Next Year’s Project

Bike Rally Departure Day 2010

Bike Rally Departure Day 2010

In 2010, I did something I’d been scared to do for years before: I did a charity bike ride from Toronto to Montreal, the Friends For Life Bike Rally. It might sound simple, but looking back without having done that, this project wouldn’t exist, and not just because it prepared me physically to do a long bike ride. It taught me a bunch more.

I learned about the Bike Rally in 2007 about the time I as just getting up the guts to ride a bike again. I still remember that year being really proud of myself because I rode 30 kilometres. All by myself! By the end of the year, 50 KM wasn’t too hard to do, and I’d started commuting to work by bike on many days and even started riding a bike in the winter. I knew my bike could take me anywhere, and I wanted to try riding somewhere outside of the city. A google search directed me to the Bike Rally and I loved the idea of riding for a cause. After all, riding a bike a long distance is pretty great on its own but if it’s possible to raise money for a good organization that’s even better. Except one thing stopped me. I had no faith that i could raise the minimum amount. I talked myself out of it that year, and two more years after that. Some might say I guaranteed my own failure. And they’d be right. Finally in late 2009, I made the decision, I would just try. I would either raise the minimum $2,200 and go, or I’d raise a smaller amount of money and if it wasn’t enough, I’d have done some good. As most of you know, I didn’t fail that year, or the year after. And between those years I raised about $7,000. What impact could trying when the inspiration first hit have had? Regret is not productive, but learning from it is. If the inspiration hits, I now try to do it right away. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but other times, like with this project, it works so well I surprise myself.

The ride itself taught me a lot as well. Some who have known me for a while, know that I have a pretty cynical side. And it was much worse back in 2007. You know what the best treatment for cynicism is? Being surrounded by kind people. The Bike Rally is a six day ride across eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Three hundred or so riders and about 100 crew participate. Everyone there is there because they want to help. They want to support an organization that supports men, women, trans women and men, and children who are living with HIV. After a week spent with people like that I began to realize: I share a city with amazing people. Heck, I share a world with people like this, quietly doing good. As we rode along the route we would meet people, sometimes in towns, sometimes just at little houses along the way, who were sitting outside to cheer us on, offer us snacks and water, or just give a wave.

It’s an amazing opportunity to see the power of commitment. Sure, there were many obvious athletes on this ride. But I was surprised to see how many riders were not the stereotypical cyclists. I rode with people close to twice my age, some with chronic illness, others who had mobility issues when off the bike and even with blind riders riding as the stoker on a tandem. Why were they there? Because they believed in the cause they were riding and with that passion came a great deal of power. They inspired me to question what I was giving. Not just physically, but all around in life. The riders all showed me that if I worked as hard as I believed in something than amazing things would happen.

Six days is all it took to realize that while 600 kilometres sounds like a huge and possibly unattainable goal, it isn’t. Not when you break it up into pieces. It’s a 30 KM ride to the first snack, and another 30 to lunch and another 20 to another snack before riding 20 more to dinner. And each one of those was the size of the small ride I did around town not long after getting on my bike for the first time as an adult.

Six days is all it took to realize what happens when you build kindness upon kindness. It infects everyone around you, it inspires people, and in our case it raised over a million dollars a year (This year over $1.5 million) This wasn’t over a million dollars donated by a wealthy philanthropist, this was raised by coworkers who gave a few dollars to support their colleagues, it was given by people having yard sales, or bake sales, selling items at $1-2 each. It was made by people sitting on a bike trainer on a city street with a hat on the ground in front of them pedaling hard to encourage people to toss a loonie or toonie in to help.

How can you not watch this and be inspired about how the world could change if everyone just did a little? I sure couldn’t, and that’s how this project came about.

And so just a few days before this year’s Bike Rally participants left Toronto, I signed up to ride in the Bike Rally again. And so you’ll see me, July 27th, along with these guys, on what will no doubt be the source of even more inspiration. If you’d like to sponsor me, you can make a pledge here. And if you’re in Toronto (or want to come here in July 2014), I encourage you to join us. You can sign up here – and prepare to be inspired.

2013 Bike Rally Departure

2013 Bike Rally Departure

Unexpected Pledges Arrive!

kindness signs south lake union

Almost exactly a year ago, as we were riding through eastern Ontario bound for Ottawa, we received our first batch of pledges from The Moorings, a retirement community outside Chicago arrived. A day later another batch arrived, bringing the total up to 50. We were amazed and touched by all of them.

Just two weeks ago, even though we aren’t doing a ride this year, we received another batch of pledges from The Moorings. Seeing all of the pledges made my week. It makes me really happy to know that even though we aren’t riding this year, and aren’t even actively searching for pledges, the project itself is going on, seemingly with a mind of its own,

Here are the pledges. It was especially moving to read them – each one is a small story in and of itself.

• Every act is kind
• I slept in longer this morning
• Lots of friendships
• Employees pushing me in my wheelchair
• I was brought to the Men’s Luncheon at the Midrise
• I took care of two teenagers that were stranded at O’Hare
• We are taken to Vespers
• A resident donated her People magazines to us
• Just being here is an act of kindness
• I was taken on the patio. It was a wonderful act of kindness
• I am helped out of bed in the morning
• My family bought me a surprise
• My brother complimented my hair.
• My twin sister is coming to visit
• Someone cleaned my glasses
• Being with my daughter
• A phone call at 6:30am seeing if I am okay and behaving myself.
• God for being there for all of us.
• I have a therapist that comes and works with me. She always has a pleasant attitude.
• My CNA helped me get ready this morning.
• My activity person is cute as the dickens.
• Someone helped me at 4am when nature was calling!
• Received a Thank you note
• I saw my 7 day old great granddaughter Tabitha
• Someone smiled at me and said hello
• Someone ate lunch with me
• My friend tells me what channel the Black Hawks are on
• Za Za the dog visits me
• The staff at Wrigley Field helped us to our seats.
• My friends sang happy birthday to me
• Tori brought us cookies and muffins
• Lots of people searched and helped me find my upper teeth
• People helped me with directions down the hall
• People greet each other in the hallway and are kind
• Giving a smile and saying I love you
• Someone played the piano for us
• Everyone helps us down the hall
• Evan is kind to us everyday
• I had a bath this morning
• Someone acknowledged me today
• Having help getting up in the morning
• I am loved and treated like an individual
• We are cared for and loved
• I felt included
• I was brought a nutritious drink
• Someone held the door open for me
• My son visits me everyday
• People welcome you at the front door
• Ann plays music by her window and waves when I leave work everyday
• We feel like family
• Getting help out of bed
• All our needs are met
• The nurses help feed us in the dining room
• I comforted a friend

– Photo by Cactusbones under Creative Commons license

Wolf Feeding and World Creation Pt. 1 – Cycling

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I have to admit, I was a bit worried upon retiring this project a few weeks back, how it would be to not have a big project to work on. After all, since late 2009 when I signed up for my first Friends for Life Bike Rally I’ve had some sort of big project going, always with a large “culminating event” at the end. And at the end of each of my projects, there would be a wave of sadness that would hit me. “The project is over and I have nothing else to work for.” And then, for several weeks I would be in a funk, waiting for inspiration to hit, wondering if that last project would be the Last Good Idea I would have until I was rescued by a new idea that I would get even more excited about. So imagine my nervousness as I went forth, not into the welcoming arms of a new project, but into the unknown. So what have I been doing? Well, feeding wolves, of course:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

My thought going into the summer has been that this is not just true for our emotions but for our perceptions as well. If 500 Kindnesses taught me anything it is this: We create the world we live in. I don’t mean this in the sense that some do: that somehow our imagination can be manifested in physical form if we just believe hard enough. What I found is that, our impression of the world we live in is built based on what we choose to focus on. What we’re feeding ourselves as it were.

I thought, when starting this project, that the purpose was to encourage people to perform acts kindness. And there’s no doubt that it did that. But what it also did was make a focal point for me to see on a daily basis just how many kind human beings there were. Pledges of all sorts came in regularly, friends who would see articles and videos about kindness would share them with me, and I met dozens of new people all of whom were doing acts of kindness on such a regular basis that they didn’t even think of it as kindness anymore but “being human.” And so, kindness became something that was constantly there in the background of everything I was doing. Outrageous political news would come and go, but kindness was a constant. Personal challenges would come up and pass, and kindness kept happening. Disasters and tragedies would occur, and still behind it there was the constant pulse of kindness like a reassuring heartbeat beneath it all. By the time I got to the end of the project my outlook had changed. There are people and sometimes organizations who do horrific things, but humanity is kind.

And so, after this project my next experiment has been to focus my energy on things that I want to see my perceptions about change. The projects range from subtle changes that take no time at all to work that takes a few hours a week.

Cycling: While I’m not doing a long bike ride this summer, I’m still using my bike for transportation around the city. What I have found is that in Toronto cycling has a pretty wide spectrum of enjoyment. The high points are pretty good: There’s nothing like riding across town on a nice summer night, seeing people out walking, hearing the occasional street musician, smelling the foods of a hundred different cultures cooking as you pass from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. On the other end, though, it can be pretty unpleasant. Some drivers can be inattentive and not notice you’re there as they make a turn, other drivers can be dangerously aggressive. I remember being passed dangerously close by a man in a minivan on a busy street who chose to get as close as he could to me rather than change lanes. I caught up to him a block or two later and he told me that he did it because I was supposed to be in the bike lane. Never mind that there were no bike lanes for miles around. I’d say for every couple of weeks of good riding there would be some driver interaction that would be upsetting enough to stick with me for hours later.

The change I made here was subtle. Normally as a cyclist I tend to ride pretty quickly – in many cases downtown I am able to keep up with automobile traffic and I would take main roads because they would get me to where I was going quickly. So in this case the change I made was to take the advice I’d often wish I could give to impatient drivers behind me: Don’t worry about getting there quite so fast.

And so the first obvious change was to change my routes. Now a city, being a city – at least a North American one, sometimes requires riding on a busy street to get where you’re going. But surprisingly often, there are alternatives that will, admittedly, take longer. In my neighbourhood I’m extremely lucky in that we have a number of quiet residential streets and even laneways that barely see any traffic. And so I started taking those when I could instead of main roads. I even made a map of some of my favourites. The results were really great. I made several trips to the spin studio I work out at about a mile from home and there were times I wouldn’t see another car until I got on the main road that the studio was on. And of course many of my trips are filled with artwork, some with lovely messages like this:
Love and be Loved

The second thing I did was to care a little less about exactly how I get somewhere. Riding down a laneway is fantastic, but what happens, for example, when you get to a busy street? It’s not as if most laneways or even many residential streets have traffic lights to help you continue across safely. The only option that is visible at first to be is to watch the bike, pedestrian, car, truck, and streetcar traffic and hope for a break long enough to scoot across and dash across. Depending on traffic levels, this can be pretty stressful, and in some cases downright dangerous. But there’s a second option that presents itself when you worry a little less about saving a minute. A similar minute, I might mention, to the minute I wish many drivers would worry less about when interacting with me on the road. At that point a new option is presented: Turn right, ride down to the next traffic light (rarely more than a 30 second ride), walk across in the crosswalk, and head back to where you were and pick up the street and continue. And the stress level (as long as you don’t get into a mental rant about cycling infrastructure and the imagined attitudes of all drivers) is comparatively negligible.

So has this worked? In my case, absolutely. Riding is much more of a pleasure than it was, and I have yet to have a bad interaction with another road user. And who knows? Maybe the rate (per car) of bad interactions will be the same, but given the tiny fraction of cars that I now see in my travels, it could be quite some time before I have one on the side roads.

Will it work for you? Who knows? Where are your pain points when it comes to your mode of transportation? What assumptions do you have that you could let go? What can you do to bring more enjoyment in to your travel? What bad experiences can you let go? What good experiences can you focus on to the same degree that we seem naturally inclined to give bad experiences?

An Update from The Moorings

Over the lifetime of this project, 500 Kindnesses has had a connection to The Moorings of Arlington Heights, a retirement home in Illinois. During the summer while we were on our trip, he residents sent us several pledges, one large batch here, and a second batch here. As the holidays approached, participants in our project sent them over 400 holiday cards.

Yesterday over on our Facebook Page we received an update from Geri, the Activities Coordinator who has been our connection to the residents throughout the project. Have a read and if you have a minute, why not send a letter, a postcard from your summer vacation, or even an email to say hello to the residents!

Geri says:

Thank you all for sending us a card at Christmas. I apologize that it took so long for me to get back to you. We have been very active here and overwhelmed by people’s generosity. The resident’s got together and created thank you cards. However, it was then up to me to match the names with the addresses. We received over 400 cards and the task became a little more difficult.

We are happy that the winter is now over and we are able to go on the patio again. We have a lake here too with two swans and lots of geese. Everyone enjoys the feeling of the wind and the smells of spring. We have many activities planned for the summer. We are having a family day with a circus theme. We also go on bus outings once a month. This month we are going to the Botanic Gardens. We enjoy going out for breakfast the most!

Everyone is very happy here and we keep very busy with activities. Singing, bingo, parties, music, concerts, trivia, and lectures. It is hard to stay in our rooms with so much going on. Today is the ice cream social!

Men’s club is once a month. The chef prepares a wonderful dinner for us. Only for the men! This month we are celebrating the Kentucky Derby.

Please feel free to email us and we will answer back. You can send cards to because we feel very special when we receive cards and letters.

Thank you again for taking time to write us. Our email address is
Geri Wozniak
c/o The Moorings of Arlington Hts
761 Old Barn Lane
Arlington Hts, IL 60005

Volunteering – and Eyeing a New Personal Challenge

Three summers ago I made my first 600 km trip from Toronto to Montreal to benefit the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. The summer after that I signed up for that trip and created Long Ride East which added another 400 km of riding from Montreal to Quebec City to raise even more money. And of course last summer I rode 1,500 KM with my son from Toronto to NYC by way of Ottawa and Montreal for this project.

This summer I won’t be taking on a large physical challenge but I’m eyeing another. The TriAdventure happens August 16-18 and includes a 3KM swim or 15 KM run, a 15 KM Canoe, and a 140 KM bike ride all over the course of three days. There’s no way I can adequately train for that in time to leave this year, but I’m going anyway – this time as a volunteer crew member. I’ll be watching to see if it is something I think I can manage. If so, I’ll do it in a year or two. I expect I will feel like a kid at the edge of the playground, watching the bigger kids playing and building up the courage to go play with them myself.

So what is this all for? This benefits the Nikibasika Development Program – a home for 51 vulnerable children in Kasese, Uganda who have been left without family support through poverty, HIV/AIDS or violence. This event has become these kids’ primary source of funding for a program that begins with food, shelter and education and aims to help them become self-sustaining citizens who contribute to a vibrant, diverse global community.

So you’ll see me in August, quite possibly in costume, cheering on the big kids and gearing up the courage to join them. In the meantime, your sponsorship is very much appreciated, and will benefit the folks at Nikibasika. Because the Nikibasika Development Program is a registered Canadian charity, you’ll receive a tax receipt for your pledge.

Make your pledge here.

Thank You All


After much consideration, I think the time has come for this project to retire. In the process of doing this project I learned a lot. One of the biggest lessons I learned was to “Just do it.” instead of dithering and waffling back and forth. Doing this dithering results in being in a limbo of inactivity. You’re not saying “yes” or even “no” – you’re doing neither and not moving forward. This is what seems to stop so many from doing the kind things, or the amazing things they want to do.
For some time I was unsure whether or not 500 Kindnesses had run its course or not. As it turns out, I believe it has. It had an amazing run with almost 1,500 acts of kindness pledged over the course of nearly two years. Together Daegan and I had the ride of our lives – over 1,500 kilometres from our home in Toronto through Ottawa, Montreal, my home state of Vermont, and all the way down to New York City. We met many new friends both through the project and on our trip, and people shared so much inspiration with us. As I look at what I just wrote, I see that I have sort of come full circle. The original route was a direct one from Toronto to NYC with a tag line “One act of kindness for every mile” The direct route would have been 500 miles. Now, 2 years later, we have reached the milestone of 1 act of kindness pledged for every kilometre we rode.

The project really moved me as well. One can’t spend two years seeing people performing selfless acts of kindness of all sorts without changing your perspective about the nature of humanity. We’re surrounded by amazing people. A look at the newspaper may give you the idea that the world is filled mostly with selfish, greedy people. In two years I feel like I’ve been able to see an entirely different world from that.

As to what’s next? I have to say that I don’t really know. I feel, in part, I may have to let go of this before the next project will reveal itself to me. And meanwhile, I have a lot of things going on. I’ll be continuing to be a volunteer adult literacy tutor. A few months ago I began taking Hindi lessons from a man almost 50 years my senior and I hope someday to speak well enough that I can feel comfortable speaking it on a trip to India – perhaps even a bike trip. And I really want to connect to my own community more – to work at the food co-op, to grow food in the community garden, to connect with my neighbours and friends. And when the inspiration hits, it may be time for another big project.
And as for Daegan and I, well, the greatest gift this project gave me was my connection with my son. I’d like to say that our 25 day journey last summer was a “once in a lifetime” experience, but hopefully it won’t be. We’ll still be traveling together – possibly by tandem bicycle again, possibly not. The destination and means of travel are to be determined.

Thank you all for your support – for making pledges, for sharing your homes with me, for inspiring me, and for letting me share my own journey with you.

Support Your Kindness Economy

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Waterfall at Franconia Ridge

A few years ago I got a first hand illustration of how local economy works. I was at my neighbourhood bike shop, paying for some repairs. As my debit payment cleared, the owner and I started talking and he began to tell me about how much he enjoyed eating at the cafe next door. This cafe next door serves locally-roasted coffee and locally-baked pastries. And at that moment I grasped why supporting your economy by buying locally matters so much.

Think of it like a water cycle. My money came from outside the province and was like rain bringing money into the small local reservoir of my bank account. Now I can choose what to do with that reservoir. I can order a bunch of things online, and pump it directly back out of the area. Or, I can buy locally and contribute to the local aquifer. The money I spent at the bike shop would flow to the cafe, nourishing its employees and flowing to their local vendors and to their employees, and possibly to some more local vendors. Up until this point I only saw money as something that went from point A (my pocket) to point B (someone else’s pocket). But this wasn’t true. At this point I had an image of an entire local area being “watered” by outside money and that money serving as many people as it could before eventually leaving the area to nourish other areas by paying for things we couldn’t get from here. Since then I’ve tried to be conscious of how we spend our money, choosing local options whenever I can.

“But Todd, this project is about Kindness. I know that supporting your neighbours is nice, but what does this have to do with kindness?

Pretty much everything. Money isn’t the only thing that works this way. Food webs have worked this way as long as there has been life, after all. And, I realized recently, kindness works this way as well.

Your kindness enriches those around you. Sharing it locally makes those around you happier, and those people distribute it and they make other people happier. One person’s kindness, properly multiplied, can change the world.

So where does the “Kindness Economy” start? With you, of course. Get out there, do something nice for someone and enrich your neighbourhood and world. And if someone is kind to you – pay it forward. With interest.