Tyler Waddell rode his bike into Quesnel last Thursday afternoon (July 18) in time to take in the city’s Billy Barker Days Festival and spread his message of hope to even more people.
The 35-year-old was on Day 18 of a 2,600-kilometre bike ride from Victoria, B.C., to Whitehorse, Yukon, to raise awareness about addictions and mental health issues.
“It’s been amazing, completely — you never know what to expect,” he said, spending some time at LeBourdais Park. “It’s either up the next hill. You can be so defeated sometimes, and then something just miraculous pops out of nowhere. I did the Duff [Duffey Lake Road] outside of Pemberton, and it was climbing 1,100 metres over 13.7 kilometres, and by the top of the hill, I had two flat tires, and it started storming. I found this old salt shed, and it was like this Shangri-la. It was like the most amazing hotel I’d ever stayed in. It just really blows my mind. And then some of the people along the way are absolutely amazing too. A lady dropped off granola bars to me along the way. Today, somebody gave me raspberries, and I got a donair. It’s all the little things that just — it really blows me away.”
One thing Waddell has noticed on his ride, which started July 3, is that it is giving people a chance to talk openly about mental health and addictions.
“I’ve learned not to hold any judgment to anyone,” he said. “I had one lady, she told me about her son’s heroin addiction, and she had never talked to anybody about it, so it was really nice for her to get that off her chest.”
Another memorable moment along the road came when Waddell was able to help a family get to their daughter’s wedding because they had a flat tire on their rental vehicle.
“The surprises don’t stop happening, and that’s the most beautiful part about it,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen next.”
Travelling so much slower than everyone else, Waddell has found he has really been able to appreciate the beauty around him.
“The calm after the storm is the most peaceful time ever when you can hear the crickets — everything comes alive again,” he said. “It’s so beautiful. And all along, it’s just surprise after surprise.”
This was Waddell’s 18th day on the road. Up to arriving in Quesnel, he had ridden 1,100 kilometres and gotten eight flat tires and one broken rim.
“I’ve got tons of support from both cycle shops in Williams Lake; they were amazing,” he noted.
Waddell was happy he picked up his fishing rod, gold pan and camping gear in Williams Lake on the way here, but he admits with a laugh that it will slow him down for the rest of the trip.
He also had one bad crash at the beginning of his journey when he was just four or five kilometres outside of Surrey, snapping a tire in half.
“But no matter how bad things get, there’s always something beautiful if you push that little bit more — and you never know what it is,” said Waddell. “When I’m tired, I go meditate and relax. It’s so easy to connect with nature when you’re in it.”
Waddell rides pulling a small trailer with a Canadian flag and messages, which carries essentials like a sleeping bag, hammock, water, food and bug spray. He travels about 75 kilometres a day. His longest day so far was 130 kilometres, and his shortest — by distance, at least — was doing the Duffey Lake Road.
“That was 12 hours of ‘no, no, no, I quit, I tap out, I’m done,’ and ‘why am I doing this so early in my trip?!” he laughs.
Waddell has loved getting a chance to see things with new eyes on this trip.
“My very first part of the adventure, I went from Kelowna to Penticton, and I climbed up the first hill, which is in West Kelowna, and I looked over to the side, in a spot I’ve driven past a thousand times in my life, and I ride past this spot, and there’s a pond that’s fluorescent green in the bottom, and there are about 7,000 little red fish swimming around it,” he said. “I was like ‘this is the most beautiful thing — why did I not notice this before?’ It’s little things like that. If you just stop and take a break, stop and take a break somewhere where you’ve never done it before, you’ll be surprised at what you see. There’s so much out here, and this is such a beautiful province we live in.”
Waddell says coming into communities like this and getting to connect with people is one of the best parts of his trip.
“I’ll sit in Tim Horton’s, and three or four people come up and talk to me and tell me stories of family members, friends,” he said. “On social media as well, there’s a whole lot of people who are getting really inspired by what I’m doing. I’m getting messages even from people in the States who are telling me their story and things like that.”
Eight months ago, Waddell found himself in Williams Lake without a job, feeling suicidal. He ended up at the Cariboo Friendship Centre, which offered him supports and connected him with the Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo Chilcotin Branch. They helped him find affordable housing, and Interior Health sent him to a 90-day treatment centre in Surrey.
Now, Waddell wants to raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association and help others see the beauty and joy in life, and once the bike ride is over, he hopes to pursue a new career as a holistic counsellor so he can help others even more.
“I spent the last three months in a treatment place where they taught me to reconnect with my spirituality, and that was their main thing, that it wasn’t about any addictions — it was about your spirit,” he said. “You’ve got to get your spirit out and be free of anything that’s been holding you back. And now, it’s so easy to answer your own questions with a free-flowing feeling and everything.
“We’re capable of much more than we could ever possibly imagine, and that’s the truth — everyone is. If you really want to do something, you can do it.”
For this ride, Waddell is self-sponsoring himself.
“I couldn’t get any corporate sponsorship or anything, and I planned it pretty much on a wing,” he said. “It was something I really needed to do. So I did it.”
Waddell ended up spending two days in Quesnel, and in a Facebook post, he says Quesnel was “by far” his most favourite stop on his tour so far, despite having his campsite raided and many of his possessions, including his journal, clothing. sleeping bag and fishing rod, taken and burned.
“From people helping me get my trailer tire sorted out, to some of the wonderful conversations I have had with many locals. The generosity of everyone totally blew me away,” Waddell wrote in a July 20 post. “I’m continuing on my pathway. Prince George is next. You guys have inspired me to keep going when in the past, I would have thrown in the towel. I will never forget my two-day visit to Quesnel.”
From Quesnel, Waddell arrived in Prince George Monday (July 22) and said he’d then head to Smithers, then go towards Kitwanga “and then lost in the woods for quite a while.”
If you would like to support Waddell’s bike ride, he has set up a Go Fund Me page at gofundme.com/f/pkfu9-pathway-to-hope.
You can also email him at email@example.com and follow Waddell’s journey on Facebook and see his photos at facebook.com/lightthepathway/.
— With files from Angie Mindus