Spokes man

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2006, 12:00am

Last week a farmer pulled into his lane three hours north of Ottawa and found a lean, darkly tanned young man named Ira Sutherland on a bicycle at the entrance to his yard. The sky was darkening and a furious wind had picked up.

'Mind if I pitch my tent in your yard?' Mr Sutherland shouted over at the elderly farmer. Just then, the rain began pelting down and the farmer waved him into his house.

Inside, Mr Sutherland explained that he lived in Vancouver and, two months ago, set out to cycle across Canada, camping by the road along the way. According to the odometer on his bike, he had pedalled 5,777km.

I think that farmer's reaction was similar to mine when Mr Sutherland arrived in my driveway in Ottawa two days later. 'How many kilometres,' I asked?

The farmer and his wife fried up a thick steak for Mr Sutherland and invited him to spend the night in their spare bedroom. My family and I offered the same hospitality, although I'll confess he isn't quite a stranger. I know his parents, and when they mentioned that he would be passing through, I offered our home as a pit stop.

The evening he arrived and explained to us how far he had come, we brought him inside for dinner. He devoured everything but his plate. As he told us, he eats 'four square meals a day' while he's on the road - almost all of which he cooks himself on his little camp stove.

Mr Sutherland is 21, and laboured as a carpenter for the past year to raise the money for his trip. 'Why?' is what most people ask him. We'll get to that later.

First, a bit about his adventures and his travelling kit. Mr Sutherland says he has seen 17 bears on his travels so far, and countless other forms of wildlife. His saddlebags hold a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, two pots for cooking, a stove and food. He eats right from the pot. He dines on pasta and fresh vegetables, which he buys along the way.

He has endured searing heat waves, black-hearted thunderstorms and numbing cold coming over the Rocky Mountains. But mostly, he has encountered people so friendly and helpful that he has developed a new-found affection for his home and native land.

As for why he's doing this, he says it began as a personal challenge - but now it is evolving into a mission. He'd like to inspire others to get out of their cars, to see the country and to meet their fellow citizens, as he is doing.

After resting with us for four days and getting his bike tuned up, Mr Sutherland pedalled out of Ottawa on Sunday, headed for Newfoundland. That will easily add another 2,000km to his odyssey.