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Encounters

At the end of my first day of cycling I met three young men on bicycles loaded a little lighter than mine. They were all, likewise, heading west to various destinations. But it was fully a week later before I, again, encountered anyone on the highway who wasn’t inside a vehicle.


A black bear.


Not a big bear. And for a moment I thought it might be a cub. It came loping out of the tree line on my right, running alongside my bike maybe thirty metres away. It looked, for a moment, that our paths might cross a little ways ahead.


My first impulse was: “Aww… cute”. My second was: “Maybe this is a cub. Where’s the mother!”


A transport passed. It was big and loud and enough to send my bear friend back into the bush. It was a moment of concern. Not panic. But that evening I strap on my bear spray.


Today I meet someone else who is not in a vehicle. He is standing along the Trans-Canada in the entrance to a highway construction site.


He waves.


“Do you need water?” he shouts.


I pull up next to his truck. Where you coming from? Montréal. Where you heading? Vancouver. He hauls out one of those Canadian Tire insulated ice boxes. He’s got water, Gatorade, soft drinks.


“Take whatever you need.”


I have plenty of water but it’s noon and a couple hundred quick calories in a cold bottle is appealing. I choose a ginger ale.


“You’re going to pass James Topp,” he points west down the highway. “He’s only a couple of kilometres away.” This guy is very excited.


“I don’t think I know who James Topp is.”  I crack open the ginger ale and take a sip.


“He’s walking from Vancouver to Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates and to get restitution for those who were unfairly fired.”


While cycling across Canada, you don’t routinely get offered cold water and soft drinks by complete strangers. I realize he is waiting for James Topp to pass so that he can offer refreshments. And though I don’t feel any sympathy for the cause he is supporting, I don’t want to appear ungrateful.


“It’s been a really tough couple of years for everyone,” I offer. I cap the ginger ale and slide it into my front pannier.


“God bless you!” he shouts as I pull away.


In a few minutes I catch sight of James Topp. He looks to be in his late 40’s. Orange and yellow safety vest. Hot day but he is in trousers and boots and taking determined strides along the gravel shoulder. A little clutch of supporters follow him. A young man with long yellow hair is photographing their approach.


“Living free!” the photographer says as I pass him and he gives me the thumbs up. A moment later, James Topp nods solemnly as I pass. It occurs to me that he has already walked nearly the distance that I plan to cycle.


But, of course, he has a team. Sponsors, I suppose. Probably a Winnebago. A bed every night. Still, he walked from Vancouver.


Later I google him. Mostly him complaining about the lack of mainstream media coverage. He started at the Terry Fox Memorial. I’m betting the Fox family wasn’t keen on Terry’s legacy being appropriated. He’s going to end his walk at the Ottawa Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Oh brother!


A few hours later, there he is again. The guy who gave me the ginger ale. Says he passed me in his truck and decided to pull over to say hello again. Calls me a real inspiration. Out comes the big insulated ice box again.


“Help yourself,” he says. “Anything you want.”


I take some ice cubes and plop then into my water bottle. Somehow taking anything more would make me feel complicit in a cause I can’t support.


“I don’t even know your name.”


I tell him and ask his.


“Vince.” We shake hands.


And here’s the thing. I like Vince. To me he has been  kind and thoughtful and encouraging. He’s doing what he thinks is right. Believing in something. Maybe needing something to believe in. Even thinking that I and many others believe the same things he does. He’s wrong. Maybe he can’t see that he’s taken a really marginal stance. But I don’t think he’s a bad guy.


And apart from a little black bear, he’s the only one of God’s creatures that I’ve encountered along the side of the Trans-Canada who wasn’t whizzing past in a vehicle. Him and James Topp, I guess. And his little entourage.


Vince wishes me safe travels. Another kilometre and the cable casing to my front derailleur snaps. Now I’m stuck in low gear in strong winds and will have to limp the last 15 kilometres into Sudbury for repairs. Fortunately I find a nice little place to camp for the night. I get the repairs done in the morning.


Living free.

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