The Ride of the Nearly Departed


To begin, I need to explain the title. I know it sounds a bit strange and it is. Throughout my entire life I have always looked for adventures. From taking the road less traveled, even when I wasn’t completely sure it was a road, to attempting something completely beyond my skill set, I have never been afraid of the unknown. This is not to say that I am an adrenaline junkie, jumping out of perfectly sound aircraft or riding over waterfalls in a barrel. No, I value my life and want to live forever or die trying. Instead I try to find the adventures that await in everyday life. Things such as taking that less traveled road or cow path; kayaking that rapids, hopping on my bike and riding with no destination in mind or following that path through the woods just to see where it ends up. It even led me to buying a run down Canadian resort and moving a thousand miles to different country to run a business I only vaguely understood. It has led to places of unchallenged beauty, situations of chilling fear, the insides of burning buildings and adventures both vast and small. Still, there have been things left undone due to the need to put food on the table or honour promises made to those who depend upon them being kept.

One of those undone things was a desire to ride my bike across North America, from sea to shining sea, as the song goes. This idea was born at high school between four track team buddies back in 1969. We had no idea of how to do this thing or even the vaguest sort of information about what it would entail. We were young and full of that spirit that makes young men feel invincible. Unfortunately, aside from having bicycles and strong legs, we had zero funds and no so much as a road map. By the end of our senior year, the draft during the height of the Vietnam War or the need to pay for further education trumped any cross country adventures. Skip ahead past marriage, children, building a livelihood and finally retirement, to where there was time, knowledge and possibly the funds to undertake that journey. I made my decision, signed up for the trip and began to shape my plans. Then my heart stopped beating.

Just fresh from my 66th birthday and a physically fit, non-smoker with a healthy diet and no previous medical problems, I found myself in the back of an ambulance, huffing nitro. At the emergency room, I lay on my back, feeling incredibly sleepy and just getting to that pleasant mental state where a satisfying, deep sleep was creeping up from deep inside when wham, I am wide awake and in the moment with at least a half dozen people clustered around me asking me if I know where I am. My head clears and I am told that I was down, no heart beat and no breathing for about a minute or so. My chest feels like someone hit it with a sledge hammer and I am told they had to do chest compressions and use a defibrillator to bring me back from just the other side of death’s door. From that ER it was a bumpy ambulance ride through a snowstorm to the Ottawa Heart Institute for two stints, a few days of observation and a whole new set of perspectives on life. Yet another adventure for Bob but not one I ever dreamed of, let alone desired. My bicycle adventure seemed destined to be but an unfulfilled dream.

“Don’t be too hasty,” advised my cardiologist, “your trip is just over 3 months away and aside from nearly being deceased, you are in excellent shape.” “Let’s give it a couple of months, then we can talk again and make a more informed decision.” At first I was not sure I heard him correctly but as it turns out a near death experience need not be a dream killer. Still, I had much work to do to take that dream back to reality. First, I had to change my diet. It appears my genetic heritage makes my optimal cholesterol number a lot lower than most people’s. Next, I had a nice buffet of daily medications to take for the next 30 plus years or eternity, whichever comes first. Then I had to give my heart a chance to heal before beginning the gradual process of bringing by body back into shape for the adventure. Fortunately, my body was already fairly fit and while not some muscle bound superman, I was reasonably sound and healthy for a 66 year old guy. I could do this.