The bike is such a brilliant piece of technology. It can connect in joyous ways with the young and old, no matter where you are in life. In the documentary The B.I.G. Cycle of Life, the bicycle links riders with the end of life.
More than six years ago, Ken MacAlpine brought the idea of starting a gran fondo in Sarnia, Ont., to that region’s health organization. The event would raise money for palliative care in that area of southern Ontario, specifically St. Joseph’s Hospice and the palliative-care unit at the Bluewater Health hospital. The first Bluewater International Granfondo (B.I.G.) ran in 2016, and it continued to be held up to 2019, raising $200,000 throughout those four editions. In 2020, when the event couldn’t happen because of the pandemic, the committee behind B.I.G. made and delivered meals to front-line health-care workers.
The film, which debuts virtually on April 9, chronicles how the gran fondo came to be and the effects it’s had in the community. The money raised by B.I.G. doesn’t go to the purchase of anything material for the palliative-care facilities. Instead, it goes to support the skills and education of palliative-care workers, who can then provide better care and support. The doc delves into the work done at the hospice and the hospital. It shows touching and striking stores from nurses, doctors, volunteers and the people they care for. Palliative-care nurse Maryse Bouvette’s discussion around suffering is quite philosophical. The term suffering comes up often in cycling, so the word isn’t out of place in a cycling-themed documentary. The suffering, however, at the end of life is very different from that experienced on two wheels. Another powerful scene comes when Dr. Glen Maddison, the medical director of St. Joseph’s Hospice, finds himself on the other side of the palliative-care system, so to speak. He talks, with honest emotion, about his own mother’s happy experiences in her final days.
It’s hard to critique a documentary that tells such a positive and hopeful story. Of course, the film and its subject matter are separate things. (Some people and organizations behind the fondo are also behind the film.) As the documentary tells the story of the fondo in detail and it goes quite deep into the palliative-care work in Sarnia, the discussions can seem more promotional than narrative. Everything is well shot and produced. There is, however, a peculiar scene near the end of the film. Three riders walk their bikes into the late-day sun, which is over the waters of Lake Huron. Why are they walking along in their road shoes? Why not ride those bikes like so many others in this documentary?
If you’ve ever ridden a fondo or mass-participation ride of any kind, you must see The B.I.G. Cycle of Life. You get a behind-the-scenes look at all the work that goes into putting on a fun event. I’m sure you always thank the volunteers, but it’s good to see them get some of the spotlight in this work. Many big rides have charitable components. Riders are happy to contribute to the causes, but the link between the ride and the cause may seem to fade after the event. Even on the day of the ride, amid all the fun, our contribution can seem abstract. With The B.I.G. Cycle of Life, you see the real effects of the ride’s fundraising, which nicely brings things full circle.
Finally, it’s great to see the local community of cyclists in Sarnia that the fondo helped to grow. Sure, big names, such as Hunter Allen and Frankie Andreu, show up to the event, but I was thrilled to see riders and bikes of all kinds taking to roads. More people on bikes: always a good thing. Some of the health-care workers even joked that all those new cyclists riding and getting fit would be “bad for business,” which is something that makes them happy.
Attend the virtual première of The B.I.G. Cycle of Life with special guests presented by Sarnia’s Imperial Theatre on April 9, at 7:30 p.m.