Culture of cycling

We are currently in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, 100km away from Quebec City. We are camping and I’m lying outside on my towel trying to digest all the food I just ate (Now I can eat almost anything, at any time). There is a married couple at the campground in front of ours. They cycled here too. There are in their 80s. The cycling culture is huge in Quebec. Yesterday we did 150km and people were cycling beside us screaming enthusiastically in French. There are pathways that seem like highways throughout Quebec. They are called the Green Route. It has been so incredibly beautiful. We took the Route 5 into Montreal a few days ago. A group of MEDA members were nice enough to come meet us 80km out and cycle with us into the city. They definitely exposed us to some amazing routes. We took a ferry and crossed over to Oka where we rode on a bike path the whole way into Montreal. In Montreal there are many cyclists, and for the first time, with our day off, we cycled around the city. There are bike paths everywhere and everyone cycles to commute or to work out.

It truly was a wonderful experience. Here’s why: Usually we cycle on the road because they are paved; however, Google maps tries to take us on bike routes, which end up being sand and/or gravel. It doesn’t sound like a bad route, and it’s not, but if you have 28inch tires then you end up doing 20km in two hours. This is not advantageous, because we can usually get up to 35km an hour. So based on previous experiences, we avoided any type of trail. Now that we are in Quebec, we are spoiled rotten. Not only has the route been nice, but the architecture is so different here. I really enjoy going through small towns and seeing the churches and colorful tin rooftops. Did I happen to mention that since we’ve entered Quebec we have been cycling along le Fleuve, the St. Lawrence River. Today we stopped to enjoy the beautiful little islands and to look at the mountains on the North shore. Tomorrow we arrive at Riviere-du-Loup (Wolf River). National Geographic describes it as having the second most beautiful sunset in the world.

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Picton Golf Club & Grill

Here’s a shout out to the most amazing community I could ever ask for. Today was the Picton event, in my hometown. I am blessed to have people in my life that are so generous and loving. Before this bike trip, my old boss called me to confirm an event at the golf course. On top of this, she also told me that her and her husband were donating the whole buffet breakfast, which included a speech and slideshow. All donations were to go to Bike to Grow.

I was pretty nervous to host the event because I never know how many people are going to attend. Before today, only 7 people had actually bought tickets. The lack of attendance made me nervous. At the beginning of the event only four tables were present and we began with an introduction and a Q&A. I was nervous and felt awkward. However, my mood changed as people kept strolling in and we ended up with a full house! I saw people I hadn’t seen since high school and people I didn’t necessarily expect to come.

Today we raised $1,300 by family and friends who came out to support Mary and myself. Mary’s parents and a MEDA staff member, Helen, were able to join us and added to our stories throughout the event. The event was supposed to end at 10 and we ended up staying there until noon. My dad and a friend cycled out with us on County Road 49 to wish us off. It started raining, but by the time we put on our rain jackets the rained stopped. As we rode into Desert Lake Campground, 70km from Picton, there were clear skies.

To top off the day, an exciting thing happened as we approached the registration desk to pay for our campsite. The owners saw us stroll in with our bikes and gear and after we told them the GROW story, they offered us a complimentary hotel room.

To come back after a one week holiday, I couldn’t be happier to start riding again. Family, friends, and strangers continue to support us in our every day adventures.

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The Northern Myth

This past week and a half I took holiday to attend weddings, and it was great to catch up with everyone from back home. I come from a small town, so I received numerous questions about the bike trip. Some examples include: “What is your average km per day?” “What were the biggest challenges you faced?” “Where do you go to the washroom?” “Have you seen any wildlife?” Presumptions also arise, “The Prairies are flat,” “Northern Ontario is desolate,” “You must have a support vehicle.”

It’s surprising the angst I had before this trip. One example is how scared I was of Northern Ontario before, and during, the trip up until arriving in the province. I was scared that we wouldn’t find towns, cafes, or any sort of food. Bears, wolves, and moose petrified me. I thought we would be cycling for days without seeing people. I was utterly and completely wrong.

Northern Ontario has been my favorite part of this trip and created many dear memories. I am a proud Canadian and extremely proud to now say I am from Ontario. Coming from the Sandbanks, I personally believed I was spoiled, and I am, but there are many more beaches across Ontario. In Terrace Bay we set up our tents on the beach and swam in Lake Superior. In White River, where Winnie the Pooh originated, we took a five-hour break from cycling to enjoy the sandy beach of White Lake Provincial Park. In Marathon, we camped right on the water. The beauty of Tobermory shocks me. I have pictures on social media, and its beauty blows everyone away. It is a gorgeous, turquoise area on Lake Ontario with caves and cliff jumping. What’s more surprising is that I never knew of Tobermory even though it isn’t that far from me. It took us a month to get across Northern Ontario, and WE ARE STILL HERE. The majority of the time we camped along beaches like these.

There have been a few milestones on this trip: finishing the Rockies, going over Summits, and detouring to Saskatoon, among others. One milestone that was extremely important was arriving in Thunder Bay. This is the halfway mark across Canada, as well as where Terry Fox decided to end his run to fight cancer. When we went to the monument, overlooking the sleeping giant, I was deeply touched and felt a wave of emotions. I had goose bumps on my arms. What Terry Fox did was extraordinary, and I am only getting a glimpse of his trip from this ride. I felt like crying because I was so overwhelmed with emotions standing there and looking at the statue. Another epic achievement for me was going across the Che Cheman Ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory. This signified that the hardest parts of the trip were over, conquering the mountains, facing headwinds (sometimes for days) in the Prairies, and going through the hilly Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario. We took the night ferry at 10pm so that we were able to stay outside and look at the stars while we talked about our accomplishments and how surreal it was that we had made it this far. Now we are headed out East, and there is less than a month left of the trip.

I look forward to its beauty, and I recommend all Ontarians, and the rest of Canadians, to visit North West Ontario and take your time to see it.

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Northern Ontario

As we sit here looking at Georgian Bay, I am in disbelief that I made it through Northern Ontario. For me, the ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory was a major milestone in this journey. I thought if I could just make it there, I could see myself making it to St. John’s. We will still have challenges and we will still have hard days, but from here on out, I can look back and remember all that I have overcome thus far.

As we enjoy a much-needed day off at Cyprus Lake in Tobermory, listening to the waves crashing against the shore, I reflect on so many amazing experiences I have had in the last three weeks. As we crossed the border to Northern Ontario, I felt my stomach tighten into a million knots. We had been warned about the shoulders on the road, the bugs that never go away and the crazy truck drivers that will drive us right off the road.

Somehow though, they forgot to tell us about the unimaginable beauty of Lake Superior and Lake Huron. There was beauty in the natural scenery we were surrounded by, there was beauty in the hearts of everyone we met and there was beauty in the company of our fellow cyclists.

Through Northern Ontario, there are not too many choices of routes to take, so we seemed to run into different cyclists, all with their own story. The most amazing part of this whole journey to me is how everything seems to happen exactly when it is supposed to. There is no question that God is listening to everyone praying for us. As we were entering into what I expected to be the scariest part of the whole trip, we connected with the perfect people to keep our spirits high.

First, it starts with a plan of where to camp for the night, then a spot to meet up for the next night. Suddenly, we’re figuring out what our next week will look like together. Surrounded by beautiful, inspiring people, the days seem to fly by and before we knew it, we were on the ferry to Tobermory.

With too many stories to tell, all I can do is thank all of those people that I met along way who kept me going one more hour, one more day and one more province. The closer we felt to each other, the more we were able to open up. All of us needed to find this new community for different reasons: Some for a day, some for a week and some for the whole province. The goodbyes were never fun, but the memories made are ones that are making this into the summer I had always imagined...full of funny stories, tough challenges and new friends from all over.

The hills were big, there were a lot of bugs and the shoulders weren’t great, but none of that seems to bring us down from the best summer of our lives. Northern Ontario has taught me to be patient, to let go of what I cannot change and to trust that I will be okay. When I am able to let go of my fears and worries, I find ways to overcome challenges that I never thought imaginable. As we treat ourselves to a day off in Tobermory, suddenly St. John’s doesn’t seem so far away.

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From Nicaragua to a Hutterite Colony

In 2013, I was in Nicaragua as an Impact Assessment Intern with MEDA. Near the end of my internship, I went to Little Corn Island on the Atlantic Ocean. This is where I met Colleen and Glen from Vancouver Island. There were kind and generous and took me out for meals. Last year, they returned to Nicaragua and they contacted me with advice on where to go.

When Mary and I started our bike trip at Mile 0 in Victoria, they came to support us and wish us well. Along our route we stay with people we know, sometimes people we don’t know, and camp. We were going through Elrose, Saskatchewan where Colleen is originally from. There is a Hutterite Colony in Kyle, a town a few kilometers south of Elrose.

For those of you who don’t know what Hutterite is, like myself before, it is a community that has an average of 130 members who live and work together in a community farming, raising livestock and producing manufactured goods. Their daily life centers around community. For example, when we were eating, it is with the whole community in a large dining hall. They attend church every day for half an hour and for two hours on Sundays. Hutterites have a typical dress that they wear – you can see the women’s outfit in our picture of Mary and I.

Colleen grew up as a family friend of members of this colony and had called the Pastor to see if it would be okay if we visited. It was such an amazing experience. They gave us a tour of the farm, fed us and dressed us up as Hutterites.

While we were visiting, the colony was building a separate colony. Hutterites have up to 100 people in their colony and once they reach this point, they separate. There are two different pastors and a certain name is chosen from the two. Whoever is in that group with the pastor goes to the new colony.

I had a million questions and was amazed how they were almost self- sustaining and had learned different skills within the community. The Hutterites were welcoming and generous. One of the men had a golf cart and he toured us around the whole community. Sometimes I found it hard to understand anything. They speak low- German and it was the first time I had ever heard this type of accent. I tried speaking with the children, but kids under the age of six don’t speak any English – I didn’t realize this and had spent a while trying to talk to them.

We spent four hours with the colony and then we were off to Elrose, where they connected us with a family to stay with. All of the girls around our age walked our bikes to the entrance to wish us good luck.

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The Legendary 26

On Friday, June 19th, I had my 26th birthday in Regina, Saskatchewan. The day before was the hardest day I had ever had on this trip.

We faced the strongest head winds when we were heading from Saskatoon to Davidson: We were biking 15km/hr when normally we average 25-30km/hr. Having heads winds rather than tail winds can really make a big difference. After seven hours in strong winds, we had biked 115km; in comparison, another day we did 160km in six hours with the wind in our favour.

I was extremely exhausted the next day, my birthday. I didn’t feel like riding the 130km to Regina at all. On the bike ride, I received numerous amounts of birthday wishes from my family, friends, MEDA staff and individuals from Ghana. These I remember quite vividly as, “Our Ghana Family wishes you a happy birthday.” The encouraging wishes helped me push through to Regina and I was then greeted by the wonderful Good family.

I was already feeling pretty excited to get to Regina, not only to relax. We had met Jen Good this past November at the MEDA Convention in Winnipeg and I had stayed in contact with her during the year. I was eager to get to her home as she had planned many things for us. Jen, Shawn, Dawson, Natasha, and Mitchel opened their home to us.

Once we had our heavenly showers, we ate and then we were off to a Saskatchewan Riders football game. It was the last exhibition game and was against Calgary. The Good family prepared us for the game with Riders t-shirts. Thank goodness we had them because we would have been the only ones not wearing green.

I’m so thankful for all the wonderful messages and calls I received from everyone. These kind words of encouragement help to push me through the difficult bike days.
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Prairie Times: Mary Fehr

MEDA followed up with Bike to GROW to find out how they’re fairing at the end of the Prairies– Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This time, Mary shares her insights...

How did biking in the Prairies compare to biking in the Rockies?
It was wonderful. I finally feel I have a rhythm. I get into my cadence and I can just cruise and let my mind wander. I now feel at peace enough that my bike is going to hold together and I can enjoy the beauty of the fields around me.

How well has your body and mind adjusted to this daily physical endurance?
My body has been feel great, a few sore knees and a few scrapes but nothing to complain about. My mind is loving it. The prairies may get boring in a car but on a bike, each new field is a new excitement and the sky is forever changing and shaping in different ways.

What has it been like spending every day for almost two months with Sarah?
Amazing. I don’t know that there is anyone else I could do this ride with. We don’t get along and agree with each other every step of the way, but we work through and communicate about everything. We are aware of each other’s moods and are learning what we both need in different situations. For instance, I know that Sarah’s mood is directly correlated to the speed she is biking: When she is in a good mood, I can never catch her, but when she is tired or hungry or frustrated, I am able to stick with her or even worse... pass her.

How has it been connecting with MEDA supporters and introducing others to MEDA?
I don’t know what were going to do after this trip because no one will be asking what we are doing and why. I love when I get to share the work of MEDA and my personal experience as a previous intern. It is so easy to share our goal and look to get others involved because I am so passionate and confident that the money is going to improve so many women’s lives.

How is cooking for yourselves on the road?
This is interesting. We are very different eaters. So far, there has been many small towns that we can usually plan lunch around but come Northern Ontario, we will be doing much more of the cooking ourselves. I am sure we will have many conversations about what we both need to function in the best possible way. We will both compromise so that each of us has the fuel we need to get through the next day. Then, when we see a restaurant, we’ll indulge.

Is it hard biking carrying all of your own gear and belongings?
At the beginning, I couldn’t believe how heavy it was but now, I feel empty without it! It has become so natural that I don’t even notice it anymore, unless I pack up to quickly – in which case I am usually heavily left or right sided, and I notice that almost immediately.

How often do you stop for breaks during the day?
We try to stop every hour just to stand up, maybe eat a snack and make a little pit stop on the side of the highway. So in the Prairies, it has been every 25km.

What do you do when you don’t have a pre-arranged place to stay?
We would camp but more often then not, we have met people along the way that have offered us a place to stay or to connect us with someone in a future town. We are incredibly lucky and supported!

What do you do on your days off?
Laundry and rest. We are usually pretty exhausted on our days off that we don’t have much time for other activities but we did get to a Rodeo in Regina that was amazing!

What is one new thing you’ve learned about yourself?
I have learned that my mood is determined based on my electrolyte level. As I become dehydrated, I find myself getting upset at things that are really not an issue. As soon as I am able to get some electrolytes back in my body, those same issues no longer frustrate me. I am sure Sarah has learned this about me far quicker then I did but we both have an understanding. There is “hangry” and there is “angry” – both are valid emotions.

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The Summits and the Wind

We hit a milestone two days ago when we reached the British Columbia and Alberta border. To reach this goal, we had one last summit to climb.

We like being mentally prepared – we always ask people how the summits are and what the elevation levels will be like. For example, will we have gradual climbs, steep climbs, or rollercoaster hills? Could it all be flat (not likely)? Usually, people warned us about large climbs that would take us most of the day, Coquihalla Summit being one of them.

In total, we had three summits. Don't get me wrong, most days in the Rockies were a struggle, but at the end we always reached our goal and were on time with our schedule. Once we got to our location, we were filled with happiness and we always appreciate the beauty of the surrounding area. There is something about manpower and sweat that makes the end goal that much more awarding. Out of the three summits, we didn't hit our last one until our last day in BC, coming out of Fernie.

Crowsnest Pass Summit is a mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies on the Alberta/British Columbia border. The elevation of Crowsnest is 1, 358 meters. Everyday we try to be mentally prepared for the toughest day. We were also not avid cyclists beforehand (even though we trained for a year), thus some climbs and routes are harder for us sometimes. It also helps to be prepared so that you're not disappointed when you see a 7km, 15km, or 30km climb ahead of you that could take you 4 hours. Each summit limit has a description with the name of the mountain and the elevation level. This is when we know we've done the hardest work there is to do in the day and then we can celebrate.

We crossed the Crowsnest Pass and then 2km later we were in Alberta. I didn't believe that that was it and we were done. Either the climb wasn't hard, or we have become stronger and have dealt with a lot harder climbs. I think it's a combination of everything. This is a large milestone for us – we learned how to cycle in the Rockies.

Now we are happy we are in the Praries where the terrain is a lot easier, however we have a new challenge. Someone in Alberta told us a joke that "everyone walks sideways here." They were referring to the wind. Our first day in Alberta, yesterday, coming into Lethbridge, had 22km winds against us. Lethbridge is known for being one of the windiest cities. We cycled 99km into Lethbridge from Pincher Creek, just outside the BC border in Alberta. I struggled a lot mentally and physically too. I'm not use to the wind and cycling continuously, at least in the Rockies we had a 20km break when we went down the mountains. Alberta and Saskcatchewan will be a new challenge, but I look forward to the new scenery and continuing to meet new people.

One province down, nine to go!

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Tent poles

Riding away from Kelowna was a bittersweet experience. After enjoying a wonderful day off, it was incredibly hard to leave. However, Sarah and I were both incredibly excited to spend the next few days camping. British Columbia is well known for their beautiful provincial parks and we wanted to experience the province at its best.

After much discussion as to where we should ride, we rode off from the Kettle Valley Trail that goes from Kelowna to Castlegar. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is an old railroad that takes you on a journey with breath-taking views while following Highway #33. We were overwhelmed with so much joy on the start of our ride. It was a perfect start to the day.

As we rode, the trail started to get a little tougher and a little wet from the rainfall the night before. Even though we had to walk through some big puddles and our tires slipped in the sand every so often, we were still having a generally positive day. I mean, we were surrounded by nature and what else could we ask for? The first 40km, that took us most of the morning, was much slower than our normal pace, so it seemed the only logical thing was to find a way back to the main highway. After a few wrong turns and some wasted time, we changed our minds again and decided to continue on the Kettle Valley Trail. It would simply be a few more hours of grinding it out, but we would get there.

I jumped ahead of Sarah to avoid a big puddle when I heard Sarah shout, "Mary! You're missing a bag!" As I checked my panniers and my dry bag, I noticed our red tent pole bag was missing and I had no idea when I last heard the rattling. There was no other option – we would have to retrace our steps to find the bag. We were getting flustered and I could not believe how careless I could have been. We rode 20km back on the trail, stopped a group of four wheelers and asked for them to look for tent poles on the trail. They agreed to run them back to us if they found them. It had been a while so our hope that they would find them had quickly disappeared, right as we heard the first few claps of thunder. The perfect start to the day shifted very quickly.

We went back to an intersection, to flag down a car for some help and some options. As we told him our situation, he informed us that he was a manager of a local resort. He explained he was setting out signs for a group of students who were biking down the Kettle Valley Trail today and staying at his resort. Hoping they would find the tent poles, I gave him my number to get in contact if that was the case. We then continued to the next closest town, Beaverdell, now in pouring rain.

Feeling completed defeated and overwhelmed, we finally arrived in Beaverdell. We quickly found a place to stay, as there were only two options and we couldn't make it to the next town until the following morning. We sat down to eat the last of our food and talk about the frustrations of the day – communication is key.

Our new plan was to order some new poles and have them shipped to the next destination we could get them. As I called our tent company, they let me know a new set of poles would be $195.00, much more than either of us anticipated. I hung up the phone, unimpressed that I would probably just have to accept the charge to get some new poles if we wanted to camp at all this summer. I went back to the table with Sarah and told her the unfortunate news when I noticed a voicemail – it was the kind fellow we had met on the side of the road. After much too long of an introduction, he finally announced the tent poles had been found!!

The support vehicle for the teachers had wanted a little exercise after waiting for their students all day and decided to go look for them! They found them about 10km up from the road where we turned back and would come early to Beaverdell the next day to give them to us. I was in touch and so thankful to the staff in the support vehicle and we made plans to meet the following morning.

As we waited at the local ice cream parlor/coffee shop, we couldn't believe how lucky we have been this whole trip. We are overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of others. I cannot thank all of you enough who have prayed for us over the past few weeks on the start of our journey. I have no idea where we would be if it weren't for the incredible power of prayer.

The past few days camping have been an adventure all on their own, with so many great stories. We have met incredible people, enjoyed some quality time with nature and loved every second of it. Oh, and now we put our tent poles in Sarah's bag...

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Up to Coquihalla Summit

The bike ride started on May 18th, at Mile 0 in Victoria British Columbia, where the Terry Fox monument is located. Starting off here is a beautiful location with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Our small "possy" did the trick of boosting the atmosphere. They included a couple I had met in Nicaragua; Mary's parents, Abe and Lisa; the Rotarian President in Victoria; Ethan Eshbach, MEDA's Young Adult Engagement Coordinator; our hosts, whom we had just met, and our hosts' parents. They sent us off with a warm departure.

The bicycle route to cross from Vancouver Island into the Tsawwassen Harbour is easily accessible by the Lochside Trail. Once in Delta, BC, we were fortunate enough to have Ethan follow us and be our support vehicle for a week. His last stop with us was in Hope, which was also our first day of cycling 100km. We hadn't quite hit the Rockies yet – thus, we weren't prepared for the following day.

Coquihalla Summit is highway 5, or the Coquihalla Highway. It's the highest point on the highway between the cities of Hope and Merritt, which is an altitude of 1,244m or 4,081ft. To be honest, we were underprepared for this undertaking. The climb is 15km, so being us, we thought no problem. The day of the trip didn't start till noon since we had a flat tire. We finished just as the sun was setting, putting in about 8 hours that day. The ride was extremely tolling on our mental and physical stamina. At one point, I was crying and I was tired of transport trucks slowly pulling beside us. I then looked back and saw the gorgeous snow covered mountain peaks. I sound corny, but I realized how truly blessed I was at that point: That my biggest problem IN MY LIFE at that moment was getting up that mountain. In reality, I'm the luckiest person to be able to see this country.

We were searching for the recreational area for camping, but it was hard to find. We saw a tow truck pulled over and asked how far it was away while on the summit. He made a horrible joke, "Still 100 miles away." Remember how I said we weren't prepared? By this time, we had run out of water. I asked the driver when the next service station was. He went into his car and gave us six water bottles. The campground was only 2km away, but after thinking 15km would be easy for a climb, we were dreading the last 2km.

When we got to the campground, the sun was already setting behind a mountain. To get to the campground you need to hike a few more kilometers. Needless to say, we were tired. We set up our tent right in the parking lot and had a campfire there.

I am proud that I was able to pass the Coquihalla Summit. The running joke is.."Is it as big as Coquihalla Summit? No problem."

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Oversized awkward box

I had a month and a half home to complete last minute details for Bike to GROW. I'm happy I had that time to prepare in more detail and to use the time to promote the fundraiser in my hometown, Picton, Ontario. My former employer called me one afternoon and told me they're donating a brunch for Bike to GROW, with all ticket proceeds going towards the initiative. I went around on the refreshment cart and talked with golfers about the event and MEDA's GROW project in Ghana. I went to coffee shops, stores and public areas to put up event posters and Bike to GROW postcards.

On my last day home, I went out for coffee with my dad. A couple came up and put a check made out to Bike to GROW in the middle of our table. They had been reading the postcard and noticed me when I came in with my dad. When I went to deposit the check, the bank teller asked me about the bike trip and automatically added a donation. Not only was I able to be home and promote Bike to GROW, I saw the love and support all communities have the potential to share. I'm one lucky girl to grow up where I did.

Another amazing connection I made at home was with a local radio station, 99.3 FM. I will be calling them every Monday at 10am EST to discuss the route and how the tour has been going. This is a fun way to get people more involved and informed on what we're doing.

This past year has been a great experience in and of itself. I can't believe how fast the time did pass though. This past month I felt like crying constantly, not because I was sad, but because of overwhelming joy. I'm not a person with much patience so planning for a year is hard. Well, it's all been worth it and I'm now embarking on a trip of a lifetime, not only for myself, but for a community in Ghana.

Mary and I are now in Victoria. We arrived on Thursday and it's astoundingly beautiful here. We came a few days early before we start our trip to prepare last minute details. For example, getting our bikes reassembled and buying bear spray.

The process of getting sport gear on and off of an airplane is quite funny. I brought my bike to Doug's Bicycle in Belleville, where they took apart the bike and packed it into a large box. We arrived at the airport and left our things at the luggage check-in. In Victoria, we got in at 10:20am and had a Rotary meeting in Victoria at 11:30am. We brought our oversized boxes into the meeting and afterwards, the bikes needed reassembling. We had to walk a few blocks with our oversized and awkward boxes filled with bicycle parts to a bike shop. To say the least, it was a good conversation starter in downtown Victoria.

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Meet the Riders: Mary Fehr

MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their fellow rider and the upcoming experience. This time, Mary shares her answers...

What place are you eager to see?
Nova Scotia/ the East – it will be my first time out east.

What are you not looking forward to doing?
Biking in traffic in the Prairies.

What are five words you'd use to describe Sarah?
Optimistic, energetic, thoughtful, lovely and hangry.

What's your favourite thing about Sarah?
Her big and many dreams!!

What's one thing Sarah doesn't know about you?
Nothing... we have pillow talk every night... we talk about everything!

What's your go-to pre-ride snack?
PB&B (Peanut butter and banana).

What's one piece of equipment you can't bike without?
Bike shorts!

What's one new thing you've learned about biking?
How to cross the road when riding with clips.... And not fall in the middle of the intersection.

Who's your biggest supporter?
My family – both my parents and siblings have been giving me unbelievable support that makes me excited everyday to conquer this challenge!

What are you most excited about for Bike to GROW?
To be continually inspired by everyone I meet along the way. Everyone has their own story and their own challenges. Hearing how they overcame or learned from them always motivates me to do and learn more.

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Meet the Riders: Sarah French

MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their fellow rider and the upcoming experience. This time, Sarah shares her thoughts...

What place are you eager to see?

When I was researching the route more in-depth, I came across Manitoulin Island and the Grotto. I didn't even know that existed in Ontario.

What are you not looking forward to doing?
Running into a bear.

What are five words you'd use to describe Mary?
Surprising, funny, humble, generous and loving.

What's your favourite thing about Mary?
She tries to protect me when she's driving. Every time she hits the break, she puts her arm out to make sure I don't go flying forward. I thought the first time she was trying to give me a high five or hold my hand.

What's one thing Mary doesn't know about you?
I snore like Darth Vader, and I am a fan of Star Wars. A few years ago, I attended a comicon for it.

What's your go-to pre-ride snack?
I love mixing frozen fruit with hardboiled eggs, flax seed, hemp hearts and a sliced banana.

What's one piece of equipment you can't bike without?
Chamois pads, the padding for your derriere.

What's one new thing you've learned about biking?
A bicycle can stay upright without a rider as long as it's moving 8mph or faster.

Who's your biggest supporter?
Anthony, my boyfriend, has to be my biggest supporter. As a boyfriend, I am always surprised that he supports this trip. He has actually connected me to a local business club, where I was able to give a presentation. He plans on joining us at some point.

What are you most excited about for Bike to GROW?
I'm excited to spread the word to people about MEDA outside Mennonite communities.

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Pre-ride jitters

The knots in my stomach have taken away my appetite. My head spinning with thoughts about biking and packing have made it difficult to have conversation about anything other then biking. My legs are full of energy that it makes it hard to sit still for even a small amount of time. It's safe to say my pre-ride jitters have set in.

I had a coach once tell me, "It's okay to get nervous because it simply means you care." That statement has never felt truer in my life. As I gear up to leave for Victoria, I find myself thinking more and more about those women in Ghana; the women that fight everyday, working long hours and under the hot sun all day to provide for their families. Compared to all the work they do, biking across Canada doesn't seem like that big of a task. Focusing on these women allows me to push the nerves down and find the courage to make this happen.

My life has been full of calculated risks; I have never been challenged in a way that I actually questioned whether or not I could accomplish my goal. Biking across Canada is different – I have to find a way to get my legs to continue pushing me across the country for that is the only way I will get from Victoria to St. John's. The thought is scary, and makes me question whether it is actually possible. Yet, this is also what makes it exciting. I am motivated by the fact that I'm in control of my own future. I will find a way to get my legs to push me across the country.

I am, however, not alone. I have found the most incredible support system throughout this journey. For an extrovert like myself, this is what keeps me going day to keeps me putting on my cycling shoes everyday and getting on my bike. I have said it again and again but I have this gut feeling of confidence. I am confident Sarah and I will find our way to push ourselves across the country because we have so many people believing in us from all over the world. We have been blessed with inspiration from so many and encouraged from everyone's kind words. It helps us to remember we're not biking for only ourselves, but for something so much greater. We are biking for the women in Ghana because it is their hard work that has empowered us to make a difference.

So yes, I have quite the pre-ride jitters, but I have no doubt that Sarah and I will bike across Canada. After all, we have the support of MEDA and all that comes with it drafting the wind in front of us. I am so proud to be apart of this amazing team all working towards the common goal of women economic development.

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A lot of research and planning

I've been in Quebec City the past six months and I am getting ready to go home Friday. During my time in Quebec I have been training at the gym, but when I get home I will start to ride my bike outside. I'm aiming for 12 hours a week on the bike right now to try and get my bum use to the seat.

There is a Louis Garneau, Quebecois cycling gear, outlet in Quebec City where I just purchased a bib and a windbreaker. Bib shorts are cycling shorts that have suspenders to hold up the shorts during intense physical activity. It's also important to look at the fabric in the chamois depending on the type of cycling you are doing. Chamois is the padding in the bike shorts. For example, there is 5 motion, 4 motion, and air gel. Air gel is supposed to be used for long rides. I was looking at different bibs at the Louis Garneau factory and I liked one that had a lot of colors and the employee said, "No, those are for triathlons, not long rides like yours."

It really takes a lot to research bike attire and bike equipment, but Mary and I have had wonderful support. In Winnipeg, we went to Bikes and Beyond with a fellow MEDA member who took us there. There we met Jon who was kind enough to keep in touch with us when we returned to Ontario and send a list of items we will need for our bikes. Some of the things include: lights, panniers, chain oil, 2 extra tubes, co2 inflator with 2 cartridges each, metric allen keys, 2 tire levers each, 2 patch kits, 1 pump, and the list goes on. Mary and I have been spending the year slowly gaining these items and still need to get a few. The whole experience has been fun. I'm getting anxious to get home and start riding.

I've also been in touch with Doug's Bicycle Shop, which is located in a town near mine, Belleville, Ontario. Last summer they helped me, free of charge, to fix broken chains and practicing changing flat tires. When I get home, I will be spending time in the Doug's to continue to practice these things.

I'm quite lucky to come from a small town because everyone wants to help out. The following week that I am home, I will be attending a Picton Rotary meeting to accept a $500 check for GROW. As well, I will be on the radio March 23rd in my hometown to discuss more about Bike to Grow. They have already had me on the radio and have asked me to come back on. I will be going to different newspapers and radio stations around my surrounding area to spread the word about Bike to Grow. I hope with these media outlets that many new people will hear about the project.

There are also individuals in my community that have donated their time to help me out. Artists in the local community, such as drawing comics, want to assist me in promoting the bike trip by doing a pamphlet. I have been in touch with band groups and my past bosses who would like to put together events. These will all come into place when I return to my hometown Picton next week. The countdown has really begun now for the trip.

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Bike to GROW

Je vous écris parce que je vais voyager à travers tout le Canada en vélo pendant 4 mois et je vais commencer le 15 mai, 2015. Mon nom est Sarah French et je viens de Picton Ontario. Je suis déménagée à Québec pour améliorer mon français. J'ai étudiée les relations internationales à l'université Carleton en Ottawa. Après mes études j'ai gagnée une bourse avec le gouvernement. La bourse consistait à travailler avec l'organisation Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) qui est située à Waterloo, Ontario et Lancaster Pennsylvanie. J'habitais au Nicaragua pour 7 mois en 2013/2014 ou je travaillais en agriculture et développement durable. Je vais faire ce voyage de 8,710 km parce que je crois en MEDA.

J'ai déjà habitée en Argentina avec Rotary en 2007/2008 et en Espagne en 2011/2012 comme étudiante d'échange, mais au Nicaragua j'ai vu la pauvreté pour la première fois. J'ai voyagée dans les endroits éloignes pour faire des entrevues avec des agriculteurs pour le projet MEDA. Aussi, j'ai louée une chambre à une famille Nicaragua. La situation de monétaire était touchante. Concernant la pauvreté j'ai vu une différence entre les hommes et les femmes. Mary, mon amie qui va voyager avec moi, était en Tanzanie avec MEDA et nous avons parlée pendant nos stages. Nous avons parlée de type de questions. Nous pensons que c'est symbolique avec deux filles qui vont voyager travers le Canada en soutien un autre projet de MEDA que de se concentre sur l'Independence des femmes. Ce projet s'appelle Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) en Ghana. J'ai deux liens pour vous. Le premier lien montre nos stages et le deuxième représente GROW :

Aussi vous pouvez chercher MEDA : Nous sommes sur Facebook, Instagram et Twitter sous Bike to Grow.

A cent pour cent des dons va directement au projet GROW et nous avons la confiance en MEDA parce que nous avons déjà travaillée pour eux. Moi et Mary avons économisée notre argent grâce à notre travail. Nous faisons de l'entrainement toute l'année. Je fais yoga, cardio, et de la musculation pour me préparer.

Je veux que plus de monde sachent savoir de notre voyage. Nous allons travers à Montréal (7 aout), Trois Rivières (9 aout), ville Québec (10 aout), Montmagny (12 aout), et Rivière-du-Loup (13 aout).

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"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Of all the times in my life my coaches have said that to me and my teammates, it has never rung truer then today. Biking across Canada it by far the most challenging thing I have ever embarked on, a large part of the reason I decided to join Sarah on the trip. However, recently this challenge is working up my nervous energy more than ever before. I worry about the Rockies and how were ever going to get up it. I worry about those days where it feels like just nothing is going right and I worry that Sarah is going to blow me out of the water! With all these worries, the only thing that keeps me moving forward is the many people helping and supporting me with my training.

I wanted to get an early start to the training, so last August I joined a local "spin class" lead by Dan Quick. My friend, Kate Wiens, had been going for a year before that and had already learned so much. So every Tuesday, we meet up and sweat more in one hour than I thought was ever possible. Dan is working so hard to teach me the proper form for maximum efficiency. As he has done many tours before, he knows the many challenges and mental deficiencies that one must train for and learn to overcome. Each week when we arrive, he has a different ride mapped out – many are from the tour de France, where we learn what it's like to ride far and straight, then take a turn and conquer a steep climb. Many of which, make me wonder, what in the world I was thinking when I decided to take a bicycle across Canada...8710km.

Before Christmas, I was taking the spin class and simply trying to stay in shape. Instead of a New Year's Resolution, I knew the start of the New Year was the start of my focused training. I signed up for a gym membership, which I knew had a professional cyclist as one of their trainers. Once signing up, I looked into getting a few personal training sessions where she could show me effective ways to build up the most important muscles for a cyclist. After a consultation with the manager, he told me that Sue, a professional cyclist, was extremely busy but would find a way to make it work because she was so excited about the project. Sue has been an excellent motivation for both fitness and mental toughness. She pushes me hard to work through an extra set, or shortens the break time between sets, all while taking the moments to talk through some emotions I may feel and ways to cope with the long silence giving me nothing but time to talk myself out of it. We work through the fears, anticipation and societal expectations that women cannot train as hard as men. In only a few sessions, I have already noticed myself stronger physically and emotionally.

The best way to build that confidence is to actually do what you are afraid of. Since it is too cold to bike outside right now, I have a trainer set up in my basement so I may actually ride my own bike and get used to that saddle. I try to get on it at least three times a week, to get adjusted to using my own bike. Thanks to Kate and her family who let me borrow it during this training period. I'm looking forward to getting to ride outside a few times before we leave.

With the lessons and support from Dan and Sue, as well as the encouragement and support from friends and family like Kate and my parents, I am able to push aside those fears and worries. Cycling is 5% physical and 95% mental toughness – learning to clear the negative and make room for the positive is half the battle. As I spend these last three months gaining strength and preparing to bike across Canada, I'm building the confidence that will only prepare us to conquer this challenge. I mean, really... 8,710km, that's only 100km per day, 20km per hour for 5 hours.

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The generosity of others

This year, while preparing for Bike to Grow, I decided to move to Quebec City to improve my French and see a new part of Canada. While I have some friends from Quebec, I didn't have a job or anything prepared. I handed my resumes out everywhere – I'll admit it was difficult to find a job with my French being at a novice level. Not having a plan and just moving here sounded like a fun idea, but I began to get nervous because I hadn't heard back from anyone.

Finally, after waiting for two weeks, I heard from Société de Cigar. I have become a fluent French speaker that can talk about whiskey and cigars in both languages. I thank staff and regular clients for having patience with me, but I also want to thank everyone for being such an amazing support group with Bike to GROW.

After noting my accent, people ask what I am doing here and what my future plans are. Every chance I get I talk about Bike to GROW. I am constantly astounded by the amount of support I have received. Some of our regular clients help me to spread the news and tourists and others I have never met continue to surprise me with their support.

There are two men, for example, who told me they are going to propel this project forward and they already have. The two men had clients with them last week from Toronto and they said to me "Sarah, get your Bike to GROW postcards for these ladies." They explained everything to them about the project in Ghana and the bike trip across the country before asking me even more questions. The ladies were so enthusiastic, and as strangers, this surprises me every time.

Another man owns a technology consultant agency and he has sat down with me to determine possible connections such as Radio CBC Quebec. Everyone wants to help and I am grateful for this.

I understand that regular clients want to help because they have become my friends, but I'm surprised that complete strangers want to help me too. For example, Corey Thompson and Nash Khushrushai came one night after a long month of working up North in -40C weather on a rig. After I told them my story, they donated to Bike to GROW right on the spot.

On top of all that, a few Quebecois are so inspired that they will be joining us on our bike trip when we head through Quebec in August. This journey preparing for an 8,710km bike ride has opened my world up to the generosity of others.

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MEDA Convention Reflection: I met the most interesting people

On Thursday November 6th, 2014 I flew into Winnipeg for the first time. I had never been to a MEDA Convention and had never met any MEDA members. I was excited and nervous. I've met staff members from my internship in Nicaragua and other interns from the first week of orientation in Waterloo.

I need to start at the end of this story for you to understand why I was sad after Convention. I came home Sunday night, not technically home because I am currently living in Quebec City to improve my French. When the plane was landing there was snow falling. It was 1am, cold outside and no one was waiting for me at the airport. I took a taxi home and this was the start of me feeling sad. Monday I was on the brink of tears all day. I immediately missed all the connections I had made at the MEDA Convention. I didn't want to be far away from this positive energy. I found compassion and such admiration for members and staff.

I wasn't as sad on Tuesday and I am personally uplifted from the weekend. I want to be closer to God based on the passion I saw from individuals at convention. For example, Mary and I were talking on the last day about the plenary talk Laura Ling had given the night before. When Laura was in detainment in North Korea, she had paced around her room for exercise and also meditated. What hit home for me in Laura's talk was that she gave thanks for something before she went to bed, "Thank you for letting me see this butterfly today." How can someone stuck in North Korea and being isolated for 140 days have the energy to be so positive? Mary and I decided that during the bike tour that we would say what we were thankful for at the end of each day. As well, after my day of mopping around the house on Monday, I realized that I need to have a positive outlook and good things will come. In Matthew 21:22 it says, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." I can still keep this positive energy from the MEDA Convention and spread it to others.

"Never judge a book by its cover" should be the MEDA slogan. No offence, but it didn't initially occur to me to ask MEDA members questions about their lives. I couldn't have been more wrong. I am not exaggerating when I say I met the most interesting people at MEDA that I have ever met in my life.

First, I need to say that I am amazed by all the work that MEDA staff does. To work somewhere, continuously traveling to different places for some, and still be energetic about the work you do is astounding. I also met many MEDA members who own businesses, have demanding jobs, and families to look after all at once. Yet, they make the time to come to the Convention and be apart of it through giving their time, effort, and donations.

I am an early bird, so I have no idea where I got the energy, but I was running on 5 hours of sleep a night at Convention. I never wanted to go to bed because I was so genuinely intrigued by people's lives and I was mesmerized when they talked. Saturday night I decided I would have an early night. Thursday I had gone out with the students and Friday I had some amazing bonding time with my mini Bike to Grow Team, Ethan and Mary. I would have a relaxing Saturday night. There was a group sitting in the lobby area. I pulled up a seat and joined the conversation. I was the last person to leave with Lisa and Abe, Mary's parents, at 1:30 am. I don't know how I can explain how greatly intrigued I was by the conversations that night. Since the Convention, I repeatedly refer to one individual, Wilmer Otto. I believe everyone to have such stories and I want to use Wilmer as an example. He owns companies in the States and Ukraine. When he was 18 he decided he was going to drive from Illinois to Costa Rica. We were talking with two other men all night about history in Ukraine, trips, and good jokes. They all asked me questions about the tour, how I was preparing, why I'm doing it, and when I will go. Out of nowhere Wilmer says, "and after your bike trip I'm inviting you to stay at my hotel in Romania. It is my gift to you and Mary for doing the tour." First of all who has a hotel in Transylvania? It was surprising news, but he explained why he bought the place and what there is to do there. He sounds like he is in love with the country.

There were 500 people who attended the MEDA Convention and each individual was as interesting as Wilmer and had an open heart, which was shown through their interest and generosity. An example of this is when Mary and I did our Bike to Grow seminar on Friday morning. Ethan Eshbach led a Q & A with us and thanks to him, it flowed perfectly. Afterwards, everyone came up to us and offered us their home or contact information for someone they knew in the area where we were biking through. People did this throughout convention. Some people had biking experience and gave us tips and advice. Keith Kuhl from Winnipeg took us to Bikes and Beyond where we spend a few hours getting information on clothing and gear. It was nice of Keith to take time to give us advice and take us to the store. The staff was wonderful help! Also another lady named Agnes got my email and gave it to someone she knew in Winnipeg who has biking experience, Arvid Loewen. Arvid is in the book of Guinness World Records for being the fastest cyclist across Canada in 13 days and 6 hours. Agnes gave my email to Arvid and he contacted me the very next day. Now, someone in Guinness World Records has been emailing back and forth with me the last few days with tips.

I'm still amazed and somewhat shocked by everyone's love and generosity. To illustrate this a great example is Andrew and Jim who are MEDA members in Pennsylvania. Jim came up to me on Thursday and said "See you in April." I had no idea what he was talking about and I had to ask Ethan, our liaison with MEDA. "Oh ya, what are you doing in April?" he asked. Andrew and Jim have planned a fundraising event for Bike to Grow. People will bike 32 kms (20miles) together and then have dinner and a bonfire. They have decided that we need to be there and are paying for our flights and for our bikes to be there so that we can bike with everyone and then give a talk.

I wrote out this summary of Convention because it is incredible the amount of loving people there can be altogether. It was perfect that Ziauddin Yousafzai talked Friday night at the Human Rights Museum. To me, he brought together the whole weekend and represented everyone. He is a humble man with a passion to make a difference. This can be said for everyone may they be MEDA staff or members. Thank you so much for showing us your kindness and the wonderful potential of human beings.
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MEDA Convention Reflection: Thank you for the support

I had heard a lot about these "MEDA Conventions" before and after working as a MEDA Intern in Tanzania for 9 months last year, I knew that I wanted to attend. However, I never expected to have that chance to speak at one. So November 13th, 2014, I was off to a place I never thought I would be going in November...Winnipeg!

I arrived a little early, so I had some time to settle in before all the hustle and bustle of the conference began. For once it started, I felt like there was not a minute I was not intrigued by an amazing speaker, listening to some informative seminars, eating with the most interesting people or relaxing with some new friends. I don't think my smile left my face. It was undeniably one of the most highly influential weeks in my life.

When Sarah and I decided to bike across Canada to raise money for a MEDA project, we never expected any of this, that is what is so incredible. The MEDA conference was nothing short of that, absolutely incredible. We were meeting MEDA supporters from all around the world with this undying passion for the work MEDA does every day. As an intern, I was lucky enough to see the work first hand but that is what surprised me so much, most of these people had never even visited a project but yet they trusted their donations and support were being used in the best way possible. I am learning that is what this organization is built on, trust. Trust between the employees and their beneficiaries, trust between the offices and trust between the organization and their supporters. At the MEDA convention, I realized just how much trust everyone had in this amazing organization.

Every time Sarah or I walked to the conference floor, someone introduced themself and wanted to hear about the bike trip, offer us a place to stay, join us for parts of the trip or thank us for what we were doing for MEDA. For me, that was the most memorable part of the conference. The support we received from everyone at the conference and MEDA has been absolutely incredible. I am still in shock about it all. When committing to this bike trip, I thought we would be able to make a small contribution to a MEDA project, this however has turned into a much more than we ever dreamed of all thank you to the support we have been given from MEDA and their supporters. So to all those that we met or haven't met yet, you are giving us the motivation we need that will take us across the country, you are our inspiration. Thank you.

The Friday night, we had the opportunity to listen to Ziauddin Yousafzai speak at Canadian Museum of Human Rights. Sarah and I were so excited, we decided to leave a little early to get the best seats in the house, and that is exactly what we did. Sitting second row, front and center, not only were we able to watch closely as he delivered his message but we also got to see the compassion in his heart as he listened to the Canadian Mennonite University's choir sing, enjoying every single note. I was mesmerized listening to such an inspiring individual with so much to teach us and only an hour to speak, I tried to take in every single word. When Mr. Yousafzai was at the podium, the silence in the room of 500 people gave me goose bumps. It's an incredible thing to see an individual who has been through so much more than I can ever imagine, light up the room with his smile. It was certainly a night I will not forget and he and his family are certainly a family that will continue to inspire me. This was just one of the many moments throughout the MEDA convention that fueled my passion for international development.

I was amazed by the MEDA convention but when I look back on it, I'm not really sure why – that's who MEDA is, that's what MEDA does, they empower people. I will forever be grateful for my opportunity to be a small part in the difference MEDA is making in so many lives both overseas and at home. I want to thank MEDA for continuing to live so passionately. In today's busy society, it's easy to get distracted and focus on small details, the MEDA convention is a reminder to live for the big picture. The MEDA convention left me feeling more inspired and determined than ever. Before the convention, my biggest fear about Bike to Grow was that we would not make it across the country. With the support of MEDA and their community, that is no longer a fear of mine. I am determined, I am inspired and I am passionate about all that MEDA does and that alone will give me the power I need to bike across Canada.

Thank you MEDA and MEDA community, you are fantastic.
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