Have you ever wondered what it would be like to follow your dreams and do something totally out of your usual realm of possibilities? How would it feel? What would people think of you for doing it?
When I was 19 years old, I got that chance.
I was sitting in my university residence room, looking through some of my belongings in my desk drawer, and I started reading an article my mum had clipped out of the newspaper a year earlier. My parents often gave me interesting articles they found in their local paper. This particular article I remember getting, and had thought it interesting enough that I didn’t throw it out and still had it in my drawer a year later.
It was an article about a bicycle trip across Canada that you could sign up to do. It said anyone of average physical fitness could do the trip if they put in the training. It wasn’t for just very good cyclists; the headline was, “You can pedal across Canada”.
How many times had I seen an article or news story about someone doing something interesting like that? Perhaps it was someone climbing a mountain, or rowing across an ocean. These stories are an everyday part of life.
When I read stories like this, I usually think, “That is pretty neat…I would love to do something like that…but I couldn’t do something like that…stuff like that happens to other people, not me.” Other people do that. Not me. I live my life normally. I don’t go out of my comfort zones like that. What would people think of me if I did that?
At the end of the article there was a phone number to call if you wanted more information about the trip. It was 1991. There was no website to peruse. I sat in my chair and thought about what I had just read. This happens to other people, not me. In a very short period of time, perhaps seconds, maybe just mere minutes, another thought entered my head. Maybe I could do this. Then I picked up my phone and called the number.
The phone rang. Someone on the other end answered. They told me about the trip for a bit. Then they said they could mail me a package with more information about the trip. I said, yes, please, send me the package. I had picked up the phone, talked to someone briefly on the other end, and asked for more information. Pretty simple, right? That little step was not little. I felt pretty cool for having done that. It was totally out of character for me. I wasn’t even a cyclist! Who am I to say I could bicycle across the country?
I had made zero commitments and had spent zero money. A pretty simple action.
Then the day came when the package arrived in my mailbox. I took the package down to the campus meal hall and started reading through the booklet while I ate my dinner. This was neat. Here I was, thinking about bicycling across Canada. The trip cost about $2000 to do. For only a few hundred dollars, you could reserve a spot on the trip for the next summer. I sent them the money. I started telling people I had signed up to do the trip.
I sat in my university residence room, went to classes for the next 5 months and in April the next year, started the training. I trained through until the start of the trip in late June. I flew out to Vancouver, British Columbia, where the trip would begin. I spent a week with some of my relatives, who lived in Vancouver, before the trip began.
At the end of the week, on the first day of the trip, my alarm went off. Up until this point, I was someone who was going to bike across Canada. In the future. “Going to bike across Canada”. I wasn’t that person who had bicycled across Canada. Now I was someone who by the end of the day was supposed to have biked 100 km outside Vancouver on the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Not in the future. Not tomorrow. Today.
My uncle drove me to the starting location of the trip and I thought, “What am I doing?” This was so out of character for me. I had never done anything like this before. I was nervous, but it was a controlled nervousness. We arrived at the location, the lobby of a building at one of the universities in the city. The truck that would carry our gear was parked outside. I would go through the introductory meeting with the group, say goodbye to my uncle, and then we would all go outside to start putting our belongings in the truck.
For the most part, we were all strangers to each other. There were 46 of us. I was normally a shyish person, but here I was forced to talk to people. I got talking to Jill, a girl close to my age, and one of us asked the other if we wanted to bike together. Other people were doing the same, forming groups who would start biking together.
This was not a race. People could go at their own pace. I watched as some of the groups started biking and heard their shouts of excitement as they began this long journey.
Eventually Jill and I had our things packed in the truck and were ready to go. I got on my bike and took the first pedal stroke. I travelled about a meter or so. The Atlantic Ocean seemed unbelievably far away. I don’t remember the second pedal stroke, or the third, or any other single pedal stroke of the millions I took across the continent. That pedal stroke seemed so small. Whoever created the phrase, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, I believe, had taken that journey themselves.
Now I was someone who was biking across Canada. And by the end of the day I had biked the 100 km outside Vancouver to the campground where we would stay for the night.
I was biking across Canada!
It is amazing what a simple phone call can do. It is amazing how things can snowball. It is amazing what a person is actually capable of doing.
I was amazed at how much easier the bike trip was than I thought it would be! Yes, it wasn’t just a trip around your neighbourhood, but the article was right: anybody of average physical fitness can do the trip. This wasn’t meant for super-humans. This was meant for you and me.
By the end of the summer we had made it to St. John’s, Newfoundland, over 7000 km from Vancouver. I didn’t want the trip to end. I loved the experience and wanted to keep biking. But I had to go back to my studies, a degree I wasn’t enjoying that much.
About 2 years after I finished the trip, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The physical and mental pain was terrible. I often thought to myself in the early days of the disease, “If I can bicycle across Canada, maybe I can get through schizophrenia.” The confidence I gained from doing the trip was a feather in my cap. A notch in my belt. A tool in my toolkit.
I don’t know for sure what it was that allowed me to keep going and fighting for my life and trying to get my health back. I had other factors in my life that helped me. I took my medication, I had no problems with substance abuse, I had supportive friends and family. But doing the trip was the first time I tackled something really big, and the next time I had to tackle something really big was surviving schizophrenia.
Sometimes you never know what life has in store for you. I never thought I would be someone who did a long-distance bicycle trip across a continent. I never thought that doing the trip would then become something that gave me hope during years of suffering with a mental illness.
You never know where a phone call can take you. Maybe I could do this. Maybe is a powerful idea.
I am 48 now and my bike trip is a long time ago. I am healthy and happy and no longer suffer from the torment of the disease. I am not cured of the disease, but it is in “remission”, for lack of a better term.
Is there something you desperately want to do, but are afraid of it? Are you afraid of what people will think of you if you decided to do it?
If you decide to do it, you may be surprised by how much easier it is than you thought, by how fun it is, by how it can help you further down the road.
You only get one chance at life. One chance at today.
“Life is a tapestry that we are continually weaving minute by minute, second by second. Thought by thought, action by action. Years can go by and you look back and look at what you wove. Will you be happy with what you’re weaving?
Do something that would be out of character for yourself. Make the first brush stroke on your tapestry for the next chapter of your life.
Is that something you could do?
Matthew, I truly enjoyed the journey. Thank You!
This was a delightful bike ride. I’m glad you gained strength and perseverance from your journey. I to suffer from a mental illness Bipolar. And I agree if we can get through the hurdles life throws at us we can get to the other side. Great article.