I’ve been trying to come up with something to say about the last 3 weeks. I thought I had something, but then shit happened and things changed. So, I’m just going to start writing and that will be that.
Banff has been the first, big goal in my mind since the beginning of the trip, for a variety of reasons. I’ve only heard how gorgeous it is, so it seemed a good place to rest for a few days. It is very nearly the end of Canada, and it is the beginning of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Banff marks the point in the trip where I had an actual plan for the ride, and it is all riding that excites me. I always looked at the beginning segment of the ride as: 1). Dalton Highway, 2). whatever, 3). Banff.
As such, for the past 3 weeks, I have been pushing hard to reach Banff, skipping out on some extra curricular dirt sections in favor of the more direct path, riding 75+ miles a day, with multiple 95-100 mile days. There is a very limited number of roads, so the direct route is often a fairly major thoroughfare going through uninspiring terrain. It is still pretty, but not much different than any number of local roads. I was heading in opposition of the prevailing wind direction, meaning that more often than not, there was a stiff head or crosswind. There is nothing that gets me down quite like a good headwind, so all in all, the riding did not excite me. To say it was challenging is an understatement, but it was not really the kind of challenge that I was seeking. The mental aspect of having to push so hard, for so long, through riding that I found monotonous was draining. It was definitely a different kind of mental training and toughness than I am used to, and pushed me closer to my breaking point since I had a breakdown climbing a hill on the AT eating dried apricots.
We’ve all had difficult goals that we have worked hard to attain in life, complete with setbacks, milestones, and achievement. When touring, there are none of the normal distractions of life, like work, events, friends/family, etc. The only way to reach a destination or goal is to physically work, day after day. And while working, your mind is left free to wander, to dream, to think. In my case, my thoughts turn mostly toward the goal I am pushing so desperately towards. Life becomes a vacuum. Days bleed into one another, specific details of places, people and things are lost. The only focus becomes eating, cycling, and sleeping. Eventually, after pushing hard enough, the body starts to break down. The legs recover a little less everyday and the monotony of the mental strain starts to wear down the mind. Fatigue sets in, and motivation starts to wain, but stopping is not an option, so you carry on. If you push hard enough, your pants can no longer stand the abuse, and the ass tears out (individual results may vary).
And eventually, the impossible goal becomes a reality, and the satisfaction, relief, and joy are unmatched. The mind and body relax, the strain catches up, and you eat and sleep like a crazy person. Waking up and realizing you don’t have to ride your bike for 8+ hours is incredible. It is a feeling you cannot understand unless you’ve been through it, and I can’t recall ever having been so focused on a goal as Banff. In my mind, Banff marks the end of the first portion of this trip.
A question I’ve been asking myself, and one that a few people have asked (and I’m sure you’re wondering if you have read this far) is: Has the trip been what I wanted or imagined or planned?
Well, it has and it hasn’t. For one thing, I didn’t plan anything from Fairbanks to Banff, so it is hard to have accurate expectations with no planning. It has certainly been a bike ride, which I did expect. It is amazing to have my only responsibility be riding my bike through gorgeous, remote wilderness, but it also becomes a bit of a curse when the riding is not engaging nor enjoyable.
There is a lot of fear associated with dropping your life and heading off on a trip of unknown length. Fear of the unknown, fear of bees, the fear of no longer having a “normal” life or steady paycheck. Some people are afraid for you, some people you meet are afraid of you, and some people just “don’t get it”.
It is also a big risk. People change, lives move on. A trip like this is an incredibly selfish endeavor, and there is no telling how people will change in your absence. You risk missing out on the daily lives of friends and family. There is the longer term risk of a year or more of lost wages. Hopes and dreams don’t pay quite as well as the government, and the healthcare benefits are shit.
But there is also fear and risk in everyday life. I knew exactly what I was getting day in and day out in my old life, and it was definitely not what I wanted. I spent 6 years working an office job dreaming of escaping. My life was stagnant and I was dissatisfied. The easier route would have been to continue being a good worker bee, but I saw no chance of self discovery, personal growth, nor true happiness.
This trip is not exactly what I dreamed of, but that is no surprise. Nothing in life ever is. However, what it does have is unlimited opportunity. Unlimited opportunity for adventure, discovery, and growth. I no longer have to answer to anyone except myself, I have escaped the system (if only for the time being), and it is incredibly liberating. Even the shittiest day imaginable on the bike is far better than any day at work, although not necessarily any easier.
Far too often, people think of journeys and trips like this as an idyllic escape to a paradise, but that is certainly not the case. There is still plenty that sucks about living on a bike. The difference is that the highs while touring are so much higher than normal life because of the suffering you do to get to those highs. And the best part is that each day has that potential; every single day is a new adventure.
So no, this trip isn’t exactly what I imagined. But it certainly has the potential to be. And that excites me.
Next post will have more fart jokes and pictures, I promise.
Thanks for reading.