Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Relativity of hardship and desire. Picture from Wikipedia.
I never learned to cry
Though I learned to explore the valleys of my fingerprints and
Lose time and bearing in its walls.
See every hair of the forest,
Every fiber on the door dance with me.
I never learned to be a child or an animal
That feels the right emotions
That tilts the stopcock to its side.
But I swear I know beauty when I see it, that
I know pain and I can feel it, that
I can love and know I need it.
I remember she cried beside me once
When we lied in bed together, because I was leaving soon, and
We loved each other.
But I was drunk and so damn tired I fell asleep and
Dreamed of wolves and a snowy mountain.
I was wrong then
I remember when my house was silent
For six years
Save the monthly screaming and the tears (that were never mine).
It kept me up at night
And fucked my head up slightly
And everyone would stop and stare and wait for me
To scream along and be human with them
But the anger, the sadness was like smoke inside me that I could never grab
But I know the sweetness of a perfect sunset
The secrets of the closest alley
I know I want to dance with you, give you my keys
I want to learn, then teach, then die in peace
But maybe the smoke inside won't let me.
We emigrated in 1998. We were a family until 2009.
This trip developed over the course of one year. It was motivated by many factors, including, but not limited to: an exhaustion and frustration towards school and the school system, an exhaustion and frustration towards work, an exhaustion and frustration towards immobility, a passion for bicycles, a passion for fresh air, a desire for a physical challenge, an ignorance of my own country, how cool my friends would think I am, how cool I would think I am, and because it will only get harder to do something like this. It took time to convince myself this was a good idea. There is always a battle between the logical and emotional sides of me. By January I made my choice.
By the numbers:
27.69 km of elevation gain
14 rolls of film
3 sets of tires
1 mechanical failure
I read four books:
Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
Cities and Natural Process by Michael Hough
I could describe my trip with a series of charts, graphs, maps and logs. It'd be efficient, beautiful in its own way, and frankly more accurate than any story I'd retell over a pint. But data misses a lot of things. The pictures that follow help bridge the gap between experience and presentation, but only a little bit. There are things so difficult to recreate, to explain or to emphasize:
A sense of time. As in, minutes that feel like hours and weeks that feel like minutes. As in, believing it's a Tuesday for three days straight. As in, feeling the Earth dance to stretch the day as long as possible, the sun rising only moments after it sets. As in, realizing the absurdity and implications of a nation with four time zones.
A sense of smell, taste and touch. As in, shitty diner coffee that tastes like gold. As in, the metallic tang of blood in your throat. As in, smelling last night's fire sweat out of your pores. As in, floating over fresh pavement, though it may have only felt like 'floating' from inhaling the bitumen fumes.
A true sense of exhaustion. Mental and physical. As in, that better be the last fucking hill or I am going to quit. As in, involuntary groaning. As in, sticking to your sleeping bag at the end of a hot and showerless day. As in, feeling lonely for the first time in your life.
A sense of pure ecstasy. As in, passing cars downhill on a highway. As in, the momentary death and revival when jumping into a freshly thawed lake. As in, sunset over an endless grassland kingdom to howling coyotes.
I could go on. There is a long list that I would want to stress as imperative to understanding my experience. Some things are more obvious and boring (how GENEROUS and KIND people are, blah blah blah), and some things are less tangible or desirable to know (the panic and hilarity of having to take a shit in the prairies).
The best way to understand how I felt would be to dig inside yourself for an emotion or a moment which you could never fully explain to anybody else. Maybe a moment at a dance show, a moment with a lover, or a witness to something secret and beautiful. There is a sensation associated with these moments I think. For me it's near the back of my head and deep inside my chest, with a lightness of my knees. A feeling of presence. It feels close to nostalgia or déjà vu. A frustrated and understanding content in resigning to the inadequacy of language to describe something so simple and human.
I have split my trip into seven distinct parts, from Birth to Death. Of what? I am not entirely sure. It is not strictly an analogy of time, but is greatly based on it. There are ties to what I believe to be the changing of my own ego. There is the maturation of my body and mind. No single answer satisfies me, but the idea of these seven parts does.
Coquitlam, British Columbia to Banff, Alberta
There is not much preparation to be had for a trip like this. No amount of research or reading or training can really prepare your mind and body for cycle touring. It needs to adapt on the fly. Packing systems that seemed logical at the start were completely rearranged after my first day of the trip.
Everything was novel to me. I pushed myself too hard at times. I just wanted to experience everything without any knowledge or understanding of my own body and mind. I wore myself out the first few weeks as I adapted to this lifestyle and began growing and learning what worked and what didn't.
Hillary of Hope, BC. Beautiful home, beautiful dogs, beautiful person.
Day begins to darken
The wind feels cold again
Air is still and fresh and
Cleans my insides with every breath
Artillery of the night-time
I hear your echo through the wooden walls,
I am so tired.
Rain on a tin roof feels of drummers
Smells of cold
Tastes of you
Beside the silence, there has always been, I swear
You would love it here.
Anna of Penticton, British Columbia. Gentle soul, full of knowledge.
Rob and Jacqui of Kelowna, British Columbia. Enjoying the finer sides of life.
Al and Doreen of Lake Country, British Columbia. Contagious happiness. Cool drinks of water together on a hot day.
Tom and Sandra of Vernon, British Columbia. Love and conversation. Escort out of town.
Dave of Salt Lake City, Utah. Full of curiosity.
My father rode his motorcycle out to Banff to meet me. When I was younger, I was terrified, and now, I am fascinated, by how we are the same.
Banff, Alberta to Grasslands National Park (Val Marie), Saskatchewan
The novelty wears, reality sinks and I start to mature in body and mind. There is routine in my day now, I learn how fast I should be going, when to take a break and how to navigate.
In Alberta, I bought a map of all the range and township back roads throughout the province, a sandbox of endless route possibilities. I took zig-zags across the province, fought the winds, and loved every minute of it.
Doug of Medicine Hat, Alberta. Keeper of local secrets.
The ride to Grasslands National Park was the hardest thing I have ever done. The day before was cut short by a thunderstorm, so I wanted to make up the difference in one day. Heavy winds and two separate thunderstorms over 175 kilometers of riding. There were stretches of sunshine in between, thankfully, that helped me warm back up. The roads really were quite beautiful.
I stopped in Val Marie (Population: 99) for a beer. The motel bar was a time machine to the seventies, an unbelievable sense of age and history. A group of men and women in their sixties, all born and raised there, gave me the route into the park. The second thunderstorm hit me on this final stretch.
Then something amazing happened. Suddenly the wind was at my back, pushing me faster, but the black clouds above me faster still. I was gladly losing a race to the East. Before I knew it I was back in the prairie sunlight. The storm just moments ago was lost to my memories and wet socks. I was greeted at the park by snakes, bison and hundreds of squeaking prairie dogs that would run to each other with a kiss and a whisper. And the silence. I spent the next two days without seeing a single person, car or plane. Only me above the valley. I destroyed my ego here.
There exists a place to go and forgive yourself
It lies beyond the gravel road
Past the Texas gate and weathered signage
Where damp road crunches under footsteps and the world begins to fade in gradient
It overlooks the coulée where a great river used to flow
But there is nothing now
No tree to hide behind
Only the grass and wildflower and
Your own timid soul.
Face your demon here
Stand naked in the sunlight.
A stone's throw
To the bottom of the valley
Lie awake until the moonrise, and
When the horizon fades then comes back again, climb out the tent
There is a star up there for every mistake we've ever made
But they bathe the hills in such a rich blue
I am frightened.
Like the bottom of the ocean.
Here the silence cracks the shell
Wind blows the layers off until what's left in your hands is a bare heart
See how pure it is, how fragile. I love it for that.
Leave the layers to wither and die
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan to Winnipeg, Manitoba
There was a big change after the park. I was seasoned now, confident and ready. But circumstance seemed to toy with me, test my patience. There was thunder and hail almost every day. Winds blew the wrong way. There's something about a headwind that fucks with you. At a certain physical exertion and terrain, you expect a certain speed, as I would expect slow climbs and fast descents. But when a wind blows you back like you're cycling under water, the mind begins to play games and point blame. Why am I going so slow and working so hard? Why am I not where I should have been two hours ago? All week I fought the winds and the confusion they brought me. I was beginning to tire. Rings under my eyes, restless mornings.
But inside me was an inner peace and calm, and I could always come back to that if I really tried. Some days were harder than others, but I could always get there. An inner silence I have come to love.
Sharon of Mankota, Saskatchewan. The embodiment of prairie kindness. Generosity beyond my understanding.
IM NOT AFRAID OF THUNDER BUT I AM AFRAID OF YOU
I THOUGHT I HEARD THE PRAIRIES WHISPER ALL MY DARKEST TRUTHS
PULL ME UNDER
DOWN TO YOU
I HAD A DREAM OF COMING HOME TO YOUR OPEN ARMS
WITH BOTH HANDS I HELD YOUR FACE
IVE NEVER SEEN A DARKER PLACE
YOU BRING THE DAY TIME BACK AGAIN
DRAG THE SUN FROM ITS SLEEP FOR JUST A SECOND
BEFORE MY EYES
BASKED IN LIGHT
THE WORLD IN COLOUR AGAIN
HAIR ON MY CHEEKS FEEL LIKE FIRST KISSES
I FEEL YOU IN MY SPINE
DEEPEST RUMBLE OF THE NIGHT TIME
YOU SOUND LIKE GRANDFATHERS DID WHEN WE WERE STILL YOUNG
I HAD A DREAM OF COMING HOME TO DEATH
AND YOU ARE WAITING
4. Confusion and crisis
Winnipeg, Manitoba to Thunder Bay, Ontario
On this stretch of road, for the first time in my life, I felt true loneliness. The Canadian Shield feels alien. Truly barren. Shoulders on the roads become narrower than my own or taper away without warning to a loose gravel slope. The semi trucks can't, and won't, stop or slow down for you. Black flies and mosquitoes take every chance to eat away at your legs, ears, lips and patience. I left my camera in my bag most of the time, rode to my destination in the morning, and went to sleep early to do it over again. I wished more than anything for companionship.
There is a line of a poem in Bertrand Russell's 'Conquest of Happiness' that resonated with me:
Thunder Bay, Ontario to Toronto, Ontario
I lost a roll of film from the beginning of this memorable stretch. The man I stayed with in Thunder Bay gave me an escort out of town the next morning. Along the way, we pulled up behind Mary and Sarah, who were on their own cross-Canada tour. They were trying to find their way out.
What resulted from this encounter was almost three weeks of companionship, conversation and adventure. We stayed up late to hunt for shooting stars, woke up hungover, took five hour breaks and swam in the great lakes. Suddenly a rainy day was fun and exciting. I forgot about schedules and milestones: I was happy where I was. At its greatest, we rode as a group of eight, and at its smallest, only three. From the loneliness of Northern Ontario I emerged and found such loving friends and the hidden beauty of Ontario.
Rob of Thunder Bay, Ontario. My tire had shredded to the point where my tube was bulging through the seams. I spent a half hour on the side of the highway trying to improvise enough tire boots to last me a few hundred kilometers until the nearest shop. I knew it wasn't really going to work. Rob pulled over and gave me his tire. He refused payment, no matter how hard I tried.
Toronto, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec
My brother met me in Toronto for the final week. We've passed through adulthood together, always growing. Sometimes together, sometimes apart. There is a powerful bond here. There was a moment in Adolphustown, staring into the late night fire after a swim in the lake, where it was pure silence between us for what felt like hours. Only the crack and hiss of firewood. It was beautiful.
And just like that, I was home.
I am embarking on a long journey home.
Maybe I'll understand this vast and beautiful country a little bit better, grasp the last of my demons, and untie the knots in my head.
This is an exercise of the body and mind.
Do you live between Vancouver and Montreal? Can I pitch a tent on your yard? Can I use your shower? Hit me up!
Much love, back in +/- August.
Turn the alarm off before it rings, walk into the kitchen while sun arising, that's you
You are pho for lunch on a rainy day
The final stretch of a long climb
You are freshly ground coffee before the bloom.
Cleaning, you are grease--a late night in the shop alone with a cold tall boy
Pages in my books with folded bottom corners to come back and read again
The sting in my eyes from the sunblock sweat
Dogs, all sorts of dogs, but mostly big ones.
I JUMP INTO A COLD LAKE AND NO ONE IS AROUND
Walbran, Languard, 서울시
How are you everywhere? How are you everything? How are you?
I'd wear a mask but I'm not afraid.
wHo are you?
Last set of pictures until the big dump. Prepare for August:
Last days of the 3650:
Buntzen Lake (Classic):