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Pedal the Caribou Charity Ride

Explore the lakehead hinterlands on this classic bike tour for a cause.

It’s a crisp morning in September and hundreds of cyclists are herding together on a family farm in the Slate River Valley, south of Thunder Bay. Candy Mountain makes for a scenic backdrop to the west, as the sun illuminates its cliffs and the leaves of birch, poplar and maple that are tinted with hues of yellow and orange. For many of these cyclists, this is the 11th time they have come out to the valley to ride scenic country roads in support of local cancer care. With the heat of summer past, early September is an ideal time for bike touring in northwestern Ontario.

two cyclists riding on dirt road with fields in background
Peaceful farmland and quiet roads frame the Slate River Valley. 

Thunder Bay has a vibrant cycling scene that has maintained a core group of roadies amidst mountain biking, cyclocross and fat bike trends. The camaraderie within the city’s cycling community is integral to supporting events like the Caribou Charity Ride, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018. Participants can opt for a 50-, 75- or 100-km tour of the Slate River Valley (part of the Township of Oliver-Paipoonge) and South Gillies, then follow up with good food and craft beer—all while raising funds for the Northern Cancer Fund. For any cyclist, these are the ingredients for a perfect day.

Large group of cyclists riding on paved shoulder of road
The tour appeals to riders of all levels. 

A wide variety of cyclists participate in this charity ride, from spandex-clad racers with sophisticated bikes to recreational cyclists who have made this an annual tradition but don’t log many other miles throughout the year. The atmosphere is welcoming, making for an easy introduction to the rural routes south of Thunder Bay.  

Single cyclist pedalling uphill on a dirt road with rolling hills in background.
Sweeping views of the countryside reward strenous climbs. 

The ride is always held in the morning, so traffic is minimal—bicycles vastly outnumber cars on these quiet backroads. The routes pass over rolling hills, the Kaministiquia and Whitefish rivers, and through farmland, forested lots, and old homesteads. While there are a few long uphills, the exhilarating downhills with sweeping views of the countryside more than compensate for the grind.

Three women cyclists dressed in colourful spandex riding in single file on road
Grab a few friends and ride for a cause. 

Over the past 10 years, the charity ride has raised almost $360,000, which has funded cancer care equipment at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and at hospitals across northwestern Ontario where cancer care treatment is available.

Andrea Docherty, program director at Regional Cancer Care Northwest, says, “We are extremely grateful for the long-standing support provided by the charity ride. Cancer is a journey that no one should face alone, and having diagnostic and treatment equipment here locally allows us to keep our patients closer to home, surrounded by friends and family, which makes a tremendous difference in their care.”

A revamped charity ride will return on Saturday, September 7, 2019, and will have a few additional twists and turns with live music and an after-party with food, entertainment and prizes at Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. Follow Fresh Air Thunder Bay on Facebook @FreshAirTBay for updates.

About Michelle McChristie

Michelle McChristie is a freelance writer from Thunder Bay and frequent contributor to The Walleye magazine. She is passionate about the outdoors and enjoys exploring Lake Superior in all seasons with her family.

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