They say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Let me stop it right there, and say that no, this time, we’re going to start with a Buff.
You might know Buffs. They’re tubular pieces of woven poly-cotton fabric, about a foot long, basically big tubes of t-shirt material that can be tied up in a variety of ways and take a lot of abuse. Well, I found my favourite Buff two days ago, at the bottom of a storage Tupperware container that’s spent the last three years in my storage locker. That’s about the second time I thought I’d lost it forever. The first time was when I left Spain in a hell of a hurry, five years ago this fall, and the Buff somehow got lost up in all of the things that made it into postal boxes, sent to Canada via surface mail, and which made it to Canada in record time, in spite of only being sent surface mail.
You see, this isn’t just any Buff. This Buff has almost as many kilometres on it as my road bike does. It accompanied me on a rather trying trip across Spain. For thirteen, maybe fourteen years it’s been my constant companion, go-to hair accessory, face drier, ice carrier, tent pole binder and, probably, witness to some of the most epic bike-based meltdowns I’ve engaged in.
But let’s face it: If you’re here, it’s not because you’re interested in my hair accessories. It’s probably about the biking. Which I used to do a lot more, before things happened. Before effectively fleeing Spain for Canada, for eastern Ontario, which I’d fled by going to London, then Prague, then Spain, for what I thought was going to be forever. Before I re-met my boyfriend, who was someone I’d known since I was nine. (That story used to be cute.) Before giving up on entrepreneurship, before grad school, mom’s death, the Pan-Am Games, the thesis. And then before I knew it, I was up fifty-five pounds, admittedly with a good job and an M.A. and a defended thesis, a stable relationship and a French certification that I don’t have to re-do until the fall of 2021, but without biking.
This blog, then, represents an effort to get back into both cycling and writing (which I have done in abundance over the past three years, but unless you’re into the cross-cultural ramifications of international sporting events seen through a systemic-functional analysis framework, it probably doesn’t count). See, I used to be a hell of a cyclist. I competed in road cycling. Rode one of the toughest sportive rides in Europe (four Cat 1 climbs in the Pyrenees, boo-yeah!) in a more-than-decent time for having turned forty just seven months before. And now…? Well. I’ve biked to work six times this year. That’s about 40 km more than I did all of last year. But this is the year that it changes and the road gets taken to. (Yes, passive voice; you know who the actor is in this case. No, it’s not bad form to end a sentence with a preposition.).
Why now? Well, not having grad school hanging over my head is a big bonus. So is having paid holiday time. (For the first time since 1998!) So is — and this is such a shallow confession — having a decent salary. Paid on time. One that gives you the financial wherewithal to have things like credit cards, which allow you to do things like make campsite reservations, and buy nice things for you and your bike, like bike clothes that fit properly, and good, solid bike gear. (Like the Arkel OD panniers you’ve been drooling over since Floridians were counting chads and deciding elections. Or the tent that you’d actually like to have, not just the one that your budget can accommodate.)
Really, though, the most substantial reason why isn’t all that different from the reason that fuels a lot of other bike-related malarkey. I’m getting older. I miss the freedom of the open road, even though the open roads in Spain were interlaced with excellent, cheap public transit options which made exploring any part of the country logistically easy. Public transit is, to put it, a cycle touring nightmare in the Ottawa area (I’m looking at YOU, Greyhound Canada and your mandatory-ten-buck-fee-for-a-stupid-box.) And yet, we have great cycling infrastructure in Ottawa: I tell my buddies back in Spain about our bike paths, the bike racks on our municipal buses, how close good campsites are, and they just shake their heads. (They shake their heads at how flat this place is, compared to the hilliness of Spain, but that’s another post for a future date.) We have municipal and provincial leaders who advocate heavily for bike tourism and better infrastructure. We have great, long paths, such as the Waterfront Trail, the Great Trail (formerly known as the Trans-Canada Trail, which goes right in front of my apartment building), and more bike shops than you can shake a bike pump at. There’s no excuse not to be out there.
So, with new tent, new panniers and new gear (and, hopefully, a new bike shortly), I’m doing it again. As the posts over the next few weeks will show, it’s not always an easy trip, for various reasons. But I gotta get out there again. I can’t not get out there.