From Sea to Shining Sea
Keith Fukushima’s Ride to Remember
Like so many Lower Mainland residents, Keith Fukushima and his sister Tanis would look forward to visiting the Fair at the PNE with their Grandmother when they were children. She would take them to play Bingo, enjoy treats and test their courage on the rides. In the winter months, Grandma Fukushima would host New Year’s Eve dinner. With six children and seven grandchildren there was always plenty of delicious food and good company. After dinner the family would play card games. Grandma, always a fast thinker and hard worker, was also an unassuming card shark! With a sweet smile and a quick chuckle, she’d have your coins before you knew it. The grandkids knew when they won at cards it was because Grandma had let them.
Having these memories and being able to look back on all the fond experiences was something Keith Fukushima knew his grandmother wouldn’t have as she got older. Shortly after being diagnosed with dementia she would move from her home in Burnaby to Nikkei Home and then to a full care facility when her illness worsened.
After debating riding across the country on a bicycle, Keith Fukushima decided if he was going to go through with this plan, it needed to be for a good cause. After some thought, he wanted to help make a difference for other families in British Columbia who have family members, like his Grandma, suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. He set his sights on fundraising $12,000 for research on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C.
Fukushima’s Ride to Remember was born. Shortly after announcing to friends and family that he would be cycling from the Pacific coast (Vancouver Island) to the Atlantic coast (Newfoundland) he was surprised by the support and encouragement, despite the fact that he was leaving a well-paid engineering position. Sponsors from the Japanese business community came forward to help him pay for the costs of accommodations, food and health supplements so that all money raised would go to funding research for dementia.
Accurate Aluminum, an aluminum and structural glass railing specialist, paid for all accommodations and food during the nearly three-month journey. Let it be. Health and Biological Botanicals not only stocked Fukushima for the ride ahead with vitamins and natural supplements to ensure his body was getting proper nutrition during this incredibly demanding ride, they also donated partial sales to the cause. In addition to the Japanese community rallying behind Fukushima, other sponsors–ECD Graphics, Flores Health, and Brightline–helped with the promotion of the ride.
With preparations complete, sponsors on board and the blessing of his family and friends, Fukushima started his journey May 22, 2013 on his own to ride a bicycle with 100 lbs of equipment across the country. Fast forward 80 days and Fukushima raised over $25,000 (more than double the original goal), travelled 6,929 kilometres and climbed over 63,000 vertical meters. They say things happen in threes and that was definitely the case during Fukushima’s 57 cycling days. Luckily he only experienced three flat tires, three broken spokes and three chain replacements.
While Fukushima knows his Grandma won’t remember this, he hopes the Ride to Remember will inspire others in knowing that they can make a difference. His fundraising has come to an end but if you would like to help Nikkei Home build a new wing for seniors with dementia please contact them (seniors.nikkeiplace.org) to make a donation. If you are interested in reading more about Keith Fukushima’s adventurous journey across Canada please visit adrenalens.ca/blog.
Tell me about your grandmother . . .
My Grandma is my last living grandparent. We’re quite close as she would always take care of my sister and I when we were young and take us to play bingo at the PNE. At family dinners she would prepare some of my favourite Japanese foods, and we would all play cards. My Grandma would beat everyone constantly! Every year we would go to her house for New Year’s Day dinner and that would bring the family together.
How did you come to the decision to undertake this journey? Beyond the fundraising, was there another objective?
Originally my plan to ride across Canada was just a fun idea. I like to take on some sort of physical challenge every year. Then when I saw the impact dementia had on my grandmother over the last year, I decided to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. After contacting the Alzheimer Society of B.C. and mentioning my ride to a friend, I suddenly had some sponsors get behind me for support and that solidified my plans. As an avid traveller, I wanted to see the country as I had never been to the Prairies or Atlantic Canada.
This trip must have tested you both physically and mentally – were there moments when you felt like you couldn’t go on?
The first and second day were among the hardest. I was so tired and sore I didn’t know how I would make it the whole way. I also missed my family and girlfriend. The Rockies were challenging physically but also rewarding. After that the physical part was no longer a challenge, but the mental challenge was severe. Battling demoralizing head winds, enduring torrential rain and thunderstorms, and just waking up early each day was a real challenge. This trip was 90% a mental challenge and only 10% physical. But I took it just one day at a time. My goal was to just ride my bike and complete each day, and then I wouldn’t worry about the next day until it was in front of me. This way I wouldn’t be overwhelmed thinking about how many days were ahead.
Is there one memory that stands out from your journey?
The most standout memory was coincidentally Canada Day. I was in Northern Ontario which was the harshest terrain of the trip. Small or non-existent shoulders, giant bugs, transport trucks coming within inches of me, and many hills and head winds. But this one day, I was riding with someone I had met a few days earlier. The sun was out and we rode down some long hills opening up onto several beautiful coves and bays on Lake Superior. We enjoyed some nice breaks at the waters edge and camped on the beach at the end of the day. Many days were spent trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, but this day the journey was amazing and I had some good company for once.
You made the decision to travel alone – why? Did you ever wish you had a support team along with you?
Travelling alone can be lonely, but it also gives you more chance to meet and bond with others you meet. It also enables you to travel at your own pace, take rest days when you feel like it and push hard when you have lots of energy. I never wished I had a support team. It is way more satisfying to be self supported and carry all your own gear. As a side effect, you get way more respect from cars passing by and giving you space on the shoulder than if you were riding a normal road bike with no gear. Something about all that gear loaded on your bike. You look bigger so cars need to give more space. That or they feel sorry for you struggling up those hills.
Although you travelled alone for much of the journey, I see from your blog that you made many friends along the way. Were there any that stood out for you in particular?
Definitely this fellow Joe and his sister Steph stood out from the rest. I rode the last leg of the trip with these two through Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. I celebrated with them at the finish line. Although the majority of travellers you meet are friendly, few are truly compatible as travel companions over an extended period of time. Riding with these two, we had a great bond and synergy which made every moment more enjoyable.
I was impressed by your determination to finish what you set out to do but also by your commitment to blogging about your journey. You must have carried a laptop with you . . . how often did you write?
For blogging I had planned to bring my iPad but removed it from my bag along with many other items after my first day to reduce weight. So I blogged entirely from my iPhone. It was quite a cumbersome task on the tiny little keyboard. I would write in the evenings from my tent just before bed but since there was so much to do at the end of each day, I was really tired by the time I would get to writing and often fall asleep. So it took a lot of discipline to keep up-to-date on my blog. But when I heard of how many people were following it and excited to read, it gave me motivation to continue writing. It also gave me time to reflect on each day and allow me to share my experience with people I had met along the way who were interested in the ride.
I’ve been going through your blog, adrenalens.ca, and am impressed by the depth of the writing. Did you get much feedback from visitors?
Originally I wanted to do very general posts covering entire weeks, but after the first few posts I received feedback from readers requesting more details and stories. So from there I made shorter posts for only 1-3 days and included more about my thoughts and what had happened. I think this put the readers into my shoes. I received many comments later on that people were happy that they could virtually cycle across Canada by reading my blog without actual having to do it themselves. That made me feel good. The most flattering feedback I received was when a few people got mad at me for being a week behind, halfway through the trip. That made me realize they were actually very interested in reading the blog. Adrenalens.ca is a combination of Adrenaline and Camera Lens. I do a lot of adventure travel and try to capture as much as possible through videos.
You write about the support you received from family and friends and strangers . . . tell me about that.
The support was through comments on Facebook, supplies from sponsors in the Japanese community, like Accurate Aluminum and Biological Botanicals, online donations, as well as food and shelter at people’s homes. When someone makes a donation it shows their support for what I am doing. It especially made me feel good when strangers I would meet would shake my hand and congratulate me or give me a cash donation without thinking twice about blindly giving money to a stranger. Although I feel there are several problems in the world, there is still an enormous amount of kind-hearted people out there. I was also grateful to those who let me stay at their houses for free, provided me with amazing meals and showed me around their corner of Canada. Friends, friends of friends and complete strangers alike were incredibly generous in taking me in like a member of the family.
You’ve seen this country from coast to coast now . . . I’m sure it’s changed your perspective. What are your thoughts, having ridden across it? Do you have any new insights?
Don’t believe everything people tell you about a place. You need to experience something for yourself to truly understand it. Places that were supposed to be flat were far from it. Winds seldom blew from West to East. Weather forecasts were usually not accurate. There are friendly people in every corner of the country. I encountered extremely nice people in nearly every province. And most of all, I now appreciate living in BC a lot more.
It’s clear that you trained and prepared very well for this journey – do you have any advice for people who might be contemplating something on a similar scale?
Pack light – Pack as minimally as you can then get rid of half of your gear. You can be absolutely comfortable with far less than you think and you will be much happier on the hills.
Youth isn’t key – Don’t worry about doing this when you are young. It is more mental than physical and generally the older you get, the more confident and mentally strong you become. In fact several of the people I encountered along the way were in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s!
It can be done on your own – It’s safe and enjoyable to ride across Canada alone. You don’t have to wait to find a companion. Chances are you would end up tiring of the person you started with anyways.
Ride for a cause – If you’re going to take on a challenge like this why not help out a worthy cause you are passionate about. In doing so you will might surprise yourself with the overwhelming support from friends family and strangers.
What were your feelings as you crossed that imaginary finish line?
Feelings of joy slowly shifted to feelings of sadness. The excitement of a new destination every day and the challenge of completing the journey was over. It caught me by surprise. I never expected to feel anything but joy. It’s true what they say, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”
Anything you’d like to add?
I am truly grateful to all those who helped me achieve my goal. I am very lucky to have made it with no injuries or major mechanical issues. I am happy to have met so many nice and interesting people along the way and proud to have crossed the finish line with two amazing new friends. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have such a strong support system behind me. While my fundraising for Alzheimer’s is coming to end, I know that the Nikkei Home where my Grandma lived before her illness took a turn for the worse is hoping to open a new wing to help elders with dementia. I hope the community helps them realize their goals as they helped me reach mine.