How I Ended Up in this Crazy Sport
At this moment, I’m currently stuck in the second week of the Giro. Lately, as I’ve been mulling over how I ended up in this crazy sport, I’ve decided to share a story of my earlier years of wandering.
I was 20 years old and working the summer hay-baling and stacking railway ties. The work was sporadic, which allowed my friends and I to chase our real passion at the time. Mountain climbing. We would go on weeklong expeditions into the Coast Range of British Columbia. These were formative years for me and I learned a lot about myself, but never had any direction. Life was about saving money and going on trips until you ran out of coin, then starting this process over again. Cars were always necessary (to get to the mountains), but a massive expense when making only a small amount of cash here and there. This is why I decided to try traveling by bike. This way, my only expense was food for fuel.
I made my way down to the local Value Village (a secondhand-goods store) and bought a sweet Nishiki 10-speed. I knew nothing about bikes at the time, but this one seemed like it would do the trick. Little did I know it would soon teach me each and every detail about bicycles and how to repair them.
My first planned trip was from Langley to Bella Coola. A 2,000-kilometre return trip is a pretty big undertaking for someone who has never done a day of touring in his life! Leaving in late September was a confluence of poor timing and logistics. Heading north in September is a recipe for some interesting weather, which I was about to discover firsthand.
I welded up a heavy-duty steel trailer for my dog and some extra supplies. I hit the road and immediately fell in love with the freedom of traveling by bike. Everything I owned was with me, and I could stop anywhere I pleased. Functioning on limited funds, I was living off of rice and oats and buying some late-season corn from roadside stands. The first days were incredible, until fatigue and soreness started setting in. I had no clue how to balance out my efforts and would just ride as hard as I could until I couldn’t anymore.
The Nishiki did well the first week, but I don’t think it was made for touring and pulling a 100-pound trailer constantly. The first thing that went was the rear wheel, and a slew of mechanical failures followed suit. Needless to say, I learned some Bike Mechanics 101 on the side of the highway with a cold north wind a blowin’. It was really the school of hard knocks out there.
The icy fall weather amplified the stress on my body. Having never ridden more than 50 kilometres in a day before, the 100+ kilometres a day I was attempting was taking its toll. Then, at night, the temperature would drop to well below zero. I had entered an entirely new world, one of suffering day in and day out on a bike. Little did I know that years later I would be doing this for a job!
Aside from the mechanical problems, everything started rolling along fairly smoothly. My body quickly adapted and I was becoming hooked on smashing myself for eight hours a day. Then one day on my way back from Bella Coola, I made a grave mistake. On a long climb, I bungeed (attached) my jacket to the trailer that had my wallet in it. As I was setting up camp later in the evening (100 kilometres down the road), I realized the jacket was gone! Where it had come off I did not know. There was not much money left in my wallet, but enough to make it home. I decided to cut my losses and continue on. I resorted to picking up cans and bottles on the side of the road for the coin returns. I was amazed at the gold mine lining the ditches of British Columbia’s highways. By the time I rolled into Williams Lake, B.C., I had two garbage bags full and made enough money to fund the rest of my trip home – albeit not the finest cuisine, but food was simply calories at this point.
I remember being on the final stretch, 100 kilometres from home. Riding into a block headwind, I completely cracked. I must have been quite a sight, cooking beans in the median of Highway 1, wondering how I was going to make it home. I got my second wind and forged on. Averaging 15 kilometres an hour into the powerful headwind, I was creeping. I made it to my father’s house that evening. Looking like a ghost, I walked right past him, went to the fridge, guzzled a gallon of orange juice and went straight into sugar shock. After recounting the stories from my trip, I fell into one of the deepest sleeps I can remember.
This set the tone for years of life on the road to come. I realized anything was possible.
Young Tuft on his 2,000km return trip from Langley to Bella Coola