When part-time Whistler resident Rudy Pospisil was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he saw it as a new lease on life.
"I took it as a gift and decided to put my time to good use," he wrote in an email from New Zealand, explaining that the diagnosis came with a life expectancy of at least 15 years.
For the 52-year-old firefighter, making the most of his remaining time has meant embarking on a mission few others would dare: circumnavigating the globe by bike.
Since beginning his trip in 2009, Pospisil has pedaled 18,000 kilometres across 15 countries, all in support of cancer charities. He's raised a quarter of his $100,000 goal for the Canadian Cancer Society, and various amounts in other countries. If all goes according to plan, he hopes to wrap his trip with one final leg between Vancouver and Whistler in 2017.
Needless to say, Pospisil's journey has been extremely taxing at times. He can shed up to 10 kilograms per ride, fighting dehydration, sizzling desert temperatures, torrential downpours and the occasional brush with death.
"I have been in several dangerous situations," he said.
There was the time he was nearly shot at by a "crazy" Texas State Trooper who thought he was trying to rustle cattle, numerous close encounters with deadly reptiles, and the day he narrowly escaped being robbed — or worse — by a pair of "Mexican bandits" who only let him go after learning he was Canadian. "My second chance at life after cancer," Pospisil noted.
Despite the close calls, Pospisil's experience has shown him the inherent good in people time and again.
"For the most part human beings really want to help others because they find it gratifying and instinctively inclined to do so," he said.
While the physical toll is immense, Pospisil knows the body can adapt to almost any situation. The emotional toll, however, is harder to overcome.
"It gets lonely and sad at times," he said matter-of-factly.
He ate one Thanksgiving dinner alone under an overpass, and his father died from cancer while he was away — "I will never forgive myself for not being there," he said.
But if there's one thing that keeps Pospisil going, it's the support he's received from other cancer survivors.
"Cancer survivors are the most helpful of all people, as they have made the same journey inside themselves as I have faced with the diagnosis," he said.
Through it all, the Burnaby fire captain has learned a fair bit about the world and even more about himself. In fact, it was one piece of advice from a Buddhist monk in Thailand that now serves as his personal mantra. After asking him what the meaning of life is, the old monk told him he wasn't asking the right question.
"A better question is 'What makes happiness'" the monk said. "Not things of value, fame, or great savings of money, but compassion, a good heart, giving and helping others."
Pospisil was reminded of the gratitude he's felt on his own journey to help others. "He was right," he said.