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100th Anniversary Armistice Day 200, Victoria
Dave White and Mark Payten formed the inaugural Island Remembrance Day ride in 2017. This was an interesting ride, and it passed many memorials and cenotaphs. I had the fortune in 2017 to be at the Esquimalt ceremony at 11 am to participate in the minute’s silence, listen to some of the service, and watch the fly-by of antique planes, ending in a 21 gun salute. Dave and Mark thought that they could do better in 2018.
November 11th, 2018. 100 years since the end of the Great War, the war to end all wars. (Well, that really worked, didn’t it?). None of the veterans from that war are left alive today, but there are those of us who talked to those veterans. My grandfather, for one, who was wounded in the leg by shrapnel from an artillery shell at the battle of Verdun, and then repatriated where he spent the rest of the war as a fire-watch warden. A lucky wound as it most likely saved his life. My father trained as a rear-gunner for Wellington bombers in World War II, but again, fortunately, the war ended before he saw active duty. Some of my uncles were not so lucky. Most of my generation has been blessed that we have been protected from the horrors of war. Yes, we can see it on CNN, but somehow, it just seems like another blockbuster movie, just without the glamorous cast.
The ride began in the breaking dawn. A thin strip of red across Mt. Baker shone in the cool air. We dropped down to the Lochside trail and took off at a fast clip, but soon some of us realized our legs were still asleep, so we knocked it back. A trailing group—Mike, Anna, Rob, and myself—soon formed, and we enjoyed the the rising sun as we rode past our first memorial in Oak Bay, portapotties already in place for the upcoming ceremonies. We circled the Victoria waterfront to arrive at our first control at the main cenotaph in front of the Legislative Buildings. ChekTV was in place as the site was prepared for the official services, but they didn’t seem interested in the crazy cyclists, so after a quick food break, we took off our jackets and cycled on. Shortly after we passed the Afghan Memorial, across from Christ Church Cathedral, whose organ greeted us along with the clouds (fog layer?) and cool north wind. Coats back on!
And so we made our way up the peninsula. A quick stop in Saanich at Memorial Avenue. This boulevard of plane trees was planted in 1921 by 3 of the allied generals—Joffre, Currie, and Byng—to commemorate the soldiers from WW I. The small plaque in the middle didn’t have a lot of room, so Rob wheeled his bike around behind to lean against a tree. As expected, the ground was covered with leaves, but Rob suddenly disappeared—there was a 2 foot deep ditch that was completely full of leaves so it was invisible. No damage, but an interesting caution to us all when Autumn is upon us (Fall should be banned from our vocabulary—it has such negative connotations to cyclists.). We arrived at the checkpoint in Sidney—wait, it’s a block over, but we can’t get there because of the crowds at the service—just in time for the national anthem. I left my bike and walked around the corner to find Mark at the control, and we arranged to meet a few blocks away. After a few minutes watching the service, we rode on to find Mark, food and water, and to observe our minute’s silence. It was here that Mikael caught us so for the rest of the ride we were a group of 5.
By now the low cloud had burnt off, and we had sunny skies until dusk. The 5 of us had a very pleasant ride down the peninsula, stopping briefly at the Brentwood cenotaph, through Victoria to Colwood, past Ft. Rod Hill and across Esquimalt Lagoon, the location of Royal Roads, once a military college but now a university. After another secret control, we climbed the hill out of the lagoon, and around Langford to Veteran’s Memorial Parkway, an appropriate road to cycle on Remembrance Day. In Langford centre, we stopped at the Mourning Mother memorial. This statue is carved from granite from Vimy Ridge. Here the crews were cleaning up the ceremony site, but all the various wreaths were still in place. I have cycled by this park before, but this was the first time I had stopped, and I would recommend a visit when you’re next in the area.
With only 60km to go, we set off for our penultimate control in Esquimalt. The new E&N trail takes you right past the naval base, but we left trail to cycle through the grounds of the old military hospital (still in use for members of the Armed Forces) to a small chapel and cemetery set in the middle of a golf course! Veteran’s Cemetery, God’s Acre, as it is officially known, is a place to pause to remember those who served in the military. But it does emphasize why we must wear helmets when cycling—errant golf balls are a real hazard! As we continued back up the peninsula, the sun started dropping below the tree line, and with the shade came the cold. Circling the airport on the cycle path (appropriately named “The Flight Path”) we came to our last control. On the north side of the airport is Hospital Hill, the location of a hospital for the RCAF during WW II, and now the location of a memorial “Lost Airmen of the Empire”. We arrived here just at dusk, so there wasn’t a lot of light to find the information for the control, but the view of the dying day across the inlet and the red, green, and blue navigation lights on the airport was special. It was also cold, so jackets on, last food on board, and off to the finish.
We had a really enjoyable day. Mostly quiet roads or trails, dry sunny weather, fantastic scenery, no mechanicals, time for contemplation, and most of all, great company. Thanks to Mike, Anna, Mikael, and Rob for riding with me, and thanks to Mark, Dave, Sandy, Rose, and Dave, for organizing the ride.
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November 15, 2018