“Meteorologists see perfection in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. My God, thought Case. This is the perfect storm.
– Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm.
Gonzalo says that my Spanish is as good as the day I left Spain, but even so, I find myself struggling to explain the flood. I remember basic words: inundación (flood), caudal (water flow), but how do I explain the vastness of the water, how close the water came to washing out the bike paths, how it got to a point where there was nowhere for the water to go because everywhere it could go was already topped up, saturated, soaked. I don’t have enough words for water to explain what a challenge this spring has been. So I will use the dodgy second-person-singular narrative trick to try, in my own language.
To say that this has been an eventful year would be understatement to the point of lying. First, the floods; then, Doug’s mom’s hospitalization. Your father passes away; a week after the funeral, Doug’s mother passes away, almost eight months to the day after her retirement party. It’s only a month on that you feel like you’ve stopped reeling enough to get your bearings, to think about what the hell is going on and what to do next.
You try to escape. You think to yourself, well, where’s the harm in unplugging? You just buried your dad the week before (only in the official sense, since the goodbyes, spoken and unspoken, were long in coming). Even if the waters have receded, the flood isn’t done with you. The beach is soggy, pasty with algae and mud in most places, and the ground hasn’t had enough sun to dry out enough to get your tent pegs in so that they’ll stick. Worse, you’re close enough to the Canadian Shield that any sand or topsoil is an illusion under all that rock that makes up the Shield, and the morning sun bakes the residual humidity of the nearby lakes and swamps into afternoon thunderstorms that Never. Fucking. Well. Stop. You try to make the best of it, even though the sound of the rain on the fly of your new tent make you think of what it must be like to sleep in a drum that someone is dropping lentils onto. In fact, sleeping in a lentil-pummelled drum would probably be a few decibels quieter. Sleeping in a two-man tent is starting to get old, especially when said tent is shared with someone who starfishes in his sleep, forcing you off your sleeping pad. You try to make the best of it, even taking the obligatory camping selfie with new Parks Ontario hoodie and red Solo cup (just diet ginger ale – more than a couple of drinks per night is a guaranteed recipe for a 2AM panic attack). There is exactly 623 m of cycling because the road outside the provincial park is under construction and there’s no shoulder to speak of. The last day, you cannot haul ass out of there fast enough, for the sanity of everyone involved.
Nature and cancer take their toll one more time, and even though you’re tempted to leave the whole vacation thing to one side and stay in town and say fuck it, you decide to give it one more try. The day before you start your holidays, you book two campsites on a wing and a prayer. The first campsite is a place you used to go as a kid, before the move out to Kemptville, when your parents still had money and time and energy to be in the Great Outdoors without resenting the hell out of it. The first two days are pleasant enough, including 15 km on the Waterfront Trail between the campsite and Upper Canada Village. The park is quiet, the plots are huge, and if it hadn’t been for that godawful thunderstorm that threatened to inundate the park, the storm that sent you scurrying, soaked, pissed, running to Cornwall to get a hotel room to wait out another inundation, it could have been a good start to the holidays. (And a few more dozen kilometres on the bike.)
Still, the rest of the week is promising. Oka! Cheese. Memories of a turning point in Canadian/First Nations history. Trees everywhere. Nice beach. (Why is the secondary school so flipping huge?) Something like 10K on the Route Verte near the Oka National Park (though nowhere near the 20K you were hoping to do, to get to the train station that would have taken you into Montreal, where you could have done some serious urban cycling.) But you tell yourself you don’t mind. After so much drama over the previous few months, you’re due for some boredom.
The problem with letting the panic subside, however, is that it starts making room for thoughts. Some are rational, some are existential, and some are downright panicky. Is this all there is? Am I going to get stuck with someone who can’t do more than 10K a day because he’s literally dying for a smoke and a beer fifteen minutes in? Am I ever going to get out and be able to do a trip by myself? I don’t remember signing up for signing away every single weekend and not being able to cut loose and bike away. Admittedly, some of this angst is because you missed the Adventure Cycling Association weekend bash in early June, but at the same time you wonder if it speaks to something deeper, some kind of signal that keeps getting lost in the noise of everyday life.
So you bite the bullet and spend a grand on a ticket back to Spain, something you’ve been promising everyone — not necessarily yourself — that you would do. (An hour later, you’re Skype-ing with an old biking buddy, setting up a marginally realistic cycling trip that will both have you gobbling Advil like candy, but what’s old age for, if not to go out in an arthritic blaze of glory? Besides, you’ll get to wash the Advil down with some primo Ribera del Duero, since that’s where you’re going to be. Water? No thanks. Had enough this year.) And then you decide on a whim to take the weekend to yourself and do the damn bike weekend anyway (well, A bike weekend – not necessarily the one you spent weeks, planning, but a getaway). The weather report is not great, which is no real surprise. The weather has been floody all summer. Life has been floody all summer. But at some point, you just gotta get going.