After spending a year cycling across Canada, cyclist Jean Aime says the most physically challenging part of his route was the steep, cold, painful ride on the Duffey Lake Load between Pemberton and Lillooet.
“It took me two hours and a half to go from the lake to the salt shed and it was in a snowstorm,” he said. But the snowstorm was actually a blessing because traffic headed both ways was forced to slow down on the narrow, twisting highway.
“I never understood why Google Maps kept refusing me on the Duffey Lake Road,” he told the News. “I understand why now – it was because of the elevation.”
He said cycling the most difficult 15 kilometres – with their 12 to 18 per cent grades - was “torture.”
Last week’s snowy weather forced Aime to take a longer-than-anticipated break in Lillooet on his quest to set a Guinness World Record for the most kilometres cycled within one country. During the layoff, he gave presentations to students at Cayoosh Elementary School and Lillooet Secondary School.
Born in Rwanda, Aime left his African homeland in 1988 when he was eight years old. From there he moved to Kenya and South Africa before his family moved to Saskatchewan and then to Montreal, where he works as a club DJ playing electronic music.
He only started serious cycling in June of 2015. By “serious cycling,” he means cycling with the proper clothes, handlebars and gear. In November 2015, he realized he’d cycled 6,000 kilometres, which was almost the distance across Canada from Halifax to Vancouver.
“A ha! That’s where the idea came from,” he explains. “That’s how it started.”
He admits he doesn’t like the cold, but decided the best way to become accustomed to the chill of a Canadian winter was to conquer it once and for all.
“As Canadians, we’re taught the best way to make winter go fast is to do some winter activities,” said Aime. “If you stay in the house, you get cabin fever.”
Everyone told him it was a bad idea, even a crazy idea, but he has a contrary spirit and decided to go for it.
When he learned that a cyclist in India had set a Guinness World Record for the longest continuous journey within a single country (14,500 kilometres), that doubled his resolve and he decided he would set the new record in Canada.
He sublet his apartment, put his things in storage and set out on his journey on Jan. 31, 2016. It was only the second time he’d ridden in winter.
There have been challenges – his bike was stolen outside of Toronto (a GoFundMe campaign raised enough money for him to purchase a new bicycle); he had to check into the hospital when he suffered an attack of kidney stones in Espanola, Ontario; and in one incident, he collided with a car pulling out of a driveway.
When he encountered freezing rain in Newfoundland, he felt hypothermia setting in.
“I knew one thing – if I stopped that was going to be the end of me. But I just kept riding and riding and my vision was growing smaller and smaller and smaller. I kept going and then I saw a Husky petrol station, so I kept pedaling. I walked in and I said, ‘Excuse me, I’m suffering from hypothermia’ and they said ‘What do you want us to do?’”
They gave him a hot drink and a glass of hot water and soon he felt sensation returning to his arms
He said the experience was valuable because it taught him about his limitations.
“I know I can’t do six hours in the rain anymore. I know I can do three hours or four hours.
He is determined but careful, explaining “When I decided to cycle across Canada, I didn’t decide to go on a suicide mission.”
He adds, “The reason I’m traveling alone is because I want to be responsible only for myself, I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else.”
But that may change as he heads north. A support van would be helpful in the remote wilderness along the northern routes, particularly since he still has many kilometres to go, the days will still be short and he doesn’t ride in the dark, for safety reasons.
Amie is couch-surfing his way across the country, relying on contacts he meets along the way to find future places to stay. To date, he’s stayed in 120 homes. In Lillooet, he stayed one night with Carmen Langdon and her family, and then with Darlene and Bruce Lohnes.
He met Carmen Langdon when he stopped to catch his breath at the salt shed on the Duffey Lake Road. He was accompanied by a film crew on that grueling leg of his journey.
“A car rolls up and this woman with her kids asked if I would like a cookie. After two hours of sweating, I needed some sugar. She said she heard about what I was doing and asked if I had a place to stay.” They exchanged phone numbers and he knew he’d secured a place to rest and sleep in Lillooet.
He calls Canada “a country of miracles. Everybody is hospitable. I’ve been meeting people in random ways and that (meeting Langdon) was the ultimate, ultimate of something completely random.”
He happily reports that Canadians are “so nice, sometimes it gets to be too much.”
There are occasions - when he’s resting on the side of the road - that he has to reassure passing motorists that he’s fine and doesn’t require assistance.He saystheir attitude was, “You will get my help, you will eat this, you will drink this, you will carry this.” One person insisted that he take a two-litre bottle of Coca -Cola. Too Canadian and too polite to decline the offer, Aime accepted the gift. Feeling too guilty to throw it away, he drank the large-size sugary drink so he wouldn’t have to pack its extra weight on his bike. The result: a sugar high and several unscheduled stops.
Many challenges remain – northern B.C. and the Dempster Highway on the way to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. He has to be there before the ice roads start melting in April.
Additionally, he says the ice roads will be shutting down to make way for a new all-weather land route to Tukytoyaktuk so he wants to be “part of history” by completing his journey on the ice roads made famous by the TV series “Ice Road Truckers.”
Aime is approaching the Guinness Record; he’s notched close to 14,000 kilometres now and expects to break the record when he reaches Prince George.
‘I could stop then if I wanted to,” he says, but he intends to continue.
Although he wants to set the Guinness Record, “first and foremost, I want to cycle Canada coast to coast to coast.”
Now that he’s seen so much of this country, he’s urging Canadians to do the same.
Noting that 2017 marks the country’s 150thbirthday, he says, “Many Canadians have traveled all over the world, but haven’t taken the time to see their backyard. This is one of the most absolutely gorgeous countries, rich in culture, and I would implore everybody to make Canada their next travel destination. They will be overwhelmed. We live in a beautiful country and you never really appreciate it until you discover it.”
For himself, he jokes that mere weeks into his ride, he realized, “I’m doomed because I’m never going to stop traveling. My dream ultimately is to drive a car and travel around the world. To just go.”
Readers can follow his progress on his Canadian journey on Instagram @JaBig or on his Facebook page JaBig Chocophile.