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Editor’s Note: On May 1, 2006, Beliefnet user Neil Woodward, a 59-year-old painter from Vancouver, Canada set out on a bicycle ride across Canada. He hopes it will change his life, renew his faith in God, and reinvigorate his creative inspiration. From the start he's encountered challenges that have tested his already troubled spirit but he is determinedly pedaling around them and into his future. Beliefnet has asked Mr. Woodward to share the joys and tribulations of his sojourn. He'll file these reports in three parts. In Part One, below, he talks about the struggles with alcohol, art, and God that set him on his current course.

In high school I knew a guy who wanted to become a doctor. Since seventh grade that's all he wanted to be. After graduating, he went straight into pre-med and medical school, and was a doctor by age 25. I envy such people. They know exactly where they want to go in life. Their path is clear, and they know that if they work hard and focus their efforts wisely, success can almost always be attained.

I don’t think most people have such a clear picture of where they are going. I, for one, feel I’ve been lost all my life. The only thing I’ve ever had a strong urge to do is create art, and I’ve spent most of my life trying to stifle that desire and make myself do something more sensible. (Everyone knows that devoting one’s life to creating beautiful things is foolish, impractical, and potentially self-destructive—or so I was taught.)

"I don't think most people have such a clear picture of where they are going."

Anyway, 10 or 11 years ago I went through a crisis that forced me to start over. I had to take a new direction, and I was at a loss as to what it should be. In desperation I turned to my rudimentary spiritual beliefs as a source of direction and inspiration. I began to clarify my understanding of a higher power, and my relationship, such as it might be, with it. Within six months I began to get a pretty strong feeling that a higher power did exist and that it was directing me to make proper use of my life and the creative abilities I was born with.

I decided to follow that intuition, and so I started to paint. My first piece, “Sunday Morning, Lonsdale Quay” sold for $4,000, and over the next few years I created 16 more paintings, most of which also sold.

Strangely, though, as I approached the 60th year of my life, that sense of being lost in life returned. I fell into a mental, emotional, spiritual and creative slump. I could barely make myself paint, and, once again, I was plagued with doubts about whether this was really what I was “supposed” to be doing with my life.

In February of 2006, my Vancouver apartment was sold and I was given two months to leave. I was upset at first, but after pondering my situation, I thought maybe this was all happening for a reason. Perhaps my life had become dull and uninspiring, and my higher power was now nudging me to reach into the unknown, explore new possibilities, and look for fresh direction. Instead of looking for a new apartment right away, I put everything I owned in storage, bought camping gear and a cycle-touring trailer, and rode out of Vancouver on my bicycle.

"Instead I put everything I owned into storage, bought some camping gear and a cycle-touring trailer and rode out of Vancouver on my bicycle."

I rode 40 km south and took the ferry to Vancouver Island’s Victoria, a beautifully historic and scenic harbor city on the West coast of British Columbia, with a budding desire to cycle across Canada. Maybe it was blind hope or wishful thinking, but I had a hunch that such a trip would be good for me, that it might pull me out of my mental and spiritual malaise; it might even be a life-altering spiritual experience. If I did decide to go ahead with it, I wanted to start in Victoria, Canada’s westernmost major city, and ride to Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the East coast.
I also wanted to visit an elderly aunt and a cousin and his wife, as I'd been meaning to do for some time.

After a couple of enjoyable days in Victoria, I rode north to Nanaimo, where I hoped to relax for a few days, organize a new laptop computer that I had bought to keep track of my sojourn, and generally make plans for the next part of my journey.

The weather was beautiful and I was just starting to feel really excited about the adventure ahead. That's when things turned bad.