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!


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