By Haley Grinder
Special to the Pioneer
ConnecTour, a group of individuals passionate about “cycling and adventure,” is taking Canada by storm this summer— one wheel at a time. The group is composed of “an eclectic mix of people” cycling eastbound across Canada. By day 18, and just over 1000 kilometres logged, they arrived at Radium Hot Springs, marking the completion of an eighth of their trip.
The trek was supposed to begin in Victoria in early May. However, constantly changing COVID-19 restrictions delayed the group’s starting date and changed their departure to May 28 out of Myra Canyon— a spot about 30 minutes south of downtown Kelowna.
It was cool, yet sunny as the cyclists approached the canyon. The clouds were swirling overhead, mimicking the riders’ excited anticipation as they prepared for their journey.
This location change meant they could not take part in the “typical tradition,” in which cyclists travelling coast-to-coast first dip their reels at mile zero in the ocean just off Victoria. Forced to modify the custom, the group dipped their tires into a frisbee filled with Okanagan Springs 1516 lager. The idea was courtesy of Jim Barr, CEO and contributor for the ZenSeekers team, an online magazine based in Alberta and British Columbia.
Firby says the bikes they ride are heavy duty, around eight-feet-long and designed for touring long distances. They’re equipped with sturdy steel frames and have extra spokes in the wheels to compensate for the excess weight— varying anywhere from 40-60 pounds per person. All cyclists are also decked out in reflective safety vests to avoid any potential accidents.
ConnecTour aims to make it to St. Johns by mid-October, and will finish the 135-day stretch by flying back to the west coast and biking to their starting point back in Kelowna.
Rick McFerrin, Lisa Monforton, Doug Firby, Andrew Hawes, and Lynn Martel were the current riders travelling through Radium Hot Springs. The group of five, ranging in age from 50-69 years, say it was an exciting first leg of the expedition, composed of mud, rain, snow and temperatures dropping to zero degrees with little-to-no warning during an otherwise sunny day. Despite the unpredictable weather, the team remained in good spirits, choosing to focus on their highlights as they encountered multiple acts of kindness— from offerings of tea and cookies, to shelter from the elements, and even much-needed places to sleep.
The journey will be over 8,000 kilometres in length and aims to combat the isolation brought on by the recent pandemic by seeking out, talking to, and connecting with real Canadians.
“People were feeling very disconnected from each other or all confined [to their] homes, can’t go into the workplace, so there’s kind of a loss of a sense of community,” says Doug Firby, journalist and one of the core members committed to cycling the entire route. “And we thought this would be kind of a really great way to reconnect communities as we travel across the country. Just going from community to community, meeting people, [and] learning what they’re all about.”
Each member brings something unique to the team. Firby and Monforton both have backgrounds in journalism. Meeting new people, hearing different stories, and “constantly learning,” drives them on their journey.
Lynn, an ex-accountant and speed demon on her bike, helps to ground the group every morning, instilling a ritual of what she calls a daily “sunshine prayer”— a morning check-in where everyone rates their mental and physical health on a scale from 1-10.
Rick McFerrin, who started ConnecTour with his wife Tanya, decided to transform their love for cycling into a lifestyle, founding OnaVelo: a “boutique bike touring company,” in 2000. McFerrin has cycled over 100,000 kilometres in more than 43 countries, but has always wanted to do a cross Canada trek. A humble leader, he says, “I have tools in my toolkit to fix bikes, but I also have tools in my head to work with the group,” stressing the importance of community building during such a trying time.
Andrew Hawes says the experience has been “completely transformative.” As a Canadian special forces veteran who struggles with PTSD, Hawes stresses the importance of connecting with others in order to preserve one’s own mental health, not to mention the positive effects physical activity has when battling unseen emotional scars. “There’s so many great Canadians, all with interesting stories that we just need.”
Hawes says he instantly gravitated towards McFerrin. “I’ve seen leadership in him and I follow him, and I’m telling you, I don’t just follow anybody.” The entire group has become quite close in such a short period of time.
Although, Firby and Monforton— partners for over 25 years— also have their own cause to ride. “Our son-in-law recently discovered he’s going to need a liver transplant,” says Firby. The pair wanted to bring awareness to the shortage of organ donations within Canada. Thankfully, as of June 29, they got the unexpected call that he had found a match. Expressing both gratitude and relief, they are “still riding for Dax,” who has “many long and potentially difficult days ahead as he recovers from this major surgery.”
ConnecTour is still cautious despite the worst of the pandemic seemingly being behind us. Having plenty of sanitizer on hand and doing regular morning temperature checks has become a daily standard. The group remains inclusive to all, regardless of age or experience, leaving individuals or groups with the option to join for a day, week, month, or even the entire trip. The cost begins at $65 for a day and night, but is cheaper if you book a longer trip of a week or more. Set destinations to pick up joiners are pre established on their website: www.connectour.ca/registration/.