One young woman, her bike and the will to change the world.
For the entirety of her summer, Anne Thomas woke up early every morning, hopped on her bicycle and rode 80 to 150 kilometres. She burned roughly 5,000 calories per day, requiring her to eat double or triple what a normal person would. She refers to her bicycle—a Devinci Caribou—as her “best friend.”
Yet Anne, a 21-year-old from Ottawa, doesn’t consider herself a cyclist. She is simply a traveller and do-gooder who got it into her head one day that biking across the entirety of Canada would be a great way to see her home country—“I’ve never really been anywhere in Canada”—and tacked on to this impulse, a charitable cause. She didn’t train or do any special kind of preparation beforehand—she just bought a bike and jumped on.
Setting off from Victoria, B.C. in May, Anne commenced the journey by dipping the rear wheel of her bike into the Pacific Ocean as a ceremonial rite. Her plan was to reach the East Coast at the end of August. It was an adventure to be sure, but her motivation went beyond thrill-seeking; it strived for impact in the form of a $20,000 goal. The donations collected would go towards sending Indigenous youth to WE’s Take Action Camp.
Youth empowerment is a cause close to Anne’s heart. Having been a camp counsellor—and having taken part in WE Days as a high school student—Anne has seen what’s possible when like-minded kids come together as one.
“I know the difference that camp can make. Being in a good environment and a good community, it has definitely kept me out of trouble,” she says. “[Going to camp] changed my life in many ways, but as a camp counsellor I also learned that it’s possible to make a difference in someone’s life.”
“I’ve inspired, helped, encouraged and that’s what brings me happiness.”
Fond memories of the “sense of community” fostered at camp kept Anne going during her laborious, long and sometimes lonely ride across Canada. For her first few weeks, she was so sore after getting off her bike at the end of the day that she could barely walk. She rode through days of rain, and she biked against powerful headwinds, where every kilometre was a hard-fought battle. And then, there were the long stretches of isolation—far away from the bustle of towns and murmur of pedestrians.
“I’ve questioned many times what was I thinking. It’s very unpredictable, and very discouraging. It’s definitely a mind game,” she shares. “But then I meet people, I get emails and messages on my Facebook page, and that helps keep me going.” It was these small acts of kindness that helped Anne “wake up feeling positive every morning.”
Anne—an avid solo traveller—is guided by passion, curiosity and wanderlust. It’s guided her as far away as the Polynesian Islands and, in this case, through the majestic Rocky Mountains on to the lake-filled landscapes of Ontario. Whatever the destination, though, it’s safe to bet there’s a philanthropic bent to her journey.
“It’s an amazing feeling to give back,” she declares. “I’ve inspired, helped and encouraged, and that’s what brings me happiness.”
With her latest philanthropic project, Anne has gone the distance, literally, raising donations generated through social media and sponsorships from multiple brands.
Not one to waste an opportunity to share her enthusiasm for doing good (in hopes of passing on her zeal), Anne travelled with a large “WE” sign on her bike, prompting conversation (and donations!) from strangers along the journey.
Where Anne gives, she also gains. Over the summer, her purpose found new meaning as she delved even deeper into the cause that inspired her initial goal. “I’ve learned so much about Indigenous youth through my travels,” she reflects, noting an enlightening stay with a retired teacher in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, who shared inspiring stories of volunteering in local Indigenous communities. “I got to learn a lot about the culture talking to so many different people, especially in the prairies. I hope to continue educating myself through this and bring more awareness.”
The end impact Anne’s cross-country trek will have is undeniable. Anticipating its completion (which has since arrived)—and all the fundraising and publicity it will bring—she indicates one thing she’s most looking forward to.