From riding his bicycle on the rough terrain of Dempster Highway in the Yukon, to battling wildfire smoke in British Columbia and heavy winds in the Prairies, Nick Avis has seen it all.
But Avis, a corporate lawyer from Goderich, Ont., has even more of Canada’s landscape to take in as he continues his journey cycling from coast-to-coast-to-coast across Canada, while fundraising for an Indigenous legal defense fund.
“It’s been my passion for a while, but I also wanted to do my part for the Truth and Reconciliation goals, so I thought this would be a good cause that ties in with my law background,” said Avis.
A dollar for every kilometre he rides goes toward his goal of raising $15,000 for Raven Trust, a non-profit based in B.C., that helps First Nations throughout the country with litigation costs for causes like land sovereignty and environmental justice. So far, Avis has raised about $9,000.
“It’s important that we uphold Indigenous sovereignty and I’ve been learning about all the injustices that have happened, so it’s important for all of us settlers living on Indigenous lands to make sure that we can help right those wrongs,” he said.
“There’s a long way to go if we ever want to have true reconciliation and proper justice in Canada, so I figured this is me doing my little part to advance that agenda.”
The ride is an example of allied efforts to support Indigenous communities in accessing justice, said Jamie-Leigh Gonzales, a spokesperson for Raven.
“There’s an appetite from folks across Canada to learn more about how they can support Indigenous nations who are stewards of the land and have always been, and ways for them to tangibly do so,” said Gonzales who is from Squamish Nation, near Vancouver.
Climate change a damper on the ride
Avis’s journey started in late June after he quit his job, with a secondary goal of breaking world records for the fastest bicycle rides through different parts of the country — hitting all ten provincial capitals along the way.
The starting point was Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., from there he went to Victoria, B.C., and across the Prairies through Ontario. Now he’s making his way east to his final destination of St. John’s, N.L.
He rides about 125 kilometres a day, but the long ride is the least of Avis’s worries, he said, adding that the impacts of climate change have been an overriding theme of his travels.
What he thought would be an easy ride through the flat Prairies, became a near breaking point for Avis who said he was almost forced to give up due to strong winds from the remnants of Hurricane Hilary.
“When I first set off on this, I thought the hardest part would be the mental game of riding alone for so many hours in a day. But I faced incredibly strong winds between Regina and Winnipeg and I was running really low on food and water,” he said.
“That’s when I thought I might give up, but then I looked around and it was just fields, no houses, no cars, nothing, so I couldn’t give up in the middle of nowhere — and kept going.”
Avis has visited many First Nations along the way, where he’s been learning from community members and Elders about the different barriers to accessing justice, he said.
Avis aims to be in Halifax by early October and to wrap up his trip before Thanksgiving. At the end of it, he hopes to walk away with the accomplishment of having biked across the country.
LISTEN | Lawyer turned cyclist on his cross-country adventure:
Afternoon Drive6:27Goderich cyclist going coast to coast to coast for Indigenous legal defense