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 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.

 

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

Cabin Fever Reliever

It was play day at school on Thursday … all afternoon.  Kids from JK to Grade 6 had eight activities to choose from, and they got to pick three of them.  What a marvelous thing for the school staff to create.

I decided to roam around the various rooms to see what tickled my fancy.  And “Minute To Win It” was my fave.  First there was “Elephant March”.  Imagine a pair of panty hose with a tennis ball bulging from one foot.  The waist band goes over your head, with the ball hanging in front of you.  Then the trick is to knock over two rows of plastic cups and water bottles.  If your elephant trunk swings are gentle, you can do it.  Too much oomph, however, and you get wildly out of control – about a zero chance of  upsetting anything.  It was hilarious.  Tiny kindergarten kids and confident Grade 6’s – it didn’t matter.  Everyone looked silly and laughter filled the room.

If impersonating a huge mammal isn’t your style, how about “Junk In The Trunk”?  Strap an empty Kleenex box just above your butt, fill it with eight ping pong balls and try to get them all dislodged in a minute.  Good luck!  Kids were upside down, right side up, jumping up and down, twisting and shouting.  Fun, fun, fun till the clock said 60.

I’m a pretty good spectator, but it was time for action.  My task was to keep three balloons aloft for the minute.  “I can do this.  I’ll pile the balloons on top of each other and then throw them straight up.  They’ll therefore be close to my body as they descend and it’ll be no sweat to send them vertical again.”  Ahh … the delusions of seniorhood.  How long did I last, you ask?  Three seconds.

Not everything was indoors.  The scavenger hunt covered the snowy schoolyard.  125 painted stones littered the landscape, apparently stuffed inside the bodies of deteriorating snowmen, hidden at the base of a climber, tucked into a little hollow – everywhere!

I told Jayne, the Grade 5/6 teacher, that I was on a mission to find one of those stones.  An hour before, I had watched a group of kids refine their search skills, and I vaguely looked around to locate my own personal treasure.  But I didn’t find anything.  Now, refreshed with preventing balloons from touching the earth, I knew this was my moment.

I told a gaggle of wandering children about my quest.  Immediately, I was deluged with:

“I know where there’s one, Mr. Kerr.”

“Come over here.  Look right there!”

“Let’s find one together, Mr. Kerr.”

So I was out and about with this short human being, then that one, and somebody else again.  Following speedy legs to all sorts of destinations.  But I still hadn’t located a stone on my own.  As the bell rang, signalling the end of the session, I trudged back towards the school, happy about my time with the kids, but sad with my empty hands.  And there, steps from the tarmac, sat a little snow drift, with a spot of yellow peeking out.  I too am a successful treasure hunter!

It was a smiley afternoon – for me, 15 adults and 200 young’uns.  Good for us.

Senegal

I was sitting on a bench on the Alberta prairie in July, 2017, admiring the mountains to the west.  I was alone, and very much looking forward to the sunset.  Along come four hikers.  We smile.  We say hi.  They sit down.  Turns out that they’re all from Belgium and are revelling in the grandeur of the Rockies.  One couple says nearly nothing.  The other one enjoy chatting with this Canadian guy.

After awhile, the folks head on up the trail, showering me with friendly goodbyes.  A half hour later, I set off too, having immersed myself in oranges and pinks.  The trail enters some trees.  Soon I’m back in the wide open spaces.  I look ahead and there’s another bench in the distance.  Two people are sitting there.  After a bit, I can make out my talkative new friends.  “They’re waiting for me.”  And indeed they were.

Lydia and Jo welcomed me to the new bench and we start talking about life in all its beauty and disappointment.  They tell me that they have about 20 foster children … in Senegal.  Lydia whips out her phone and shows me smiling photos and videos.  Those kids are so alive, so real.  I’m loving this.

Maybe an hour later, Lydia has something to say:

“Bruce, we go every Christmas to see our kids for two weeks.  Would you like to join us sometime?”

Oh my.  Did she just say that?  My small mind goes off into small thoughts.  “But we just met.”  “I can’t afford that.”  “I like being home for Christmas.”

Happily, my big mind held sway.  “Yes, I’ll go with you to Africa to meet your children … in December, 2018.”

Too soon, we were saying goodbye.  Lance’s family and I were heading off in the morning.  I hugged Lydia and Jo and it felt right.

Back home in Ontario, I had lots of thinking to do.  “I said yes.  I really did.”  Well, not knowing how many years I have left on the planet, isn’t it about time that I stretch my wings?  Yes it is.  I wondered if my Belgian friends thought I’d really follow through.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that Jo and Lydia and I and a few other fine people are flying from Brussels to Dakar on December 23, returning to Belgium on January 4.  Although I haven’t arranged my flight to Brussels yet, I intend to spend a week visiting my friends and seeing the sights before we fly to the kids.

This is real
I’ve never been to Europe
I’ve never been to Africa
This is real

Look at me now, a world traveller.  Also a lover of humankind in all its diversity.  Belmont is so cool.  I’m sure the rest of the world is too.  As Cat Stevens was fond of saying:

Well I left my happy home
To see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends
With the aim to clear my mind out
Well I hit the rowdy road
And many kinds I met there
And many stories told me on the way to get there
So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
So much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out

Thank you, Mr. Cat

Running for the Ferry

I went to a lovely concert on Toronto Island yesterday. Sunlight streamed through one of the church’s stained glass windows onto the faces of the musicians – violinist, cellist and pianist.  Sweet sounds.

The concert finished with a heartfelt standing ovation around 4:00 pm.  I started chatting with some Islanders, knowing that the next ferry to downtown was at 4:30.  The one after that would be at 5:30.

At 4:10 I decided to bolt for the ferry.  There was no reason in the world why I couldn’t have opted for 5:30 instead.  I could have meandered through the trees and enjoyed the boardwalk back to the ferry dock.  But no … things to do and people to meet.

Two minutes of brisk walking and glances at my pink fitness tracker told me that I wasn’t going to make the ferry.  “Let go, Bruce.  5:30 is a lovely time of day.” However … the  next thing I know, some hidden orchestrator is propelling my feet into the air, otherwise known as running.

“Bruce – stop this!  You’re 69.”

“So?”

“Well, you might wreck yourself.  And then what would happen to your bike trip?”

“Oh, give it a rest.  I’m running and that’s that.  Get out of my way.”

“But you’re wearing a heavy winter coat.  And you’ll be using muscles that haven’t been stretched this way for years.  Plus you may be psychiatrically compromised.”

“What?!  ‘Psychiatrically compromised’?  You’re nuts.  Watch me fly.”

So I flew (sort of).  Graceful like a duck.  Fast as a dozey turtle.  Proud as a peacock.  Run some.  Walk some.  A trotting young couple passed me.  She hollered encouragement.  I saw them fade into my future.  A glance down at my Polar watch.  Four minutes to the whistle blast. More “running”.  No breath.  Ferry in sight.  Whistle. Twenty-five metres.  Crew member with neon vest starting to close the gate.  He sees me.  He stops.  No air and through the gate.  My woman friend is smiling and applauding.  The gold medal is mine.

Ain’t life grand?

Slip Slidin’ Away

I went on a class trip today with the Grade 5/6’s.

“In 1973, the Ska-Nah-Doht Village, located within Longwoods Road Conservation Area, was constructed.  It features a village reflective of the Native settlements found along the river close to 1,000 years ago.  This village, created with the information gathered by archaeologists and First Nation peoples, offers tours, workshops and an opportunity to see how First Nations people once lived.”

We made and decorated bowls from clay, sat in a longhouse, listened to our tour guide describe how important deer were to the native people, and saw the trees that these folks used so well.  Very cool.

But the best was being out and about with the kids.  On a break, I followed about fifteen of them along a road.  Down a little trail, we spied a pedestrian bridge spanning a shallow ravine.  The sign said “Maximum 40 adults”.  No sweat.  Soon we were all on the bridge, with the wood bouncing under our feet.  Great fun!

And then the question … Should I have allowed the kids to walk onto the bridge?  My answer – a resounding “yes”.  They had great fun and it was safe.  And the smiles were huge.

Later in the day, there was another opportunity to explore.  Maybe 20 kids this time.  A trail wandered through the sparse woods and soon we were at another hanging bridge, this one twice as long as the first.  Sadly, no bouncibility this time.  Five kids asked to climb down some steps towards a pond.  I said yes and watched their progress from the bridge, along with the remaining children.  One girl had found a 10-foot branch on the ground and recommended I use it as a walking stick.  So I awkwardly did, to the amusement of many.

A few folks wanted to break off some pieces of ice from the bridge and toss them into the ravine below.  I had them make sure there were no beings down there and then said “Go for it!”  More fun.  The kids who were near the pond climbed the hill beyond and joined us at the far end of the bridge.  Then it was time to go back.

Should I have been more cautious?  Should I have kept them off the bridge?  Should I have said no to the group who wanted to go near the pond?  Should I have said no to plummeting lumps of ice?  Well … I said yes.  Fun.  Safe.  I was watching.

And then the day ended.  We were back at the school with about 15 minutes to home time.  I was supervising 10 kids on the schoolyard.  Behind the Grade 5/6 portable was a circular patch of ice, about 40 feet in diameter.  The kids wanted to slide.  My answer was to head gingerly onto the ice and start floating along.  Right away, there was a line of 12-year-olds, soon zooming over the glassy surface.  Squeals of delight.  Bodies flopped every which way on the ice.  I loved it!

The small voice inside my head urged me to be aware of liability, school rules, angry parents.  Be careful.  The big voice retorted with fun, smiles and joy.  Be out there!  I voted for door number two.  The kids deserved it.

 

On The Tracks

I love walking.  I love Belmont.  I love finding places to walk in Belmont.

Today I went ‘splorin’.  Many times I’ve crossed the railway tracks at the south end of town in Scarlet.  I knew from the map that they headed northeast, crossing two east-west roads – Avon Drive and Harrietsville Drive.  Once I reached that second road, I could walk west till I hit the T-intersection at Belmont Road.  I figured that the whole thing would take me two to three hours.  Adventure!

As I sauntered south from my condo, I talked to three people about my journey.  Every one said “Be careful” while all I wanted to hear was “Have fun”.  Oh well, I’d do both.

At the entrance to the Belmont Farm Supply yard, I turned sharp left, and stepped onto the tracks.  Yay!  My plan was to walk on the gravel beside the rails but I soon found that it sloped steeply down to the side, and my ankles said no to that nonsense.  So that left a path between the rails, maneuvering over the wooden ties.  Sometimes the gravel between the ties was a few inches below, and that took inspired footwork.  But who cares?  I was out and about and all the vestiges of civilization were fading behind me.

My first visitor was a bird – a kildeer.  I’m guessing that it was a she because it puffed itself up on the gravel and screeched unkindly at me.  The babies must have been in the tall grass nearby.  “It’s okay, mom.  I’m not going to hurt you or the little ones.”  I skirted way around her and passed by, whistling a happy tune.

It was hot today, maybe 28º Celsius.  For the first bit, my way was enclosed by trees and bushes, and the old forehead was dripping.  That’s all right.  Adventurers need to overcome lots of stuff.  Then the village park on the left came to an end and so did all the trees.  Fields of brown (to be planted) and green (winter wheat) beckoned.  And the breeze caressed my face.  Ahh.

I could see a long way in both directions.  Farmsteads were wee in the distance and I was alone in the world.  Sometimes I like that.  I thought of train trips I’ve been on and how wondrous it was to see the natural world, far from roads.  It was the same today.  Just me and my ties and my gravel.

Swallows swooped and I was entranced with their beauty.  Sometimes pampas grass accompanied me, waving in the wind from their eight-foot highness.  I crossed Kettle Creek on a short trestle bridge, letting the sweetness of the flow mix with my fear of a suddenly approaching train.  No train, just the water below.

Once the tracks curved and for awhile there were no signal lights to be seen way forward or way back.  Wilderness!  So I told myself.

Soon Avon Drive was behind me and I knew that Harrietsville Drive would meet my feet within half an hour.  I felt a touch sad, knowing that cars would soon be my companions.

And then they were.

Pavement home was still fun, if missing the aura of mystery.  I looked at houses passing by and wondered about the lives of the folks inside.  Up ahead was a fellow whippersnipping some weeds in front of his place.  I went over to talk and he smiled.  “I saw you in the paper.”  And indeed I had been, in an article about the tree that a landscaper planted for me in front of the post office … for Jody.  We had a good talk.

And then it was just a couple of kilometres back to orange brick.  Home.

***

I guess I’m a Belmontonian
Starting to know the land and the people
It makes me happy

A Little Adventure

Why not create moments of oomph in my life?  And why not do it every day?

On Wednesday, I got an idea.  My neighbours Borot and Petra were about to leave on a 12-day Caribbean cruise.  They’d be spending a few days on the road before walking up the gangplank and they were so excited about it all.  Borot told me that they’d be setting off this morning sometime between 5:00 and 6:00.

So I did what any normal human being would do.  I bought a 20-pack of Timbits from my local Tim Hortons coffee shop.  They’re tiny donut balls – majorly yummy.  I went to bed early, setting the alarm for 4:15.  But I was too excited to sleep much.

After a morning shower, I brewed a cup of coffee, grabbed the Timbits, pulled on my winter coat, toque and mitts and sat down on the porch at 4:55.  I couldn’t wait for Petra’s garage door to start climbing.  I was ready to rush over with a Fare Thee Well present.

5:15.  Not a peep from two houses down.  Oh well.  The coffee’s good.  5:30.  The coffee’s cold so I rushed inside to the microwave, somehow believing that I could hear the garage door from my kitchen.  5:33.  Local human being bursts onto his porch, cup in hand.  Walks down the street.  Sees that there aren’t any lights on in Borot’s home.  Gosh, they better start showering soon.

5:45.  Nyet.  Those Timbits start looking good.  Then a possibility hits me: my friends left before 5:00.  Strangely, though I felt a twinge of disappointment at the prospect, I was almost giddily happy.  I’d never sat on my porch at this hour, watching pinkness grow in the east.  I was on a heroic quest but it didn’t seem to matter whether the result was produced.  The journey was lovely.

6:10.  Silence everywhere.  I imagined Petra and Borot zipping down the highway.  I thought of the Grade 6 kids I’d be visiting this afternoon.  I bet they like Timbits.  Twenty-seven children … twenty donut balls.  Oh, we’ll figure something out.

And we did.  Three kids were away.  A couple who were there didn’t want a donut.  The rest lined up in front of me and almost everyone thanked me for their little sphere of pleasure.  Two Timbits were left.  What if all three kids come back tomorrow?  Ahh, we’ll handle that too.

It was a fun day.  Here’s to many more.