This is a picture of me and my best friend in the world, Ken. Sadly, Ken passed away in the early days of fall in 2017. I miss him dearly. This picture makes me smile, and I post it here because this is one of the rare photos I have where Ken actually consented to having his face shown in a picture.
But this post isn’t about pictures of my friend and I. It is about GiveWell, and doing good in the world. So why am I promoting GiveWell? The answer is simple. I want to do something in the memory of my friend. Ken wanted our memories of him to be associated with doing good in the world, and he thought giving money to GiveWell was a good way to do good in the world. What is GiveWell? Here is what they say on their website:
GiveWell is a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give.
GiveWell sets out to determine the best bang for your charitable buck, so to speak. So help me honour my friend’s memory by considering donating to GiveWell. GiveWell does not keep any portion of the donations it receives. 100% of every donation goes to the charities featured on its website.
What does one do when a warm, sunny Sunday in late October comes along? One stops paying lip-service to life-work balance and grabs their bike and hits the open road. That’s what. I didn’t want to go far. I didn’t want to go fast. I just wanted to spend as much time as I could taking in the beauty of fall as I rode through the countryside.
A lot of cyclists were out today. It would have been a sin not to be. And with such a high volume of cyclists, there is a lot of opportunity to observe cycling etiquette. Though there are websites (https://www.velominati.com) that proclaim to hold the sacred texts in which the rules of cycling etiquette are given, such sites don’t mention what to do when one approaches another cyclist standing by their bike on the side of the road. For many years my default has been to slow down and ask if everything is okay, and then stop if assistance is requested. Most times I’m waved on, however there have been times where my offer of assistance has been warmly accepted.
But perhaps such behaviour is only acceptable on the open road. Coming back from my ride today, I was on a main artery through the city when I came upon a cyclist standing by their bike on the sidewalk. They were bent over looking at their chainring. As I approached, I called out and asked if everything was alright, but they did not respond. By the time I noticed that they had earbuds in, they had noticed me slowly approaching them. They stood up and gave me a pretty fierce wtf-is-wrong-with-you look, so I simply continued on my way.
I am loathe to concede that asking other cyclists if they need assistance is only something one does on the open road. I’ll grant that cycling etiquette in the city looks different than cycling etiquette in the countryside. For example, I would never wave as I passed an oncoming cyclist in Waterloo Park, but I don’t feel like it would be strange to do so out on the open road. It’s not strange, and most cyclists I encounter do it. However, inquiring whether a fellow cyclist standing on the side of the road would like assistance is not simply a matter of etiquette. At least I don’t think it is. I think it is something we should do.
Now of course it is a very strong claim to say that we should offer assistance to other cyclists if the occasion arises. The importance of doing so was really driven home to me on my cross-country adventure this past summer, and I think there is a good motivation to do so.
I’ll unpack what I think this means in the next few posts.
I’ve started running again. I love running. It keeps me fit, and each run is like pushing the old reset button on my mental health. I haven’t really been able to run since I did an Ironman race back in 2014. The Ironman quite literally broke me. But I think I’m finally free from those dark years of not being able to run. This has made me exceedingly happy.
I was out for a run today on the Iron Horse Trail, and came up to where the trail intersects with West Avenue in Kitchener. It is an uncontrolled crossing. There was traffic coming from my left and from my right, so I stopped on the sidewalk to wait for the road to clear. The driver to my left stopped on the road. I couldn’t see their eyes, so I assumed they were stopping to let me cross. I really dislike when drivers do this. I know they mean well and are trying to be courteous…but it can be really dangerous to the pedestrian if other drivers are not paying attention to what is going on.
Anyways…the driver to my left stopped. I looked to my right, and that driver came to a stop as well. So I figured it was safe to cross. I started running, and as I was directly in front of the car to my left, the driver accelerated and turned towards me. It was a mighty leap that saved me from being hit. At first I thought the driver was just a psychopathic fuckwad who was trying to “prank” me by pretending to hit me with their vehicle. I was wrong. Once I was clear of the vehicle, I turned and gave them the best WTF posture I could muster. That is when I realized that the driver was not looking at me. They weren’t even looking in my direction. They were fixated on the driveway they were turning into. I looked to see if the passenger had seen me. Nope. They too were fixated on the driveway.
The driver had no situational awareness in that moment. They were so fixated on where they wanted to go that they didn’t see me. I must point out that this was in full daylight. The road was dry. It was not raining. It was cloudy, so the sun wasn’t in the driver’s eyes. And there was clear visibility. I was also wearing bright clothing.
So this week’s tally:
I saw a driver run a red light at Caroline and Erb. The light was already red when the driver entered the intersection. They were heading north, too, which put them driving the wrong way on a one-way street. But what was so alarming was that the driver did not stop, but continued on as oncoming drivers frantically swerved to avoid colliding with them.
I tweeted about this already…but an old man screamed profanities at me for riding my bike on a shared path. And the old man wasn’t even on the path when they screamed at me!
And, as described above, I was almost taken out by an elderly driver who didn’t even see me when I was clearly in their field of vision.
So what’s the point of my grousing?
The more I experience KW as a cyclist and pedestrian, I am struck at how the primacy of the vehicle has informed infrastructure decisions that put other users in the way of danger. Bike lanes that orphan cyclists into traffic? Not a problem! Forcing cyclists and pedestrians to cross busy streets at uncontrolled crossings? Can’t see a problem with that! Building shared pathways that all but guarantee cyclists and pedestrians will get pissy with each other? Sounds like a great way to meet other city folk! Also, if you don’t want to get hit by a driver that runs a red light and goes the wrong way on a one-way street, you should just get off the road! We ain’t got time to enforce rules and shit.
But I digress.
Some people, for many legitimate reasons, do not drive. But KW’s infrastructure does not do a good job reflecting that. And the infrastructure that does allow people to experience their city by foot, skateboard, bike, trike, scooter, or whatever other way, seems poorly designed and built as an afterthought.
We need to do a better job of making KW accessible to all people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation.
Number of times I was asked if I was retired: too many.
Number of people who saw my bike and asked me if I was selling stuff: 1
Number of people who offered me money because they thought I was a vagrant: 1
Number of times motorists yelled at me: 2
Number of close calls: 1
Relatedly: number of skunks that almost got me killed: 1
Ratio of electrical tape to bar tape: greater than 1.
Number of tornados/tornado warnings on the prairies: 0/0
Number of tornados/tornado warnings in northwestern Ontario: 1/3 (it might have just been a plough wind though.)
Number of times the OPP went looking for me: 1
Percentage of Bell payphones I tried but didn’t work: 100%
Number of litres of water I started with each day: 6
Number of days I ran out of water: 1…because I shared.
Number of times I saw a bobcat: 0
Number of times a bobcat saw me: no idea. (Coco had a bobcat walk through his campsite one evening while he was wild camping. So what’s the guy do? He pulls out his phone and video records it. I guess if you’re going to be eaten by a bobcat, you might as well let others know what got you! Coco is fine, by the way.)
Number of times I was chased by dogs: 1…miserable creatures.
Number of times I used my bear spray: 0
Number of times I had to pedal downhill because of headwinds: too many!
The top speed I hit climbing a hill (in northern Ontario) because of a ridiculous tailwind: I topped out at 24kph near the top. And it was a respectable roller, too. (When I stopped to switch out water bottles, I had to brace myself against the wind…it was pushing me around.)
Number of nights I heard trains: 30 nights (every night from Saskatoon, SK to Spanish, ON. I hadn’t really thought about it before…the major train routes follow the major highways.)
Number of times I got a lift: 4
Weight lost: lots!
Number of times I cursed climbing up steep mountains and hills: uncountably infinite.
Number of times I was ready to give up: let’s just leave this blank.
I have no regrets ending my trip where I did. On my original plan, I was only going to get to Halifax (you know, time and budget). But now I can plan a proper tour of the maritimes when I complete my cross Canada journey. I’m not sure when that will be…but I’m excited about it!
Days on tour: 59 Days Days off: 9 Days KM Pedalled: 4,177.20 KM Time in Saddle: 257h 46m 6s Average speed: 16.2 kph Total Metres Climbed: 26,423 metres Metres Climbed in BC: 9,866 metres Metres Climbed in ON: 1,1103 metres
I think the hardest part of my journey across the country was when I cycled passed the Terry Fox Memorial on the eastern outskirts of Thunder Bay. I visited the memorial two years ago when my son and I were on a road trip to Saskatchewan. It’s a beautiful and powerful testament to an incredible person who has inspired generations of people around the globe.
As I cycled passed the memorial, memories of my friend Ken washed over me. I count myself so incredibly lucky to have had a friend like Ken. He was incredibly generous, kind, and charitable…always wanting to see the best in people. I miss him dearly.
I always thought that Ken and I would grow old together: two curmudgeonly old men sitting in a park watching people live their lives as they see fit…grousing about how society didn’t work the way we thought it should. We had the curmudgeonly part down. We had the grousing part down. What I’ve been robbed of is time. His was a journey cut way too short.
As I cycled across the country, people would frequently ask me if I was doing it for a cause. I would tell them about Ken, about GiveWell, and about Ken’s desire to have his memory of him associated with doing good in the world. It seemed that everyone I talked to had a story about how cancer had touched their lives. The stories I heard were powerful, and people were willing to share them pretty much anywhere…in line at Tim Hortons, at gas stations, at rest stops, in campground bathrooms…pretty much anywhere. Telling a complete stranger about how cancer has touched your life requires you to be vulnerable, but I found that there was always a moment of connection in that vulnerability.
People were genuinely curious about what I was doing and where I was going. Answering people’s many questions became a daily part of my journey. I found that once I started talking with people, it didn’t take long to find something that connected us. And it was sometimes surprising what that connection was. For example, Coco and I were campsite neighbours to a family who were originally from France, but who were all recent Canadian citizens. They were on tour of Canada. She explained that her grandmother had been born in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan…which is just a few miles north of where my grandparents and parents grew up, and where—if my memory serves me correctly—John Diefenbaker had a law office. It doesn’t take long to find a connection. All you need to do is be willing to talk to others.
All of the people I met had a story to tell and were willing to tell it. For the most part. Coco told me of an interaction he had with two teenage boys in a small rural community in Saskatchewan. He was camped in a park when the two curious teenagers came up and started asking Coco questions. Coco said the three of them had a great conversation. Coco had a journal with him and frequently asked the people he met to write something in the journal. It could be about anything. The boys declined, even with Coco’s insistence. Their reason? They were just nobodies from a small town.
I was gutted when I heard that. “We’re just nobodies from a small town” is not a conclusion that you come to just by yourself. That is something you have internalized. I grew up in a small town, and I remember feeling the same way in my early teens. I hope that these teenagers can somehow rewrite that narrative and realize that they don’t have to be extraordinary people from extraordinary places who do extraordinary things to have an important and meaningful story to tell.
My journey across the country afforded me the opportunity to share my story and listen to the stories of others willing to share. I feel like my loaded touring bike was an open invitation for people to approach me and start conversing with me. Added to that was my cycling clothing. I was always wearing a bright yellow cycling jersey and a bright yellow helmet which screams, “Hey, I’m doing something different over here.” I’m not sure if or how I can maintain that connection with people now that I’m back in my normal routine. I’m pretty sure I know how things would go if I were to approach someone on the LRT and ask them how their day was going and where their journey was taking them. But it was normal to ask those questions and to be asked those questions on my trip. I’m going to miss that connection. I feel like too often in our everyday lives we view other people as an inconvenience. “If it weren’t for all these people in the checkout line, I’d be done by now” Or, “If it weren’t for all this traffic, I’d be home by now.” Or, “If you don’t stop browsing the aisles of Costco, I’m going to ram my cart into the back of your heels.” Or, “Why is that person walking so slowly across the intersection, don’t they know I have important things to do?”
I have a story to tell. You have a story to tell. I desperately hope I can stay curious about yours.
I crossed Lake Huron on the MS Chi-Cheemaun yesterday and camped in the same campground that I camped in last August on my first bike tour. It’s kinda surreal…and I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that my tour is coming to an end. I’ve been on the road for over 8 weeks…and sitting in the saddle for hours on end, day in and day out, has been my life. It’s been a hard but good life.
As I was cycling down the 6 today I came upon two fellow cycling tourists stopped at the side of the road. One of them was changing an inner tube. I pulled up and asked if everything was okay. The one changing the tire was grumbling about yet another flat tire. I asked how many flat tires they’ve had…they’ve had 12 flat tires! All I said was “huh”. To which the other guy asked how many I’ve had. I replied that I’ve had no flat tires. They were incredulous and asked how that was even possible. I replied that they were evidently clearing the road for me. At least one of us had a good laugh at that.
Then the guy working on the tire looked up and asked, “Wait…are you the guy that’s been camping with Coco every night?” I replied that I was. He then said that they’ve been hearing about me for weeks, and since they had never seen me, they were beginning to wonder if this Greg guy was Coco’s imaginary friend.
Which is rather funny, because Coco has been talking about these two guys from Quebec that he keeps running into. I was always confused…who are these two mystery cyclists, and how have I never seen them…since obviously we are all on the same road!
Coco and I have said goodbye for the last time on this journey. We parted ways at the Tim Hortons just north of Espanola. We had lunch together and then took our different paths: he on the 17 east and me on the 6 south.
It’s important to name your bike. Coco named his bike Ti-Ergerzhour…house of the traveller. I think that that is a fantastic name that beautifully captures the special bond that forms between a cycling tourist and their bike. My bike’s name is Mike. ‘Mike’ rhymes with ‘bike’. So it has that going for it.