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.
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.
It was raining hard when I woke up this morning. I checked the weather forecast and immediately curled up in the fetal position wishing the day away. I was 227 km north of Sault Ste. Marie.
It’s 12 hours later and I’m 66km east of the Soo. I had an amazing ride and am sharing a campground with 150 other cyclists…one of whom is Coco! Coco and I just had cheesecake and all is good in the world.
Here’s how I got here.
No cell service
The last I posted I was lamenting the fog in Marathon. I waited for hours for the fog to disperse. Things cleared a little around 2 in the afternoon. So I texted my partner, Judith, and said I was going to start pedalling. I wasn’t clear on where I was trying to get to that evening. I was just trying to get some miles in.
I made it 60km to a provincial park and decided to camp there. But there was no cell service. Well…Bell customers have something resembling coverage. But no one else. I asked if there was a pay phone. There was…but it wasn’t working…and Bell wasn’t keen on fixing it. I asked if I could use the park phone, but was denied. I asked if I could use the park computer to send an email, but again was denied. I asked around but no one was with Bell either. So there was no way to check in with Judith.
Our deal was that if I missed a check-in that the reasonable next step was to start contacting police, etc. Which is what Judith did. But not knowing where my end point was, the police didn’t have much to work with. Lesson learned: with so much dynamic planning going on…I need to be much more specific with stating my intended destination.
Still no cell service
Anyways…I woke up early on Sunday, picked up camp, and started pedalling toward White River. I stopped at a gas station 10km into my ride, but it didn’t open until 11. There was a pay phone outside, but it didn’t work either. What’s up with that, Bell?!
I kept pedalling and a few kilometres later I came up to a semi parked on the side of the road. The driver was out checking his load, so I pulled up and asked if he had cell service. Amazingly he did, and let me send a text to Judith.
Off to Wawa
I eventually made it to Wawa yesterday. It was a horrible mental day. The hills where tough and the headwind was fierce. I had to pedal downhill to get up over 20kph. It was a slog.
I stayed at a campground just outside Wawa. As I was setting up camp, one of my neighbours, Peter, came over and started chatting. He’s recently retired, and he and his wife are touring around Canada. We had a really good chat.
As I was pulling up camp in the rain this morning, Peter came over and asked if I wanted a lift to the Soo. The winds were already 30kph from the south…which is the direction I was heading. So I jumped at the offer. I am so glad I did. There was no way I was going to get many miles in today with the weather as it was. The wind was wild.
We got to the Soo mid morning. I loaded up my bike, thanked Peter and his wife Nancy for their generosity, and left to find a laundromat. I did some laundry, resupplied at a grocery store, and bought some lunch at a Pita Pit.
I checked the weather forecast and saw the winds had shifted and were now blowing from the west. They were still incredibly strong. It was around 2 in the afternoon, so I decided I needed to take advantage of the wind, and headed east and was able to make it to Bruce Mine. It was an amazing 66km ride on mostly flat roads with a few punchy rollers to keep things real.
Coco and I parted ways back in Nipigon. I was worried that I was holding him back. And he was worried that he was pushing me too hard. So despite our mutual feeling of loyalty to each other, we agreed that we would not be beholden to each other.
Coco is an incredibly strong cyclist and was putting on big miles each day. Given that there’s so little cell service up here we weren’t giving each other updates.
So…as I was pulling into Bruce Mine to find the town’s campground, I got a call from Coco. I answered and all I heard was him laughing. He was finally able to ask how I caught up to him and told me to turn around. He was standing outside a restaurant down the street. So we’re back together! Of course he had to point out that he too had been offered a ride, but unlike me, had declined.
Both Coco and I are free-riding with a group of 150 cyclists at the campground. They booked the whole campground for the night…but have been kind and allowed us to camp with them for free. The cyclists are with Great Waterfront Trail Adventure. It’s an organization that promotes the development of cycling trails around he Great Lakes.
Canada phase 1
I’ll be wheeling into Espanola in a couple of days. When planning the trip I figured the day I pedalled past Espanola would require a lot of fortitude: do I keep going east to complete the trip, or do I turn south and be home within a few days?
Well, familial obligations are calling me home. So I will turn south at Espanola and make my way home. Added to this, I’m so far behind schedule there is no way I could finish the trip on time and on budget. I shall finish my cross-Canada adventure another time.
I have had such an incredible adventure. It’s been a lot of work physically, mentally, and emotionally. But it has been ever so worth it.
I have met incredible people. Kind, friendly, generous people. People who are committed to making their part of the world a better place. I have heard a lot of powerful stories about the places I have travelled through.
I have seen beautiful landscapes and skyscapes. I’ve enjoyed every waterfall I have seen…big and small. I have a new appreciation for coulees and false flats on the prairies (a 6% grade is a 6% grade whether it be in the mountains or climbing out of a prairie coulee). I always forget how breathtaking prairie sunsets are…so expansive and colourful. And I respect the strong beauty of the Canadian Shield.
I have had butterflies flutter along beside me as I cycled. I’ve ridden past a bear, beehives, herds of mountain sheep, white tailed deer, antelope, and countless gophers. I have heard the yipping of coyotes on dark prairie nights.
I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned about my limits and how hard I can push myself. And importantly, I’ve learned about the importance of detaching my ego from the expectations I put on myself. It’s one thing to conceive of an adventure and plan for it using google maps while wearing pyjamas and sipping wine…it is quite another thing to climb mountains, battle headwinds, and suffer through bone-chilling rain.
I have no regrets about this trip. And I have no regrets for ending the trip ahead of schedule. It just means that I have more adventure to look forward to!
Yesterday I forgave northern Ontario. Today it was a complete and utter jerk and responded with thick fog coming off of Superior. I pulled up camp and cycled about 4km and then decided it was too unsafe to be on the roads. Visibility was pretty much zero. I pulled into a gas station to wait it out. And I’m still here….5 hours later.
I’ve been trying to catch a lift to White River…but it turns out to be more difficult than I thought. I guess no one wants to give a lift to an old guy that looks like a vagrant. Seriously. I’m just sitting here and some guy walks up and asks me if I need money.