This term, my students wrote a personal narrative essay about an
experience that had lead to a new realization or epiphany in
their lives. The following essay, "Biker Brad," was used as a
demonstration piece to guide the students over multiple drafts.
The essay went through six full revisions, each one shared and
discussed with my students.
By midmorning my legs were already tired, my
feet sore. Riding past small farms north of the Fraser River,
white fences enclosing lush, green spring grass, I saw chestnut
horses graze and look up, puzzled. On May 28, 1975, I set out at
eight a.m. on a solo bicycle trip that would end in Halifax.
I made it all the way up the valley to Hope
and pushed hard to reach a campground further up the Fraser
Canyon. It was twilight when, exhausted, I put up my tent for
the night. The deep diesel roar of freight trains echoed up and
down the canyon, as they laboured up the steep grade all night
long. I didn’t sleep much.
I rode 160 kilometers on the first day and
calculated that I would need to ride that many, day in and day
out, if I wanted to reach Halifax by August. Along the way, I
would watch Canada go by at an average of 16 kilometers an hour.
To meet my goal, I had to ride ten hours a day—a physical test,
yes, but a mental test, more.
The second day was harder than the first—and
hotter. By midafternoon, I was at the base of Jackass Mountain,
a wicked ascent that forced me to climb a thousand meters.
Trucks descended, brakes smoking hot, then pulled in at the
truck stop near the mountain’s base. I took a look and started
The heat was brutal—reaching 30 degrees that
afternoon—as I rode up the south-facing slope. I had to stand in
my pedals to keep riding, knowing that I would lose valuable
time if I walked. I pushed on but barely made 100 kilometers. At
least the campsite was quieter: only the roar of semi-trailers
The landscape changed—the hills were
desert-like, the nights, colder. I sat, a gangly teenaged boy at
a picnic table, cooking supper on a tiny white-gas stove, my
face and neck burned bright red from the afternoon sun. A
neighouring camper strode up.
“So, where you riding to?”
“Halifax,” I replied.
“You don’t say! What does your mother think of
“Oh, she’s a bit worried, I guess, but I’ll
make it.” Not that my mother’s worry was at the top of my mind
My mother flew to Calgary to see me (to my
surprise). Mostly, I remember it being strange, sitting around
for a couple of days and eating huge meals to help fuel my trip
south to my grandmother’s farm.
I’d ridden the first thousand and had only
5,148 kilometers to go!
At my grandmother’s, I walked along the
driveway with my uncle, a rough-edged man born on the prairie
who had never been further than a thousand kilometers from home.
“I know you’ll make it,” he’d said. “When you
were four years old I sent you for a dipper of water up at the
“So . . .?” I asked.
“Your mom and dad wanted you to jump in the
car for a trip to town. But you wouldn’t, not until you’d
finished getting that water.”
My grandmother didn’t like my beard. “Why’d
you grow that?” she’d complained. “You’ve got a nice face. Why
As I rode away from her farm, a photograph was
taken by the Lethbridge Herald, the one that branded me “Biker
Brad,” although “cyclist” is the correct usage. Taken with a
telephoto lens, the photographer focused on a young man riding
down the highway, on his way to Medicine Hat and beyond.
Wind at my back, I continued, heading for the
Manitoba border, all downhill (except for the occasional
coulee). At 700 meters elevation, I covered my arms and legs
with a thin, nylon Adidas tracksuit—no more sunburns for me!
Prairie winds tend to blow from west to east, pushing me along
I spent my first seven years on the prairie.
Riding towards the restless horizon, early spring wheat dancing
on the wind, I felt at home. The hardest part came after
Winnipeg as Arnold (my former minister’s son) and I headed east
towards his girlfriend’s house in Montreal.
Northern Ontario has endless hills and rocks
and narrow highways filled with holiday traffic. Freight truck
drivers honked in salute sometimes, seeing me a second time on
their return run, and giving me a thumbs up.
But the same trucks push a wall of air in
front that was a constant danger, especially in a headwind, and
sometimes created a burst of wind strong enough to knock us from
our bikes. At least Arnold and I could “draft,” riding close
behind each other’s rear wheel, taking turns riding in front,
bearing the full force of the wind.
After visiting Montreal, I continued on alone
and fixed my final flat late one afternoon in New Brunswick, the
sunset casting a net of orange over the rolling hills. A
hurricane had passed through Nova Scotia just before my arrival,
although I saw nothing but sunshine.
I arrived in Halifax early one afternoon,
descending a steep hill, my arms raised. No one was there to
greet me, but something felt different. I had stuck it out and
got there, one way or another. It was August 1, 1975.
—© Brad Hyde; 877 words; sixth draft (27 words
fewer than the fifth)