Biking from one end of the country to the other was never a dream for Alex Lowen.
The idea to do it came to the Nakusp Secondary School teacher one day in April, and while it seemed like fun, it was also kind of scary. It was this fear that prompted her to do it.
She used May and June to prepare for the journey, buying her gear and doing research on long-distance biking.
“There are tonnes of blogs of people who had done the trip, so those were kind of like my new bedtime stories,” she said. “Getting all my gear was a big part of the prep, because I didn’t have my own tent or anything. I pretty much had to buy everything I needed.”
Lowen originally had a friend who was going to make the trip with her, but when that fell through, she decided to go it alone.
She started her journey on July 5 in White Rock, dipping the rear wheel of her bike in the Pacific Ocean. From there it was through Crow’s Nest Pass, the Trans-Canada Highway, many back roads and quiet highways, even a ferry trip or two.
She tried to be up at 5:30 a.m., and on the road by 7 a.m. most days, a small difficulty, as she readily admitted she isn’t a morning person by any means.
She would bike for six or seven hours of the day, using the time spent not on her bike to look around and check out whatever town she was in at the time.
The first leg of the journey was the hardest for Lowen.
“B.C. was alarmingly difficult, because I wasn’t conditioned yet, and that’s the most difficult terrain of the whole trip,” she said. “That helped me get in shape pretty quick. I didn’t train beforehand, so the mountains were my trial by fire. After that it got a little easier.”
She found she really had to be prepared, because there were days where there was around 100 kilometres between towns, a full day’s ride for her. On those days she had to carry anything and everything she needed because there was nowhere to stop.
Another challenging part of the journey, though in a slightly different way, was the Prairies.
“They were psychologically draining, because you would just go all day, and there would be so little change that it felt like you weren’t making very much progress, you had to keep your mind active and engaged,” she said.
Though there were challenges to the journey, there were also some pretty spectacular moments too.
Lowen recalled going over Crow’s Nest Pass, going from the Rocky Mountains to the Albertan foothills.
“At one point, I stopped on an overpass, and I looked behind me, and there are these massive, jagged mountains, and I look the other way and there’s just flat prairie, and it was just this contradictory feeling where you’re like ‘Man, I did that. I’m infinite and so powerful to have conquered those mountains’ and then at the exact same moment it’s like ‘I’m so small. I’m like this tiny little ant trying to get across the earth,’ It’s just an incredibly humbling experience, but also empowering”
Food proved to be a tricky balancing act. She needed to consume a lot each day, but didn’t have any refrigeration, or many means in which to prepare meals, so she ate a lot of food that didn’t require much prep work, including bagels, nuts, bananas, and lots of cookies and chips.
She always had something either really salty, or really sweet on her, depending on what her body was craving at the time.
Usually she ate one prepared meal a day, bought at a Subway, pub, restaurant, or diner. If she did buy a meal, she found she had to find the right balance between cost and calories, which required a shift in mentality.
“You stop thinking in terms of food like ‘I would really like to eat that delicious thing,’ and you start thinking of it in terms of ‘I have this money, and I need all the calories I can get, what’s the most cost-effective calorie to dollar amount?’”
Throughout the trip, Lowen was met with nothing but kindness, help, and encouragement along the way. She said the journey helped renew her faith in Canadians.
More often than once, she would go to settle the bill for a meal at a restaurant, only to discover it had already been paid for by a stranger.
Twice she was interviewed by CBC, once in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the other time in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. By some coincidence, both times was on the province’s Terry Fox Day.
Cancer is a subject she and her family, like far too many in Canada and across the world, are familiar with. A few years ago her sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She spent a few years battling back and forth with the disease, but is now in remission. Lowen herself was also diagnosed with a form of cancer, but has recovered.
Lowen has always admired Fox and his Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research.
“To do that journey on a bike, which is so much easier than running, it just gave me a really deep appreciation for the physical toil and suffering that he did out there,” she said. “It’s hard on a bike, but to run it is incredible, and to run it on one leg is super human. I can’t fathom it.”
The thought of doing some kind of fundraiser did cross her mind, but it wasn’t her original motive for the journey, and she said she had a dishonest feeling when she thought about raising money along the way. She said this was a personal journey.
Lowen ended her 83 day journey in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, the easternmost point in Canada.
Since coming back to Nakusp, she’s found an appreciation for the smaller things in life, like having a bed, or clothes in a closet, even a kitchen to prepare food, things so inconsequential people wouldn’t even think about them on a day-to-day basis.
When asked if she would do the journey again, Lowen’s answer was quick and simple.
“In a heartbeat, no hesitation,” she said. “Throughout the whole trip I was like ‘This is just a one time thing, so enjoy it now, because you’re never doing it again,’ and as soon as I finished it, I was like ‘That was the best experience of my life.’”