Before cyclists began each day they gathered to dedicate the ride to a child who either had cancer or who had died from the disease.
Along the way, the group of about three dozen participated in community events and visited pediatric oncology centres and hospitals where the cancer community shared inspiring stories of strength and hope.
While travelling through Alberta, Smith met a young girl, about 11 years old.
“I chatted with her at lunch,” said Smith, an Argyle resident who began cycling two years after treatment for her merkel cell carcinoma.
Although the young girl wasn’t a cancer survivor, she knew children who were.
“Apparently, our talk affected her so deeply that she made certain her babysitting money was sent to me as a donation. It arrived via an adult to our supper location in Medicine Hat,” said Smith.
On Day 13, Bethany, Ontario resident Angie Muir stepped up to surprise Smith at the Cobourg Community Centre.
Muir's mother, Moira Boland, was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as Smith, but died last December. Smith rode with Moira Bolard's name written on her helmet.
Smith's friend, Brenda Bolender of Peterborough, accompanied Muir. She brought her 13-year-old dog, Spike, who was very special to Smith during her fight with cancer.
The cross-country trip took 18 days and the cyclists were on a tight schedule.
The group rose at 6 a.m. and was on the road by 8:30 or 9 a.m., with cyclists dressed in their red riding kit. It was almost all they wore for 18 days.
“When I was at home the first day, I didn’t know what to wear, I was so used to putting on the kit,” said Smith.
The heat (33 degrees Celsius) and smoke from wildfires in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba made passage difficult through those provinces.
Sleeping at night in the back of an 18-wheeler was challenging for Smith at first, because of her short height and being in the top bunk.
“I had to use a ladder to get up and down, so going to the bathroom was interesting if we had a washroom to go to,” she said.
The cyclists showered every day at Goodlife fitness or recreation centres.
There were 27 riders in the group plus about 30 support volunteers, including the nurse and bike mechanic Danny Manser, owner of Manser’s Bike Shop in Yarmouth.
The cyclists were divided into three teams: team one rode 160 km per day, team two rode 200 km per day and team three rode three hours on and three hours off. At times, Smith says she found it a huge challenge to keep up with certain speeds.
“Before we learned to be a team, which included me getting off when I couldn't keep up, the team tended not to reduce the pace to anywhere near what I had trained for. As we became a team, this got better, although I often had to get off for a part of the day.
On Day 3, a woman was pitched from her bike going over rumble strips in the road almost in front of Smith.
The cyclists were on Highway 1 just outside Medicine Hat. Fortunately, no cars or trucks were approaching. The team nurse and other members controlled the scene and made the injured cyclist comfortable until the ambulance came.
“After watching this accident I was filled with fear. I had just had an accident in Toronto previous to my departure for Vancouver, I thought out how I would leave but later abandoned the idea when I accepted it all as part of the journey,” said Smith.
The injured cyclist had no head injury and sustained a broken thumb.
“She stayed with us all the rest of the way and so did I,” said Smith.
Smith is now working on a book about her cancer and is glad to have participated in the national ride.
“Being the oldest member to ever do this journey -- at 68 going on 69 in December, and a cancer survivor -- I felt good about what I could do,” she said.
It's not too late to donate to Jill's campaign:
Jill Smith raised $15,760 through her fundraising page and is still happy to accept donations. Click here