136 miles - Total: 3347 miles
On the 35th day of the my bike ride, two days ahead of schedule, with a last day of 130+ miles, I crossed the Canadian border and complete my fund raising bicycle ride across the United States.
Another sleepless night. The rough bed linen, the bleach smell of the room, the night-before-the-interview feeling, the cold night, the desolation of the place, I don't know what disturbs my sleep but I am not feeling too jaunty when I wake up. The weather is cold and wet. The road, a few feet from the motel, is wet and slippery. Forget about Vancouver, I say to myself, just ride a little and try not to get soaked.
I enter a badly-lit, deserted grocery store and I have a banana for breakfast and I cannot be bothered to eat anything else. Fog hangs over the hills above the motel and out over the surface of the road, and the wind blows just enough to send me shivering the moment I crawl out of the store. Again I wear everything I have. I ride 300 yards and I stop by the store near the gas station to grab water. There are only a few cars on the road. It feels like it is just me in this Godforsaken hamlet at the foothills of the mountains in Washington. Luckily the rain stops but it is still freezing. I start riding just to see how far I can go before it starts raining again more than anything else. The fog floats slowly over the tops of the trees as I wind along a flat road. I think about grabbing my rain jacket, but a moment later the dark clouds float East and I know I will be safe from the rain. For how long? Is this a signal? I have done about 20 miles when I reach Seedro-Wooley and it is time to go north toward Canada. So I turn right and head north on highway 9 which will take me all the way to the border. It is a bit of a gamble because the ACA route does not go this way. I am improvising. On google map last night it seemed like a good option. I don't know this road, shoulder no shoulder, traffic, steep inclines, distances. Not too sure. Doesn't matter any more.
Looking North the sky looks ominous and I feel like I might as well jump in the lake with my clothes on. It seems that the weather should break at any moment now. I push on and yet again, I duck the rain. It appears that it rains a few miles ahead of me and this is the pattern for the rest of the day. The road is wet and the air has that heavy rain smell mixed with the fragrance of moss and grass and it lingers in the air everywhere I ride. The more I ride the better I feel, now I can think of doing a proper ride. Can I reach vancouver? Let's see. Highway 9 winds through lush farmland, I can smell fodder, manure, poultry and livestock odours that seem so familiar by now. These elements bring back memories of my ride through Virginia and Ohio. Almost without noticing I clock 55 miles by 12pm.
I keep chasing the rain but luckily I don't catch it. The border is within reach and an exciting thought tickles my imagination, I can make it to Vancouver today. Let's go for it. Of course, who were you kidding, you were always going to go for it today, weren't you?! I stop to get my passport stamped, I fumble a few lines at passport control where a burly woman asks me why I am entering Canada here, the exact name of the hotel where I am staying and the day I am supposed to leave. I pass the test and I am off again, on the fabulously surfaced Canadian roads. For the rest of the ride I pedal with legs so light it's almost like they aren't there, like I am on my first day. I constantly scan the horizon waiting for that Vancouver sign that never appears. I negotiate my way through gas stations, shopping malls and attractive town parks. I shoot through suburbia and an urban area so vast that basically from the border to downtown Vancouver is a long colorful line of traffic lights, gas stations, parks, hotels, offices, movie theaters, shopping malls. This helps my ride, with the busy urban life as the new setting I don't even think about miles, weather or my fitness. I just ride. I certainly think about the cultural shock that I feel entering this urban world, especially after the last few weeks and the last few days in the mountains. I stop briefly at 7-eleven where I have an ice-cream and I eagerly continue with my ride. After God knows how long I finally see the Vancouver sign for the first time. It is not the official sign, it is the green highway sign but it is all good anyway. This is the moment I was waiting for. I feel a thousand butterflies in my stomach and something gets stuck in my throat, what are you gonna do now you sissy? Are you gonna cry? Of course not but I now think I can make it in 35 days as planned. I still have about 50 miles to go so I am not there yet but I am close.
Is this really the first time that I think I can do it? Did I really doubt it or was it just for good luck that I deliberately subdued any expectation I had about the fulfilment of the goal of this bike ride? Whatever it is I am now faced with the prospect, or I should say, the reality, that I am about to enter Vancouver. After 35 days and 3300 miles I can stop spinning the wheels, I can talk, I can listen, I can be the person I was before. I can put on a pair of jeans and go see a movie. Before I return to all that I still have a few miles to go. Entering Vancouver, as with any large urban centre, is not easy on a bike. I take little detours to avoid the highway. I would later find out that urban sprawl is beginning to be a problem in Canada too, growing fast and unchecked.
I fly through traffic lights, red and green alike, I shoot past various boroughs that are inhabited by Arabs, Chinese, Koreans and other ethnic groups and H1 finally takes me into Mount Pleasant and then it hangs left all the way into Stanley Park, the green heart of Vancouver. I pass several cyclists; in downtown Vancouver I stop at red lights in utmost respect of traffic signals. I wipe my glasses as a gentle but steady drizzle has began. I cycle down the last stretch of urban road which takes me to the gate of the Stanley Park where I can take my arrival picture. Victorious.
I made it. Damn it yes! We made it. 3000 miles and 25 thousand dollars later we are here. Coast to coast. Come on let it go now. I can let it all go now, all the mental discipline, all the focus the rigour to keep up with the scheduled, to follow the established routine of riding all day, finding a motel, checking in, shower and manual laundry, downloading the pictures, writing the blog, eating, sleeping, getting up the next day to brave the elements once more. No more walking with heavy legs and riding through muscle pain. No more stress of not getting as far as I would like. No more fear of getting a puncture in the middle of nowhere. And I can also let go of the fear of being ill. Yes, let go of that fear because you are not ill. You made it all the way across, a 100% healthy person would find it atrocious and you, between rounds of chemotherapy, with cancer in your body, with your mind and your heart set to it, you made it thsi far so what the hell are you afraid of? What the hell will make you afraid in the future? You just turned fear into energy, you turned anger into strength, you raised money for a good cause. You made it, you did this just like you wanted it, now you can do anything you set your mind to.
I know this is going to heal me, or at least heal my mind and free it from fear. Now just ride around Stanley Park. Such a beautiful place, a sanctuary of peace and nature, with the Pacific ocean on one side and the city with the harbor on the other. Check out those giant trees, what a pretty thick lush forest, and look at that dark blue water, you are lucky, aren't you? Yes I am lucky, I see so much of the world and I cycled across this amazing country. What was it that you wanted to do when you got here? Kiss the ground? Sink to your knees? I feel like it but I can't now, I feel paralyzed, I can't let it go but it is all boiling inside and it will explode at some point. I know I made it. I made it for me and I made it for the people that love me and want to see me being me despite the problems that I have and that I will have in the future.
I have the Pacific ocean in front of me, a few yards from my feet, I think back on the crazy, the kind, the hilarious, and the generous people I met along the way. I think about the beautiful landscapes, the sweeping open lands, the mountains, the hills, the rivers and the cities, the quirky signs, the towns that are thriving, and those that have been lost to time forever. All of the elements come together to create an amazing and rewarding experience that I will draw strength from every day for the rest of my life. Especially when things get difficult and I know they will. I will think about the places that were once a two-dimensional outline or a dot on a map and now fill a corner of my mind that's colored with texture and character and soul. And I think of the people that I have seen, I think of their faces and their eyes, eyes that will never see the world that I have seen and I will continue to see in my mind.
So much of my life has been defined by the things that I wanted; lately it seems that my life is defined by elements outside my control. Honestly, it seems easier to climb a mountain than to wait for the doctor's report on my lastest tests. It is up to me to take both challenges with the same attitude. I might not be able to do it every time but at least I can try.
Let's go find a nice hotel and have yourself the best meal in the whole town. I am hungry. Yep..it is still me.
VIDEO (IN ITALIANO): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovUjuClaXQw&feature=youtu.be
The weather is not very promising at 8am
The road is wet and it is very cold
Mt. Baker behind those clouds
I turn around and I see the last of the mountains, they are behind me, now it is all flat (more or less) all the way to the Pacific
The little town of Acme, pop: 39
A "new frontier"
No line required for cyclists