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East meets west, northeast and southwest

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Atsushi Kato crosses Canada, U.S. by bike

It was a long way to go, but in a way that was the whole point of the journey.

Averaging about 100 kilometres a day for 196 days, Japan’s Atsushi Kato pedalled from the West Coast of Vancouver Island to St. John’s Newfoundland, and from St. John’s to Los Angeles, California – a total of 17,488 km on the road. To put that into perspective, that’s almost halfway around the world.

Kato arrived in Whistler in April of 2002 and worked last winter at Samurai Sushi. His goal from the beginning was to pedal across Canada and the U.S., after being bitten by the bicycle touring bug several years earlier when he biked more than 13,500 kilometres around Japan.

He left Whistler on May 24, biking south from Whistler to the ferry at Horseshoe Bay. From Nanaimo he made his way to the last kilometre of the TransCanada Highway at Tofino, where he started to work his way back east.

He took a few scenic detours from the route, ferrying across a section of Lake Huron. He also followed another highway to Gaspé, Quebec before taking another ferry to New Brunswick to rejoin the TransCanada.

He also made a complete loop of Cape Breton Island between ferry trips to Newfoundland.

After a six-day wait for a visa in Halifax, Kato crossed the border at St. Stephen and made his way down the coast to New York City before heading West again to Chicago. From the Windy City he followed the historic Route 66 south and west until he reached L.A.

He stayed in California for just five days, having to return to Canada before his visa expired. Kato arrived back in Whistler on Dec. 12, and hopes to spend another winter here snowboarding.

"It was my dream," said Kato, 29, of his seven months on the road. "I look at a map and see the place I want to get to. It was my reason to be born."

Although he made it back to Whistler without any injuries, it wasn’t always easy.

While his English was good enough to get by, Kato says his inexperience with the language made it hard at times. Quebec was especially difficult, where nobody could even understand his English.

"I stop at a restaurant, and I can’t read the menu. I never knew what I ordered," he said.

While most of Canada went pretty smoothly, the distance between towns and cities – not to mention bike shops – was critical. In Newfoundland, he had to make an emergency call to a Japanese Manager at Spicy Sports in Whistler to find out how to fix a broken shifter.

Although it was the toughest physically with long climbs and descents, Kato enjoyed the B.C. leg of the trip through the mountains the most. Northern Ontario was also beautiful he said, but the roads tended to be steeper with more twisting and turning than British Columbia.

The droughts and heat waves that affected Canada all summer were also tough on Kato, especially in the treeless prairies. He didn’t see any rain until he hit Quebec, where he was caught in a few rain and wind storms that made riding more difficult.

In Indiana his bike and trailer were ruined when he was nudged by a truck. Unable to repair the bike or the linkage to the trailer, Kato had to buy a new bike and trailer to continue his trip.

In Oklahoma City, Kato was forced to flee a motel he was staying in during the middle of the night when it caught fire.

One section of highway in California was riddled with nails.

"I had a lot of holes, and the tire was all patches. For 115 kilometres I rode on a flat tire until I could hitchhike to Barstow," said Kato.

During the trip, Kato avoided parks and motels to save money. On the Canadian leg, Kato slept in baseball parks, in playgrounds, or under the eaves of supermarkets. Sometimes he would have to pedal after dark to get to the next town where he could find food, water, and a place to sleep.

The American leg was easier, said Kato, because the towns are closer together and there are more options for places to eat and sleep.

The Canadian leg cost Kato $6,100 for 103 days, and the American leg was $4,500 U.S. for 93 days, including the cost of the bike and trailer. To afford the trip, Kato worked 15-hour days with Federal Express in Tokyo, taking off nine days a month for a year and a half.

"I looked at the maps, and saved a long time for this trip," said Kato. "The country is very beautiful and the people were very friendly. Everywhere I went people asked me questions about my trip, and were very curious about my trip. Once I told them, they were very excited for me, and offered me dinner and places to stay."

Kato doesn’t know what his next epic bike trip will be, but is considering different trips in Europe, Mexico and South America. He’ll know more in the spring, he said – after a long break from sitting in the saddle.

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