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  Brad's Teacher Writing: "Biker Brad"
   January 10, 2009

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.


Biker Brad

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 up.

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 gearing down!

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 that?”

“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 at nineteen.

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 house.”

“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 hide it?”

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 most days.

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)





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