Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A girl, a bike and a dream...

Meet Brenna, one of the most beautiful
people I know.
I first met Brenna Coupland nearly four years ago, when I was seven months pregnant with Etienne and Coralie was still my adorable little toddler. We lived in the same building at 41st and Victoria, and she had posted about babysitting services in our common laundry room. When I met her that November I never would have guessed how big a part of our lives she would become. Brenna was part of my motivation to start riding a bike again after years without. She became our "go to girl" when we needed a responsible, trustworthy person to watch our children from as early as Etienne being just a few weeks old, and through her amazing travels she has grown to be an inspirational figure in our lives.

As I said, we first got to know Brenna as a babysitter, but she soon became my yoga instructor, my push to get back on two wheels, and my nutritional advisor, whose tips I still keep in mind. But Brenna was meant for bigger things. In 2010, Brenna started volunteering with the Shanti Uganda Society, a group helps support the women in Uganda, and empower them through midwifery, entrepreneurship and a variety of other areas. Brenna's goal from then on was to go to Uganda and be a part of this amazing group on the ground. Should that not be a big enough challenge, being one who loves travelling on two wheels, her bicycle would have to be an integral part of the journey.

The first part of her journey would be start in the summer of 2010, when Brenna travelled from Vancouver to her childhood home in Winnipeg, MB to raise money for the women of Uganda. Travelling mainly along the Highway 1 route east, she learned to rely on the kindness of strangers along the way, meeting some interesting, generous and unique people along the way. When I asked her what her favourite part of that journey was, Brenna told me about a farm she stayed at in Chase, BC. There she met a variety of people who were all very positive and willing to all pitch in to make the farm work and provide for each other, and experiencing that created an appreciation for the good in people. In her words, "Although I was only there for one night, it was like I was there for a week." All in all, her trip halfway across Canada raised about $2000 for Shanti Uganda, pretty impressive for a 22 year old woman on two wheels! But this would not be the end of Brenna's philanthropic adventures...she was going to Africa, and the journey would be epic.
Brenna after the trek to Winnipeg. In her words,
"changed, and so inspired."
Work began as early as her return to Vancouver in the Fall of 2010. Brenna's next ride was going to start on June 20, 2011, and would begin by completing the trek across Canada, meaning she would ride from Winnipeg, MB to St. John's, NFLD. From there, she would travel down to New York City, and then take the long flight to Cape Town, South Africa. While travelling through North America is no small feat, and a great adventure, reaching Cape Town in October 2011 would make her dream a reality as she travelled North to Morocco. 

My family and I followed her journey all along the way through her blog, mooncycleafrica.ca, and her Facebook updates, Coralie being so excited to see what new place Brenna had reached. During her travels, she experienced so many new places, cultures and foods, all would inspire her greatly. She also gained some very important insight into travelling alone as a young woman. She learned not to be fearful because she wasn't with a man, that she was completely capable on her own, and grew the confidence to ask people for help when she needed it, which many were all too willing to give. 

I had asked a seemingly silly question about such a long and eventful journey. What was her favourite part? Of course as soon as I asked it, I realized it was a very loaded question, but Brenna being such a thoughtful person, took a moment, and told me about various parts of the whole journey that made each country special, but Botswana held a dear place in her memories of her trip. Here is an excerpt from her blog from Christmas 2011:

"Yesterday – Christmas – I didn’t feel much like riding. My body was tired, aching for a rest, and moving any quicker than 12 km/hour seemed impossible. In addition, the wind was coming from the North East again – yep, where my nose points! By mid day, the temperature was a scorching 40 degrees Celsius , and maybe even hotter with the humidity! But it was Christmas, and I had to get to Maun!

Roadside goats in Botswana
So, instead of feeling frustrated, which would have been easy to do, I decided to just enjoy the peacefulness of a leisurely ride. I started to appreciate and wonder about the different elements of life in Botswana: Waif looking goats and cattle lazily grazing beside the road, donkeys skittishly bolting into the bush when they notice me, and – and this is unique to Botswana; I did not find this in any other country so far – entire skeletons of horses and cows laying perfectly intact in the field, possibly in the exact same position as when they had passed.

It’s strange, but there is something very beautiful and perfect about these elements of Botswana. I feel a total acceptance and embracing of the circle of life here. There is so much vitality: green grass and animals running free. There are few fences but no one seems to be running away. Death seems to be accepted as much as life, and the animals are able to return to the earth exactly as nature intended. Every butterfly, beetle, animal and grain of sand has it’s purpose here, and yesterday, I eventually allowed myself to become lost in the bigger picture, which was a really beautiful thing.

‘Uh oh,’ I thought, as I snapped out of my dreamy state. ‘I think I’m starting to fall in love with Botswana!’"

By this time in her journey, Brenna is a mere 23 years of age. These written words sound like those of someone well beyond the years, who has lived a much longer life. But reading this gives a glimpse into what a beautifully unique, thoughtful and passionate woman Brenna is.

Brenna's bike, Topanga, resting in Egypt
After months in Africa, being inspired by her surroundings, and a brief stop back home with her family in Winnipeg, Brenna has returned to Vancouver, and we have the honour to put her up with a place to stay before heading off to her next journey. This time a bit more local. Brenna now plans to travel to Quadra Island to take an in depth bike maintenance course. Her plan is to take these skills and volunteer in a community bike shop, whether here or back home in Winnipeg, where she will help those less fortunate than her. But I know she's not finished travelling. Wherever she goes from here, those she encounters on the way will be blessed to meet such an amazing young woman still at the start of her life's journey. My life is forever changed for having invited Brenna into my little family. I know that through all the crap out there, there are many special people, willing to sacrifice so much to help others. It helps reminds me to try and find the positive when things get tough, and to truly cherish what I have...a small group of very special friends, wonderful family all across this country, two beautiful children, and a wonderfully supportive husband who has given me so much over these past 15 years. But this post isn't about me, so I will leave you with some final words from Brenna after she finished her journey:

"I will be a person who is loved by my best girlfriends, my brother and sister, my cousins, nieces and nephews, my kids and grandchildren and the people in the community where I am working. When I am 80, I would like them to toast to my commitment, my heart and courage, and to my faith and positivity."

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