Not far beyond my highway-side folly, with my balance reasserted, I approached a peculiar sign: Longitudinal Centre of Canada. I was stunned.
Am I already halfway finished this ride?
I carefully twisted my feet to detach from Sonja and stopped along the shoulder, directly in front of the sign. I pulled out my phone to check my progress on the map. First, I searched for the distance from Victoria to my current location. About 2400 kilometers. Then, I tracked the distance from this sign to St. John’s. Well north of 4000 kilometers to go. Still a long trek to my halfway point.
Relief bellowed inside, followed by a curious perplexity for my fear of finishing this journey. My self-questioning returned with a familiar chorus:
Why am I relieved? Why am I afraid to finish?
I remained still, looking in every direction except the mind-opening sign. Leaning against the handlebars of Sonja, I tore furiously along webs of thoughts within. The consistent din of passing traffic faded from my mind’s ear. Searching for some branch of an answer, I drew entirely closed from the world for a moment, staring blankly ahead.
Where am I going?
I felt myself wanting. No familiar faces for the next two thousand kilometres. Biking across the country of Canada, alone. Nothing more, really.
Quickly, I returned to the normalized routine I’d adopted along the Prairies. Marking progress physically as I spun wildly and aimlessly within.
What’s the point of all this?
The roar of an eighteen-wheeled monster snapped my mind from its own clutches; the rush of air following the truck’s wake forced Sonja and me a step forward along the shoulder. I stood upright, gripping the handlebars even tighter.
What’s beyond St. John’s? What am I doing?
The doubts and questions that had first erupted along the western plains had reignited, now more disquieting than before.
I resolved to begin searching on my terms, not according to the literal sign that had sparked the torrent of thoughts without warning.
Gotta start figuring this out. Just not today.
I pulled out my phone, once again. Falcon Lake was roughly one hundred kilometres away. I fixed my mind to the evening’s destination. Snapped a quick picture of the sign to record the moment. Inserted my right earbud. Scrolled to a beat-heavy playlist. I began to roll and clipped with Sonja, already with a greater sense of ease. The winds remained reasonably light. My eyes glued to the paths ahead, my mind centered on the music. All the while, my thoughts drifted ominous and constant, flowing somewhere beneath.
I arrived in Falcon Lake around seven in the evening. The sun sinking low. The landscape of eastern Manitoba appeared increasingly forested and less flat. The Prairies were gradually disappearing. The western edges of the lakes, trees, hills, and rocks of the Canadian Shield served as a welcome invitation to another new, beautiful vastness.
A sign to a campground marked my exit from the Trans-Canada for the night. My spirits heightened at the thought of another free stay in a closed-for-season park.
As I cruised into the expansive property, another sign announced the beginning of a new chapter:
I’d ridden in ignorance of the calendar. No need to distinguish between the weekend and otherwise; every day was a cycling day. Following a quick check of my phone, I realized it was Saturday of the May long-weekend. My season of free camping was officially over.
I paid for a campsite in the main office, with a short line of chatting strangers waiting behind. With Sonja resting against the office just outside, I could overhear murmurs of comments and questions of her presence passing back and forth. A moment later, I could feel the strangers’ attention turn my way for a response. The lone sweaty, ragged patron in the bunch. I confirmed their suspicions that I was the bike’s owner.
The strangers converged their attention onto my travels, taking turns to offer praises and seek answers. In the worlds of this crowd, biking across Canada was a concept unknown. My ego silently flexed its muscles as I instinctually adopted a humble façade. With every minor reverence from the line-up, my self-worth grew inside. I chose my words carefully, controlling my voice with a careful modesty. Indeed, for the moment, I felt that beautiful resonance of total control in my environment.
A grey-haired gentleman asked to share the most stand-out memories of my ride so far, and the rest chimed in with curious agreement. I imparted a few of my favourite experiences wistfully – Allison Pass, Yoho, mountain goats, Drumheller, the Prairie tailwinds – and realized I’d become far more comfortable sharing my adventure with others. I felt a marked difference between communicating my cross-Canada journey compared to my earlier encounters further west. I could rely on sharing stories from the road rather than clumsily communicate a narrative to rationalize my reason for embarking on this trip in the first place.
Experience had become an asset on this journey, a tool for conveying the unique beauties of the mountains and plains, as well as my particular feats and struggles along the way. And, indeed, I felt confident to share my struggles, as I could spin every hardship as another step toward achieving a lofty ambition. For the first time, I felt I could speak on my choice to cycle across Canada with a semblance of authority.
Then, an increasingly familiar question unwittingly drop-kicked my sense of control:
Are you riding for charity?
My ego absorbed the polite, unintentional jab. Still unsure of how to respond most effectively, I deflected the question into a vague-yet-improving answer:
This trip was a bit of an impulse decision.
I thought of the idea and booked a flight ticket the next morning.
I didn’t give myself enough time to choose one.
So, I just started riding. Maybe next time.
The line of strangers appeared satisfied with my words, complimenting my willingness to go for it and to even contemplate pursuing such a challenge again. Our connection seemed to remain strong, the collective resonance sparked by my experiences of cycling from Victoria to Falcon Lake still overshadowing the absence of riding for a notable cause. Admittedly, though, I’d been rattled, again shaken by the knowing that I was riding without a satisfying sense of purpose.
With my permit in hand, I wished them all well and proceeded through a row of handshakes and hugs. I returned outside to roll Sonja over to my paid campsite further into the park.
A light drizzle fell through the night. I slept restlessly, never quite settling deeply. I ruminated, wondering if the tangible purpose of cycling for a charity might have suppressed my inner wanderings. My physical progress across the country could have been paired with the uplifting gains felt by raising donations and awareness for something else, something more. Progress on progress. Direction for my unforeseen directionless-ness.
Man, I could have quickly decided to ride for any number of worthy causes. No excuses.
This journey could have been so different.
Alas, I’d chosen to focus on following new paths and experiences. I’d decided to cycle only for myself. To find something else, something more selfishly. I was already nearly twenty-five hundred kilometres into this adventure. It felt too late to ride for a worthy cause. Shoot, I’d passed the longitudinal center of Canada earlier that day. I was too far into this story to fundamentally alter its meaning. Choosing to ride for a charity belatedly didn’t feel right; amidst the nighttime drizzle, desperately, I searched for something that did.
My mind flowed to a memory of my flight from Toronto to Vancouver. A bike-less wonder admiring the snow-covered mountains for the very first time from his heavens-high window. I drifted through the days before flying west. I wasn’t fixed on finding any answers leading up to that flight. I was simply following a feeling. Drawn to challenge my limits and explore my boundaries. Drawn to something else, something more. And it felt incalculably right. In this moment, the right-ness felt gone. My mind circled around this feeling as the misty drizzle faintly sprayed against my tent’s fly.
I recalled the feats and struggles I’d shared with the line-up of strangers at the campground office. All of them – all my remembered experiences – were rooted in my choice. My chosen darkness. My story had changed along the Prairies, and I was terrified of the consequences. This trip was fast becoming an aimless wandering. A series of questions without any answers or firm grasps of control.
I reminisced of other memories already nourished strong in the roots of my mind. I’d traveled, self-propelled, across the Rockies and Prairies with little prior awareness or understandings. Gradually, I allowed my mind to also explore recollections of the mental struggles and emotional lows and spiritual absences.
I realized I hadn’t intently looked back since leaving BC; from Calgary to here, I’d looked straight-ahead. Fixed on conquering the Prairies and making progress.
I opened my journal, reading through every daily log from day one. The kilometres gained, the terrain ridden, the weather, the memorable moments of solitude, the wisdom and lessons imparted by others. From the Galloping Goose to the stretch of the Trans-Canada east of Winnipeg.
I scrolled through the hundreds of pictures I’d already taken. A wondrous collection of scenery, wildlife, people, and cities. I wondered how many more memories and pictures I’d capture in the rest of the country.
Sometime during that long night in Falcon Lake, finally, I embraced the whole of this journey again. I stopped fixating on the inevitable end – the death – of this adventure, and focused on its life instead. I rooted to a newfound measure of calm. Lying awake, I revisited scores of memories and emotions over and over, from my first steps in the Vancouver airport to here. Then, sometime during that long night, I felt centered. Shoot, I felt balanced. Like I was riding Sonja with both arms outstretched, feeling the wind flow through my fingers as I progressed.
Sometime during that long night, the narrative of this journey changed. I consciously constructed a new foundation of meaning in my mind. I stopped looking desperately forward and all over, to the future and every unknown. I stopped seeking control within my own whole self. Instead, I simplified, silently reminiscing of the experiences and lessons and stories and memories of my days leading up to the present moment in Falcon Lake.
This still feels right.
All of them – all my remembered experiences – were rooted in my choice. My chosen darkness into this journey.
…This is what I asked for… I wanted challenge, struggles, and failure… This was my choice…
Every choice is made in the present moment; and, yet, every choice finds roots wholly in the past and future. And, so, life inevitably becomes a battle to feel of the moment, to feel present. A lifelong struggle through fear and insecurities and distractions and regret. Admittedly, this has become the prevailing theme of my ride since the western plains.
I’d chosen to stray from the very essence that had drawn my mind to this journey: my chosen darkness. I desired challenge, struggle, and failure. Life had been too familiar, too easy, too light. But, for some combination of reasons, I’d strayed from this embrace along the Prairies. I’d become distracted and scared, choosing to avoid the challenges, struggles, and failures I’d been seeking.
No more. Get back to the heart of this journey.
I surrendered to the knowing that I was not riding for a worthy cause, I was not seeking donations or support from the world outside. Instead, I embraced the darkness once again. I opened myself to a different form of meaningful connection. The kind that roots in not only the past and future, but also the present. The kind that roots and weaves all around and within. To the line-up of admiring strangers and my own wandering mind.
Alrite. I’m ready. Let’s do this.