I found this pond the other day at the 40km mark on a bike ride.
I’ve lived in Toronto since 1988 and I’ve never found the Rouge Valley Conservation area before. It was a perfect oasis to stop, drink, gel. And I found myself feeling deep, quiet joy, the kind that only comes from strength and fully being in my body.
Sunday was a tough day. The Orlando shootings were hard in my heart, triggering loss and fear and confusion. What happened there was the nightmare I’d once feared in every queer space, one I’d finally learned to let go of. This came back, deep. On top of that, I’d had a super-busy week and was heading into a weeklong business trip, with a looming need to do back to back 90 km rides next weekend to fulfill training requirements for the Bike Rally and the Triadventure. (Those are donation links if you feel generous — still need to meet my targets for these amazing causes). I had worked all day Saturday and did a pile of work on Sunday morning, then was having someone for dinner. As I pulled on my bike clothes, I had the internal debate: do I really need to do this ride? can I get away without it?
I set out planning to ride about 60 km, which felt like all I could fit in before I had to buy food, shower and cook. I ended up riding just under 75km, including a personal record, according to strava, on the evil hill up Brimley from Bluffers Park.
As I rode, I wasn’t stuck in my head, and I wasn’t anxious, and I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t anything. I was just me. Me and my bike. Heading east and exploring. Unexpected strength and pure joy. My bike is a time machine that way — I get to be 9, set free to find the world.
I learned how to ride a bike by learning how to yank myself out of a free fall onto gravel. I was 7 and we had just moved to a small town near the military base in Germany my dad was going to teach on for two years. My parents bought me a blue folding bicycle and we went camping with the Stolzes. Sandra was my age, and Blair was a year younger.
Our dads positioned us on our bikes at the top of a hill, on a small gravel road, steadied us, then sent us down. My memory puts Rothmans in their mouths and bottles of beer in their hands, lanky young men free and heady in Europe in 1972.
By the end of the weekend, knees embedded with bruises and gravel, grunting through tears and pedaling furiously when I started to fall over, I could ride a bike.
(I learned how to swim in Germany too, in a military pool where a man with a big belly and a speedo yelled and poked me with a stick if I reached for the edge of the pool. There’s a theme here).
The 70s were the days of free range parenting, and my bike and I quickly fell in love. I would hang a little plastic bottle of apple juice around my neck and roll away from the grey white apartment building with the strange metal blinds and five other Canadian families, down a little trail along the tiny river a block away. I’d ride to the next town, look at sheep and perfect, cosy community gardens, beg samples from the carpet store for my dolls, learned how to buy gummi bears in German. Then the next town, finding the world on my wheels. Later, when my parents’ marriage started unraveling, listening to the wind and the steadiness of my pedalling.
For two years, we threaded across every country in Europe in our orange VW camper van with the pop up top, Fjords and farmers and small icy streams I fell in. My father pretending to see the Loch Ness monster before throwing a beer can out the window in the green hills, accidentally camping on a wasp’s nest the summer my uncle traveled with us in Denmark, sending him screaming out of the tent in his yellow pyjama suit.
We camped in Rotterdam beside the water one summer, and a guy pulled in on his bicycle, and swiftly unpacked khaki panniers, made a tent, took a tomato out of his bag and cut off a slice with a red Swiss Army knife. I watched in awe — just him, his bike, a tent, a tomato. Self-contained, completely free, independent, alone.
“You don’t even like tomatoes,” she said.
Two years ago, I did a five day bike trip in Germany with two friends, where I finally got to live into that tomato-eating, riverside-camping aspiration.
And I found that joy and openness on Sunday, on my bike. Pedaling hard up the incline of Kingston road, down and up the hard hills. The explorer among the beach-goers, the people getting on with their Sundays. Fully me, fully my age and fully myself at 9. Finding gratitude in my life on a day that was filled with heaviness.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and educator in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads an all-volunteer learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, for which she would love any support: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/nikibasika-development-program-66/ . She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.