Saturday, August 29, 2009

Heading Home

September 2

We are on our way home now. Yet another ferry traversed successfully. Fourteen hours then we touched down in North Sydney at about 6:30 am and hit the road. Definitely our earliest start.The bikes are on the rack. It seems strange to be moving along at the actual speed limit with the riders in the RV with me. For the most part we will be taking a different route home than we took to get here. Speed and efficiency versus bike friendly and safety.
Oh, the sights we have seen. It's pretty amazing to think back over the last 15 weeks or so. We have pictures in the camera and pictures in our heads to last a lifetime. Canada is one beautiful country. And big. And the people we have met, the hundreds of people, helping us to acheive our goals of raising awareness about mental uillness, reducing stigma and raising funds, or just helping because that's the way they are.
Yesterday, our last day in Newfoundland we went for lunch to Quidi Vidi, a quaint little village near St. John's . The houses and buidings are spread around kind of haphazard so we parked kind of haphazard too. As we got out of the RV and were milling about with cameras and jackets I noticed a pick up truck waiting patiently behind the RV. I though maybe he wanted our parking spot so I walked over to explain. "That's a pretty colourful looking thing." he said referring to our home. I thought to myself that was quite something coming from Newfoundland, the land of primary colours. We talked about The Ride for Mental Health and the fundraising. "Do you have twenty dollars?" he asked. Wait a minute . . . Then he continued "I'll give you fifty for a twenty. That's a good deal." It is a good deal because every dollar in donations stays in the community to support local programs and services. I know John Abbot and Colleen Hanrahan of the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of the CMHA will put this donation and the others to good use.

The actual cross Canada bike ride may have come to an end but The Ride for Mental Health is still going strong. There's a long way to go yet.

St. John's - goin down the road

August 29

Day 103 . Mile 7587. The epic bike ride has crossed the finish line.

Our riders, Mel, Lindsay, Ben and Tracey started out bright and early from where the chip wagon isn't on the beach at Holyrood. Tracey guided us on the Admiral's coast route into Bowring Park in St. John's where we were greeted by a small but enthusiastic group. Then we headed down to the harbour for the traditional wheel dipping. Harder than you might think. There isn't any easy access to the water - no beach anyway - in the downtown area. We ended up at a dock at Harbourside Park by the War Memorial. Mel showed off his mountain climbing skills by clambouring down the rocks with his bike. No easy feat with biking shoes. The good news is that only the bike got dipped.

In the last week our schedule was lighter on the riding than in past weeks and months. So it seemed we were cooling our jets a lot waiting for the ferry and on the crossing. It's nice to be finished the ride. There's a tremendous sense of accomplishment and we've had a great time here in St. John's - very relaxing - met some terrific people.

It's pretty easy to measure the success of a cross-Canada bike ride - there's the number of days on the road, number of kilometers ridden, bottles of Gatorade consumed. There's a clear beginning and an clear ending.

It's a different story to evaluate our goal of raising awareness about mental illness. There is no baseline and no way to measure progress, and there is no research ongoing that we are aware of. I know hundreds of people have come out to the events across the country, and many thousands more people have visited the website and the blog, viewed the TV interviews and read the many newspaper articles that have been written along the way. But are we being clear with the message? Are we having an impact on stigma? We just have to hope and believe that this is more than a long, a very long, cycling tour and family vacation.

We head for home on Tuesday when we catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia. It's going to feel funny being home and getting back to real life after all this time. I know Mel is excited about re-joining his team at Xerox and is already setting up meetings for his return. Several events and speaking opportunities are on our calendar September and we will continue to find opportunites to build mental health awareness and acceptance, reduce stigma and rasie funds for programs to support those experiencing mental illness.

Thanks for all your support throughout this amazing journey and please stay tuned to this page for regular updates.

Friday, August 28, 2009


August 28th

The wind came up in the evening and howled all night long and was still going strong when we woke up. The weather called it gale force winds with gusts up to 50km/hr.

One of our neighbours knocked on our door around 7:00 this morning. "You just missed them," she shouted above the wind. Ben looked quizical. "The moose," she explained. "There were two of them and they came right up to my camper. They wandered around out here for quite a while."

Well, we're up now, might as well get going. And with that we sprung into action; coffee, smoothie, eggs, waffles and left over pasta. And that was just me.

Kidding. That's what Mel has for breakfast most days - riding days anyway.

The route took us along Highway 100 from Argentia heading towards the Trans Canada. Those gale force winds? Still blowing this morning and from behind. The riders would fly today. About 10km into the ride, I pulled over at a scenic look out to enjoy the view. A car pulled up and the driver stuck his head out the window. "What is this all about?" he asked. I explained. He said "I had a real problem a while back. It started with panic attacks. I actually had to take time off work. Then it became worse, depression. I was in real pain. Luckily my wife took me to the doctor." He's one of the lucky ones. "If I didn't get help when I did, I wouldn't be here." he told me.

We're among the lucky ones too. We have had help and support all along and at every stage of The Ride. Take tonight for instance. Tracey Shave arranged a BBQ at her inlaws in beautiful Holyrood. She invited friends and family and us. Tomorrow she will ride with us into Bowring Park in St. John's - our last day.

And don't think that because The Ride is ending that the Blog will come to an end too. It's never really been about the bike anyway.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ferry to Newfoundland

August 27

We made it to the Rock. And the sun came out as we approached the dock. And the fog burned off. And the winds calmed down. And the waves subsided. Yup, that means it was windy and wavey for the ferry crossing, all 14 hours of it. But I made it - didn't feel a thing! And I didn't have to lose conciousness to do it. You'll notice one of the photos taken on the ferry is a little blurry - from the motion - but I'm smiling. Can't really tell you what product worked best, but the combination sure worked. Patch, bracelets, crackers and gingerale, it was all good.

We didn't sleep much, sitting up on the ferry all night, so we decided to rest in the campground at Argentia this afternoon. It's a big campground, on a rocky hill, not very busy at all. Later in the afternoon an occupant of one of the two other campers here came over for a chat. She told us she had been married to the old lug for 52 years. And before they were married she trained as a psychiatric nurse, but she found it really stressful and eventually went into another field. I wonder how much has changed since she left psychiatric nursing so long ago? I guess you could say some things have changed. One thing that has probably not changed enough, if at all, are people's attitudes around mental illness.

Only two more riding days to go. Seems a bit hard to believe that the cross country ride we began three and a half months ago is almost finished. What will we do now? . . . .

Sunday, August 23, 2009

August 25 North Sydney and the Ferry

August 25

“What’s the bracelet for?” asked Sylvia from behind the counter in the gift shop. We were in Rita’s Tea Room , a one room schoolhouse in Big Pond, Cape Breton that had been converted and expanded to accommodate a restaurant, gift shop and display. Lindsay handed her a couple of our brochures and explained about The Ride and I continued to look around at all the photos, awards and memorabilia of singer/songwriter, Rita MacNeil. As we were heading to the door, Linda came bustling out of the kitchen, “How does everyone take their tea?” Lindsay and I looked at each other, “We,uh, didn’t . . .”
“We want you to have it.”interrupted Barb. “How about some cinnamon rolls too?” Goodies in hand we thanked them for their kindness. “Not at all,” was the reply,”That’s just the way Rita is.”

Meanwhile Mel and Ben were making slow progress through a lengthy construction project which included just about every kind of surface imaginable, except smooth pavement. When the traffic was stopped by the flagperson, they chatted with other drivers about the Ride. It’s amazing how crisp and clear we have all become in telling our story. We reconnected with the riders down the road a ways to share our respective experiences and of course to refuel on peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Then off we went to complete the second half of the 100K ride to North Sydney. We had selected a route along Hwy 104 travelling between the coastline and Bras d’Or lake. Although a little longer, it was to be quieter and a little flatter than the TransCanada. Quieter yes, flatter not so much. It was a tough ride but the beautiful sunshine and temperatures in the low 20’s made it a perfect riding day

The day’s ride came to a finish at the ferry terminal in North Sydney. As we are not booked to sail til tomorrow evening we headed to the campground. “ What’s all this on your RV?” asked Bob as we checked in. Again, we were happy to explain. “I never believed mental illness was real,” he said, “ till it happened to me”. Then he briefly shared his story.

Talking about the ferry I don't mind telling you I'm afraid - very afraid. No, not about that, I'm so over the driving the RV on and off the ferry thing. It's the ocean, more specifically the waves, really big, rolling waves, up and down and up and down waves, especially after a hurricane waves. A little merry-go-round makes me queasy. So I went to the pharmacy - got every known anti nausea product; gravol of course, some kind of patch for behind my ear that lasts for three days, some cute little wrist bands that apply pressure or something and good old crackers.

Stayed tuned - I'll let you know what works. We board the ferry at 9pm Wednesday and we arrive in Argentia, Newfoundland around noon Thursday. We'll head for the campground to rest up for the last two days.
Hard to believe we have almost reached the end of our trek across Canada. You can imagine how excited we are. Friday we ride to Holyrood and Saturday is the final ride into St. John's and the ceremonial dipping of the wheels in the Atlantic.


August 24

Well, we survived Hurricane Bill. Yesterday before the storm was to hit we moved inland somewhat to the Harbourlight Campground near Pictou. There the hurricane wasn't. It was more like a really bad rainstorm with high winds. Good news Greg - the tape job held up on the RV and there were no leaks. So this morning we were able to get to a dealership and get the oil changed, drive back to the parking lot at Saint FX in Antigonish and resume the ride where we left off.

And what a ride! Weatherwise, it was a bit of everything except sun. Well the sun did make an appearance but not til we pulled into the campground. Route wise it was notable for the hills and the traffic, and for crossing the Canso Causeway to Cape Breton. Funny coincidence - on the road today our riders were flagged down by passengers in a car that pulled over ahead of them. Turns out it was Patti Blake and her family on their way to a vaction. You remember Patti from Saint John? She's the one that headed up that dynomite committee that produced the Play Ball for Mental Health Ball Tournament and the exciting reception at the Saint John Market Square. Also, a little later another car pulled in just ahead of the riders. "What is going on. . . ?" then our intrepid riders recognized a Xerox service vehicle. It was Charles, the service tech for Cape Breton.

But in the end the story of the day was Lindsay. Yup, another personal best and this one was a milestone - one hundred milestones actually. "Some days I can do things and some days I just can't."

Saturday, August 22, 2009


August 23

We have begun the last 500 kms of The Ride for Mental Health. Yesterday we rode to Antigonish, Nova Scotia and we were poised to cross the causeway tomorrow and head to Cape Breton to catch the ferry for Newfoundland in a few days, but, er, not so much anymore. You see we have been joined by Bill, Hurricane Bill - arrived right on schedule mid day today, blowing and storming. So in anticipation, we headed to what we hope is higher and safer ground. Well actually, we just took advantage of this break to relocate to a nearby town with a shop that can do some service for the RV. No panic, Greg, just a routine oil change and such.

Our fear is that the severe weather will disrupt our timeline however, luckily we have some extra days built into the schedule. At this point we have basically four days to cover the 200 kms to Sydney to meet the ferry - something we can do in two. Today is a write off and tomorrow we'll get the service done on the RV, that leaves two riding days plus a bit to get to the ferry by Wednesday evening.

So today is a rest day (of course, look at the weather) and a day to catch up. We are in a campground overlooking the bay and being buffeted by the winds, sounds like nap time to me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sharing and Caring

August 20

At the event in Dartmouth yesterday Keith Brumwell of the CMHA Halifax Region talked about some of the social programs they run that support the resilience and recovery of adults experiencing mental illness. "We operate on a shoestring budget, funding is hard to come by." Keith apologized. They are open 6 days a week from 1pm to 9pm .

The Sharing and Caring Social Club provides social and recreational activities in a supportive environment. As Ruth, the consumer who spoke at the event in Dartmouth said, " It's a place where you feel comfortable. It's easy to be here. You don't have to worry what other people are thinking."

The Building Bridges Program offers one-to-one social support for individuals 19 - 65 years old.
A volunteer is paired with a program member and they meet a few times each month to share common leisure interests. "A mental illness can be very isolating for someone without social supports" Keith explained. "The individual might spend days or weeks alone in their room or apartment. Our volunteers might visit, or accompany them to the store, or out for a coffee. It's amazing what just a phone call will do."

When we spoke with Keith after the event he invited us to join them at the club's monthly Meal Night and we happily accepted. We found the club located in the Bloomfield Community Centre in the north end of Halifax. There was a lot of noise and activity as we approached. Several members welcomed us as we walked in. Keith explained that a great many of the individuals with a mental illness live below the poverty line. "When you are unable to work, social assistance in Nova Scotia is woefully inadequate." He went on to say that government funding for mental health is almost non-existent. "It's just not on the radar screen."

They rely on private and corporate donations to get by. Keith and the members were very grateful for the van that was recently donated by a GM dealership. "It's nice to go on an outing, out of the city or to the grocery store." said Ruth.

Everyone deserves a friend, a home and a job. The Sharing and Caring Social Club is a place where people can find a friend.

Event in Dartmouth

August 19
Today we rode 70 kms or so from Truro then met up with about 8 riders near Waverly before riding into the Xerox office in Dartmouth.
Rebbecca Moore and her committee had been working all day on several fundraising activities and they had an enthusiastic welcoming group whooping it up as we rounded the building. We were introduced by Cameron Bruce and Mel and Lindsay spoke to the people assembled on the lawn. Keith Brumwell of the CMHA Halifax Region and Ruth, a consumer speaker, also spoke telling us of the programs provided by the local CMHA and the benefits to consumers. A cheque was presented to the CMHA. Thanks for the pictures Peter.
After the formal event we had an opportunity to speak to several people. One supporter came to thank us for what we are doing to raise awareness about mental health, “I thought I could get through this” she said, tears welling up. “We have schizophrenia in my family. When my brother was diagnosed it seemed to come out of the blue, but it turns out my uncle did and one of his sons too. Nobody talks about it. It’s hard on everyone. There needs to be support and help for the families too.” Her family’s experience is not unique. Another individual approached us and spoke about his mental illness. “I have OCD and it is difficult for me sometimes. I know about the stigma too. Luckily my wife is very understanding.”
Sadly, most people know very little about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Nor do they understand just how many people are affected and live with the effects everyday. All too often individuals and their families deal with the intrusive and devastating effects of mental illness in silence, without support or understanding from friends, employers, co workers. Stigma and discrimination around mental illness is a result of misinformation or no information at all. Often the media perpetuates negative stereotypes. Too many people, including consumers and their families, buy into these myths around mental illness. The effect of stigma is silence.
It is important to speak up about mental health. Lindsay has told her story many times over in part to inform and build awareness and in part to encourage others to do the same. It's time to make mental health part of everyday plain conversation.