A coast-to-coast journey by a Sunshine Coast cycling aficionado was streamlined by a carefully-curated stack of stories.
Matthew Douglas, a teenage UBC political science student and graduate of Chatelech Secondary School, completed a solo bicycle crossing from Vancouver to Halifax just before the summer solstice. The trip took 46 days of peddling, including a few days’ rest in Montreal.
“I listened to a lot of audiobooks on the trip, which was absolutely amazing,” said Douglas. “I probably would have gone crazy if I didn’t have books to keep my mind somewhat preoccupied.”
Douglas selected a series of publications to accompany each phase of his two-wheeled odyssey. From the Pacific coast to the Rockies, he listened to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café tales. “That is the most Canadian thing in the world to me,” observed Douglas. “If you want to have something that is Canada other than the Red Green Show, it’s the Vinyl Café. It was more than heartwarming.”
Through the prairies, he revisited all seven volumes in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. To accompany the long stretch through Ontario, Quebec and western New Brunswick, a substantial tome was needed. He turned to Leo Tolstoy’s 19th-century novel War and Peace.
“I was expecting it to be so convoluted and complex, and some parts of it certainly were, but it was much more plainly written than most classics,” said Douglas. “On one hand, you might be going through a chapter where he’s talking about what shoes to pack for a person’s party. And then in the next chapter Tolstoy is giving some sort of idea about how history is read, with intriguing social commentary. It set a great pace, and that book really helped me get through the trip.”
Through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, he listened to Barack Obama’s 2020 memoir A Promised Land. At last, nearing Halifax, he turned again to classic Canadiana by Stuart McLean.
“The Vinyl Café was great because I’d hear about some character born in Sudbury or a story set in Medicine Hat, and I’d say, oh my gosh, I was just in Sudbury and Medicine Hat a few days ago,” recalled Douglas. “Before that, they’d just be names. But now they’re real places to me.”
Douglas had been an occasional mountain biker on the Coast’s labyrinthine trail network, but became an avid urban cyclist upon moving to Vancouver. The city’s gentle grades convinced him to purchase a road bike, and whetted his appetite for an adventure before the demands of summer work.
“Everybody’s always asking me, what are you doing it for?” he said. “And I was just kind of doing it because I felt like biking. I’m young. I have time. What I really enjoyed about the trip was just getting to spend time by myself.”
Slowed by strong headwinds in southern Saskatchewan, he diffused his frustration by reminding himself the trip was non-competitive. In Ottawa, he toured Parliament Hill and reflected on his own political aspirations. Leaving Thunder Bay, one of his tires exploded, forcing him to backtrack and wait for repairs. At night, he camped — or stayed with contacts made by his parents, who were at home feverishly working Facebook.
Douglas plans a future trip to visit the two Atlantic provinces he bypassed and to focus more on landscapes than literature. “I really did see so much of the country,” he adds, “but honestly, I had my eyes down on the road most of the time just to make sure I wasn’t going to fall off the side.”