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Twin Tour trek rewarding experience for associate dean

Spreading the word from coast to coast about prevention of women’s heart disease was the goal of Lori Buchanan’s Canada-wide bike tour this summer with her twin sister Nancy, but the pair got an unexpected bonus along the way.

“We expected it to be fun and we expected it to be interesting,” says the associate dean, research and graduate studies, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “But there is no way I could have imagined it would be as good as it was – it was so incredible. Every single day we met someone that was really exceptional in some way, who we wouldn’t have otherwise met.”

The sisters began riding as a pair a few years ago when they took on a nearly 900-kilometre ride to the family cottage – an incredible feat for Nancy, who had only recently taken up the sport at the urging of her sister.

The following year, Lori joined Nancy at her home in Switzerland and the two took on another epic bike journey, with a goal of eventually riding across Canada.

“It was so much fun that we decided we would do a trip like that every year,” Dr. Buchanan says. “We decided that we eventually wanted to go across Canada and we figured that our 50th birthday was the perfect time.”

The pair decided that raising funds and awareness about women’s heart health for the Heart and Stroke Foundation would give their trek a goal and tracked their progress and collected donations on their Twin Tour Web site (www.geonetics.net/twintour).

“We thought, women are going to die of heart attacks more frequently than any other cause but women don’t really know a lot about heart disease,” she says. “We only know about the studies that have been done on men, but it turns out that women don’t always have the same symptoms as men – and women don’t know that and doctors don’t always know that.”

So the twins took their message on the road – to waitresses in diners, fellow bike travelers, and anyone else they encountered along the way. They were also advocates for bike riding as a way for women in their middle years to get in shape.

When it comes to exercise, Buchanan says, “It’s easier for women to say, ‘I can’t do that today, I have all these other obligations,’ but bike riding is something all of us did as kids – we didn’t think anything about riding our bikes five miles back then.”

Buchanan says women can easily regain their childhood love of riding and begin a biking regime that starts with a short trip around the block and increase over time.

“What we have to remember as women is that if we exercise more now, we can do more for our families in the long term.”

For their cross-Canada trip, the sisters packed light – one small bag each – and did laundry each night in hotels they had pre-booked before leaving.

“One of our goals on the ride was to show that it’s not a big deal – it’s not complicated,” Buchanan says. “We had one change of clothes and a credit card – it was actually very freeing and a good life lesson that I don’t need all the stuff that I have.”

The pair made friends from around the world along the way, including a man from New Zealand whose lifelong dream was to travel by bike across Canada, and a young woman whose bike had broken down along the highway on her way to visit her boyfriend hundreds of kilometres away.

While Lori tried to fix the woman’s bike, Nancy rode to a local outfitting store to borrow a wrench. The store’s owner drove Nancy back to the scene of the ruined bicycle and they all chipped in to help.

“So there we were, four women at the side of the road all focusing on this mechanical problem with Lorraine’s wrench,” Buchanan recalls. “In the end the bike couldn’t be fixed but we all went back to the store – Lorraine is a Native drummer – so she taught us how sing on a Native drum and we had this wonderful impromptu Native drum singing experience.”

The sisters purchased a used bike for the young woman from the store owner’s brother and everyone was back on the road again.

“We just told her, ‘eventually you’re going to meet a girl or a young woman who’s going to need a little bit of encouragement to keep riding bikes, so you can pass it on,” Lori says.

When the pair finally reached their destination, they were surprised to find that riders they had met along their journey and invited to stay at the family cottage were all arriving into that part of Ontario on the same day. A reunion ensued, with riders camping on the cottage grounds.

“The local newspaper got wind of it and came down and wrote a story about all the ways you can ride your bike across Canada,” Lori says. “It is a really small town and they’d never had anything like this before and everyone was so interested in the bikes – we really felt it might encourage other people to start bike riding too.”