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Day 70 – June 29 – Walk Across Canada
What a beautiful start to the day. Sun peaking behind the clouds, warm air, an absence of biting insects, and barely the whisper of a breeze. And the asphalt was smooth like a baby’s bum. Pure bliss.
I thought I might just talk a bit about this internal monologue stuff. I think it’s common to get bored of our internal monologue. About half of the cyclists I’ve seen are wearing earphones when I meet up with them. It’s much more difficult than most people think to be alone with your own thoughts and no distractions for 10-12 hours per day.
Even in Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods, (now a movie with Robert Redford), in which he walked part of the Appalachian Trail, Bill said he was tired of listening to his own voice in his head.
In our current society, we are bombarded by things that command our attention – media, advertising, other people. But when we are alone and there’s nothing competing for our thoughts, what do we think about? It was a question asked of me by the reporter in Brandon. In my experience, I would say we think about all kinds of things, past, present, and future. My mind also seems to entertain itself by creating dialogue scenarios with other people. For example, in my mind, I often have conversations with people I’ve never met; they could be real or fictional. Some are nice conversations and some are not. When you let your mind go, it will entertain itself.
My thoughts are sometimes positive and inspirational, and sometimes they are negative. When you let your mind go, you never know what turns up. I can say for a certainty that the mind is busy, busy, busy. This is why I can get tired of listening to myself. I think this is why meditation is so important; it can help quiet the mind.
But it’s not easy to meditate while I’m walking, so sometimes I’ll take charge of my mind and force it to think of specific things, such as the lyrics of some of my favourite oldies. It helps ease my brain fatigue when I can focus on something specific for awhile. Too much free reign causes mental fatigue, but so does too much mental focus. I seem to need a balance.
The best time, of course, is when I completely zone out. I can sense the traffic and other things around me, but I’m lost on some different level of brain wave. Sometimes I can do this for a couple of hours at a time. It’s very cool.
Right now, I’m at a gas station restaurant in Grenfell, Saskatchewan. If you’re wondering what farmers talk about when they hang out in a coffee shop, well I can now tell you. They talk about farm equipment, labour problems, weather, and money. One guy is a John Deere man and another is not. One guy is looking for used parts and another guy is trying a new type of seed. One guy seems to be admired more than the others. It seems he has one of the most successful farms in the area. He said he wasn’t good with numbers, and then everyone laughed. “That’s because there are too many zeros after them,” was one guy’s response. Ah, the farming life is a good life.
The female servers at the restaurant are talking about a couple who just split up. The wife apparently didn’t like it here, so she moved back to Calgary. There’s certainly a big difference between the two places. If you love the city life, Grenfell might feel like a life sentence in prison. We often fantasize about getting away from the busy city life and slowing down in a rural community. But it’s a big change. And a harder life than we might think.
The bare whisper of a breeze has turned into a full-force head wind. And I can assure you that it’s not the least bit enjoyable walking into it. Sigh.
The weather page says I’m walking into a 31-km/hr headwind. The gusts are worse. I’ve been dealing with this for six hours. I can hardly explain how bloody frustrating it is. By sunset, I will have put in a workload that should have netted me 80 kms, but I’ll be lucky to get 65. I imagine if you had to push a stroller into a wind like this for ten minutes, you’d be so relieved to finally get inside somewhere. Well, there’s nowhere to go out here in the middle of Saskatchewan. The ten minutes has turned into six hours and will end up being nine hours by the time I’m finished. The wind is relentless. And frankly, it’s made it a miserable day.
I stopped at a pizzeria on the highway and people couldn’t get the door open because of the wind, so the staff propped open the door on the lee side of the building to allow customers in.
I know that some of you are thinking that I’m pushing myself too much, that I could take a break, and that the trail will still be there when the wind dies down. But if we can’t make it through a bit of adversity, then we probably don’t really want our goal badly enough. If you think you would have stopped on a day like this, even to take a day off, then – and I say this with the deepest respect, admiration, and love – you probably have dreams on which you’ve given up too easily. I know I’ve given up on some dreams when the going got tough, so I can only assume
I didn’t want them badly enough. Our boldest dreams will test our mettle. And this is what’s happening today for me. My mettle is being tested. And my mantra is “This will not stop me!”
What continues to happen on my worst days is that something wonderful occurs. I met Batista, an Italian man who looks to be in his 60s, running across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax. He was so excited to see me, but he exhausted all of his English words in about two sentences. We hugged each other, strangers just moments before and now friends. If you see him on the highway heading east, stop and say hello. He loves people and he loves Canada.
And now, for the final three hours until sunset.
Day 71 – June 30 – Walk Across Canada
Despite the nasty wind yesterday, I still managed to walk 73 kms, which, all by itself, made for a satisfactory day.
I stopped at a pizzeria yesterday. There was a sign in the window – “washrooms for custmors only”. Since I’ve never heard of a ‘custmor’ before, I assumed no one could use the washrooms.
I’m seeing a lot of this through Saskatchewan. Misspelled words everywhere. When I walked into the pizzeria,I expected to find immigrants, happy to be in Canada and working hard to make a living. Immigrants often misspell words on their signs, but you can see they’re trying. But the pizzeria was fully staffed with white, Anglo-Saxon, male and female, university-aged employees. And yet still the sign read ‘custmors’.
What I don’t know is if what I’m seeing is a deterioration of our school system, or simply an evolution in language. I mean, we all know that the writer of the sign meant ‘customers’. And maybe that’s where language is going. Maybe it just has to be close enough, kind of like where math is right now in our public schools. Perhaps estimates and approximates are the new black. As long as the receiver of the message understands the meaning, why complain?
The other thing I don’t know is if anyone cares. Personally, if my realtor is misspelling words in his primary marketing tools, I have to think he’ll probably make a mistake or two in the sales contract as well, so I’ll have to check it myself meticulously. Or change to a different realtor.
I’m not criticizing the writer of the sign at the pizzeria. I’m not criticizing the owner. And I’m not criticizing realtors. It just seems that poor spelling is a, hehe, sign of the times.
By the way, I see these types of signs all the time – washrooms for customers only. Is this really a problem? There was a lodge I stopped at in northern Ontario who not only had a ‘customers only’ sign on the washroom doors, but when I sat down to eat at a table with a plugin for my phone, the plug was stuffed with a plastic cap, with a sign that read “$2 extra to plug in phone”. Wow.
What I’d really like to see is a sign that reads: “We realize we have the only toilet on the highway for 200 kms. Please go ahead and use it. No purchase necessary. However, if you’d like to show your appreciation and help support jobs in our little community, please consider buying some food or gas. We make awesome sandwiches here!”
At the same pizzeria, I ordered a pizza and a Pepsi to eat in, but I had to order it and pay for it at the till before it was made, as if I was ordering takeout. When I went to pay with debit, the tip option came up. I’m usually a 20% guy, but I hate paying the tip before I’ve received the service. My finger hovered over the ‘amount’ button and then over the ‘percentage’ button. I hesitated.
Then the girl at the counter said, “You can grab your Pepsi from the fridge over in the ice cream shop.” The ice cream shop shares the building with the pizzeria.
“I can go pick up my own Pepsi in the fridge way over there?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
This tip function thing is something that is also happening more often. The liquor store in Coldstream, BC, has a tip function on their debit machine. For what? For the teenager watching me walk around the store scratching my head while she stands at the till texting her boyfriend? I mentioned the tip function to her and she said, “Most people leave a tip.” Of course we do, we’re being conditioned.
I just discovered another hazard I face from sitting on the side of the highway, eating peanuts and M&Ms, while writing. I reached into my bag of food without looking and grabbed a spider. No, I did not eat it.
I was feeling wobbly this afternoon, almost like I was drifting in and out of consciousness. It seems that I was falling asleep while walking. So I pulled off on a side road, laid out my rain jacket, pulled my hat over my eyes, and slept for 15 minutes until an insect gnawing on my leg woke me up.
I felt better afterward.
I really like passing the guys driving the farm equipment on the shoulder of the highway. They always swing out to pass me and wave. We aren’t part of the same tribe; it’s more like a fellowship. We both like the outdoors and neither of us belongs on the highway.
I’m closing in on Regina. I’m at a Subway about 17 kms from town. I wanted to get half way around the ring road before finding a camping spot. But I’m feeling dizzy. So I’ll see how it goes.
Day 72 – July 1 – Walk Across Canada
Happy Canada Day everyone!
Well, I decided to do something nice for myself today to celebrate the 150. I shaved and showered for the first time in eight days. Woohoo! Fireworks!
I stopped at a Subway yesterday evening to eat and rest. I was feeling quite woozy and it didn’t seem to be getting much better after eating. So I headed out into the rain and decided I would grab the first motel I saw and pamper myself. I stopped at a Sleep Inn. With my CAA discount of 10% (no additional discount for being a veteran), the cost for a lousy bed and bathroom would have been $130 for the night.
Lordy, when did this start to happen? I said ‘no thanks’. I worked too damn hard in my lifetime to be giving away money so easily. And if you want to know what gives you energy to keep going, it’s when someone tells you they’ll charge you $130 for a bed and shower. Sheesh. Could you imagine if I had a hotel every night of this trip? Even at $100 per night, accommodation alone would be over $10,000. So if you’re wondering how I retired so early and have been able to travel on less than $20,000 per year, it’s because I’m willing to sleep in the woods or in the dorm room of a hostel.
“Freedom, baby, yeah.”
I’m glad I kept going because I started to feel a bit better. And if I had stopped, I never would have met Shawn just east of Regina. I saw him standing on the side of the road as I came over a bridge at a construction zone. He had been smoking his last joint, he told me, when he first saw me. He’s riding from Victoria to Sault Ste Marie to see his sister. He doesn’t have a proper bike; it’s one of those small bikes teenagers ride around town and do tricks on. The back tire was flat, so he was pushing it. He didn’t have any rain gear, so he just suffered through the storm that just hit us. He lost his tent and tent fly in Swift Current, so he only had an air mattress and sleeping bag left. I told him where he could sleep under a bridge just up the road.
Shawn is addicted to drugs. He was pretty high when I met him, but he also seems to be high on life. “It’s Canada Day tomorrow, man. And what are we doing? Traveling across Canada. It’s fucking poetic, man!”
When I shook Shawn’s hand, his fingers were all curled inward. He said he partially severed his arm when he was a teenager when he ran into a glass wall while trying to evade some mall cops. “I wasn’t even doing anything,” he said. “They just didn’t like that I looked like a hobo and had my hair in a Mohawk.”
We talked about a lot of things. Travel, family, even religion. “I didn’t believe in God until I met him three times,” he told me.
He even brought up the subject of internal monologue while walking. “You think of some weird shit when you’re walking, man. Like I was thinking that there is no messiah. And then I thought, ‘What if I’m the Messiah?!’ Hell, I wouldn’t even believe in myself. Wouldn’t that be a laugh? Me, the Messiah, not believing in myself?” And then we laughed together.
Shawn is riding his brother’s bike and carrying his brother’s ashes in a container on the handlebar. His brother died of a drug overdose four years ago and Shawn’s mother blames him because Shawn gave his brother some hash when he was 15. Shawn is in his mid-forties. It’s obvious he wouldn’t be able to hold a job, so he’s on some kind of welfare. He only had $16, so I gave him a twenty. I wouldn’t spend a damn cent to support a major hotel chain, but I’ll give a traveler enough to get him another 100 kms. Shawn isn’t really part of my tribe, but he’s part of the fellowship. He’s a traveler after all. He’s a good soul with an unfortunate disease. I wish him well.
Today, I’m feeling better than yesterday. I’m putting Gatorade in my water instead of Crystal Light and drinking more frequently. I’m also going to try two or three doses of Vega and protein powder each day. We’ll see how that helps.
I got a flat tire today. It was the one I repaired with the car-tire emergency sealant. I replaced the tube and went to Canadian Tire to buy another tire and a couple of tubes. Fingers crossed.
It’s a slow, lazy day. I’m taking it easy today to see how my body feels. I’ll be lucky to get in 50 kms before the fireworks start.
I met Raja, an immigrant from India who arrived in Canada 16 years ago. He’s cycling from Vancouver to St. John’s. I asked him about his motivation. “I want to show Canada how much I appreciate it for being so good to me these last 16 years. What a great country.”
Enjoy the fireworks, my friends.