Wednesday, 10 July 2013


 What a whirlwind!

Today is Wednesday, July 10 - Day 20 of the Strong, Free and Happy tour for Mental Heath. Time has flown! Although a part of me is still in disbelief in Peterborough, other parts of me (e.g. my legs) have no trouble comprehending the distance ridden. This has been an ultimate test to my endurance, a humanizing and wonderful experience.

Early mornings (I'm talking 5am), eat, pack, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, oups wrong turn, eat, stretch, bike, presentations (where applicable) eat, stretch, unpack, clean bike, eat, shower, ice, write, phone calls, prep for tomorrow, sleep (ahhh. . . . ) repeat. That's a typical day. Never mind the mountainous climbs, the unforgiving headwinds, beating sun or cool rain - the toughest time is the three minutes after my alarm clock goes off, when I awake from a comfortable and peaceful sleep, give myself a pep talk, finally get two feet on the floor, and get ready to do it all again. Day after day after day I've decided that doing this ride is better than not doing it. Putting myself out there, giving what I have, sacrificing valuable beach/party/down time, opening myself to criticism and responsibility or even disappointment, risking failure, has each and every day come shy to my drive to continue. There is just so much more reason to continue.
None of the challenges on this ride have come close to what I experienced a couple years ago. It was a really tough time for me: I was coming back to Canada after 3 months in a very different culture, finishing up a university degree, ending a serious relationship and wondering where to go from there. Looking back, it's not wonder I has having a rough time, but all I could thing about in the moment was that I had failed. I'd witnessed and experienced a lot of suffering, wondered why the world had to be like that, and felt so totally disoriented and disconnected. I didn't know what normal was any more, let alone how to feel it. After months of depressive symptoms and being angry with myself for not feeling quite right, I got some help. Months after that, I got some help that actually helped. The struggle of accepting my experiences and myself, developing a new understanding of our world, and loving both more and more each day was the real endurance challenge. Although it feels natural again for me now, it doesn't for everyone. Each day people are struggling to motivated, fighting of demons of their own and wondering if it will ever stop. At least I can see the finish line.

I'll call the route to this finish line a humanizing experience. Jean Vanier would likely describe it as "Becoming human." To do this ride, I have needed to rely on others to provide their support and their wisdom. Being in the spotlight sometimes (more than I am comfortable with), I've developed a deeper understanding of myself. I've needed to be real, honest, comfortable, true, imperfect for all to see, figuratively naked. I'm okay with that because this vulnerability fosters connection if we let it. It also takes courage. Our society is one the highly values the cookie-cutter image and matching personality, so sometimes it's difficult to be different. Yet, in truth, each and every one of us has unique and valuable abilities to contribute to the world but none are complete. We need each other and are perfect in our imperfection - what's not to share?!

This brings me to the fact that this campaign is a wonderful experience. That is why I continue. Honestly, I felt like it was a success before I left because of the connections it has helped to create. I have many new friendships because of efforts for this ride and I know of other people who have come together because of it. During the more difficult times, I think about being a beckon of hope for people experiencing mental illness and working in solidarity with others to improve the state of our nation's mental health. Or, I don't think, and just do it. I am learning so much about life and people along the way.
The riding has been amazing: I've felt the victory of reaching a summit and wind on my faces I sped down mountains of Northern Ontario, felt the cool mist of nearby lakes, swam off Point Peelee, sipped Long Point wine in Kincardine, had saunas and ice baths by the river, smelled farm country, differentiated the sounds of transports changing gears on their approach, hear honks and words of encouragement, felt the rush of city traffic and thanked God for the comfortable bed, loving family and deepened friendships at the end of each day. Two more days of riding left of this tour, and a lifetime of love, dedication, endurance, challenge, growth to come. I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

ROCKed the Hills!

  I've ridden ~700km in 5 days, and have some observations from the road. Days 1 through 5 have been full of the great hills (mountains?), rocks, wildlife and forest of the Canadian Sheild! The rock here is indigenous, meaning it's made of cooled lava from beneath the earth's crust.  It's a redish colour, making the gravel on the shoulders of the road and even the cement made from surrounding rock look more pinky/orange/brown. Also on the side of the road you can see hydra poles being held up by piles of rock rather than being set in the ground. This is because it would be so difficult to drill a hole to stand the pole up in.
Before I left Norfolk, I had countless warning about moose, bear and mosquitoes. The mosquitoes do get pretty heavy after dark but luckily I'm in bed by then. Apparently the bear and moose come out more after dark too. So far, I've been lucky to only see them form a distance. The bear I was about 30m away. It was morning and the bear looked curious more than anything as it poked it's head out of the forest to the side of the road. I think it was on its way to the greasy spoon across the street for breakfast! The moose was in the ditch on the way up to T-Bay. I only saw it's back but it looked pretty small (for a moose). A couple mornings ago, Theo, Steve and I saw a lynx checking out the cabins we were staying at. It was just taking a look around, probably scouting out some garbage, prancing away with tail wagging. We have that on Go-Pro footage.
The boreal forest in this area is dominated by evergreen trees. I've seen of pine, spruce and mountain ash.

This hills are truly awesome. They're up and down, around bends, more up, a little more down. I really like that the roads are made to accommodate transport trucks since that means the corners are gentle and I can take up more speed on the downhill. Theo and I had a good system going where I would draft off him going downhill and then I would use that speed (often more then 45km/h, up to 60km/h) to take off uphill. I really like the hills - even the uphill - because it's a new challenge every few minutes. It breaks up the ride and gives a sense of accomplishment, then there's the thrill of going downhill! Yesterday, Theo and I ended our hilly potion with Sault-Ste Marie Area's Old Hill and Mile hill (~ 1 mile uphill at a grade close to Turkey Point hill). Ahh yea!

I was SO excited to see Ryan, Lisa, Raya and Cy today. I've had a few really tough rides and was pretty tired before I left yesterday but the thought of seeing them gave me that extra motivation to get going. There's nothing like Raya and Cy's smiling faces, yelling "Aunt Jessie" and running to give me a hug. I engulfed them both in a huge bear hug. AWE! We had a delicious family dinner together and got settled. What a day J

Today is rest day. Thank goodness! Now that I'm allowing myself time to rest I can really feel how tired I am! I'm mostly tired all over, like I was hit by a Mack Truck. That's to be expected though. I think I have trigger finger from switching gears so much on those bloody hills! Today's the day to get fixed up though - I'll look for a place to get a massage (couldn't find anywhere yesterday but will not be giving up on that just yet), and get a couple other nagging things looked at. My bike (Jacques) is already at the shop getting a tune up.
Today's to-do list: massage, doctor/physio, wallmart (for chain-cleaner holder and funnels, eye drops), pick up bike, emails, presentation for Owen Sound, blog, thank you notes, bike 30km to catch up to Laird, call committee members for update.

Talk to you soon. Keep smiling,


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Piss and Vinegar

Daily update
It's day 3 of the Strong, Free and Happy ride. It was a fogy day, once again with hills (par for the course in this area). We saw a blackbear this morning. Boy was it cute, button nose and all!
Today I biked 155km between 7am and 4:30pm, much of it with Theo. This time though, I set the goal and the end point. Yesterday, I stopped a little early because it was pretty warm, I was slowing down and the boys were worried about me. I had wished I went farther, given the beautiful day and rhythm I had. Now, I'm definitely not going to discount other people's worries about my safety but I'll be trusting my own judgment more. I put a lot of mental and physical preparation into this - more than I think can be easily understood by others - so I can't expect them to know just how far I can go before quitting time. 

Some background info
Have you ever heard the saying that brick walls are there to show how bad you want something? It's all about looking adversity straight in the eye and finding a way to overcome it. The first time I heard that was in "The Last Lecture" (Randy Pausch), and it really struck a chord with me. I totally believe in fighting for what you believe in, giving your all etc etc. It's usually tough, sometimes makes you wonder if it's worth it, and always changes your life. (Can you see where I'm heading here?)

The Strong, Free and Happy ride for mental health definitely has a worthwhile cause and has kept me -and many others - hopping to make it happen. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has given their encouragement, talents and time. I am also really happy to see all relationships that have come about because of it. That in itself is worth it, but it hasn't been an easy route. From the few original brainstorming sessions I had last summer to conversations throughout the fall, finally committing in January to today, the committee has had our share of challenges, changes and shining moments. (My favourite shining moment being Tuned Up.) Early on, I decided it was better to trust others and give it my best shot than to not try. That was a risky move that came with a bunch of 'brick walls'. I have felt disappointed, stressed overwhelmed and doubtful at times, yet whenever my confidence wavered close to reconsidering, something positive happened that instilled that confidence. For example, people have stepped up to fill in the gaps in support crew work, they have offered sponsorships and donations, they have commented that their life is better because of this (or exercise in general), and have something to bond over. I've bonded with so many others as well and am very thankful for that. I've also learned a lot about strategies for handling adversity, which happens naturally when so many people are working together. Physically, I was quite hurt during a practice session. Luckily, I had not obvious breaks or concussion and was able to get back to biking a few days before the ride.) Had I known I would be so challenged before I started this, I may not have. I'm glad I didn't know and glad to still be here giving it my all.
Just thought you should have a taste of the background info. It's the good stuff and only the beginning.

Talk to you soon. Keep smiling,


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Hi all,

I just wanted to check in to let you know how I'm doing. Yesterday Theo and I biked 146km from Thunder Bay in 15-20km/h headwind, cool temperatures and rain/mist. Ave speed 20km/h, max speed 42km/h. Ice baths, nutrition and stretching have been key. Uncle Steve has done some pretty solid driving too!
Today I ended up doing about 129km in a warm, sunny and hilly. ave speed 25km/h max speed ~52km/h. woo hoo! The views were amazing today. I can't wait to get pictures up and write stories. However, I haven't been sleeping too well (wildlife keeping me up) so I'm going to bed soon.  I'll have to share another time. Talk to you next time I have an internext connection, I promise!
Twitter, facebook and the website,, will have more constant updates, especially when cell/internet reception is lacking.

Thanks for reading! keep smiling!


Monday, 20 May 2013

Lesson 2: Do it anyway

Caring is difficult and risky. It calls us to act, to face challenges, to have hardships, to overcome, to experience victory, to love, to hate, to change and to feel. The Strong, Free and Happy tour is happening because so many people care. Also because so many people care, there are challenges to making it happen. I feel okay with taking the associated risks because I wholeheartedly believe this is the way to live.

"People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of alterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some untrue friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people my deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some my be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."

-Mother Teresa.

Lesson 1: Life's Good

I just want to put it out there that life is good. There are certainly a lot of hardships but our world is also full of wonder, sparkles and smiles.
 (Just to reiterate: Yep I did seriously write sparkles, smiles and wonder. There are puppies and rainbows, too . . . and every now and then you can spot the sun shining out of someone's . . . errrr. . . behind) 
It doesn't take much to melt my heart. I'm not really sure how to continue this blog other than listing some good things in existence and daring you to take the time to think about each one - or better yet - post what you're thankful for. Now, smile. Without trying to sound too "Book of Awesome"ish, here are a few reasons why the world is good.
1. A child's smile. Better yet, a child's laugh. Kids need a lot of taking care of but they help adults as much as adults help them. Seeing their whole face light up and hearing that carefree belly laugh can certainly melt away the day's worries.
2. You're smile
3. Relationships. Whether it be connection with a parent, sibling, significant other or sharing some small-talk with a stranger, connection is key.
4. Humor
5. Cheese
6. Nature. Think of a nice crisp morning. The sun is rising, birds are chirping, grass sparkles with dew, cool fresh air fills you nostrils to lungs.
7. Better yet, add a run. I am so thankful for my physical abilities and the opportunities I have to train.
8. Good food!
9. Shelter
10. Water
11. Faith. Really, I experience God in all of the above but it's worth a direct mention.
Not everyone has all of these but some can be found even in the crappiest of situations, as long as we remember to look.
What are you thankful for?

Regards to the Omelas

Sitting in the sunshine and light breeze on the shore of Lake Erie this balmy May 24 weekend, I can't help but remember the ones who walk away from the Omelas.
The ones who walk away from the Omelas are no ordinary people. They are a group in a (fictional) storey who leave a euphoric community after learning that their paradise only exists because of the hardships of someone more vulnerable. I can relate.
 To understand, I urge you read 'The ones who walk away from the Omelas,' by Ursula LeGuin (a mature read).
 After reading this, I was asked which person I would be: one who walked away, or the one who continued to live with the Omelas. (Feel free to ask yourself the same question.) I am not sure if staying or leaving is more effective but it is my nature to take some course of action. The Strong, Free Happy tour is part of how I'm doing that.
Probably the most common question I get about the Strong Free Happy tour is 'Why." My response when people ask about my motivations is really a bunch of things including academic and professional background plus personal experiences. Above all though, the driving force is the desire to share the mental health strategy that has been so beneficial in my own life.
Over the past few years, my eyes have been wrenched open to a select few of the  cruelties in our world. And I believe these select few are quite moderate in comparison to what else is out there. As the protected and caring person I am,  I was struck by these experiences- and their prevalence.  Like those in the storey, I  felt confused, shameful, frustrated, restless, helpless and hopeless. This led to anger with myself and those closest to me, plus a deep sadness.
I had never wanted to be a person who simply watched and accepted the hardships of others. I hated myself for being so dependant yet restless and bitter.  I wanted to be someone who took some kind of action, but it was really hard to function. Lasting symptoms of depression (3 months intense homesickness, followed by ~ 8 months helplessness, hopelessness, sadness etc with some highs here and there) led me to see a counsellor and eventually a psychiatrist. Medication was an option but I didn't want that. I wanted to be able to help myself so I went home with a list of lifestyle strategies. Journaling and other readings helped me to comprehend my feelings while exercise helped with my confidence, optimistic outlook and lasting interruptions in those vicious cycles of negative thought. Knowing the pain I and so many others have been though, having bounced back to a more understanding, optimistic and thankful self, plus having the freedom/responsibility to share these experiences leads me to the Strong, Free and Happy tour for Mental Health.
So, on this beautiful day, I plan a bike ride across the country to share some lessons learned. 
I hope you enjoy this and further musings.