Gilbert Lowe was told – after the surgeons repaired the knee degeneration which ended his career in the Canadian Armed Forces – that he may never walk again.
And yet here he stands, half a century or so later, on a Colwood beach overlooking the ocean to his right and Esquimalt Lagoon to his left, about to pedal his recumbent-style bike across Canada in support of cystic fibrosis research.
“It started about two years ago, on my 68th birthday,” Lowe says, the waves lapping near his feet on the beach. “And Mary (a friend he was dining with) said, ‘What are you going to do for your birthday? Go on a nice long bike ride?’ and I said jokingly, ‘I’ll save that for my 70th.'”
It took about four or five months, the View Royal resident says, “for the seeds to start growing between the ears.” He eventually decided about 18 months ago that he did, in fact, want to go on a nice long bike ride, but he also wanted to do something positive while he rode.
He started riding more – he’s only been actively cycling since retiring for good five or six years ago – and planning a possible route across the nation.
After riding to Swartz Bay and ferrying to the mainland Wednesday, his intended course will see him cycle through B.C. and the three prairie provinces, travel through Thunder Bay and Ottawa in Ontario; Montreal and Quebec City in Quebec before heading off to the Maritimes through New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, ending in Halifax.
He expects the 6,000 or so kilometre trip to take almost three months, but it depends how he feels along the way. It’s a long trip, after all, and plans can change when you’re dealing with a 70-year-old body, he says.
But it will be worth the effort.
He’s doing it to fundraise for cystic fibrosis research, the most common fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children. It’s a disease for which there is no cure.
“I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for people with cystic fibrosis,” he says. “They are born with it. They have no control over whether they get it or not. A lot of other diseases we have influences on, but with CF it’s totally different.”
He knows a family with two children – a 12-year-old girl and her 14-year-old brother – who both died of CF, “and it just kinda broke me up.”
Of all the causes he could have chosen to support, he says, he chose CF because it’s beyond anyone’s control, it affects children, it devastates families, “and the only way we can do anything about it is through research dollars.”
This is just the latest of Lowe’s interesting journeys throughout his 70 years of life.
After the disintegration of his knee forced him out of military service, Lowe worked for Transport Canada in various capacities for over 20 years before getting his pilot’s licence. He flew commercial flights in the Arctic for a number of years until a transient ischemic attack (often labeled as a “mini-stroke”) revealed a blocked carotid artery. Undergoing surgery to repair that condition meant he could no longer meet the Canadian Aviation Regulations’ medical requirement, keeping him from the cockpit from then on.
So he decided he’d get his class 1 driver’s license and worked as a commercial truck driver for a while. He later settled down in Alberta and operated a deer farm for six years, then moved to Vancouver Island to do content marketing.
He and Leona, his wife of almost 50 years, finally retired to View Royal, a base from which he rides his bike. Sometimes, he rides it a very long way. Or at least he intends to.
Follow Lowe’s progress as he blogs from the road at vegangeezer.ca or donate to his cause at vegangeezer4CF.ca. He plans to blog every day through his journey and upload those entries whenever he has a wifi connection.