• Benji Pollock

Recalculating

(Starting Sept 30th)


I’ve decided to island hop instead of riding through inland BC. Why?


The reasons make the decision seem obvious. I received countless recommendations to go to Haida Gwaii. Person after person told me about this magical place, with magnificent beauty and wonderful people. I also received countless warnings about cycling south through inland BC. There had already been snow in almost every location I’d have to cycle through. Winter was here earlier than normal, and people weren’t ready for it. Multi car pileups were an everyday occurrence throughout my route - the biggest one I heard about was a 17 car pileup. I have all the gear I need to deal with winter weather, and I’m still excited about riding in the snow, but I don’t have any gear to deal with poor driving. Mountain passes I would need to ride through were already having weather related closures. There were no backroads to take. Just heavily trafficked highways. I’d be on the shoulder of busy mountain highways for over 800 miles. My life was in the hands of summer minds driving in winter conditions. To choose riding my bike on beautiful islands over risking my life on snowy and busy highways is a clear choice. Right?


Well, my brain made the decision incredibly difficult. I had set my mind on riding through inland BC. Why? Because it was convenient, and because I told myself I’d ride from Alaska to Argentina. Pretty much everyone who does this ride stays on the mainland. It’s almost an unwritten rule that to do this route, you have to cycle the mainland. Without those miles, it doesn’t count. You cheat. Or so it seemed.


But I wasn’t out here to follow any rules. I’ve already broken a lot of “rules” and expectations to get out here and do this trip. Cycling every single mile was never a requirement for me. Plus, in the end, if it really was about the miles, my alternate route that I wanted to do covered nearly the exact same number of miles.


My overall goals of this trip are to meet good people, learn about cultures foreign to me, see incredible things, improve myself and grow, and test my limits. Nowhere in that equation is inland BC a critical variable. I came into this journey without much of a plan. I plan about a week in advance so that I can listen to locals as much as possible, but still safely know where to stay and where to restock. Many of my route decisions before this had been determined from advice from locals, and many of my route decisions from here on out will be determined from advice from locals. There’s no better way to travel than that.


So, when I hit the junction of the Cassiar highway and the Yellowhead highway, I turned right, heading west towards the sea, instead of heading east towards the mountains and snow.


As I rode west, I played a game of peak-a-boo with the Seven Sisters - seven peaks side by side in central BC. I’d turn a corner, and they’d appear. I’d round a bend, and they’d disappear. I’d look up a clearing in the trees caused by a river and they’d reappear. Over and over again. Finally I pulled up to the entrance of the Seven Sisters provincial park and there was a clearing where I was able to pull over and take in the view. I stopped at an informational sign about the park and the mountains when a car pulled up to me and asked where I was coming from. I told them about my trip, and they introduced themselves as Gunnar and Shanon. They were from Terrace, and they were out driving around the area to test Shanon’s new camera for their upcoming trip to Africa. After chatting for a while, I asked them if they knew of anywhere good to camp along the highway for free. Gunnar told me there are open fields all over that I could just pitch a tent in. He then paused for a second, and told me “actually, my friend Kelly lives close by. Go knock on his door, tell him I sent you, and we’ll meet you there.” He then gave me directions to get there, and explained that they had stopped by on their way out but he wasn’t home so they were going to try again when they head back.


I had a hard time finding Kelly’s house. I was supposed to go down the road about 15 kilometers and then turn onto a dirt road that looped back around to the highway. The house was the first one past where the power lines crossed the street, and I was told that I would notice the Toyota in the driveway with nice new tires. I turned at what I thought was the road, but the place didn’t quite match the description I had been given. I looked around, a bit confused, when a dog approached me and I got distracted. I stayed for a little, petting the dog, when someone came out of the house. He told me he came out after hearing a noise, and asked if I needed anything. I explained to him that I was looking for the house of a guy named Kelly that I had never met before, using directions from a guy named Gunnar that I had just met. It turned out that this guy actually knew Kelly. His name was Keith, and his parents and Kelly’s parents were friends before they passed away. He told me all about the area and his property, and then pointed me in the right direction to get to Kelly’s.


I got to the right road, and couldn’t figure out which house was his. I saw one house that had a Toyota in the driveway. When I knocked on the door, no one answered. It was getting dark, so I was about to just leave and find another place to camp when I saw a Toyota drive into a nearby driveway. The power lines crossed the street right at this house, so I went to knock on the door. Kelly answered, and I explained who I was and why I was there, and he let me set up in a shed he had in his backyard so I had extra coverage.


I set up in the shed and was making dinner when he came out and invited me inside to hang out. When I finished dinner and got to the house, Gunnar and Shanon were there, so we spent some time chatting. Gunnar and Shanon then left the house. Before driving off, Gunnar ran back in to tell me to call him when I got to Terrace for a warm shower and meal. Then, as I was about to head back to the shed, Kelly invited me in for a shower and to sleep inside. I was incredibly thankful for the hospitality that these people had shown me.


I woke up in the morning, hung out with Kelly for a bit, and then went to pack up and hit the road. Kelly was going into Terrace for a doctor’s appointment and offered to drive me in, but I was really excited for the ride, and respectfully declined. It was frigid when I left the house, and everything shone and sparkled with frost. From the driveway, the Seven Sisters poked out behind Kelly’s house, glowing from the sunrise. I got on the road, and right across the street were two fishermen getting geared up for a day of fly fishing along the river. Sean and Gordy were fishing partners from Vancouver, and went all around BC for steelhead fishing, but said this was the best spot in the world. Gordy gave me his CD from his band, and we talked for a while. Kelly then came out on his way to Terrace. Not expecting me to still be there, as I had said goodbye probably an hour earlier, he rolled down his window and called out “wow! You haven’t really made it too far have you?” He offered me a ride again, but I told him I wanted to cycle. He pulled off, and I turned around to take one last photo of the Seven Sisters when I noticed that he was going in reverse. He backed up all the way to me to make sure I was going in the right direction. After taking the photo, I turned back around to go the right way and took off.


The morning was absolutely freezing. In the sun it was probably in the high 30s, maybe 40 degrees. In the shade, it was well below freezing still, and painfully cold. My hands and feet ached, and the road didn’t give me enough sun to warm up. The road twisted and turned, following the contours of the river to the right, hiding in the shade of the mountains and trees to the left. Occasionally, I would get a touch of sunshine, but never enough to make a difference. My feet got so sore at one point that I had to pull over once I hit sunshine to let my feet bake for a bit. It warmed up throughout the day, and as the sun got higher in the sky, I shed layers to cool off. In the afternoon, I got a text from Shanon telling me spaghetti would be ready. Despite finishing a kilo of peanut butter in two days, I was starving, and couldn’t wait for dinner. I stopped for a quick bite to eat at 4, and after Google maps got me lost trying to get me to cycle up a 40 foot wall that it thought was the road, I got to the house at 5. They told me Kelly had already checked in on me since he didn’t see me on his drive back home from Terrace. For being just a random cyclist that showed up at his door the night before, he showed me a lot of care and concern. I was really happy to have met him. I took a shower, and then once their super cool daughter Brooklyn and her boyfriend got home from the gym, we had dinner.


Yesterday, Shanon and Gunnar were strangers that I met on a pullout on the highway. Today, they welcomed me into their home and made me feel like I was part of their family for the night. They insisted that I sit at the head of the table, which was a huge honor, and treated me like they had known me for ages. They were all such unique and independent people that complimented each other so well. Brooklyn was an entrepreneur, and Gunnar and Shanon were big travelers, leading to incredible conversations. We talked about our whys and motivations in life, and Brooklyn asked me why I was doing this trip. Usually, I have my simple and easy answers of “it’s the best way to travel” and other quick explanations, but being in such a reflective conversation made me particularly introspective.


I put into words what I had been reflecting on and better understanding while in deep thought alone on my bike. I’ve lost a lot of people close to me in my short lifetime, often way too young. Experiencing people dying in their 50s always made me understand that I wanted to make the most of my life. I wear a dog tag necklace from RoadID when I ride that has all of my personal information engraved on it in case I ever have an emergency alone and am unable to speak for myself. I got the necklace when I got my first road bike and started riding further distances alone at the age of 13. I had seven lines of engraving to work with, and managed to get all my necessary information on six. With my extra line, I decided to write a life motto. At 13, I had already understood that I wanted to have as meaningful a life as possible, so I wrote “A Life Of Purpose.” I worked on that motto all the time as a teenager - community service was my favorite pastime, and I would often choose to volunteer over doing school work or sleeping in. My High School’s motto was “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.” That resonated with me, and that’s exactly how I spent much of Middle School and High School. After my first year of University, I cycled across the country from Jacksonville, Florida to Monterrey, California with Bike and Build, a nonprofit that organizes service oriented cycling trips to raise money and awareness for the affordable housing cause.


When I lost my close friend Margaret from Bike and Build on September 1st, 2015 to an unexpected brain aneurism, my perception of life and purpose were shattered. Everyone lives in a bubble that they’ve created for themselves based on their experiences and life lessons. Each lesson you learn changes the shape and size of that bubble, allowing you to view the world in a slightly different way. Influential people, intense experiences, classes, and books can all change your bubble and thus your perspective. But when a tragedy happens, that bubble bursts and is rebuilt as you heal and grow. Never did I feel particularly mortal as a teenager. Never was I worried about not making it to tomorrow. Never was I worried about exactly what I was doing with my day, in case it was my last. Until Margaret passed away. For the year after Margaret died, everyday that I locked myself up in the library to study, I was worried that my last day would be spent alone in a dull room with my face buried in a textbook. Everyday that I wasn’t pushing myself or making a difference in someone else’s life, I worried I was wasting my last day. Margaret inspired me to make the most of everyday, and while I was working my butt off, accomplishing success in my extracurriculars, academics, and work, I felt incredibly lost. So I left. I moved to Tel Aviv where I knew no one, lived with people I had met online, learned computer programming - which I had never done before, with people I had never met before, and learned conversational Hebrew to help me get around the country. I read books that broadened my perspective and changed my points of view. I learned about foreign cultures from the incredibly diverse population of Tel Aviv. I studied different world religions. I pushed my body to its limits, working out nearly everyday. I trained for a marathon, never running with anyone else, and never listening to music. I ended up running that marathon 30 minutes faster than I had trained for simply because of the mental strength I had built. I grew from the alone time I had given myself, where I allowed my inner thoughts to constantly wrestle with each other while I sat back and observed. I grew from the unique interactions I had with strangers. I grew from learning a new language and being immersed in a new culture. I grew from surrounding myself with older people who had different mother tongues, were from all different countries and had different cultures and traditions. And I learned that this was the kind of life I needed to live - constantly pushing myself, constantly learning from others, and constantly finding, and exceeding, my perceived limits. Margaret inspired me to make the most of every day. Every. Single. Day. So while I had to return to school and my normal student and employee life, I always knew that I had to follow my heart and push myself, and a big adventure like this seemed like the perfect way to accomplish that.


So when Brooklyn asked me why I was riding, I gave her the most honest answer I had given anyone yet. I’m doing this ride because it’s the best time to do it. I’m young, I’m capable, and I’m alive. I’m doing this ride because I understand my mortality. I’m doing this ride to make the most of every single day, to push my limits, to open up my heart, and to learn from others. And I hope that in the process I help and inspire people, or at least just brighten someone’s day and put a smile on their face. I’m doing this trip because if I die tomorrow, I want to have lived a life of meaning and purpose.


After dinner, Brook, Shanon and I worked at the table together and talked more, and then went to bed. The next morning, I woke up at 9 expecting to leave the house by 11 but stayed a bit longer because my accommodations in Prince Rupert fell through, so I had to go fewer miles by the end of the day. When I left, Shannon gave me a paper bag of sandwiches that I saved for dinner. I went to run some errands around town, and then I got on the road to Rupert, excited for what I would see. Terrace to Prince Rupert has been rated one of the most beautiful drives in BC, and the views fell nothing short of spectacular.


The ride did not disappoint. The beginning of the ride had a decent climb, but then the rest of the ride was mostly flat through a beautiful canyon through the mountains that leads to the ocean. As I got closer to the coast, the canyon grew and the river widened. The surrounding mountains reminded me of Yosemite National Park. That night, I pulled over at a Provincial Park, camped next to a dense, mossy, magnificent forest, and collected wood to make a fire. I sat there alone, in awe of the beauty that surrounded me and the power of nature.


Throughout the night, I woke up to the sound of howling wolves. After so many close encounters with predators, the distance of their calls comforted me. I had calmed down with my perception of the wild animals around me. I was in their territory after all. Usually, I knew, they wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t bother them.


When I woke up in the morning, I stayed in bed for a while because it was cold and I was tired. I didn’t have too long a day ahead of me, so I wasn’t very worried about getting on the road quickly. All morning, I thought that it was dark and cold because the sun hadn’t yet risen over the mountains. I was waiting for it to peak up over the mountains next to me when I realized that it was just heavily overcast, so I kicked my rear in gear and got on the road instead of waiting for nothing. I had a tailwind nearly the entire day. The ride was decently dangerous - the shoulder was tight, and cars barreled down the road on my left side while trains sped past me on my right side. Sometimes, to the right was a cliff towering over me, and to the left was a drop-off to the river. To add to the danger, I couldn’t keep my eyes in front of me. I was constantly looking around at the magical scenery. As I rode west, the sun came out, illuminating the valley and warming me up. Towards the end of the day I had another climb to get to my campsite. The campsite ended up being closed, but I camped there anyway because google said it was still open and I didn’t really have any other options. I met a Swiss couple there who had parked their RV outside the gates and were looking for a way in. They also thought it was still open, but couldn’t slip by the gate as easily with their big RV. I cooked dinner and then went to bed.


I woke up to stunning fog on the lake next to my campsite. It was super cold, but I sat at the shore and watched as the rising red sun burned off all the fog. The line “smoke on the water, fire in the sky” from the Deep Purple hit kept playing in my head. I packed up and rode into town. The ride was quick but freezing. The areas on the sides of the road were all frosted over, and my toes were numb, but I pushed through it knowing that I’d be in town soon. When I got to town I went to buy groceries, and then went to the ferry. I checked in, and then waited at the station, incredibly excited to start my unplanned adventure through Haida Gwaii. I had lots of miles I wanted to cover, and enough time to cover all of it, but I promised myself that all of the route decisions I made would be from recommendations I received. I wouldn’t plan a single day on my own.


(End October 4th)

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