Cycling across Canada for the homeless was worth it for Vancouver duo

“What really helped was knowing it was for a cause, that me not giving up would help others have something to eat — it was something bigger than myself.” — Osa Hawthorne

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Vancouverites Keenan Macartney and Osa Hawthorne faced black flies, bears, semi-trucks, injuries, loneliness and a deadly heat dome biking across Canada, but never gave up.

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The duo, who have raised nearly $13,000 for Vancouver’s CityReach Care Society, said that knowing they were raising money for a good cause helped keep them going on their cross-country trek.

Macartney has volunteered for CityReach’s Club Freedom, a soup kitchen which provides food, prepared meals and recovery services to low-income families, since he was 13. He wanted to find a way to do more.

He and Osa are best friends, inseparable since the age of nine, and accustomed to doing adventurous things together: skydiving or hiking the west coast trail or, when they were kids, longboarding the hills in the West Van neighbourhood where they grew up. Note to kids reading this: longboarding is not allowed on the streets of West Van.

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How hard could it be to cycle across Canada? Very hard, as it turns out.

“We are ambitious and naive,” said Macartney.

Osa Hawthorne and Keenan Macartney biked across Canada to raise funds for the homeless in Vancouver.
Osa Hawthorne and Keenan Macartney biked across Canada to raise funds for the homeless in Vancouver. Photo by photo submitted /submitted

The friends started their journey in Quebec City on June 1 as COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from starting in the Maritimes. Each carried 20-30 pounds of gear in three panniers, including tents, sleeping bags, cookware, food, water and a couple of pairs of bike shorts.

Echelon Wealth management signed on as a sponsor, pledging to match the first $1,000 raised, Landyachtz Bike store, donated the wheels: a sturdy cross between a road bike and a gravel bike.

Their plan was to cover 180 km a day, unsupported, riding on the road or on the shoulder of the Trans Canada highway. They soon discovered that sometimes there is no shoulder on the highway. They had to ride on the white line in the far right travelling lane while semi-trucks barrelled past with alarming frequency. One, carrying an excavator, roared past so close that Macartney could feel the excavator’s blades whistle past his head.

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“I’ve never felt anything more terrifying than the draft of air that shoots up and pushes you around as the semi goes by, the blades of the excavator inches away,” said Macartney.

The duo were only about 500 km into the journey, still trying to figure out how to deal with the trucks and SUVS, to learn when to hold the line, and when to ditch in the gravel, when Macartney’s knees gave in to a painful tendon injury and he had to take a break for about a week.

Oso was left on his own to cross the long, desolate stretch north of Lake Superior.

“Being by myself was the hardest part. I was by myself for about seven days, no cellphone reception, totally isolated,” said Oso.

He battled on, through swarms of black flies, and, one night while camping under a bridge, he had a sleepless night listening to the heavy breathing of a bear outside his tent.

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Oso wondered, briefly, whether he should pack it in.

“It’s very, very uncomfortable being in the saddle eight to 12 hours a day,” said Oso. “But what really helped was knowing it was for a cause, that me not giving up would help others have something to eat — it was something bigger than myself.”

The kindness of strangers who bought meals, shared water and offered showers and encouragement, helped.

Macartney was able to rejoin the ride after getting treatment for his knee, and the pair sailed through the Prairies, survived a heat wave in Alberta, made it through the Rocky Mountains, and finally, on Saturday, arrived in Victoria.

To donate or learn more about the journey, go to ko-canada.com

dryan@postmedia.com

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