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A bicycle, a bear – and a dream
John Crouch had a vision about the bear. Oftentimes, it would prevent him from falling asleep at night. He even had lurid dreams of being mauled in his tent by a manic bear.
It wasn’t until he convinced himself of the irrationality of such thoughts that he was able not to worry. But it was also when his dream became reality.
On a drizzly day in the summer of 2011, Crouch met up with a black bear on the Alaska Highway, just north of Nuggett City, while cycling from Whitehorse to Victoria as part of a 2,500-kilometre bicycle trek to raise funds for Parkinson’s disease.
The large black bear was no more than 15 metres off the side of the road when Crouch came across him. The mighty bruin quickly reared up on his hind legs, staring the Victoria author down.
“It frightened the hell out of me,” Crouch, 73, said.
Crouch fumbled for his whistle – useless since the bear had already seen him. He then hoped some traffic would pass by. No such luck. The bear refused to move. Crouch then decided to slowly pedal six metres to the other side of the road, since it was easy to tell the bear wasn’t going to move.
The bear then dropped back on all fours and resumed munching away on the slender grass. And Crouch was able to go on his merry way.
This lone bear was just one of 15 Crouch passed paths with in his trek that took him just over three weeks to complete along six major highways: the Alaska, Stewart-Cassiar, Yellowhead, Cariboo, Sea-to-Sky and Trans-Canada.
Crouch, an endurance athlete in his younger days, writes about his journey in his latest book Six Highways to Home.
The journey started in the Yukon and then descended the province where he rode through mountain ranges, atop wide plateaux and beside rushing rivers.
The adventure started as something he wanted to do to commemorate his 70th birthday, but he soon added purpose to the trip when he decided to raise funds for his nephew in England who suffers from early onset Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disease of the nervous system.
“I was absolutely terrified about raising money because I didn’t think I’d raise a penny,” Crouch recalled. “In less than four months, I raised close to $13,000. People were incredibly generous.”
Crouch rode an average of 117 kilometres a day, sometimes by himself and other times with groups of other cyclists. He would set up his tent in campground, stay in hotels or with sponsor families.
“Everyday was a surprise in the sense that I was seeing wonderful, extraordinary countryside. It was quite unbelievable,” he said.
And despite the early encounter with the bear, he said the trip was remarkably unspectacular except for the scenery, the people he met along the way and the generosity of others. “I had no mechanical problems whatsoever – not even a flat tire,” he said.
The idea of writing a book on his expedition was the furthest thing from Crouch’s mind when he began the journey.
The trip was just something he wanted to do for a long time, and now seemed the right time to do it.
It wasn’t until he got home that friends and colleagues urged him to write a book.
“(The trip) wasn’t a big deal – only 2,500 kilometers, but people said it was a big deal … particularly for an old guy.”
Crouch kept a very detailed journal of his adventures, so when he decided to start writing everything came together quite quickly. He began writing the book last winter. It hits store shelves this spring.
And his next adventure? This summer he plans to cycle 1,500 kilometres to San Francisco.
“I never feel the road is too immense or difficult,” he said. “It’s the attitude one has to take, really.”
As long as there’s no manic bears, of course.
Six Highways to Home is available at Munro’s Books, Russell Books and Bolen Books.