They said, “it will be life-changing.”
Then they said, “welcome to the family.”
When I registered for the Wounded Warriors Canada Battlefield Bike Ride (BBR) in September, I knew I was in for an amazing experience. I believed people when they said the almost-600-kilometre bike ride in Bosnia and Croatia would be life-changing. And I believed I was going to be part of something big when I added my name to the “BBR family.” I just didn’t expect that the seven-day ride could be even better than all of that.
This year’s Battlefield Bike Ride (BBR18 as it has come to be known) took place June 9-16, and it was indeed life-changing. It was better than amazing. I am a better person because of it.
When I signed up for BBR18, I had never been to Europe, never been part of an organized group cycling event (or any type of group event, for that matter), never ridden a bike seven days in a row and never raised $4,000 (the minimum for participating in the ride) for anything. But after I’d heard about the ride, I couldn’t imagine not doing it. This year’s ride was the fifth BBR, and it was organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Medak Pocket in Croatia by bringing us back to the Balkans, where more than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served for over a decade as part of a series of UN and NATO missions in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The ride promised to take us to areas of significance to Canadian troops and their families to honour the men and women who served in the former Yugoslavia.
My very good friend Paul Nichols here in Quesnel served in Medak with 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry 25 years ago, and I wanted to go back for him, to stand on the same ground he did and pass on the same roads he did.
The Battle of Medak Pocket has been called “Canada’s forgotten battle,” and this felt like a way I could help make sure it wasn’t forgotten. So while this whole trip seemed daunting and overwhelming at times, I took hold of the idea of being part of BBR18 and started fundraising and training. And I am so happy I did.
I am lucky enough to know several veterans who served in the Balkans, so I already had motivation and inspiration for being in Bosnia and Croatia, and one of the most amazing things about our Battlefield Bike Ride is that more than 30 veterans who served in the Balkans took part in this year’s ride, which added so much significance to each day. We learned a lot by hearing their stories, and it was an honour to be a small part of their return to the area where they had served.
Our seven-day ride took us from Sarajevo – where we officially began our ride at the street corner where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated, an event that sparked the First World War – to Mostar, where we saw the famed Stari Most bridge, which connects the two parts of the city and was destroyed by Croat military forces in 1993 and rebuilt and reopened in 2004, and then into Croatia. In Croatia, we rode along the stunning Dalmatian coast, staying in Makarska and Kaštel Lukši, before riding inland to Drinovci and then through the Medak region into Gospi. Our final day took us to the UNESCO Heritage Site of Plitvie Lakes National Park.
Twenty-five years is not that long ago, really, and while we saw many signs of rebuilding and moving forward, we also saw many signs of war as we rode past buildings still riddled with bullet holes and rode through the haunting Medak region, where many buildings have been abandoned and remain just as they did at the end of the war.
The actual cycling was incredible. The views were stunning, and it was very interesting to ride right through many towns and get such an intimate feel for a place I never would have imagined visiting by seeing it from a bike.
But this ride was about so much more than the cycling, and although there are so many highlights from the actual riding, it’s really the friendships I made and the feeling of being part of something bigger that I will hold onto the longest.
BBR is a major fundraiser for Wounded Warriors Canada, a national mental health charity whose mission is to honour and support our country’s ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, first responders and their families. Funds raised from the ride support the delivery of a range of mental health programs and services for individual members and families affected by Operational Stress Injuries such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and this year’s ride raised $400,000.
As the daughter of a veteran who served in Rwanda and someone who is involved with the Communities for Veterans Foundation and The Forge Programs to support veterans with PTSD, I know the types of programs and services for which BBR raises money are important and much-needed.
It was so wonderful to spend a week with people who care so much and are so committed to a cause that matters so much to me, and it was a great reminder that this path I’ve chosen is a pretty amazing one. I loved getting to know so many people that I wouldn’t necessarily get a chance to meet otherwise. We had riders in their seventies, in their teens and everything in between, and everyone was so supportive of one another.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience was better than I could have ever imagined. Thank you, Quesnel, for helping me get there.