After 15 minutes on the phone talking to Garth Riess — the former owner and operator of Bestsellers CD and book store in Whistler and the Local's Livingroom in Pemberton — you get the sense that anything is possible.
Pique caught up to Riess on an island in a volcanic crater lake in Guatemala several weeks, over 8,000 kilometres into a journey that started in Pemberton and will eventually take him to the southern tip of Argentina — and then back to British Columbia because, hey, why not.
What's truly amazing about Riess's journey, aside from the mileage, is that it almost never happened. He became seriously ill in November 2006 with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disease that affects the nervous system and results in a weakening of limbs to the point of paralysis.
Riess ran the Bestsellers CD and bookstore in Whistler for almost 10 years before rising rents forced him out of business in 2002. He then opened and operated the Local's Livingroom in Pemberton for several years before he became ill and was forced to close up shop. He was also a triathlete, played old-timers hockey and was a familiar face at events in both Whistler and Pemberton.
"I was very sick for three years," he said. "I was going blind. My liver was failing. My kidneys were failing. I was sick and it was terrible. When it got to the point when my heart rate dropped from a resting rate of 135 beats per minute, I asked the doctor, 'what can I do?' The doctor said that they don't have any idea for this disease, it seems to be different for everybody, so I decided to follow my own path to wellness. I was a triathlete, so I started training for a triathlon."
His limbs stiff and unresponsive, the pain sometimes unbearable, one of Riess's early training days consisted of walking 50 feet. A little later he could swim one length of the pool and bike a kilometre. Slowly he started to build on that, relocating to Victoria for a few years so he could exercise year-round.
He always ate well, he said, but he adopted an even more healthy diet and tried to stay positive.
Now, his goal is to tell his story to draw awareness to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and to inspire those unlucky enough to be diagnosed with it to fight back. He'd also like to raise money to create a diagnostic test for the disease, which he says can be battled more successfully with early diagnosis — it took almost six months to be diagnosed in his case, and in some cases it can take longer than that. "You can't cure something you can't even diagnose, so I'm very passionate about this.
"What I'm telling people is to fight this thing," he added. "Don't lie in bed, get up and do something. If you can only walk two feet then walk those two feet and go for three feet tomorrow."
Riess isn't fully recovered yet and may never be 100 per cent. He has some strength issues with his core and he has lasting numbness in his right hand.
Still, he's managed to complete about six sprint triathlons since he started down the long road to recovery, and resume his passion bike touring. As well, he picked up a new hobby since his illness: writing books. He's written three so far and is currently on his fourth.
"I've always loved to read, anybody came into Bestsellers to talk literature with me would know that right away," he said.
"When I was sick I had a vision — I've never had one before or any literary aspirations, but it gave me my first book, beginning, middle and end. It's not something I would have ordinarily chosen to write, but the more I tried to put it off the more I found I needed to write it."
The first one was the hardest because he had to teach himself to write first, but he has since followed up with two more books.
He tried to find an agent for a while, but realized it was more fun to write than try to sell the books. Now, he's using them as an inducement to get people to contribute to his cause: if you make a $15 donation to his cause he'll send you a copy of one of his books.
His story was featured in the Winnipeg Free Press, the city he grew up in, and the donations have started to come in — as well as requests for more books. "People would read one of my books and start asking me for the other ones, which is the best I could ask for."
Riess has only one goal for his books, and that's to make people laugh.
"I had two goals when I started writing. One is that they had to be wildly original stories that have never been written before; the second was that they had to be humorous and nobody was allowed to die," he said. "I'd rather make the world laugh. I don't want people to read my books and say 'that depressed me.'"
One book is called The Book of Gareth, and is about what happens when two Messiahs appear in our wired, modern world.
The second is called Smarty Pants: The Outrageous Adventures of the World's Wisest Man, which is about the world's smartest man working to solve the world's biggest problems after overhearing a conversation at a coffee shop. The third is called The 1st Canadian Guru, about a hockey player who has a vision, discovers a unique form of meditation and becomes a global guru.
For more on Riess's 40,000km journey, to donate to his cause or purchase his books, visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GarthRidesForHope or his web page, http://kairiess.wix.com/garthridesforhope#!home/mainPage.
Update: As of Tuesday, Riess was on the 155th day of his journey and had just crossed over from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. He has been averaging over 100km per day and far enough ahead of schedule that's he's planning to pull back a little.
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