Positive Lessons from a Tough Ride Across Canada
This past summer, I challenged myself to beat the trans-Canada solo men’s cycling record. This would mean biking about 450 kilometres per day, 13 days straight with no rest days. Spoiler alert — I did not beat the record. But I’ve also never been more inspired, transformed, or motivated from a project than this one.
It took 15 days, 17 hours, and 36 minutes for me to bike from Vancouver to Halifax. I started my journey on the hottest day ever recorded in Canada. With temperatures ranging from 45-55°C, I biked the Coquihalla highway, which brought the biggest climbs of the whole ride. Even with increased rest stops to stay hydrated and cool, I still almost suffered heat stroke. In the days ahead, I clocked in a good amount of distance, but not what I wanted or expected.
By day 7, I knew I wasn’t going to break the record, but I had to find a way to keep pushing myself. So, how do you keep going when the initial goal has changed? How do you find the drive to keep pushing for that finish line when it’s still thousands of miles away? These are the questions I had to answer while biking across Canada.
From the planning phases to 30-hour riding blocks through the worst heat wave in Canadian history, from setting out with a goal, admitting failure, and adapting it mid-journey, here are the most precious lessons I learned that can help all of us push through even our most challenging times and become stronger for it.
1) Sometimes, you must run toward the wall as fast as you can and trust that the door will open. I started to plan for the ride one year before my departure date, in the heart of the pandemic. There were no guarantees that I would even get to start or finish the ride.
The key lesson here is about velocity. When borders reopened, some just days before I crossed them, I was ready. I accepted uncertainty and it enabled me to execute my goal while others were still in their planning stages. A sense of urgency is good, but a sense of urgency from day one is how we win. Big impossible goals will always get the best out of you and out of a team.
2) A shared mindset wins the game. My support crew played an invaluable role in this ride’s success; it is a shared success. Every minute counts was the mantra at the core of my team’s DNA.
My job was to ride, the crew’s job was to make sure I was on my bike as much and as long as possible. This meant meals were ready on arrival, bike maintenance occurred while I slept, quick nutrition handoffs were pre-planned and provided while I was riding, and those are just a few examples of the daily expression of our mantra. It was a mindset everyone shared and embodied at all times. It was our lighthouse and it dictated everything everyone did.
3) Resilience is a practice, not an attribute. Even when you break down a massive challenge into small parts, it can still be really hard! Right from the start, the weather unleashed on me — I departed on the hottest day recorded in Canadian history and almost ended up in the hospital due to heat stroke.
Like any sport or skill, resilience needs practice. If we don’t deliberately choose to do difficult things, our resilience will never develop. Resilience isn’t a thing we pull out of our hat when tough times hit. It is a daily practice built through the small actions we take every day. It’s when you decide to go for your run even if it rains, to get back on that horse even when you fall, to bike to Halifax even when it takes you longer than planned.
4) Focus on creating favourable circumstances. I received this advice from Mark Herbst, a multiple Race Across America finisher. So many things can be out of our control in whatever we do, whether it’s racing cross country or conducting business. Our only job is to create the most favourable circumstances possible in whatever we can control. The best way to improve our chances of success is to focus on our training, on our equipment, and on our skills.
5) The mission is the ultimate fuel. After the heat, it was the headwinds that slowed me down. By day seven, it became evident I wasn’t going to beat the record. I still had 3000 kilometers to go, and I had to find the drive to continue to ride 20 hours a day.
The team and I were at a low point. This contrasted with social media where we were inundated by cheers and positivity. We decided that this was the story we wanted to live. I have type one diabetes and my ride was in support of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Simply put, I wanted to inspire kids living with type one diabetes, to show them what’s possible. The team and I switched our focus from breaking a record to creating purpose and impact. Not only did it keep us alive, it reignited us all.
6) Chase experiences. Mount Everest, the Sahara race, the Run across Canada, the Ride across Canada. What’s your next challenge Sébastien? This question is frequent and legitimate. The pain that comes with these journeys isn’t exactly what I am looking for. I’m looking for experiences that can enrich my life. Win or lose, it never matters to me; it’s about the inevitable inner transformation. This is what I remember, not the pain.
Chase life experiences and create memories with people you love. That’s my best advice for a happy and fulfilled life.
7) Don’t settle for realistic goals. Aim big. In the end, even if my time was very fast, I did not beat the record. I am proud that I set a big impossible goal; it is precisely why I learned and grew so much. A realistic goal is a sign of a fear of failure. A highly ambitious goal is the demonstration of a growth mindset and a commitment to learning.
When you don’t reach your goal, sometimes the outcome can be even more positive than what you imagined. The ride across Canada tested me more than anything I have done before. I secretly had doubts about my capacities to finish the ride, and I came out of it more inspired than ever.
That’s why I do these things. To grow. To learn. To transform. That’s where true joy and fulfillment comes from. At the end of my ride, all I could see was possibilities and ways to improve. I was inspired to get back to work and try to achieve something even bigger. Doing really hard things helps us to redefine what we think is possible and that’s an amazing gift.
And what a great way to conclude. Two days after I got home, I signed up for the Race Across America, widely known to be the toughest ultra-cycling race in the world. A few years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I think this was something I could do.
What we can do, personally and professionally, is in constant evolution. That is if, and only if, we commit to something that isn’t possible today.
For some it is a 5k run, for others a marathon or starting a business. Whatever it is for you, take that first step and create an irreversible commitment.
Sébastien Sasseville empowers leaders to lead with purpose and inspires organizations to embrace change. An endurance athlete, his extraordinary accomplishments — which include summiting Mount Everest, completing the mythical Sahara race, and running across Canada — are made even more impressive by the fact that he lives with Type 1 Diabetes.
Having held diverse sales roles in several Fortune 500 companies, Sébastien marries his extensive business experience with his inspirational achievements to deliver dynamic messaging on change management, leadership, and resilience.