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Urban studies student combines adventure, academics on Canada-wide bike trip

Hailey Hewstan takes to the highway in self-directed study on sustainable community development

Victoria, British Columbia will mark the start of Hewstan’s cross-country research adventure that will see her weave across the country visiting major cities such as Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto culminating in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

One tent, a sleeping bag, a camping stove, two pairs of bike shorts, and one summer dress.

These are at the top of the packing list for Hailey Hewstan, urban studies student and co-op engagement co-ordinator at UCalgary's Office of Sustainability.

But it’s not a vacation Hewstan is packing for. Instead, she will be cycling across Canada this summer as part of a self-directed study, for academic credit, on sustainable community development in multiple Canadian cities.

“About two years ago I was hearing more about bike tours and I had heard of organizations that ran bike tours. But none of them truly intrigued me. I wanted to do something bold and unexpected,” says Hewstan. “What better way than to commit not to just one short week or two bike trip, but the whole country instead.”

Pedal power to take student from west to east coast

Victoria, B.C. will mark the start of Hewstan’s cross-country research adventure that will see her weave across the country visiting major cities such as Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto, culminating in Halifax, N.S.

As part of her research, Hewstan will explore how cycling advocates from bike co-operatives across Canada encourage bike lane development within their local municipalities, and how these practices can contribute to sustainable community development. As part of her preliminary planning, Hewstan has reached out to a number of organizations that she plans to connect with on her trip.

“The more I talk to people, I can really tell that people are excited to meet me. I think there will be a lot of similarities across the country when it comes to bike co-operatives but I’m going into this with an open mind,” says Hewstan.

Hewstan hopes her 7,000-plus kilometres of research will connect cyclists

With one more year left in her degree, she is wanting time for self-reflection, adventure and personal growth as well as academic growth. She is passionate about the cycling community, having been involved with UCalgary’s bike co-operative, The Bike Root. This is an opportunity for her to give back by connecting cycling communities across the nation through her own personal connections and through her research.

Most people who bike across Canada raise money for charity, but Hewstan will be giving back in a different way. “I knew I wanted to connect with people while travelling over 7,000 kilometres, and what better way than to conduct research. After playing with a few topics and ideas, I wanted to research how community co-operatives bike shops across Canada engage with their local governments to implement bike lane developments.”

While Hewstan is planning to do the majority of the trip alone and document her journey through a blog post, she will be regularly connecting with her professor, Dianne Draper, from afar. Draper is a professor in the Department of Geography and has research interests in Canadian environmental sustainability and sustainable tourism, so she is a perfect match for Hewstan’s directed study.

“She’s actually the most excited, and has a lot of knowledge that we’re really aligned on," says Hewston. "She will have me doing a reflective journal report and we will consistently be checking in.”

Hands-on learning starts one pedal stroke at a time

Another area that has intrigued Hewstan about her upcoming journey is the fact that it is truly an experiential learning experience.

“Hands-on learning really excites me,” she says. “Actually being able ride these bike lanes, fall down on these bike lanes. Stop in Quebec and say ‘Damn this is a really nice bike lane.’ It is different than reading and researching about bike lanes in Quebec from a TFDL computer screen.”

Hewstan is determined to do this and while reflecting on the beginning of her journey she pauses and reality sets in. “The first couple pedal strokes will be frightening, but the best advice I’ve received is to just keep pedalling, one pedal stroke at a time.”