Everyone has a story to tell, but Bernie Howgate has a million of ’em! The former Beach resident started collecting his stories on the day in 1980 he decided to go for a ride on his bicycle. Eight years later, Bernie had gone around the world on that bike, written a book about his adventures, and changed his life completely.
Originally from England, Howgate came to Canada in 1975 and was working on a contract basis as a consultant for industry. He owned a home in Etobicoke, but lived in an apartment on Fernwood Avenue in the Beach. Following the breakup of his relationship at the time, Howgate was encouraged by a friend to “take time out.” What began as a two-month cycling vacation to Newfoundland, ended up as a journey of epic proportions.
“I didn’t mean to cycle around the world, “ Bernie told me. Inspired by Terry Fox, he decided to go across Canada, driving in his old car, carrying his bike for side trips. An encounter with a hitchhiker in Alberta convinced him that his freedom lay in flight. He arranged the sale of his home in Etobicoke, purchased an open-ended ticket to Australia…. and was off. Over the next eight years Howgate cycled through Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, India, Singapore, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Uganda, Zaire, Kenya, Spain, Germany France and back to his native England. Along the way and over the years Howgate grew from a man who, in his own words, had been tied to relationships, to an independent world traveller who could count among his friends people from all around the world.
Howgate had many adventures on his travels as you might expect, and very often came close to death. One particular episode recounted in his book, Tales of a Travelling Man, took place on a secluded lagoon beach near Ahrambo, India. The beach was, as he says, “the home-away-from-home for the true survivors of the sixties peace and love movement”. You would have thought it was a safe haven, an idyllic Eden of sorts, that is until the day one of the ‘hippies’ went a little nuts and ended up murdering two of the other beachers, before fleeing. The fact that Howgate had been in town during the murders probably saved him from being a victim.
Bernie Howgate considered publishers for his book after he finished writing it, but decided to follow an old Irish tradition of selling his self-published Tales of a Traveling Man door to door.
“People were gobsmacked about it,” he said. “It really mushroomed.” Since Tales Howgate has written five more travelogue-style books chronicling his adventures cycling and kayaking in, around – and across – Canada. He travelled from city to city selling them out of the back of an old Chevy Suburban. So far he reports having sold between 43,000 and 45,000 books over the past 20 years.
It would appear, however, that Bernie’s freewheeling travelling days are more or less over. While living in Kenya, manning a kayak rental shack on a beach on Lamu Island, he met Belinda who ran a nearby cafe. They have since married, and Bernie has traded his bicycle for a plough, operating his own market garden “shamba”, a two-acre plot of farmland. He’ll be in Toronto visiting friends – and selling copies of his book – for the next few weeks. Belinda is coming over for a visit, and the two are heading off to the East Coast. If you are interested in finding out more about Bernie Howgate, or getting a copy of his book (and he hasn’t come yet to your door), call him at 416-839-2441, or visit his website berniehowgate.com.