“Your hand opens and closes, opens
and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be
paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.”
Such a defining moment that will forever be etched
in human history. Unprecedented in our
lifetime. A worldwide crisis. Thursday, March 12th, the exact
day when I fully acknowledge what we are facing. The state of emergency and overwhelmed hospitals
that are materializing overseas in Europe aren’t just going to stay there. They are coming our way. There is no way to avoid it. All we can do is brace for impact. A few months earlier, sitting around the
table with my family on New Year's day, the term “global pandemic” never came
into our conversation. To be honest, I
don’t think that I’d ever even heard the expression. I certainly had never used it in a sentence in
my 51 years here on earth. Today, it is
the main topic of pretty much every conversation. That weekend, in the middle of March, our New
Brunswick provincial government does the right thing. Forced lockdown. Quarantine.
Telework. Social distancing. Society’s treadmill suddenly stops in an
overwhelming whirlwind. Everything. Everywhere.
All of it comes to a standstill in an instant. Life as we once knew it so very
different. Every single thing has
changed. Crazy times. The world has suddenly become so much
Even if it was over 45 years ago, I still vividly
remember going out on rides with my father as a young kid. Dad on his 3 speed bike with flat bars. A yard sale score. A metallic orange steel lugged frame, an internal
gears rear hub with one of those little chains running through the axle and a
British flag sticker on the seat tube close to the bottom bracket. I was too young to really appreciate it at
the time, but now, thinking back, it was a gorgeous bike. We’d venture out of our neighborhood, out to
parks and playgrounds, my child mind completely shattered by the sudden broadening
of my world, my first taste of what pure freedom felt like. Out there, unpretentiously wandering, we’d
find these cool little trails and jumps.
Every single one of these rides such an epic adventure for a young
boy. Looking back, there is no doubt in
my mind that this is when and how I fell in love with bikes. A seed was planted during those outings. The explorer inside of me awakened. I had become an adventurer on two wheels. And there was no going back, no way to turn
off the switch that had just open this fresh new connection. The world had suddenly become so much
Overwhelming feelings of helplessness. Immobilized.
Primarily concerned about how the Covid 19 virus is going to affect me
and my family’s health, I feel a deep need to keep riding my bike. Pedaling is my therapy, my
anti-depressant. Reading about how
riding outside has been banned in most countries in Europe, I hope that we won’t
be served the same restrictions. I just can’t
spin indoors anymore. For me, there is
only the one option. Outdoors. Year round.
My communion with nature, my oxygen, my serotonin. Luckily, outside biking is never banned here
in Canada. Following the prescribed
guidelines for our province, I keep on riding.
I ride alone. I ride so very
cautiously. I don’t take any risks. I ride for my health. In support of our health care workers who are
literally putting their lives on the line, I ride smart and safe. Like
the pandemic motto encouragingly proclaims, “we are going to be OK”; as long as
I can ride.
Fat bike season dwindles as the sun turns up
the heat and the snow slowly melts. Messy roads and wet trails. Still confined to our family bubble, nowhere
to go, not much to do, my bike becomes my salvation. My fendered winter beater sacrificing itself
for my well-being. Just me and my
bike. Supporting each other like we
always do. April transitions into
May. On my yoga mat, in the early morning
silence, I start noticing the sound of chirping birds. The sound of spring. The sound of rebirth. The promise of warmer and better days
ahead. Trust life. Trust the process. The days slowly getting longer and warmer. The gravel drying. As the winter layers slowly start to come
off, my rides start to gain momentum. Alone
but never lonely. From the outside it
looks like my main reason for riding by myself is because of the pandemic, but
in reality so much of it has to do with my relentless need for extended periods
of solitude during these nerve-racking times.
Solo rides always help me find my way when I’m feeling lost. Away from the many distractions, settling into
my familiar spin, everything just starts making so much more sense.
It’s a grey and cool Friday in mid May. I have the day off work. I pedal out towards Dorchester Cape. Arm and knee warmers are shed at the top of
the climb as the tattered pavement is replaced by well worn gravel. My stoke growing as I approach Johnson’s
Mills. It has been a very long winter,
especially with the Covid lockdown. I am
so grateful to just be out here on my bike in this moment. Glancing out across the bay of Fundy, I feel
so very small. Trivial. Not in a bad way. Simply insignificant and at the same time
part of something infinitely greater. My
presence highlighted by the carefully painted landscape surrounding me. Nova Scotia, clearly visible across the bay
from Rockport. So very close. Yet, still, so very far. Literally
another world during these pandemic times. The dirt road endlessly narrowing, I finally
reach Slack’s Cove. Such a picturesque spot. No words. Just breathtaking panoramic seascape. My bike resting against this monument listing
the names of early settlers that landed here way back in 1763, I sit for a bit.
Sublime. Majestic. Just me. In silence. Basking in the spirit energy of all those who
have stood in this very spot before. Contemplating
how the explorers had felt when they arrived here over 250 years ago. I wonder if they appreciated their
surroundings as much as I do in this moment.
Legs and heart rekindled, I make my way towards Sackville. Chai latte
and a cupcake at Cackling Goose to top off a day very well lived.
Another week, another Friday off. I ride out to the Shediac coast taking the long route through Memramcook out to Haute-Aboujagane. I had planned this ride last year but summer
and fall expired before I got to it. Today
is the day. Unaccompanied. Another overcast morning but warmer with
lighter winds this time around. Chipseal,
gravel, some dirt and even a roadside couch.
Very low traffic. Very high
stoke. Unhurried, and powered by eggs
and bacon, my legs feel fluid. Not fast,
but strong. Such a delightful feeling,
my butt comfortably perched on my saddle, my legs effortlessly drawing smooth
circles. Like a baby being rocked in a
cradle. My first metric century of
2020. I enjoy the ride so much that I
actually end up doing the same loop again 4 more times before the end of
summer. Almost as if I’m studying for a
test, attempting to learn and memorize each hill and every turn, likely an old
habit from my racing days. Or maybe it is
just a frugal attempt at reliving the days of my youth cruising around Shediac in July with
my friends on our BMX bikes? For some
reason, the “Lobster Capital of the World” just feels like summer to me.
May passes. Our
Covid bubble grows. Friends and family expands to include all Atlantic
provinces at the end of June. The first month of summer is much warmer
than usual. As are July and August. Stinking hot actually. Temperature
records broken. My system seems to thrive in this heat. Exposed
epidermis lathered in sunscreen. Like leaved flora, the strong light rays
penetrating me, energizing my soul. The sunshine absorbed by my skin
initiating some kind of chemical magic inside of me that invigorates my body
and my mind. I have always felt so much love for the balmy unhurried
lightweight season. Leaving the house early in the morning kitted in a
skimpy jersey and shorts has always been my penchant. Ride routes planned
based on water bottle refills. Long days. Long gravel and road
And the beginning of a newfound love affair with
riding flat bar bikes in the woods. Mountain biking. The first time
around was way back in 1991 when I bought my very first mountain bike. Cutting
edge technology at the time. Aluminum
frame. Rigid fork. Cantilever brakes. And that wide gearing range! After riding mostly
alone that first year I joined the Moncton Mountain Bike Club the following
summer. Tuesday night group rides were the highlight of my week.
Learning so much from club founders Pete Cormier and Michel Charron. That
September, I moved to Prince Edward Island for my first job fresh out of
university as a teacher. Mountain biking wasn’t popular yet on the
island. Very few people rode bicycles off road. I went on rides
with Larry Cosgrave and Jim Richards. Fast forward to 2020, I find myself
riding again with the same Maritime mountain bike pioneers: Pete, Michel, Larry
and Jim. All older than me (Jim and Larry are now in their 70s!), I still
look up to them. The older I get, the more I am inspired by cycling
longevity. I no longer really care who wins the Tour de France. My present-day heroes embody sustainability
over fleeting performances. Still
exploring. Feelings of déjà vu as I
follow these familiar wheels. Full
circle. Bikes have changed immensely. Hair is greyer or completely
gone. But the ride feeling is exactly the same today as it was back in
the day. That same feeling that I always get every single time I carve
lumpy singletrack zigzagging through the forest. Timeless.
Unchanged. This summer, despite Covid, or maybe because of it, my
mountain biking flame has been rekindled.
If hindsight is indeed 20/20, looking back at this
year so far, nothing was clear whatsoever.
And the view ahead through 2020’s windshield certainly isn’t any more
lucid. A second wave? When is it going to hit? So much unknown. Such an unexpected, unpredictable and
unnerving year. All bike racing
cancelled or postponed, yet more people than ever are riding their bikes. Local trail systems getting lots of love and
attention. Riders rediscovering the joys
of riding in their own backyards. New
bicycles sold out everywhere. Many bike
shops breaking sales records while other retail businesses are closing their
doors. If there was ever a vital time to
support our local economy, it would most certainly be now.
This Covid pandemic, a timely reminder of the
tragedy of being alive, of our relentless vulnerability, of life’s fragility
and that the only way to truly live is to die to this truth. A nudge to ride our bikes as if we are dying
because we are. The simple act of riding
a bicycle. So juvenile. So innocent.
So pure. So fundamental. So far-reaching and full of hope. Back to backbone basics. An uncomplicated, and at the same time
invaluable remedy for so many ailments. Easy. Just
like when I used to go on rides with my dad on his flat bar 3 speed. It isn’t about glory, past or present. It’s about the ride being the yin to life’s contraction
yangs. Can you feel it? Expansion.