One of the best things about this project, for me personally, is hearing back from my interviewees. Since we’re in final edits stage, I get a lot of email reminiscing about the original stories. That’s fun, because many of my interviewees started by objecting that they had no stories, or that no one would want to hear them.
“Well, just tell me about your bike,” I’d say, knowing the chance was great that they’d have something neat to share. They always had a story.
With this latest emailing, a new element keeps coming up, something I didn’t expect. When they email me back about their chapter, my interviewees want to share their ongoing stories, what’s happening today, because now they know they have stories and they’re really proud of that. That I’ve uncovered stories is fun, but that I’ve made the storytellers aware of the value of their stories is extraordinary. Of course, there were the occasional cyclists who knew they had stories. I’m proud to have met both, and hope to encourage everyone who rides, no matter what.
With some of these blog postings, I want to share the ongoing stories. My last posting was about Jon Benson, originally from Winnipeg but studying at George Brown College in 2011. When I heard from Jon in early February, he wanted to update me on things in his life. Jon was one of the few who knew he had stories, but the timing on his updates was too charming to leave for later.
His updates are about cycling in the ‘Peg, yet they should make anyone living in Toronto proud to have connected with this eternally warm and upbeat cyclist from another Canadian province.
“Thanks for the invite to ICycle,” Jon wrote in early February, “but I’ve returned to my beloved Winnipeg. I will always hold fond memories of Toronto, but perhaps you’d like to hear a lovely cycling story from here? Next week, Natural Cycle Courier, where I used to work [as a courier] will be doing their fifth annual Valentine’s Day celebration. Couriers decked out in costumes will be riding around the city in the frigid weather delivering love by bicycle!”
As you can imagine, I was very intrigued. I’d heard that a cyclist here was doing something similar, delivering Valentine’s Day cards, sweets and singing telegrams. Since I hadn’t captured that notion in the book, I decided to follow up with Jon about Winnipeg’s celebration.
“When it happens,” I wrote, “if you hear any stories, I’d love it if you shared them!”
Two weeks later, we reconnected.
“The Valentine’s Day deliveries went great,” Jon wrote. “Costumed bicycle couriers delivered over thirty singing telegrams on the day. Armed with guitars, accordions and admittedly amateur voices, they did passionate renditions to everyone from a parking lot attendant to someone in the middle of a conference room with a hundred of her colleagues watching.”
“I hope all is well in Toronto,” he continued. “Which reminds me! A couple of weeks ago there was a winter bike/run race that took place in Manitoba called the Actif Epica—one hundred and thirty kilometres from rural southern Manitoba up into Winnipeg, traveling on paths, through fields, on the frozen rivers and with portions of it completely unridable. One of my friends was organizing it so I volunteered at a checkpoint station (there were five of them throughout the course to make sure participants were still alive and could grab food/liquids if they needed).”
Having travelled and cycled in remote Mexico and then in Jakarta, Indonesia last year, I have a good idea what this means. Living in the third world forces you to draw on resources you didn’t realize you had, building community to give you perspective. The sort of rides Jon describes here take me out of my comfort zone and throw me into a fifth dimension of reality. The whole time I was away, I wished for the good old Canadian Shield with every inch of my fibre.
Jon ended his email to me with the comment, “People are always doing crazy things on bikes, eh?”
Yes Jon. They sure are. And I for one am eternally glad of it.