Out in the Open

Crowdfunders backed his adventure, leaving his sister feeling lost in the sea of supporters

Danielle d’Entremont grapples with a two year bicycle trip that her brother took from Vancouver all the way to the southernmost tip of South America. She tells Piya how the trip was unexpectedly crowdfunded and the impact it had on their relationship.
Phil d’Entremont arriving in his final destination, Ushuaia, Argentina. (Courtesy of Phil d'Entremont)
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Out In The Open producer Danielle d'Entremont's brother Phil d'Entremont took a two-year bicycle trip from Vancouver all the way to the southernmost tip of South America. His adventure was unexpectedly crowdfunded, which didn't sit well with Danielle. She explains how that sticking point surfaced far greater tension in their relationship, and what it taught her about enabling:

In September of 2015, my brother Phil d'Entremont, went on a bicycle trip. 

He started in Vancouver, and thought maybe he would make it San Diego. But he didn't stop there. He got to Mexico, and he kept going. But by the time he made it to Panama City, he was out of cash. 
Phil and Danielle were "inseparable adventure buddies" as kids. (Michele McKenzie)

Phil used his last dollars at an internet cafe, where he started a crowdfunding campaign. Initially, he was only hoping for a couple thousand bucks. But he made more than that. People, even those he had never met, started sending money and messages about how much of an inspiration he was. 

By the time he arrived in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, he had raised more than $11,000.

Sounds amazing, right?

It didn't feel that way to me. I was back home just barely making rent in my basement apartment in Toronto. Honestly, I had no idea why so many people were enabling my brother on his jaunt around the world. He had no job, he had no bigger cause and he wasn't paying any bills.

We had grown up as best friends, but during his trip our relationship changed dramatically. 

I by no means think what he went through was easy. But I was going through a lot of different medical and personal issues back home, and felt a resentment toward the recognition he was getting for something that seemed to have no obvious altruistic motive. 

So now that he's home, it felt like the right time to confront this tension head on. I decided to get my brother to a radio studio in Halifax and talk to him about it from a radio studio in Toronto. Here's part of our conversation:

Danielle: Did you think a lot about the people who supported you?

Phil: Yeah, definitely. 'Cause like I don't know when someone chips you 50 bucks, maybe to them when they're giving you 50 dollars it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. But when you're in some dusty nowhere and you see that someone has given you 50 dollars, it's like man, you really have a lot of time to chew on that and appreciate the fact that someone would do that for you.

Danielle: Honestly I almost didn't donate. Like maybe 50 bucks for some people isn't a lot, right? But I was scraping by penny to penny and I saw you going on what looked like this adventure of a lifetime. And people were paying you to do it. 

Phil: I wouldn't have cared if you didn't donate, but I did sense that you were kind of absent from the trip in other ways. It was like I just had a hard time reaching you, I felt like, yeah, I just felt like you weren't there.

Danielle: To be honest, there was this big narrative that was being built up at home, like "Phil's this hero, Phil's this legend, Phil's doing amazing things," and I get that. I guess where I was coming from though is I was going through so much too and it wasn't the same; it was so different. But I felt like I couldn't come to you with what I was going through.

Phil: I mean, I know that I wasn't as present as I could have been throughout all of that, everything that you went through. And I'm sensitive to the way that this trip made me into this larger than life figure but that wasn't the game plan when I set out.

After we talked, I realized that I, too, had allowed for him to become this larger than life figure by listening to what strangers were saying about him, and forgetting he was my brother. 
Danielle and her brother Phil in front of their childhood home in Halifax. (Michele McKenzie)

I still don't completely understand crowdfunding and why we validate certain successes while others can go relatively unnoticed.

But what I do know now, is it's none of my business what makes the people who gave my brother money happy. Just like it's none of my business what makes my brother happy. 

My brother and I might not totally understand each other the way we did when we were kids anymore. Things have gotten a bit more complicated and messy from the time when our entire world consisted of the same three blocks. We've gone our own ways, travelled a few more blocks, and picked up our fair share of carry-on baggage. 

But while our adventures are different, our roads will always lead back to the same place. 

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Enablers".