In a crusade against uncaring, a 33-year-old Manicouagan, Qué. man plans to spend the next three years biking around North and South America.
Michael Champagne’s mission is to raise awareness of the needy and the homeless. And his message is simple--please donate to local goodwill organizations, such as the Fort Frances Salvation Army.
"Everybody is living their own life in their own little cocoon and I don’t know why," he said Saturday in Emo en route to Rainy River.
"If everybody would help each other, the world would go way better," he stressed.
Starting his trip in Montreal on July 1, Champagne’s been heading west ever since. After reaching Vancouver, he’ll turn south and bike to Cape Horn at the tip of Argentina and then work his way back north along the Atlantic coastline.
He hopes to be back in Canada on July 1, 2000 but conceded the trip could take longer.
Champagne originally planned to take Highway 17 west from Thunder Bay but was convinced to follow Highway 11 instead by Takashi Suzuki, a cyclist he met in the Lakehead who was heading to Calgary.
And he hasn’t regretted the change of plans although Champagne said found he was ill-prepared for the long stretches of highway with no towns nearby.
"We had to stop people on the road to get water," he recalled, adding he’s since added several two-litre bottles to the back of the carriage he tows behind his bike.
"I’m not going to run out of water again," he laughed.
Canadian Tire has sponsored Champagne’s trip, allowing him to pick up spare parts and do bike repairs at various stores across the country, including the one here in Fort Frances.
But it’s the help he’s gotten from others along the way that he remembers most. Safeway here gave him $20 worth of groceries, tagg’s Source for Sports regreased and repacked his tires for free, and the Town of Fort Frances gave both Champagne and Suzuki a break from sleeping on the ground by putting them up at the Voyageur Inn and providing a warm meal.
"Everybody greeted us with more than we expected," he remarked. "God works in mysterious ways, and He’s been working for me."
Champagne also has been collecting police badges from all the communities he’s gone through. He mails them to his uncle, Richard Allard in Ottawa, and later plans to make a quilt from them to be sold to raise money for the homeless.
"I know a lady who knows what she’s doing with quilts," he said. "It’s not going to be machine-made, that’s for sure."
Biking across North and South America is something Champagne has spent the last 11 months planning for. For him, it’s as much a spiritual journey as a physical one.
And right now, there’s no plans for the spiritual journey to end.
"I hope to have achieved knowledge that will permit me to help people and ask the good questions to those in need so I can with with them easier," Champagne explained.
"If I can accomplish this in three years, I will devote my entire life to it," he vowed. "Love one another--that is important."