The forty-pound backpack, which hadn’t seemed all that debilitating when I first put it on, was growing increasingly heavier the harder and faster I pedalled. And the harder and faster I pedalled, the more cumbersome the enormous hiking pack was becoming, and the wearier I was starting to feel.
But I had to keep pedalling. Because the instant I stopped, we would be enveloped in darkness, and my Encounter buddy Kit Watson (who was struggling to locate a specific housing form in a stack of about twenty) would be too.
The symbolism of this room wasn’t lost on us: a metaphor to simultaneously represent both the desperate desire to keep pushing despite exhaustion, and the fear that your hopes of a warm home may be dashed in an instant due to circumstances far beyond your own control…
I’d been lucky enough to be invited by a friend of mine at Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver to experience their latest project, ENCOUNTER: an educational, interactive experience (modelled after the ever-popular escape rooms) to help us understand the hidden barriers and obstacles faced by homeless Vancouverites and others worldwide. The project is co-hosted by UGM and EXIT Canada, and developed with formerly-homeless folk (who I found out are paid for their time, which is awesome!) working hand-in-hand with the volunteers and staff to create an immersive learning experience that mirrors a much colder reality.
The fact that I was slightly shaken as I clambered up onto the bike was probably to blame for me being so quick to fatigue. But hey, that’s no excuse. The streets don’t give a shit if you’re tired. They don’t give a shit if you’re anxious or hungry or still smarting from something you experienced five minutes ago. The streets can be cruel and unrelenting for those who are forced to weather them… and, as we had already learned in the room we’d escaped immediately before, the physical and mental barriers you often aren’t even aware exist can hold you back from doing things that otherwise seem pretty damn effortless.