Rev. Gary Bomhof (contributed photo by Brian Dexter).

Red Deer pastor cycles across the country at age 68

“I never would have thought I could do this,” says Rev. Gary Bomhof

A retired Red Deer pastor cycled nearly 7,000-km to discover Canada’s many splendors — and the strength and endurance he didn’t know he possessed.

Rev. Gary Bomhof was planning to retire from the Red Deer Christian Reformed Church when he decided to embark on the Sea to Sea cycling trip from White Rock, B.C. to Halifax, N.S.

“I was looking for something to do,” admitted the 68-year-old, who liked the idea of commemorating Canada’s 150th birthday by cycling across the country, from shore to shore.

Bomhof also wanted to ride in memory of his wife, Jo-Ann Bomhof, who passed away in May 2015.

“She was a very loving, a very giving, person” who cared about others, he said. Since each participant in the Christian-based tour has to pay $500 and raise $12,000 for anti-poverty causes, he added, “I thought the cause fit her personality.”

The father of four and grandfather of eight prepared for less than a year for the cycling trip by joining a local biking group and taking spin classes at the gym. It wasn’t exactly endurance training, he admitted.

His Red Deer group once took a 68-km trip “up to Joffre, over to Blackfalds and then back to Red Deer, and I thought it was a humongous undertaking!”

In hindsight, Bomhof wishes he’d done more hill training.

For, after dipping the rear tire of his bicycle in the Pacific Ocean he set out with about 80 riders on June 26, and experienced a gruelling first few days in the Coastal Mountains.

“There was this one stretch from Hope to Manning (Provincial) Park in B.C. where it was 10 km uphill. That was tough!” he recalled.

Each day was long and exhausting, despite regular rest and meal stops. In the evenings, participants had to haul out their tents (carried in an accompanying van) and blow up air mattresses before turning in for the night.

Bomhof remembers hair-raising rides in Northern Ontario, “where the (highway) shoulder ranges from six inches to two-feet wide, and we were passed by all these trucks and motor-homes. It was scary!”

But his deepest reserves of strength were called upon in the Prairies. “The most difficult stretch was going 160 km from Chaplin, Sask. to Regina. There was a cross-wind that we were fighting the whole way.. and that was a really tough day…

“You just have to bite your teeth and say, ‘OK. I really believe that God will give me the strength to do this.’”

Although some cyclists dropped out at various points, others joined in. One rider was hospitalized after breaking his pelvis by crashing into a pole.

But Bomhof carried on, and was thrilled finish the journey in Halifax. On Aug. 29, he dipped his front bike tire into the Atlantic Ocean and reflected on the experience.

Bomhof recalled great camaraderie between cyclists — Canadians and Americans who ranged from 12 to 81 years of age.

“We were also blessed to have good weather,” he said, and spectacular views: Awe-inspiring mountains, amazing panoramas of historic Quebec City, and rides along the “massive” St. Lawrence River.

“We live in a fantastic country, really, really beautiful,” said the pastor, who described the trip as “very emotional for me… I was pushing my limits. To have finished was very emotional, very satisfying.

“A few years ago, I never would have thought that I could do this. It makes you feel that you can do a lot more than you think you can — with effort.”

Bomhof plans to fill in part-time at Lacombe’s Christian Reformed Church until a new minister arrives — and to continue pushing himself through exercise.

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