“A little less conversation, a little more action, please” — classic Elvis lyrics that certainly spoke to Brentwood Bay resident Charles Klasen.
Klasen took on the impressive feat of cycling across Canada, not for any specific cause, but just to prove he could, and to inspire others to just go for it.
“Like Forrest Gump said, he just wanted to go for a run, and I just wanted to go for a bike ride,” said Klasen. “I thought I was doing this for inspiration, I get inspired by older people, younger people, and I’ve some good mentors, and I always wanted to do the same thing.”
Klasen, who turns 67 in January and prides himself on still being in good shape, wanted to inspire those who always talk about what they want to do, but never do it. He also wanted to prove to himself he had it in him to cycle from coast to coast. He embarked on his journey from his Brentwood Bay home on May 25, and admits that the first week in the hot weather of B.C. was like his personal boot camp, and then it got easier as he is no stranger to regular exercise and hiking.
“Now, I honestly don’t blink an eye when it comes to 100 km a day, that’s no problem,” said Klasen. “It was 88 days total, and 67 cycling days, I had 21 days where I rested or had mechanical delays. I had 17 flat tires, and it takes at least 17 hours to fix all those up. I started from my house and calculated it to be 7,132 km. I never had so many wide-eyed, awestruck, holy cow expressions in my whole life. It was quite amazing, across the entire country, it didn’t matter where I was, or the age group I came across.”
Klasen had quite the B.C. adventure before embarking on his latest nation-wide one. He spent his childhood and teenage days growing up on a chicken farm in Cobble Hill. Later in life, he lived in different parts of the Interior for nine years and several in Victoria. Klasen says he’s been riding a bike since he was a kid and became more of an avid rider as an adult, travelling from his former home in Duncan to Nanaimo for pleasure, and to Victoria for work.
“I’ve got almost 70,000 km now under my belt after this trip,” said Klasen.
Klasen has not retired from cycling, but he did from his government job of 36 years with B.C. Forestry in 2020. Klasen worked in various areas over the span of his career including fire protection but for the last nine, Klasen was in timber pricing and in the department of policy and regulations, he was the head honcho for the entire coast.
“I absolutely loved it,” said Klasen. “I had some pretty good staff and looked after everything for the timber pricing side all the way and down the coast, so that was cool. What I loved most is the I was fortunate to work with just top-quality people, all the way from the top to the bottom. There were some real dedicated souls.”
Klasen reached his destination of Cape Spear, Newfoundland which is the most eastern point in the country on his Marin touring bike on Aug. 21. While Klasen admits he has never partaken in any of the cycling events that the island is home to, since completing his coast-to-coast trek he is eager to get more involved. Over the course of his adventure, he met up with Arthur Van Deth and Rick Starkiewitz in Gull Lake, Saskatchewan and cycled with them all the way up to Bruce Peninsula in Tobermory, Ont.
“Ontario is one vast province, it took me 23 days to get across that puppy,” said Klasen. “The guys I met in Saskatchewan are part of a Tuesday night riding group here in Sidney. I will be joining them for sure, they just turned out to be wonderful pals.”
There is much to appreciate on a cross-country cycle trip, but it was Quebec that stole Klasen’s heart, and he adds the rumours about one needing to know the French language to thrive are hogwash. Klasen considers himself to be an extroverted person, and felt extra welcomed by all he encountered.
“The bicycle paths, and the scenery was amazing,” said Klasen. The old part of Quebec City was just wow. I spent a fair bit of time at the Chateau Frontenac, and it was mind blowing to me. The Montreal Canadiens have also always been my most favourite hockey team, so I was just over the top thrilled to be in that place and see the statue of Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, and Jean Béliveau too, that was cool.”
When it came to filling the proverbial tank Klasen said dining at a 24/7 bagel shop he came across and the world-famous Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal were both highlights.
“Schwartz’s is absolute legend, all sorts of movie stars and rock musicians have been in that place to eat there; they have the most fabulous meats,” said Klasen. “Old Montreal is beautiful, but like one woman said, wait till you get to Quebec City, and she was right.
Klasen said that beauty was the theme of his journey right from Quebec City to New Brunswick crediting the Riviere-du-Loup as another sight to see. While there were many stunning sights nationwide, Klasen shares the most memorable part for him was the beautiful people he encountered along the way. Through the kindness of strangers over Messenger, Klasen met Monique of P.E.I. who was extremely accommodating when the weather was not and picked him up on the north side of the Confederation Bridge, which is not cyclist, or pedestrian friendly.
“The best part of this journey was the warmth, kindness, and welcoming nature of many Canadians,” said Klasen. “It was raining almost my entire time cycling through the Maritimes. Within minutes of me calling Monique from where I was eating lunch, she picked me up, and drove me first to Charlottetown to get a rental car, and to drop my bike off, which need repairs. She let me stay with her and her husband Jeff for three solid nights, and I had only met her that day. It was so heartwarming, and I have many stories like that, I was just overwhelmed by the kindness of people throughout the entire trip.
This included the owner who repaired Klasen’s bike in Charlottetown who admired the journey he was on and was adamant on picking him up from where he returned his rental vehicle on another day where the weather was less than kind. Klasen met many kind strangers but rode away with 50 friends. Klasen also had a brief encounter with two teen grizzly bears and was exposed to a tornado 25 km away from where he was approaching Brooks, Alberta. The latter led to deciding that his next adventure will be riding into the eye of the storm, just not on a bicycle.
“I’m going to go to Tornado Alley in the U.S. next year for some sort of a guided tour to chase tornadoes,” said Klasen. “I’ve always wanted to do this. I’m going for the thrill of it, plus I have some fantastic photographic equipment, and am certain I can get some amazing shots.”