REVIEW: A PURPOSE RIDDEN,
BY RYAN CORREY
Reviewed by Christy Barnes Mackintosh
Ryan Correy’s honest memoir deconstructs an evolving father-son relationship, uncovers the struggles in becoming one of Canada’s most respected adventure cyclists and, in this revised edition, discusses the dramatic impact of his cancer diagnosis.
Adventure cyclist Ryan Correy pedalled over 100,000 kilometres in the 22 years since his father first enlisted him in “manhood training” at the age of 13. The father-son duo’s 3400km cross-Canada cycling trip launched Correy’s passion for cycling and quest for purpose.
A Purpose Ridden is first and foremost a coming of age story in which Correy describes a childhood marked by white privilege and personal tragedy. Born to “self-made” affluent Calgarians in the early, oil-rich 1980’s, Correy was given the childhood his parents only dreamed of, rising through the ranks of the Western Junior Hockey League, playing on the Calgary Junior Flames hockey team and attending the National Sport School en route, presumably, to NHL fame. But the tragic (and to the family, very private and largely unspoken) loss of Correy’s infant brother Nathan, combined with not atypical teenage rebellion, threw Correy off the well-worn track of familial and societal expectation and onto the long, often solitary, physically and mentally grueling road of ultra-endurance cycling.
What begins as a father-son adventure continues as a solo, post-high-school-graduation tour to Arizona to surprise a long distance girlfriend. Invigorated by the rush of overcoming various challenges encountered alone on the road and inspired by the heroic stories of Terry Fox and Lance Armstrong, Correy embarks on a Ride For Life, a 14,000km tour around North America to raise money for charity.
Correy then tackles the Pan-American Highway, cycling 25,000km from Alaska to Argentina in 131 days (9 days ahead of the previous record setter) and capturing the journey in a documentary film called The Longest Road.
Commandeering his family as support crew for the “Toughest Sporting Event in the World,” Correy qualifies for, and at 25, becomes one of the youngest finishers of Race Across America (RAAM).
It’s unclear which is more perilous: the physical and mental demands of the race, or the interpersonal strain that Correy’s ambitions place on his crew: “Unpaid hours, summer heat, questionable fast-food choices, sleep deprivation and mounting personality tics are never a good combination. Successful crews must set aside all these issues for the sake of their rider.”
Dodging responsible employment and paying taxes, Correy’s focus is ever-shifting, from training for Olympic track cycling, to pursuing an ecotourism/outdoor leadership degree, to eventually becoming a “fueling guru” for Hammer Nutrition. His athletic ambitions twist towards Olympic training in mountain biking, then turn to the longest mountain bike race in the world, the 4418-km, self-supported Tour Divide.
As Brad Stulberg writes in Outside Magazine (“Why Do Rich People Love Endurance Sports” – August 3, 2017), ”the vast majority of endurance athletes are employed, educated, and financially secure” and it is the voluntary suffering of endurance sports that attracts them. “By flooding the consciousness with gnawing unpleasantness, pain provides a temporary relief from the burdens of self-awareness.” Quoting Matthew Crawford, who in 2001, quit his job in academia to become a mechanic, Stulberg writes, “The satisfaction of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence has been known to make a man quiet and easy… It seems to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He simply points: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.”
Yet what makes A Purpose Ridden uniquely rewarding is Correy’s ability as a writer to explore with insight, candour, and humour, the source of his ambition, and the hunger that drives him.
Asked “To what end” by his Ecotourism instructor, he replied, “To change the world, of course.” But as his narrative unfolds, it’s clear that the hunger that drives Correy is also a hunger for self-worth, for validation, to earn the respect of his father, perhaps even to justify his own existence, despite the loss of his brother.
Through the unravelling details of story – details both shared and also withheld – Correy raises subtle but significant questions about the nature of giving (is it ever truly selfless?); the illusion of independence (can anything truly worthwhile be accomplished alone?), the complexity of heroes (what and who must one sacrifice in order to rise to the top?), the need to be “the best” at something (does it mean what we think it means, and does it feel like we think it’s going to?).
And though he does not ever address it directly except through the chapter heading, “Attempt to Kill Myself,” Correy’s vivid descriptions of suffering – from sleep deprivation and falling asleep on the bike to getting hit by a car travelling along dark roads at night; from poor nutrition and gastroenteritis to hypothermia, numbness and nerve pain; from road rash, saddle sores and dehydration to mental disorientation and hallucinations – makes one wonder: is extreme sport the ultimate exhibition of physical, emotional and mental strength, or is it downright suicidal?
A Purpose Ridden is a page-turner. It is raw, and often endearing (how can you not love a protagonist who rejects the violence of hockey, adores his girlfriends, and exudes an unbridled passion for gummy candies and Coldplay albums?).
It’s not a coincidence that, while reading this book, I signed up for a biking-based fundraiser to support children with cancer, and booked a completely impromptu trip to Fiji to go learn how to surf – a longtime ambition.
It’s a universal human need to seek purpose through our passions in an attempt to find and create meaning, and Correy spent his life fighting for something bigger than himself, encouraging and inspiring others along the way. Yet despite his incredible accomplishments as an athlete, he openly admits to “having been an asshole (masked in the title of “man on a mission to change the world”) on more than one occasion.” His narrative of ambition is marked with “death, heartbreak, misplaced priorities, failed relationships, fights, and ultimately coming to terms with [his] own inherent flaws.”
In an ultimate, extremely cruel twist of fate, Correy’s final battle – stage 4 colorectal cancer, diagnosed in July, 2017 – has recently ended. The story he leaves behind is one of “leaving it all on the playing field” of Life, and we would all do well to read and carry his story with us, lest we forget how short and precious a gift we’ve been given.
Editor’s Note: We were deeply saddened to learn of Ryan’s death on April 27, 2018. He was a strong supporter of the written word, and we were thrilled to have him write a piece for Volume 2 of the Canadian Rockies Annual, aptly titled, “Eat, Sleep, Ride…and Gummy Bears.” He will be greatly missed in our mountain community. – MJW
Christy Barnes Mackintosh is happiest when playing outside in nature. She is celebrating her 25th year of “playing Life” in Banff.
The views and opinions expressed in the articles on CrowfootMedia.com are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.