Tuesday, July 19, 2011

MS Bike Tour: Enjoy the Ride

A few days ago I bolted out the door and went on a relatively spontaneous 10 km ride. I was high on hope and hadn't yet combined my image of a leisurely bike ride to the reality of pedaling a very heavy machine up and down hilly streets.

I was comfortable with signing up for the MS Bike-a-Thon for two reasons: (1) they advertise their event as family friendly and (2) they welcome participants on "bikes of all kinds." Family friendly is important because this implies that you don't have to be a pro athlete to participate. If there aren't any bike restrictions, I feel confident knowing that I won't feel madly out of place and horrendously unprepared on my vintage Elan amidst a set of professional riders on road bikes. I can hope that there'll be someone on a unicycle or better yet, an adult tricycle! Maybe my vision of an eclectic group of misfits riding along in brightly coloured costumes with feathers in their caps isn't accurate (how awesome would that be?!!), but still, there's the sense that even with professional riders zooming through trails, I'll be okay put-putting along on Olivia.

But to ride 30 km I've got to prepare so I thought I'd test out a route from my house to Erindale Park using a trail through the woods and a bike lane along Collegeway that leads right into UofT Mississauga and then onwards into the park. It's roughly a 10 km round trip and very scenic, so an early morning ride before the world woke up sounded so lovely.

Worry #1: As I wobble my way onto the steep and narrow entry into the ravine I envision myself losing control and wiping out: the entry is a little rough around the edges and drops off onto very uneven ground while going into a steep decline. Maybe a helmet was a good idea. And knee pads. Olivia's front wheel rides a little "squirrelly"; it's a little unpredictable and wobbles off track easily. I've gotten used to the feel but getting back on her after a lapse in riding always throws me off course--I think it's a matter of experience and with more riding won't be such an ordeal.

Worry #2: As I coast down the path and over the little wooden bridge that arcs over a brook, I slowly settle into my crisp morning ride. I take a new path that forks off to the left knowing it exits onto Erin Mills Parkway and will let me enter the trail along Burnhamthorpe Rd. Very quickly I'm gaining speed without pedaling, swerving along sharp curves. I'm going so fast that the trees look threatening and my panic rises--what if my brakes go out? What if I lose control? Why am I going so fast? Why is this path so curvy? I'm going to smack into a tree--here it comes! Except I pump my brakes and everything's fine.

Worry #3: When I finally exit the trail, I discover another dilemma. There are giant signs telling me to dismount my bike and walk it across the crosswalk. Not a big deal. I'm not so cool that I can't walk my bike. I don't care. Sure, nobody likes the safety freak who walks their bike across the road. They hold up turning vehicles like any other pedestrian; drivers point and laugh at them; children on rugged mountain bikes zip past in three seconds, but it's okay. That's what the sign says. Safety first. So I wait for the light to change and I walk my bike to the other side where the bike lane begins. As I hop onto my bike and push off, I realize that if there were cars waiting to turn right, I'd be blocking them trying to get on my bike and into the bike lane. If I had ridden across the crosswalk, I could easily weave into the lane with little disruption. The rules are killing me.

Worry #4: I make it to the next light reveling in the glory that is a dedicated bike lane when I reach the next set of lights. I need to turn left to continue down my route, but I'm not yet comfortable taking the left lane and turning like a vehicle. So I cross the intersection still in bike lane position, but have to stop awkwardly on the other side so I can wait for the light to change and cross over again. If there were cars, where would I stop? Should I dismount and cross like a pedestrian and then mount again to get into the bike lane? This feels like too much starting and stopping and not enough riding. I'm annoyed and stressed. I can't turn left like a vehicle yet because what if I'm too slow? What if the car behind me honks? What if they give me the finger?

Anyways. I'm finally in the bike lane on Collegeway and riding along the route I've dreamt of taking for months. It's through a quiet part of the city, few cars, lots of trees--and wow, I'm totally zipping down this road! This is easy!!! I'm hardly pedaling! So fast! So free! Wind whipping in my face! Sun twirling in the trees! This is what it's all about!!!

Worry #5: And then it hits me. I'm going downhill. That's why it's easy. You're not some athlete with the magical ability to bike at high speeds with little training and not an ounce of sweat. You idiot. You're going downhill, which means your 5 km route back home will be uphill the entire way. Sure, 5 km is not a whole lot. Especially on a bike. But let's not forget who we're talking about here. We're talking about me. The girl who, without fail, got hit in the face with a basketball/soccer ball/volleyball every single gym class in middle school.

Worry #6: When I reach UTM, I find the trail that leads into the park and decide to walk my bike. It's unpaved, mostly gravel, and a lot of uneven ground. My wheels are pretty skinny and I'm pretty sure I'd wipe out the first time I hit the brakes. No need to be adventurous and go "off road" yet. All in good time. On the way down, I meet a frog:

The park is shrouded in rising mist, the earthy scent of wet grass is in the air, and there's the damp of dew soaking into my shoes. The morning is glowy, the silence and emptiness thrilling. I love it here. My tree stands waiting--'how long you've left me to host the haphazard picnics of common folk' she whispers:

Olivia enjoys the view from the bridge over the Credit River:

'How pretty,' she yawns.

Worry #7: After a nice walk through the park, my sleepless night starts to kick in and I want to get back home. I bike towards Dundas, the speeding cars scaring me onto the sidewalk. Look. I know I'm not supposed to bike on the sidewalk. It's unsafe. I know. I almost fell off a bridge. Well, one wrong move and I would've gone over--poof! And I did almost wipe out: there was wet grass caught in my brakes and I wobbled. But here's the thing. I think that if you're going to bike on the road, you better know what you're doing. You better know the rules. You better know how to signal. You better have confidence. And until I've got 3/3 I'm not veering onto a road unless it's got a dedicated bike lane. Especially not Dundas. I'm also keenly aware that confidence is built through trial and error, but I'd like more trials and less errors before I endanger my life, cause an accident, or really piss someone off. I also don't want someone to give me the finger. I'd be so hurt.

Worry #8: I make it back to Collegeway and my beloved bike lane to start the arduous climb homeward. And holy moly, I am dying. I know this is because I'm unfit and haven't exercised in a while, but I'm also keenly aware that my bike is heavy. Really heavy. That's part of the charm of a vintage bike, remember? This seems so much harder than it should be. I only have three speeds and I'm determined to believe that this is fine. I WILL BE OKAY. I pedal at approximately .25 km/hour and know everyone is laughing at me. The birds in the trees, the old women in their condos, the cars passing me at lightning speed, everyone. But, I'm determined. I will make it home without stopping. I can do this.

Whatever, man. I have to pull over and stop because my legs are jelly and I think I might die. So there I am, standing on the side of the road, chugging water like I just ran a marathon, except I didn't. I'm such a disappointment. By the time I reach Erin Mills and Burnhamthorpe, I have to walk my bike up the sidewalk because I can't pedal any longer. The bike feels like a dead weight and until I reach the bike path that zooms down a hill and into the woods, I'm not getting back on my bike.

Once I reach the path, I zip and zap through the woods and think if I keep doing this, if I keep worrying about every rule I could potentially break or every person who could point me out and say 'there's that girl who doesn't know what she's doing' or if I make myself bike 5 km uphill before I'm ready, if I don't pause and just enjoy the ride I'm going to hate this, and I'm going to fail.

So here's to letting the wind whistle through a mind empty of worries and what-ifs--we're going to make it Olivia, you just wait and see.

To support me and my team in the MS Bike Tour, please visit my personal donation page.

Any donation is appreciated!

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