By Paul Rodgers
Originally from Ottawa, 21-year-old Anne Thomas is just two weeks in to a four-month fundraising cycle trip across Canada, but she is no stranger to adventure. After high school, in a spur of the moment decision, she decided that the post-secondary outdoor education program she was enrolled in wasn’t for her and instead bought a ticket to New Zealand. She planned to go for only six months but it turned into a life-changing experience lasting two years.
“I started volunteering overseas and that’s where my passion for travelling came from; it was to get to know the locals and all that kind of stuff,” explains Thomas, sitting in the office of the Cranbrook Townsman. “I volunteered over 2000 hours.”
She spent that time working as a school teacher in Fiji and 20 other islands around the Pacific, immersing herself in the culture, learning Fijian and working with the youth of various communities. She describes this as an “amazing experience,” but recalls feeling lost when she returned home to Canada and moved to Whistler to become a self-proclaimed “ski bum,” where she’s been for the last six months.
“The idea of me travelling my own country is that when I was overseas, everyone I talked to had never really been outside of where they were from and I looked at myself and I was like, ‘that’s true — I’m from Ottawa and I’ve never been to Quebec City. Never been to BC really before I lived in Whistler, and so I decided to change that. And what better year than during the 150th?”
Her trip coincides with Canada’s 150th anniversary, and Thomas is trying to encompass that milestone alongside her love of travel and humanitarian work; not only will she be taking in classic Canadian activities throughout her trip, she is raising funds for a charitable organization called WE, that aims to “bring people together and give them the tools to make a difference.” Her specific cause with the organization is to raise money to grant scholarships to self-identified aboriginal youths, sending them to Take Action Camp.
Empowering youth is something Thomas holds close to her heart, having developed her passion for it teaching children in the Pacific islands and she feels that including aboriginal youth is important within the context of Canada’s 150th.
“They’re at risk kids that come and learn powerful tools (at Take Action Camp) that they can make a difference in their community, and so for me it wasn’t just giving someone money, it was that I really wanted to follow up and make sure that they’re giving it back, so it’s paying it forward.”
Her trip has not been without it’s hurdles. She’s been sunburnt riding through 34 degree heatwaves in Osoyoos, dehydrated, biked through hail, thunder and lightening, and even rode alongside a grizzly bear. All within a three day period.
“I’m very stubborn, when I have an idea I like to pull through. But I have questioned it and I have cried,” Thomas says, describing a particularly taxing experience, riding her first summit on the 85 kilometres from Hope to Manning Park. She says the support she’s received from fellow Canadians along the way has been a been a huge inspiration to soldier on.
“Everyone was so nice, everyone stops, makes sure you have enough water. I’ve had people stop and give me asparagus, protein bars, why not! It’s just great, but you need it at the time which is really awesome.”
Thomas says she promises everyone that helps her along the way that she will pay the favour forward through her charitable work and the trip she is doing; a quality many Canadians value greatly. You can follow her along her journey, and make donations through her blog at www.cyclecrosscountry.net