A Kamloops woman is biking across the country, collecting stories from Canadians who have struggled with mental health, in hopes of convincing Parliament to increase funding and services.
Marlene Hibbs has struggled with mental illness since she was a child.
“I grew up without the having the recommended services, and I see other youth in our community growing up and dealing with the same struggles, and I just think it is wrong for them to suffer this way,” Hibbs says. “It is a violation of our rights as Canadians and as people in general. We contribute to society and to our country. It needs to be able to give back to us as well.”
Hibbs got the idea to peddle to Parliament Hill six weeks ago. Her goal is to talk to as many government personnel, health-care employees and Canadian citizens as possible.
The self-proclaimed advocate says she will be taking those stories to Ottawa, where she hopes to speak to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I don’t think I will need to do much talking,” Hibbs says.” The stories will speak for themselves. I am just the one bringing them to him.”
“I want to see real change in mental health and eating disorders and other mental illness right across Canada,” she adds. “Not just talk; there is lots of that already, but real change, actual reform.”
Hibbs hit the road on Friday, May 24.
“I have been an athlete all my life. I know how to listen to my body so I don’t push it too much, so I didn’t really do anything to prepare,” Hibbs tells KamloopsMatters.
She made sure to pack as light as possible (her bag weighs 70 pounds), not taking too much food or clothing.
And while she has brought some of her own money to help pay for necessities along the way, she's hoping some kind-hearted people might help with a meal or accommodation. (Hibbs is sorting out sleeping arrangements as she goes; her first night was spent camping on the side of the highway near Barriere.)
“When people hear what I am doing, they’re really supportive,” Hibbs says, explaining how a restaurant in Clearwater gave her somewhere to stay as well as two meals.
Another woman helped her get a sweater and the CN crew working around Blue River checked on her twice earlier this week, to make sure she was OK.
“They drove down the highway just to see how I was,” she says.
While biking in the mountains may be a scary idea for some people, it's not for Hibbs. She's not afraid, she says, adding she isn’t naive about the possible dangers of a woman travelling alone, alongside busy highways, and through the wilderness. (If you're wondering, she has encountered a bear.)
Before leaving, Terry Walsh, a Kamloops resident and lifelong biker, taught her how to repair her own bike from the side of the road, and she packed items such as bear spray.
“I have a pool noodle attached to the side of my bike,” Hibbs says with a laugh. “It looks funny, but it is kind of like a cucumber for a cat, but it is a pool noodle for cars. They see it they tend to veer away from it.”
Hibbs says she's taking the trip day by day, noting the whole point is to connect with people and not rush through it.
Right now, she's currently in Valemount, writing thank you letters to her donors.
She says she's been surprised how willing people are to share their stories.
“I keep hearing how people are struggling to get the help they need, or how more education about mental health for kids and adults needs to be available. ... People get really emotional when they talk about their stories. They’re upset and they’re angry.”
The Kamloops biker encourages others to join her on her ride, even if it's just through their town.
“I hope that by the time I reach Ottawa there are thousands of us. It’s a movement. I think people are ready for this, I feel their frustration and I think we are at a time where people are willing to stand up.”
So far, Hibbs' longest stretch (in one go) has been 90 km. She'll be gunning for 125 km on Friday, May 31, when she heads to Jasper.
Hibbs says if Trudeau refuses to speak with her by the time she reaches Ottawa, she will continue with her plan of visiting the very tip of Nova Scotia before returning back to Parliament.
“I will keep going until he sees me.”