Hiding and Emerging

I’m sitting under a tree in the Tottenham Conservation Area in Southern Ontario, waiting for Tour du Canada riders to show up. I’m hiding. I left the tour on June 23, exhausted physically and emotionally. But in the few days we had together, we formed a bond. Even though I was closer with some of the 19 folks than others, we all are forever linked in a mysterious way. And now I want to surprise each of them as they arrive.

I stroll over a little rise from the parking lot and see that Chris has shown up. And there’s Grant, who drives the truck. Their eyes brighten as I approach and then we are three smiles. We chat about the ride but it doesn’t matter what the topic is. We’ve shared a journey, even though my physical part of it was brief. So how much time is needed for deep human contact? I say not much.

Now Jim! Now Ruedi! Now Keith! Hello, my companions of the near and far. For each of them, “Glad to see you” is a two-way street.

After each greeting, I retire to my comfy green lawn chair under the tree, ready to burst upon the next unsuspecting cyclist. Oh, it’s so delicious being sneaky!

Weeks ago, in a member’s blog, I learned that one of our riders had fallen on the highway and broken her collarbone. So sad to hear that she’d left the tour … and I didn’t even know which woman it was. Today I found out it was Jane. She’d fainted on the bicycle and was motionless on the tarmac until a Good Samaritan truck driver stopped to help. Now she’s recovered enough to rejoin the group on Monday. Good for her to be so brave.

I just said hi to Dorcas after she rode in. We shared panting lungs and assorted cycling worries in June. Now she’s supremely strong, it appears. Waydago, Dorcas. She just got in a car, heading to Toronto for the evening. Our eye contact was all that needed to be said.

This morning, I’d vowed to keep a secret: that I’ll be showing up in St. John’s, Newfoundland on August 31 to cheer the riders up the final hill. For the last couple of hours, as I renew friendships, I’ve been choosing my words carefully:

“I wish I could be in St. John’s. But cancellation insurance is a marvelous thing.”

There. I didn’t lie, just gave the folks the impression that I had taken out cancellation insurance for the flight from St. John’s to Toronto. But I hadn’t. Wanting to surprise the cyclists on the 31st, I went the devious route.

Many conversations later, my mind turned. “I want to tell them that I’m coming.” So I did. Dorcas! Sorry for sort of lying to you. Go for the gold!

My evening ended as the sun declined. A group of us sat near the tents, chatting about I don’t remember what. Ken, Terry, Keith, Jim, Mike, Paul … fine folks all. Ken asked me if I wanted to hear a favourite tune on Spotify. Soon his little speaker was wafting “The Wings That Fly Us Home” and “There’s A Lift” over our campsite. (Cool. I just said “our”.)

Yes … the we includes me.

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

The Journey Begins 

I’m sitting in Scarlet on the main street of Alliston, Ontario.  I’m way early for the Annual General Meeting of the Tour du Canada.  The TdC is the organizer of the cross-Canada bicycle trip I’m going on this summer, with 19 other riders.  I’m not super keen on motions and policies but there’s one thing that has my juices flowing – the possibility that I’ll meet one of my fellow cyclists at today’s meeting.  Right now I know not a one of them.

I’ve been on the Tour’s website.  Two people have introduced themselves.  I look at the print on my laptop screen and see a name: Joe somebody.  But in a few months, Joe will be my friend and we’ll share many adventures and no doubt numerous obstacles.  Joe will be so very real to me.

Okay, this is a more reasonable time to knock on the door.  Here goes.

***

I shake hands with Bud and hug Margot.  They’re the two sources of the TdC, which they created 30 years ago.  Soon, about 10 other faces are saying hi.  All except one are veterans of the ride.  But sadly no other 2018 cyclist is at the meeting.  I smile to myself.  I can wait another 3+ months.

The meeting is about lots of issues unfamiliar to me.  Doesn’t matter.  It hits me, more than once, that these human beings in front of me mean that the Tour du Canada is now real.  Websites and correspondence and Skyping are fine but now I’m looking folks in the eye.  Again and again, I’m brought to silence when this reality hits home.  It’s not just a long-held dream, a “maybe” – it’s 20 of us setting off from Vancouver on June 22.  And I’m just as valuable a team member as anyone else, probably slower than most but so what?

During the meeting and the supper afterwards, folks tell their stories of the road.  One woman did the ride 29 years ago, but her description of a long ago moment is relived vividly in her eyes.  Actually, every person who spoke transported themselves back to a magical summer, full of joys and heartaches.  The weather, the hills, the aches and pains.  Exhaustion towards the end of the day and then a road sign appears announcing the campground is still 16 k away.  Being on the road for the sunrise.  Eating impossible quantities of food.

I heard about the tremendous feeling of achievement in reaching St. John’s.  About the couples who met on the ride.  Might that include me in 2018?  About the lovable quirkiness of a rider or two.  And smiles all around.  “Do you remember that morning when I looked at the schedule and told you ‘Oh good, only 130 kilometres today’?”  And then we laughed and laughed.”

Advice came at me from all directions.  “Buy $200 cycling shorts.”  (What?)  “Buy a really good tent that won’t fall apart in a fierce storm.”  “Buy three different brands of excellent shorts so the edge of the chamois [padding] isn’t always rubbing away your skin in exactly the same spot.”  (Who would have thought?  Not me.)

As we left each other and walked out into the darkness, everyone wished me good luck.  A few said they were jealous.  And I just said “Thank you.”

I think I’m doing a remarkable thing come June.  Just like hundreds of other folks have done.  I’ll be creating another community for myself, and that makes me happy.  The nineteen other riders deserve my best.  I’ll give them that.

Strong Enough?

Last week I Skyped with Bud and Margot, the organizers of the Tour du Canada.  On June 18, I’ll be setting off from Victoria, BC, and riding my bicycle ta-pocketa across the country, arriving in St. John’s, Newfoundland on August 31.  An average of 130 kilometres a day.

I started training for the ride after I got back from my meditation retreat in December.  I’ve been on the elliptical in the gym.  I know that typically I can cover 20-22 k’s in an hour of riding, burning between 600 and 700 calories.  I was worried that this speed wouldn’t be fast enough but Bud and Margot said it would be fine.

My hour-long elliptical sessions also burn calories to the tune of 600-700.  So I’ve declared that each session is the equivalent of 20 k’s.  Seems fair.  By that reckoning, I’ve ridden 665 kilometres since December 15, well on my way to the standard of 2000 km that each rider needs to accumulate by mid-June.  So all of this is good.

My longest equivalent distance covered over the last month-and-a-half is 45 k.  Nowhere near 130.  So I’m nervous.  The oldest person ever to have completed this ride was 73, and I’m 69.  The mind shouts out “too old”, “too weak” and “too far”.  But that’s just the mind.  I smile, listen respectfully and let the restrictive thoughts go.

Tomorrow I’ve promised myself that I’ll do 60 kilometres, or fall off the elliptical … exhausted.  “But Bruce, that’s three hours on the beast!”  >  “I’ll take half hour breaks”  >  “You’ll never make it”  >  “Oh yes I will.”

And so proceeds the banter back and forth.  It’s a good conversation.

I’ll tell you tomorrow how it went.  And I’ll try to keep way back in my head the fact that 130 k equals six-and-a-half hours on the elliptical.  Am I crazy or just majorly committed to realizing a long held dream?  I’ll take the latter, thank you.

***

P.S.  This is my 600th post on “Bruce’s Blog”.  Yay!

Falling Short and Standing Tall

Part A

Today was the morning that I was going to change the flat tire on my bike.  I cleared some space in the garage and started getting nervous.  “You can Google it, Bruce.”  Except I didn’t want to.  I had vague memories about how to do the deed.  Years ago, I’d even done it successfully, but maybe not on the more difficult rear wheel.

I turned ta-pocketa upside down.  Check.  I moved the gear shifter so that the chain was on the smallest sprocket.  (See!  I can remember things.)  I squeezed the gear shift lever and pressed the little button, moving the brake pads away from the rear wheel.  I put on gloves, to cope with the chain grease.  Oh, what a good boy am I!  And then …

I loosened the bolt (?) that holds the wheel on the bike.  I grabbed the chain and yanked this way and that, lifting the little gears to various elevations.  (That’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it?)  Nothing.  Just a bunch of black goop on orange gloves.  I stared at the contraption … and couldn’t remember what to do.  I’d done well so far but my mind created a dead end.  “See what a bad cyclist you are?  Good luck on crossing the country.  You can’t even get out of your driveway.”  (Good grief.  Will someone please tell that voice to shut up?)

Trusting that no neighbours were training binoculars on me, I jerked the wheel some more.  The chain teeth became a series of devilish smiles, and the goop continueth.  And then finally, the darn thing came apart.  What exactly did I do to create that result?  I don’t know but at least now I had the wheel on my lap.

Okay … grab the tire levers so you can pry the tire away from the rim, exposing the damaged inner tube, which you can then skillfully pluck out of its prison.  I pried.  The lever flew through the air, with the tire still firmly in place.  I repried and the lever reflew.

I gouged.  I grunted.  And approximately ten minutes later the tire lever was zipping off the tire like a knife through butter.  Was I approaching the world’s slow record for changing a flat?  No, there had to be other all-thumbsers on the roads of the world.

So the offending inner tube now lay on the grass.  From a place deeply dark in my biking soul, I remembered that good cyclists pump a little air into the new tube, to make it easier to push under the tire and against the rim.  Open little nozzle on the inner tube valve.  Pick the right hole on my bicycle pump for said nozzle.  Pump.  I said “Pump!”  Nothing.  No air entereth the tube.  Remove pump head from tube.  Try again … and again … and once more.  Pick up old and useless inner tube.  Pump.  Air enters.  So what am I doing wrong?!  I have no idea.  Back to the new tube.  Pump.  Nyet.  Head down between my legs.  Buddhist insights about how all of this isn’t important?  Nowhere to be seen.

Rest for five minutes.  Try again.  Air enters tube.  Can’t figure out why now and why not then.  Oh well.

I get the new inner tube pushed under the tire and use a lever to reseat the tire on the rim, being careful not to pinch the inner tube.  Gosh, what a pro!  And it worked.  Soon I was pumping happily until the tire reached 110 psi.

Then it was at least twenty minutes of greasy fiddling to get the wheel reattached to the bike.  (Please, no cyclists are allowed to read this part.)  And then … Ta da!  My bike was ready to fly.

I danced inside to put on my quirky blue jersey, heart rate monitor, sexy spandex shorts, groovy red socks, headband, helmet, yellow cycling gloves and shoes with metal pieces on the bottom (for attaching to the pedals).  Glowing with success, I returned to the garage, looking like the epitome of Joe Fitness, not to mention Joe Mechanic.  I squeezed the front tire lovingly … hard as a rock.  Then the back … … flat!  I stared once again.

So repeat the whole darn thing, with a new inner tube.  I probably cut my time in half, but I was low in the soul.

Part B

In the end, I had done it.  The tire remained hard.  I flew slowly over the landscape and returned to my home 75 minutes later breathing hard.  Just like my tire still was.  Perhaps I am a good boy after all.

 

On The Bike Again … Part Two

I get nervous every time I start cycling again.  And it had been many months since my bum was glued to the saddle.  I have clipless pedals, meaning that my shoes are attached to the pedals.  When I need to stop, the idea is that I jerk my left foot leftward and it detaches (from the pedal, not my leg).  Once I’m stopped, I detach my right foot.  If I fall, the impact sets me free so I don’t break an ankle.  Sounds good.

Last Monday, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get my left foot off the pedal since there really wasn’t any lubrication between the metal piece on the sole of my shoe and the pedal.  Being a resourceful type, I poured gobs of chain oil on the offending parts.  I then snuck around to the side of the garage, got astride ta-pocketa and did a clip-and-unclip dance for several minutes.  I hoped that my neighbours weren’t watching.  (John and Sharon, you’re not reading this, are you?)

Appropriately chagrined with my irrational fears, I pushed my dear bike to the roadway.  It was time.  I had a funky cycling jersey on my back (featuring a snarly clown), padded shorts on my rear end, and a red, white and black helmet atop my noggin.  My destination?  South Dorchester School, where I intended to surprise unsuspecting 12-year-olds.

It was 11.9 kilometres and I was painfully gaspy.  I unclipped and reclipped a dozen times before I convinced myself that I hadn’t forgotten everything I’d learned on the bike.  A slight slope became a 20% Tour de France mountain.  I started pooping on myself but then happily gave it a rest.  My fitness is what it is.  Over time, it will be what it will be, i.e. better.

My goal was to roar up to the Grade 6 portable about ten minutes before afternoon recess.  I got there two minutes before the bell.  A boy was opening the door, heading into the school.  He stopped, gaped, and rushed back inside the classroom.  “Mr. Kerr’s here and he’s on his bike!”  I entered the fray and was surrounding by short people staring at my getup, especially at that nasty clown.  Questions, questions, questions, and between pants the occasional answer.

I stayed through recess and for half an hour thereafter, opening myself to curious children.  Then they started working on an assignment and it was time for me to go.  On went my helmet, on went my jacket, and on went my fanny pack.  I waved goodbye and headed outside to get foot reacquainted with bike.  All attached, I heard voices behind.  At least twenty kids were out on the playground, cheering my departure.  Their teacher Tiffany was leaning out a window, recording it all for prosperity.  Thus inspired, I cycled away, feeling like an Olympic hero.

I love volunteering.

Strong

I used to be a runner.  Now I’m a cyclist.  Only recently have I been a stretcher.  And apart from a dabbling a few years ago, I’m just beginning to be a weightlifter.  I want to cross my country this summer on my bicycle ta-pocketa.  I need to have “all lights shining bright” (from a David Francey song).

I’ve started working with Marcin, a personal trainer.  He’s so supportive and so willing to challenge me.  Day One is lots of reps using light weights.  Day Two fewer reps and somewhat heavier weights.  And then there’s Day Three – today.  A couple of hours after our session, I was sitting in the Byron branch of the London Public Library, starting to read about my favourite Buddhist topic … being a bodhisattva, a person who hears and responds to the cries of the world.  And I just about fell asleep.  I managed a few pages and then realized that I didn’t have it.  Simply exhausted.

At one point in the gym, Marcin was coaching me in doing a leg press.  He chose the weight.  I pushed … and nothing happened.  The angled plate under my feet didn’t move.  Memories jolted into me and my normally high self-esteem plummeted.

I went back twelve years, when I had ruptured a tendon in my right foot and had surgery.  When the cast came off, the physio told me to move my toes to the side.  I pushed … and nothing happened.  Orders from headquarters mattered not.  I felt deeply sad then, and medium sad today.  And I let myself feel it this afternoon.  No judgment, just watching it all wash over me.

I went back twenty-three years, when my thirteen-year-old niece Diana beat me in an arm wrestle.  Lots of judgment back then.  Bruce was bad, weak, repulsive, un-male, deserving scorn …  Now I hold myself far more gently.

I did my best today.  The last few reps of a set were often really hard but my mind was strong.  Marcin settled on good weights for me, ones that stretched my everything.  I will be ready on June 20, 2016, in Victoria, British Columbia.  I will dip my rear wheel in the Pacific Ocean and head north to the ferry, and then east across Canada.  I will not poop out in Manitoba (a province halfway across my home and native land).  I will ride fast enough so that one or more of my Tour du Canada friends will choose to accompany me each day.  I will create enough energy for hills, headwinds, rain and bad roads.  And I will have enough left over to be good to my fellow riders.

For at least ten years, I’ve dreamed about this ride – seeing Canada, meeting Canadians, and blogging about it all.  I will do this before I die.

So there

 

Day Thirty … Riding Low And Getting High

Yesterday I went for a bike ride.  For a guy who says that he’s going to ride his bicycle across Canada next summer and who’s been driving ta-pocketa across most of Canada this time, it’s strange that this was the first time he’s been on the seat this trip.  I rode some when Jody was sick and after she died, but not much.  I used to have a problem when I didn’t ride.  It was a “positive addiction”, a term that some author coined.  Hmm … the seasons of a life.

A month ago back in Union, I convinced myself that I’d go for a ride after every day’s drive.  Well so much for that idea.  I was tired from my hours behind the wheel.  Instead of the asphalt, I’d head to ye local pub for too much nachos and too much beer.  During the day, however, I never had too much ice cream, especially chocolate peanut butter waffle cones.  The net result of all this indulgence has to be a weight gain in the 5 to 10 pound range.  A mite blimpy I’ve become.

Ta-pocketa urged me yesterday to ride east of Longview on a fairly level road.  A few little rises but nothing to write home about.  It felt good for awhile moving the legs and floating over the land.  Then I started panting on those uphills.  I thought back to all the 100 kilometer rides I’ve done over the years and asked where that Bruce had gone.

I limped back home after a 12 k ride.  And I was sad.  I know I can get back to good fitness but I didn’t have it yesterday.  I watched myself getting depressed and then decided that pooping on me is not what I’m up to in life.  If I’m to love people and be good to them, I need to have all my resources available to me.  So I declare the beginning of my return to fitness.  Ta-pocketa, will you help me with this?

Late yesterday afternoon, our family took a long car ride into the foothills to a picnic spot that Lance loves.  Towering fir trees smelled so good and sounded so good in the breeze.  Ham and cheese sandwiches, potato chips and watermelon, followed by slingshot aiming at rocks and trees across the Sheep River.  I was the least skilled of the slingshotters but who cares?  We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.  Ember too.  On the way home towards sunset, we saw three deer, two bighorn sheep and one elk.  So cool.

Back at the hacienda, we watched two episodes of “Just For Laughs Gags”.  One skit had a homeless man asking passerby if they had any money.  As they tried to scurry away, he placed $100 in their hand.  Oh so funny.  In another one, victims were persuaded to bring balloons and a bottle of champagne to some deserving person behind a curtain, only to find people gathered around a casket.  They took one looked at the deliverer and started crying.  Oh my.

So a roller coaster day it was.  Lots of thrills and chills.  The yin and the yang.  The up and the down.  The alpha and the omega …  Okay, Bruce.  They get the message.  Stop already.

***

As we contemplate the glories of today’s visit to LaserQuest in Calgary (no doubt a major workout), the last word belongs to Lance:

“May the Force be with you”

Feeling Flat

I’ve ridden a road bike for years.  You know, the ones with skinny tires that go zoom on asphalt and go splat on gravel.  I’ve always been a slow rider but friends and colleagues don’t know that. They think of me as a cyclist/athlete.

They also don’t know that I’ve never really figured out how to change a flat tire.  Two days ago, I felt ta-pocketa’s back tire before heading out on the roads … and it was indeed flat.  (Fear)  With a moderate lack of intelligence, I pumped up the tire to 110 psi and took off.  I told myself that there was an intersection about a kilometre away and I’d stop there and check the pressure again. Which I did.  Soft.  Amazed at my avoidance of reality, I turned around and went home.  (I’ll fix it tomorrow)

Tomorrow came and went and I stayed away from my bicycle. (Fear)

This afternoon, I reasoned that if I didn’t handle my distress about this, I’d turn into an indoor-type guy.  So I sidled up to ta-pocketa and felt her rear tire.  Flat.  (I don’t know what to do)

Tire levers.  Find the little plastic things that pry the tire off the rim.  Check. Dig into the bike box and grab a new inner tube.  Check.  (I don’t know what to do, and I should know what to do)

I did remember to put on nitrile gloves so my hands wouldn’t get gooped with oil when taking the rear wheel off.  (Maybe I’m an okay person after all) Fumbled around for ten minutes trying to extricate the wheel from ta-pocketa.  (Why can’t you remember this stuff?)  Finally done.

I grappled and groaned with the levers until the tire was off the rim, exposing the inner tube.  (Surely you didn’t have to take the tire completely off the rim.  Aren’t you just supposed to peel one side all the way around? Geez – what would a real cyclist think of you?)

Used my floor pump to inflate the inner tube.  (I can’t find any leak.  There should be a leak)  Remembered a friend telling me to submerge the tube in water and look for bubbles.  (You shouldn’t have to rely on a friend for basic information like that)  Bubbles.  Definitely a tiny leak.

I inserted the valve stem of a new inner tube into the rim and tried to reattach the tire, cramming the tube inside.  (This can’t be right.  What are you forgetting?  And why are you so stupid?)

Now half an hour into the job and about a century away from completion. (Pushing blindly ahead doesn’t work.  Do something different)  So I went back inside and watched two YouTube videos on the subject.  (Okay, that was a pretty good idea)

“Make sure you inflate the new inner tube a little, until it’s round.  Makes it easier to work with.”  (Oh)  “When you’re seating the tire back on the rim, start at the valve stem, pushing with your thumbs all the way around, using the lever at the end if the last section is really tight.”  (Oh.  You should already know this stuff, Bruce)

Fifteen minutes later … done.  (Really?  I did that?)  Lifted the derailleur just so and lowered the wheel into its slots, except that it wouldn’t go all the way in.  (Now what did you miss?)  Removed the wheel from the bike and took a look at how the tire was sitting on the rim.  There was a bulge right near the valve stem.  (Are you blind or what?)  Used the lever to take one side of the tire off the rim.  Took the inner tube right out.  Reinflated it a bit.  Stuck it back in with more care than before.  Started pressing with my thumbs to reseat the tire, this time starting at the valve stem.  Slowly.  Reassessed after a few inches.  No bulge.  Tire firmly seated all around the rim.  Pumped it up. Still good.  Delicately replaced it on ta-pocketa.  Really done.  (What a good boy am I)

***

Okay, this constant self-evaluation is exhausting.  For one thing, it creates far too many brackets in print.  What the heck happened to my Buddhism, my equanimity, my lovingkindness directed within?  I don’t know.  Guess they got lost along the way.

Mañana.