Even with the progress made when it comes to mental health, there still is a stigma that surrounds it and many people may find the topic uncomfortable to talk about.
That’s why Arthur Szydlowski and Liv Mickie, two Queen’s University students, are cycling from London, Ont. to Banff, Alta. to help raise awareness about mental health and fundraise for the national not-for-profit organization jack.org
Szydlowski came up with the idea for the trip as he always has had an interest in long-distance treks, watching videos and documentaries of others who have accomplished similar feats such as crossing Canada, the U.S., and even the world.
He said mental health also is a topic he’s passionate about.
“Since coming to university, that’s when I first really saw it,” Szydlowski explained.
“They don’t really see and they don’t understand how big of an impact something seemingly small as a test grade can have on someone and how that builds up.
“Having seen that first hand, that’s kind of what really pushed me to do something about it,” he added.
So late last year, Szydlowski started planning a cycling trip along the Trans-Canada Highway and asked Mickie to join him.
He also created a fundraising page on jack.org and asked for support from the organization to raise funds for young mental heath programs and anti-stigma initiatives.
The trip, entitled “Bike 2 Banff,” has a page on both Facebook and Instagram for friends and family, as well as those curious, to follow their progress.
As of May 30, the two were 19 days into their 37-day excursion and had stopped here in Fort Frances.
Their trip consists of 32 days of biking, with five rest days throughout. And the more than 3,500-km distance means they’ll be travelling anywhere from 50-150 km per day.
The trek from Atikokan to Fort Frances (about an hour and 40 minutes by car) was 151 km over 12-and-a-half hours by bike.
“When we have big days like that, we try to break it down to 50-km chunks,” noted Mickie.
“Usually 50 km would take us three hours, give or take.
“We take two at least one-hour breaks, just to space it out and give our bodies time to recuperate and eat,” she added.
Despite impending thunderstorms, the duo still are on schedule, entering Manitoba on June 1–even after suffering flat tires, wipeouts, and a slight itinerary change.
Because of the weather, Fort Frances became their rest day–something they originally planned on doing in Sioux Narrows.
“We were supposed to camp [in Sioux Narrows] and [we’re] not really equipped to camp in a thunderstorm,” Szydlowski said.
“We can handle rain but it’s the lightning and stuff that worries us.”
Szydlowski and Mickie haven’t only had each other’s company throughout their 19-day trip–they’ve run into many others along the way.
Mickie said some fellow cyclists were “a little fidgety” as they were by themselves and had been on the road for a very long time.
One other, though, was very happy to run into the duo.
“He biked right up to us, ‘More people!'” she recalled. “His face–he was so excited to see us.”
“We had seen a few bikers at that point but we were the first people he had seen so he was really excited,” echoed Szydlowski.
The pair plan to arrive in Banff by June 16, where they will spend five days with eager-awaiting friends before hopping on a plane and returning home.
“We have a few friends there that we’re really excited to see,” said Szydlowski.
“They’re going to hopefully show us around and a few have offered to let us stay there.”
“We know we want to do a couple nights of backcountry camping just for fun because we have the equipment and why not?” noted Mickie.
Time constraints and limited resources were the main reasons why they decided not to go all the way to the west coast.
Szydlowski added there really wasn’t any significance for choosing Banff, but that it’s a nice place to visit and he’s always liked Alberta.
But he said it’s also goes back to mental health.
“It’s how the journey is going to be really difficult but eventually, as long as we don’t give up, we make it to this beautiful place on the other side of this hard journey,” Szydlowski reasoned.
They added that despite being met with some skepticism, the response they’ve received from friends, family, and even strangers is overwhelming.
“We kind of expected to be told, ‘Oh, you’re being ridiculous, there’s no way you can do this,'” Szydlowski conceded.
“At times, people have said that to us and we don’t really find it that discouraging.
“I think it’s more motivational,” he added.
As well as sleeping in motels and camping along the way, Szydlowski and Mickie also have been welcomed into people’s homes.
While here in Fort Frances, local resident Meghan Cox provided accommodation, as well as arranged other places for them to stay throughout their journey.
“That kind of ties into the mental health thing, too,” Mickie said. “You expect people to say ‘You’re ridiculous’ but then you’re met with support.
“Even people like Meghan . . . we stayed with two of her really good friends in Thunder Bay.”
“If it wasn’t for people like Meghan, this trip wouldn’t be possible,” Szydlowski stressed. “It is really the support of other people that has made this trip possible.”
“We’ve been met with some serious hospitality,” Mickie enthused.
As of June 4, the duo has raised $6,892.50 of their $10,000 goal.
If you would like to donate, visit jack.org/bike2banff
According to the team’s itinerary, they left Brandon, Man. today (June 6), with their next stop being in Kirkella, Man.