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Chief Bill Williams Squamish First Nation,
Ron and Andrew Merasty
L to r; Ron, Andrew, Andrea and Judy Merasty
On September 15, 1998, eighteen year-old Andrew Merasty of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Northern Saskatchewan, completed his bike marathon across Canada, and achieved a personal goal. His long journey came to an end as he peddled into the Squamish First Nation in North Vancouver, B.C.
While Merasty's quest began on June 14, 1998, in Halifax, his plans for the trip had their origin some months earlier.
"He started to talk about it in the spring, about wanting to something for himself, states Ron Merasty, Andrew's father. "He wanted a change in lifestyle. He wanted to get in shape and just accomplish something for himself."
Throughout the trip, the young Merasty intended to have a healthy trip that meant: "cutting down on smoking and no drinking at all." As the Elder Merasty pointed out, "he was in top form at the end of the trip."
He wanted a change in lifestyle. He wanted to get in shape and just accomplish something for himself.
The interesting part of this was that Andrew did not seek media attention, nor was he raising money. "It was just a challenge he wanted to take on for himself. He set this goal, and was determined to finish," states his father.
Merasty not only got to experience the wide variety of physical terrain in Canada but he was able to meet fellow Canadians from across the country. "We were worried about him, especially at first," says his father, "but we realized that he was going to be okay after a while, and that people were treating him very well."
This was especially apparent in the province of Quebec. "He was well treated in Quebec, which was nice to know. The people were very friendly, and supportive of him," states Ron Merasty.
Andrew made his way across the country on a 24-speed mountain bike that suited his needs well. As a prairie boy, however, he encountered his first tough riding on the highways north of Lake Superior.
"There were many steep grades and hills in that area and some were so bad that he had to get off and walk for a while."
At one point Merasty left his bike and went for a swim in Lake Superior. It took him 32 days to reach the halfway point at Thunderbay, Ontario, and many of those days were spent alone along a deserted highway.
Equipped with only a backpack, he slept in a little pup-tent at night without a mattress. He became so familiar with his tent that he could set it up in total darkness.
While the flat lands of the prairies offered him some respite from the rugged terrain of the East, the mosquitoes near Winnipeg were so bad that on one occasion, he considered ending his trek.
On his travels he met people from several First Nations, and one occasion, a woman from Japan who was riding her motorcycle across Canada in the opposite direction.
Ten weeks into his trip he arrived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and wondered how hard it would be to navigate. If the hills in Ontario had one forced him from his bike, what would happen in the miles ahead?
The nights were cold in the shadow of Lake Louise; the mountains lay beyond like prehistoric beasts in a deep slumber. Alone, but in good spirits, he plunged ahead.
All the miles Merasty tallied on his trip thus far had put the young voyage in good shape, as he never once had t leave his bike because of the mountainous inclines. He had already achieved his goal of good health. Soon he approached the biker's dream: a 20-mile downhill stretch of the Coquihalla highway into Hope, B.C.
By the time Andrew arrived in Vancouver on September 15, there was crowd of well wishers there to greet him. It is fitting that he was able to celebrate the completion of his marathon on the soil of the Squamish Fir Nation. Among the people to greet hit were Chief Bill Williams, Councilor Joseph Tewanne, Elder Bob Baker an perhaps most importantly, his parent Ron and Judy, who flew in for the occasion, complements of FSIN.
He follows in the footsteps of Jo Michel and other Native paddlers from the prairies who in 1967, commemorated the efforts of the 19" century Voyageurs during Canada's centennial year celebrations.
Merasty's philosophy from the beginning was that the excursion we something he was doing for himself was a goal he set for no one else. Implicit in this, is the idea of setting and realizing personal goals. He alone too the initiative to accomplish something he thought was important.
Although he never asked for attention or recognition, his actions none-the-less, serve as a poignant example for others of what it means to fulfill a dream.