What am I doing? Why am I here?
My mind wandered and raced and fumbled over questions I hadn’t the capacity to answer. Not yet, at least.
I was on a westward flight, from Toronto to Vancouver, traveling in the opposite direction of the roads I was soon to cycle. Questioning the first truly unfamiliar path I’d ever dared to wander alone. A child opening his untried eyes to a new light.
Don’t forget: this feels right.
I did not understand the meaning of this feeling. Right? Still, I strove into the unknown. I’d placed myself into a darkness, and I could see neither the roots of this choice nor the paths and directions of meaning ahead. In the darkness, I could only feel. Even in the darkness, as fear bellowed within, this choice felt indescribably right. Unfamiliar, for certain.
But, what if I’m wrong?
It was too late, and I remained far too stubborn. My choice had already been made. For better or worse, I would see this journey through to its end, whenever and wherever that would lead. I could only wish to remain upright, pedaling through St. John’s, the Atlantic Ocean in sight.
The first and most important piece of equipment for any cycling trip: a bicycle. No swan dives into the dark abyss on this one. The answer is clear and simple. Can’t bike without a bike. This was a vital consideration I’d glossed over in my decision to cycle across Canada. I hadn’t owned a bike in nearly a year.
Shoot, I hadn’t touched a bike in nearly a year.
During the early days of the previous summer, the tires of my aging, corner-store bicycle had punctured during a short ride home from work and turned flat. The tire’s injured condition amounted to the equivalent of a tweaked ankle. But, as far as I was concerned, this proved a condemnable offense. There was no way I could have fixed this thing. I hadn’t the tools or the know-how to repair even a flat tire. My bike was broken. Dead to me.
From that day, I stopped riding. Only walks, cars, and buses. My old bike was forgotten almost immediately.
As the great plains gave way to mountainous landscapes below, I struggled to explore my left-field commitment to cycle from Victoria to St. John’s.
What am I doing?
Quickly, I realized my choice fell somewhere on the far end of a spectrum between care-free and careless. I’d first entertained the thought of riding coast-to-coast only a few weeks prior. I was staring at a map of Canada, on the wall of a place I can’t recall.
I’d lived in this country since my first breath, and my world had grown little beyond specks of southern Ontario. London. Waterloo. Ottawa. Toronto. The towns, roads, farmlands, lakes, and shorelines surrounding and in between. My world felt small. Infinitesimal. I’d long felt ready, a prevalent yearning, to wander beyond the world I’d lifelong known.
As soon as I set my eyes and mind on that map, travelling across Canada felt intensely appealing. An entire world of communities, wilderness, and cultures on its own. Yet, also, a stepping stone into the greater unknowns of the wider world. Skipping my home country for more exotic places seemed an undesirable shortcut. Still staring at that map on the wall, I committed to the mindset of Canada first, world later.
With the destination decided, my mind searched for a hook, some purpose or challenge for the journey. I’d already felt travelling solo would do. But, I needed something else, something more.
I wanted to explore intently and see it all. Coast to coast. I felt for something that allowed for a combination of deep immersion and a wide-variety of experiences. Be in the scene and take my time in every place I traveled. Driving felt too rushed. Train-riding felt too passive and breezy. Hitchhiking seemed too out-of-control. For me, anyway.
I looked over the map once more. All the way across Canada? But, how?
How could I see this country in a personally fulfilling way? For a brief moment, I felt stuck on the question.
Then, a thought emerged with undeniable clarity. No clue where it came from. Nevertheless, I’d found my choice.
I should bike across Canada.
Immediately intoxicated by the idea, I leaned back and envisioned the trip. Biking checked all of my major wants. Challenging. Immersive. Varied. Entirely unfamiliar and new. It offered a culture of lifestyle I’d never before known. This was something else and something more. Most of all, it felt right. Fulfilling.
Though I would spend the rest of the day researching details about this sort of travel, my mind was already set. I was hooked.
I should bike across Canada. I will.
All felt right. Inexplicably so. No doubts. The very next morning, I committed to the challenge. I bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver.
That was it. Suddenly, I was off.
This one-way ticket marked the third flight of my life, and I’d brought only a blue carry-on backpack. I didn’t yet have a bike, and I hadn’t trained one pedal for this trek. I was willfully ignorant and woefully unprepared. I kept fumbling for answers, to feel more settled into this unfamiliar state.
Why am I here?
I hadn’t learned how to ride a bicycle until I was ten years old. I was the latest bloomer in my beautiful, close-knit, no-stoplight childhood town. I’d rarely felt compelled to travel on two wheels in the years since. Whenever I did, I never wore a helmet. A shared truth of our town at that time. A lingering truth of mine.
From my window seat, the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies towered below. I’d never before experienced the real sight of mountains. As most other passengers slept, read, or stared at their small screens, I became entranced by the heavens-eye views. I remained fixated out the small window until our descent. A beautiful unknown.
Life was mostly familiar till I flew west.
My world. My story. My choices.
All expected, nearly without exception.
Prior to this flight, nearly all substantial choices in my life had been based on experiences I could already expect, to varying levels of light. Whether those experiences were my own or someone else’s, some measure of familiarity was already in place. No choice of significance was drawn from a clear canvas, without some degree of expectations, from my own experiences, or, more often, the experiences of another in my world.
I lived an expected life.
Along such familiar roads for the rest of my days, I may have never seen mountains, let alone pedal through them. Maybe further along, I’d have treated my restlessness and yearnings in other ways, with far more restraint. Maybe I’d have felt more content. Maybe I’d have achieved greater comforts and moved beyond the passion for finding something else, something more.
As I tread along these memories, all I can conclude is I’ll never know. Life had already flipped around, somehow, and I wasn’t turning back. This choice felt different, intensely and immediately. A severe and notable lack of familiarity and experience to explore. A chosen darkness. A chosen fear. I loved it.
Bike across Canada? I had never biked for longer than the length of my beautiful, flat, no-bike-helmet childhood town. Hell, I hadn’t cycled for a single pedal in nearly twelve months.
Perhaps, this sudden leap highlighted a primal meaning of my choice. I’d grown overwhelmed with determination to feel the unfamiliar and experience the unexpected. I desired to feel untethered. The powerful flow of this desire had exceeded the preying powers of my lifelong inertia. For far too long, I’d felt for an authentic leap without ever taking action. Finally, I’d made something happen.
I was dipping my toes, testing the waters of uncharted territories in my world. Connecting to my fears in new, meaningful directions. Rather than spin wildly or fall limp to its unceasing whims, I’d welcomed fear as a companion. Finally. A strange embrace. Fear was along for the ride, anyway. Fear’s always there. Better to strike up a conversation rather than turn away; nourish some sense of control in this strange place.
The mesmerizing expanse of the Rockies disappeared somewhere behind, and the ocean emerged into view. Our descent was beginning.
I felt the wonderful cascade of emotions discovered only in a chosen darkness. I had consciously pulled myself into a realm of complete uncertainty. For the first time, my life felt propelled by my own drive. This choice felt mine, and it all felt right. Beyond that, I still hadn’t the slightest clue.
I needed a bike.
Departing the plane in Vancouver, I carried my life in my single navy-blue backpack, filled with assorted items I’d subjectively deemed useful for the upcoming journey: phone, camera, book, journal, deodorant, floss, along with a small number of even more bland products that felt necessary, for one reason or another.
Armed with a small piece of plastic and a growing wishlist of things for my trip, the consequences of my choice would soon feel more tangible. Nearly every piece of equipment and necessity I wanted for the trip – from water bottles to a tent, from panniers to sunglasses, and, indeed, a helmet – would be bought in Victoria. I was about to turn this list into stuff.
Morning passed while travelling on a bus, ferry, and another bus. By early afternoon, I’d arrived in downtown Victoria. My first destination was a bike shop a few blocks away.
This is happening.
Unfamiliar. Uncertain. Unknown.