Day 29: Brandon to Winnipeg 218km
Before starting this blog post I would like to thank the Royal Oak Hotel for hosting us in Brandon. As well the Brandon & Area Suicide Prevention Implementation Network for hosting a Ride Away Stigma event for the mental health workers in the area. It was wonderful meeting all of them and sharing our passions for the mental health field and wanting to make a difference for our communities.
I knew today that I wanted to cycle all the way into Winnipeg as a physical challenge in memory of those lost to suicide, however, I did not want the pressure of everyone knowing that it was my plan. Today was supposed to be a rest day therefore no one would even know I was out cycling. I liked having the day to just focus on cycling and a way to clear my head of the recent events of Robin Williams passing away.
As I woke up in the morning I was feeling relaxed and ready to take on the day without any expectations. I absolutely love cycling out in the morning as it is a little brisk outside and feels peaceful. It was also fun thinking how I may meet up with my cycling buddy Will again along the road. He does not have a phone or frequent access to the Internet so I had no idea how much further he cycled yesterday. But I did think of this as a fun game.
While in the prairies, I had hopes for seeing a large field of sunflowers, however, was loosing faith in the idea that I may see one. Little did I know that I was going to cycle past the largest field of sunflowers I have ever seen in my life. It was so beautiful and beaming of brightness. I could not help but have a huge smile on my face. My mom was already stopped ahead waiting to get a couple photos. I had suggested that I cycle down the gravel road to get a little video. I am fully comfortable cycling on gravel roads though this one was fairly narrow and I decided to do a sharp turn. What you maybe thinking, started to happen. I thought I had caught myself and was not going to fall so I did not unclip from the pedals. Then at the last moment I hit another rock, which sent me crashing down. It was all in slow motion and was pretty funny. I could not stop laughing thinking seriously I fell because I was trying to get this silly photo. I think what I was upset about most, was that I crushed our last banana in my back shirt pocket. Fortunately, I did not hurt myself other than bruising my hand. It was a little sore riding the rest of the day but I just laughed at the pain.
Prior to starting this morning, I was unaware of any negative comments related to Robin Williams passing, although I think I already had my guard up. In the past, I have had people say, to my face the most awful comments in regard to suicide. Part of me however, knowing how many people would be reacting to Mr. William’s suicide, suspected that there would be some negativity. I was still a little hopeful though because he was so loved. I thought that maybe positive awareness would be created. On a break at the side of the road, I checked my email and received a message from a friend. It was exactly what I had hoped would, not, happen. He shared with me some recent comments. At that moment I had so much fire built up inside, I knew I needed to not react but rather, process my thoughts. When people have commented negatively regarding my father, I have learned to use the opportunity to create conversations and understanding instead of reacting and attacking. I knew I needed to act in the same way.
I was well on track to setting my personal best for 100km, which was done with three people cheering me on and, today, I was alone. I chose to manage my frustration regarding the negative comments by cycling as hard at I could to try to beat my best 100km time. As I cycled my little heart out I thought of what I should say in response to these comments in a way to create positive conversations. The clock was ticking and I was getting so close. I beat my personal record by a minute and thirty seconds. Woo hoo!
Shortly after, I saw my mom pulled over on the side of the road. When I cycled up to the car I told her I needed a minute to write out my thoughts before we could talk. This is what I wrote and posted on social media:
“When someone looses their battle to cancer they are thought of a courageous, brave, a fighter, gave it their all and thought to now be resting peacefully. When someone looses their battle with mental illness as dies by suicide it is often portrayed as weak, attention seeker, cowardly and other horrible views. It is devastating to hear these negative comments related to the recent death of Robin Williams. He fought courageously for years. He was so strong to hold on as long as he did with the challenging battle he faced. I am one of the lucky ones that gets to still be here today. Not because I am stronger not because I wasn’t a coward but because I was lucky and fortunate that traditional treatment worked for me. There are many people battling mental illness that are trying so hard seeking treatment but unfortunately medications and other forms of treatment do not work for them. I am half way through my ride today and I will continue to push hard creating awareness. When this ride is done I will continue to fight to make those changes needed. The stigma needs to be diminished and people need to be able to access the help that is needed. We not only need to create conversations addressing the stigma but also the lack of funding in the mental health field. We need funding to help those in crisis, to help those on wait lists for months at a time, to help those that can’t afford treatment and to find other forms of treatment when the others have not worked. Let’s work together and act now creating the positive changes needed.”
I did not think about how many people might see this or any impact it was going to have. I just wanted people to know how I felt and decided to put it out there as bluntly and to the point as I could. After writing this, I felt empowered that I had stepped up for what I believe in a cool and collected way when I had such frustration built up inside. At that moment I decided that I was going to do the entire ride into Winnipeg no matter what the wind or other weather elements may bring. I was going to cycle in memory of all those we have lost to suicide to show that they will not be forgotten and I will continue to fight for change. This gave me such strength and courage to push forward even when at 130km the wind switched to fierce head winds.
As the ride continued I thought of my friend Will and realized that I probably was not going to see him as I had either passed him before he started or he was too far ahead. There was another cross country cyclists who flew past me at one point and gave a shout out to me on Instagram to find out what I was up to. The idea of maybe catching up to him was exciting, though I knew unrealistic, as his speed seemed quite intense. I was so into the ride that I did not realize until 180km that I had already surpassed my longest ride to date. At that point I’m sure you can guess I did a little dance on the bike to celebrate! Holy cow I am doing it! And I don’t even feel tired. Though I did realize that I had not seen my mom in awhile so called to ask where she was. She had accidently gone further than planned. She was parked just in front of a gas station so I asked her to watch the bike so I could go inside. When I walked back out I saw her starting to drive away and did not understand what she was doing. She had spotted our friend Will and was getting his attention, as he did not hear her calling out to him. I could not believe we bumped back into each other at 190km that day.
He shared his excitement and shock for how far and fast I had been that day. I explained everything that was going on in regards to Robin Williams and the way people were reacting. While we cycled away he let me vent before we caught up on what had happened since our last ride together. At 200km we both cheered and celebrated on the bike! YAHOOOOOOOO!! It was a lot of fun to have someone to share that milestone with!
When I pulled up to the hotel at 218km I still had energy left. Really I do not know how. I decided I was going to keep the distance and my arrival into Winnipeg to myself until the next day as I still had so much to process with everything that happened. We decided we all needed to go out for dinner to celebrate. Once I sat down and starting eating is when it hit me. I cycled 218km and my body was tired. When I came back to the room to look through my Ride Away Stigma social media pages I was beyond blown away with the reaction my comment earlier that day had. Over 23 000 people had viewed it on Facebook. I became nervous when thinking of reading the comments on Instagram and Facebook under the post. But I had such wonderful responses. This made me think how we need to focus on all the positives in the world and not let one comment knock down all of our progress. One person does not speak for an entire society and together all of us who want to make a difference will succeed as we stick together. And I know there are a lot of us out there!