By the time we made it through the Rockies I started to hit my stride. I had become a sort of unofficial chaplain on the ride. I was asked many mornings to share a devotional thought before we climbed into our saddles and began pedaling. After the ride I gathered a number of these devotionals under one title – Lessons from the Back of the Pack, or things I learned while people were passing me. Some of the lessons were fun, others more difficult, but since I believe that every life experience carries within it a lesson, I spent a lot of time looking for those lessons.
We began each day by listening to a beautiful song by Lianna Klassen called Song for Canada. It is really a prayer for our great nation. Click on this link if you’d like to hear it. A Song for Canada by Lianna Klassen – YouTube Even today, as I listened to it again, it brought tears to my eyes.
We arrived in Calgary at the beginning of Stampede week and as a result, we couldn’t cycle in the city. We stopped at the western edge of the city and were bussed to a church where we were going to spend the night. Our son Jeff had flown in from Taiwan to supervise a group of students he had brought to Canada. We spent the evening and the next day with him. We had our first day off. Then it was back on the road.
We took a bus to the eastern edge of the city and as were preparing to leave we had a bit of an accident. We had found that drinking Gatorade helped replenish the minerals we had lost during the day. We had a large container in the back of the van Iona was driving. Wouldn’t you know it – just as were leaving the container fell over and spilled all the Gatorade in the back of the van. The liquid was sopped up and the odor of Gatorade permeated the van. As Iona pulled away a length of toilet paper hung out of the back of the van. That sort of felt like a fitting picture of our day.
In the first weeks of the journey we thought in terms of how far we’d gone. We left Victoria 10 days ago or 3 weeks or 4 weeks ago. As we approached the geographic centre of our nation we began to think in terms of how much further we had left to travel. We’re going to be in St. John’s in 4 weeks, 3 weeks, then we measured the remaining time in days. Rumours were spreading through the ride of Signal Hill at the end of our journey. We wanted to see the end of the journey, but we were intimidated by the prospect of climbing this hill. The more we thought about it, the longer and steeper the hill became.
We were on a journey that would take us 64 days to complete. We were made up of people from 17 different denominations and it felt like this was one of the most authentic expressions of Christianity I had ever experienced. We sometimes fake it a bit when we go to church. We can put on a smile and pretend we like people we would prefer never to see again. But on this trip, we were together 24/7 and we were sleep deprived. We couldn’t escape from each other and the veneer of Christianity began to wear off unless our faith was real and genuine. I often saw people huddled and praying together as the journey continued. Many times we slept in churches and set up our beds so close together we could almost reach out and touch each other.
We also started to become a family. There were six young girls on the ride and Iona, and I adopted them as granddaughters. They would pass me, as just about everybody else did, wave and call out a greeting to Gramps. When we reached Ottawa one of these granddaughters asked me if I would baptize her. There was a young man that had asked another of our group to baptize him and we were scheduled to have a service of baptism in Prince Edward Island.
Another one of the cyclists was going to help me during the baptism and we walked out into the ocean. I gave him a face cloth to give me after I had baptized Andrea. It was something I had learned when I was in Fort Saskatchewan. When the candidate came out of the water, I asked them not to wipe their face but to allow me to do that with the face cloth. It was symbolic of the fact, that as their pastor my role was that of a servant.
My very best day of cycling took place in New Brunswick. We were leaving Shediac, that advertised itself as the “Lobster Capital of the World”. Who was I to argue with their description of themselves. We had a system of sending our riders out. The first to go were guys like me who weren’t very strong cyclists – the easy riders. We were followed by the next level and then finally the young bucks who could accelerate up a vertical wall. As we began, I felt an energy I hadn’t felt before. I started out at the front of the pack and stayed there almost until we reached our lunch stop. I took one wrong turn and had to double back but still arrived at our stop near the front of our team. During the afternoon I fell back to my regular spot near the back of the pack. Through the entire journey I was keeping the Son in my eyes.