On August 18, 2014, my twelve year old son Isaac and I set out on a six day ride from Montreal to cycle across Quebec to Campbellton, New Brunswick. We cycled to raise funds to end homelessness in our neighbourhood. Our goal was to raise $50,000 to put towards a new affordable and supported housing project in East Hamilton being constructed by the charity, Indwell. Early on we heard about CBC’s Own Summer project. We contacted CBC about what we were doing and were accepted into the project. We now had the opportunity to document with video the cause, our preparation and the ride. Isaac and I interviewed several people who had been homeless and had become stably housed through Indwell. This experience was amazing for Isaac and me. Out of these interviews, things were really put things into perspective. In particular, Isaac was impressed with the interview with Gord, who seemed so happy with so little. Gord had shared how he had a family, business, and large house and how he lost everything because of alcohol, ending up in prison and later being hospitalized. However, Gord expressed his appreciation for a homeless shelter even though it had 150 people sleeping on mats in one room. Gord also expressed delight in his current apartment which he described as spacious even though it is only slightly larger than Isaac’s bedroom. The conversations and learning for both of us continued. Through the eyes of a twelve year old, I realized that we don’t have to accept homelessness as a fact of city life. We can construct a new story in Canada.
May, June and July were preparation months where Isaac and I got to spend time riding together. It was a deep privilege to be able spend hours with my son at such an critical age. We had new experiences together in the preparation rides along Hamilton’s waterfront, rail trail through farm country around Guelph/Elmira and rides along the Niagara Escarpment and Niagara Wine Country. We set goals on distance and speed, faced the edges of our abilities, and had to struggle through challenges of ice, poor signage, wind, traffic and hills. We learned to work together and got to know each other and ourselves more deeply. We also began to doubt our ability to ride 800 km in six days.
The actual ride started in Montreal where we joined a group called “Love in Motion” that was cycling from Vancouver to Halifax to raise money for inner city organizations who work with the poor and marginalized. Love in Motion took care of the logistics of campsites, food, route and hauled our gear. All we had to do was ride nearly 800 km in six days on a tandem bicycle. Cycling is part physical challenge and a lot psychological challenge. It is usually the mental part of our body that gives up before our physical body. I worried that my twelve year old son wouldn’t be able to handle the challenge due to the stress of the 5:45 am starts and the 6-10 hours a day in the saddle. It turned out that I was the one who “hit the wall” first at about 145 km into a 162 km ride on day three. We had completed 440 km in three days and my mind and body were saying that it had enough. We had gone out too strong, joining fast riders who were averaging 30-35 km/h. We could really move on the down-hills but our touring tandem bike was very heavy climbing hills and pushing across the windswept flats along the St. Lawrence River. We dropped out of the group and pulled into a variety store to buy some chocolate milk. Two other riders turned around and came back to help us. One rider was PJ, who was over 50 years old and had already cycled from Vancouver. He came and got us and pulled us to the finish for the day. Being able to draft him and have his encouragement for the final 20 km of the day was a wonderful gift. Isaac was tired but mentally strong. He pushed me. “Come on Dad, we got this!” and “We can do this, Dad,” he would say.
Together we learned what we were capable of and we had time together. We had time to share in the beauty of the scenery that seemed to change every day. We had time to explore Quebec culture both current and past. We had time to enter an “open” time trial at the Quebec Provincial Road Cycling Championships. We had time to pull over and enter the open doors of a rural church to listen to the choir practice. We had time to discover architecture and the interaction between culture, history and built form. We had time to dream about cycling friendly infrastructure, land surveying and city building. We had time to clear our heads of the daily noise of life living in Hamilton and were able to live a very simply life for one week. We got up with the sun, rolled up our sleeping bags and tent, ate food, cycled, ate food and went to bed with the sun. We had time to feel small in a big world and to talk about the purpose of it all. We had time to discuss faith, the Creator and the need for a divine plan to put things right. We had time to meet fellow cyclists from across Canada who were deeply invested in their communities and doing amazing things. We had time to realize the deep privileges that we have, including housing.
As the pedals turn 80-95 rotations per minute, everything becomes quiet in your mind. A simple thought can swirl for hours. On day five, we got a text from Indwell staff saying that a young women waiting for housing in the new building we were fundraising for, had died from bad heroin. The streets had taken another victim and the streets don’t care. Housing would have made a difference. People are literally dying everyday while the wait for housing - housing that would bring stability, permanence and a place to work through challenges of disability, mental health and addictions. Day five we rode with the guilt that we haven’t done enough both individually and collectively as citizens. We rode with the stories of pain, suffering, brokenness and homelessness swirling in our heads. There was an urgency in our cadence on day five that pushed us up and over the Appalachians. People struggling with more than they can cope with need our help. We have to dig deep and really care. We have the ability to end homelessness but we just don’t have the will. Not all that different from cycling long distances. My son’s urgings are the same, “Come on, Dad, we got this!” and “We can do this, Dad.”
by Jeff Neven, Isaac's dad
Hi, my name is Isaac Neven and I am 11 years old. I live in East Hamilton and I want to stop homelessness in my neighbourhood. From August 17-24, 2014, I am riding my bike over 800km from Montreal to Bathurst, N.B. (my Dad is riding with me!) to raise money to help Indwell build affordable housing in my neighbourhood. My fundraising target is $50,000. Will you help me provide hope and homes to my neighbours?
Go HERE to find ways to still donate to Isaac's Ride. Please indicate your donation is for Isaac's Ride in the message/instructions box. Thanks so much! Get more updates on Isaac's Ride facebook page.
Isaac's Ride is raising funds specifically for the Rudy Hulst Commons, 47 units of affordable housing that is being built in Isaac's neighbourhood. To see progress photos, go HERE.