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A spiritual challenge

Bishop Rob Hardwick of the Diocese of Qu'Appelle, taking a break on his way to Mile 0 the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland - a trip he made entirely on a bicycle from Vancouver Island.
Bishop Rob Hardwick of the Diocese of Qu'Appelle, taking a break on his way to Mile 0 the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland - a trip he made entirely on a bicycle from Vancouver Island. - Sam Macdonald

Saskatchewan bishop completes cross-Canada cycling trip to raise awareness and as his own form of prayer

Bishop Rob Hardwick of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan was completed a quintessentially Canadian pilgrimage. Hardwick reached the end of a country-spanning cycle ride that began on Vancouver Island, to Mile Zero in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The ride has been a long journey from Anglican diocese to diocese – one that has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but the bishop does not in the least regret his decision to embark.

Hardwick set out on his bike pilgrimage as a means to draw awareness to Indigenous Canadian issues, in the spirit of reconciliation, noting that the starting point of his journey is home to a place from which the most residential school students have come from – and that his diocese is the home of the longest-running residential school, which didn’t close until 1992.

“It’s been a journey raising awareness of First Nations and some of the issues they’re still going through,” Hardwick said, at one of his stops along the way – St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Antigonish.

Hardwick said there has been work done in the name of healing and reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, alluding the Anglican Church and Government of Canada’s official apologies for residential schools, but “a lot more could be done.”

“I’m raising awareness, because we have nice words and apologies, but we have to start putting those words into meaningful action,” he said.

Hardwick’s pilgrimage involved meetings with First Nations groups, sharing their stores, and raising funds for numerous initiatives, including support for Indigenous ministries and the Anglican Healing Fund, which supports local community-led healing projects for Indigenous Canadians.

Hardwick called upon other dioceses across Canada to pitch in as well. He intends to raise $200,000 on his pilgrimage, and is asking the other 30 Anglican Canadian dioceses to raise $800,000. He said he wants to see the money go toward suicide prevent programs, and pastoral care training for people in isolated communities.

Funds raised will also be going towards the construction of a medical center in Muyinga, Burundi, a Habitat for Humanity home for a refugee family in Saskatchewan and an assortment of youth initiatives in the Qu’Appelle Diocese.

In addition to social issues, the bike pilgrimage was an effort to renew his spiritual – and physical – health, noting that his physical fitness “needed a bit of attention.”

“I got to a point where being a leader can be quite stressful – to the point where I was reaching for the cookie jar or the bag of chips, rather than praying. So, I chose this as a way of not only getting physically fit, but as a spiritual challenge.”

It’s hard not to get in good shape quickly, traversing the many varied landscapes of Canada – from mountain roads to the endless expanses of the prairies. By the time he reached Antigonish, Hardwick’s long hours turning pedals on the open road helped him lose 93 pounds.

Hardwick has been across Saskatchewan on similar pilgrimages, but his pilgrimage across Canada marked the longest and most challenging one he’s ever embarked upon.

“For the most part, it worked really well. We’re on schedule and are where we said we would be a bit early today,” Hardwick said. “There has been some challenging terrain, and weather. Once, we dealt with three days of torrential rain, and there was one day of real cold in the mountains – but for the most part it has been like today, sunny and clear blue skies.”

Hardwick’s long days on the road brought him into direct interaction with nature in a number of meaningful, memorable ways. One experience that jumps out to him was when he found himself racing an antelope at 35 KM/h somewhere deep in the Prairies.

“The antelope kept looking at me, as if it say ‘can’t you go any faster?’ It was an amazing moment.”

When asked if he could choose the most striking region he biked through, Hardwick said “there are so many places I refused to take a photograph because it was so awesome.”

He elaborated, explaining that a mere photo would have a reductive effect on the beauty, limiting it to just the weather conditions and scenery in a snapshot, on that day.

“It doesn’t capture everything, and there are some places that just take your breath away. How can you possibly capture that in a photograph?”

Another moment that Hardwick found meaning in was in Edmundston, New Brunswick, when 15 eagles flew overhead, soaring and playing in the sky.

“I think of those eagles, and it’s a symbol of this quest in raising First Nations issues. One of their major symbols is the eagle,” Hardwick said.

Although many are quick to romanticize a protracted road trip across a country as beautiful as Canada, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. While they were on the pilgrimage, a water pipe fractured back at the Hardwick home in Regina – something that required intervention from their son and some maintenance people, coordinated from several thousand kilometers away.

Hardwick and his wife Lorraine ran into some trouble, while crossing through the rugged Algoma region of Northern Ontario, near the town of Wawa. While Hardwick took to the open road on his bike, his wife has followed in their car, towing an RV trailer, allowing them to camp every night.

“Just south of Wawa, my wife had an accident, and the car and RV were written off,” Hardwick said. “

The prognosis for the family vehicle in the wake of the accident wasn’t good. It got to the point where Hardwick had taken to social media during the two days in which they sorted out the insurance-related chaos, posting “the pull to go home is strong.”

“But then we realized many, many people go through setbacks. Our setbacks were ones that could be repaired and replaced, and Lorraine was totally unharmed,” Hardwick said.

They decided to carry on with the journey with Lorraine following in a rental car. “We were so grateful for the help we received from the folks in Wawa, and also from the bishop of Algoma.”

While on the road, Hardwick clocked some impressive numbers, travelling an average 117 KM a day, with the greatest distance traveled being 170 KM. The fastest Hardwick has travelled on his bike was 76 KM/h downhill. By the time he reached Antigonish, Hardwick had been cycling for 50 days.

When in Antigonish, Hardwick said his goal was to reach St. John’s in 62 cycling days – on Aug. 1 – since the bishop turned 62 this year. According to Bishop Harding’s Facebook page, that was a goal he met.

In July, as Hardwick was preparing to travel to the final province of his pilgrimage from Cape Breton, Hardwick said that despite the good time he’s been making, one of the most important thing he’s learned to do is to slow down and appreciate life.

“The lord and savior we follow asks us to slow down. He was a three-mile an hour kind of guy, walking with his people. He was attentive to his people. We need to slow down in today’s world.”


 

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