Warmer than normal temperatures. Another round of blue skies. Innocuous clouds providing occasional shade. Steady tailwinds. Little traffic. Wide and paved shoulders along smaller highways. A curated stream of albums and songs and podcasts. Shoot, the conditions seemed made to be a curated day. Everything lined up in my favour. This was an all-timer for cycling. I reveled in the gifted fortunes. Perfect timing for a wavering rider beginning to neglect his surroundings.
The Prairie winds can be nature’s most generous gift or her cruelest joke. With the help of a strong tailwind, I covered over two-hundred kilometers with relative ease. Soon enough, the winds would inevitably become drawn from another direction. For the time being, I gladly accepted the sweet tailwinds that carried my life across a significant portion of Saskatchewan in a single day.
Sometime during the mid-afternoon, I stopped at the grocery store on the eastern edge of Outlook, to buy a snack before I returned to the road. I’d already left my phone charging at a Chinese restaurant further back into town; with permission, I was allowed to leave my phone sitting atop an empty table near an outlet. I aimed to return to fetch my recharged prize after shopping for lunch.
I rested Sonja, along with my gear, unlocked and open to the scene, as usual. I hadn’t thought deeply of my easygoing trust in the world around me, and I’d yet to experience a reckoning that might threaten my trusting ways. And, so, with my life leaning against a picnic table near the entrance doors, I walked inside.
I craved something cold and sweet, to compliment the day’s taste of spring and warmth. As I browsed the plastic cups of fresh fruit in the ready-made section, I felt the sudden approach of a man with purpose in his steps. I could feel his energy before I even met his eyes. When I turned toward him, the man flashed a welcoming smile and shook my hand without invitation. No chance for hesitation.
Is that your bike outside?
Yeah, sure is.
Are you touring across the country?
Yeah, sure am.
That’s amazing. Just awesome.
When I saw your bike, I told my wife I had to find you.
Which charity are you riding for?
Actually, I’m not raising money.
Just riding for the journey.
Beautiful. That’s perfect.
Keep doing what you’re doing, son.
You’re experiencing this country in the most incredible way.
An inflated sense of self-worth bellowed inside. I thanked the stranger for his unwarranted kindness. I asked him why he was curious:
I rode across Canada five years ago.
Thirty-nine days. Best trip of my life.
You’ve gotta tell me how it’s going for you so far.
I realized this interaction was based on connection more than admiration. My self-worth plateaued; I’d likely fail to travel beyond the Great Lakes, let alone sniff the east coast, within thirty-nine days. No matter. An ideal day of biking had been sprinkled with an appreciated serving of reassurance within. Over the next fifteen minutes, we conversed as lifelong friends reunited, sharing our respective stories from cycling the same roads.
Brightside’s passion and joy for cycling was uplifting. The man spoke with a cadence that was nearly percussive; his words were expressed in a propulsive rhythm that just draws you close. Rat-a-tat-tat. Brightside looked and talked like someone who had discovered the light of life and could hardly wait to share his shine to those around him. I could have spoken to him about anything for days.
I picked Brightside’s brain for advice on biking the rest of Canada. He offered a string of optimistic thoughts on the changing landscapes. The Prairies will seem to last forever till they finally cede to the Canadian Shield and some of the steepest highway climbs east of the Rockies. Lake Superior is criminally underrated and beautiful. The rest of Ontario, too. Montreal and Quebec City are spectacular. The Maritimes are beautiful. Newfoundland is hilly and, of course, beautiful.
Man, it’s all spectacular.
Such a beautiful ride all along the way.
What you’re doing is incredible.
Though I was captivated by his boundless energy and positive glow, Brightside’s advice felt largely useless. I turned to the particulars troubling my days so far. Did you use cycling shoes? Did you get bored? How did you pass the time?
Brightside implored me to purchase pedals and shoes before I reached the sharper hills of northern Ontario. Brightside had cycled with a group, and they helped each other to avoid idle minds. I mentally recorded his first answer and breezed past his second, not before recalling my brief ride with Wildman days prior. Before we moved to part ways, I felt compelled to ask one more question.
I’ve heard the shoulder on the Trans-Canada gets worse for long stretches of Manitoba and northern Ontario.
As narrow as eighteen inches, I guess.
Should I be worried?
I’d allowed the cautions and warnings of strangers more familiar with these roads to cloud my expectations. I figured Brightside might share a different perspective. Without pause, he widened his smile and replied instantly:
Eighteen inches? That’s all you need, brother.
Brilliant. The response I didn’t know I was looking for. All you need. Trust yourself, trust others, and trust your surroundings. After all, if harnessed thoughtfully and lovingly, trust can open the world to you, and you to the world. I thought of Sonja and the rest of my life, sitting unlocked outside. I thought of my phone, charging on an empty table in a restaurant across town. That’s all you need, brother. Live in the open, thoughtfully and with trust and love. As you do, the world will open, too.
Brightside’s wife gently entered the scene, pushing a cartful of groceries that lightly nudged his hip with the cart to announce her presence. She teased him for avoiding the chore of shopping. He laughed wildly and sarcastically apologized. They both smiled my way and wished me well as they moved to the checkout lines. I turned the other way and opted for the plastic cup of exotic fruits from some faraway places. A most fortuitous moment. Through and through. All I needed.
As I devoured the small collection of sliced kiwis, melons, and grapes, I resolved to keep the earbuds in my pocket as I rode into the evening. I challenged myself to allow Brightside’s encouragements and aw-shucks wisdom to buoy my spirits and flow through my thoughts instead.