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Cross-country Ride Picking Up Speed
July 02, 2009 09:00 AM
BY ADAM MC LEAN
He’s rolled over the Rocky Mountains, pedalled down the Prairies and is now hammering through the hills of northwestern Ontario.
It is the remarkable journey of Richmond Hill’s Mel Thompson and his family, which began six weeks ago as he dipped the rear wheel of his bicycle in the Pacific Ocean.
That day in Vancouver started his quest to reach the shores of the Atlantic Ocean on Labour Day weekend and dip his worn front wheel into the cool waters of St. John’s harbour, conquering thousands of kilometres, all in the name of his daughter.
It is the Thompson family’s Ride for Mental Health, a ride to raise awareness and funds for mental health research, while spreading their message that it is OK to talk about the issue and erase some of the stigmas associated with mental illness.
The issue is particularly near and dear to Mr. Thompson, 60, as his daughter and oldest child Lindsay, 28, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as a teenager and still lives with the illness today.
She and her mother Carol have accompanied Mr. Thompson on the road, making this a familytrek. Lindsay rides some stretches with her father, while Mrs. Thompson pilots the Ride for Mental Health RV that has served as the family command post, sleeping quarters, repair shop and information kiosk.
The ride was an idea born out of Thompson family dinner table conversation last year, but now the Ride for Mental Health has become inspiration in motion for the family members, spreading their message with every stop along their winding route.
They have hosted mental health rallies and barbecues across western Canada, spending their break days speaking to the public, politicians and students in cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg drumming up support and opening lines of communication for those who are affected by mental illness.
Roughly a third of the way through their cross-Canada convoy, the Thompsons have raised $80,000 thus far and with more rallies to come, including a GTA stop at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square on July 17. The family remains confident they can reach their goal of $250,000 and have Mr. Thompson glide into St. John’s with Lindsay alongside him.
“I don’t know how he does it. I’ve been feeding him copious amounts of pasta and peanut butter and banana sandwiches as fuel,” Mrs. Thompson said by telephone from Kenora, Ont., last week.
“Mel seems to get stronger with each province and every hill,” she added as the family packed up their camp site and prepared for a push to reach Thunder Bay and their next rally.
Also growing stronger is the ride awareness and attention that has followed the Thompsons with each kilometre.
Their engaging attitude and passionate perseverance has gained the family much media attention and they even made an appearance on Breakfast Television in Winnipeg, where father and daughter talked of their travels and the family’s cause.
No leisurely bike ride, at times Mr. Thompson, an executive with Zerox, has been riding through sub-zero temperatures, snow, rain, scorching heat and dense traffic. Some stretches have been difficult, but most so far has been incredible, said Mr. Thompson.
“Every day is a different encounter. We have met so many interesting people out on the road. They see the RV and are curious about what we are doing. Just speaking to people at rest areas you realize so many can relate to our story,” he explained.
Riding across postcard-like settings for six weeks, the Thompsons have encountered moose, mountain goats, rams, fox and even experienced a moment where a deer ran alongside the cycling Mr. Thompson for 15 seconds before darting back into the woods.
“Luckily, no bears yet,” the father of four remarked.
But what has thrilled him the most are the quiet times spent riding with his daughter.
“Those are the best. You are surrounded by all the sounds of nature, breathtaking beauty and Lindsay and I will ride next to each other and just talk. She has really done great on this trip,” Mr. Thompson said.
Not an experienced rider, Ms Thompson has called her experience “absolutely great”.
She has spoken to many about her illness and met others who have been similarily diagnosed.
It has been a learning experience and an adventure that she says has been truly positive.
“Just sharing stories and making people aware of mental illness has been great. Meeting people like me helps a little bit, but at the same time it is sad that they have to go through what I do,” she said.
With each kilometre pedalled, each dollar raised and each curious approach from those on the road, the Thompsons feel they are one step closer to finding help for those like their daughter.
With nearly 3,000 km behind them, they face another 5.200 km and two months to go.
For more information and regular updates on the Thompsons journey visit