Recently I was recalling the Canadian prairies segment of the Sea to Sea cycling trip. We had been experiencing headwinds and crosswinds at a much greater rate than tailwinds.
Each morning the chaplain had prayed for favourable winds to help us reach our next campsite without encountering undo hardship. We had arrived the day before in Chaplin Saskatchewan having battled headwinds and crosswinds on what had been a long haul.
That evening we welcomed a lone, self-supported cyclist to join us for supper. He gladly accepted. Just one of his many pleasant surprises he had encountered after several years of enjoying life on the road.
The next morning our chaplain was ready to share a prayer with the 70 cyclists. He paused for a moment to contemplate the situation. How was he going to pray for favourable winds. We were cycling east while our guest was going west. We had a long day ahead of us to get to our pre-book campground. So, what to pray? The chaplain shared his prayer as a general petition for favourable winds and said, “We’ll let God figure it out.”
As this prayer was offered I was squirming a bit and feeling uneasy. Praying for favourable winds felt like we were sending God a Santa Claus gift list. It’s bringing our narrow desires for the day before God. Our narrow desires when there are more significant matters to pray for.
Being in a group of 70 cyclists, it wasn’t essential to have a tailwind. Rather than trying to bias God to send us favourable winds, maybe we should be praying for the cyclists as a group. In praying for success for the cyclists let’s pray for a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.
As a group we had the opportunity to cycle in a pace line. By riding in a tight line of, for example, six cyclist each cyclists would pull for a minute or two and then have an easier time drafting while the other five cyclists took their turn at the front of the line.
On the other hand, the lone guest would be out on the road with simply his own means to reach his goal for the day. He did not have any team members who could work with him.
The other side
Then I come across the verse listed below.
23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
John 16:23-24New International Version (NIV)
So what does it mean to ‘ask in my name’ when praying? How does that create a context for what we ask for? Is anything too trivial to ask for in prayer?
I don’t have additional insight into those questions. Yet somehow, I think we need to consider whether our prayers are self-serving or whether we pray in such a way that the answers to those prayers bring honour and glory to God.
In the end I think we should have prayed for the needs of the lone cyclist. However, did we know him well enough to determine his needs.?Maybe a headwind was fine because he hadn’t intended to go very far that day.
If nothing else, the chaplain’s prayer in Chaplin Saskatchewan did get me thinking about how we pray and what we pray for.
How can I capture or summarize the impact of ten weeks of continuous cycling. Each day, though it followed a similar pattern of “eat, sleep and bike, was filled with many impressions, unexpected events, chance encounters, spectacular views, heart breaking situations, terrorizing situations, sheer bliss, uplifting conversations, ABI challenges, and so much more. The abundance of experiences will percolate in my thoughts for a long time.
One of the main threads is an increased appreciation for those living in poverty and an increased conviction that there are many roads out of poverty. The summer has been a learning experience as different solutions have become evident.
Learning by observing
Just like cycling across the widest country in North America takes commitment and a willingness to address challenges, so to does gaining a deeper understanding of poverty. Taking part in the Sea to Sea charity ride gradually expanded my awareness about and demonstrated ways to help to end the cycle of poverty. The ride has exposed me to big projects and simple acts of hope.
Cycling six days a week took me through variety of neighbourhoods, ranging from grotesque affluence to abject poverty. I probably didn’t see the worst situations because I cycled through communities that had roads. It makes one wonder how much worse it is in some northern communities where there is no road access and the community infrastructure leaves much to be desired.
This ride has heightened my own awareness of the many faces of poverty. I know I have only seen a glimpse of the visible side of poverty. The hidden faces of poverty can elude us unless someone points it out.
I need time to consider how my deeper awareness will change what I do. Change sometime begins in small ways. Let me share one small example.
I do want to clarify that my acts of kindness are not the kinds of things I normally talk about. It’s not for me to announce or brag about what I do for someone else.
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your lefthand know what your right hand is doing,” Matthew 6:3 NIV
As I reflect on my first day back home I realized that even in small ways I am recognizing the needs of others and feeling compelled to act.
I was in a grocery store yesterday. A capable looking senior was ahead of me at the checkout. He was struggling to fit all his groceries in a knapsack. He managed to put the remaining groceries in a second bag he had. I asked if he was biking home. His response was, “No, I’m walking.” When I heard where he lived I offered to take him to his house. He jumped at the offer, saying it would definitely save his legs.
On the ride over to his apartment building Ron, as he had introduced himself, commented about Cobourg being a ‘Nobourg’ kind of place. He had struggled all his life with jobs eventually ending up in Cobourg. Despite having some very marketable skills, each time a company restructured he was the low man on the totem pole and had to go look for employment elsewhere. His life long struggle was evident in the way he presented himself. His appreciation for the lift was heartfelt.
Learning by listening
At various times while cycling across the continent we listened to presentations about projects that had been initiated by local citizens wanting to address specific needs. Many of these projects were run by a small group of volunteers with minimal resources, yet determined to reach out and help. These were projects motivated by people who had a heart for others and were willing to give, give, give.
One community ran a coffee house in which they offered breakfast ‘free or by donation’ a couple times a week. Their facility was small but that didn’t stop them from running a second hand store as well.
Another community re-purposed a church transforming it from a single use place of worship to a multi-use, multi-denominational place of living out one’s Christianity. They lived their faith with the sense that work and worship should be one. It was a place that provided support for people in various ways. They provided shelter, ran a cafe and sold merchandise which had been made locally.
Each time we listened to a presentation we were shown another initiative that would bring a shimmer of hope back into the lives of the poor.
We also heard about projects being done by Partners Worldwide, one of the tour sponsors. Partners Worldwide does work in several developing countries. It’s the business model that they have adopted that I find most intriguing – they are intentional about ending the cycle of poverty. Or shall I say they are intentional about ending of dependency, getting people beyond relying on the kindness or generosity of others to hopefully meet their basic needs.
Partners Worldwide works with people by using the resources on hand to help a person or family become financially independent. They will mentor farmers so they can grow crops that are more productive and help them with getting quality produce to market. In some locations they will assist with fees to verify that the farmer has legal title to the land.
Partners Worldwide will also provide micro-loans so farmers have start up money. With the comprehensive support that is being offered, farmers are often able to repay the loan ahead of schedule.
The most encouraging part of this type of help, is that the farmers who succeed become mentors to others in the community. Living with regained dignity and new found hope, out of thankfulness they want to help others. You could say, helping people out of poverty becomes contagious.
Learning through conversation
When cycling through towns and villages it was very easy to get into conversations with people as people are going about their daily activities. The slow speed of a bike and the fact that bikes don’t have a barrier called a windshield, put me in direct contact with people. Sometimes it was just a quick greeting and a couple of words. Other times it was a longer conversation in which a person shared their struggles or disappointments.
I got a sense that when a person shares their story there is an underlying sense of hope. They might be describing their struggles but in sharing they told their story, a story of perseverance, a story of hope.
These were stories of celebration. These stories weren’t about a life of abundance, but rather one of simplicity, one of thankfulness because their basic needs are met. They were out and about. They were participating in their community.
The poor, those who have lost hope are not interested in sharing their story. My sense is that once someone reaches out and partners with them they will begin to regain their self worth. As they start to feel the stirrings of hope they will begin to share their story.
A Cobourg initiative
for many people, poverty is only one mishap away. It might be a car breaking down and no longer being able to get to work. Repairing the car might mean there is not enough money for rent at the end of the month.
Last spring, a report was shared at a meeting in Cobourg. According to a survey conducted in the spring of 2017 there are over 1000 people in Northumberland County that are homeless. Some of those people are on the street. Some of those people are ‘couch surfing’. Some of those people are hidden from view in other ways.
Cobourg has a unique way of helping people with one of their essential needs. A group of volunteer have set up a ‘do it yourself’ shop to help community members with some basic transportation needs. Cycle Transitions helps community members acquire an affordable bike and teach them how to maintain it. The shop has volunteers who offer their experience with bicycle repair and take the time to teach cyclists to do their own repairs. Those who can’t afford a bike can earn one by volunteering at the shop and build up ‘sweat equity’ towards owning a bike.
I love this model of working with people who have minimal resources. It is empowering. Each person who works through Cycle Transitions not only gets a bike for basic transportation, but learns how to maintain a bike. They’ve earned the bike and have a vested interest and the knowledge to keep it in safe working order.
I hope to explore ways in which I can make a difference for people who live in poverty. I started the ride with a general sense of it is good to help the poor. I completed the ride with a strong conviction that there are effective ways to help people. The dozen or so success stories I heard this summer means there are a thousand more untold success stories out there.
I will continue to promote awareness of ways in which we can work to end the cycle of poverty, one person or one family at a time.
The oldest rider who cycled with us the whole way was 81 years old. He has many years on me. Don’t be surprised when I find another opportunity to take on another cycling adventure that helps raise money and awareness about poverty. There will always be people who need and would welcome a hand up, a mentor or someone to partner with them.
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I will remember the summer of 2017 as the summer of adventure as I cycled across Canada. It was a charity tour to coincide with Canada’s 150th celebration. A charity to raise funds and awareness to help end the cycle of poverty.
One aspect of the tour included one member who shared a daily reminder informing us of the specific First Nation’s traditional lands we were camping on each night, unceeded territories, treaty territories or peace and friendship treaties.
It is not coincidental that much of the poverty we experience in Canada is among the first nations communities. A poverty of resources, a poverty of spirit, much of it a direct result of our collective short sighted understanding of what these treaties did not honour or failed to respect.
Many times during the tour I heard statements like this. By camping and living out of two laundry baskets we are living a simple life, a life that helps us better understand poverty.
We have left much behind to do this tour. Our beds at home have been empty for two months. The use of our house with all it’s appliances, furniture and yard have been abandoned for the summer.
For me living in a tent with two laundry baskets holding all my essentials has been a life of abundance and may I even say luxury. I did not experience being deprived of my daily needs.
All summer I have had a campground arranged for me. All I needed to do is pitch my tent, a brief task each evening and pack up my tent each morning, a slightly longer task each morning.
In contrast to that my son and a friend spent more time this summer doing an emergency repair and basic maintenance on my house than spent setting up and taking down my tent.
Every day I had meals prepared for me by hard working volunteers. All I needed to do was walk up to the buffet table and enjoy a full course breakfast and supper each day. In return I would wash my own plate and cup before applauding the hardworking volunteer staff.
Each night I had a place to sleep. I had a tent that was dry or a few times I was offered a billet for a night or two. Sleeping outdoors in a weather tight tent has left me refreshed and healthy.
Each day I have had over six hours available to do a ‘gym’ workout while viewing the most amazing and varied vistas that anyone could ask for. Even a high tech gym with quality video wouldn’t compare to the real life experience of smells, sounds, temperature variations, breezes and headwinds. In other words, a multi-media experience could never match the multi-sensory experience. And each day I was congratulated for having put in another great day of commendable effort.
Each day I have experienced the support of a SAG (support and gear) team providing refreshments every 25 kilometers with other people along the road to ensure everything was well. On top of that each turn was clearly marked so as not to let me get lost.
While living out of a laundry basket and a tent I had the benefit of the best technology. I could post pictures of my adventure to Facebook, update my blog on a fairly regular basis. When my cell phone ‘died’ I was up and running again by the end of the day with a better cell phone, a better plan and at a reduced cost.
Poverty to me is living a life of uncertainty. Living a life in which each set back becomes another insurmountable burden. Living a life where no one else seems to care. Living a life that has no relief in sight.
I will be the first to admit, that the way I lived this summer did very little to make me more aware of what it is like to live in poverty. Living supported, cared for, provided for, looked after and then given additional consideration when I was experiencing difficulty is for me the furthest thing away from poverty.
However, this charity ride had raised my awareness of poverty. An awareness that has come not from experience as much as it has come from observation. As the tour moved through different regions of Canada, one would have to be blind to not notice the demise in certain regions. One would have to be blind to not see the contrast with the affluent regions.
The signs of contrast are sometimes the seriously dilapidated condition of houses or outbuildings. Other times is was the proliferation of high end cars in the driveway. Somehow it was usually evident when we cycled through a First Nations community. If it wasn’t the condition of the neighbourhood, it would be the increased presence of police or the lack of community services.
Catholic after affect
In cycling through the villages and towns of Quebec the focal point was consistently the Catholic place of worship, sometimes a cathedral, other times a church of less grand proportions. It’s like you could assess the standard of living of a community as a whole by the size of the Catholic focal point. The traditional houses within the town or village would all be very similar.
In a time when the Catholic church was a vibrant part of the community, the poor would be looked after, the rich would contribute to the church. The wealth of the community for the most part would not be seen in the statement of affluence represented by individual houses, but rather in the size of the church.
For me the presentations done by Partners Worldwide and World Renew was the most effective awareness raising for me. In sharing their stories I realized that my living situation this summer exemplified luxury and more to the point, privilege. The presentations showed time and again that as the issue of poverty was understood and then addressed, that people began to live with a sense of hope.
It’s the poverty of spirit, and the conditions that create a sense of hopelessness that needs to be addressed. Hearing about projects where people and families are mentored, provided with resources and training helps me begin to understand the amazing impact we can make.
A spirit of hope develops when we work with the poor in a way that shows a love for neighbour – respecting their dignity, recognizing their skills, befriending them ending the injustice that has deprived them of self-worth and in that way push aside the spirit of poverty.
My life of luxury and privilege will continue when I move out of my tent and back into my house. I will be more conscious of looking for ways to bring hope to those living in poverty.
A few days before the start of the Sea to Sea tour my greatest concern was that the ride would be over too fast. Not that nine and a half weeks is a short block of time to be away from home. Somehow the uniqueness of the experience leaves me dreading the end. Reaching Halifax will signal the end.
As one person commented recently, “This is what it must be like to live in a circus.” It’s like leaving my real life behind for a whole summer. The real life with it’s responsibilities of paying bills, looking after the yard, weeding the garden and all the other things that make up day to day living.
Oh, yes, don’t forget to go to work five days a week if one is still in that phase of life.
Instead, I’m living the simple yet luxurious life.
Simple in that I have a basket of clothes that I keep laundered by hand, set up and take down my tent as needed each day, and then focus on getting to the next camp site and do it all over again.
Luxurious in that every day I have breakfast and supper prepared for me. All I need to do is walk up to the table, have my plate filled and find a place to sit down and eat it. In exchange I simply need to do one task for the whole group each day.
Each day that I ride, along with a few dozen other cyclists, I have no idea what variations I’ll experience in my day. It’s the chance meetings that turns our riding into a moving billboard. A motorist on the highway or a pedestrian in a small town will have seen several cyclists in identical gear. At some point their curiosity gets the better of them.
When the curiosity overflows the question gets popped. What is going on? Where are you going? Why are you riding?
How I answer the question depends on how the inquiring person strikes me. In a Mac Donalds in Baudette, Michigan some seniors were very intrigued. As I was explaining that we had been riding since June 26 from Vancouver they were impressed. They were complimentary about me as a 64 year old riding all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. They dismissed the idea that they were past the age of joining in on such a venture. When I told them our oldest rider is 81 and three quarters their jaws just dropped.
It’s only when a person asks why we are riding will I mention that we are riding to raise money to End the Cycle of Poverty. I will then give them a sticker of a bicycle with a heart. The heart is a great symbol. A heart for an adventure that involves an intimate connection with a bicycle, and an even greater heart to help the poor.
Other times, when I see a parent with a young child or two I’ll stop and tell them I have a sticker for them. As a former teacher I know that kids love stickers. I’ve also learned that adults will get just as excited to receive a sticker.
The end in sight give Hope
Cycling across the continent each day can sometimes be grueling. However, we know that at some point we will reach camp. Just keep pedaling. If things get really tough we know we can get a SAG vehicle to bring us in. A broken down bike, an injury along the way does not spell disaster. We have a way out. And a convenient one at that.
For many living in poverty, there is no end in sight. Each day is a struggle. Each day brings with it the possibility of unknown challenges. And worst of all, an injury, a breakdown of something essential could very easily spell disaster. For many people they are not living with a safety net of a SAG type vehicle that will ‘airlift’ them to a place of help.
Does it sound like a dream? Only in that all good ideas start out as a dream. They are making the dream a reality in so many different ways.
Because they are business people they are not interested in giving handouts. Handouts create dependency if the support doesn’t go beyond that step. Also, their model would also not be described as a hand up. They are committed to ending the cycle that is holding so many people down.
As business people they work with a viable business model. As such that means providing families with the resources needed to give them hope by helping them leave behind a spirit of defeat, a spirit of poverty. This means providing individuals with micro-loans, advocacy, education, skill development and mentors or any combination of these supports.
At times the support is providing a loan and teaching the skills needed to raise a crop that has a viable market. Other times it involves securing proper land ownership so the family have a place to farm needed crops. Other times it’s setting a family up with equipment and a market for small scale home manufacturing.
The possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination. Each project is designed to ensure a high success rate. Each successful venture becomes the model for other members in the community to imitate and work their way out of poverty.
The beauty of the work done by Partner’s Worldwide is that it costs on average $150 per person to help a family out of poverty. That means financial poverty. That means poverty of spirit. With each success another family is making a positive contribution to their community. The outcome is a spirit of generosity as they in turn are motivated to help others.
Dreading the End
This ‘circus of a ride’ while it seems like an unreal world to be living in will come to an end for me on August 29. However, this ‘circus of a ride’ has been a further eye opener for me that working to eradicate poverty is not a hopeless venture. It is attainable.
In that way, this experience does not end for me on August 29. I pray that in some way the 56 days of cycling is only a prelude to further understanding and working on ways to end the cycle of poverty, both in Canada and in developing parts of the world.
Poverty, at heart is an issue of justice. It comes down to resource distribution. When families are deprived of access to resources because of corporate greed or war. It beats people down to a point where they are at risk of losing all hope.
We have the eyes to see. We have the means to bring change. We need the will make that happen.
In other words, there should be no end to my ride experience. Rather a precursor to instill in me a greater spirit of generosity.
A break in routine should not be a big deal. Little did I expect the domino effect it would create. Given the strenuous nature of the activity I should have had some inkling.
I was the last of 85 cyclists to leave camp that morning. In hindsight I should have left later. Being the last rider did not concern me as we were scheduled to meet at the 120 km point in the century ride for a photo op. The midpoint was a milestone, an occasion not to be overlooked. It had been 3490 km since we had dipped our tires in the Pacific Ocean, with 3490 km to go before we would dip our tires in the Atlantic Ocean.
I arrived at the midpoint with a little over an hour to spare. I was a great opportunity to take in a nap… well, more to the point, a nap just happens when I relax after being very active for a few hours.
After the photo op I completed the last 40 km of the century ride for the day. With the long break in the early afternoon and the heat I arrived in camp knowing that my recovery protocol was essential. I couldn’t afford any short cuts or missed steps today.
This is where a seemingly very good day began to unravel. I didn’t have sufficient time for the full recovery protocol. I had set up my tent and prepared my recovery liquids as expected.
About forty minutes into my recovery time, supper time was announced. I had relaxed a bit, but had not had the benefit of a nap (a key element for brain recovery). The nap at the midpoint was to blame. I decided to get up and head over to the pavilion some 200 meter away. Missing supper was not a good option.
My walking was very slow and difficult, not a good sign. As I approached the pavilion with almost a hundred people engaged in animated discussions I looked for an empty spot near the edgge. No luck. I knew I couldn’t take the level of noise in the middle of the pavilion.
I chose a picnic table about 30 feet from the pavilion. By this time, the effort of walking, the unsuccessful attempt to find seating, added to my sensory overload, further reducing my functioning to the bare essentials. I sat down at the picnic table in tears.
The other term that is used instead of sensory overload is the term flooding.
Shortly one of the support drivers came over, having decided something was amiss. She asked me what was wrong. As I was unable to say anything coherent, she followed up with insisting that I tell her what was going on with me. Good intentions but the last thing I needed was to be flooded with questions. My brain was too fatigued. I didn’t need help. I just needed a quiet place with no questions adding to the flooding.
A second person came over out of a sense of caring. He asked me a few questions further adding to my flooding. Again, I was not able to give a coherent response. He suggested I move over to the group not wanting me to feel isolated. He insisted I was among friends and didn’t need to shrink away from them.
Had I decided I felt too vulnerable in my condition I would have foregone supper and remained inside the safety in my tent. I had chosen to join the group because I trusted this group of people based on the generous support I had experienced earlier in the tour.
I managed to convey that I simply needed a quiet place. In response the fellow decided he would join me for supper and just wouldn’t talk so I would have the quiet space I needed. An interesting choice for which I had no objection.
While I was eating my supper a kitchen staff member came over to me and simply put her arm around me. No questions. No need to know what was happening with me. Without adding to my flooding, I could simply convey my appreciation by putting my arm around her. No need for words, yet an unambiguous sharing of support and appreciation.
I have meanwhile arranged for an advocate to step in should I have another situation of sensory overload or flooding. I would simply refer the well meaning help to my advocate so that attempts to help me doesn’t add to my flooding.
Once again, I have stumbled across a situation that is hard to plan for. I did not have my regular support people near by. It’s just not possible to plan for all eventualities. Can’t be done. How does one plan for the unexpected?
For most people it’s hard to understand how to deal with someone who is neurologically atypical. Their experience with neuro-atypcial people might be rare or non-existent. Trying to help becomes counter productive. Without some careful reflection, the situation can continue into a downward spiral when the necessary answers or responses aren’t forthcoming.
In thinking aloud, I do wonder whose needs are being met with the questions that were put to me. What information was essential to my well-being at that moment?
When someone is experiencing ‘sensory overload’, or ‘flooding’ or severe neuro fatigue, it is most helpful to keep things simple. My suggestion is to focus on whether the person is in a crisis that would require emergency action. The two most helpful questions would be:
1. Are you in pain?
2. Do you need help?
Both of these questions can be simply and clearly answered with a nod or shake of the head.
Some helpful questions could be:
1. Would you like me to keep you company?
2. Are you fine where you are now?
These questions while being less intrusive can be just as effective in assessing what help is needed with neurologically typical people as well.
One way to determine the difference between a person who is upset or distraught as opposed to experiencing sensory overload or flooding is to use humour. It might seem strange to use humour when a person is in tears. A person who is experiencing sensory overload or flooding is not able to respond to humour. Since the key purpose of the intervention is to determine whether additional help is needed, using humour would not be considered inconsiderate or out of place.