Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Miles for Millions Adventure

When I was a boy, there was a fundraiser for third world nations, called the Miles for Millions walk. I believe it was around for several years before the year that I walked it, but I do know that I was ten years old when this adventure happened.

The schools had encouraged everyone to get pledges and raise some money, so I had gone around and got a few pledges (I don't think I had very many, but I was determined to do my bit.)

On the day that the walk was to happen, my father dropped me off at the starting point. I was a Cub Scout and had gone on numerous hikes, so I already had a day pack and a canteen (real army issue), a rain coat (it was a normal, overcast, Vancouver day, I think in May.) I got my checkpoint card, and someone saftey pinned it to my pack strap so I wouldn't lose it, and I started out walking with a large group.

Now there was a big group of people all walking together, and I was in the middle of it, but I really didn't know anyone, so I walked quietly, by myself, in this big group. I was comfortable with the large group and enjoying the independance. As I reached each checkpoint, I would stop and get them to check off my checkpoint card.

It was somewhere about the middle of the walk, I remember being about the middle of the checkpoints, and they had one in a fairly large park. As I was walking up to it, I looked at my pack strap where my checkpoint card should have been, and it wasn't there!

I was devastated! I stood there for several minutes, trying to figure out what I could do. It never occurred to me to walk up to the checkpoint and tell the adults my problem. Looking back now, if a crestfallen ten-year-old had turned up at my checkpoint having lost his card, clearly having hiked that far, with pack and raingear, I would have found a way to get him on his way, but I was convinced that this was the end of the walk, unless I could find my checkpoint card with all it's previously marked off checkpoints.

So I started retracing my steps. I walked back quite a ways, looking for my card, and then realized that there weren't very many people anymore, so I realized I'd have to continue, if only to meet my parents at the end point.

I returned to the park, still looking for my card. I actually found someone else's card, but it had their name on it, so it was no good for me, and I left it.

I didn't bother going to the checkpoint. But now I had another problem. There were so few people walking, I was a bit anxious to not get left too far behind. Again, it never occurred to me to talk to any adults. My wife tells me that I'm too independent, and I guess I was, even then, as a ten year old. I saw a couple with rain ponchos on, clearly walking the walkathon, so I followed them.

After about 8 blocks, they turned into an apartment, and I realized that I was in big trouble. My frustration at losing my checkpoint card was now being superceded by an unpleasant, anxiousness in my tummy. I was now on King Edward (25th) street, and I knew what parts of it looked like but wasn't really sure where I was. I walked another block or two, and saw a familiar sight. It was Helen's Grill at Main and 25th, which is still there. As soon as I saw it, I knew where I was.

I had brought a dime with me, and had it in my pocket. Now, back then, a child's fare on Vancouver buses for one zone was ten cents, so I had enough to get to somewhere on Boundary road. I figured from there, I could walk to my home in the Jubilee neigborhood of Burnaby (behind where Metrotown and Sears are now - it was Simpson Sears, back then.) Now it was also the amount you needed to use a phone booth, but phone booths were pretty notorious for eating dimes, and since no one had answering machines or cell phones, there was a good chance that I would lose the dime and then really not have a way out. Again, it never occured to me that I should walk into a store and tell them I had a problem. I'm sure that I could have used a store's phone to call home. Most people would have helped out a stranded little boy, but that never occurred to me.

Anyways, I decided that I would wait for a bus and ask the driver what bus I could take that would get me close to Central Park so I could walk home.

Having come up with a plan, I was feeling a bit less anxious. I don't recall coming too close to tears at all this disappointment and trouble, but I suspect if I'd had a sympathetic listener at one or two of the worst moments I might have dissolved into a puddle. Anyways, I was alone and had to get myself out of this, like a good, resourceful Scout, so I stood there waiting for a bus to come, at the back of the line of people, so I wouldn't block them while I asked the driver for directions.

A few minutes later, the bus pulled up, and several people climbed down off the bus. One of them was an oriental man, who walked up to me, handed me an all-day pass and said "Here, you can use this, I'm done with it." I don't know if it was legal for him to pass that off to me, but at the time I was so relieved that I think I half squeaked my "Thank you" to him! I sometimes wonder if he was an angel, sent to rescue me. Whoever he was, he solved a serious problem for me, and I instantly changed my question for the bus driver. It was now "What bus will get me to Jubilee in Burnaby?"

The driver told me that I could get there on his bus, with a transfer, so I climbed aboard and sat down. Now, the only available seats were all next to occupied ones, so I picked a younger adult man whose face I liked and sat beside him. He probably noticed my gear and asked me what I was doing. Before I knew it, I'd poured out my whole unhappy story to him. I can't remember his name, but he told me he was a scientist, and was just off work, and that if I stayed with him, he'd get me to my home. OK, that was angel number 2. Looking back I have my doubts that his route really took him past Jubilee station. I think he said that just to help me out.

I don't recall what all we talked about, but we chatted all the way. Despite all the talking, it felt like one of the longest bus trips I had ever taken. It was now well past the point where my parents should have been picking me up, and I knew that they were going to be frantic with worry.

The scientist made sure I switched busses at the loops and got on the right ones, all the time insisting that he was going my way, although I had this nagging, but grateful feeling that he was doing this to make sure I got home safely.

Finally the bus pulled up at the stop nearest my house. I thanked the young scientist who had helped me, and climbed off the bus, waving at him as it pulled away. Then I walked to my house.

When I unlocked the door and walked in, my brother Wim was there, looking really concerned. He told me that the rest of the family was driving around looking for me, and they had the police looking, too. He had stayed home in case I showed up or phoned. He called the police to let them know I had showed up on my own, and they found my parents and told them I had been located.

When my family all arrived, I had to tell the story to them. I was told next time to find a grownup and explain my problem. In fact, I was told I should have gone to the people at the checkpoint and they would have taken care of me. I discovered in a very real way that God sent angels to take care of little boys, and that those angels were disguised, or perhaps just were, ordinary people. And I discovered that my family were really seriously worried about me, and actually loved me. I guess I knew that all along, but my brother actually looked stressed when I walked in the door. It was kind of nice to know that you'd be missed if something happened to you.

And that is the story of my Miles for Millions adventure!


  1. My dear independent man; If you were my son, I'd probably have walked with you! But back then, parents weren't so concerned. They probably told you what to do before the event, but maybe you blocked it out! Or maybe they assumed you'd know by osmosis what to do. My parents were like that. Somehow all this knowledge was supposed to be acquired in some way. Well, alls well that ends well. And yes, I believe they were angels in disquise! (not your parents; the people who helped)

  2. Hello there,
    My name is Jenna Dur and I am a student at the University of British Columbia. I am currently working on a research project about Miles for Millions with my History professor (see: http://www.history.ubc.ca/people/tamara-myers). What a fascinating experience you had at the Miles for Millions march! I was wondering if you might be available for an interview sometime in the next couple of weeks? Please email me at: jadur20@hotmail.com whenever you get a chance.
    Thank you for your time,
    Jenna Dur

  3. I walked the Miles for Millions in grade 4 and ran it in grades 5 to 7. Apparently my friend and I came in 41 and 42 position in our final year, grade 7 according to the Vancouver Sun. It was always hot on every Miles for Millions walks in those years (long before global warming was invented) and we always came home with sore feet and sunburns. It was a very different Vancouver then and 2 elementary school aged boys did all the walks by themselves. I tell my now adult children about how we were unsupervised and how hot it was on those walks in May now less, and they turn green with envy. Vancouver's Dunbar was a really good place to grow up at that time. I did the Miles from 1969 to the final year I think and that must have been 1972

  4. I remember! We started off at the Seaforth armoury now Burrard st and around Stanley park! I was in gr8 So 72 I believe!

    1. They did it a few years in a row. I was 10, so it would have been 1969 for me.