Busy highways, mosquito-filled campsites, roller skates, and fulfilled dreams: We cycled 7,000 miles around North America, visiting over 25 skate-parks, meeting people, immersing ourselves in nature, and learning some life lessons. One is: The internet does not have all the answers but people are inherently kind, and if they can help you, they usually will.
How to plan for the unknown
Despite my propensity for overthinking, planning for a trip I had never done before led to very little research. Usually, reading other people’s experiences of similar situations can help – you can use their stories to manage your expectations and prepare for all scenarios. But when it came to cycling the width of Canada, it only added to the pre-trip panic in a big way. If I was to believe everything on the Internet, I would think that there is not only one singular correct bicycle to ride, one correct brand to get all your gear from, and one correct navigation system, but also only one correct route to follow. It’s a jungle of absolute opinions out there.
So instead of letting ourselves get swept up in other people’s thoughts and spending money we didn’t have, we turned off our computers and went with our instincts – and our budget. We bought second-hand bikes, we rifled through attics to find camping equipment, and we weighed our bags down with roller-skates. While we did prepare for the worst-case scenarios, we also reminded ourselves that while Canada is sparsely populated, it’s not empty. If we needed help, there would be options. Once we booked our flights, we used our resources to prepare the best way we knew how and had access to.
The hardest step is the first one. The second is a little easier. Then before you know it, you’re running –
or in our case, pedaling!
Looking backwards, forwards, and at the map
Disappointments are a natural part of any trip. It’s normal to want to see, do, meet, and skate as many places, people, and new experiences as exist; and that’s usually not possible. Even more so when the amount you can stray off your route is dictated by your physical capacity. Sometimes we reflected on our original idea to buy a van and drive; while this would have allowed us more freedom into more remote areas, and we would’ve covered greater distances in less time, it also would have kept us closed off from many encounters and it would’ve been a lot more expensive. There is always going to be a misalignment between your hopes and your reality; accepting that is a major step towards complete enjoyment of your trip.
The most difficult part for us was realizing that we physically could not reach somewhere that had been a dream destination. The hardest part of coming to terms with that is recognizing the defined line between a challenge and an impossibility.
We embarked on this mad trip because of the challenge but we learned to define that line through experience and through patience. Accomplishing every challenge – from conquering a mountain to breaking a personal speed record – gave me the most indescribable high. Refusing that high in the face
of a rubble path, a time-restriction or inclement weather was a mental challenge in itself.
Hunter and Charly left London in mid-April. They flew to Canada, bought bicycles to ride across the country, all the way to Vancouver Island. In mid-October they arrived in the USA where they stayed until December. The plan was only to cycle across Canada but they were having such a great time so they headed down the west coast of the USA to carry on riding as far as possible. After coming all the way from Washington, Oregon to California, they flew back home from Los Angeles.
That is where the looking back comes in – you can only recognize how far you’ve come when you see how many steps it took to get there. Remembering the tears that came halfway up that mountain or the onset of an electrical storm and using those struggles as strength to power over the next hurdle. Sometimes, that next hurdle isn’t necessarily moving forward – and that is okay too. Taking a moment to look at the future from the present is really important. Tracing the roads on a map often didn’t translate to a smooth ride, but looking over the roads we had traversed so far was a power boost far greater than any energy bar or a nap.
Taking it all with you
The mottos we lived by on the road are the most important memories I’ve brought back with me. We took photographs and bought souvenirs, and we often share stories but the growth we both went through on that trip is the most emotionally important legacy. At first, leaving the road after complete freedom for so long felt like a defeat. It took a measured purposeful time of self-reflection to recognize the lessons learned while cycling could easily be applied to our daily lives.
Any time something difficult happened – from a mental block to tiredness to external factors – we constantly reminded ourselves that we were doing it for our own pleasure. “If we’re not enjoying this moment, what can we change?” We shouted this at each other over busy highways and over mosquito-filled campsites. The implications ranged from checking into a motel to stopping for a day and just resting. Sometimes it was as little as sitting at the side of the road for an extended break and sometimes we changed our whole route. If you’re not happy, change something.
Asking for help – and accepting it
A lesson that took longer to learn was about asking for help. As two strong, confident, capable people we took pride in fixing our bikes at the side of the road or being resourceful about our stealth campsites. Then early on in the trip, we took our lessons from our planning and realized that the internet does not have all the answers. We couldn’t find a campsite, so we knocked on someone’s door and they helped us out. We were struggling to find a promised skate-park, so we flagged down a skateboarder and asked. No harm ever comes of asking for something; despite what the media says, people are inherently kind, and if they can help you, they usually will. The worst-case scenario? They say ‘no’, and you find someone else. Asking for help is not a weakness or a sign of failing, it’s a sign of strength and self-awareness to pool your resources and not exhaust yourself trying to do everything alone.
The most important mantra we lived by on the road that we have tried to bring back is simple: say yes. If you’re offered a shower or some food, take it; you will appreciate it later if not now. If someone offers you a bed, take it – just because you had pillows and warmth last night, doesn’t mean that will carry you through tonight too. If someone has some tips for a line in a new bowl, it’s because they know it inside-out. People offered us the most incredible gifts along our trip purely because they could see our determination to break out the mold of everyday life, and try something new. They wanted to help us on our journey, and saying yes benefitted us as well as them.
Who knew embarking on a mad cycling trip to explore one of the biggest and emptiest countries on earth would prove to be so fulfilling? I worked hard every single day to fulfil my personal challenges and saw more than I could have ever expected. I now feel intrinsically connected to nature, to other people, and to myself. I truly believe in my own capabilities more than I ever dreamed would be possible. I would recommend any such trip to everyone – grab whatever mode of transport you can, pick a destination, don’t forget your skates, and go.