The Long Ride

I don’t know if you were reading my WordPress posts two years ago. If you were with me in June, 2018, you saw a man collapsing. I had just started riding my bicycle across Canada with seventeen other Tour du Canada cyclists. Aerobically I was in pretty good shape but my bike skills were woeful. I had ignored the advice from the Tour’s organizer: take a cycling skills course.

Within the first three days of the ride, I crashed three times and was continually terrified of the semitrailers passing within three metres of me. I couldn’t make the slow motion moves that were needed in downtown Vancouver traffic. Near Abbotsford, B.C., I misjudged the speed of a hillside left-turning car and just about had it all end.

I quit.

I spent two nights in a hotel with my bicycle propped against the wall. My hands shook, and they kept shaking for two weeks. “I’ll never ride again.”

Now it’s two years later. I still have remnants of the PTSD but they’re mild. A friend recommended I look at a video of a Bob Newhart TV sketch. A woman comes in for counselling since she’s terrified of being buried alive in a box. Bob says he’ll give her two words and then the therapy session will be over. She pulls out a notepad. Bob leans forward over his desk … and yells “Stop it!”

Woh. What? No months of therapy to deal with my now deepseated agony about being on the bicycle? No reliving my fear of impending death? No “processing” my life?

Okay. I went to my bike shop a couple of weeks ago. I had bought a more stable bicycle than the one I rode in 2018. Wide knobby tires instead of narrow smooth ones. Inside me was a fluttering but also a strange calm. Step number one: show up at the shop and tell my friends (manager and employee) the true story of June, 2018. They listened. They didn’t turn their backs.

Step number two was four days ago: I put on my cycling jersey and shorts. (Scary) I had my friends put the new bike on a stand, and I got on. I gulped … but there I was on the saddle. I pedaled. I changed gears. My heart was fast. I agonized about how to get the bike going and how to stop it. (Which foot goes where?) I couldn’t remember. I blasted myself for not being able to remember. And then I calmed down. I made an appointment to come back yesterday and ride in the big parking lot behind the shop, with coaching from my friend. I went home.

“Just stop it, Bruce!”

Yesterday came. I hadn’t slept much. The two of us moseyed out back with my bicycle, “Betty” by name. I tried squeezing out love for her but nothing came. My friend showed me how she gets on and off a bicycle. I got the “on” part but was still jangled by the “off”.

And then it was time for me. “I’m actually doing this” inside. Left foot on the ground, Right leg swung over the bike. Right foot on pedal, up high so I could push down mightily. “A ten-year-old kid knows how to do this!” > “Stop it!”

Push. I was up. I was going. “I didn’t catch my shorts on the saddle!” (Something I’ve done so many times in the past) Feeling Betty. Feeling the sensitivity of the brakes. A swooping left turn. The mouth opening in wonder.

And then the dark: “Which foot do I put down?” I just couldn’t remember. I decided the right one. Wrong choice. Brakes touched. Bike slowing … then lurching to the right as my right foot sought the pavement. I hopped. I stayed up. And I had my answer: left foot down.

Another few loops of the lot. “I can do this.” Brakes squeezed. Left foot down before I was going slow enough to do that. Another hop, but a good one this time. Going again, my friend watching with a little smile. Braking … slower … body lean to the left … foot falling through space … a gentle press on the pavement. Sweet.

There is much more skill needed. And I have time to do that. Betty and I have become friends. We will go places together.

My mind is being freed. My eyes face outward, seeing the unknown bends in the road rather than gazing at my belly button.

“Well done, Bruce.”

On The Bike Again … Part One

It’s been months since I’ve ridden my bicycle.  And I get scared whenever I start up again.  I guess it makes no sense, but I have a history.

“How old were you, Bruce, when you learned to ride a bike?”

(Gulp)  “47.”

I was afraid of lots of things when I was a kid.  I knew I didn’t have the balance or confidence to ride.  My parents never asked me if I wanted a bicycle and I never pursued the matter.  Strangely, even though I guess all my friends had bikes, it never was an issue among us.  When I was around, we just walked everywhere.

My first job was flipping hamburgers at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.  I was 17.  One day, my boss took me to the back of the snack bar, pointed to a bicycle, and told me to take a box of frozen patties to the stand on Centre Island, a few miles away.  And then he was gone.  It was just the offending bike and me, staring at each other.  Had I been wearing a heart rate monitor, it no doubt would have read 225 beats per minute.

I’d never even been astride a bike.  But now I was, with one arm wrapped around the frozen food.  Seems to me that there wasn’t a carrier to put the box in.  My feet found the pedals.  My right hand found the handlebar, and I set off.  Within a second or two, my body found the ground.  I remember lying there, thinking that I was the slimiest human being on the planet.  Oh teenage angst … how I know thee well.

I got up, glanced around to find that I was alone, and ran the bike towards some bushes.  In it went, nicely covered by the foliage.  And then … I ran to Centre.  That’s where the memories stop.  I have no idea how much humiliation I swallowed from my peers.  Maybe that’s a blessing.

Fast forward a few decades.  Jody knows about my bike trauma.  She’s taken me at night to a subdivision under construction in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Street lights, asphalt and bare lots.  She pushed, she ran beside, I pedalled.  And I stayed up for a hundred yards or so.  Was I exhilarated?  No.  I was terrified.  At the end of my trip, Jody rushed up to me, saying “You did it!  You rode a bike.”  My response?  “No, I didn’t.”  To this day, I don’t know what that was about.  How skewed is my brain when drowning in fear and embarrassment.

A few YEARS later, I finally agreed.  I could ride a bike.  Did I mention the 47?

To Do Or Not To Do

For maybe fifteen years, I’ve had a goal: to ride my bicycle across Canada.  In fact, I’ve told myself that I’m not going to lie on my deathbed grieving that I didn’t do it.  When Jody was ill and after she died, my oomph for the journey faded and wearying thoughts flooded my brain:

You’re too old
It’s too hot and humid in Ontario
You’ll never climb the roads on Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Trail

And I believed it all.

As far as I know, the oldest person who’s completed the Tour du Canada is 73.  I’ll be 69 in my target year – 2018.  “That’s pretty close to 73.”

“You wilt in the heat, my man.  And that’s when you’re sipping a drink on the patio, not riding for seven hours a day.”

“Have you seen pictures of Cape Breton?  It’s straight up!”

So says my small mind.  But I know there’s a bigger one inside too.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a thought.  I love these Grade 6 kids at South Dorchester School.  I wonder if they could help me break past my mental barriers about the ride.  I’m smart but they’re no doubt smart in different ways.  Fresh brains.  Ideas unfathomed by this “mature” guy.  And how often does an adult ask a kid for help?

I showed up at the school this afternoon for volunteering.  But there were hardly any young ones since freezing rain had cancelled the buses.  There stood Tiffany, the teacher I work with.  “Ask her.”  So I spilled my thoughts about crossing the country.  She got excited.  “The distances you cover can be a Math assignment.  I told her that I wanted to blog from Victoria, B.C. to St. John’s, Newfoundland.  And that on days when I was struggling on the bike, maybe a few students would e-mail me some encouragement.  Tiffany then envisioned a writing project.  Seventy letters from the children, written in 2017 but not opened until the seventy days of Tour du Canada 2018.  Oh my.  That would sure be a boost to my spirits.

How about Geography studies of towns I pass through?

How about the students writing people I talk to in Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Quebec?

How about composing a song that we 25 Tour du Canada riders could sing on our merry way?

How about making funky posters to be mailed to us at spots along the route?

How about creating recipes that we riders could cook up for breakfast or supper?

How about sending us photos of you kids on your bikes?

Limitless horizons
Children and adults
Adventure on both ends