airport and leave the car in the parking lot but that would cost more than the combined flights. Terry and Robyn had booked a limo at 0130 this morning and at 0415 our ride had arrived. The limo driver was very professional looking. We all piled into the limo at 0420. I forgot to mention our flight on West Jet left at 0630. Thank goodness it was a domestic flight.

In line at airport to go through security and Christian and I were taken to the front of the line - we showed our Nexus passes. Megan waited with Robyn as Robyn doesn't have a Nexus card. Robyn and Megan were 10 people behind us. The good thing about being at the airport without a Nexus card at 0430 in the morning the line ups aren't very long. We hadn't used our Nexus cards at the airport so we wanted to try it out... worked good. We arranged to meet at the restaurant – we'd go ahead and get a table. As we were pulling our chairs out at the restaurant Megan and Robyn arrived.

Megan and Christian had eggs Benedict; Robyn and I split the breakfast sandwich.
Boarded plane to Calgary. Plane is full ... where are people going???? We are on and older West Jet plane where there are no tv screens on the back of chairs. So while I am writing this to pass the time, Robyn is reading, Christian is sleeping and across the aisle Megan is sleeping too. Well I will put my pen to rest and catch some Zzzzzzzz's too. Next stop Calgary.
Spent about an hour or less in the Calgary airport. Went to the washroom before boarding plane to Comox and turned wrong way coming out of the washroom. Thank goodness for cell phones as I had to call kids to get back to the gate. Short flight to Comox. I had a window seat and it was surreal looking out over the Rocky Mountains. I kept thinking about Ralf cycling over them... the highs and lows (literally) ... the best times ... Ralf was a machine cycling over them.




We were met at the Comox Airport by my brother Warren. Weather was perfect: sunny and warm. Stopped off at his home in Courtenay to pick up some supplies and headed off to his cabin on Sproat Lake, minutes from Port Alberni.


Robyn spoke with the investigating RCMP officer, Jeff Swan, before leaving Ontario. She told him of our plans to place a Ghost Bike at the accident site and Christian completing the ride for Ralf. Unfortunately he was going to be on holidays during the time we were out there and couldn't meet us. He made arrangements for other officers to assist us.
Robyn spoke with a female RCMP officer re the cycle Friday August 12. She strongly advised not starting at accident site on Hydro Hill as the area is treacherous, dangerous, with hairpin turns. Arrangements were made to meet up with Constable Marcel Midlane, Ucluelet RCMP Detachment, Ucluelet Tourist Bureau at 0745.

Friday August 12
Warren, Scotty (nephew), Christian, Robyn, Megan and I up 0615. Had toasted bagels, fruit and coffee before heading out. Scotty works at a coffee shop down the road and suggested we get free lattes for the ride. Sounded like a good idea at the time. An inexperienced barista was working the am shift and took forever to make the lattes. Was about to cancel the remaining orders when Scotty came out with a tray of lattes. They were okay but nothing like what Scotty makes (according to Scotty).




As we drove in my brother's pick up truck towards Hydro Hill it was another surreal feeling. When I last drove it, it was in torrential rains. As I was pulling off the highway to take multiple pictures and meeting Ralf every 10km, blogging etc. I had no idea what the highway was like. From my brother's cabin in Port Alberni it was all uphill. There were no shoulders to cycle on. There's only one road/highway to Tofino. It was an old logging road that they paved over. The road in the Hydro Hill is uphill all the way- narrow, treacherous, dangerous with hairpin turns. Seeing it on a clear weather/flawless day I can see the challenge Ralf endured.





This was nothing like cycling over the Rockies especially the Rogers Pass. In retrospect, if I /we knew what laid ahead we would have completed the ride in Vancouver. Coupled with the horrible weather it was an accident waiting to happen.


So at the Ucluelet Tourism Centre we met constable Marcel Midlane. There are not enough words to describe this man. He was, in a nutshell, wonderful. He drove behind Christian, with Warren leading the convoy. His flashing vehicle lights remained on the whole time. We met every 10+ km. It took the boys roughly 2 hours to arrive at the Wickaninnish Inn Tofino. Ralf you would be very proud of Christian finishing the ride for you. The road from the Ucluelet Tourism Centre was fairly flat. Ralf you were so close to finishing.













After lunch, we drove back to the accident site on Hydro Hill. 






Marcel met us there. He suggested we don't put the Ghost Bike where Ralf was killed as it would be too distracting for vehicles coming around that hair-pin turn. Just a few feet from where Ralf was hit there was an area to turn off from the road. This was the perfect place to leave the Ghost Bike. On the other side of the the place where the accident happened, the Ghost Bike was placed on a large piece of drift wood and chained to the tree. Marcel asked if we had a plaque to place with the bike which we didn't. We will get one made and mail it to Marcel who will drive back and place it with the bike.








I want to thank my niece Alyssa and her fiance Gaelen for getting the bike and spray painting it white.




Marcel stayed with us till we secured the bike, took pictures and made arrangements for him to bring plaque out. It is his wedding anniversary today. Not once did he look at his watch to check the time. He was so respectable of everyone's heavy-heartedness. He was definitely a godsend.
We drove back to the cabin on Sproat Lake.






Epilogue
Well it wouldn't be a Keeping an Eye on Ralf/ Ralf's Ride/ Ralf Rides Again without a “Top 10 Things I Would Do Differently” list. However on this final blog, I want to highlight the Top 10 Things I Wouldn't Do Differently:
  1.  Being the support vehicle for Ralf
  2.  Staying at Jean Arbuckle's place on our first and last night in Calgary
  3.  Letting Ralf rest his bike against my car (because that was a biggie)
  4.  Watching Ralf triumph over Rogers Pass
  5.  Seeing Ralf accomplish the last leg of his Trans Canada bucket-list bike ride
  6.  Continuing to fundraise for the new Peel Memorial Hospital
  7.  Spending time with Warren and family on Vancouver Island
  8.  Sharing the last of my coffee with Ralf before Hydro Hill
  9.  Making more memories filled with laughter and love during our last thirteen days together
  10.  Spending every one of Ralf's last days with him until his final breath on September 24th, 2015



















Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Day 11, Thursday September 24

Up at 7; breakfast at the cabin. Listened to the rain all night. Still raining this am. Deer on property eating berries.
Ralf getting ready to start his final trek to Tofino. I will leave in a few minutes and meet him after 20k.
Enjoyed my brother's company in the support vehicle. Made the time pass quickly. Warren is very entertaining. Every time we passed Ralf, Warren would put the window down, stick his head out the window and yell obscenities (lovingly from the heart ).
Had dinner at the Drinkwater last night and watched the baseball game on Warren's neighbour's TV (in their million dollar cottage).
FYI ...as the crow flies, the distance from from Courtenay to Port Alberni is about 40-45k. But it is a little over 100k going by highway. You have to travel south to drive over the “hump” (aka Arrowsmith Mt.) which is another challenging cycle.
Well time to say good bye to my brother and get in the support vehicle.
Ttyl, xx
It is another miserable day. Grey skies, torrential rain – you can see rivers forming on the highway; meeting Ralf every 20k.
Due to the weather met Ralf only once at 20k then changed frequency to every 10k. Ralf asked that I meet him every 10k and keep a record of the time. Because there is no cell reception in the heart of Vancouver Island he was concerned that if he had a flat or bike issues I would not know he was in trouble. 50K from Tofino was our last meeting place. Ralf pulled up to the window, wet to the core. Gave him more coffee from my thermos. As he returned the thermos he commented that it was almost empty. I said I wouldn't know (as I was saving my coffee for him). I snapped a picture of Ralf, trying to capture the water dripping off his face.He was looking straight ahead and mumbled “I'll be glad to get this over”. We're almost there Ralf. The last thing Ralf said to me was “see you in 10”
Ralf cycled down the highway towards the hill known as Hydro Hill. I wrote down on a piece of paper the distance 10k from where we were and the time. Pulled out onto the highway, snapped another pic of Ralf through the windshield approaching Hydro Hill. It would drive Ralf crazy when I would drive and take pics at the same time. He didn't appreciate how adept at this I've become. When we had moments like this I thought to myself it will be good Ralf when you are back cycling and out of my (creative) space.
I trailed a minute behind Ralf. Went down the hill, hairpin turn and then I saw a lifeless body lying on the other side of the highway. There was a pickup truck there and young woman standing over what started to look like Ralf. I left the car running at the side of the highway and proceeded to run over to them. As I came closer I noticed his Giant bike was scattered in pieces near him. I dialed 911 on my cell phone hoping that there would be reception but I was hoping for a miracle. As cars slowed down I yelled for anyone to call for help. Returned to Ralf's side; he was conscious. An off duty paramedic showed up to offer what help he could; 2 retired physicians on vacation from Britain appeared. CPR was started before the ambulance arrived on site. Strangers surrounded Ralf and did what they could do before the ambulance arrived 45 minutes later. EMS workers transferred him to the Port Alberni hospital 100k away. A second EMS vehicle met us outside of Port Alberni to relieve the paramedics performing CPR. Shortly after arriving in emerge the attending physician came out to express his deepest sympathies.
I laid by Ralf's side until 10:30 pm. I wanted to lie with him forever. The nursing staff were so compassionate. They had gone on line to know more about Ralf. They were so moved. The attending police were visibly upset over this tragic turn of events. The coroner returned after he had reconstructed the accident scene. He said he knew exactly where the accident occurred because he's called there a lot. No autopsy was necessary as it was evident what happened. Because British Columbia had a dry summer it caused the oil to build up on the roads. With this recent downpour it made the roads slick. Ralf's front wheel slid out from under him causing him to slide across the highway. He could see where his pedal hit the concrete retaining wall as it had left a mark on the concrete.
The nurse gently encouraged me to allow them to move Ralf to the morgue to retain his dignity. With each passing hour the body would be breaking down. The kids were coming Friday and I wanted Ralf to look as good as was possible (they wouldn't see him til the following Tuesday). I kissed him goodbye and said "I'll see you in the morning”. Again I told him how much I loved him. As they were wheeling him to the morgue I kissed him one last time. The nurse (name escapes me) came into the waiting room and commented how peaceful he looked despite being on the floor for so long.
I camped overnite in the small waiting room as I wanted to remain near to Ralf. Friday September 25th at 0700 hrs I asked to go down to morgue. I sat with Ralf (and attendant in corner) held his hand for an hour just embracing these last few minutes. Left Ralf around 0830. Kissed him and thanked him for the adventure we've had for 35 plus years. “See you in 10”
My brother was coming down to Port Alberni and meeting his friend who was driving my car in from Ucluelet. Drove to the Comox Airport to pick up Robyn, Megan and Christian. Also present were Terry, Andrew and baby Lauryn. Appt at funeral home to arrange details involved with flying Ralf home. Unfortunately kids were not allowed to see Ralf in morgue. My son in law has been phenomenal in every way. He flew everyone out (West Jet) to Comox and flew us home Saturday. Arrived at 11:00 pm. One hour layover in Calgary. We all worked on putting together the best send off we could. Ralf would agree ... Go Big or Go Home. We are doing both hon as difficult as this is.
Everyone has been so kind, loving and supportive. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


Letter to the editor of the Brampton Guardian

September 29, 2015

Dear Editor:

Last week, our community lost Ralf Jarchow, beloved husband, father, son, friend, colleague and community champion, to a tragic cycling accident. I extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues on behalf of William Osler Health System and William Osler Health System Foundation. We are all in shock and saddened to have lost such a great friend. Brampton is poorer for his passing.

Ralf’s passing is made even more heart-breaking as he was on the last leg of his second epic cycling quest to raise funds for the new Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness. Before setting off on his journey, Ralf and his wife, Valerie, expressed their deep appreciation for the strong support they felt as they began the 11-day bike odyssey from Calgary, Alberta to Tofino, B.C. Armed with a desire to give back, Ralf undertook the ride to raise funds but also to help build a strong community-driven campaign for health care, a cause that was especially close to his heart.

Donations to Ralf’s Ride have been overwhelming, along with expressions of profound sadness in losing a wonderful person and a true champion for Brampton. His passion inspired others to follow in his lead. We are overcome by the outpouring of kindness and generosity, a testament to how much Ralf touched the lives of so many.

When Peel Memorial opens, we will be able to express our tremendous gratitude by honouring Ralf in a lasting way. Today, we extend our thoughts and prayers to those who knew and cared for him.

Ralf – you are deeply missed. Thank you for showing us what a champion looks like.

  • Ken Mayhew, President and CEO, William Osler Health System Foundation, Brampton, Ontario.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
                                                                                              Isaiah 41:10


Thanks for the adventure Ralf. I love you now and forever. See you in 10”
love Valerie xoxo





Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Day 10, Wednesday September 23

Day 10, Wednesday September 23,
Did not post a blog for day 9 as spent the day/ night at my brother's (Warren) place in Courtenay B.C.
Had enjoyable day hanging out with Warren, sister-in-law Sarah and nephew Scotty. Ralf was able to get bike tuned up at the Mountain City Cycle. They specialize in Giant Bikes so Ralf's Giant was n competent hands.
Ralf had light breakfast of peanut butter and toast,banana. Started off for Port Alberni at 7:15. Temp 4C, head winds, raining... but no snow.Apparently Courntenay doesn't get snow except last year they got 4 cm of it and had to call a snow day as no machines to clear roads.Wouldn't our kids have loved it out here back in the days.
Warren travelling with me in support vehicle. We will be staying at his cabin tonite on Sprout Lake which is halfway to Tofino. Tofino ... Ralf can see the light at the end of the tunnel!!!!!
Met Ralf every 20k.Stopped in Coombs at the Goats on the Roof Restaurant and General Store. Got some pics of the goats on the roof.Lunch was exceptional.
Back in the pouring rain. I stopped at Cathedral Grove to take pics. Some older women there taking pics. One woman shooting with Cannon camera. She came up to me and commented that I looked like I knew what I was doing with a camera and could I help her to get the flash working on her camera. I tried but unable to do. I'm sure it's an easy fix but nothing worked...I sure could have used Gail's epertise. Next time I'm in Henrys I'm going to ask them how to put flash on in case this happens again.
Warren has WiFi at cabin I will try and post some pics
The trek from Coombs is hard. In 5k Ralf will have to climb Mt. Arrowsmith a 411 ft climb ,4 km climb.Then it's 10k downhill.Fortunately Ralf goes the other direction tomorrow to Tofino.Very steep-every truck is pulling over to check their brakes before heading down on either side.
The road to Tofino is 99k; windy and narrow.
At cabin now.Wood burning fireplace going to full blast, enjoying a glass of wine,well maybe 2. Going to Drinkwaters for dinner and maybe catch Blue Jay game. It has been great getting together with Warren and his family.Sarah driving up to cabin to pick Warren up tomorrow. We will be on the road to Tofino.
Now that we are in the cabin the pouring rain has stopped, go figure. Murphy's Law is alive and well!
                                                    in Coombs at Goats on the Roof
                                         Ralf and Warren having lunch at Goats on the Roof
                                                            Cathedral Grove
                                                             Cathedral Grove
                                                               Cathedral Grove
                                                    Cedar and fir logging at Sprout Lake
                                      Empty beer cans at the cabin ... it was a good summer!
My retired brother

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Welcome to the Baits Motel

                                                      the Log Pub in Spences Bridges
                                                      stuffed cougar in the Log Pub
                                         Jerry, one of the 130 residents of Spences Bridges
                                                      the infamous Baits Motel
                                               staying in one of the luxury rooms
                                   upgraded from #10 to #9 to have room with coffee maker
                   dinner at the Packing House; reservations recommended for the Saturday night special
                                         decided not to drive but to walk the 50 feet to diner
                                          Bones the resident cat of the Packing House diner
live entertainment by owner's sister til 7 pm
                                 Leaving Packing House,view of packed parking lot at 7:30 pm

                                Ralf deciding which bed to take...he chose the one on the left.
                                beer bottle opener conveniently nailed to bathroom door frame
                                                           House and Garden 1940
Plastic cacti adorning telephone booth
                                     coffee machine in corner ... the deluxe room at same rate
                                            0540 Sunday morning; leaving the Baits Motel
panoramic view of Baits Motel in picturesque Spences Bridges