Road Lesson #3, You Will Meet Angels

Meeting someone even once can change your life.  Here’s a story about one such encounter with a man who changed the way I saw myself – all in 30 minutes.

I was cycling the first leg of a 250km trip from Jasper, Alberta to Canmore, Alberta, through the most stunning scenery in the world, the Icefields Parkway of the Canadian Rockies.   While the Athabasca River flowed cold and grey to my right and the shear cliffs of mountains cut awesome figures on both sides of the valley, my aching legs told me my trip was going to be more difficult than I assumed.  So, it was with a little grey cloud of discouragement over my head that I cycled into the Mount Kerkeslan viewpoint.

There were people taking pictures, but it was the sight of someone at the far end of the lot, a mysterious looking man sitting beside a bicycle packed with gear that caught my attention.  “Who is this?” I thought as I cycled toward him.   He looked up at me with a joyful smile, so I stopped to greet him.

“Sit down, sit down,” his words thick with a Korean accent.   He had long hair and a beard sprinkled with grey.  His face was brown and weather worn.  His body was thin and lythe, like he used every calorie of food energy he ate.   His gear, all 100 pounds of it, was worn and well used.  I was amazed how much he carried with him.

He sat on a long green mat and motioned for me to sit down with him.  He seemed so ernest, I sat down obligingly.   In the same manner, he offered me a drink of water from an old pop bottle, handed me a loaf of plain white bread, a jar of peanut butter, and  knife. I thanked him for his hospitality and began making myself a sandwich.   As cyclists do on the road, I asked him where he was coming from.  His reply surprised me.   “Los Angeles, California,” he said.   I travel from Los Angeles to New York, then to Niagara Falls, across Canada to Edmonton, Jasper and now here.”

“Really?”  My eyes bugged out, betraying my amazement, and I confess, my alarm at the significance of  his journey.   I thought my trip from Jasper to Canmore was really something and here was a man cycling across North America!

“I’m 70 years old,” he said with an air of pride and joy.    “I travel around the world.  Korea, China, Europe, South America.”    He pulled out a small stack of pictures and flipped through them, pointing himself out in France, Spain, Peru, and Argentina.   Some included snow and others were of desert.    Now, I was really amazed.

“Why are you doing this?”  I had to understand what would compel a 70 year-old man to take on such an arduous journey.

“For meditation,” he replied.

“Are you a monk?”   He reminded me so much of my Zen teacher from Canmore in the late 80′s, that I felt a tremor of the Spirit wash over me.

“No, monks have big ego,” he said smiling.

I laughed out loud at his declaration.   I told him that I had practiced Zen Buddhism for 2 years and shared my Zen name “Do Chun” with him, (which means Dharma River).    I showed him my Zen initiation scar on my right fore arm, and clarified for him that I was in fact, a Catholic.   Now he was surprised.  Some time during our chat, a horsefly landed on my arm so I slapped it to the ground.  With the heal of my right cycling shoe I stomped it.  He scowled at me in disapproval.  I must have appeared to be a heathen, to his Buddhist re-incarnationalist mindset, I thought.

“Where do you sleep at night?” I asked him.

“Beside the road.  Wherever I stop,” he told me.  Now this really alarmed me even more.

“But there are wolves, cougars, black bears and grizzly bears in the Rockies!”    He kept his bread in a wire cage just behind his bicycle seat.   I instantly imagined a bear tearing his gear – and him – apart.

“No problem,” he said with an air of utter confidence, a response that did not make me feel any less alarmed.  I prayed for him every day for a week after that moment.*

We talked about many other things, took some pictures, and then it was time to move on.  We said a prayer together, exchanged contact information, and I climbed onto my bicycle.   “Just peddle, no push,” he advised me.   Yes, he was right about that peddling mind-body connection.  The more I thought about my sore legs, the more they tightened up.

I thanked him for his time and his hospitality and cycled 30 kms south to Honeymoon Lake.   It was that day or the next that I decided I would ride to Vancouver to see my brother Sean.   “If a 70 year-old man can cycle around the world, I can make it to Vancouver,” I told myself.   And so, 3 weeks later, I did just that.

*I checked this man’s website recently and saw that he had, in fact, made it back to the States.   I was relieved that my prayers of protection were heard….


  1. by Tim

    On January 3, 2013

    Very cool story from the road. Inspiring, and certainly tells me a lot about how trust, and just doing it make for compelling journeys. Love the “just peddle, no push.” Should be on cyclists’ T-shirts :)

  2. by Patrick

    On January 3, 2013

    Thanks Tim. It was a wonderful encounter. I rode away feeling so light, so blessed – and yes, so worried that my friend would get eaten by a bear :) .
    I agree with your interpretation of the story; it is in moving day to day, moment to moment in a spirit of trust, that we follow the path of life.
    I’ll get my creative people on the t-shirt. How many shall I order for you?

  3. by Craig

    On January 3, 2013

    Great story Pat!

    ‘Just peddle, no push” is the new “wax on wax off” … ;-)

    Keep yer eyes on the road!

  4. by Patrick O'Connor

    On January 3, 2013

    Thanks Craig! There seems to be a theme here with the “just peddle, no push” motto.
    Good to hear from you. Keep your stick on the ice!

  5. by Tammy

    On January 9, 2013

    I love this story! “Just peddle, no push”. It’s a motto we can all, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, live our lives by. Staying in the moment without an agenda allows for what is meant to be to be and for the lessons to come to us without judgement. What an inspirational encounter!

  6. by Patrick O'Connor

    On January 10, 2013

    Thank you Tammy. Yes, it’s something we can all learn, to stay in the present moment and let things be what they are and what they will be. Got to get the T-shirts ordered… :)

  7. by Lara

    On February 4, 2013

    I remember you telling me this story when we met Pat. Travelling isn’t just about the wonderful places we visit, but more so about those who we encounter that both touch and change our lives in some way.

  8. by Patrick O'Connor

    On February 4, 2013

    You got that right, Lara – you are one of them! Great to see you here! I’m sure you’ve met angels in Africa.

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