Cycling Across Canada

Noise.

Still, I craved. Along the Great Plains, I grew uneasy in quiet scenes horizons-long. With every sign of the reign of silence, inevitably, I wavered and crumbled and erupted within. I couldn’t hold my own. I couldn’t surrender. Still, I craved. Still, I sought order and control.

*****

I was determined to be present, in all moments, for this journey. Before I left Victoria, I resolved to ride without artificial interference. No music. No easy escapes. No earphones. In the beginnings of this trip, I was intent on living a romanticized vision of my venture. Challenge yourself, truly, man. A naively optimistic view.

I felt resolute in cycling across Canada without earphones. One element of a conscious effort to fully experience every waking second while on my bike. Free myself from comforting distractions. After all, this adventure had proved electric precisely because of my desire to challenge the boundaries of all I’d experienced and known. New roads, new experiences. No music to dull the resonance of each moment.

I followed through on this intention for a time; I crossed the mountains atop Sonja by my senses alone. From Victoria to Calgary, I immersed fully into every experience, or, at least as completely as I could from my severely limited and flawed perspective. Allow the quiet to flow. Let the scene move closer to a whole of stillness.

In some moments through BC, I felt more connected to myself and the world around than ever before. During those moments, every pedal felt meant to be a gift. The sun rising above the snow-covered mountains in the pristine quietness of an early morning. Mountain goats ambling across the road at a hairpin turn of a high-elevation hillside, forcing my ride to a peaceful stop to admire and observe. Racing down extended descents in near harmony with cars and trucks to mark my exhilarating speed. Pedaling away from the eastern edges of the mountains, beginning another entirely new chapter along the western plains.

Across BC, the cross-country journey felt sufficiently fresh. I was training as I rode, recovering from the mountains in my rear view as I prepared for more climbs ahead. The physical demands of the Rockies helped to distract from my own thoughts and questions.

Unintentionally, I escaped my own self in a significant way, I guess. During those longer stretches of easy riding in between climbs, the surrounding mountains helped to narrow my focus. There they are, always waiting. I felt mostly content to stay in the moment rather than seek the possibilities beyond. I could find success in residing within the quiet moments, pushing away my inner desires and noise to seek something more. Mostly.

*****

Alberta, in contrast, was a brief ride. Within a few short days, I traveled through scenes of mountains, badlands, and wide-open expanses. I entered the province wearing nearly every piece of clothing I owned to protect from the lingering cold. I left basking in the growing warmth of the early-spring sun, in little more than a tanktop and bicycle shorts.

At first, Alberta’s milder, open roads were cherished. The mountains gave way to extended stretches of flatness, in all directions, interrupted rarely by hills of strenuous demands. The frequent twists and turns of the roads to accommodate the immovable enormities of the mountainscapes ceded to the almost grid-like patterns of the plains. I was exceeding well over one hundred kilometers daily, embracing the luxuries of time and energy to spare.

I was no longer consumed by the physical strains. And, surprisingly, this progression grew increasingly troubling. No mountain passes awaited. More often, I could maintain a steady pace on Sonja, my body no longer requiring my mind’s undivided attention. My days felt well-managed and increasingly predictable.

My body had adapted to the daily grind. My mind, however, wasn’t yet ready.

As I crossed into Saskatchewan, the uncertainties of the moments ahead resided mostly in the uneasy quiet. Hours of rhythmic pedaling induced a cyclist’s version of highway hypnosis. Physical relief quickly transformed into inner wanderings. Then, stagnation. Boredom. I drew inward. Pulled to my seemingly aimless thoughts, floating and growing and spreading within.

Nothing emerged clear. Thoughts were no more than briefly touched before my mind jumped to another path.

Out of desperation, perhaps frustration, I periodically voiced my streams of consciousness aloud, a fruitless attempt to achieve clarity. What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? An unsettling absence of control echoed in return. I felt little progress within. I felt confused and rootless and heavy.

And, so, I tried to adapt. Turn the dial. Change my mind’s stations to a simpler vibe. From time to time, I switched to my inner music channel, singing the lyrics to a medley of songs I could recall…

Satisfy My Soul… Messages… Let’s Take The Long Way Home… Dancing in the Dark… Good Times… Sweet Virginia…

I noticed my mind was drawn to the lyrics and melodies which instilled the greatest peace and calm. Mostly old songs. Whatever my memory could call upon in-and-out of tune.

Harvest Moon… Stand By Me… Bobcaygeon… Hummingbird… Dirty Old Town… Sweet Thing…

Bob Dylan’s catalogue didn’t comprise any songs fit for my personal karaoke playlist. Didn’t quite connect. Alas, I drew an occasional turn to imitating his voice, a desperate form of self-amusement to pass the time. Scene-devouring renditions of Let’s Get It On didn’t feel quiet so sensual when I sung in Bobby D’s nasally tone. Far easier to mimic than Marvin Gaye, though.

With no listeners or critics anywhere close, my singing quickly grew wild and unrestrained. I transported my life to a nighttime drive home, volume maximized and windows rolled down on a lonely backroad in southern Ontario. Over and again, I belted those lyrics with unfiltered imperfections across the western plains.

At most, I could linger on my personal music station for up to an hour before I felt compelled to turn the dial again. Then, I’d feel myself return to the pervading silence once again. Return to the quiet. Return to the restlessness. Succumb to the inertia of riding my bike across the Prairies, alone in a crushing silence.

Though physically stronger, I felt increasingly uneasy in the stillness. I fumbled for an escape. A respite from my lack of inner direction. I needed a distraction. I needed a break. Create a new noise to drown out the rest.

I needed earphones.

*****

Before I rode east from Kindersley, I ruffled through my panniers to find my old earbuds. After resolving to never use them in Victoria, I’d deposited them into the bottom of a forgotten pocket in my panniers. It was time for their resurrection.

I was desperate for noise and distraction. This ride had turned laborious. A mental and emotional marathon slog I hadn’t foreseen. My inner world was opening into new bounds of questions and wonderings and uncertainties and doubts and connections. All without even a glimpse of solutions. I felt restless and overwhelmed.

My inner music channel was far too repetitive. Besides, I’d always leaned into memorizing the melodies more than the lyrics. I needed relief.

Got ‘em.

For the first time on this ride, I was intentionally enclosing myself from the whole. I was constructing an artificial barricade to disconnect my mind for stretches of time. Allow my body to do its work. The music would fill in the remaining spaces. Leave little room for my thoughts to breathe. Exactly what I wanted here and for now. Exactly what I felt I needed.

I plugged in. Scrolled to my favourite album of all time. Exile on Main Street. No filler in that set. Just tune in and simmer down. From the first guitar chords of Rocks Off, I felt calmed. Less burdened and distracted from the uncertainties within. By the closing chorus of Sweet Virginia, with nine more songs left to roll, I was full-on singing along. Distorting every scene with a most welcome musical interference.

*****

This trip used to be a trip. Now, amidst the endless beauty of the western Prairies, I was being drawn to other experiences.

My body had achieved peak condition, pedaling atop Sonja with unmatched efficiency and endurance. I closed my self from the surrounding scene more often, donning earphones with greater frequency. In place of the cacophony of wildlife, winds, cars, trucks, birds, and trees, my experiences became increasingly soundtracked by curated playlists and podcasts.

In place of experience, I searched for meaning. Moments were weighed down in wandering thoughts and speculation.

Earlier on this journey, I embraced submission to the moment. I allowed my self to live in the continually renewed present. I was a person that desired unfamiliar roads and unexpected paths. Life happened, and I reacted. As I should.

Now, I was in pursuit. I was enamoured with feeling greater meaning in life’s moments. I was grasping for meaning during moments in which I was better off moving on to the next one. Physically, I was excelling. In all other senses, I was in all directions, often all at once.

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