The years of planning, training and anticipation is finally over and it’s time to ride.
© JOHN BRANNEN – THE NEWS
Craig Aucoin, left, his guide dog Baldwin and Lloyd McLean smile with ‘Flat Stanley’, a memento from Pictou Elementary School that will travel with them across Canada. The pair will be biking over 8,000 kilometres starting in St. John’s, N.L., on Aug. 4 in support of the CNIB, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and the YMCA.
As of this morning, Craig Aucoin and Lloyd McLean are en route to St. John’s, N.L., to begin the Craig Gives Back-to-Back Cross Canada Bicycle Tour 2013. They’ll make their way to Victoria, B.C., on an 85-day, 8,200-kilometre journey, raising funds and awareness for three Canadian charities, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and the YMCA.
Cycling on a unique, Dutch-manufactured and custom-made back-to-back recumbent tandem bicycle with McLean facing forward and Aucoin facing the rear, the pair will camp at national and provincial parks during their journey, minimizing their carbon footprint and keeping costs down.
Aucoin’s parents are transporting the bike to St. John’s via the Port au Basque ferry from North Sydney. Once in Newfoundland’s capital city the pair will reunite with their bike and begin the long journey.
“My family has been very supportive through this entire thing,” said Aucoin, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an incurable eye disease. “My parents will be there to see me off.”
McLean, an assistant category manager, floral and garden at Sobeys is feeling nervous and excited about the task before them.
“I’ve really been divided between work and family,” he said. “It’s great to finally get going.”
Aucoin is determined and said he’s ready to roll with the punches, come what may. About 15 years ago, due to inactivity and depression, he turned to eating as an escape and eventually weighed in at 250 pounds.
“Accepting that I would eventually lose all of my vision was a game-changer,” said Aucoin. “With the help of CNIB, the YMCA and the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, I was able to turn my dreams of being fit and strong into reality.”
He lost 80 pounds and got fit but began to feel restless wondering what the next goal would be. That’s when McLean, a runner and cyclist, met Aucoin and the rest is history.
“I wanted to do a cross-Canada trip with my wife, but she wasn’t interested,” said McLean. “Craig heard and was very interested in the idea of a cross-Canada trip.”
Once the idea was finalized, Aucoin was ecstatic.
“I remember jumping up and down and hooting and hollering because I was so happy we were doing it,” he said.
Since then the pair have logged over 8,000 km in preparation for the trip.
The two have meticulously planned the trip from mileage for each day, timings for arrivals and departures, addresses and phone numbers.
The three charities are in the forefront of their minds, however – charities that have changed Aucoin’s life.
While the goal was initially around $50,000 for the three charities, as the campaign has gained momentum, it has now surged to $300,000, a target McLean hopes to blow out of the water.
The CNIB is giving back too. They’ve provided Aucoin and McLean with a publicist to help get the message of the ride out to the masses. Lloyd will also be taking pictures with his iPhone and sending them to his niece to post to their Facebook page, Craig Gives Back.
“Follow our journey on Facebook and like and share our photos,” said McLean. “We’re going to be getting a new website with lots of info, links and videos as well.”
One of the pair’s ultimate goals is not only to raise funds and awareness, but also create a registry to match blind athletes with those who would like to work with a training partner.
“Our expenses have been covered so all donations will now go directly to the three charities,” said McLean. “Pictou County has been really great at fundraising.”
Jim Proudfoot of Pictou and Stellarton Home Hardware said an event at the store locations is in the works for when the pair passes through Pictou County on Aug. 14.
“Various Home Hardware locations across Canada will be recognizing their passing through,” said Proudfoot. “We’ll definitely be doing something here as well.”
Aucoin hopes his message to get and stay healthy to do all the things you want all your life will resonate as their journey begins.
“Accepting blindness was my turning point,” he said. “I’m like a sponge now and I want to know and try new things.”
Their journey is scheduled to end in Victoria on Sunday, Oct. 27, at 3 p.m.
near the Terry Fox memorial statue.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn