Tyler Waddell pauses in Prince Rupert with the bike and buggy he has travelled across the province with. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Lighting the pathway for mental health awareness

Tyler Waddell cycles on Haida Gwaii as he nears the end of his B.C. journey

Tyler Waddell has just arrived on Haida Gwaii, one of the final stops in his marathon bike journey across British Columbia. More than 2,100 km have been peddled in a tour he has dubbed Lighting the Pathway, with hundreds more still to go.

This is no test of endurance, or attempt to impress the cycling community – Waddell had never even rode seriously before setting off on his trek. Rather, Waddell is seeking to increase awareness for mental health and addictions, an issue he knows the struggles of all too well.

It was in late November of last year that Waddell hit “critical mass,” as he puts it. He had been battling with a number of mental illness problems, including depression, addictions and even suicidal thoughts. When his son was taken away by social services after the pair spent the child’s birthday in a homeless shelter, Waddell knew he had to seek help.

Like many cases of mental illness, Waddell’s trauma started long before this tipping point. Recalling a happy childhood growing up in Victoria, Waddell says everything changed when his parents went through a divorce that uprooted everything he knew.

“It was the first time I put a shield on my essence as a kid,” Waddell said. “It was the first traumatic thing that I found, and I started to protect my true self there.”

Waddell is always eager for a conservation, and has shared personal experiences with many people along his ride. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Waddell shut down after that, and stopped talking to people about how he felt or what he was going through. He believes this is a major reason so many problems manifested for him.

“One thing I’ve learned from all the platforms of any type of self help and recovery is to talk about it, and to talk about what’s bothering you,” Waddell said. “Because you’ll never know who’s gone through the same thing as you. It’s way more common than everyone thinks, and all the stories I’ve heard, they’re all relatable.”

“In that point you really think you’re alone, but it’s amazing what people actually do when you talk to them. You find out everything’s a little better than you actually think,” Waddell explained.

After having his son taken away, Waddell checked himself in to the emergency room at the Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake. He was soon receiving treatment from doctors and therapists for the issues he had been struggling with for so long. Waddell credits the Canadian Mental Health Association and Interior Health in particular for their work in the early stages.

After a detox period, Waddell’s next step was a bed at the Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Society, located in Surrey.

“They taught me how to live life again, outside of that blanket of depression, anxiety and fear,” Waddell said. “Just to live a free, happy life, to get to the bottom of what was actually bothering me. They were amazing.”

READ MORE: Cyclist braking stigma on addiction from coast to coast

Recovering his spirit and love for life, Waddell wanted to think of a way that he could help others who had ended up in the same place as he had that November day. He determined that a bike ride to raise awareness for these issues might help, despite being a newcomer to the concept of endurance biking.

“I was told by so many people that I can’t do it and won’t be able to do it, and now I’m 2,100 kilometres into it, and I obviously can do it,” Waddell said.

Waddell keeps track of each stop he has made along his journey. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

Waddell chose Victoria as his starting point, a symbolic gesture meant to reclaim the point where his trauma began. While the journey forward this time has centred around positivity rather than pain, there have been plenty of trying moments along the way.

“It’s tested me mentally, it’s tested me physically and it’s tested me spiritually too,” Waddell said. He recalls the Duffey Lake Road climb, a grueling elevation as the road winds east from Pemberton to Lillooet. Waddell had the opportunity to undertake the task in the pouring rain, as a bonus.

A stop in Quesnel was probably the toughest moment, as Waddell’s campsite was robbed of the majority of his belongings. Even then, Waddell managed to put a good spin on the incident.

“I really realized through this whole trip it doesn’t matter what material items I have. Nothing came back, but the whole town was so great,” Waddell said. “The outpouring of support from Quesnel blew me away. People were offering me tents and sleeping bags.”

“I was a bit grateful because it was a lot lighter,” Waddell joked about his load. “There’s a big hill out of Quesnel and I could push this a little easier. The little things to be grateful for.”

Despite these trials, the trip has been largely efficacious. Waddell has been encouraged by how many people have come to talk with him, many of them the conversations Waddell himself had never had.

“I’ve had people come up to me with their stories, and it’s amazing when you can actually talk about it. I put my phone number at the bottom of every one of my [social media] posts. I’m here to listen,” Waddell said. “It’s wonderful to be able to talk to someone who’s going through something. I have to help people now, and I think I’ve accomplished that during my trip.”

Next stop for Waddell: Haida Gwaii — with the aid of a ferry. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)

After volunteering at the Edge of the World music festival, Waddell will return to Prince Rupert to catch a ferry to Skagway, AK before taking a summit path previously traversed by gold miners to reach his final destination of Whitehorse. His children are there awaiting his arrival.

Waddell hopes that if there’s one takeaway from his venture, it will be that there is help out there for those who seek it.

“I never talked about the things that were bothering me for 25 years. I finally had a chance to talk about it. It was terrible that I had to hit such a low spot to actually ask for help,” Waddell said.

“But after I asked, and I got the help I needed, it made it a lot easier, and now I’m free. I’m free from my past and I’m not afraid of my future anymore. It’s a really nice place to be.”

Proceeds from Waddell’s tour will go to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Those interested can follow Waddell through his social media posts online, or by giving him a ring on his phone.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert cyclists getting a jump on fighting cancer


Alex Kurial | Journalist
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