Prairie Times

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 feScreen Shot 2018-05-24 at 5.19.14 PM.pngel 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 we’re 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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 5.20.07 PMHow 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 Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 5.19.35 PMmore 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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Lost 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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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 a conversation about anything other than 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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 5.20.25 PMI 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 every day, 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 day…it keeps me putting on my cycling shoes every day 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 by 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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8,710km

“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.

b2ap3_thumbnail_After-a-spin-classI 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 b2ap3_thumbnail_My-biketoo 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.

Meet the Riders: Sarah French

MEDA recently asked both Bike to GROW cyclists 10 questions about themselves, their b2ap3_thumbnail_sarahfellow 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.

Meet the Riders: Mary Fehr

b2ap3_thumbnail_maryMEDA 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 the unbelievable support that makes me excited every day 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.

The story of Bike to GROW

 

Deciding to bike across Canada was not an easy one for me.  I was certainly not a cyclist and wasn’t really sure why anyone would want to sit on a bike all the way across Canada.  After a few convincing conversations with Sarah though, I knew this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss out on.  Here is a short video on how Bike to GROW was formed.

One Last Time

Save me, save me… save meeee.” Cue Sax solo. The song that played on repeat one of the most memorable moments I had in Tanzania. It was my last night living in this African country and the friends I made decided to take me out for dinner. All was great but I was tired and decided to actually call it an early night, unfortunately… or actually fortunately my friends did not have the same plan. When they dropped me off, they were sure to follow me inside and when I told them I was heading to bed… they quickly jumped in and ensured me that would not be the case. They convinced me to go have one more drink… I mean it was my last night after all. SO we headed to my favorite garden bar, but first we had to wake up Madeline and drag her with us.

One beer, turned into one beer tower and then to one beer tower for each of us… at that point there was no going back, so we moved on to the next bar…  Q Bar. The bar that I was most scared of when I moved to Tanzania but also that I came to LOVE during my time in Dar, plus there was pizza right next door… what else could you ask for?

As the night went on, I learned a lot about Madeline, Mike and Usman and the fear started to settle in. When the sun came up, I would have to leave them. These people had become my family, I ate with them, I celebrated with them and I shared in the sorrows with them. As I learned about them, they learned about me and I shared with them that I had never seen a sunrise. It was decided quicker than the decision to go out for the night that we would stay up all night and watched the most perfect African Sunrise.

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We were all familiar with a local hotel in the area that hosted many parties throughout the year and to check out their beaches, unfortunately the public beaches are not very safe at night and I didn’t want anything to take away from this most perfect last night. We sat there listening to this song with only two words, “Save me” over and over again. We talked, we laughed, we cried… I cried and we saw the most glorious colors rise up from behind the water. Then we snuck into the hotel for a quick breakfast before we made our exit.

The words, “save me” were accompanied by the most beautiful joyous sax solo balanced out by a steady bass beat. Even with only two words in the whole song, it seemed to perfectly reflect on my time in Tanzania. The happy sax solo that played many times throughout the song kept me dancing through the song as I did so many times with the wonderful memories I had made in the nine months. The steady bass beat that kept my head bobbing to the music was my mentality no matter what I was feeling all those months that kept me moving forward, taking one day at a time, even in the beginning when I had absolutely no idea how I would finish six months, never mind nine. “Save me, save me, save me.” At the exact time those lyrics didn’t really have any meaning to deep but when reflecting those were the words I was trying to say to my new friends when I had first met them and they had done just that, they had saved me time and time again. They saved me when I was in danger, and getting my purse stolen, or when I didn’t have any money on me or was trying to negotiate a lower price or when I just needed to take advantage of my last few moments in Tanzania. Every time I hear the song now, I am reminded of the most amazing people I have ever met and the beauty that comes from the bonds I have made with so many extraordinary people.

I will forever hold that memory close. I couldn’t have asked for a better last night in Tanzania and it wouldn’t have happened without Mike and Usman insisting the night was not over, and Madeline willing to get up, get dressed and make the most of it. That’s the thing about all of my friends I met in Tanzania though… they would do anything for one another. I went to a completely new place with no one and somehow left knowing no matter where I am in the world, I will never be alone.

I grew so much in my year abroad and too much to share, and often too deep to really get out the real impact it left on me out in words, but I will forever have those memories embedded in my brain. I will remember those smiles, of my friends, the kids running on the streets and the mamas caring for everyone around them. I will remember the many times I found myself in the middle of a crowd dancing away to the beat of the drum and the conversations that came out of our bijaji getting stuck in traffic.

I will forever miss Tanzania and look forward to the day I am someday reconnected with my brothers and sisters that I met in the beautiful country of Tanzania. Thank you to all those that gave me the experience of a life time.

Asante Sana Rafikis. (Thank you my friends)

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Don’t Be Sad, Just be Glad

It’s the last day of work, don’t be sad just be glad, it’s the last day of work.  All you Silver Lakers know exactly what I’m talking about… that silly song we sing so we can deal with the sad feelings of leaving camp for the summer.  I sang that song as I walked to find a bijaji today, my last day of work at MEDA Tanzania.

I cannot believe it has been nine months, that is absolutely wild to me.  The time has flown by.  I find myself thinking about the beginning a lot, when I was so incredibly homesick, I considered packing my bag right then and there and flying back to Canada.  I remember thinking about how I didn’t think I could do this; that I did not have what it takes to live abroad for six months, nevermind extending the time for nine months.  Those thoughts seem so silly to me now.

The office here in Tanzania has set seriously high standards for future offices I may work in.  The environment here, is exactly what I always hoped for, a place where people not only work together but grow together.  Whether it’s Goodluck singing to the whole M&E department with Irene and Ngowi joining in, Mwinyi trying to confuse me with people by using their surnames, Lorraine checking in to make sure I was safe on the weekend or while travelling, others teaching me more Swahili phrases that I can never remember that really are just another way to say, “Hey, what’s up?” or simply having hilarious conversations over the cubicles that I cannot help but giggle at.  Those moments I will take with me always.  This is not only an office but it is a family.  A family I was lucky enough to be apart of.

I was able to complete my internship with a few days in the field taking pictures of the beneficiaries receiving their vouchers and nets.   These are the people and the reasons why we continue to do the work for, these are the people that make every stressful day worth it and the people that are making the most out of the opportunities we are able to provide:

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Asante Sana (A great Thank-you) to all you at MEDA for making my experience every bit as great as it has been.  This year has completely surpassed my expectations and I as I leave the office today, I will never forget all of your happy faces.

 

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Happy Birthday Redo

Continuing on this crazy roller coaster of emotions, nights like last night happen and I never want to leave Dar es Salaam. The thing I’m learning about the friends you make abroad is they become your family so quickly. Everyone is so desperate for that community that we all have this instant connection and care for each other. I care so much about all of the people I have met in the past nine months.

A few girlfriends and I had planned dinner for last night. As I was getting ready, I said to Marine…”I don’t even really feel like a dinner party tonight!” Honestly, I just wanted to be home, I want to sleep as much time as I could away so I could be back in Canada but I would suck it up and go. We start walking up the stairs and now that I think back about the night, Marine was being SO WEIRD! When I tried to wear yoga pants to the party, she suggested I wear a necklace, she was just so bubbly and weird and as we went to the door, she sort of moved to the side; Why didn’t I figure it out?

I walk up the MANY stairs to Madeline’s apartment, open the door and was sprayed with an unbelievable amount of silly string!! I was in literal shock. Why were all these people here? Who are all these people? Why are they screaming at me? What do I look like?! My eyes, as per usual, started to fill up, all these people are looking at me and I just want to cry.

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My unbelievably, amazing friends had planned a birthday redo surprise party! I had told them about how my birthday was the first weekend in Dar, where I knew no one, did nothing and wanted to fly home. Wow, am I glad I didn’t. They went above and beyond to make me feel special and to share a special day with me.

 

I cannot explain how much last night meant to me. In a short time they went from being people I have dinner with so I don’t have to eat alone to people I look up to, people I am inspired by and people I truly care about. It is going to extremely hard to say goodbye to all of these people, and let’s be real… I probably won’t even do it because it is just too hard but I’m not so scared because I know that with the power of social media (at least) I will be able to keep in touch and watch these magnificent people do incredible things in this world. I can’t wait to some day say… “That’s my friend!”

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Thank-you to all my friends in Dar for throwing me such an unforgettable night!

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