The Early Christmas Shopper

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Last week, I received the following email:

Christine,

I hate to admit this but I am one of ‘those’ people this year.

This year for Christmas I want to get one of my best friends and cycling partner a gift that he will love! I came across the title of your book and read the brief bio and knew…Mike will love this gift! He’s the one on the right with the silly smirk on his face, the one the left is wearing my hot pink glasses.

VancouverRiders

So as September draws to a close I prepare for my December gift. Could you please let me know where your book is sold in Vancouver?

The book is not yet available in Vancouver, but through the miracle of snail mail, we made it happen. My new favourite west coaster now has a copy of One Block North squirreled away somewhere, quietly waiting for Christmas morning.

What a lovely thing to wake up to on December 25: bicycle stories, from one great Canadian cycling town to another!

Problem-Solving 101

My sister and I have started my training for the Friends for Life Bike Rally, which is fast approaching. The organizers have given me permission to ride the Adolphustown – Kingston lap, which is about fifty-five kilometres.

http://www.bikerally.org/

“I’m not Superman,” one of my friends once stated when my eyes widened at what she had accomplished on a bicycle. Well, same goes for me. I’m a fifty-six-year-old commuter, nothing fancy. And yet, here I am. If I can do this, you can do this.

In preparation, I tried to beg/borrow/rent a proper road bike for the event. Sometimes I can make these things happen, but not this time. I tried two bike shops, family, friends. Every time, I came up empty. Instead of giving up, I got new mountain bike clip-in shoes (which is what I used exclusively in Toronto) and accepted a very kind gift of cycling shorts and a jersey from my sister. Miss Jackson—my trusty mountain bike—and I are preparing to take on the distance together.

Yesterday, my sister arrived on an intimidating, fancy-schmancy road bike. She hasn’t ridden distances in awhile and we didn’t know what I was capable of yet, so we started light: twenty-six kilometres in the east end of town, through farmlands and quiet subdivisions along the St Lawrence River.
26KM
The one relatively hilly stretch—along Abbey Dawn Road—was the only real challenge, although because of the mountain bike, I wasn’t pacing very quickly: my sister politely slowed the pace so I could keep up. We still did the distance in a  respectable time of one hour. Then, I cycled another twelve kilometres to get groceries. Distance won’t be the challenge for me.

Nothing is sore this morning, nor did I develop any rashes or burns. People pooh-pooh us commuters as “not fit”, but the average twenty kilometres I do daily hasn’t done my training any harm. The big challenge will be speed: Miss Jackson and I need to pick up the pace a little. We have a similar training ride planned for tomorrow morning. I’m going to try to convince my sister to increase the distance to Joyceville Road. Meanwhile, I need to find ways to jettison unnecessary weight and increase speed.

The next upgrades are a second water bottle cage and an exchange on the back tire of a slick for the knobby (I always ride with a front slick) for Miss Jackson, and for me, more protein in my diet.

I’m eating everything in sight with my morning coffee and looking forward to tomorrow’s longer ride. The lesson for me is to not give up when the universe presents challenges. A little problem solving goes a long way.

The Explorer

“I come from a Health background,” Jesse Cranin explains, “ … studying how to beat obesity.” He’s pointing out the coffee shop window at a parked car.

“Driving everywhere hasn’t done us any favours that way,” I suggest, a little worried that our conversation might be deteriorating into ‘us vs. them’ territory already.

Jesse nods agreement. “And they’ve sparked the downfall of culture because we’re become less creative as a society.”

“Do you really see a connection, between our use of cars and our being less creative?” I ask.

“Well,” Jesse says, “We don’t walk anywhere anymore. I studied community in Toronto. In 2004, only one per cent of people cycled.” He looks across at me soberly. “And only half a per cent of Kingstonians cycled that year.”

I gasp. Is that even possible? Then I realize that only three years ago, I complained to my book interviewees that I was riding around Kingston almost entirely alone, on some remarkable bike infrastructure.

“That statistic has improved dramatically in the past few years,” Jesse assures me.

“So, you think there’s a correlation between activity and creativity,” I say. “I’d agree with that. Lots of good ideas come to me while I’m cycling.”

“I studied Urban and Regional Planning, under Patricia Collins. Her specialty is Healthy Cities and my research is on Active Transportation.” He looks out the window again. “I don’t hate cars. I hate the way we use cars. Cars aren’t inherently bad, but we’ve adapted both our urban and our rural environments to fit the car mindset.”

“Yes, it’s true,” I agree sadly. “Look at what’s happened to the west end of Kingston. All those drive-in malls, where the assumption is that you’ll get into your vehicle and drive from one store in the mall to another.”

“I wonder why we think we’re inferior if we don’t own a car,” Jesse states. “I’m richer financially and emotionally—did you know that the rates of clinical depression are fifty to seventy per cent higher in those who drive into work?”

“I did hear a statistic somewhere, that suggested that non-cyclists take eighteen per cent more sick time than cyclists.”

“It’s the stress,” Jesse tells me, “the anxiety of having to drive forty-five minutes to get into work, then having to apologize for having to pick up the kids from soccer and all that chauffeuring everyone around.”

“I know,” I say. “I hardly see my sister in between her driving her three kids everywhere. It stuns me how dependent they are on her. I don’t know if my father ever drove me to anything. I think I went everywhere on my own steam, as a child.”

“Then there’s the whole, ‘I’m gonna hit traffic’ worry,” Jesse says. “Even on the weekend, when what you want is to just go to the lake, we know we’re going to hit traffic.” Jesse grimaces, and then relaxes. “On a bike, you never worry about hitting traffic.”

“It’s true,” I say. “The only time I have to factor in extra travel time is when I take a car somewhere.”

“Even worse still, cars have removed our sense of community and made us anti-social.”

“I despair at people who live in these huge subdivisions but have never met their neighbours,” I say. “Cars do contribute to that. You know, you drive home at night and are tired and irritable. You drive through the neighbourhood, push the automatic garage door opener, drive into the garage, and close the door behind you. You haven’t engaged anyone that way. Heck, you haven’t even made eye contact with anyone. It’s a soulless existence.”

“I know!” Jesse says, nearly out of his seat and stabbing the air. “I’m from Boston originally. People here are friendly. When I go home, I’m disappointed. In general, if you’re in a public space in Canada, people will stop and help you.” He hesitates to find the name. “Do you know Candy Chang’s work?”

I don’t.

“She’s done all sorts of artistic community-building exercises,” Jesse tells me. “You know those ‘My Name Is’ name tags? In one city, she put those up all over abandoned buildings, replacing the phrase ‘My Name Is’ with the phrase ‘I Wish This Was’. People could write their thoughts on the tags. It was stunning.”

“Wow,” I say. “That really makes you think about your public space.”

Jesse looks out the window again. “Kingston is perfect for cycling,” he says. “It’s relatively flat, it has decent bike infrastructure, there are enough eyes on the street—you know, people around to prevent theft. And Kingston is interesting! On a bike, you pass stuff that’s appealing to the eye. The architecture in this city is so beautiful, what we call ‘five kilometre architecture’—what you can see easily as you cycle past. You don’t want to look at those awful billboards downtown, or those big-ass hotel signs. The downtown is made for cycling and walking.” He pauses. “I lived most of my years here in what I like to call the Student Village. I hate calling it the Ghetto,” he confides. “If you live there, you look like a doofus if you drive a car, because it’s not made for that. On my current street—just outside the village—a sense of community is hard to find, so that’s why I like public life studies, considering how people interact with their environment.”
“I agree that you have to go out of your way to interact with others in your neighbourhood,” I say. “But it’s always worth the effort. I like surprising people when I pet their dog or speak to their children, or ask if it’s okay for me to join their street hockey game.”

“You know that dirt parking lot across from Milestones, on Princess Street?” Jesse says. “I walked by there one day and stopped. I sat down and imagined it as a park. That would be a great place to sit! People would come out and use that space, I bet.” He groans. “Car infrastructure is so ugly—all those giant loops and elevated highways.”

“Like the Gardiner in Toronto,” I suggest.

“Exactly!” Jesse says, stabbing the air again.

“You don’t realize Toronto is on the waterfront because the frontage is covered up with the Expressway. When I moved back to Kingston, I could feel myself relax on seeing the water again. You don’t feel so hemmed in, and seeing natural colours like greens and blues is so calming.”

We stop momentarily, aware of how much we have in common, and of how much of our souls we’ve spilled in the last hour. Two hours ago, I didn’t even know Jesse existed. “How did you find me?” I ask him. “It wasn’t through a card on a bike … ”

Jesse smiles. “Brenna Owen, from CFRC, was telling me about you on her front porch. I listened to the interview you did with her on Alternative Frequencies yesterday. It resonated with me and I wanted to meet you, because so much of what you had to say was meaningful for me.”

“So you found me through an interview someone did with me, about my book. Interesting. Usually, it’s me doing the interviews.” We both mull over the sweet irony of this. “Tell me about your bike,” I say, unable to resist.

Jesse laughs. “It’s an Oryx,” he tells me. “From a Canadian company that’s since been bought out. The bike is probably ten years old and should have sold for $700. I got it for $70.”

“Really?” I say. “Where did you get it?”

“Through the Queen’s Facebook group, Free and For Sale,” he tells me. “They sell dishes, night stands, all sorts of things. I used to live at Aberdeen and William, and I was moving to Albert and Birch. I saw that distance as ‘far’, and started looking for a bike. I saw one and liked it, but you know,” and then he looks off out the window again, his eyes taking a distant look, “sometimes fate happens. This is somehow a sign: this is the bike for me but also this is the career for me.” Jesse spreads his arms open before him to take everything in. “Transportration. My career is in transportation. I ride my bike every day for at least thirty minutes. I work from home, on my laptop, but now that I’ve got a bike, I go everywhere. I’ve been from Union Street West to Bath Road, from the top of Sir John A to the water. I ride every night between seven and eight.” He muses an instant. “My bike has racing grips. It’s really light.” He considers an instant longer and then says, “My bike is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” HIs face is full of passion. “It’s not only changed my transportation, but how I see Kingston, and cities. and the future of cities. I didn’t own a bike all through university. The student village is so walkable, so I didn’t see a bike as a necessity.”

Like so many people here, Jesse is almost apologizing to me, as if he needs my forgiveness for not having gotten it earlier. For me, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time to start cycling. Just get on a bike!

“The other thing the bike does,” he continues, as if it’s imperative to convince me that he understands the advantages of cycling, “it’s that I spend a lot of my time on my phone, Facebook, texting … I get on my bike and I don’t need my phone. I take a lot of photos, so when I go out on the bicycle now, I only take my bike, my camera and my waterbottle.” He’s captivated with the idea of being on a bike. “You see how people live, how they use their public space.” He stops and sits forward. “Do you know that park between Napier and Regent Streets?”

“Oh!” I say, now leaning forward myself. We’re almost nose-to-nose. “You mean Churchill Park! I grew up across from that park. Spent most of my childhood there!”

“I love the big X,” Jesse tells me, and the fountain in the middle. I love to see people sittling, reading books in the shade, people taking photos.”

“There are always so many things going on in that park,” I tell him. “I had a favourite climbing tree—a red maple—I’d climb into the tree and watch the world go by. One day after school, two of my Grade Six classmates had agreed to a fistfight, under that very tree. I climbed it before the agreed hour. The entire class gathered to watch. Just as the fight got well and truly underway, Hans—the gardener for the park—I always loved that his name was Hans!” I tell Jesse, taking him on a sidenote to my story, in my enthusiasm, “We called him ’Hands’ because we understood that he was a manual labourer but not that he was German.” Jesse chuckles, and I suddenly blush at my naivete. “Anyway,” I continue, “Hans showed up just as the bloody noses were starting to gush. He paid both boys a quarter and made them shake hands. The whole time, I was quivering up in the tree, terrified that he’d have a much worse punishment for me, for being in his tree!”

“Going through the city is so different on a bicycle,” Jesse laughs. “I like seeing the giant cannon in Skeleton Park, or the tulips in Churchill Park. You don’t see any of that from a car. Just get on a bike and explore a city. A bike isn’t necessarily two wheels to get you to work. It’s not just exercise. A bike isn’t just what gets you from A to B.” Jesse pauses. “A bike is about exploring.”

“It’s true!” I say, hardly believing he’s given me yet another reason to espouse bicycles to the uninitiated. “Bikes are for explorers! I wonder if cars can be for explorers, too, with the right mindset. Our little family used to take the car to country roads at sunset and watch for rabbits. My kids loved that.”

He looks down at my business card, which I’d been showing him earlier, as an interesting social commentary on how I interact with my public space. “I look at the cog on your card,” Jesse says, “how all those spokes come together and work as a team, through the chain. They all come together for one overarching reason.”

“Just like people do, when necessary,” I say, pleased that someone sees subtext in my card. And then, I get a big, fat idea.

“You know that frontage on Princess Street that you were talking about earlier?” I say.
“That piece of awful parking lot, you mean?” he asks me.

“I’m gonna find out who owns that land. And then, let’s set up a chalk board that says, ‘I Wish This Was … ’ and see if we can spark some imagination.”

Jesse’s eyes go distant again. “I want that to be a park, where I can get a coffee and people watch.”

Marvin Pontiac—In a Car
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV7sYxxjwjs

http://candychang.com/

Dear Media

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Dear media personalities

Thank you for your interest in my bike project. I appreciate your taking the time and trouble to attempt to capture the essence of my book, and the message contained there. Having met several of you in person, and having spoken to so many of you by phone or Skype, I’ve witnessed firsthand your genuine desire to showcase the project in the best light. Generally, you are what my parents would describe as ‘good people’.

That’s why what I have to say here has been too long in the writing. I like you, you see, and I want to showcase your work in the best possible light, too. However, while these are hard words to write, my not writing them does us all a great disservice.

Some of the write-ups have been bland. A Facebook comment I received suggested that one write-up was an insult to both the interviewees and the author, since watching the video gave viewers no insight at all into the book’s message. My message in This Road Continues One Block North is not bland. It’s positive and warm, full of innovation and determination, and an overarching desire on the part of over one hundred people to quietly do good.

Some of the press I’ve received makes the Toronto bike community appear eccentric. There are more of us than you think and historically, we’re the reason the roads got paved in the first place. Don’t believe me? Look up National Wheelman’s Association.

Most people who ride bicycles in the Greater Toronto Area, who commute by bike or use a bicycle to haul loads for work, who ride for exercise or to challenge themselves physically and mentally, most of these people are okay with being misunderstood, because they just want to get from A to B safely and efficiently. I haven’t responded publicly to these misinterpretations for that reason. What they’re not okay with, what disturbs me, is a write-up or in this case a video in which the message of the book is undermined. I feel obliged to respond.

This week, I received the following email through my blog, from a concerned commuter. Her comments mirror my concerns, and the concerns of everyone I’ve interviewed:

Congratulations on your interview!
It’s unfortunate that your top recommendation—learn and obey the rules of the road—was undercut by the video they ran with the story. The video was taken from helmet-mounted camera footage, of a cyclist who ran a stop sign, biked in a busy pedestrian crossing and biked on a sidewalk. These are just three examples of precisely the kinds of things that pedestrians and car drivers hate about cyclists.

What worries me about this isn’t that those commuters who indulge in these behaviours are giving cyclists a bad name, but rather that they’re endangering both themselves and others with their carelessness.

Lots of people seem to feel it’s okay to just hop on a bike without first acquainting themselves with the rules of the road, without understanding road etiquette, oblivious to the responsibility we all share for commuter safety. We’ve all seen those people. I assure you, they’re not in the majority. Further, no one would ever consider doing that in a car. By law, a bicycle is considered a vehicle.

And that’s part of my message. Showing images of people following a loose interpretation of the rules of the road while my message is playing undermines everything I’m trying to do. And, it completely dismisses anyone who chooses to ride a bicycle in Toronto as irresponsible and a danger to the general public.

I’m disappointed on several levels. First of all, before that taped interview, we had a pre-interview phone call, where I vetted a list of questions we’d be using to ensure a positive message. I pointed out that use of confrontational rhetoric would damage the message, and the interviewer assured me that we could clarify that. Unfortunately, the actual questions asked during the taped interview led us away from that conversation, rather than toward it. Beyond disappointment, I’m alarmed that the video included images of a ghost bike and a mourner. Let’s maintain perspective: of the nearly one-hundred-and-fifty stories I collected in 2011, only two of them involved such a scenario. These images only reinforce the belief that commuting by bicycle is dangerous.

Media, viewers, those who are uncertain about the benefits of commuting by bicycle in a large urban centre: here are some of the original questions, with my responses.

Is there any truth behind the supposed bike vs car? What sorts of stories did you encounter?

From the average person’s perspective, there is no ‘us vs them’. That sort of rhetoric doesn’t further anything meaningful.
When I travel a long distance, or have a large load to transport, I use a car. When I need to pick up something from the corner store, I walk. For everything else, I ride my bicycle. I‘m one person and I use all forms of transit. Branding me a driver or a cyclist risks polarizing the conversation. I’m a commuter.

Roads are not made for cars, but for the people in the cars and on the bikes, on foot and on the TTC. We’re all just trying to get from A to B.

But what about alleviating some of the tensions between cyclists and motorists—any tips?

We’re all commuters, so common rules apply.

  • Learn and respect the rules of the road. For instance, if a lane isn’t designed for your vehicle, respect that. A car in the bike lane isn’t an inconvenience: it’s dangerous for anyone on a bike.
  • Act responsibly. For instance, communicate intent. If you feel tension as a commuter—regardless of your chosen mode of transit—then start a conversation.
  • Use good etiquette and act graciously. (Torontonians excel at this point!) No one likes a douchebag, no matter what their chosen vehicle.
  • Be proactive. If you don’t like something, lobby your city councillor; become a member of Cycle Toronto, the bike union.
  • Assume the best of people: if all else fails, step away from your bike, your car, the sidewalk, get off the streetcar, and then have a conversation together.

How do you convince someone who might be afraid of biking in the city? What would you tell them to get them on a bike?

First of all, I try to set a good example. In Kingston I have a radio show—Totally Spoke’d. On that show, I share encouraging and positive bike stories, from real people. I read a story recently from a listener who took a friend out on a ride, taught her hand signals and safety rules, and gave her confidence to ride her bike around town. Every show, I encourage people to call me or to call a friend who rides, or to go to a bike shop for assistance and encouragement. It’s a huge community-building exercise.

Many of the people I interviewed are highly educated, but even if they’re not, they’re intelligent. The vast majority of people on bicycles in Toronto know and respect the rules of the road. They ride responsibly and they treat others with respect through proper road etiquette. They—that is, we—are not bland, or eccentric, or dangerous, and our message is important. A bicycle is an intelligent, inexpensive, sensible, environmentally responsible and fun way to commute.

We’re all commuters. Let’s talk.

Upcoming Meet ‘n Greets!

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Print copies of This Road Continues One Block North are already available in Kingston, Toronto and Ottawa. However, if you want to meet the author (me!) and have your copy signed, I’ll be in town at your local Chapters/Indigo on the following days:

  • On Saturday, June 28 (12 – 4 p.m.) I’ll be at the Chapters in Kingston.
  • On Friday, July 18 (4:30 – 8 p.m.) I’ll be at the Indigo in Barrhaven.
  • On Saturday, July 19 (12 – 4 p.m.) I’ll be at the Chapters in downtown Ottawa’s Rideau Centre.
  • And on Saturday, July 26 (12 – 4 p.m.) I’ll be visiting the Indigo at Bay/Bloor in downtown Toronto.



ICollectBikeStories
See you in one of these great towns, bike bunnies!

 

Being Interviewed, Doing an Interview …

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This afternoon, Mark McAllister and Ben Jonah of Global Toronto invited me to cycle around the streets of Toronto, hoping to witness my bike carding tendencies in person. They wanted to understand how One Block North came to be. It was one of those Pinch Me moments!

We travelled along College, down Shaw, and into Trinity-Bellwoods Park. On College, Ben happened to spot the sweetest looking bike, so we stopped to inspect its accessories–OOQI grips, a head badge, a space creature horn, and bright pink-and-green paint. Even the pedals and the chain matched! Mark was so taken with it (and my comments on what a great story it obviously has) that he went into a few of the surrounding businesses until he found the bike`s owner!

Then and there, I interviewed Megan Kenny and her Space Bike.

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And with that, Megan and I became good friends, over a bicycle.

Apart from the interview moment, Mark and Ben and I discussed infrastructure and bike safety, and we talked about the city’s cycling culture and how it compares to cultures in other cities. In the park, things slowed down considerably and we enjoyed sharing the path with dog walkers and families, squirrels and cyclists. I shared that I thought common courtesy is much easier because you can speak to everyone from the seat of a bike, building community. I also said that I felt anyone who doesn`t like something shouldn`t complain about it: just get on a bike. That won`t fix everything that`s wrong in your world, but it will go a long way to fixing many things.

Here are two of Mark`s tweets. Fun doesn’t begin to describe this ride!

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To watch the video of our terrific adventure, watch Global Toronto tonight at 6. And if you miss it then, I bet they`ll load the story online at http://globalnews.ca/toronto/

Watch Global TV tonight at 6 for the story!

Shiny! One Block North is available where bikes and books are sold!

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With apologies to Joss Whedon and the Firefly folk, I’m borrowing their exclamatory for a moment.

Just like a reliable bike on a technical ride, This Road Continues One Block North is gaining traction. Totally Shiny!

Determined to get this bike book into the hands of anyone who dreams of riding a bicycle, I’m working hard to make the phrase “available everywhere bikes and books are sold” a reality.

At this moment, print copies of One Block North are waiting for you at the following places, like a dog for its master, a bike for its rider. Print copies are available for $28.99 +HST

In Toronto:

  • At three of the finest bike shops anywhere—Bateman‘s Bicycle Company, Duke‘s Cycle and The Bike Joint
  • On the shelves (as of Wednesday, May 21) at the Indigo Bay/Bloor; at a Meet ‘n Greet on June 7

In Kingston:

  • In virtually every recognized bike shop in town, including Gears ‘n Grinds, Frontenac Cycle, Cyclepath, Ted‘s Road & Tri, and J&J Cycle
  • Runner‘s Choice, on Brock Street
  • The two book stores, Novel Idea and Chapters

In Ottawa:

  • Conferring with the good people at the Barr Haven Indigo for a Meet ‘n Greet table in July
  • Conferring with two cycling friends to get copies into a bike shop on the Glebe, and at the Ottawa MEC

Anyone more inclined to read an e-version of One Block North (for $9.99 +HST) can turn to the following outlets to get a copy:

  • Amazon
  • Kobo
  • iTunes

And if at any time you forget where to get a copy, visit oneblocknorth.wordpress.com. Or, call me! I’m always going to be very keen to hear your bike stories because I bet they’re terrific!

The Interview Process, From the Other Side

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This afternoon, I had my first phone interview, a direct result of the media publicity we’re trying to generate now that One Block North is published. After all the interviews I’ve done, you’d think I’d be comfortable with the process.

I was terrified.

On the phone was a very nice man from Outward Bounders (www.outwardbounders.com), a website that “publishes stories, events and products for and about people of all walks of life pushing boundaries through adventure travel and exploration.” What could I possibly tell them that they didn’t already know? And would they ask me some controversial question that I’d be unhappy answering? Did I tell you I’m just a commuter, and shy? We small mammals fret over things like interviews.

When he called, Meres Weche, the founder, was keen to know how I got interested in bikes, what kinds of bike stories I was hearing in Toronto, and what I’m doing now. Those are easy questions, and he could hear the passion for a great bike story in my voice. I relaxed a little.

He wanted to know whether there was a specific type of story I heard most often in Toronto. Was it the courier story, he wondered? Well, as many couriers as Toronto has, and as fond as I am of their stories, I don’t believe that’s the most common story I heard. I told him that the range of stories in Toronto is broad–those who build cool designs, those who transport goods with cargo bikes, those who commute but do fun things on the side (like riding at night), those who love doing distances, and those who just visit the corner store for bread and milk. I told him that Toronto has everything, and that the city’s bike stories reflect that. Yes, there were a lot of courier stories, and Toronto has a proud heritage of couriers and advocacy, but that’s not the only story in Toronto.

The scariest question (for me) was how did I manage the “war on cars” rhetoric, the “us vs. them” mentality in the book? My response was that, while cyclists are the ones most likely to suffer in a collision, and are often obliged to take more than their share of responsibility on the road to remain safe and to foresee problems, they remain–on the whole–an extremely gracious group of people. If I’ve learned anything from this interview process, it’s that an aggressive attitude will serve no one, that we can’t use the “angry douchebag” approach, but instead need to be sensible and calm. That we need to start meaningful conversations, to encourage non-cyclists to view us as people, not vehicles. And with any luck, we can encourage more people to just try riding a bike. That’s a really difficult position to take when you’ve just been in a frightening confrontation with a car, I know. 

At the end of the interview, we got talking about cycling in other cities, and other countries. It was an understandable question, given what the website does! When I explained that I believed every city has a different bike culture, based on things like geography and climate, politics and economy, he asked if that made me want to capture those differences. That was when I told him about Totally Spoke’d, the new spoken word program at CFRC radio. I said I was collecting Kingston bike stories, but wanted to be able share them more immediately. Three years is a long time to wait, and I’m an impatient mammal, as well as being small. With the radio programme, I can collect a story one month and read it live on air the next. Would I like to travel and collect stories elsewhere? Well, I’ve already done that in Jakarta and Tehuacan, but yes! I’d love to do that again.

The interview process still scares me, and I have several more booked in the next couple of weeks. Yikes! I don’t feel like I know a lot about bikes and bike cultures even now. I don’t always feel qualified as a cycling advocacy spokesperson. However, I noticed today that each question made me more determined in my role as an encourager. As I told Meres, no matter where I am, bike stories are always unique, they’re always a love story, and they always inspire me to want to get on my bike. It’s pretty simple: I want to keep sharing bike stories, optimistic that they’ll inspire others to get out there, too. Awesomeness will ensue.

Outward Bounders will be posting the interview soon. For that, and more information on cool adventures you can experience around the world, visit http://www.outwardbounders.com, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Outwardbounderscom/111760678912583 and @Outwardbounders.

Meet a Cog in My Wheel

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Meet Cog, the broadcast chipmunk.

chipmunk

He and I were introduced this morning in the hallowed halls of CFRC. Cog will be one of the smaller (but no less significant) parts of the bigger wheel that ably assists me this year. Together, we’re going to broadcast bike stories to the Kingston (and beyond!) airwaves via spoken word radio programming. I just want to colour him in and take him home!

I was visiting the radio station today to confirm details on my next project. Now that my book This Road Continues One Block North–a collection of sixty bike stories from the Greater Toronto Area–is published, I want to collect Kingston bike stories and read them on air. Starting the first week of May, I’ll be the host of the spoken word programme, Totally Spoke’d. The station manager has tentatively suggested airing my new half-hour program on Monday evenings. The idea just makes me all wiggly! Cog and I have that much in common, for sure.

For those who don’t know, Queen’s University has one of the longest continuous histories in radio of any association in the world, besides the Marconi Companies. The first demonstration of wireless telegraphy at Queen’s was given by Professor James Lester Willis Gill (B.A.Sc. 1896; M.Sc. 1904, McGill) in 1902.

In 1922, Professors Douglas M. Jemmett (M.A. ’11; B.Sc. ’13) and Robert L. Davis (M.A. ’21, MIT), designed and built an experimental wireless telephone (AM radio) station in Fleming Hall.

Doorway

This location continues to house CFRC, which boasts an illustrious history of radio hosts, like Lorne Greene, Shelagh Rogers and Chris Cuthbert. As well as bragging rights on the continuous history, CFRC also has one of the best music collections anywhere.

Library

CFRC hosts and programmers often do live broadcasts from events, both on and off campus.

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LiveBroadcast

Already I’ve been asked to broadcast a Cycle Kingston event this spring, and am hoping to be invited to events at schools during active transportation events. Wouldn’t it be great to interview children who rode their bicycle to school for the first time, and hear how they liked it? (okay, there’s that wiggly thing happening again)

For now, it’s enough that I learn the subtle yet very satisfying role of spoken word host, reading real-life bike stories on air and sharing some of my favourite music, adding even more colour to the stories. Every week, I collect half a dozen stories from people whose bicycles I’ve carded. Thank you Kingston, for being so gracious with your time.

I can’t wait to share these great bike stories with others, hoping to inspire more people to get out on a bicycle, for all the great reasons people give.

Arriving home just now, I’ve discovered that Cog has hitched a ride in my backpack. While I’m learning the ropes on being a DJ, Cog wants to learn more about bikes and how they affect my life. I said he could stay. Here he sits on my bedroom door. Yes, I’m officially behaving like a Queen’s University groupie again.

BedroomDoor

Collecting Bike Stories in Serendipitous Meetings

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Yesterday, I made a new friend. There are those who quietly lead very inspiring lives. For anyone who, like me, needs a little dusting off this morning before going back into the fray, I share this.


My friend is Caucasian, originally from Zambia, Africa. Just celebrated his 50th birthday. He tells me that he’s now living in his back pack. His reasoning is that he gave up on the first world and decided to work in conflict zones, refugee camps and natural disaster areas as a field medic.

Last night, he was waiting out a twelve-hour layover at Pearson Airport, before boarding another flight for eleven hours. We decided to keep each other company. When I asked for details, he told me he came in from the Philippines (where he’d worked since the Typhoon Yolanda in November) and was now on his way to Uganda to work in a Sudanese refugee camp called Rhino camp.

Here is how he describes his past: “I was the epitome of the first world male. I had an amazing career, houses, cars, motorcycles, horses, boats and owed nothing; I had a turning event which really changed my life when I realized I was not happy.”

We talked for a couple of hours about whether we missed our stuff (neither of us does to any extent) and how the bohemian lifestyle in a developing nation suits us (sometimes, it can tear at you emotionally: he had to leave one camp because his main job was sewing up young rape victims. He couldn’t take twelve hours a day of that, where the locals saw it as a way of life) My life is one of simple inconvenience compared to this. Perspective is really valuable.

He told me he’d had everything, and given it all away. When I asked about the greater rewards, he sent me an image of a Ugandan newspaper clipping, entitled “Eight-year-old girl survives stray bullet”

And then, when I described the bike book project, he shared a bike story. *sigh* I love this part of being me.

“You should have met my friend Joris who was cycling around the world and was in Bangkok when the Typhoon hit, he loaded his bike on a plane and flew to Manila and cycled three hundred plus kilometers to Tacloban to help in the clean up. He just started digging bodies out of the rubble and placing them in body bags … he had just turned 23. I was wowed by this young man.”


Last week, I temporarily gave up on the human species: insecure, narrow-minded, self-centred people abound and sometimes they burn me out. Why my new friend and I met, I don’t know. I think the bike project interviews has attuned me to watch for opportunities at odd moments. Our three-hour conversation healed so much of the disappointment and frustration we were both feeling, and recharged us to be on our way again–me to my small mammal world of sustainable transportation advocacy (“look! bikes are very cool!”) and he to his order-of-magnitude-larger world of healing torn bodies.

Best of all things, Gary. Strong bike energy coming your way as you fly out.

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