It may be difficult to think of a more challenging way of crossing the country on two wheels than on a BMX bike.
The off-road sport bike is a single-speed with no gears, making biking up hills and over long distances much, much more strenuous than on bikes built for travel.
But B.C. man Mathew Fee, 33, is no stranger to challenges. He’s taking his Haro Citizen BMX bike on a tour across Canada on May 1, from Halifax to Vancouver on a five-month trip to raise awareness about addiction and treatment, and to celebrate his own recovery.
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.
“I was thinking of this dream that I had and it just dawned on me [that] maybe I can do this to raise awareness for addiction. There was a feeling that went along with it that I couldn’t ignore,” Fee says.
It will be a gruelling trip. Fee will start biking from Halifax to Vancouver on May 1, a tour spanning approximately 6,200 kilometres. If successful, he may break the world record for the longest distance travelled on a single-speed bike, and set a record for longest distance travelled on a BMX.
“There are no real documented attempts at this, so I want to be the first one to have [officially] done it,” he says.
He’s come a long way to reach this point. Fee was born in Duncan on Vancouver Island and moved to Terrace when he was seven years old. His father, who taught him how to ride a bike when he was three, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the year before they moved.
When Fee was young, he was also the victim of sexual and physical abuse, and he entered into a deep depression at only eight years old.
Hard drugs and drinking became his life when he was 15. Faced with the loss of a close friend, suicidal thoughts, addiction and depression, Fee says he felt completely alone. He had tried seven treatment programs, but none were able to help.
“Life got to me at a very young age. I was just unable to cope, and it’s very bizarre but I actually buried things that I wasn’t even aware of. As I grew older, when I was living in Terrace, anxiety started playing a huge role in my life. I was terrified all the time, for no reason.”
Three years ago at the age of 30, Fee lost his job, overdosed and woke up at the Mills Memorial Hospital.
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, and he was accepted into treatment.
“I got more personal growth within three months here than I did over a year in another program,” he says. “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.”
With treatment, Fee learned about post-traumatic stress disorder and how to manage his flashbacks and trauma.
Over time with deeper trauma therapy, he began to feel more grounded within himself, was able to connect with other people again and “experienced a surge of personal growth.”
“I feel free — the emotional and mental cage that I was living in before dissipated, and I feel I’m able to emotionally connect with my friends and the people around me in a really healthy way that I wasn’t even aware that existed before,” he says.
During the trip, Fee says he wants to be open and as honest as he can with people he meets along the way. He also plans on sharing updates, photos and thoughts on social media with the hope he can make a difference in someone else’s life.
Biking and exercise also played a role in Fee’s recovery, he says, and he’s had to train pretty vigorously to prepare himself for the ride. With no gears to make conquering hills easier in summer weather, long-distance BMX tours present their own host of unique challenges — even with a light-weight carbon-fibre bike frame.
“This is why no one has really done this before,” Fee laughed. “Single-speed, Canadian roads, hills, potholes — I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
There are also no hotel rooms booked along the route. Instead, a support team from the John Volken Academy will be following him in an RV the entire route, cheering him on, scheduling interviews and posting updates. Fee will spend four or five hours riding each day for five months, reaching speeds of 20 kilometres an hour.
“I’m going the full distance, there’s no doubt in my mind. But even if the bike ride falls off, and I’ve still achieved some awareness and some hope for people, then I feel like that would be a win for sure.”
Fee works and lives now at the John Volken Academy in Surrey, but says Terrace is where he grew up. Fastened to his hat is a City of Terrace pin.
“I’ve gotten so many messages from people I didn’t know encouraging me, old friends that I drifted away from sending me encouraging messages, saying they think it’s really cool what I’m doing because Terrace has been really struggling with addiction and mental health. Hopefully I can bring some light to Terrace as well and show people there is a way out,” he says.
“Three years ago, I was at the Terrace hospital because I overdosed. Here I am now, three years later. It’s a complete turn-around.”
Fee leaves from Halifax to Vancouver on May 1 to start his cross-country BMX journey. For updates, follow the Cycling for Sobriety Facebook page.