Day Six: Back to Vancouver

There we stood, in front of the “Mile 0” sign, marking the beginning of the Trans-Canada Highway, and the beginning of our journey. Fifteen souls had their photos taken, and then we were together for a group shot. And together we are. So far I’ve met 19 of the 20 Tour du Canada riders (including me!) and in my perception we’re all “Green flags” – genuinely nice people who care. Not just caring about your family and friends, but looking beyond our groups to the human condition, where we all need shoring up sometimes.

For two-and-a-half months we twenty will be creating a new group – friends to hang out with. Plus we’ll meet Canadians, some happy and some not so much. How can we lift their spirits? For one thing, we can honour their slice of Canada. We can listen to learn about what life is like in their hometown. We can smile. We can include.

I struggled on the bike yesterday. But friends were there to lift me up. Terry coached me all day on cycling skills. “Dig deep! You need to be in the middle of the bike lane so the trucks don’t hit you.” She was relentlessly kind and assertive, just what a friend needs to be.

We were on a pretty and leafy path for awhile, and Keith would go ahead of me and give me a thumbs up at intersecting roads when the way was clear.

Ken stayed with me for the last few kilometres, patiently adjusting his speed to mine. No hurry.

Uli inspected my bike last night, giving me advice about how to make cycling easier for me. We did this in the first floor lounge of our UBC residence. Afterwards, I was basically falling asleep in my cozy chair. I was about to reach for my bicycle ta-pocketa to carry it up to my second floor room, when Dorcas beat me to it.

Ahh … friends

Day Five: Victoria

This was our first day of riding and I was nervous. Would everyone disappear past the horizon? Happily, I found out that our leader Bud had recruited a cyclist friend to “sweep” – hang out at the back and make sure the slow riders weren’t left alone. That would be me.

It soon became obvious that my bicycle skills weren’t up to snuff. I had trained on country roads, and twisty bike paths, wooden bridges and folks zipping close by in the other direction wasn’t part of my preparation.

I was indeed the slowest but Len stayed with me. Thank you, sir.

I should have taken a CanBike course to teach me the subtleties of movement but I didn’t. Being slow with Len bugged me a bit but not bad. Then there was a time we were veering left onto a side street. The pavement sloped away from me and I zoomed into someone’s driveway. (Sigh)

My cycling shoes have metal cleats on the bottom that clip into the pedals. All day long I struggled to attach the two, feeling so embarrassed that I hadn’t mastered this basic skill. Sometimes, in trying to get going from an intersection, I would hook my cycling shorts on my saddle and go nowhere.

The pièce de résistance splatted my way when I tried to climb onto a sidewalk using the cutout section. I should have aimed to the right of a pole on the sidewalk but instead chose the left, smashing into the curb, bending my handlebar and propelling myself (somewhat gently) into a tree. After a quick kiss, I was on the ground. From across the way, I heard “Are you okay?” I muttered a “yes” but the bod said differently. I was bleeding a bit, but far more from my soul than from my arm and leg.

Our leader Bud was beside me in a flash and whipped out a bike tool to straighten my handlebar. And Len put my chain back where it belonged. Thank you, gentlemen.

I walked ta-pocketa to the ice cream shop where the others were waiting. Embarrassment and sadness flooded me. To be so naked in my deficits in front of skilled cyclists was hard. I walked away for a minute and let the sadness take me.

The last part of today’s journey included wooden bridges, which I rattled through, and a paved bike path with hordes of fast cyclists bearing down at me. You might say I freaked out, and I started crying. I know I’m a good person but the despair was intense.

Finally we arrived at our destination – a hostel in Victoria. The male cyclists had a room with lots of bunk beds. I stood there in a stupour and realized that all of the bottom berths had been taken. The pain of the world fell on my shoulders. Cardio was fine, legs were a bit sore and the soul was shattered. There was no hope for me. I was lost.

Then Tony spoke up. “I think Bruce deserves a bottom bunk.” And he switched his stuff to the top. “Thank you, Tony.” I walked away into a sheltered alcove and started crying anew. Such kindness. And Tony was one of several folks who showed that to me today. Thank you all.

Each of us needs each of us

Day Four: Relationship

My day started at 3:00 am. I had bought a watch to use as a wakeup alarm, and testing it revealed a gentle series of beeps. But in the middle of the night, a blatting broke my sleep. Roused from the dead, I smashed my hand down on the watch button … and the awful noise stopped. “Geesh – alarm number two is a bone rattler!” Hours later, my new friend Keith asked me how I felt about the fire alarm. So I made up a whole story, completely wrong. Makes me laugh.

Continuing in the foible tradition, the previous day I’d left my blissfully empty urinal in the residence washroom for hours, sort of an ornament for all to reflect on. Makes me wonder what other silly stuff I’ll be up to for the next ten weeks.

Last night we had dinner with some of the Tour Arctic folks. They left us this morning and will be rolling north for 35 days, ending their journey on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Hundreds of their kilometres will be on gravel roads. They’re normal, friendly folks and I’m in awe. Perhaps I should spare a bit of awe for this Bruce guy and his cross-country companions.

Here’s another human: Terry looked at my injured thumb and suggested I get new handlebar grips, ones that have a wider section that can support the base of my thumb. A rider who had just arrived was reassembling his bike and had exactly that type of grip. Terry wanted me to come over and try them out. They felt good. And she wanted me to ask the Bike Kitchen folks if they had this type of grip, and if so install them for me before we leave tomorrow for Victoria.

All of that happened. Terry’s kindness and commitment to my well-being is precisely what we twenty-one souls need on this trip.

What can we create together on our way to St. John’s? Is there something new we can bring into the world as we flow over the land together? Can we be brothers and sisters?

The very real possibility is “Yes”

Day Three: Self-Esteem

It started at breakfast this morning. Four of us sat outside at a café. My personal choice was pesto pasta. The others talked about their cycling lives … and I was overwhelmed by fear. “What am I doing here? Bruce, you’re so out of your league.” Depression came to visit but I tried to put on a neutral face. I didn’t want my fellow cyclists to have to deal with my angst.

In general, my self-esteem is high, but this was not general. This was piercingly specific. My Buddhist training has taught me to be curious about my thoughts and there was no shortage of material to work with today:

You’ll never finish this tour

These folks are so fast and confident

You’ll be so slow and so alone all the way across Canada

Your balance is abysmal
You can’t even get the water bottle out of its cage

I’ve learned in life to abide by the truth. Today’s truth was dominated by fear and at some points I chose to express that to my new friends. “Don’t do that, Bruce. Don’t bother them.” I chose to ignore that advice, risking that they’d reject me for being so wimpy. Somehow, it seemed that this personal nakedness was an act of courage.

Tonight eight of us went out to dinner. The flood of “not okay” swept over me again as several folks recounted past bike tours or bike club adventures.

Now was the moment: either wallow in despair or pull myself up into sweeter air. And rise I did, thrusting myself into a few conversations when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and sink beneath the tablecloth.

Time and again the battle raged, most likely unnoticed by my companions. There was no clear winner.

But still … I’m left with a freshness of spirit. The seven human beings I’ve met so far will be worthy recipients of my gifts and I’m a worthy recipient of theirs. Together we will create something new, despite my terrors and the woes they hold inside.

We are bigger than this

Day Two: Some More

This afternoon I wandered around downtown Vancouver. Turning onto Denman Street, a lovely stretch of restaurants and cool shops, I came upon a street party. “West End Car Free Day.” Huge trucks blocked the entrance, and past that Vancouverites and I walked down the centre of things. Flowing banners, kiosks selling clothes and jewellery, and info about bike routes embraced the crowd. Families everywhere, lovers in each other’s arms, kids in strollers, folks chewing on corn on the cob, one guy carrying a cactus … Denman had it all.

And then the music. The Phonics blasted us with the most danceable stuff. First my muscles twitched and then the arms got going. After that it was a full-out flurry of body parts. When the band did “Jump!” I raised my game. Right beside me a mom and her 5-year-old daughter were moving and grooving. The older one flashed me a big smile. The road was vibrating and so were my innards.

***

At the end of Denman sits English Bay Beach, with the freighters lying serenely in the harbour. Thirty-two years ago, Jody and I were sitting against one of the huge logs when suddenly the man unit got to his feet and then down on one knee.

“Will you marry me?”

My dear pre-wife said yes. Today I sat in that approximate spot and told two young bikini-clad women our story. I believe they were moved. I was.

Such a big thing, this life.

Day Two: UBC and Beyond

I’m sitting in the sun on the University of British Columbia campus, waiting for the Bike Kitchen to open. Check that … I just moved to the shade, since I couldn’t see the darned screen. Made seven spelling mistakes in one sentence, which tends to diminish people’s confidence in my intelligence.

I’m about to impart words of wisdom from my bike mechanic to theirs. So I’m a conduit with very little bike tech knowledge. That’s okay. Surround myself with good people and life works.

I slept nine hours last night – just what my body needed. Headed for the shower to find out that hot water was in short supply. I jumped up and down a lot, probably good practice for the wide variety of campgrounds we’ll face.

I really feel that some mysterious force is drawing me towards my future summer. For instance, in checking my luggage this morning, I saw that I forgot my tiny daypack, which I was going to use for roaming on rest days. But then I realized that the Camelbak water carrier that I’ll wear on riding days will do just fine as a backpack. As for the daypack, I didn’t need it. Then I opened another sports bag to find that the hard plastic glass I was going to use for taking meds was smashed. (Sigh) Seconds later, the words “water bottle” burbled up. As for the glass, I didn’t need it.

After showering, I put my yoga mat under arm and scoured through the residence for somewhere to lay it down. And voilà … a lounge appeared. Eight large windows brought in the sun. At the base of one, a large flying bug was trying to get home. Way up top, a transom window winked at me. As I reached for the handle, Mr. or Mrs. Wide Wings climbed the bottom pane and met me at the opening. And away …

On the road to downtown Vancouver, I boarded a packed bus. Not a square inch available for another human. I said hi to a woman who was dressed in a melody of colours. She smiled widely in response and told me she recruits Asian students for UBC, spending most of the year in India. She’s had marvelous conversations with young people throughout Asia and seemed thoroughly happy with her life. She also thought my bike trip was an awesome way to spend the summer. I so agree. And then I was moving toward the door for my stop. “Goodbye,” we echoed.

Another bus, another woman. Ana and I were both moved when a handicapped passenger implored the driver to make room for a patron in a wheelchair, so she wouldn’t have to wait anymore on the sidewalk. The driver responded. I applauded the courageous woman.

Ana and I talked on the street later as we strolled to our destinations. She’s a coach for Israeli women and loves being a mentor. My story got her thinking how much she loves the bicycle and how she misses being on it. Ana committed to me that she’d ride again soon. And she wants to follow my cycling blog. I responded by offering to send her a copy of the book I wrote about Jody. She accepted.

Ah … the fine folks of the planet.

Day One: Some More

Over the world we flew. On the prairies I came upon a long stretch of tiny lakes. Didn’t exactly fit with my image of endless grain fields. Above the Rockies, fresh snow etched the rocks in pencil-thin lines but bowls above the tree line were flush with a blanket of white. Then the coast, with the Pacific stretching between all those islands. Canada lay beneath me, as it will lie beneath my bicycle wheels in the coming weeks.

At the luggage carousel in Vancouver, I called to a woman to watch out as I swung my heavy bag off the belt. And then we talked. Sarah and Stephanie wanted to hear about my bike ride across Canada. I talked too much, roaming from Canada to the wise words of the Buddha. He essentially said “What you resist will persist.” And that hit home with Sarah. Both women seemed to enjoy my presence, as I enjoyed theirs.

Then it was time for a taxi ride to UBC. Jaswant so loves Vancouver, even with his long hours at the wheel. We searched and searched for the Bike Kitchen, folks who’ll be putting my bicycle back together tomorrow. And … success.

Now I’m at Koerner’s Pub on the UBC campus. A beer or two and a burger later, I’m reflecting with Andrew about the joys of the bicycle. Rap music fills the space … and I’m on vacation on the left coast, where the land is green and the trees soar above. A private party is about to begin and I’m revelling in the freedom of it all.

What will become of me over the summer? Will a book leak out of me in the fall? Will Canadians step forward to say hi as I roll through their town? Will we riders hold each other up through the rain and the hills and the heat? Will I look in the mirror and see a new man looking back at me? I think yes.

On we go.

Day One: The Plane

So I’m off … to my country. Two big sports bags, one carry on, and a bike box full of a partially disassembled ta-pocketa. I sat this morning in the Ramada Inn waiting for the bus that would take me on the two-hour trip to Toronto, and just gazed upon all my stuff.

What will the journey be? And who will I be at its end? Will the twenty of us be a family? Will we be happy together?

As the bus floated over the 401, our local freeway, I got to watch the passing world and other drivers, something I don’t usually get to do. As we overtook semitrailer after semitrailer, I came to love seeing their hands on the wheel. I watched the knuckles and thought of how similar we all are … human beings wanting to have a happy life.

I often slipped into meditation as my eyes closed. The gentle rocking of the bus felt womb-like. I was safely on my way to Canada west and east.

I didn’t have a seatmate and so didn’t talk to anyone on the trip. This felt strange since I’m usually bending somebody’s ear. But a different way is fine too.

As we approached Toronto Airport, I wondered how I would haul around my heavy objects. Happily, a row of luggage carts appeared as we stopped. Even the bike box was well accommodated.

I lined up in the wrong place but a smiling woman pointed me towards the promised land. Stuff like that doesn’t phase me anymore – imperfect moi sometimes stumbles towards the finish line. And that’s okay.

After the normal stuff, it was time to deal with the bike box. It wouldn’t go through the scanner so the agent opened it up, removing the saddle and pannier for closer inspection. A big delay here but so what? Time proceeds according to its own agenda and my wishes for convenience don’t move it much. Finally the employee was finished and lent me some packing tape to reseal things. He became angry that I was using so much of his tape but I wanted to thoroughly secure my dear bike. I’d like to say that I stayed perfectly calm during his angst but that’s not true. No perfect person here. Oh well.

Going through security was a breeze until the officer came upon sunscreen and my chain oil. They should have been in my checked luggage. Oops. I was told that if I wanted the liquids, I’d have to check my carry on, at a probable cost of $100. Ouch. I pleaded my case to the supervisor and she magically checked my bag for free. O, great karma awaiteth you, dear lady.

All this is marvelous, of course, as life continues to unfold in its magical ways, but the best was yet to come. I’ve been taking a live online course on relationships, with people participating from around the world. There was a one-hour session scheduled for Noon today but I’d be in the departure lounge then. I told myself I wasn’t going to be holding my Samsung phone aloft, listening to folks through earbuds, and talking out loud to my international companions while surrounded by fellow travellers.

After passing through security, however, and walking down the long hall to Gate B4, the voice inside said “Just do it. You have more than an hour before boarding. Find a quiet spot and be with people on your screen.” So I did. The walls of restriction came tumbling down. The few folks near me didn’t seem bothered in the least. And we across the world shared a sweet presence together.

Now I’m on the plane, perhaps nearing Winnipeg, sitting beside two friendly women from Alabama who are jetting towards an Alaskan cruise. Good for them and good for me. May each of us dip ourselves deeply into adventure.

That’s enough for now. Happy landings to me.

Blown Away

I was at my bike shop yesterday afternoon when the sky started shaking.  Out the window was my dear car Scarlet, hidden behind a smash of rain.  And the wind!

As Sygnan continued to work on on my bicycle, I glanced outside once in awhile to watch the wind whip.  Wow.  “Wonder what it’s like at home.”

Hours later, homeward I went.  Walking into my living room, I thought about my new tent, Ben.  I’d set it up in my backyard a couple of days ago.  Who knows, maybe it had collapsed.  As I moved farther into the room, I kept expecting to see a flap of blue nylon. Nope.  With my nose to the window, all I saw was grass, plus a few lonely tent pegs.

“It’s gone!”

Looking across the field behind, there was lots of brown and green but no blue.  Oh my.

Judging from the wind direction, I figured my accommodation had blown past two separate condo homes.  So I knocked on door number one.  Maddy smiled and said that, yes, she had seen a whirl of blueness roll by, but she hadn’t seen where it had ended up.

Mary Lee answered door number two.  Apparently Ben had lingered in her backyard and she was going to pick it up but then the rains came.  When the sky was finished dumping, my tent had exited stage left.

Roaming through the tall grass at the edge of the condo development, I knew there was a creek ahead, about three feet across, backed by a few trees.  So Ben wouldn’t have ended up in the next county.

Down the slope … and there was my tent, sitting proudly at the peak but submerged in water at the floor.  Yuck!

I tried to reach for a nylon loop on the fly, but I couldn’t grab hold.  So I walked around to a bridge and the other shore … same deal.  Only later did I figure out that since the floor was full of water, I couldn’t have lifted it anyway.

Panicking some, I decided to knock on a neighbour’s door. Incomplete in my brain, I sought a long pole with a hook on the end, for that loop.  Dear Borot tried to create something with packing tape.

“Boots!  That’s what I need.”  Wade into the creek, dismantle Ben, and haul the innards up the slope.  John didn’t have any but Dan across the street did.  Orthotics transferred and walking gracefully down the street, I picked up a long window washing pole, which I intended to use as a gauge of water depth.

Back to Borot and Petra’s place, looking like a shepherd from the Bible, although they probably didn’t wear gumboots.  I started singing “Climb Every Mountain”, which got a laugh out of P and B.  They decided to accompany me to the site of the crime and take pics.

I knocked on Francine’s door, since I would be rooting around in her backyard while descending to the creek.  Her friend Glenn answered the door.  They had already noticed Ben from the comfort of the balcony.  Glenn just happens to be the fellow who built my lovely condo.

Shepherd-like, I negotiated the falling grass.  Then down into the water.  As I strode resolutely ahead, little wavelets lapped at the top edge of my right boot, then overflowed.  Still, the water was only two feet deep.  Ben was tired and cold when I got to it.  I talked gently and started detaching poles and clips.  One connection wouldn’t budge and I was getting plenty frustrated, not to mention wet in the feet.  Finally Glenn scrambled down the slope and together we hauled the heaving mass ashore, dumping water out of it as we went.

Borot, Petra and I hauled various tent parts back to my place, where we just plopped the sorry wetness in a lump on the garage floor.  We laughed quite a bit.  Just think, I’m the only known human being to pick a creek for a campsite.

This morning I set Ben up and the continuing winds dried him out.  This time, I put a brick on the floor, just in case.

 

Visitors

I had set up my new tent in the family room but that’s not the same as staking it down outside.  And I’d better learn how to do that before I fly to Vancouver on Friday.  So after supper yesterday, I got to it in the backyard.  Made a few mistakes but that sounds like me and technology.  I know myself pretty well and I’ve learned to laugh at my foibles (usually).  Finally the tent was up and was being embraced tenderly by the waterproof fly.  Yay for me!

I was about to crawl into the finished product when I heard “Mr. Kerr!” from around the corner of the house.  And striding towards me were five wonderful kids from last year’s Grade 6 class.  I love them all.  I’ll make up names here: Jessica, Darla, Aimee, Dinah and Jeremy … all smiles.  These fine young people had graduated and are now at another school.  I hardly ever see them.

I was thrilled that the kids wanted to visit me and say bon voyage.  I would guess that right now their friends are most important, with adults a distant second.  These Grade 7 human beings are smack dab in the middle of discovering who they are, and that’s a big job.

They wanted to crawl into the tent (which I’ve christened “Ben”).  Okay … come on down!  In a flash, all six of us were crowded into a two-person enclosure.  We laughed and laughed, especially about Aimee, who seemed to be regularly escaping out the second door.  She was a good hider.  The kids chattered on about this and that, and I just sat back and beamed.  What a privilege to be in the same space with them.

After awhile, they wanted a tour of my house and we went inside.  Four of them squeezed onto the couch and whipped through the pages of the book that the class created for me at the end of last year.  “Darla, here’s something else you said to Mr. Kerr!”  Aimee curled up in my red lazy boy chair and poured through kids’ books I’d bought at a recent book fair.  One was called “Hotel Bruce”, a particularly apt title I thought.

Then it was time for the grand tour.  I love the colours of my walls: red, rust brown, yellow, blue, turquoise, green and purple.  I think the kids enjoyed them too.  Jessica played my keyboard in the bedroom.  Kids bounced on the bed.  One ventured behind the shower curtain in my ensuite bath.  In the den, I told them the story of the ancient toy truck I was holding.  When I was five or so, I left the truck outside and a bird pooped on the cab.  “Somebody painted my truck!” I screamed the next morning.  Mom and dad took their time in letting me know what really happened.

In the family room downstairs, Darla started in on her rap lyrics.  Actually, she was pretty good at it.  Jeremy wanted to know more about my ride across Canada and I loved answering his questions.  They all wanted to try my cross country ski machine and managed to schuss along in their sock feet without hurting themselves.  At one point, I looked around to see Dinah rolling on my exercise ball.  Gosh, it was fun!

Aimee, Jeremy and Darla had to get home so Jessica, Dinah and I headed back to the living room where we talked about life and family and goats and bike rides and writing.  Dinah said she wanted to read all my blog posts, which would be a trick since there are 682 of them (soon to be 683!)

Finally the last two walked out my front door and waved goodbye.  “Have a good time, Mr. Kerr.”  I sure will, kids.  I will see my country by bicycle and meet Canadians at every turn.  Plus I’ll often think of those five young’uns crammed into my tent.  Thank you for including me in your lives, dear ones.