Meeting JaBigJan Heine
JaBig and I have known each other for a number of years now. Back in 2019, he was planning a ride around the world to raise money for World Bicycle Relief, and we asked him whether he was interested in testing our tires on his ride across Europe, Africa and beyond. We sent him tires, and he told us how they worked on the different road surfaces he encountered. Then his trip was interrupted by the pandemic, and he returned to Canada. We stayed in touch, but we never got to meet in person. Until now…
Last week, JaBig started a 6-month, 10,000-mile ride around the perimeter of the United States. His first leg took him from Vancouver to Seattle over two days. We decided to meet on the road and ride into Seattle together. And so I headed north on familiar roads and trails, looking for a person that I knew only from photographs.
Whenever I was in cell range, I received text messages with updates about JaBig’s progress. “Just passed through Edison.” – “Traversing Conway.” – “Now leaving Arlington.” At the same time, I was heading north, so our dots on my mental map were converging rapidly. There were quite a few cyclists out on the Centennial Trail, and yet I had no trouble recognizing JaBig long before I could see his face. The way he sat on his bike, the way he pedaled – exactly how I imagined him.
The anticipation and the adrenalin from riding for hours made our first encounter even more exciting. It was like meeting a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. Our conversation picked up right where it had left off in our last email exchange. We chatted about why we ride bikes, about politics, about history, about different countries JaBig visited on his trip…
JaBig told me the story how he became a cyclist. He had a Mini John Cooper Works – a very special high-performance car – and there was a woman in town who had the same model. They bonded over their cars, and when her car was in the shop, JaBig loaned her his. After dropping off the car, he walked to the train station in Montréal and passed a bike shop. The bikes appealed to his aesthetic sense, so he went inside. He picked a bike. “That’s a fixed-gear,” said the shop owner. JaBig didn’t know what that meant, so he asked to take it for a test ride. “When I tried to coast, I crashed,” he told me. “Of course, I bought the bike. It seemed like a good challenge to learn to ride it.” He rode around his neighborhood, and then, one day, decided to ride to his parents house. “It was 14 km, and I was so tired when I got there. But I had a huge sense of accomplishment.” Longer and longer outings followed, and by the end of the summer, he tallied his rides and realized he had covered 5,000 kilometers. “That’s the same distance as traversing Canada from Montréal to Vancouver. So I decided to do that ride.” In the process, he became the first cyclists to ride across Canada on a fixed gear in winter.
I asked whether it wasn’t difficult to ride the fixed-gear across the Rocky Mountains. “Not too bad,” he replied. “The totally flat parts of Manitoba were much harder, as I never got to change my position or use different muscles.” Then he added: “In the mountains, I walked up some of the steepest grades.” I told him that I often walk when it gets very steep, especially on rides where I’m going for a personal best. No need to ruin our legs when we can walk just as fast and get some rest from cycling! We laughed about that.
I asked him how he decided to become a DJ. He told me: “If you’re an introvert, what do you do at a party? You spin the discs!” Time passed quickly, and the sun was setting when we reached Snohomish. We were both tired from the long day on the road. And JaBig was carrying all the things he needed for a 6-month journey!
We stopped at a bakery that specializes in pies. The apple pie was very good and went down quickly. Both of us were still hungry. So we each got a cinnamon roll. JaBig looked at his plate: “I can’t believe the portions in the U.S.” I told him we had some hills ahead, and we’d need the calories in the chilly night. Even so it was a bit of a struggle to finish (most) of the sticky pastries. (Neither of us likes to waste food.)
So we were well-fueled as we rolled out of town in the last twilight. After traversing the wide Skykomish River valley, we started climbing the broad ridge that separate us from Lake Washington. We rode on lightly trafficked roads in the dark. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we were silent. We dropped down a vertiginous descent in pitch darkness. JaBig’s bike was equipped only with small ‘just in case’ lights, so he rode close to me to use the beam of my headlight. He’s a good bike handler, and it was as if we’d ridden together for many years.
We rolled along Lake Washington. Lights from houses on the other side of the lake reflected in the calm waters. The full moon rose over the hillcrest to the east. It was a magical moment. Then we climbed more hills to get to his host in the Central District. Just as we were standing on a street corner trying to find the right house, JaBig’s hosts came out and greeted us. It was a nice welcome to Seattle.
I can’t wait to hear more stories of Jabig’s adventures. We agreed to meet again and ride together in six months when he finishes his big loop. In the meantime, follow his adventures on Instagram @JaBig.