Thursday, June 10, 2021

Entranced by this dirt



Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  We are born from the soil.  And we will one day all return to this same soil.  The molecules that make up our bodies coming from the very dirt that we walk and ride on.  Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to it?  It’s a part of me.  I’m a part of it.  One.  This dirt.  The very first mountain bike that I rode was back in 1987.  Steel frame.  Fully rigid.  Canti brakes.  Ridiculously wide gearing range.  Back when I was completely consumed by BMX.  A time when I wasn’t yet drawn to the new emerging MTB movement.  Four years later, in 1991, done with 20” wheel bikes, I purchased my very first mountain bike.  Aluminum frame.  Fully rigid.  Canti brakes.  Triple ring crankset in the front.  7 cogs in the back.  STI shifters.  That bike re-awakened the explorer inside of me.  Through the woods, on this dirt, those fat tires carried me.  Now, 30 years later, still exploring on my mountain bike, a new whip rekindling my love affair with this dirt.  As I throw my leg over this new Giant Trance Advanced Pro 1, I can’t help but think of how far we’ve come, how far all this technology has carried us over the last 30 years.  29 inch wheels.  Front and rear suspension.  Full composite frame.  1x12 gearing.  Dropper post.  As mountain biking evolves towards more jumps, pump tracks and landscaped trails, I feel my connection to this dirt that is part of me run deeper.  A certain regression in my riding style.  The young boy carving this same dirt on his BMX reborn.  Familiar.  The only thing that has changed is the technology of the tool.  Even if my riding style is much more conservative as I get older, my new bike seems to be able to handle all that I can throw at it.  Playful.  Balanced.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  Here.  Now.  This dirt.

 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Our Inner Trauma




“Trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside you, as a result of what happens to you.” — Dr. Gabor Maté    I’ve been seeing a psychologist for a few years now.  When I was younger, I didn’t really believe in this kind of therapy.  I mean, how can simply talking about our problems make them go away.  Slowly, I began to open and understand that the only way to reprogram these old foundational thought patterns is by first understanding them.  Why am I so obsessed with control?  Why am I terrified of letting my guard down?  Beliefs and behaviors molded by certain experiences that I have lived through in the past.  Experiences that triggered very unpleasant feelings that got stuck inside of me.  Behaviors that my mind came up with as a means to protect me to ensure my survival.  Trauma.  So simple.  So common.  So very crippling.  Like the layers of an onion, all we can do is start peeling.  Dig deep.  Go back to try to understand what we couldn’t at the time.  At the end of every single psychology session I feel lighter.  My shoulders less sloped.  My head higher.  Something about the weight of my pain leaving my body with my spoken words.   An ongoing process.  The work of a lifetime.  Sunday was cool and cloudy.  But I had an appointment with my other therapist.  My Giant Revolt.  Just me and my bike.  Over 3.5 hours of crushing gravel through the city parks.  Inner spaciousness.  Much lighter.  Something about the weight of my pain leaving my body with my turning pedals.

 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Road




My road bike.  Just sitting there for 3 weeks.  My anxiety level redlining after a fellow local cyclist got hit by a car from behind in the bike lane last month.  Non-life threatening injuries the report said.  A lengthy surgery to put the bones in his wrist back together and a busted ankle that are going to change pretty much everything in his life for a long while now.  Damn.  Hearing about incidents like this scare the living daylight out of me.  Out there, we are so very vulnerable.  Especially in this day and age of distracted drivers.  In order to survive, I’ve become hyper vigilant while riding.  Unapologetically jumping onto sidewalks whenever I don’t feel safe.  Using trails whenever possible.  Avoiding certain high traffic low shoulder roads altogether.  Defensive riding.  And I’ve stopped giving the middle finger or mouthing off non-conforming drivers. Instead, I’ve been waving to drivers who give me more than the required 3 feet.  Hoping to cultivate good karma.  Doing what I can so that we can hopefully all get along and share the road.  Instead of fighting it, I’ve also been trying to feel the fear.  Lean into it.  Accept it.  But sometimes it just gets too strong.  Like these last few weeks.  Eroding anxiety.  Slowly killing me.  I don’t ride on the road as much as I used to.  More gravel.  More mountain.  My attempt to lean the odds in my favor.  Last Friday I paused for a minute after starting my Garmin to taste this fear.  Sit with it.  Befriend it.  A prayer of sorts.  My high vis jersey and socks.  My powerful blinking front and rear lights.  Control what I can.  Surrender to what I cannot.  Alive.  My first road century of this year.  But if I’m being completely honest, a part of me was still relieved when I made it back home safely.




Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cracks


The cracks have been there for so long that I mostly didn’t notice them anymore.  Blending in with the wallpaper of my life.  Just looking away all this time.  Pretending that they weren’t there.  Making them invisible right in front of my eyes.  A brilliant plan that works.  For a while.  Until life starts shaking things up and exposing these cracks.  For me, it really doesn’t take much.  My overreaction  to little things revealing much bigger things.  Magnified.  These cracks.  Inviting me to look at what’s behind them.  Maybe that’s the purpose of these things that we deem as bad that always eventually happen in this life.  To gently shine a spotlight on these cracks.  To make room for the light to work itself in.  Highlighting what we’re still holding onto.  What can we do?  We can keep on resisting.  Keep on ignoring these cracks.  Or we can finally work on repairing them.  Kintsugi is a Japanese term that describes the art of fixing cracked and broken pottery with gold, making it stronger and highlighting where it was broken.  We’re all broken.  Cracked to some extent.  In order to grow and heal, we must allow ourselves to feel these cracks.  It’s been another rough week.  Our dog got sick again.  An anal gland abscess.  Life showing me the cracks in my complicated relationship with sickness.  Now, I just need to find myself some gold to put these pieces back together.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

Ruts




Ruts.  Riding old logging roads, continuously scanning for the best line, I sometimes unintentionally fall into a rut.  If I try to white-knuckle myself out of it, I often end up losing balance and crashing as my wheels drag against the rut’s edge.  Through experience, I’ve learned that the best approach is to ride it out.  Stay in the rut, even if it requires extra concentration to thread my way safely through the middle.  Relax and keep going until a natural exit line emerges.  Such is life.  And last week I found myself in one those metaphorical ruts.  Our dog got sick.  My anxiety level skyrocketed.  These events were really not catastrophical per se, but to be honest, lately, it doesn’t take much to throw me off.  Tiptoeing through my days, desperately trying to not become unhinged.  How did I get here?  Maybe it isn’t even about what’s happening in these moments.  Maybe it’s about what’s happening in these moments re-awakening unpleasant boxed up feelings deep inside of me.  Past traumas resurfacing.  Maybe that’s the purpose of these ruts.  Maybe they’re meant to be pointers to the parts of me that need my love and attention.  Maybe they’re meant to highlight what still needs to be healed.  The dog is feeling much better.  And I am slowly coming out of this rut.  Maybe life isn’t about avoiding ruts.  Maybe it’s about becoming comfortable riding them out.  Ruts.

 

Friday, April 30, 2021

Closing 35 year old circles






Mike Fougere from Mike’s Bike Shop gives Luc a call in the winter of 1986 asking if we would be interested in doing shows as part of the Shediac Lobster Festival that summer.  Without a smidgen of hesitation, Luc answers “YES !!”.  We need to go meet the organizing committee to make it official.  Mike Fougere sets it up and both Luc and I head to Shediac an evening the following week for the meeting.  They tell us that it would be for 5 days, from Wednesday through Sunday.  Two 30 minute shows per day.  And they would pay $1000.  Luc and I agree without hesitation.  Actually, we’re trying to control our enthusiasm at this point.  $500 each to ride our bikes!  Something that we would technically have done for free!  HELL YEAH!!  Where do we sign!  They’re working on the schedule / brochure and ask for the name of our performing duo.  Now, at this point we don’t really have a name.  We had used “2-Hip Trick Team” a few times in the past.  We’d stolen it from a few of our BMX magazine heroes, Ron Wilkerson and Rick Avella who did demos under the name in northern California back in 1983.  It was so far removed from New Brunswick Canada that we figured they wouldn’t mind if we “borrowed” their name.  Actually, we more likely figured they would never know since they probably had no idea where New Brunswick was.  But to be honest, as cool as Ron and Rick were, they weren’t us.  Or maybe I should say we weren’t them.  We had wanted to find something new and original, but couldn’t come up with anything.  As creative as we were with our riding, our teenage brains weren’t wired to come up with a creative and fitting name.  Then, after a short pause, we simultaneously blurted out “The Freewheelers”.

Fast forward to early July, after one of the Shediac Festival afternoon shows, we’re sitting on our bikes next to the ramps chatting with a few kids who came to talk to us and take a look at the bikes.  Just as we’re ready to head inside to get changed and put the bikes away, we hear a voice behind us.  “The Freewheelers eh?!?!”.  The voice seems familiar.  We both turn around and come face to face with this cool dude with flowy long hair and California surfer vibe.  Mike Plume!  With our BMX racing friend Rick Snyder behind him.  Dudes !!  Mike was home on vacation from Alberta hanging out with Rick.  They had just caught the end of our show and wanted to stop by to say Hi.  We knew exactly what Mike meant by his Freewheelers comment and to be honest we kind of felt guilty that we had borrowed (or stolen) his name.  He wasn’t pissed.  He was actually happy to hear that his name idea had not gone to waste.  Mike wasn’t riding anymore.  His focus was now completely on his music.  And as much as the Freewheelers was a cool name for a BMX Trick Team, it wasn’t really a good name for a band.  He said the name literally stopped him in his tracks when he heard it announced in the Lobster Festival radio promo a day earlier.  He smiled and figured it was us.  It was real nice to see Mike again and to catch up with Rick as well.  

The Freewheelers, sponsored by Mike’s Bike Shop in Shediac at the time.  Today, close to 35 years later, Rick Snyder the president of that same Mike’s Bike Shop, now in Dieppe, still supporting the Freewheelers as we get back into riding BMX again !  Man, I just love it when life comes full circle like that !!

 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Sunday Morning




Sunday morning.  The last weekend of April.  Trees budding.  Birds chirping.  Tranquil earth breathing.  Après tea.  Just me and my bike on the crowded multi-use trial.  So many people antsy to get out after such a long winter made all the more painful due to this Covid pandemic.  Crisscrossing other trail users I begin noticing their demeanor and stride.  Some, unsettled and pressing.  All business.  Driven.  Others, at peace, lingering, happily puttering.  What are their inner voices saying in this moment?  Is the tone angry or loving?  What are their stories?  Why are they here right now?  A guy on a gravel bike wearing baggy gym shorts suddenly overtakes me from behind.  He seems to be trying really hard.  Mashing the pedals, upper body bobbing, breathing heavily, profusely sweating.  So much urgency in his pace.  Tormented almost.  My initial instinct is to step it up and pass him again but I don’t.  I stay in my lane.  Refocusing on my meditative spin cycle.  Maybe heaven and hell are not places or things.  Maybe they’re not beyond death, but rather states of being here on earth.  It almost seems like each and every person that I encounter on the trail fits into one of these categories.  Either in their own purgatory, running away from something, past traumas that they have not yet processed.  Or completely in the moment, wholly accepting the here and now, relishing in the day’s gift.  I’ve certainly visited both extremes in my life.  To hell and back.  Interspersed amongst brief glimpses of heaven.  I ride out to the pavilion, through Mill Creek park, working my way around the city.  Noticing the reflection of this world on the glassy water.  There it is.  Another glimpse of heaven.  So subtle.  So easily overlooked.  Sacred and trivial at the same time.  I ride for over 3 hours.  Easy.  Like Sunday morning.

 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Dreams




Dreams.  I’m not sure why, but for the longest time I didn’t dream at night.  Until these last few months.  Every night.  Multiple dreams.  Some so vivid, they’re in 4k HD.  Realistic.  Better than real-life, where you can touch and feel textures of things around you.  Overflowing with such profound emotion.  And everything makes sense and is so very believable.  I’ve recently read that dreams are our brains way of trying to finish what was started during the day.  That kind of makes sense.  But then I sometimes get these weird dreams that seem to come out of nowhere.  Dreams about things that I hadn’t thought about in weeks, months and sometimes even years.  Nightmares about decade old past traumas.  That stuff doesn’t just go away when we bury it deep in our psyche.  I don’t think it’s as much about unfinished daily tasks as it is about trying to process and make sense of what we’re still holding onto.  Our mind’s way of reminding us of what we need to let go.  When I trained to race, I’d dream about podiums and favorable results to help get me through my interval workouts.  Visualization.  Powerful stuff.  Making things happen by forcing them using sheer will.  Now, I don’t try to force anything.  I don’t dream about any future goal or objective as I pedal.  It’s simply about completely feeling the physical sensations inside and around me in the moment.  That is why I ride.  To bring me closer to the here and now.  Focusing on the energy of the wind.  Noticing how the cold feels on my fingers and toes.  This aliveness experience.  Then there’s also the dreams that our born during our childhood about how we want things in our life to unfold.  As I get older, these dreams are definitely becoming much simpler.  They’re no longer about stuff, goals, accolades, titles or accomplishments.  They’re more emotional.  Envisioning quality time with family and friends.  Simple.  In the moment.  Feelings of happiness and well-being.  Maybe, at the end of the day, dreams are more like fires than treasures.  Maybe they’re not meant to be held onto.  Maybe they’re just meant to be bowed down to from a safe distance.  Dreams.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Le soleil






The sun.  In French, le soleil.  “Le” and not “La”.  Why didn’t the French make the word feminine in gender?  So very radiant and nurturing.  The ultimate giver of life.  The quintessential mother of our universe.  Earth’s glowing goddess.  It’s rays our lifeline.  It’s energy our life source.  Without sunlight, every single living thing on this planet dies.  Even if I am incapable of using sunlight to synthesize my food, I have come to see myself in plants lately.  Hiding and even withering in the dark.  Constantly seeking the slightest hint of luminosity.  I started light therapy last winter in an attempt to resuscitate myself back to life during the dark season.  My own version of a human greenhouse.  Now that the stronger spring sun has arrived, the need to expose myself to artificial light has certainly diminished.  When I can’t see or feel the sun’s rays, I must remind myself that it’s still up there.  Still shining even when hidden behind the thick cloud cover.  After a cold, dark and dreary last week, we were gifted with three days of weekend sun.  Which materialized into three days of riding bikes.  Solo road rides on Friday and Sunday on the Giant Defy.  Quiet country roads highlighted by star studded weathered garages and old barns.  Sacred rides, the bread sandwiching an urban exploration outing on Saturday with my best friend on our BMX cruisers hitting every single BMX skatepark in town.  A three day mini staycation under these deep blue skies.  Almost 9 hours of pedaling in 3 days.  A huge leap in mileage after almost a full month of very limited riding.  I was certainly feeling it Monday morning.  Or it may simply be the lack of sunlight as we entered another stretch of cold, dark and dreary weather.  Spring is here, mixing things up, making us feel impatient.  But summer is definitely coming.  It’s just covered by this temporary thick cloud cover.



Thursday, April 8, 2021

Unimpressionable



Unimpressionable.  I’m past the point in my life where I can really impress anyone with my riding.  Strava KOMs are beyond my grasp.  The numbers that I can generate will never be as high as they were 10 or 20 years ago.  On a global level, whatever I can do on a bike from now on is at best impressive “for my age”.  At 52.5 years old, my physical prime days are long gone.  Now don’t get me wrong, this fact doesn’t make me sad.  Quite the contrary.  It’s actually liberating.  It’s now all just about the ride experience.  Me riding for me.  In so many ways I don’t fit the typical cyclist mold.  I don’t live by the numbers.  I don’t care about getting faster.  I ride simply because I love riding.  My focus isn’t on increasing my wattage.  If anything, my focus is on becoming a better rider.  Smoother.  Safer.  Endlessly polishing my skills.  Strengthening the foundation on which I learned to ride a bike a lifetime ago.  Balance.  Stability.  Connection.  Paying attention to the subtle shifts in weight distribution that help my tires stick to the ground below like Velcro.  Sustainable cycling.  At the end of the day, being able to continue to ride longer as I get older is more important to me than riding faster.  Precision above power.  Buttery smooth above blissfully fast.  My reason for riding isn’t to become the best.  It’s more about the experience and less about the outcome.  And even if the outcome may not necessarily be impressive, my hope is that it’s relatable and inspiring.  Unimpressionable. 
 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Shoulder Season


This shoulder season.
  I haven’t been getting out on the bike much these last few weeks.  No guilt.   No regret.  I mean, I’m not training or getting ready for anything.  Crappy weather and a sprained ankle last week have kept me on my couch more than on my saddle.  My foot is better now, but it also made me realize that my body is asking for rest.  Telling me to lay low.  Craving more yoga, more meditation.  Maybe it knows that spring and summer are just around the corner and it understands that it needs to get ready for the usual riding ramp up ahead?  That’s one of the ways that I’m changing as I get older.  I embrace the melancholy more.  I don’t fight the fatigue like I used to.  I feel more attuned to nature’s cyclical rhythm.  Periods of thriving interspersed between periods of sluggishness.  All completely normal.  We suffer when we expect to be on the top of our game all the time.  Learning to slow down purposefully between efforts is an sign of maturity.  I’m in no rush to get my cycling legs back.  Completely comfortable with this very unhurried start.  When I raced, this time of the year was filled with anxiety and panic as I wanted so bad to be fully ready for the fast approaching race season.  Now that I no longer compete, there is no more deadline for things to fall into place.  I finally got out this week.  Ankle feels much better.  Snow is almost all gone.  Even if I’m in no rush, I’m ready for this shoulder season to flourish into a new spring.  Happy Easter long weekend everyone !

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Freewheelers






Late July or early August 1985.  Luc and I drive to Moncton in his dad’s Ford LTD.  The first summer that we have our licenses.  The freedom of driving to the city unaccompanied by our parents.  Music blasting, Vuarnet’s covering our faces, Vans covering our feet, we head over to our friend’s house.  We have never been there before, put Luc has the address.

We had met Mike Plume three years before through BMX.  My very first memory of him is the dude who rode the red Race Inc.  I was blown away by that bike.  Frame built from massive alloy tubes.  Thick clean welds.  It was the very first real BMX bike that I had seen that was in the magazines.  Mike was always very nice to us.  We always felt a bit intimidated by the Moncton crew.  They were city kids and we lived out in the country.  He didn’t speak French and we sometimes struggled with English. He was very cool and never made us feel like BMX outsiders. 

Mike has recently gotten into music and Luc wants to go see his electric guitar.  A beautiful instrument even if I know nothing about guitars, but there is also his GT Pro Performer BMX Freestyle bike.  Recently purchased from Mike’s Bike Shop in Shediac, pretty much the only bike shop around that still carries BMX.  Luc and I are still riding our old race bikes at the time that we have converted to Freestyle.  But Mike’s GT has been designed from the ground up for trick riding.  Pegs, platforms and a curved downtube to clear the front brake when spinning the bars.  The exact same bike that Eddie Fiola rides at the Pipeline Skatepark in California.  Hanging out, Mike also lets us know that his mom has accepted a new teaching job and that they are moving to Calgary in a few weeks.  Not that we spend much time together since he lives in Moncton and we live in Saint-Antoine, but it still feels like the end of a certain era.

Wondering if or when we’ll see Mike again, our conversation now seems different.  It has a certain sense of urgency to it, making the discussion sticky.  Before leaving, Mike tells us that he has come up with a cool name for a BMX Freestyle Trick Team that he wants to start in Alberta.  The Freewheelers.

We leave Mike’s house after saying our goodbyes.  This is before social media.  The only way to stay in touch is expensive long distance phone calls or snail mail.  We don’t exchange phone numbers or addresses.  Probably because Mike likely doesn’t even have this information at this point.  Mike moves out west, sells his GT and really gets into music, eventually making it his life career.  Without realizing it at the time, Luc and I become The Freewheelers.

 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Tipping Point



When we’re young, we don’t have much past. All we have is future. As we age, our past slowly accumulates. Until we eventually reach a tipping point. A time when our past slowly starts overtaking our future. We can’t stop it. It’s just the way life is. Finally, when we’re old, we don’t have much future. All we have is past. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Trying to understand why I have been spending so much time reminiscing. Not by force. Just naturally drawn back. Maybe I’ve reached the tipping point age? It’s not that I’m not excited about the future. I really am. It’s more like a longing to take longer glances at life through my rear view mirror. A therapeutic exercise of sorts that somehow helps make the present and future that much better. A few weeks ago I read that it’s only our bodies that age and grow old. In our minds, we stay young. That’s how revisiting my past makes me feel. It makes me feel young. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel at peace. Working at an old age home during the summers while in university, I was always annoyed with the residents continuously just telling the same old stories. At the time, I thought “what’s the point?”. But now, I’ve reached the age where I’m finally starting to get it. These pics are from the past, almost 3 weeks ago now. My last fat bike ride of the season. And now. After spring solstice. The tipping point time of the year when light slowly starts overtaking darkness. A gentle reminder to start focusing on brighter days ahead. Future.
 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Hauling Heavy Wood Contraptions







We had a date. We had a time. We had a location. We had permission. The only thing that we hadn’t really thought about was actually getting our ramps to the Saint-Antoine Save Easy parking lot on that Sunday afternoon in September of 1984. Our small wedge ramp wasn’t too big or heavy. We could easily transport it in my dad’s small wooden trailer. The distance from my parents’ house to the supermarket was about 1 to 2 kilometers. We loaded it up and my dad drove it to the show venue. That’s one thing with every single BMX Freestyle demo that we ever did. Our parents supported us by helping with what we weren’t able to do. Like ramp transportation before we had driving permits. Everything else was on us. From the beginning, the whole thing was our idea. We booked and set up all of our gigs. We went looking for sponsors. We were the ones driving the dream.
Our first set of ramps were overbuilt. The small wedge ramp was supported by an old pallet underneath additional support boards topped off with a sheet of plywood that stuck out on both sides. We had built it ourselves, in stages with whatever wood we could get our hands on. It flexed when you hopped on it which made it kind of sketchy, but it did the trick (pun intended). We learned how to do kick turns and rollbacks on that ramp. About 4 feet high, we had also launched it a few times. But never on pavement. Even on grass or dirt, the flat landing was brutally hard.
The quarter pipe was another beast altogether. Built the year before by my dad, my uncle and our neighbor, Paul Arsenault’s father. For plans, we followed a rough sketch in a BMX magazine. It weighed a ton. The first version didn’t come out as planned and had a rather bumpy transition leading into the top foot of straight vert. The plywood used was very thick and we had to cut grooves into the underside in order to get the wood to bend. This made the transition noticeably lumpy. After a few months, we fixed it by adding spaced boards and another layer of thinner plywood on top of the first in order to smooth out the transition up to the last few inches of vert. It worked much better for aerials, but like I said, it was a lot of wood and made the ramp very heavy.
My dad’s trailer was fine for the small ramp, but too small for the monster quarter pipe. But, what other choice did we have? We balanced it on top of the trailer laying on its back, the top and bottom sticking out on each side. It wasn’t the safest set-up, but we didn’t have to go far. It was also Sunday, so traffic was very light. My dad would drive really slow and my friends would follow on their bikes watching to make sure that our setup didn’t collapse. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was our only choice other than renting a big flatbed truck. I’m not sure why my father agreed to this? I guess he really didn’t want to disappoint us after putting in so much effort with all the other details.
We leave my parents’ house, turn left after the church. It’s taking forever. My dad is driving so very slow. Everything seems to be going to plan. Until, my dad suddenly starts losing his shit. The engine light on his Chevy S-10 is flashing. I’m sitting in the passenger seat. I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything. I’m pretty sure, actually I’m quite certain that we were above tow capacity. We stop to let the engine cool down and recover. The light turns off again after a bit. My dad is still very distressed. He tells me that he’s worried that he just wrecked something in the transmission of his truck. I’m sitting there silent with my head down. We can’t leave the ramp there, in the short side street beside the church. So after the break, my dad decides to hope for the best and to keep going. Stopping every minute to let the engine recover. In what seemed like an eternity, we finally make it to the Save Easy parking lot. We setup both ramps and the show happens as planned. All of our families and friends are there to support us. But deep down, I’m sure my dad is wondering how the hell we were going to get the quarter pipe back to our house now that the route back was mostly uphill...