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‘It’s been the most rewarding thing:’ Why an Indigenous man embarked on a cross-country bike trip

When Chris Aubichon got himself a new bike and left for an ambitious bike trip across Canada from his home in Moncton, N.B., in May, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

His first week on the road was challenging. The 44-year-old realized that his body was protesting as he pedaled, leaving him with sore legs and a sense of exhaustion.

However, Chris kept going despite the pain and woke up one day to realize that his body was starting to adapt, making it easier for him to spend longer hours on the road.

“You know, [I was] just terribly out of shape, struggling mentally and there were some long days,” Chris said in a conversation on The Calgary Eyeopener.

“But I am now, you know, [averaging] 80 to 100 kilometres a day.”

This was a massive improvement for the cyclist who was unable to go beyond 20 kilometres a day when he first started his cross-country trip.

A man in a white T-Shirt and shorts, standing next to a bike.
Aubichon struggled at the beginning of his cross-country journey, barely hitting 20 kilometres a day. He’s now averaging 80 to 100 kilometres per day. (Submitted by Chris Aubichon)

Chris didn’t plan his journey on a whim — it was a personal goal he was keen on chasing in a bid to kickstart his healing journey and advocate for mental health.

“I was raised in B.C. as a ward from six to 18,” he said. “I aged out at 18 and was just shown the street.”

He added that he ended up struggling to stay afloat as he battled addiction, homelessness, incarceration and mental health issues for several years. 

LISTEN I Chris Aubichon talks about his cross-country trip:

Calgary Eyeopener6:06Cross-country cyclist

Why an Indigenous man who grew up in foster care decided, at age 44, to cycle across Canada.

However, keen to rebuild his life, he decided to challenge himself when he learned about a promising opportunity. 

 “I recently found out that B.C. is now paying for education for former wards of the court,” Chris said. 

“I wanted that. But I knew in the position I was in — mentally and physically — I would fail.”

He added that while getting on a plane would’ve been easier, he would be “the same man” that he was when he left. 

Chris decided to switch things up and hop on a bike instead, hoping to “fast track” his recovery.

“The man that can do that [bike across the country] surely can do school,” he said.

Safety concerns

When he left for his trip in May, Chris didn’t tell anyone what he was planning to do except his sister, Jenn, who knew he was contemplating a cross-country solo bike trip.

“[On] May 11th…he tagged me on Facebook saying that he had left and he was riding his bike across Canada,” Jenn said. “It took about two days to get in touch with him.”

While she knew what her brother was planning, she didn’t think he would actually go through with it and found herself worrying about his safety.

“He’s my brother where we don’t have a large family. We’re kind of all we have … besides his kids,” Jenn said. “But yeah, I had to support him, of course.”

A close-up of a man wearing dark glasses and a helmet.
Strangers donated in large numbers to support Aubichon and raised enough money to help him tackle unexpected expenses. (Submitted by Chris Aubichon)

She was primarily concerned about the trickier parts of the journey. 

For instance, she knew Chris would be cut off from the rest of the world while biking across certain parts of Northern Ontario, which he would have to navigate without cell service and access to gas stations.

“I wanted to be able to keep track of him and know where he was located during those times,” Jenn said, adding that she started a fundraising campaign to get her brother a satellite phone.

To her surprise, people showed up in large numbers, supporting Chris’ journey and raising enough money to help him tackle unexpected expenses.

“Seeing people come together and follow him and support him and encourage him and feed him and, you know, give him places to stay, I think that’s what’s driving him to keep going,” Jenn said.

“It’s uplifting him and it’s also healing him at the same time.”

Unexpected roadblocks

The journey came with its share of obstacles, including extreme heat, insects, and a stolen bike in Winnipeg, Man.

“That was a tough day. I just jumped into Tim Horton’s to grab a coffee. I wasn’t even in line [for] 15 seconds since someone jumped on my bike,” Chris said.

He lost all his clothes, camping gear, electronics and other belongings. Luckily, he was able to get back on track after strangers came to his aid.

A bike with bags and other luggage on a street.
Aubichon suffered a huge setback when his belongings and bike were stolen outside a coffee shop in Winnepeg, Man. (Submitted by Chris Aubichon )

Chris reckons he’s picked up many important lessons over the last couple of months.

“What I’ve learned over this trip is beating those incremental challenges, it just kind of snowballs into health and progression and strength,” he said. “And so it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

Chris, who is currently in Alberta, is planning to reach his final destination, Nanaimo, B.C., by Aug. 12 where he’s going to be greeted by his family, friends and supporters.

‘His words matter’

Jenn is hopeful that the cross-country trip will help her brother heal from his past.

“This journey is showing him that he’s worthy of love, that his words matter … that people appreciate him and care about him,” she said.

“He sees that people are supporting him and you know, he loves that so much and I’m really hopeful that he’s starting to realize that he’s making a difference.”

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