If you're in Mississauga today, you might see a heavily laden Trek bicycle ridden by a guy who looks too small for the load: that would be Bill Parker, Canada's bicycle vagabond.
I first wrote about Parker back in 2008 when he was passing through Waterloo Region. A divorce had set him off on a quest for something different, and he thought he'd spent the good riding weather that year travelling from his home in Edmonton to Newfoundland.
Five years later and he's still on the road, and every couple of weeks, I get a note from someone who has played host to the affable cycle tourist, offering him a clean washroom and a warm place to sleep.
Today, thanks to the cellphone of his host in Norval, in the Halton Hills, I had a chance to catch up to Parker and see how he's doing. Given the chance to digest his stream-of-consciousness storytelling, I understand that he's doing quite well, thanks.
He did make it to Newfoundland -- "I liked it in Gander, and some of those places where they do the foot-stomping and clapping to the music" -- and has ambled through Quebec -- "Did you know they can grow bananas in greenhouses in the winter?" -- but his limited understanding of French makes Quebec "tough".
Mostly, he rides around Ontario, from north to south and east to west. "I stayed with some people south of Ottawa. They bought an old school for a toonie and run a knitting school."
Since 2008, he's stayed with engineers, pavers, counsellors, pastors, a woman who lets her goat into the house at night, a chap with 100 tarantulas in cages in his living room, and a flight instructor outside Niagara Falls who took Parker on a light plane aerial tour of the Falls and area. "Last night (Monday), I stayed with a psychic. I've never stayed with a psychic before."
He usually bunks in out buildings, garages, trailers or barns: "Some of the places people let you stay in -- you can't find a clean spot anywhere," and has even slept in a child's playhouse.
Some people offer him a meal or put his rain-soaked clothes into the dryer. Some share "a brown bottle" and stories. Usually, he only stays overnight and is off again.
In the age of caution, it does sound unlikely that 300 nights a year, there are people willing to take in a complete stranger with an overloaded bicycle and often, rain or mud-splattered garb, but here it is, Year Five, and Parker is still finding places to park.
Having said that, it's not all roses: he's had the occasional white-knuckle moment on the road -- "My big worry is about motorists" -- and the light-fingered have lifted equipment -- "Someone took my mitts and my maps."
Parker says he finds work here and there to keep some coin in his pocket, and heads back to Alberta in the worst of the winter for steady work: "It's bad for an Edmonton boy to say this," but he prefers to work in Calgary: "it's cleaner."
With five years of riding the back roads under his belt, is it time to move on to something else? He says, somewhat unconvincingly, "Oh, I might be done in a year or so..."
And will these travels be the meat for a book? He pauses and says, "Well, I'd have to sit in a room..."
So, we ended our chat with his plans to ride into Mississauga, clocking his usual 40 miles (64 kilometres) a day. There may be rain later: he'll be looking for somewhere to dry his clothes again.
Bill Parker, King of the Road.