I woke up to the sound of Ben and Van busily moving about preparing to go climbing for the morning. I had slept on their back deck atop their crash mat located at the base of their personal climbing wall. I’ll stop here, rewind a bit to explain how amazing these two folks are and how I ended up listening to the sounds of the city on a warm Sunday morning in the quite nook known as Hull, just over the bridge from Ottawa.
The befriending of Ben and myself started quickly after arriving into the city and heading straight to the Parliament Buildings, which were the only landmark I knew about in the big city of Ottawa. Since earlier in the day after getting an early start I had been directed off into Quebec as a route to get to Ottawa rather then continuing along the 17 highway in Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario: where the shoulders were no where to be found and people still felt it their right to come with inches of you while you steadily focused on balancing the white line, “taking your life into your own hands”, remarked the officer who escorted me along my way in the Quebecois territory. After thanking him for his time and help I said good bye to Jeff and headed on down the road, a little nervous of what this foreign province had in store for me. Over the past couple of weeks I had fallen into an almost routine through the long province of Ontario; stopping every couple hours with full access to bathrooms, picnic tables and a drinkable water source, it was almost as if I was on a luxury cruise rather than the reality of what it is I am doing. I never had to worry about tiring myself out, I never had to “hold it” if I had to go and best of all there were such an abundance of beautiful rivers and lakes to swim in along the way that I had lost track of time and day and simply followed the rhythm of my body and let it do as it pleased. One special thing about that section I am most fond of was the ability to stop biking, find some shade and let my mind wander for hours to the tales of Farley Mowat or Jack London.
Entering Quebec it was as if I had opened a whole new book and the first chapter was no where to be found. I was tossed into just about the halfway point, sweating away all of my water, curiously snooping the shores of the river but being kept away by the DANGER DANGER signs regarding swimming. I was with out my trusty Ontario map. I had met Dave, a fellow cyclist but heading the wrong way (West) and figured he could use the map more than me since I was just leaving the province and he was beginning. I swapped some stories from the road, compared notes, was sure to inform him of all the sweet free camping spots conveniently represented right on the map by little picnic tables. Side Note: I will plead dumb to the fact you probably aren’t supposed to camp at these places until the day I die and will always recommend them to anyone traveling by bike.
I stopped an hour after entering Quebec and took some time to enjoy a coffee, air conditioning and sadly but desperately a bottle of the Devils Spit (Bottled Water). With all but one of my water bottles empty and the day getting no cooler I kept pushing on down the road in hopes of reaching Gatineau before I dropped from dehydration. One memory is strong from that day and it is of me stopping halfway up a very small incline, no longer able to push on and looking to my right and seeing a farmhouse. This farmhouse had a coiled up garden hose on the side of it and what I pictured inside of the house to be cool, crisp refreshing lemonade. I could not actually see anything inside of the house but I sat there, on the side of the road burning my ass cheeks on the asphalt day dreaming/probably hallucinating about all of the wonderful moist treasures hidden behind the front door.
My water was the temperature you would normally run a shower at on a cold winters evening and I looked at it as if it were a person. Cursing the state it was in and the small quantity of fluid it possessed (So many lifeless objects have been given human characteristics in desperate times on this trip that I have probably talked one on one to mostly everything I owned). I ate a few of the bananas I had been carrying all day and sat there starring with bloodshot eyes, stalking the farmhouse in front of me wondering how much water I was going to be able to squeeze out of those bananas once they were in my stomach.
Surged with a sudden impulse of determination to continue on I hopped up and got back on my way up the hill. Convincing myself that I could feel my body taking all of the nutrients out of the bananas and absorbing the total moisture content in them as if my insides were this magical living machine, so highly efficient and productive in turning the calories I ate into pure concentrated energy for my body to keep moving. I do this often, imagining what is taking place with the food I eat once it is chewed up and swallowed admiring what is dispersed of as being waste and no longer holding one ounce of useful nutrients for my body.
I admit at times on this trip I have thought about the harsh realities that are associated with dehydration and the risk of veering off into traffic. But, like this paragraph, they are gone as quickly as they started.
I eventually did make it through Quebec, after a couple of incredibly refreshing Coca-Colas along the way and my first Quebecois Poutine since a year and half ago (it is true that Coke is the most refreshing drink … even if in reality it is not, as you can tell I am not always one with reality). I could see Gatineau. Like I said I had come through Quebec so in order to get to Ottawa I just had to bike straight in Gatineau, on to Hull and then up over the interprovincial bridge (I love this type of bridge) into the downtown core of Ottawa. All of the dealings I had had all day with lack of water and bathrooms was now forgotten as my eyes were now opened wide and focused on the green roofs sheltering Parliament Hill. The big smile I am known for by those who know me best was stretched perhaps wider than it had ever been before propelled by a sense of accomplishment having finally arrived at my personal destination for this leg of the trip.
Ottawa. I was finally here. No more lonesome days of biking, no more checking dates to be sure I would arrive on time. The great Canadian Shield had been conquered and the mosquitos that went along with it were no more. My bike could now be free to spontaneously combust as it pleased for I had seven days of rest to piece it back together if need be. I had a break from Semi-Trucks and no more side wind blasting into my face and treating my bags as sails while breaching the northern shores of Lake Superior. Ontario was done, I had given it my all, everything I had in me was pushed into my pedals for the taste of this beautiful reward and now I could simply lay back (where ever) and enjoy it.
With no worries as to where I would sleep in the city seeing as I had just been resourceful enough to make my way through the barren back country lands of Ontario with out a single issue. I should correct myself: I’m sure there were many “issues”, I simply just chose to view them as a game, or a taunting joke played on me by my bicycle. I laughed many times when others would think me crazy for doing so. To me it is just a task, something that needs to be done in order to move on. It could take a little bit of energy to accomplish it or all that I have. Either way it is just something to do, not the impossible, not a wall too high to climb; just a simple task.
Casually I biked up over the boardwalk of the Hull bridge and crossed back into Ontario for my short Quebec endeavor was finished for the time being and I was returned to my comfort blanket of rest areas and potable water. Like most cities I saw a large landmark, this time being the epic buildings of parliament, and zig zagged my way towards it going up and down one way streets, crossing onto sidewalks when I would realize I was biking on a street I shouldn’t be. Followed by socially gracefully apologizing to tourists and perhaps but not probably locals for having to maneuver my big, Fat, as I refer to it, bike in and out of the herds of people, my eyes starring up into the sky searching intently for a glimpse of the PB’s rooftops again so I would know where to make my next Zig, or possibly a Zag. When finally the cars and people parted like the sea before me and their I was, Face to Building with the capitol of the capitols themselves: the Parliament Buildings.
I rolled on up the sidewalk and off of the street, nodding to the officers in their parked car as I casually but all knowingly disobeyed the law by biking where it was that I was biking at the time on my own agenda to get to where I needed to go.
I saw this cool fire making device with water flowing out of it as well and figured that’d be the best place to lean my bike and “take in” what it was that I had just done. Like so many times before this fire making and water fountain thing turned out to be the perfect addition to my moment of reflection. Circling, in a very proper and prestigious fashion, all around the water were plaques representing the areas with in Canada. I slowly circled the fountain admiring the craftsmanship in each plaque and reading the names below, I’m not the best with memory so I needed some help with who’s flag was who’s until I finally came round to Nova Scotia. No help was needed for that crest is one etched in my brain since birth. From the time I had entered Ottawa I had felt so small and somewhat embarrassed to be in such a big city with just myself and my odd looking bike full of my things. Strangers with good hygiene and stylish outfits peered at me out of the corner of their eyes, usually taking a second look in awe, most likely whispering to each other, “My, My, My. Oh look Honey how smart the Canadian Hobo’s are, keeping all of their things on their bikes like that. Quick take a picture before he asks us for money!” Where as now, seeing that plaque in front of me it was like being at a house party where you know no one and feel like everyone is just looking at you with judgmental eyes when BOOM! All of a sudden here is your best friend and he just happens to know everyone at the party and quickly gets you aquatinted and now you have forgotten all about that awkward stage of the party where you knew no one because right there in front of you is your best bud from back home and before you know it he’s holding the beer funnel and your having the time of your life. This is how I felt. Nova Scotia is and always will be my best bud.
Just like at the party Scotia does know everyone and leads me to meet Ben. He introduces himself and assures me that he understands the lifestyle I am living and that he has done it before. He walks up and asks the usual questions of how long I’ve been on the road, where I’m coming from and where I’m heading. Turns out he is the Director of Operations for the light show that is displayed on the PB’s. He tells me I should check them out which I assure him I will and then he says the magical words that float through my ears and tickle my soul causing an undeniable smile, “So you need a place to sleep or pitch a tent in the city?” And there it is. I have been in this big city of Ottawa for not even an hour tops and I have already bumped into my Best Bud, Nova Scotia and I have met Ben who has fulfilled my needs for an area to sleep void of hassle from anyone of authority with a debate on the legality of urban camping at 2:30am.
Henry and Meg, the couple I met on the road end up in Ottawa this day as well so I found them on the Hill and eventually we all end up destined for Ben’s house. We spent the night enjoying some beers and laughs on their back deck and all decided to head to bed around 1am. Mission accomplished. Finally I could rest my weary head and not be bothered with anywhere to go the next morning. I was at a place that felt like home and and surrounded by people who could easily be family. Not to mention a big crepe breakfast was planned for the following morning, who can ever get upset about that?
In addition to the crepes breakfast we followed it up with a pot luck diner. All vegetarian and all very very delicious. If it wasn’t for Halifax calling my name I would be going out to look for a job and probably never leaving this place of perfection.
After a late night of a few too many beers and a couple of late night cigars I slept for the second time on their back deck. The crash mat (a large pad used in rock climbing incase you fall off of the wall) was like sleeping in a bed compared to my Thermarest and it allowed me to get the sleep my body was craving. I peeled myself off of my sleeping bag, currently there is a heat wave, and said a grudgey, “Good Morning”, to the friends of Ben’s who had gathered to go rock climbing and I moseyed for the bathroom. The availability of a shower at all times of the day is still something I am getting used to and something I can’t help but try and take advantage of, for the sake of the people around me who have not yet become immune to my stank. Freshened up and feeling like a couple hundred bucks I head back onto the back deck for a more formal introduction to the blurry figures I had woken up surrounded by.
Sadly at this time I also had to say my Good Byes and thank/hug Van and Ben for everything they had done for me as I was planning to set off and stealth camp for the night and then hang out with my friends parents until my flight on Thursday.
I ended up tagging along with Meg and Henry and took a tour of the PB’s east wing and then we went and checked out the Museum of Civilization back on the other side of the bridge. Since I was planning on not going back to Ben and Van’s I had grabbed all of my things and loaded them onto my bike. I had purchased the lock the day before and up until now had not left my bikes side for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Mind you I had also not been in a large city for quite a while. Sadly I had to learn all to quick and very harshly what this would mean.
Here is a letter I wrote to the Thief:
Yesterday afternoon you stole the only material possessions that I had in my life. You took my wheels right out from under me along with my house and all my necessities to get across Canada.
So that you know what it was that you took I will explain a little bit better.
When I walked out of that museum and saw that my bicycle was no where to be found I very quickly knew what had happened because you tossed the lock on the ground after you cut it. But when I looked at the spot where my bike was no longer sitting all I saw was that you took a very special photograph from me.
When I was fourteen my sister passed away from cancer and before she died she picked out a photo that captured a happy moment between the two of us. She took this photo and wrote on the back To Cody, Love Nicole. This photo is the only thing I take with me where ever I go in the world and every time I run my fingers over that writing I am reminded of what it was like to be in that moment. When I looked and saw that this photo was no where to be found, that it had been stolen, the only feeling I felt was fear. I feared that I would never have that feeling again and that there would never be a photo to capture such a moment with Nicole again in my lifetime.
So thank you. You took away the last material thing in my life that I had any true emotional connection to and made me realize that it was not needed to feel my sisters spirit. I no longer need that photo and you showed me that. With all of the organizing and planning that has happened since the moment my bike was stolen the whole time I have felt my sisters strong presence in me more than ever and it’s because it is now associated with the life I live and not that photo.
I understand times can get tough and money gets tight, I have faced both of these things on this trek and now more than ever am I faced with those two realities. I know that sometimes when we are in these situations it is hard to crawl out and get back on your feet but just know that the answer is in truth and positivity. Stay true to what you believe in and just have a positive outlook for all the experiences you encounter and things will eventually work out. I wish that you have the ability to grow and learn from this experience and that hopefully in the future you will not find your self in such desperate times. May good things find you and help you live a meaningful life.
I filled out a police report in Gatineau but I know that if the thief simply crossed the bridge with the bike then they are almost scott free. Because the incident happened in Quebec technically I can not fill out a report in Ottawa to alert the patrolling officers to keep their heads up for the bike. So my only option for Ottawa is to check the lost and found. This was all I was told.
At this point, I think the bike and everything else I own is gone for good. I do not have much time to piece together a solution on how to continue on with this journey. I have enough money to supply myself with food for the rest of the way but the expenses involved with buying new gear far exceeds the funds in my account. Yesterday I was able to come up with a list of the essentials for continuing on and today and tomorrow have been spent on trying to find them all. Van and Ben are having a fundraising party for me this coming Wednesday in Hull at their lovely home and we hope to raise some money to help me out a little. It will be nice just having the support more than the money. Like every one on Facebook who has sent me words of encouragement or to those who have offered whatever they can to help, please know that I am forever grateful. It means the most knowing that I am not alone in this.
I have been running around the city and talking with many people since having my bicycle stolen. Trying my hardest to find a new suitable ride and work from there. I have had many calls from reporters and at this point feel as though my story has been told and that from now on it is time to just focus on getting my things together. I appreciate the coverage and the positive support it has generated through out these two lovely cities. I hold no resentment towards either Gatineau or Quebec and I do view what I did as foolish. I used a low grade lock to protect the things that I owned. In the future this will not be the case. I had an idea in my head as to how someone would view the difficulty of stealing such an enormous load and underestimated a desperate mans capabilities.
I view Gatineau and Ottawa as two very beautiful cities. So close together but yet separated by an imaginary boarder. While riding Vans fixie around for the past two days I have been making it my mission to get lost and have to eventually find my way back to the house as a way to explore and see a new side to the city that I may never had seen otherwise. I find myself in love with the ability to cross certain bridges and go from signs reading english and then french to french and then english. I have heard peoples conversations in Ottawa spoken in french and I have heard many people speaking in english in Gatineau. There are two major provinces side by side, people crossing the Hull bridge all day long, to view the PA buildings, go to work, get cheaper products, find cheaper rent, meet up with friends or like me just biking for the sake of biking. Two very distinct provinces, yet it is the people inhabiting this special area that each day make the invisible line separating the two a blur. For me after crossing so many provinces I no longer view Canada as separated by provinces. Yes there are financial differences between the two but the people are no different. I believe that if we keep working towards it, we will be able to establish stronger communities with in Canada. Communities where we look out for each member, no matter age, language, race, social class, size of their bank account or things they believe in.
I talked about this earlier with Ben and I thought it was very interesting; over the past two days thousands of people have taken an interest in my story. Hundreds of people have reached right out, stepped off of the side lines and offered whatever they could to help me. I have had so many offers that I have actually had trouble being sure to talk with everyone and sort out what it is I need and who to get it from. After talking with Ben, we thought what if this many people jumped at the opportunity to help someone else in need? The percentage of our population who are well off verses the percentage of our population who could use a hand are two very different numbers. Now I am not saying give your money to the next person you see on the street who looks like they need some help. I am saying get to know the problems in your community and take the time to reach and out and help someone. You will be surprised at how valuable things can be that we sometimes take for granted. In this case I needed to try and replace 4500$ worth of stuff to help me across the country and so many wonderful people have shown their true colours and come to my aid. For someone else it could be the support thats needed in going to rehab. A child you know could simply need a role model to steer them down the right path. That person squatting on the ground with their face buried in their hands could have just lost someone close to them, failed an important test, broke down under the pressures of society and now this person just needs a friend. I needed a friend when my bike was stolen. I was speechless, gut was in knot and my eyes were watering. Meg, Henry, Ben, Van and the whole cities of Ottawa and Gatineau you stepped up and were that friend. Think about how much affect you can have on another person and just imagine how it would feel to be them and have a stranger walk up and offer the hand that they desperately needed.
Like I have said so many times over the past couple of days this bike being stolen is a very small event and is completely shadowed by the positive movement it has created. People are coming together over bikes and exploring and helping out someone in need. I could never be upset with so much going on.
At this time I would like to thank some of the people I have met and been helped in some way or another since having my bike stolen:
Meg and Henry, safe travels where ever you are and I cannot wait to meet up again. I appreciate all the help you guys gave me the day this all happened.
Ben and Van, thanks first off for putting me up and second for letting me extend my stay. You two have gone above and beyond what it means to be helpful to someone in need.
Steve Fischer, Thanks for talking with me the day after it happened and being very respectful and a true stand up guy the whole time. I appreciate you driving me over to the museum and will never forget dumpster diving around the area to see if we could find anything they may have tossed. It meant a lot to me and it is awesome everything you have been doing since.
Jean-Pierre Petit, I had one of the best lunches I have had in the entirety of my life with you today and enjoyed our conversation very much. Thank you for taking my mind off of my busy day and giving me a few hours to relax. I hope you enjoy the books I suggested and that my blog updates continue to be up to par. I look forward to receiving your books in the mail and will certainly have to find a beautiful french girl to read me the pages as a bed time story!
To everyone who has helped me out financially, it is such a weight off of my shoulders to not have to worry about my meals for the rest of the trip along with my bike, gear and any maintenance I may have to do along the way. From the small to the large, every donation has made a difference and will be paid forward on to the next person I see who ever needs a hand.
Thank you to everyone who I will meet over the next couple of days who offer support, I will never forget this experience and have learned so much about the power of community.
In the end, things will work out. I managed to get this far and there is not much on this earth that could keep me from getting the rest of the way to Halifax (Probably Saint Johns, NFLD as well). I have lost all of my things. I have the T-shirt and shorts I am wearing, a few electronics and this big dumb smile on my face to get me by for now and it is more than enough. Thanks again.
See you soon Hali,