There are only two weeks left of a five-month cross-continental bike trip, but the journey will never really end.
Pedal biker Chris Figureida, founder of Cycle for Heart, started his journey to raise awareness for heart disease at the lowest point in the United States; Death Valley, Calif. and has since biked through Canada to the highest point of the United States, Mount McKinley, Alaska.
“Heart disease is the biggest cause of death,” said Figureida.
Figureida visited Ponoka in April and since then has encountered almost every wild animal Western Canada has to offer. “I felt like I was riding through Jurassic Park.”
He spotted 28 bears, three of which were confirmed grizzlies.
Figureida was riding along the highway and a maintenance truck going the opposite direction pulled over to inform him three adult grizzlies were just up the road.
Low on options, Figureida asked the driver of the truck for assistance. Without room in the truck for Figureida or his bike, he was forced to hold on to the back of the truck as it pulled him by the grizzlies.
If they start to come after us we’ll just go a little faster the driver told him. “That was a little scary. They’re right on the other side of the vehicle,” Figureida said.
“I had bear spray right between my legs, strapped to the bicycle.”
Even worse than the bears were a herd of bison. “They were really skittish around the bike.”
Figureida had to shadow a trailer to get through the herd on the highway.
Wildlife isn’t the only challenge Figureida faces along his ride. He travels without any follow cars or other bikers.
“Mentally it’s tougher,” Figureida said. “I might start my own debate—maybe about gun control and see where I stand.”
Getting enough nutrients was also a problem. Figureida was burning huge amounts of calories each day without any means of getting them back.
Figureida said there were hardly any stores open along the Alaska Highway. He ended up eating multiple bags of chips and two bottles of Coke for supper and breakfast. Outside of Lizard Hat Spring in northern British Columbia, Figureida found a gas station but all they had to sell was 16 Twix bars.
“I sat at the side of the highway and ate 16 Twix bars.”
However, when someone was able to convince Figureida not to sleep in his tent he fared better.
A woman working at the Rancheria Hotel at the Yukon 7-10 mile post insisted Figureida sleep indoors rather than his tent. “She gave me a free room and bought me dinner and breakfast,” Figureida said.
Although Figureida was cycling through part of Canada in late spring he was struck by two big snowstorms, the first at Sangudo, near Whitecourt.
“It was absolutely brutal,” Figureida said. “It was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to cycle through.”
Once Figureida reached Mount McKinley it was a 60-mile ski-in. Before he was all the way in his feet got so blistered he couldn’t continue, had to ski out and fly in to let his feet recover. He spent the next 23 days trying to climb Mount McKinley.
At 17,200 feet he sat on the side of the mountain for eight days, in wind reaching 80 km /h, until the weather got good enough he could continue, it never did.
Once there was a small lull, Figureida decided he had to climb back down or he would lose his life. Two days later, four Japanese climbers died in an avalanche in the area he’d been waiting.
“I was very disappointed, I’d spent so much energy to get there and I wasn’t able to summit,” Figureida said. “I guess the summit was a personal goal.”
For Figureida bringing awareness to heart disease is the bigger picture.
During his ride Figureida was given $500 from the Rotary clubs of Dawson Creek and Edmonton South. He also received $500 toward helping polio. “The Rotary Clubs are very supportive of my efforts.”
For Figureida “efforts” are the key and he doesn’t want people to lose sight of that.
“People want to focus on the adventure. I’m not out here for the adventure, this is not about me. I’m just an average guy. I’m not a great athlete. I’m just trying to follow my dreams. I just want to make a difference in the world.”
Figureida also said over the course of his ride more money has been donated from Canadians than Americans. “I was very surprised from the Canadian generosity.”
After he returns to California, Figureida plans to take a year off before cycling from Maine to Florida.
For more information about Cycle for Heart visit Figureida’s website, www.cycleforheart.org.