There she was, with her tanned, muscular legs and little bicycle packed with everything she needed for more than two months on two wheels.
Sydney Helland, my 27-year-old friend from Toronto, had ended her journey and was waiting for me at one of the most historic places in Saint John: Fort La Tour.
As I rounded the corner on Harbour Passage and spotted her, I started jogging her way, still in my office attire, hair frizzing in the humid Saint John fog.
“You made it!” I called and we met and hugged, shed a couple tears, and hugged some more.
Sydney had made it, alright. Six thousand kilometres from sea to shining sea. She was ready to dip her wheel in the Bay of Fundy, and I was honoured to be her witness.
I’ve known Sydney for close to 10 years after meeting at the Cord, the student newspaper at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. She is an avid photographer and creative-type, and after shedding 65 pounds in recent months, she was ready to take on a new challenge.
She decided to ride across the country and write a book about it: The Gonzo Guide to Biking Across Canada, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson. She hopes it is out by Christmas time of next year.
I know she’ll have no shortage of stories to share. Mark and I had the joy of hearing just a few of them over dinner during her night in Saint John.
The sheer magnitude of her journey – both mental and physical – is so inspiring. I can’t even imagine the strength and endurance it would take to cycle through the Rockies, battling a near-constant incline. She survived on simple meals of flat breads and peanut butter, yogurt (when it was cold enough to keep) and the odd donut for extra calories.
“It was hard to leave that carlorie-counting mode to being in a position where you have to eat as much as you can, to the point where your face hurts from chewing,” she said with a laugh.
She travelled an average of 100 to 150 km a day, usually cruising at speeds of 20 km an hour.
Sydney met new people on the trip, including a few who joined her for various legs of the journey. She got lost once (near Nackawic, N.B.), she learned to “stealth camp,” she weathered conditions of heat and rain, and she learned to be alone – and like the person she saw in the mirror.
“I don’t think it did change me, but it allowed me to accept that. It allowed me to accept the person that I am,” she told us over dinner. Our mouths gaped at her wisdom.
And for Sydney, the feeling of accomplishment – although sweet – was not as important as what she left behind, she said. You learn to live without and let go, whether it’s a pillow or old memories that are better left alone.
People have often asked her what her favourite part of Canada was, and while she loved seeing the “sheer majestic beauty” of Lake Superior in northern Ontario, it was more than that, she said.
“It’s been with me the whole way. I’ve met some of the most beautiful people I would have never met otherwise,” she said. “That was my favourite part of Canada. It wasn’t a singular place. It was all the people across the whole country that define what Canada is.”
Read and see more about her adventure here.