Before travelling east, I chose to pedal west. To my mind, little progress on the map felt a worthy sacrifice as I adjusted to life on a bike.
From Victoria, I ventured along the Galloping Goose, a quiet recreational trail leading westward to Sooke. No motorized vehicles. Quiet. Perfect. I relished no witnesses as I felt for a sense of balance and comfort on my seat. My wishes for a forest ride in solitude were mercifully granted. I encountered almost no one. Along a peaceful trail in the wilderness, I familiarized myself with Sonja, my life weighing her down.
At Sooke, I circled back and completed a return trip along the trail, the lush greens of the surrounding forest serving to ease my inner anxieties. Insecurities, really. By the time I returned to Victoria, I felt far closer to ready to join the speeding vehicles cruising down the highways and streets. With a warm-up ride in my rearview, I prepared to begin pedalling east with intention.
I woke with a six o’clock alarm. I desired an early morning start to mark the official beginning of my cross-country ride. From a cheap downtown motel, I rolled toward the only place in the centre of Victoria with a visual landmark for such an occasion.
Mile Zero. The starting point of the Trans-Canada Highway.
The air was moist and brisk. No warmer than five degrees above zero. The type of coastal cool my body wasn’t yet used to enduring. A slight drizzle persisted, threatening to dampen this memorable moment. Fortunately, my emotions and spirits floated gloriously high. I was immune to disappointment in this moment. Never thought to let myself feel down with the weather. I could focus only on the journey ahead, magnificently bewildered by the unknowable experiences to come.
No one else was in sight. I felt truly alone in this early morning scene. A fitting circumstance to be solo at Mile Zero, and a clear reminder that I ought to become better acquainted with this lone-wolf feeling.
I rested Sonja against the landmark sign and snapped a picture. Following a second snap of the Terry Fox statue and a heavy exhale, my final moment of preparation bled into my first push and pedal.
Unceremoniously, off I rode.
Reassurances sparked in every moment, it seemed. Echoes of this feels right sounded within, over and again.
A stretch of mostly unmotorized paths connected Victoria’s northeastern edges to the ferry docks of Swartz Bay. A gift of quiet, easy riding to pass the morning.
Following a ferry across the waters to the mainland, I cycled into the sprawl of Vancouver. Blocks of beautiful residential streets were lined with cherry blossoms, a telltale sign of the early spring. Still close to the coast, I’d yet to discover the firm grips of winter holding strong further east.
For the time being, I could breathe easy and prepare my body and mind to begin moving toward the mountains, the same peaks I’d admired from miles above three long days before.
The choice to make this happen felt monumental. Indeed, without my initial choice to book a flight to the Pacific coast, the series of experiences to follow would never exist in my world. That first giant leap into darkness made all that followed break from the impossible.
Leaps are rarely followed by more leaps, though.
Leaps are distinctly characterized by lesser moments on either side. That’s why they’re leaps, I suppose. My path of chosen darkness – my leap – couldn’t be traversed without missteps and failures along the way. Inevitably, many of these lesser moments were accompanied by crowds of eyeballs and smirks to corroborate.
And, so, I swiftly accepted this journey as a giant leap followed inevitably by a series of small, incremental fumbles and steps.
My first left turn on a busy street in Victoria had resulted in a slow stumble to my side, witnessed by dozens for sure. Through Vancouver, I struggled to ascend the first hilly streets, a tiny prelude to the mountain passes waiting. I remained not-quite-comfortable on Sonja, wrestling to find the gear-shifters on the underside of the handlebars as I hauled over thirty pounds of gear with a body untrained for bike touring. More than once, I briefly veered from the shoulder to the highway lane as I fumbled with my fingers for the shifters, placing my life in the direct path of passing cars and trucks.
Willfully ignorant and woefully unprepared. Still, I felt emboldened. Buoyed by the lingering adrenaline of my leap into the unknown. Meaning sprouted in seemingly every moment, and I understood the reasons why: every accumulated experience – every action and consequence, positive and otherwise – felt rooted in my choice to venture along unfamiliar roads. For the first time, I felt alight, wonderfully alone.