Cycling Across Canada


I awoke with the rising sun. Hungry and frozen. Wet. My body was soaked, along with my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent floor separating me from the snowy ground.

Too lazy last night. Should have laid the footprint.

Quickly, I packed my things, driven to start moving, to feel my blood flow and warm my sore and dampened muscles and bones. I didn’t bother to change clothes. Too cold. Too lazy, I suppose. I devoured a few handfuls of trail mix before rolling Sonja up the slippery hill to the road.

Another climb, Sunday Pass, still awaited. I’d planned to traverse the sixty-kilometers-or-so to Princeton by early afternoon. This time, I was mentally prepared to adjust my goal. I was learning – growing – with every stumble into my chosen darkness. Tempered expectations for a humbled cyclist.

For most new experiences of significance, successive moments rarely match the first. Rising to the summit of Sunday Pass, I experienced a classic case of diminished returns.

Compared to Allison, my ascent to the summit of Sunday didn’t feel quite as fulfilling. Perhaps, my physical strength had turned a corner. Maybe, a single dose of familiarity had already lowered the chemical rush within. Or, I was simply too thirsty, tired, and hungry to feel as enthused again. Most likely, some combination of all of the above. No matter the true roots of this feeling, as I approached my second peak atop Sonja, I offered only a nod to the Sunday Pass Summit sign, passing over without stopping. No selfies, this time.

While descending the eastern side of Sunday, I sped along a lengthy stretch of the Crows Nest, racing over several bumps and holes in the paved shoulder of the highway. Every obstacle shook the entire bike violently.

Somewhere along the way down, I could faintly glimpse something rattle from my bike. As I raced, Sonja was rolling fine, and I thought nothing more of that fallen something.

Must have been a rock…

I reached the bottom of the hill, coasting to a stop for a snack. I munched on another serving of trail mix and thought to check the map on my phone, to see how much distance to Princeton remained. I turned to the handlebar bag and suddenly noticed the zipper was halfway open. Nothing inside.

My phone was gone.

My messages, contacts, maps, clock, and GPS. Pictures, notes, and saved passwords. All gone. I must have forgotten to zip the bag shut during my previous stop. That rock was my phone. My temperament turned quickly to livid.

I wasn’t keen to travel in the wrong direction, to struggle up an unnecessary climb on Sonja. I was out of water, and my hunger didn’t need any additional straining. But, I wanted my phone. I felt I needed it. Anything else, and I likely would have kept pedaling. My phone meant something more.

And, so, I began to walk furiously in the direction I’d just ridden down. At the hill’s start, I audibly muttered at the inconvenience. I yearned for a comfortable resting place. Something warm and familiar. Something easy.

I began to ascend with each step, sticking out my thumb for a ride at every passing vehicle. Limit my time wasted. Within two minutes, a car pulled over, and the kind stranger offered a lift. My first-ever ride as a hitchhiker. But, if there was meaning here, I couldn’t be bothered. I wanted my phone. Selfies included.

Following the short, quiet ride and a quick farewell, I stood at the top of the same long and winding hill I’d traversed only minutes earlier. I walked down the shoulder, scouring for my phone. No dice. My slow-descending search yielded only a slew of rocks and empty cigarette packs mistaken for my metal prize.

An hour or so later, I’d returned to Sonja. In a spurt of surface-level aggression, I kicked her over the edge of the shoulder and clenched my fists at the empty air. My quiet curses briefly escalated into an explosive release. For a moment, it helped. A moment of naked anger shared only between the eastern side of Sunday Pass, Sonja, and me.

I felt wanting. A familiar form of recourse. Unfortunately, wanting often strays from the paths of reality. To scream in response to the moment was my sole escape. In the ensuing moment, reality returned.

My day-long struggles up Alison Pass had been rewarded with the satisfaction of riding over the summit and down the other side. On the eastern side of Sunday Pass, I could feel no reward. No gratification, immediate or otherwise. For the first time, I’d been confronted by the realization this journey wouldn’t be a set of classics from beginning to end. They couldn’t all be prize-winners. There would be filler to endure along the way.

Carefully, I picked up Sonja from the ground and brushed her off, resigned to move beyond without a notable lift to my day. I offered a silent apology to my riding companion for my momentary lapse into chaotic dismay.

The final stretches of road to Princeton faded immediately from experience to nothingness. No further memories accumulated in this space and time. I put my head down and stewed in my negativity with each driving pedal. Already physically drained, I succumbed to a weakened mental state. What am I doing? A long moment void of meaning. My choice. A different form of chosen darkness. All triggered because of a missing phone.

I was reduced to an entitled mess riding through scenes of expansive beauty, pining for a lost luxury. Only a comfortable motel bed, hot shower, and full-serving of restaurant-prepared food would quell my self-imposed despair. Thankfully, Princeton offered exactly the comforts I craved. My consolation for a sobering journey into town.

The roads east of Princeton were far more forgiving. I might have endured some hills. But, I don’t remember them. I raced along the rapid descents and cruised on the flatter terrains. The orchards of barren trees and closed-for-season winery signs welcomed my presence in the Okanagan Valley. Further reminders I was riding through remnants of winter in the early spring.

Feel the unfamiliar. Embrace the unexpected.

On to the next one.

On to the next moment. On to the next memory.

A new day.

Without the accustomed clutch of a phone, a fascinating adjustment occurred. And, it didn’t take more than a small number of moments for this change to happen. I adapted to life without a phone. Quite easily.

I attuned to the 21st-century oddity of asking strangers for the time and direction to the nearest destinations. Conversations revolving around my travels often followed. I grew increasingly used to the questions that accompanied my cross-country declaration. I wanted to travel across Canada, and do it in a way that felt meaningful and challenging. Still lacking, but slowly improving.

Technology-free riding provided a surprisingly simple and refreshing way to travel. Though initially involuntary, I nourished every connection of kindness offered my way, every measure of openness afforded to a lone stranger hauling his life and bike through the interior of BC. My technological crutch no longer narrowed my views. I embraced conversational assistance for a short time, approaching strangers with a smile rather than closing myself from the scene and silently finding guidance and answers from a handheld device.

Old habits, though.

Upon entering the first town of sufficient size, no more than thirty-six hours after Sunday Pass, I asked a stranger for directions to the nearest destination. An electronics store. No further conversation ensued beyond a rapid-fire thank-you and immediate turnaway.

I had entertained thoughts of pushing on without a touchscreen appendage. I swear to Steve Jobs, I did. Traveling without a phone had sparked a romanticized sense of intrigue.

Simplify, man. Challenge yourself, truly. Disconnect.

Admittedly, I couldn’t follow through. Trying to disconnect didn’t quite feel true. More tellingly, I felt a return to normalcy even with the knowing that I was soon going to have a new phone. My manufactured version of wholeness. More than wanting, I felt I needed this luxury.

I convinced myself that carrying a phone on this trip would provide a safeguard against getting lost in the middle of nowhere; I could avoid becoming stranded without a way to communicate my whereabouts to family and friends, or worse. A convenient rationalization for a comforting purchase. If I lean closer to the truth, I missed my sites. I missed my messages. I missed my notes. I missed my sports scores. I missed my photos. I missed knowing it was all there.

I missed feeling connected.

The honest-to-Jobs story is I couldn’t resist. In the moment, I wasn’t willing to experience life without this connection. Too many years of nourishment and comfort. I had already sacrificed many other longstanding standards of living along the beginnings of this journey. Somewhere beyond the eastern side of Sunday Pass, I learned and concluded this was a standard I wouldn’t relinquish. It’d become an essential root of who I am, I suppose. A truth of mine that remains so.

I remained willingly tethered to branches of my familiar, my easy, my light. I needed my nearest connection to the rest of my world, at all times.

I needed a new phone.

And, so, within the hour, I was the town’s newest owner of the latest trend. I was easily sold, with a halfhearted commitment to staying true to my backcountry adventures. Riding away from the store, I felt an urgency to compromise, to rely less on GoogleMaps and all the rest. To utilize, not rely. A new branch of purpose I aimed to honour and explore.

Old habits, though.

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