Fort Qu’Appelle – SK

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Dream Big – Fort Qu’Appelle mural

Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.

July 17, 2017 was my first time in Fort Qu’Appelle. I had ridden to Fort Qu’Appelle with my cycling buddy, a short 80 km ride from Regina. We had traveled down some quiet roads, enjoying the tranquility of the open skies. It was likely the rough condition of the road that accounted for the lack of traffic.

20170717_090056As I was cycling along I noticed a highway maintenance truck waiting along the side of the road. I stopped to talk with the operator when I noticed he was driving a tarring rig. I asked if the plan was to tar the road today. His response was, “Yes, we got to fix this highway.” I expressed surprise that he called it a highway. If this is considered a highway then we don’t have much hope for what it called the Trans-Canada Trail.

I was assured that the tarring wouldn’t begin till all the cyclist had passed this point They were still waiting for the tar which was scheduled to arrive in about an hour. This being Saskatchewan that would likely mean a three hour wait.

When we arrived in Fort Qu’Appelle, having ridden with a tailwind most of the way, I decided to stop for a blizzard at the local DQ. We rode through the drive-through but got no response. Turns out they were open but busy getting things set up for the day. I warned the staff of two that there were about eighty riders headed into the town. Within the next forty-five minutes the place was overrun by almost half of the cyclist.

After setting up my tent I hiked into town with my riding buddy. Two blocks in we reached Broadway Ave. Judging by the layout this was definitely the main street. With a Bargain Store a half a block from the Dollar Store there were some obvious signs of entrepreneurial competition in town.

20170717_130914After meeting several friendly and welcoming locals in our stroll along Broadway, we encountered a quiet park with a Four Season mural. Some first nations women from Sandy Lake just four miles up the road picked up conversation with us. They liked the idea of posing for a picture. They had found a spot in the shade, probably their regular spot and had almost finished their bottle of rum by noon. I had the clear impression that they spent most of their time in this parkette between two stores. Other than a bench in the shade and a mural there was nothing else there. You could say they had each other.

We passed the local hardware store which seemed well stocked with up to date equipment. Of interest was a fold up 160 watt solar panel and controller for $499. The attendant was explaining how this could be hooked up to 3 or 4 deep cycle batteries and maintain the power needed for an RV.

What caught my interest even more was a pickup and trailer parked on the side street beside the hardware store. The signage on the back of the trailer – Vermin Exterminator – caught my interest. The way the trailer was parked and packed up it looked like to school desk like arrangement one set behind the other. I decided that I would prefer to be the person sitting on the back ‘desk’. I knew I definitely wouldn’t want to be the driver when everything was set up.

As we were looking at the trailer, the owner Ron walked up. Turns out his well known no-name business provides a much desired service – exterminating gophers, beavers, coyotes and skunks. He set up one of his stations with a holder for his gun, and just as important a flag so he can keep an eye on the wind speed and direction. (Assured him that as cyclists we were well aware of the havoc that the wind could cause.) The ‘desks’ as well as the gun stand were on a swivel. Next to the gun is a counter. His record is eliminating 740 gophers in one day.

Being that the trailer is designed as a two person operation, Ron said he is very particular who he takes along as his shooting buddy. He always takes the back seat – smart guy. As the back seat guy he swivels in a 180 degree arc over the back of the trailer. The person in the front seat swivels in a 180 degree arc towards the front of the trailer. If the operator accidentally hits the truck Ron reasons that it can be replaced. It’s a bit harder to replace a fellow operator.

Found a health food store so I could pick up some Nuun, an electrolyte to keep me sustained while riding during the extreme ride days. They also had some iodine for internal use. It was great to see a store carrying quality health vitamins and supplements.

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Hudson Bay Co. 1897

While taking a picture of an original Hudson Bay Company store I was cautioned by Leon a First Nations local. As he drove by me he stopped and said, “Hey man, you got to be careful.” I was crouched beside a flower planter in the middle of Broadway. After he parked his car he was proudly giving me the history of the Hudson Bay Company store. Clearly the store had been repurposed. He was adamant that another stone building just around the corner was even older.

As I was walking away from Leon I mentioned I was looking for a bike shop. He directed me to the pawnshop which he assured me had both tires for sale as well as bikes. I kindly declined as I wasn’t sure how reliable their stock might be. I wasn’t able to find a bike shop in town. I might have to wait till we get to Yorkton.

20170717_132648Walking along we soon found ourselves in front of the Peace Hills Trust building, a Star – Blanket – Cree – Nation building. The signage indicated some helpful services for the indigenous population for the area, the Cree. The sign indicated that the building housed the Treaty Land Entitlement Office. The other offices in the building included Sask First Nations Safety Assoc., Q-Bow Child and Family Services Inc. and the office for Red Dog Holding. The sub-text on the sign was “Advocators of Community & Personal Developments.

I found a Coop at the end of Broadway’s business strip. My only reason for going in was to satisfy my longing for some orange juice. I decided that a 1.75 litre bottle for $2.70 was a better deal than a half litre bottle for $3.25. I would have no problem downing the whole 1.75 litre bottle before the afternoon was done.

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Eddie’s favourite bakery

In front of the Valley Bake & Coffee Shop, known for it’s Bavarian Pastries we met Eddie. As he approached the bakery door he stopped and waited. He seemed curious about seeing two ‘strangers’ in town. We got to talking. He was retired for 3 year but couldn’t believe he was that old already. He had been farming but now wasn’t able to work. The farm work had taken a toll on his body.

In the 1990’s Eddie and his brother were running a beef farm of 240 head of cattle. A few years ago, due to drought conditions he was forced to sell most of his herd. He had been farming for a couple years with his herd reduced to 40 head. When he couldn’t make ends meet he sold seven quarter sections, the last of his land, for $150,000. A few years earlier he had gotten $75,000 for a section of land. When he moved off the farm he still owed money on a farm.

Eddie wished he still had his herd of cattle because today the price for beef are very good. He’s getting used to living in town and enjoys coming to the Bavarian bakery. He is reluctant to buy goods there because then he needs to work it off.

Fort Qu’Appelle is not much different from many other towns we have cycled through. Particularly the smaller towns. There are many places where the contrast between wealth and poverty can be seen. While there were no indications of it being a thriving town, the realty office showcased properties ranging from half million to a couple million. Obviously they were catering to a very select market.

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Ron’s Roost

Later in the day when I biked ten kilometers along Echo Lake I realized why they had a high end selection of houses. That’s where I saw some whimsical stuff like a toilet at the end of a driveway.

The main highway highlighted many of the recognized national franchises. If one is driving through the area the real character of the town remains hidden. The heart of the town could be seen two kilometers off the highway. In the downtown section one can enjoy local baking, cooking and friendly service but best of all was meeting the interesting local folk.

Meanwhile we are set up with tents and campers housing the 90 riders and support staff making the local elementary school look like a refugee camp. The refugee camp appearance hides the reality of who are housed there overnight. The appearance of poverty and transience is only incidental. We have the privilege and luxury to move on as we choose.

We are riding and raising money to help end the cycle of poverty both here in Canada and in other parts of the world. To more fully appreciate the purpose of Sea to Sea it is helpful to meet and speak with people who are dealing with poverty – whether that is poverty of spirit, or economic poverty.

It’s interesting to note that the bison is a mere skeleton, yet against that background someone had the courage to still dream big. To me, the skeleton represents the depletion of  personal, family and ancestral resources due to years of mistreatment by European settlers with whom they thought they were sharing the land and its resources.

What will it take to change the story for out first nations people as we recognize Canada as a nation for the past 150 years?

Bewdley, Ontario at Sunrise

Bewdley, Ontario at Sunrise
Mysterious Mist on Rice Lake

It is well worth cycling 25 km before going to work. Going from 2 weeks of just eat, cycle and sleep, being back at work is like trading a simple life for a complex and busy life..

Don’t get me wrong. What’s not to like about my job working with a great faculty and support staff and anticipating the return of eager students. That’s all great.
Two days ago I met Joey when I stopped briefly in Bewdley at the waterfront. Joey had been there with his bike since about 3:30 am because he was unable to sleep.
Joey’s life story is one of disappointment and hope. Due to a work accident he had been left a quadrapalegic. After more than 1 bout of cancer he was determined to get back on his feet. That is how I met him, once again being able to walk and cycle.
He can manage to bike 3 km a day or handle a weedwhacker for about an hour. He can’t lift objects. His life sure seems simpler than mine. He takes more time to enjoy the spectacular sunrise over the water. A simpler life at first glance but at the same time not without considerable challenges.
It was my 2 weeks of cycling that raised My awareness and compelled me to strike up a conversation with him and at the same time being encouraged by him.

The Message of the Church and Poverty

On Sunday morning most of the 125 cyclists found their way to the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in the heart of Montreal. Here we were welcomed into a church that is taking it’s calling seriously about being the hands and feet of Christ in ministering to the poor.

The message was shared by the Rev. Dr. Glenn Smith who is the executive director of Christian Direction. It was his message more than is title that left a mark on me.

The key point of his message is that poverty is not an economic matter. Poverty is not a matter of lack of money. Poverty is a matter of relationship, it’s a matter of connection. That’s why poverty is inter-generational.

In speaking about Jeremiah’s letter to the Israelites who were taken into the Babylonian captivity, the message was, despite the shame of being taken out of the promised land, make Babylon your home – build in it, make it their own. Or as he put it more succinctly, work diligently for the peace of the foreign city, the city of your oppressors. He challenged them to intercede for the wellbeing and peace of Babylon.

The job of Christians is to pray for the leaders, for the elected officials and to help them bring about an order so that the poor, the orphan’s, the strangers and the widows are taken care of. That there is a place that meets the needs of all the people who make up the community.

What would happen if each and every Christian took this message seriously? What would be different?

I believe more of us would be focused on face to face relationship with those who experience poverty. We would be able to put a face to it and name it. We would be able to provide hope, one at a time to people who live in poverty.

I believe more of us would recognize how systemic change is needed so that the focus is less on GNP and more on quality of life, policies that are there to help those who need support, socially, educationally etc. One indicator of this would be a decreasing gap between the earnings of the rich and the poor. It’s not the money difference that counts, but rather, leaving time and resources for each person in the community to be able to access.

I believe more of us would have our eyes opened and see how our misuse of resources, usually motivated by greed or a desire to take care of ourselves very well, is denying opportunity and resources for others. How does our purchasing of goods we don’t really need contribute to sweat shop labour? How does our discarding of cheap things we buy contribute to the gradual devastation of the earth, creating pollution, defacing of creation and destruction of habitats that support life.

I believe more of us would recognize the idea of having enough. Having enough goods to look after our needs (as opposed to wants), having enough time to connect with others in our community, having enough time to see and reach out to those who are isolated, either through their own doing or being intentionally shunned by the community.

The big idea of the Sea to Sea ride to end the cycle of poverty is not the money it raised. The big idea is creating a personal awareness of what poverty really is and then making personal lifestyle changes to change the reality that grows out of that awareness. The money raised ($1.8 million to date) can be the catalyst to help fund systemic change or provide resources to empower those who experience poverty.

Break the cycle of poverty – in the name of Christ – that is the liberating message.

On the way to church on Sunday morning, I drove through the Mohawk village of Kahnawake and saw “no casino” stickers in many places. That surprised me because in my experience, because many casinos that I recognize are on Indian reservations. The “no casino” signs arised out of an understanding that casinos create systemic problems. The community of Kahnawake have citizens who understand that message.

The “no casino” stickers is one sign of hope. The challenge is to look around and recognize other signs of hope, signs that challenge the systems that make poverty an engrained reality.

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The Power of Encouragement

Its been more than a week of cycling. There have been groups of people greeting us as we rode along. At times whole communities came out to show their support and encourage the cyclists in their endeavours.
When the support and encouragement is personalized it bumps things up to a higher level. As the tour entered Ontario I was getting into familiar territory. The first encounter of personalized support occurred in the Sarnia community. Meeting professional colleagues and former room mates wasthe first taste of this.
As I entered London my two daughters had gone all out to show their support for the cyclists and for myself. They had helped mark the route through London and helped organize refreshments. In addition to that they had written personal nots with sidewalk chalk to encourage their dad.
The day we rode from Ajax to Trenton bumped up the personal support to a higher level. The stop at Hope Fellowship in Courtice gave me an opportunity to hear words of encouragement from the large community where I have worked as vice principal and principal for the past 23 years.
Arriving 2 hous later at Grace Church in Cobourg brought cheers of support from my worshipping community and friend. Wow, what a boost.
This is also the community in which on friend had bumped up my commitment to ride 10 percent of the tour on unicycle by challenging me to do one day as a 50 km ride. I decide that the day I would ride through Cobourg would be the day I would attempt the 50 km unicycle challenge.
I left Grace Church at about 12:30. The weather was great, the next stretch of road was relatively level. So I set off. My youngest daughter agreed to ride with me. Great company and reliable support.
All went fine the first little while. No UPD’s, no major hills. But then at the 10 km mark a spoke broke. Since I did not have a spare spoke I had no choice but to take out my spare unicycle. The step down from a 36″ wheel to a 26″ wheel. It’s kinf like putting the “donut” on your car to get you to the nearest gas station when you blow at tire.
A smaller unicycle meant working much harder. Instead of covering 10 feet with eacg stroke of the pedal I was only able to cover about 6 feet. That means my top speed had dropped from 18 km / hr down to about 11 km / hr.
I arrived in Brighten after a volunteer had come looking for me. He reported back to the Brighton church. When I rolled in there still a handful of volunteers to greet me. They had put some refreshments aside. One of the volunteers, Doug was so thrilled at me arrival that he didn’t want to go home. After a big hug from him he figured out that a cycle shop in Bloomfield would be able to repair the 36″ unicycle. Since it was close to closing time Doug and my wife Jane made a dash for it.
Meanwhile I was contemplating whether to continue. What to do. Since I had about 35 km behind me I decided to push on. After a brief discussion about the condition of the route, my daughter and I pushed on.
At this point the pedalling wasn’t going any easier or faster. The rest stops were becoming more frequent, that did create opportunities to talk to people about the purpose of the tour and the reason for unicycling. (Read the purpose in a earlier blog) On one such rest stop in Colborne a fellow Christian made a $20 donation to the cause.
When we were about 8 km from our destination we found out that the bike shop in Bloomfield had managed to patch the broken spoke. After asking if they could bring us the unicycle Doug figured he knew where to find us. (Cell phone tech is sure great) In short order Doug and my wife Jane arrive.
With the larger wheel under me again we were able to pick up the pace. At 7:30 we rolled into the Trenton Christian School.
The kitchen crew had kindly set aside a plate of supper for us.
In reflecting on this experience it makes me realize that there are many people who do not experience the support of a community. Many who are caught in a cycle of poverty are working doubly hard with no end in sight. At some point all hope fades.
In our small group discussion we briefly touched on the quote, “The poor you will always have with you.” We can take that quote in a number of ways. One response that one member in the group received was, “Why do anything since the poor will always be with us.” Our small group agreed that our response needs to be just the opposite. Our challenge is to change our lifestyle so that continually considering the needs of the poor becomes the first step in how we live.
For each person that we can help, we have ended the cycle of poverty for that one person.
Thanks for the support, the encouragement and the prayers.

A Sabbath Rest

After a week of biking this was a welcome day of rest. After breakfast I cycled down to the General hospital where my mother had been admitted on Monday. Thankfully she seems to be doing well with the tests coming back with encouraging results. She hopes to learn more from her doctor on Monday. My father has been making the 45 minute ride each day, getting there by noon and visiting till 6:00.

It was an exhilerating ride into the downtown coming down the escarpment, or ‘the mountain’ as the locals call it. The ride back of course presented a challenging climb. I took the advice of a street person with an old bike and made my way up West 5th St. Having to drop into a very low gear I wondered if the person advising me had actually ridden p that hill. Arriving back at Redeemer I was surprisedto see I had cycled 35km. So much for a day of rest.

I got Back in time for the celebration service. As the cyclists entered en mass into thr Redeemer auditorium  we were welcome by a packed house. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowds singing and worshipping together was truly encouraging and supportive.

The keynote speaker shared his story 20 years of working with the poor in downtown Hamilton. He shared how poverty has a face and helping begins by building a relationship and begining to love the people you help and get to know their story.

It was great to see my two brothers, Rick and George with his wife Yolanda. It was also heart warming to receive words of encouragement from colleagues and other friends.

Looking forward to this second week. We will leave early Monday morning and conquer Toronto with the goal of arriving at the Ajax Community Centre by mid afternoon. Just got to keep the lake on our right, we were advised, if we hope to find Ajax.

Joining the tour a day early

Jane and I drove from Cobourg to Holland MIchigan on Friday arriving at Hope College at about 4:00 pm. Riders had come in from Benton Harbor MIchigan and were already relaxing for the day. 

After supper we attended the Peleton meeting of cyclists. The key item was giving cyclists who were ending their participation in the tour an  opportunity to share some thoughts and thank the fellow riders for the heartwarming experiences.

We left this morning with clear skies and comfortable temperatures and a reasonable 60 km ride ahead of us. Much of the route was on well maintained bicycle paths. I was told this was like a ‘ride in the park’ compared to the usual day’s ride. It was heartwarming to see the many well wishers along the way encouraging the cyclists with either cheers or drinks, cookies, bananas, blueberries, granola bars, and anything else the would maintain our energy or tickle our taste buds.

We met for a lunch at Calvin CRC Church on Franklin Ave for a lunch. From there we did an organized ride into Calvin College. What an impressive sight seeing over 150 cyclists in riding colours meandering the 5 km to the college campus. I came in last, riding on one wheel realizing I could not keep up with the rest of the crew. A fellow cyclists from B.C. showed great consideration and stayed back with me. That’s the type of support riders have been experiencing throughout the ride. 

As one cycles, one realizes it’s not about the person, it’s not about the bike… it’s the journey that counts. It’s the experiences and the considerations that people show that makes it an experience to remember. 

On our route into Grand Rapids we were reminded of poverty. We travelled through the hispanic area of Grandville. From there we travelled through the african-american neighbourhood of Wyoming. There is evidence of poverty clearly evident in these neighbourhoods. Our presence there did not go unnoticed. 

At this point we are being luxuriously hosted by Calvin College. We are being put up in dorm rooms, hot shower facilities, supper in the dining hall and various details…. Blessings not experienced by many people living just 10 km from the campus.

Sea to Sea with Cobourg’s Boston Pizza

Who doesn’t like supper out. How about coming out on Wednesday, May 15. My compliments to Boston Pizza in Cobourg (at the Northumberland Mall) for opening their doors to the http://www.seatosea.org cycling to end poverty. They will donate 10% of the supper proceeds that evening.

I will be out front to welcome you in ‘unicycle style’.

My endurance on a unicycle has definitely increased since starting regular training a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been doing about 10K by unicyle at least once a week. In addition to that I try to get out every day and bike for a half hour or more. The late spring has made it difficult to get our sooner.

The most exciting part of training for my 1000km participation this summer is doing the unicycling in an urban area. Seeing a unicyclist makes people side step the regular social norms; kids will come up to me or call out to me, adults will make comments in an attempt to be funny (and some are very funny), teens will give a thumbs up or give some word of encouragement. For little kids, it’s not “don’t talk to strangers”. How can a unicyclist, who brings smiles to their face be classified as a “stranger”. However, I do not use that as licence to hand out candies (except when I rode in the Oshawa Santa Claus parade a few years ago).

I’m spending all of this extra time unicycling this spring so I can complete 10% or more of the distance from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Montreal, Quebec, by unicycle.

I cherish your support in helping me reach my goal of $5000 for projects that support people living in poverty.