Former Terracite Mathew Fee’s 7,000 kilometre six-month bicycle ride across Canada is testament to the power of the human spirit to overcome immense personal challenges and to triumph over adversity.
As if cycling across the country wasn’t challenging enough, the 33-year-old completed the epic journey on a single-speed Haro Citizen BMX bike, not an ideal choice for cycling up hills and through mountain passes.
“Now I know why no one else has tried to do this,” Fee jokes about his gruelling coast-to-coast journey, pedalling through scorching summer weather, rain and wind, at one point covering more than 200 kilometres in a day.
He never stopped for a break while peddling up hill, and says he would tap into a meditative state to get him through the most difficult sections.
“Not stopping on a hill became a symbol of never giving up,” Fee says. “No matter how impossible it seems to get over that hill, no matter how much you’re hurting, you can do it.”
He was quick to point out that while the journey was challenging, it wasn’t as challenging as the events in his life that led up to his cross-country journey.
Then three years ago at the age of 30, Fee lost his job, overdosed and woke up at the Mills Memorial Hospital, the result of a lifetime of suicidal thoughts, addiction and depression following the loss of a close friend when he was only 15 years old.
“I felt completely alone. I went from one treatment program to another but none of them were any help,” said Fee.
Lying in bed in hospital, Fee realized he was in trouble and would have to take drastic action, or face the possibility of another suicide attempt and the possibility of death.
While in recovery, his mother showed him a news clip about the John Volken Academy, a treatment centre in Surrey specializing in a holistic and focussed treatment. Fee says the long-term aspect and therapeutic community model sold him. He applied and was accepted into treatment.
“I got more personal growth within three months at the academy than I did over a year in another program,” he told the Terrace Standard back in April. “Everyone progresses up through leadership programs and different phases of the program, and once you get further you mentor the newer students. It’s really special.”
Fee says riding his BMX across the country has been a dream since the age of seven. When he was growing up in Terrace, he would often ride around the skate park and fly off dirt jumps in the woods with his friends.
While undergoing therapy, he was reminded of his dream and thought it could be a great way of raising awareness about addiction treatment, and to celebrate his own recovery.
Fee and his travelling addiction recovery team at the John Volkens Academy in travelled to Halifax to begin the ride to Victoria on May 1.
They documented every step of the way on social media with videos and posts, gathering over a thousand followers and inspirational messages from across Canada. During rest days, Fee would stop off in towns and cities along the way to speak with people about his mission.
In Medicine Hat, Alta., Fee remembers talking with a man who also struggled with serious addiction and was able to turn his life around. The man had also biked across Canada with his friends in celebration of his new-found sobriety, though they chose to ride mountain bikes instead.
“Hearing his stories and the fact that I took a similar route that he did meant we really connected. Now he works with police in Medicine Hat on a crisis team helping out other people with addictions on the street. That was one of my favourite success stories,” Fee says.
Messages of love and support from Terrace also helped to cheer him on, he says. Given his struggles with addiction in the past, he says at first he didn’t expect to receive such an outpouring of positivity and encouragement from his former classmates, teachers, principals and friends.
As he approached the end of his ride, Fee and his team got as many people together to ride into downtown Vancouver with him on Oct. 6, along with fire ambulances, police cars and cheering crowds.
After getting on a ferry at Horseshoe Bay, Fee finished his ride in Victoria on Oct. 8, marking the occasion with a picture of him hosting his BMX bike over his head on the Pacific Ocean shore.
Despite the physical and mental challenges of the ride, Fee says it was all worth it to be able to inspire others and help fight the stigma of addiction.
“Love and kindness is what’s going to help with addiction,” he says.
“One thing I learned is to never underestimate myself or another person. I used to not believe in myself, and I’d have all this insight that I wanted to convey, but I couldn’t. Through all my long heartfelt posts during the bike ride, it’s just opened my eyes to my own problems. I really learned how to not shrink as a person, but to rise up.”
Now that his ride is over, it’s back to normal life for Fee. He will be going back to his security job at the John Volken Academy, where he will continue to mentor students on addiction recovery. He says it will also take some time to get himself used to a more sedentary lifestyle, not having to get up and cycle hundreds of kilometres every day.
“I was recently asked by [Mayor Carol Leclerc] to come in and do a speech and a slideshow at the REM Lee Theatre on the bike ride, so we’ll be doing that,” Fee says, adding he’s hoping to set a date sometime in the spring.