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On May 1, 2006, Beliefnet user Neil B.Woodward, a 59-year-old painter from Vancouver, set out on a bicycle ride across Canada. He hoped it would change his life, renew his faith in God, and reinvigorate his creative inspiration. From the start he encountered challenges that tested his already troubled spirit but is determinedly pedaling around them and into his future. Beliefnet has asked Woodward to share the joys and tribulations of his sojourn. He's filing these reports in three parts. In Part 2, below, he talks about his struggles with hopelessness and anger and his determination to persevere for the sake of his loved ones. Click here to read part 1 of Woodward's journey.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia—It took me a couple of days to replace my stolen belongings. During this time I managed to clarify what I hoped to accomplish with this bike trip. I decided that my purpose was not necessarily to reach Halifax within any given time, or even at all.

The trip was to be more an exploration of possibilities.

The Nicolum River, beside the campground I stayed at in Hope, B.C.

Even without my laptop I tried to update my weblog at Internet cafés and public libraries along the way. I stopped for a day or two whenever I felt the need, and I put my life in God’s hands and let Him show me the way. I wanted to learn to trust in God completely; and with this in mind, there was one item from my stolen things that I decided not to replace. In 1994, my doctor told me that I “almost certainly” suffered from clinical depression, caused by a serotonin imbalance in my brain. He had prescribed antidepressants which he said I should probably take for the rest of my life. But his diagnosis was based entirely on what I had told him about my personal history; it was a diagnosis I had always questioned. To me my recurring bouts of hopelessness, despair, and fear of life meant only one thing—that I didn’t have enough faith in God or myself or anything else.

This bike trip seemed a perfect opportunity to prove I didn’t need artificial medications. I would be getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, eating well, and having an adventure every day. I would be learning to trust God completely. Why would I need anti-depressants?

My preparations completed, I cycled out of Vancouver, again heading east into the mountains of British Columbia, where I soon encountered the first in a series of long, steep mountain passes. I confronted my first right outside of Hope, B.C. and continued for 42 kilometers to its summit in Manning Provincial Park. It was so unrelenting that I had to push my heavily laden bike and trailer all the way up. At several points I almost passed out from the strain and my anger at God flared up again as I pressed on.
To me my recurring bouts of hopelessness, despair and fear of life meant only one thing—that I didn’t have enough faith in God or myself or anything else.

I did make it, barely, by the end of the day, and over the next several weeks I climbed many more such passes, becoming stronger at a remarkable rate. For one five-day period I rode in the rain every day, arriving at my destination completely drenched. A couple of times I even had to set up my tent in the rain and then mop the inside dry with towels and clothes from my laundry bag before unpacking my bedding. Then I had to wash and dry the towels and laundry at a laundromat before going to bed.

At the end of one day, as I sat in a coffee shop, I met a fellow artist named Michael who invited me to have dinner with him and his wife and offered me his guest room for the night. I accepted, and later that evening after an excellent meal our conversation turned to spiritual matters.

Although raised Catholic, Michael had actually been an atheist since he was very young. To him it seemed that throughout history great suffering had been caused by people who believed they were obeying some imaginary deity. When I asked him what he thought about a God whose only directives were to love one another and be as positive and constructive as we could with whatever we were given in life, he became thoughtful.

A Presqu’ile sunset
He began telling a story that he had always loved. In the story, God shows a recently deceased person a flashback of their life, represented by two sets of footprints in the sand, and God says “You see, I was with you every step of the way.” But the deceased person points to several places where there was only one set of footprints, suggesting that in some places he had walked alone, to which God replies, “Those were places where you were too weak to go on, so I had to carry you.”

Michael almost cried before he could finish the story. Then he apologized, saying that he always choked up when he told it, not because he believed it, but simply because it was such a beautiful story. The next day, after I said my goodbyes and went on my way, I thought about Michael’s reaction. How could a confirmed atheist be so moved by a simple story about the love of God? I wondered if he really wanted to believe, but somehow couldn’t. I also wondered if God was “carrying” me right now, and who I would have been angry at had I been an atheist like Michael.

Early in June I reached the province of Alberta and spent several days visiting friends and family in Calgary. They had all read my weblog and seemed puzzled at my focus on spirituality.

Calgary, Alberta
“Why would anyone take such irrational things so seriously?” seemed to be their attitude. I began to think I was very different from the people I knew and loved, and I realized that was one of the reasons I felt angry at God. Why couldn’t He have made me more like them—logical, practical and pragmatic? Why did he have to make me such a woolly-headed idealist, condemned to spend my life chasing pipe dreams and mirages?