A ‘humble’ young man in the final stages of a 5,000 mile mental health charity bike ride was helped out by the kindness of strangers in Eastbourne.
Lewis Stephens, 23, from Kent, stopped off at local resident Natalie Cooke’s house in Old Town on Sunday night (October 6) and then at The View Hotel on Monday (October 7).
Known as ‘The Tourist Dog’, he started the coastal bike ride around the UK on June 2, relying on social media appeals and kind acts from strangers to help him with resources like food, accommodation and even battery packs.
He will finish today (October 10) at Selsey for World Mental Health Day.
Lewis has raised £3,000 and a huge amount of awareness so far for CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably charity, which says it is the leading movement against suicide – the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.
Lewis said, “I’ve had close friends whose family members have had their own struggles due to problems that arise through no fault of their own and at times I’ve experienced the same emotions.
“I would like to say if you are going through mental health problems don’t blame yourself. You can make that change by trying something different, trying a new skill. I really promote an alternative way of living.
“I got to Eastbourne on Sunday and was looking for a place to stay. A lady called Natalie contacted me via social media and she said ‘if you are desperate, stay with me’.
“So I grabbed some milk from the shop and we had a cuppa’ tea, I had dinner with her, we watched Strictly and she put me up for the night. I’ve made a friend there.”
Natalie, 46, said, “Lewis is a really nice guy. I think he is doing an amazing thing. He is from that generation where they get bad press but he’s a great example of how there’s lots of young people out there doing good things.
“We were chatting and got on really well. He was telling me what he was doing and why. I think it’s a really good way of getting the message out there. Going around asking strangers for help is a great way to get other people involved and engaged.”
Lewis was then offered breakfast and accommodation for the next night at The View Hotel after a member of the hotel staff had spotted his appeal on social media.
Tina Reed, sales and marketing manager at the hotel, said, “We told him to come down for breakfast the next day and then it was suggested he could stay the Monday night. He has done very well and is very humble with what he has done.
“The hotel has done quite a lot for charity this year. We are partnered with two charities in Eastbourne, the Eastbourne Food Bank and the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team. It is important to give back.”
In a post on The Tourist Dog’s Facebook page, Lewis said, “Big thank you to The View Hotel in Eastbourne which had a spare room and thought why not let me and Claud [his bike] stay for the night as the rain and wind ran wild outside.”
The idea sprang from Lewis’ travels across Europe, when he was in France a man handed him a book called ‘One Man and His Bike’ and Lewis said to himself ‘that is what I’m going to do’.
Lewis spoke about how he got through the challenges on his ride and highlighted the issues young people like himself face.
He said, “It’s opened my eyes to how many people are behind me.
“I didn’t think about the finish, I took it day by day, step by step. It’s taught me various disciplines – being in the moment and being present.
“I’ve worked about 20 jobs in my life doing bits-and-bobs. I left school, went to college and couldn’t really find what I was looking for.
“There are social media pressures for young people. I was asking myself ‘what am I going to do for work?’. These things have been giving me a lot of confusion.
“It’s mad to think how this journey has developed from a small idea into something that has changed and touched the lives of everyone involved in some way.
“All of this has come from an idea, a 60-year-old bike and a positive demonstration of how we can use social media to inspire a different world.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/TheTouristDog, donate here at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thetouristdog or visit www.thecalmzone.net