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.

 

Thumbs Up

I did a long bicycle ride on Wednesday.  With about 20 kilometres to go, my right thumb stopped working.  I use it to press a button which moves me to a harder gear.  I pressed … and nothing happened.  The thumb just collapsed.  A very big “Oh, oh!”  And a very big panic welled up.  No thumb, no gear changes, no Tour du Canada.

I let the fear take over for a minute or two.  There was a compression in my body and a sadness in my soul.  Then an inspiration: I moved my right hand to a place where I could brace the heel on the handlebar, and pushed the button with my index finger.  It worked!  Gosh, I’m so smart – until that finger buckled.  I then moved to my middle finger (you know, the one that’s so good at saluting) and finished the ride that way.

I woke up on Thursday morning with an aching thumb and wrist.  I deduced that I wouldn’t be able to see a physio until after my plane to Vancouver takes off (next Friday) so instead I went to Shoppers Home Health Care for a brace.  The woman helping me was brilliant and found a sturdy one that addressed arthritis and the particular joint that was sore.  It definitely helped but I still had trouble turning the key in Scarlet’s ignition.  I figured the digit needed rest for a day or two.

And then this morning I awoke to the word “physio”.  In the shower, I couldn’t squeeze the shampoo tube.  And the fear rose.

Off to St. Thomas and the physiotherapy clinic I’ve patronized over the years.  It didn’t matter that an appointment was unlikely … some force was propelling me there.  The receptionist was polite, but informed me that the earliest available session was on June 14, the day before I fly.  (Sigh)  I was about to walk out the door in search of another clinic when a voice behind me said “Maybe I can help you.  I don’t want you to have to leave.”   And there stood my guardian angel.

“Emma” smiled and told me acupuncture could help.  “Oh, please yes!”  In the loveliest of serendipities, a client had cancelled for right then.  Emma took my wrist in her hands and there was a crunch – all those bones rearranging themselves.  Then she sat me down and inserted five needles from my hand to my elbow.  What an odd, slightly stinging sensation.  I felt some relief when Emma took the needles out.  Plus she’s making room for me on Tuesday.

Off to the health food store to stock up on herbs for my big trip.  The woman behind the counter gave me a dab of Kalaya Pain Rub, full of wondrous natural ingredients.  Soon after I took off the brace to receive the ointment, my hand started shaking.  I watched, fascinated, as my friend explained about electrical activity.  It was very cool to watch.

Next was a message from the ether – “Go to your bike shop.”  I figured it was just to get some emotional support, as I struggled with the possibility of not riding across Canada.  Once in the door, I approached Sygnan and heard myself saying “Is there anything you can do for me?”  I really didn’t think there was.  Going over to a display bike, I tried pressing on the same type of button as I had on ta-pocketa, and I couldn’t budge it.  (More sighing)  But Sygnan, my hero, found a rotary gear shifter in a catalogue, one where I’d use my whole hand to change gears rather than putting pressure on my thumb.  And he also located a brake lever that was far easier to move than what I had.

I drove over to a shop in London to pick up the shifter, and the brake levers should be in on Tuesday.  So I can have them installed by Wednesday, have Sygnan partially dismantle ta-pocketa and pack her in a bike box, and head to Toronto airport on Friday morning, on the road to my summer adventure.  My dear right thumb won’t be needed.  It can take its time to mend.

So … there are forces in the universe holding me tenderly, supporting me in my vision of crossing Canada and being good to all the folks I meet.  I am surrounded by love and am being pulled towards the future.  There’s mystery and grace and sweetness in the world.

 

 

 

Close

I went to hear the Barra MacNeils last night.  They’re a Celtic musical family from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.  And I got to see them from the middle of the front row.

Often the folks featured in a song stood at the front of the stage, and their faces loomed above me, maybe eight feet away from mine.  It was intense.

When Lucy sang “Caledonia”, I fell deeply into me.  Her eyes were open, and the little white dots at the centre shone.  All was liquid, and her soul reached the words:

Let me tell hou that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

All was well

Later Kyle strode to a spot right above me with his fiddle.  He played a soulful Scottish air, with his fingers gliding so sweetly on the strings.  The violin purred into the love song and Kyle would often close his eyes in response.  I would have such beauty linger forever.

Then it was a rousing drinking song, soloed by Stewart.  On the chorus, four brothers were only a breath away from me, blasting out the melody and harmonies.  The whole was greater than the sum of the parts, with the tones vibrating inside my heart.

Towards the end, Lucy did some fancy Irish dancing and I watched her feet fly.  The taps on her soles beat out a brilliant rhythm and her feet twisted this way and that at supersonic speed.

All happened in my very near presence and the immediacy was a huge gift.  Human beings blissing a fellow traveller in the front row.

Handed

It’s time for standardized Grade 3 and 6 testing in Ontario.  EQAO stands for “Education Quality and Accountability Office”.  The kids are far more creative that that, however.  How about “Evil Questions Attacking Ontario”?  I like that better.

Today I was assisting a young man who needed the Math questions read to him.  “Jeremy” tried so hard on every single page.  Often the student needs to show his work and I watched Jeremy sort out his thinking on the page.  While he was writing, there wasn’t anything to do.  So I decided to watch his hand.

He holds a pencil pretty much like I do and was quite deft in his strokes.  But I was fascinated … he was lefthanded.  I had never before watched a lefty do his or her thing.

I thought of my left hand and how its fine motor ability is not much at all.  Any previous attempts to use the beast merely produced a series of illegible scrawls.  So here was a kid who needed some help, easily doing something that I didn’t have a hope of matching.  Hmm …

I consider myself a smart person, sensitive to other people’s needs, funny in my better moments.  But look at Jeremy go.  He’s no better or worse than me.  We both have strengths and weaknesses.  And actually the whole comparing thing is a waste of time.

Jeremy is thoroughly Jeremy
Bruce is thoroughly Bruce
And Planet Earth is delighted to have us both

Completion

I like ordering books from Amazon.ca.  The service is exquisite, the speed supersonic.

Months ago now, I ordered a philosophical tome written by Ken Wilber, one of my favourite writers.  What showed up was a journal written by Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher.  Oh well, at least the content was in the ballpark.

Actually the book that arrived came from an Amazon reseller in England.  When I told them of the mistake, they apologized and got the correct book off to me that day.  As for Mr. Heidegger, “Don’t mail it back to us.  Sell it or give it away.”  Okay, I’ll do that – the giving away part.

I love going to concerts and brunches at a small white church on Toronto Island.  At the entrance to Algonquin Island, where lots of folks live in cute cottages, is a wooden structure.  It’s usually full of shelved books and hanging clothes.  A “Take one … leave one” concept.  Perfect.  Martin will have a new home.

Two weeks down the road, I’d be making the two hour drive to Toronto for Island music.  Drop it off.  At the appointed time, I nudged Scarlet eastward but the book managed to stay in my living room.  Nuts!

A month or more after that, a string quartet was to grace St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church.  This time I was smart.  I placed Martin in the back seat.  In Toronto, I parked at the train station and whisked myself off to the platform.  Downtown was a mere 25 minutes away.  Peering out the train window as neighbourhoods zoomed past, I realized I was bookless.  Nuts again!

Okay, that brings us to yesterday.  Another Sunday, another quiche and string quartet.  I took a little backpack with me and stuffed it full of philosophy before leaving home.  At the train station, the straps went around my shoulders.

I walked from the ferry towards Algonquin Island.  I climbed the cute stone bridge, and there waiting for me was the book shelter.  Why is my heart pumping so madly?  This is not exactly an aerobic activity.

I opened the backpack and gently pulled Martin out.  I inserted him beside a cookbook.   And stared.  I was flooded with peace as the smile widened.  Done.  100%.  No unfinished business.  Ahh …

Fierce

My prep for this summer’s Tour du Canada is coming, and so is my fitness. But are they coming fast enough? I’m so excited to be joining 20 other human beings on the road for 72 days but fear sometimes intrudes like a jagged knife. Take yesterday for example.

I have a 38 kilometre circuit on the country roads around Belmont and it was time to do two laps. Should I have done rides longer than 76 k by this point? Sure, but this is what I have. So off I went.

Facing me for much of the journey was a mounting headwind. First lap not so bad but turning into it the second time was a jolt. Smash! And my speed plummeted.

“76 k is nothing! Some days on the tour you’ll do 160. What’s wrong with you?”

Well … actually nothing is wrong with me. I’ve simply stepped on the path of a long journey. There’ll be considerable pain and joy on the way to Newfoundland.

As the wind stiffened in my face, I started yelling and swearing: “You’re _____ _____ doing this! You are crossing your country!” Thankfully empty fields and woodlots were my only companions as I blasted out the words. My teeth gnashed, my eyes narrowed and my soul erupted.

I looked at my stats on the bike computer and gave them the finger. “Who cares? Just crank those pedals.” I started growling and kept it up until I turned away from the wind.

Yes, I really was growling! Your basic predatory animal … or someone like that.

“Take it ____ home!” And I did.

I will not be stopped
I will not give up
I will not let go of my dream

Moving On

Last year I volunteered in a Grade 6 class. I loved those 27 kids, and I still do. They’ve gone to another school and I rarely see any of them.

Today was a regional track meet for elementary schools in the area. I watched our Grade 5’s and 6’s in the morning and stayed to see some of my old conversation partners in the afternoon. They’re 13 and “on the road to find out”. Adults are okay but they need to be with their friends.

At various times, eight or nine kids came up to say hi. Last June they approached with hugs as we said goodbye for the summer. This time no hugs but still big smiles. Mostly these new teenagers didn’t have much to say. That’s okay. When I asked what they were most enjoying these days, shrugged shoulders were the norm. And that’s okay too. I was so pleased to see them. Soon they were off with their best buds, getting ready for their events or just hanging out. I smiled as they walked away. I know I’ve touched their lives but I’m of the past and the present has so many wonders to behold. May they have eyes to see.

Some of these kids may reappear in my life … or perhaps not. I’m fine with both. Go see what’s out there, dear ones, and who’s out there.

Mid-afternoon, one of the Grade 7 girls came over to talk. We yapped about this and that for fifteen minutes or so. It was lovely. And then she was bouncing away.

Remembering the past is pretty cool. Imagining the future widens my eyes. But any gifts I offer to the world are only in this very moment, repeated over and over till I die. Just like the kids, I’ll move on to the beings who choose to grace my doorstep.

Tentative

I knew I had to do it – unpack the tent I bought for the Tour du Canada and set it up.  I’d been avoiding the task.  But why?  Another flavour of fear, I suppose.  I’ve known that puppy for a long time.

“You won’t do it right.”  The voice has followed me all my days.  Supposedly clear instructions often turn into a mystery.  Oh well.  Today’s the day for tent erection, in my bedroom so to avoid nasty environmental hazards.

I thought a YouTube video would be a good companion.  “Mountain Equipment Co-op Camper 2 Tent”  sounded like a good search.  And it was.  Two happy young people, a man and a woman, joyfully and deftly did this and that, and tent plus fly were scraping the sky in no time.

I assembled the two main poles with the interior shock cords and the resulting beasts were about ten feet long.  I was supposed to bend them so that together they’d create a huge X across the top of the tent while imbedded in grommets at the four corners.  One loop zoomed off into the wall when pressured, and the old thoughts returned:  “You’re not very smart … A kid would have this up in no time … Why exactly are you going on this ride?”

Misadventures proceeded at a good pace.  I couldn’t figure out what was inside and what was outside about the fly.  I had an extra 3-foot length of tent pole that I didn’t know what to do with.  There were fabric loops and plastic clips that seemed to be hanging everywhere.  I couldn’t maneuver my body right to get the little Velcro strips on the fly to attach nicely on the poles.  I had too many tent pegs to match my inspection of the exterior.  Was the manufacturer kind enough to supply extras?  Video One said to do X but then I found Video Two, which heartily suggested Y.  What’s a confused man to do?

At one point, I sat on the bed and pouted.  But then I looked at my as yet unnamed sleeping accommodations, and realized something: The beast was standing and I had been the stander.  Then I looked more deeply.  This will be my rolling home for 72 days, and home is a very precious thing.  So I smiled.  I’m on the road to find out how to do a whole bunch of things this summer, both on and off the bike.  The journey has started and I’m along for the ride.

Adventure
The unknown
My companions
All is well

Ordinary Freedom

I showed up at school yesterday morning, not realizing that it was Crazy Hair Day.  And I was wearing my usual short grey persona.  Hmm … this won’t do.  Who am I to miss out on a celebration?  Kids were getting off the buses with all sorts of designs atop their noggins.

To the secretary I went, with thoughts of alligator paper clips in mind.  She had lots of the black ones, and I started arranging them on my tresses.  Okay, this is better.  I’m fitting in now.

Off to the Grade 5/6 class for more clips.  Jayne had a good supply of my preferred accessories.  “Why don’t you have some kids help you?” she suggested.  Immediately there were five girls ready to lend a hand.  I was clipped here and also there.  One girl grabbed an elastic and proceeded to tie the world’s smallest ponytail in my upper greyness.  Felt like it was a half inch tall.  And here comes a small sponge inserted into a forest of metal at the back.  Jayne too was busy.  She had cut a swath of 2″ wide red ribbon and finished me off with a tidy bow.  Gosh, I looked good!

Now the freedom part:

1.  I pranced from classroom to classroom, from principal’s office to gym, showing off my new look and admiring the creations of the short people.  Lots of laughs pinging off the walls.

And then I thought about my afternoon, to be spent out in the world doing cool things.  Should I retain my adornments for the community or ditch the whole thing in the spirit of normality?  Some kids said “Take that stuff off.”  Others smiled and offered “Go for it!”

I’ve never been really big on normality, so let’s continue the list:

2.  Went to my bike shop.  Ta-pocketa was ready to support me in life, having been tweaked for the mountains of the summer.  My bicycle guy and gal had lots to tell me and grinned considerably between explanations.  Sadly there were no other customers in the store.  I wanted to flaunt my newfound beauty.

3.  To the gym.  One last day on the elliptical before testing the roads of life.  Lots of v-shaped men sporting maximum muscles.  I wondered if my red bow would fit in.  I was nervous.  I quelled the pain by initiating conversations with guys who were starting to stare.  I’d laugh and I guess they felt obligated to join in.  Later I figured out that my proactive words were a way to protect myself so I stopped doing that.  I walked around silently from then on, watching a few frowns appear, and quite a few smiles.  I survived nicely.

4.  How about supper?  I jaunted over to one of my fave restaurants – Mai’s Café.  Lots of folks inside.  I gulped a bit and opened the door, marching up to my favourite server and asking her if it was okay to come in looking like this.  She laughed and said “No problem.”  And there was chuckling from most of the tables too.  See?  I’m still alive.

5.  Walked back to my car past evening strollers.  There were a few averted faces but also some nodding and mini-cheering.  Cool.

6.  Why not go to a movie?  Sure.  The story was forgettable but I loved being stared at – before, after and probably during.

After walking in the door at home, I disassembled.  Here were the contents of my head:

20 black alligator clips
1 red alligator clip
1 maroon alligator clip
1 green alligator clip
1 elastic band
1 small sponge
1 lovely red ribbon

What a pretty boy

As I headed to bed, I got thinking.  Despite some initial qualms, the whole “Look at me!” adventure was no big deal.  Yes, I felt free, but it seemed so … ordinary.  Who cares if some folks frown?  Who cares that sometimes I was the centre of attention?  As you no doubt can tell, I like that.  And who cares if I journeyed outside the box of expected public presentation?

There are infinitely larger challenges to address in life
Will I be brave enough to do so?

Athlete

I’ve been worrying about my cross-Canada cycling trip. The same old refrain: “Too old. Not strong enough.” Happily though, in the past few weeks fear and excitement have switched places. I’m far more in touch with the thrill of it all.

Still … I’m scared.

A month ago, my doctor asked me to have an EGG done. The results showed some “irregularities”. So Julie prescribed a treadmill stress test. Sure, why not? Cover the bases.

I talked to a few friends about the test and their basic response was “No sweat. You just walk slowly.” Didn’t sound like much stress to me.

It happened yesterday. Shorts, t-shirt, running shoes, electrodes on my chest, leads running everywhere. I looked like a member of the Borg, a sinister race of machines/humans on the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV show.

And then the fun began. This was no walk in the park. Speed increased, as did the tilt of the machine . Sweat made its appearance, in large quantities. This was the MAXIMUM stress test. After 15 minutes or so, the deed was done. I was winded but doing fine. The doctor had engaged me in conversation about my bike ride the whole time and I had no problem keeping up my verbal end.

Now the results: “It took you 12 minutes to get your heart rate up to 90% of maximum. This is very unusual [i.e. good] for a 69-year-old. It’s more like what I’d expect to see with someone in their mid-twenties. You’ll be fine on the ride.”

Well …

I’m fine. I’m strong. I may even be amongst the fittest of the 20 Tour du Canada riders. I’m pleased and shocked.

The mythical “they” say that achieving any great result is 90% mental. And my mental just zoomed through the stratosphere.

What’s true? I am an athlete. Like all my fellow cyclists, there’ll be times this summer when I’m exhausted. But I can do this. I am doing this. See me fly!