Chance encounters …


I am always surprised by the people I meet when I am on my bike. Perhaps it is because I am travelling slower, and see more. Maybe I am more relaxed, and open. Whatever the reason, I have met some of the most remarkable people while cycling.

When I travel in the car, there are few opportunities to stop, and it is usually to fill up, take a pee, or find food. On a bike there are innumerable opportunities to stop, listen, and talk. At street corners, in the local parks, and on the road while overtaking other cyclists.

My chance encounters with interesting people could fill a book. The young couple I met on a ferry in the Cyclades islands that had just travelled across Europe on bikes. The school principal I met in Quito that offered me a job to help pay for my trip. The distraught woman I met on a park bench in Stanley Park that I helped find a new job. The intriguing young woman I met in Douglas Park that was in transition. And, all the cyclists I met on long climbs that offered words of encouragement.

The most memorable encountered occurred 20 years ago. I was working in a small mill town in the interior of British Columbia. I had flown there with my bike, and used it to commute each day to and from the mill office. It was a short commute, 10 km at most. On sunny, warm days, I would cycle back into town for lunch at a popular cafe that boasted an outdoor patio with a scenic view of the mountains.

One day, as I sat outside with my customary black coffee and sandwich, an elderly Englishman rolled up on a vintage steel frame touring bike with fully loaded panniers, front and back. This man was heading somewhere. Curious, I asked him to join me.

After he got his tea and muffin, he sat across from me in the afternoon sun. We sat for an hour, maybe longer, as I listened in awe. I never asked his age but I would have guessed 75, maybe older. He had a small but athletic frame, and looked like a seasoned cyclist. Several months earlier, he had lost his wife of 50 years. It wasn’t unexpected but, nevertheless, devastating for him. They had been inseparable their whole lives. He had 2 grown children but, as he was quick to tell me, he didn’t want to burden them. No, he was a proud, stoic, and independent man looking for one last adventure.

He had always wanted to cycle across Canada. Since immigrating to Canada as a teenager, he never had the time, or the money for such a luxury, as he called it. After his wife’s passing, he wondered what he would do with himself, and his house. He wanted an adventure. He wanted to do something different, he said. He was healthy for his age, and had saved up a little money. It was time for a change, he thought.

He rented his house. He would decide what to do with it later. He tuned his bike, loaded his panniers, and headed off across the country. Alone.

If you have never visited Canada, you have to understand it is big. 6,100 km from coast-to-coast. And, it has a very substantial mountain range on the west coast. The Rockies. This is not an easy crossing for anyone, let alone a 75 year old on a fully loaded bike. When I met him, he was half way across the mountain ranges, and looked no worse for wear. On the contrary, he was having the time of his life. He wore a wide, permanent smile and laughed easily. I’m sure he had difficult days. But on this day, he was in a good mood, and anxious to share his adventure.

I never saw him again. I have no idea if he made it. This was before the internet, blogs, and cell phones. I regret not staying in touch, and have been curious ever since.

This gentle man has been an inspiration. Because of him, I realize you are never too old to chase a dream; that travel by bike is more enjoyable, and enlightening; and, when you have a chance encounter like this, always exchange contact information.

I have had numerous chance encounters like this. One day, I’m going to write them all down. Somewhere nestled amongst them is my epitaph.

16 thoughts on “Chance encounters …

  1. I love how open we are when we are on a bicycle. On my way to work, there are several people I see almost everyday and we always wave at each other at the very least. Until my work schedule changed a couple years ago, there was one particular gentleman whom I would pass by at least once a week as he was doing his morning walk. Whenever we crossed paths, I would stop and we would catch up. It was always a quick 1 or 2 minute conversation, but it was lovely and something I would have missed out on if I were in a car. I still run into him now and then and it always brings a smile to my face.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s remarkable how this happens. On my commute to the office, there is a section of road under construction. Rather than avoid the area, I cycle right through it, and have gotten to know the flag lady. She is a very cheerful woman, and always has something entertaining to say. I look forward to seeing her, and often think if I were commuting by car, I would have never met her.

      • I have a flag lady too! She’s so sweet. This winter, we had a particularly chilly stretch of weather and my hands were freezing one day, so she insisted on giving me her thermal gloves to wear inside my mittens. She said she had another pair in her truck. I was really touched by this act of kindness.

  2. Lovely post! I envy you and everyone else who can explore their country by bike solo. Sadly in recent years the crime rate in my beloved country has escalated astronomically and bike jackings and violent attacks are daily so rendering it impossible to cycle solo. Even training cannot be done alone anymore. Groups of 5 to 6 are encouraged. Very sad. Cycle on and keep meeting all those interesting people.

      • Yes I worry greatly for them. Our unemployment percentage is huge and this is what is leading to all the crime, sadly the violence gets added in as an extra. If my daughter and son in law ever decide to leave I reckon I would be hot on their heels. I love this place fiercely but could not imagine being an ocean away from my grandkids.

    • I was cycling in Ladysmith last year and felt fine, though maybe it was ignorance or the sight of this old geezer on a crummy mountain bike wasn’t worth the effort. The folk in the black township I went through a couple of times gave me friendly waves and hellos too.

      • You probably would be fine but it is just not worth the risk anymore. We have had two incidences last week of women being held up at knife and gun point on their bikes and cell phones stolen. Scary times.

  3. Like you “discovered” with your elderly touring rider, the bags (in my case, the BOB) create interest and curiosity. I’ve many such encounters as well. I think cycling also just makes us more aware of details, more observant of things and people around us. I used to think the motorcycle did that for me too, but the bicycle, with it’s slower speed, I think creates that more.

  4. This is very inspiring. Some encounters I have made have marked me more more than some people I have spent months with. It is striking to think that sometimes, it only takes a moment and you feel a connection, an inspiration that will stay with you – dare I say – forever.
    The story of this man intrigues me. I feel like there is an unwritten story behind it, maybe we could imagine it – team work?

    • You’re right.

      I used to golf a lot. When my boys were young, I would sneak onto the local golf course with them late in the evening to play a few holes without having to pay. There was a marshall that worked at the course and, although he would see us hop over the fence, he would always turn the other way. One day while finishing up a paid round with the boys, he asked to join us for the last 3 holes. He ran to his car and came back with a 5-iron, 9-iron and a putter, and proceeded to easily beat me. He was an excellent golfer. As I spent more time with this man, I learned he was a recovering alcoholic that had lost everything – his marriage, a beautiful home, his business, and a membership at an exclusive golf club. He had been a very successful, prominent businessman, and yet, ended up living on the street.

      When I met him, he was living alone in a single room, collected discarded pop bottles in the morning for recycling and, marshalled at the golf course in the afternoon. I befriended him and enjoyed playing golf with him weekly. One season, he didn’t marshall. I don’t know what happened to him. He was headed in the right direction. I hope he made it.

      He too has had tremendous impact on me. He showed me how to play the game and, more importantly, to never give up.

      I don’t know why this came to mind. It is a round about way to say I agree. If you want a story to tell, I would be pleased to help you imagine the missing pieces.

      • This story makes me thing of all the homeless people I have walked past, wondering every single time what drove them to such misery.
        One day, I will go and talk to them, befriend them and understand them.
        I may take you up on your suggestion. Will let you know!

      • My office is close to an area where they are a lot of homeless people battling with poverty, addiction, and mental illness. I’m not quick to judge, will buy them a cup of coffee or lunch, and will to listen if they want to talk. You never know how they got there, and sometimes they just need a little encouragement.

        Sounds to me like you have more than enough to write about, and to keep you busy. 🙂

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