Sunday, August 22, 2010

The weather turns...

Well, much like last Sunday, the day is cloudy, breezy and increasingly wet. Yes, here it is - late August, and there are only three Sunday bike days left in the season before the parkways are no longer closed to motorized traffic. Yet, at this time, 9:01 am, neither of us is out there pedalling away. Despite my having had some MS related problems of late, I am actually not entirely out of commission. This time, it's the weather. It's just not conducive to being out there on the catrike...not today anyway.

Nevertheless, the forecast is calling for improving conditions for later this upcoming week. In fact, the latest Environment Canada guess/forecast is calling for clearing skies tomorrow afternoon with a cycling-perfect high of 24C and with the easterly winds of 20km/hr becoming light. You can't beat that with a stick and so I plan on heading out while I can.

I use the cycling season, which starts (for us) from the time the street sweepers brush away the last of the dried salt encrusted roads around late March/early April, to the first snowfall, as a way to not just stay in shape but to tide me over until the x-c ski season begins. I use the x-c ski season to keep me in shape and to prepare for the cycling season. So, I have ways of getting out and just enjoying the days we are blessed with. In this time of climate change, I can't really predict when the cycling season will be. I recall us going bicycling in January 2006 - January, mind you.

I really enjoy the way the weather changes. I am already noting that a few of the leaves on our trees are changing colour. I can see that the honey locust tree in the back yard has a few yellow leaves, as does the globe linden tree in our front yard. I am anticipating cycling in the autumn, especially along the bike trails as the fiery hues of autumn's splendour lend a shimmering glow to the entire network. It's been noted by all of our cycling friends that the city of Ottawa should extend the Alacatel/Lucent Sunday Bike days to Thanksgiving and maybe even beyond. I agree (and I know Adam agrees too). I think ending the Sunday bike days at Labour Day is much too early. I also know that the hours of 9:00 to 12:00 or even 1:00 pm on those precious Sundays is much too narrow a time frame and more than a few others have told me that they think the city should close those roads for longer on the Sundays. While I agree with that in principle also know that it wouldn't fly with city council.

I love the varied weather we have in Ottawa and make it a point to get out and embrace it, rather than complain about it. One could argue that's because I'm a Buddhist and so try to live in the direct present; however, I have always felt this way even before I became a Buddhist.

So, I won't head out on my trike today because of the weather but I will head out on foot. The cycling will be for tomorrow and for most of next week.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

The philosophy of cycling

Adam initially suggested I write this as a Nordic epic poem - something along the lines of Beowulf - but I couldn't find any way to incorporate an underwater battle with some fiend that lasts for 5 days. So, instead, I thought I would talk about the philosophy of cycling.

I came about this particular subject as we were attempting to negotiate a closed pathway. For some unknowable reason, the city of Ottawa thought it would be a great idea to do maintenance work on the O Train this summer. Fair enough but said maintenance also entailed the closure of certain sections of the bike trail - and an otherwise very well travelled portion of the trail I might add. Ottawa is well known for its expanding spider web of bike trails and people come from all over just to take advantage of this great why anyone in the city planning department would think that closing a good chunk of the bike trail at the height of summer was a good idea is beyond me.

So, here we were, on our way to catch up with Jane, a really good friend of ours, at Hurdman bus station. It's easy to get there on the trail network...but not so much when part of the trail is closed (q.v. previous paragraph). Thankfully, as we always bring a map with us, sorting out which way to detour wasn't a problem. As it was early in the day, traffic wasn't an issue either. It involved us setting down on the road and zipping up to Riverside Drive, a whole two blocks away. A turn onto Riverside and we were sailing down the road to reintercept the pathway. Sailing down the road, however, wasn't as good as it sounds and that is because the condition of the road could charitably be described as frighteningly awful - and that brings me to my point about the philosophy of cycling.

Despite Ottawa being touted as a very cycle friendly city, the truth is that anyone undertaking the trip we did today would conclude the opposite. Cars and trucks had no problems whatsoever negotiating the frost heave festooned, pothole bespeckled road. However, it was a really tough going for us both on our trikes and for anyone else on bicycles. Sure, car owners could argue that if we didn't like it that we could just hop onto the bike trail. This is something we would have easily preferred - but the closed pathway forced us to use the road. This city is car-centric; if a road were closed for repairs or maintenance you can bet your bottom dollar that detailed signs showing detours would warn drivers well ahead of time. Yet, when Adam first encountered the closure of the bike pathway a couple of weeks ago, the only information available was that cyclists would have to take an alternate way. It is telling to note that, according to Adam, someone had written the words, "like where???" under that first sign. Today, a rather large map provided an alternate route but which involved such a convoluted route that it wouldn't be worth it.

We did make it back onto the pathway and continued our trek to meet up with Jane at Hurdman. The bike trail there had its frost heaves and the odd pothole but it was nothing compared to the battle zone of Riverside Drive. I recall pedalling along the pathway, enjoying the warming morning and listening to the various bird calls and the growing chorus of cicadas. The sounds of traffic receded with each turn on the pathway and I couldn't help but wonder if any of those car drivers were able to appreciate the beautiful morning we were having. I hoped they could and that they weren't simply rushing about watching the world pass them by.

We caught up with Jane, discussed the rest of the trip and then headed out on more bike paths. There is something soothing and yet energizing about cycling. Maybe it's the feeling of my heart thumping as I push myself up yet another hill; maybe it's the relative quiet of the bike path - the only sound of note is the occasional ding ding of a bike about to pass; maybe it's the encountering of friends we haven't seen in awhile who are also out and enjoying the day.

We continued our trek along the bike path until we were ejected at Dufferin, which isn't too far from Rideau Hall, the governor general's residence. Cycling in that quiet neighbourhood on such a gorgeous morning felt really good and it wasn't long before we got back onto the bike pathway and headed to Rockcliffe airport. From there, the Rockcliffe parkway was closed to motor vehicle traffic and the three of us were joined by the growing numbers of other cyclists, roller bladers and a few roller skiers. It was a picture perfect day, with the odd cloud gently lazing across the early August day. It was only when we got to the end of the parkway, where both the barricades and automobiles were that I felt a certain...well...quiet sadness. It just seems to me that car drivers are almost always in a hurry, that too many of them just don't have the time to, literally, stop and smell the fresh air.

There is so much to experience from the seat of a cycle that you just can't experience from the seat of a car and I think it is mostly to do with the speed.

For me, a lot is the slowness of it all. Today, we did 64 kilometres but we averaged about 12 or 13 km/hr and took a few breaks. We left around 7:40 this morning and didn't get home until around 2:00 pm. Now, I am home, showered and resting up knowing that while I certainly wasn't the fastest cyclist out there am very calm and content with the day. I am not frazzled like too many drivers, having to get here and there, rushing about running errands and trying to meet some kind of hard schedule. There is no point in thrashing about - a reality I learned eleven years ago (this month actually) when I was first diagnosed with MS.

Slow down, take it easy, whatever you're rushing about for probably isn't worth it and anything that is worthwhile you will find a way to make it work...even if it means having to go on one of the bumpiest roads out there!