Never Unprepared: Leith Wheelerite Rides and Writes for Mental Health Association

Never Unprepared: Leith Wheelerite Rides and Writes for Mental Health Association

On a drizzly Vancouver morning last February, I sat down with my Leith Wheeler colleague, Cameron Johnston, to talk about his extraordinary feat. A tall, quiet fellow with an easy smile, Cameron gives the impression of someone who shoveled his neighbours’ drives as a child, has deep friendships with a few key people, and can be thoughtful in the midst of a crisis. But a shrinking violet he is not. In the course of our hour together, I learned that with almost no camping experience, he loaded a bicycle with gear in 2017 and rode 10,858 kilometres over 108 cycling days in what can charitably be called not a straight line across our great nation. He did it alone. He wrote a book. And he’s now giving 100% of the net proceeds from book sales to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Here’s his story.

The Ride

Leith Wheeler Insights: What was your motivation for doing the ride?

Cameron Johnston:  Basically, I had three key motivations. One was that I really wanted to see the country. I know there was a lot out there and I'd heard a lot about it and I didn't really have the opportunity to travel at all really outside of BC growing up, so I was missing that. I also wanted to visit lots of friends and family across the country, people who had moved away or relatives who I met once as a kid or never met at all. And then I wanted to do something crazy, leap outside my comfort zone and just have some alone time and do my own thing for a bit.

LWI: Any highlights?

CJ: Yeah, it's tough to compare different aspects of the trip as far as scenery. Three highlights of the country were definitely the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Cape Breton Island, and the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec.

LWI: What made those regions special?

CJ: Just unreal, natural beauty. I mean, thinking back to when I was pedaling through those regions, I didn't want to put my head down and look at the pavement because I didn't want to miss the view for the whole time; it was that special. Yeah, there were other stretches where I was happier to look forward to the destination but in those places, I didn't want it to end.

wheel_bike_900x600.jpg#asset:16783Left: Dipping a tire in the Atlantic: St. John’s, Newfoundland. Day 108 of riding. Right: Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec.

LWI: What surprised you about the people you met along the way?

CJ: It was very eye opening, because while there is a lot of negativity in the world, we also hear about it a lot more than the kindness that people actually do offer each other, given the opportunity. Traveling on a bike as one guy, I found myself in unique, vulnerable situations where people wanted to help me, so it was at the forefront of my mind almost every day, really. Someone was pulling over, asking if I need directions, or offering me some advice or giving me food or just chatting and telling me about their town or their life or yeah, whatever it may be. It was really – not a shock – but more of an eye opener, and restored my faith in humanity that given the opportunity, people really do want to help each other at the end of the day.

coast_900x600.jpg#asset:16785Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

LWI: What did you take away from the experience? Do you live your life differently now?

CJ: I'd say I'm able to relate to a wider variety of people now, because I had interactions with people across the country in lots of different situations and very different cultures. And then for myself as well, it feels like people relate more to me because they relate to the aspect of traveling and cycling and exercise, the solo adventure. Also, it feels like I now want to prioritize relationships more in my life. It really made me realize the importance of that.

I also came back in the Fall and threw away about half of my possessions by volume. I had a lot of stuff that I didn't really use or have a use for… old clothes, memorabilia, old books that I would never have the desire to open again. I definitely had the realization in my trip of how happy I was and how carefree I had become with traveling just with everything I could carry on my bike. It was very special.

The Book: Never Unprepared

LWI: Let’s talk about the book. Why did you decide to write it, and why mental health as the beneficiary of it?

CJ: Mental health is something I'd been thinking about for a few years and that I hoped to contribute to at some point, but I just didn't really have an opportunity or a means to do it.

And for me that's because of a couple of things. I have been close to several people who have openly suffered from mental health challenges, and who I've been there for and sort of experienced their struggles alongside them.

But beyond that, I also think it’s an issue that is not well understood. We need to realize it's not black and white. It's not depressed or not-depressed, or suffering or not-suffering. It's something that just like physical health, we all need to be mindful of and aware of. And it's a spectrum that we all move back and forth on and need to really be aware of that for ourselves, but also in helping and being there for each other.

So as far as the book fitting into that, when I had the idea for a book, I knew pretty early on, I'd want to do it for a good cause so of course, mental health was at the top of my mind. And something on the national scale made sense given my trip was across Canada and I'd experienced the beautiful country.

Hopesign_900x600.jpg#asset:16782Cameron entering Hope, BC.

LWI: Today happens to be the Bell Let’s Talk Day, which aims to educate and destigmatize the topic of mental health. Do you hope that funding from the book can help further this cause?

CJ: Yeah, definitely. Any further conversation is positive because it's very important for all of us to know that someone's there to listen, right? And I see the great potential for a ripple effect from this project. Not only the dollars raised but hopefully in inspiring people to talk more about mental health.

To purchase a copy of Cameron’s book, Never Unprepared, go to:

One hundred percent of net proceeds from book sales go to the Canadian Mental Health Association.


windgusts_snowbike_900x450.jpg#asset:16784Cameron encountering the Canadian summer.

bikemap_900x280.jpg#asset:16779The route: Vancouver to St. John’s. 571 hours of riding, with 8 flat tires and 5 chains.

By Mike Wallberg, CFA MJ | Vice President, Marketing & Communications