Two weeks and almost 191 kilometres after completing her first fundraising cycling journey, Eden Babbitt took time to sit down with The Kincardine Independent and reflect on her fundraiser, the team behind her and her plans for the future.
Babbitt and three other cyclists travelled from Kincardine to Tobermory on Aug. 18 and 19, to raise money for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.
Her journey actually began in April 2019, when she attended a presentation by Dr. Jane Goodall in Hamilton. Her mother Louise recalled she was concerned the three-hour presentation might be a bit too much for her then 12-year-old daughter. Babbitt said within 15 minutes she was “totally in” and “completed engaged” with the message the renowned primatologist and anthropologist came to deliver. She was in awe of Goodall, a woman who has spent her entire life in the company of animals and talking about the planet. Babbitt described Goodall’s message as “the planet is on its last legs” and said it opened her eyes to the impact of climate change.
It was that presentation that became the catalyst for her decision to create Eden for our Environment, a fundraising organization for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada (JGIC) that also raises awareness. Babbitt says the goal of EFOE is to “teach people to live with the animals and the environment and not try to take over the world” and to “share it.” Babbitt had found her calling.
After launching her organization, she participated in a number of smaller fundraisers, with all money donated directly to JGFC. It was during the Christmas holidays in 2020 that she began to talk about a cycling fundraiser. An avid cyclist, she wanted to organize a summer fundraiser that would take her from her home to the family cottage, “with as little an environmental impact as possible.” As the idea evolved and the start and finish locations were finalized to a route from Kincardine to Tobermory, other women stepped forward to offer support and assistance.
Vy Waller, a former teacher of Babbitt’s at the Point Clark Forest School, volunteered to become her trainer.
“Eden was a community cyclist who took on the almost 200 kilometre ride to Tobermory via Lions Head, in the hopes of bringing awareness to take care of our environment,” said Waller. “She started training for this ride four months ago. We started with a 40 kilometre ride with her hybrid and she found those tough, so to do her 190 seemed almost impossible, but she kept at it. Every 20 (kilometres) we added was amazing to her and she built confidence that she could, in fact, accomplish what she said she would do. When she could be hanging out with her friends, she was out instead training and built miles with her training team that included avid road cyclists, so the expectations were high and she met them at every step, we on road bikes and her on her hybrid.”
“She impressed me at every step. I admire this youth for her commitment to her cause, coupled with her drive to reach her goal, no matter how hard. I fell in love with her spirit and the person she is becoming. You go, girl. The world needs more of you.”
Sandy Elston, Jen Bedford and Terri Rintoul also took part in the training process. In the end, all but Rintoul, who suffered a cycling accident and couldn’t participate, completed the ride.
Babbitt said hours of planning went into organizing the route. Mom Louise had reached out to Constable Kevin Martin of South Bruce OPP, to update the police about their plans. Martin, in turn, alerted other police forces in the area, including Saugeen Shores Police Service and Grey Bruce OPP. Martin says his first priority was always the safety of the cyclists as well as those in vehicles. Members of the various police services, Constable Nick Wilson, Sgt. Andy Evans and Sgt. Chantelle Primo actually accompanied Babbitt’s team on their own bikes or in a police car at different points in the route.
“We were happy to support them,” said Martin. “This young lady has raised considerable dollars for a very good cause. The sky is the limit for this amazing young girl.”
The foursome left Kincardine on Aug. 18, covering 100 kilometres of road before spending the night with family friends in Wiarton. On Aug. 19, they set out once again to complete the final leg, 90.1 kilometres, of their trek. They arrived in Tobermory just in time to see the Chi-Cheemaun arrive at the ferry terminal.
In the high heat of summer, the ride was challenging, but Babbitt knew she would complete what she had started. She remembers being so tired during the last 18 kilometres on the first day, and relied on the encouragement of Waller to crest each hill because, as Babbitt said, “there is always another hill.”
“I’m kinda stubborn,” she said. “I knew I would finish if it took me six days or one day.”
Babbitt recalls the welcoming cheers from family and friends as they rolled into Tobermory. The sight of her best friend at the finish line buoyed her spirits and brought her great happiness.
“At the end of the ride I was coming round the bend and I saw my brother, Noah, and he had my flag and he was cheering,” she said.
Babbitt also extends her thanks to the five sponsors who helped her make her dream a reality; Westshore Clothing, A-Z Plumbing Solutions, Matchbox Hair Salon, Dawg Training Centre and At Last Forest Schools.
If you’ve heard the lament about “these young people today” and how they lack ambition or work ethic, that label does not apply to Babbitt. This young teen, acting on her own initiative and with family support, managed to raise more than $5,100 through her ride, a donation she has been invited to present, in person, to members of JGFC in Toronto later this month. Her total contribution to date is $6,500, a very substantial amount for someone who isn’t old enough to drive a car.
Like any motivated young woman, she has mentors that she holds in high esteem. Of Jane Goodall she says “She is so strong. When I went to her talk in 2019, she didn’t ask for us to help the environment, she told us we have to. It wasn’t a choice.”
Closer to home, she says her former principal at Kincardine Forest School, Christine Brown, is someone she instantly connected with and who challenged her to step out of her comfort zone. They even have a secret handshake. “She is an amazing human – so kind.”
As to what the future holds, while Babbitt says her ride was “the most substantial thing that I’ve done in my life so far,” she is non-committal about whether she will complete the trek again next year, knowing that there are many other opportunities out there, just waiting for someone with her tenacity and enthusiasm. As she enters Grade 10 at Sacred Heart High School this fall, she will entertain other possibilities that come her way.
“You haven’t seen the last of Eden Babbitt,” she said, and we have no doubt that she is right.
Tammy Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent