Edmonton's Tom Walsh was anxious during the final week of his cross-Canada cycling journey, fearing he may not be able to finish. While he was certain his 63-year-old body (with two replacement hips) would endure, he wasn't optimistic about his seven-year-old bike.
"It was clanking a bit. I wasn't sure it was going to make it," said Walsh. "The bottom bracket and the bearing were starting to go. I was nervous.” He added that he had been unable to find replacement parts anywhere along the way.
"When I got to the bottom of Signal Hill in St. John's, I said ‘I can always push it.’”
Thankfully he didn’t have to. Walsh was able to continue pedaling his 27-speed Raleigh touring bike until the finish on Sept. 3.
Along with seven other riders from across Canada, Walsh had completed the 7,650 km journey over 72 days with the Tour du Canada cycling club.
For Walsh the ride was a culmination of a decades-long quest that began after he went on a six-month solo tour around Australia in 1989.
"I always thought about cycling across Canada after that," he said.
Once he retired from EPCOR in January, 2020, Walsh reached out to Tour du Canada (www.tourducanada.com), ride organizers since 1988.
When the 2020 ride was cancelled due to COVID-19 Walsh kept up his training, cycling 13,000 km over 12 months in preparation for this year's event.
Walsh--who had his hips replaced in 2007 and 2012--was the third oldest in the group, as there were two other men aged 65 and 69. The other riders who finished were between 24 and the mid-50s.
All cyclists this year were vaccinated Canadians, as COVID-19 restrictions prevented internationals from participating.
The ride started in Victoria in late June and soon after, was hit by the record heat wave that rocked B.C.
“I had a bit of heat stroke,” said Walsh, adding he and his fellow riders were transported in vehicles for a 100 km section due to the dangerous conditions.
Consuming 10,000 calories a day on average, Walsh said he dropped between 10 and 15 pounds. The average daily distance covered was 129 km with 60 days of riding and 12 rest days. On the trek, riders all teamed up to prepare the supplied food for the meals. Most nights they stayed in tents in campgrounds, although they did stay in university dorms for a few nights.
“It was a real team effort. We developed a bond with each other because we were sharing this huge challenge together,” said Walsh of the group's camaraderie.
For inspiration on long days, Walsh would listen to classic rock music on his ear buds and chat with his wife Wendy.
Not everything went smoothly on the journey---Walsh estimates he made between 10 and 15 flat repairs along the way. He also says there were a few tense moments near the middle of the trek.
"Some of the highways aren't the best. In Manitoba there were no shoulders and lots of potholes." While Walsh didn’t take a tumble, he said other riders went down but managed to avoid injury.
And while they did not encounter any other extreme weather, the riders did experience a variety of conditions. "Storms and pouring rain. You name it," said Walsh.
It might be natural to set the cycle aside after such an expedition, but Walsh was in no mood to take a break. Within days after returning home, the senior repaired his Raleigh and went out for a relaxing ride with Wendy.
"We went out around Highlands. It was nice."