A cycling tour down Vancouver Island to raise money for Cops for Cancer was an idea that didn’t even crack the top 10 being thrown around at a meeting of police officers in the late 1990s.

Martin Pepper, then a Saanich Police Officer, threw it out there.

“How about we start this sort of snowball effect of riding a group of people, you know policemen, down the island, and culminating with some kind of event in Victoria at the end of it?” is how he said he pitched it.

It was only after they discounted dozens of other ideas that they came back to the bike ride and a plan began to take shape.

“We did a reconnoiter of the route, planned out the elevations so we had an idea of what we were looking at, spoke to the different detachments and asked them to help us out with accommodations and you know, food and things like that,” said Pepper.

A few months later they went for it, departing from the Saanich Police Station.

It was not an auspicious start to be sure. Just one sponsor and a few girlfriends and wives were there to send riders off.

“That was it. Nobody from the department showed up and we had one rental truck we had one van and we had a travel trailer that we borrowed from one of the local RV shops and that was about it,” said Pepper.

Undaunted, they drove to Port Hardy, got on their bikes and started their journey.

They didn’t have the faintest notion that 20 years later the ride would still be going strong and would have raised more than $24 million for childhood cancer.

Pepper thinks the ride’s success is due in part to the special island sense of community, but also because every year the ride is renewed with a brand new team.

Only under exceptional circumstances is a person allowed to do the 1,000-kilometre journey a second time.

“By having new riders every year you get new blood on the team but you get the enthusiasm of previous team members,” said Pepper.

“When you go and meet new riders before they ride and you look at them and say, ‘Okay how many of you guys have never cried,’ and you’ll get a number of them put their hands up, and it’s like ‘You’re going to and if you don’t, you’re a rock.'"

He said only former TDR riders truly know how exhausting and heart-rending the entire process is.

“It’s just really emotional events and very powerful events."

Those range from huge school assemblies in which hundreds of students scream for the riders, to meeting kids impacted by cancer, to interacting with community members who care so much.

Pepper had an experience which, for him, captured both the emotion of the moment and the kind of spirit which has kept the ride going.

It was a woman who greeted him on the very first ride.

“I think it was around Qualicum area, she knew we were coming I guess, and she hobbled down to the road and she was waving an envelope as we came up,” said Pepper.

She desperately wanted them to stop so she could give them her donation personally. They had to keep going and leave it up to their support team to collect it.

What made it so special was her determination and what happened when Pepper went back for the 10-year anniversary ride.

“The same lady, now with a walker, was doing the same thing, hobbling down the driveway with her envelope waving to us, trying to get us to stop."

Pepper paused for a moment, before continuing.

“I’m tearing up just thinking about it."

This year's Tour De Rock ride kicks off Saturday, September 22, and CTV's Yvonne Raymond is taking part. Donate to her campaign here.