January 11, 2017
Grant Hatherley hit a moose while driving his 1991 Toyota Hilux from Flin Flon to Montreal last month but continued along his 2,000-mile Canadian voyage with a busted windshield, even after someone put $17 worth of gasoline into his diesel engine.
After a month in Montreal, he emptied his friends’ fridge of beer and perishables. They’d gone away for the holidays, so he didn’t want it to go to waste.
From there, he set out on his real mission: riding a bicycle from that multilingual city in the Quebec province all the way to Mexico, a voyage powered as much by the kindness of strangers as his own legs.
Within days, he pedaled onto a highway – only to get shooed off.
“This isn’t a good idea, buddy,” Hatherley was told by a law enforcement officer as he bicycled near Candiac, Quebec. He was redirected to a bike path covered with a few inches of snow.
During a subsequent pit stop, his tent would get drenched by a tractor-trailer blasting through a huge puddle as he camped at a truck stop. He got drenched, too, since he didn’t remember to zip it up entirely.
He even slept inside a McDonald’s store, where a kind worker hooked him up with a little bit to eat and drink. It wasn’t much, just enough to keep his strength up.
Along the way – both before and after the sorts of mishaps that might convince others to turn back – he relied on the kindness of strangers for food, drink and cash.
“Philly is pretty crazy, man. It’s crazy, bro...I don’t know how to explain it ... It was haywire!” – Grant Hatherley
That was the only way he was going to get to New York City in time for the New Year’s Eve festivities, and – fortuitously – he did.
Buoyed by faith in humanity, he continued to Trenton, N.J. – bus and train rides helped – where a kind bicycle-shop owner helped him fix his tattered wheels, let him crash on the couch and then sent him on his way.
Then, last weekend, he arrived in Kensington and Port Richmond where – as dreams are wont to do – everything fell apart when some unsavory types sensed his unfamiliarity with the surroundings and took advantage.
To hear Hatherley tell it, he asked a stranger he was sharing a coffee with at the McDonald's on Aramingo Avenue near Castor (which is in Port Richmond, where folks in Kensington advised him to head) to keep an eye on his stuff so he could visit the bathroom to clean up.
When he returned, the coffee-sipping friend was gone, as were a couple of shady people hanging outside.
Someone had cut through a Kryptonite lock (one that fended off a previous theft attempt) and a U-bolt to swipe his bike – gifted by a friend for the trip – and an attached trailer, which held a laptop, two cameras, a sleeping mat and clothing.
In other words, Hatherley lost more or less everything he had to his name.
It was a HitchBOT-ian twist, that of a visitor from Canada learning hard life lessons about Philadelphia’s seedier side. While the 20-year-old wasn’t left for scrap in Old City, he, too, needed to reassess and regroup in his homeland to the north.
He said the police weren’t of much help. After all, in the lower Northeast, when the sun’s down, a stolen bike isn't a priority.
“Philly is pretty crazy, man. It’s crazy, bro,” Hatherley told PhillyVoice during a Monday night phone interview after a “walk of shame” ended with a bus ride back to Montreal. “I don’t know how to explain it. I was on the street level of it. It was haywire!”
The mission called "Grant Hatherley vs. The World" wasn’t supposed to end on the cruel streets of Philadelphia’s Kensington and Port Richmond neighborhoods.
It came on the heels of Hatherley’s trek to ride a bicycle across Canada, a 4,000-plus-mile “journey of self-discovery” he completed in 68 days in 2015.
"Life is not a race, take as much time you need to finish and you won't fail” – that was that trip’s mantra.
“It’s one of the best learning experiences of my life,” he said. “I never learned as much in schools as I learned on that ride, just from talking to people all along the way.”
When he turned his attention to traversing North America’s other two nations, he kept friends – and GoFundMe donors – apprised of his traveling progress.
There was the Christmas Day photo at the McDonald’s, where he'd slept the night before, maps of the path south through Canada and New York state, selfies with a stranger to whom he gave his only Canadian flag, and a photo with the man who helped him get from Beacon, N.Y. to Grand Central Station via train.
“Have a good day and if you can help somebody, try to help them as best you can. Someday, it could be you!" – Grant Hatherley
He spent three days living on the streets of New York City, and “paid it forward” by sharing a hotel room with three people he’d met who were also living on the streets.
“Hotels aren't cheap here in New York!” he wrote around 6 p.m. on New Year’s Day. “Have a good day and if you can help somebody, try to help them as best you can. Someday, it could be you! Have a good day and Happy New Years!”
When he woke up outside a McDonald’s in New York City three days later, he realized that someone had left a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich and $5 in his lap. (“I ate that so fast,” he said.) He biked to Penn Station and hopped a train to Woodbridge, N.J.
When he took a nap against a light post, a passerby called for an ambulance. Medics saw he wasn’t medically distressed, so the ambulance driver gave him $25 to help him along the way to Edison, N.J. There, workers at a 7-Eleven hooked him up with a place to charge his phone and someone left him pizza and chicken.
Last Thursday, he posted video to let people know he was within 60 miles of Philadelphia.
A day later, he thanked “bicycling legend” Wills Kins as “a savior who hooked me up with a free tire and tube, a beer, and a cozy place to stay” at Trenton Bike Exchange. (That came after he’d taken a $5 donation and turned it into a few beers to help balance out the stress).
“He offered breakfast, a pancake with an egg cracked in it, called it an Egg Pancake,” he recalled with a laugh. “I’m from Canada and I don’t see that s*** anywhere. I thought, ‘This guy’s a genius!’”
On Friday, he arrived in Philadelphia atop his green Gary Fisher gold series aluminum bike with a genuine leather Brooks B-17 saddle. He fell in love with the McDonald’s near the Bucks County line to the point of leaving a note vouching for its excellence.
“From constantly traveling, I have been to very many McDonald’s,” it read, indicative of his penchant for tapping into WiFi wherever he could along the way. “I am very pleased to say this: 9970 Bustleton (Avenue) McDonald’s has the best service. … I don’t have much to spend, but they treated me very well, as I can’t afford much.”
That’d be his last good memory of our city.
When snow arrived, Hatherley was told to find the Market-Frankford El, so he could pedal underneath without getting wet.
Sure, he almost got jumped along that path, but he heeded the warnings of good Samaritans who tipped him off when it looked like folks were circling what they considered an easy mark.
“These guys just started talking to me. Not one, not two of them. Someone said, ‘You don’t want to be walking around here this late,’ so I started walking toward the (Delaware) River,” he said. “I went from a bad street to a warzone. I was in Kensington. People die there, you know?”
He powered on. Sure, it was sketchy, but a stranger he encountered suggested he might head to the area around Castor and Aramingo avenues, where a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Walmart and Dunkin Donuts would help with his Wi-Fi, phone-charging and sustenance needs.
He ended up sleeping outside the Dunkin Donuts from Saturday night into Sunday morning. Nobody bothered him from midnight to 5 a.m. when he went inside for that ill-fated distraction.
The sun wasn’t up yet when he walked into that bathroom with a bag containing his passport, phone, charger, toothbrush and little else. Within a few minutes, the world would tilt in his disfavor, even as he prepared to ride south, Philadelphia in his rearview mirror.
Here’s a lightly-edited version of his first Facebook post following the theft:
Well, I'll be walking from here on out. Just lost my baby, my pride and joy, my life, my hope, my soul, my blood sweat and tears.
The bicycle is no longer mine, as I went to the washroom for 10 minutes. My lock was cut, and dragged away, probably loaded into the back of a truck.
I ran in every possible way where tracks went. Not sure what to do now, as I officially have nothing. I guess I can look at it as the best life lesson. Thanks guys for the support and the constant thoughts. At least I'm not dead yet.
Now, I'm wondering what to do next and where to go. As I have nothing now, I'll have to travel with two feet and a heartbeat, or quit and give up.
As of right now, I'm heart broken and do not know what else to do.
The police here don't come to grand-theft auto (calls), so that means they won't come for the bike. Wish you all the best as I'm on the walk of shame back to Canada or hitchhiking to Mexico. Might as well stay positive as I'm not getting that puppy back. So mad, but holding composure. I'm scared to say (I’m) officially homeless.
Love you guys. The bike isn't as much as my life and what I learnt from the trip.
Yes, the man who made his way from Montreal through New York City to Philadelphia with boundless positivity despite limited funding was left mulling the prospects of homelessness in a foreign land because he didn’t know not to trust strangers.
“I think he was in on it, signaling outside to his buddies or whatever,” Hatherley said of his fellow coffee drinker. He posted a seven-minute "this frickin' sucks, guys" video detailing the theft.
"I'm not gonna give up on this. There's always a grand revenge. I've learned from this," he said.
Suffice it to say, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll see his bicycle or possessions ever again. He was resigned to that likelihood.
Still, he was confused by police failing to take a report that early morning.
“When I was talking to them, the conversation was two minutes or less,” he recalled. “I told them my bike had been stolen, that this was serious, it was all I had!”
Filing a police report was of secondary concern at that point, though. A search of police calls in that area that morning turned up no sign of a stolen-bicycle report, according to the department's public affairs office on Tuesday. Finding a way home was of the utmost importance.
As fate would have it, his cousin Hanna checked in on the plight via Facebook.
“My friend Thom Carroll lives in Philly,” she wrote of the PhillyVoice photographer who shot her wedding in Canada back on the 2015 weekend that Hatherley started his cross-Canada trek. “I will see if he is home so maybe you could go there and I can transfer money to give you.”
He set out on foot from Port Richmond back into Kensington and on to the Greyhound station since he didn’t have money for the El, but started walking in the wrong direction. By the time Hanna was able to get Carroll in touch with Hatherley – it wasn’t easy with Hatherley on the move – he had reached the depot thanks to a gifted token.
He said another stranger helped him get bus fare back to Montreal, but at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday the bus wouldn’t head north until about seven hours later.
Carroll sent a Lyft to Filbert so Hatherley could head over to his Fairmount apartment for pizza, a shower and a bit of relaxation before his return trip.
“I knew I stunk since the last time I showered was in New York, but he didn’t say anything,” Hatherley joked.
“Oh, he definitely stunk,” said Carroll, who posted about the mishap on the Philadelphia Stolen Bikes Facebook page with the faint hope of helping his guest recover his property.
There, Hatherley took a long shower, washed his clothes and fell asleep on the couch – almost missing his Lyft back to the bus depot.
By Monday night, the once-Mexico-bound bicyclist was back at his friends’ place in Montreal. He celebrated everybody who helped him along the way, and rued the misfortune of encountering heartless thieves and what he considered to be dispassionate police officers.
“’Is that how stuff goes around here? It’s horrible,’” Carroll recalled of his guest’s reaction to the lack of police intervention. “It’s a shame, because now he thinks that’s how things are in Philadelphia.”
Sure, Hatherley's experience might convince others that fate didn’t want them to make that trip, but the Canadian isn’t like most others.
“My goal was Mexico, and I’m still going to do it!” he said. “I’ve gotten positive results from the GoFundMe page so I’ll be able to get the gear I need back. I’ll be back in Philly in two weeks. I’ll do this!”