This riding journey of mine irrevocably changed along the Great Plains. As I progressed further into the Prairies, my world opened all around and within.
I relished the extreme transition from mountains to flat expanses east of Drumheller. My path stretched all the way to the horizon for long stretches along Highway 570 and Highway 9. For those moments in which a brief descent and climb obscured the road ahead, I felt comforted by the fact that my path would open fully again soon.
Few signs of formalized life marked my route through eastern Alberta. No towns, infrequent villages. Borderline summertime warmth. I experienced my most relaxing and quiet hours of cycling so far. Sometime during the mid-afternoon, I even fell asleep in the roadside grasses for a short while, waking up to the same wide-open fields and near silence, aside from a stiff crosswind from the north and the occasional passing car or pick-up.
The town of Oyen marked my resting spot for the night, and my final stop before crossing the border into Saskatchewan.
From Oyen, the Saskatchewan border lay less than forty kilometres away. Second province crossed off. Another milestone. Just like Sunday Pass, I felt an underwhelming rush inside compared to leaving BC. Sparks, but no fire.
East of Calgary, my energy no longer relied on the physical markers. Atop Sonja along the Alberta plains, my mind slowly attuned to the open surroundings. I explored my world inside. I wandered. I questioned. Only I hadn’t a set of checkpoints or finish lines or summits to feel any progress within. I wanted answers, immediately. I felt I needed them. Yet, I hadn’t a clue how to begin searching. All I could manage to accomplish was the frequent returns of two familiar refrains:
What am I doing? Why am I here?
Reaching the Atlantic Ocean was no longer in question. Physically, at least. Increasingly, though, I became vulnerable to the other grinds; my struggles with the mental, emotional, and spiritual realms of this ride.
Upon my approach to Saskatchewan, I consciously pondered life after St. John’s for the first time, struck by the possibility I was pedalling without aim. Fooled by highway markers and border signs. I wondered if I would reach the end only to throw Sonja into the salty Atlantic waters and walk away with no more direction than when I started.
No longer lifted by my giant leap to begin this cross-Canada journey, I could feel an emergent burdening. I felt vulnerable to those familiar and lifelong temptations to struggle against the ever-shifting currents rather than feel through the flow in each present moment. And, so, I began to engage in the most futile exercise: as my mind raced in an array of directions, all I sought was control.
After leaving Oyen, I’d reached the border by mid-morning. Saskatchewan. Land of the Living Skies. Another bluebird day. The sun was beaming unobscured, aside from a few passing clouds. I stopped and snapped a picture of the sign. A selfie didn’t feel right. I spent the rest of the day marking time and distance in western Saskatchewan, struck by the notion that the landscape was mostly unchanging.
I pitched my tent in a closed campground on the outskirts of Kindersley, across the road from a golf course. In the evening’s golden hour, I sat atop a playground, admiring the sunset. My journal open, pencil in hand. I attempted to scribble down my thoughts from the day. Nothing. I couldn’t write questions without answers. Too many directions. Too many webs. I felt tangled and overwhelmed. Couldn’t find any answer, or even choose a focused inner path to explore.
Eventually, I turned down the noise within for a moment and recorded my progress for the day, like every other day. Closed my journal. Watched the colours fade and the expansive sky darken to a starry spectacle. A beautiful day surrendered to a peaceful night. I admired the star-filled skies with a still-wandering mind till my eyes grew heavy and my neck grew tired. In the quiet of the night, I jumped down from the playground and settled into my tent, certain I was in for a restless sleep.