On this day in 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay completed their climb of Mount Everest. To celebrate, here’s a story about an equally intrepid and equally admirable person, Dechen Tenzin. And next week, Miss Jackson is getting that much-needed overhaul.
Young people inspire me, sometimes with their wonderment and sometimes with their objectivity. Not having been around the block too many times can pay off unexpectedly.
This is certainly the case with a very young girl of Asian descent, named Dechen Tenzin. Dechen—pronounced Deken—looks sixteen but is actually only fourteen. When I realize this, I blanche. What kind of bike stories can she possibly have? And then I remember four-year-old Evelyn and I refocus.
Dechen begins by telling me she used to ride to school every day. At the age of twelve, she was doing a fifteen-minute cycle from the Parkdale area to Spencer Valley Elementary School, at Brock and Dundas. She only rode spring – fall, because she felt the winter months were too severe. At that age, I never once thought to use my bike.
“What do you mean, ‘used to’,” I ask. Dechen explains that she is now in high school and hasn’t had a chance to map out the route yet. Her new school is the Ursula Franklin Academy, just off Runnymede. So far she has only travelled there by TTC. It takes 45 minutes. She has four years ahead of her so finding a new route is important. Her face remains pleasantly unemotional and her voice is calm and matter-of-fact. It is what it is.
We discuss her route potentials and she tells me she will likely cycle across Bloor. I nearly drop my pen.
“Oh, you mustn’t!” I exclaim horrified.
She smiles but remains noncomittal. All streets are the same to her. Since I’m not familiar with this part of town, I bumble around trying to offer suggestions. I recommend Sorauren and then realize it ends at Dundas West, with all those tracks and the heavy traffic. I tell her my favourite one-way streets are Shaw and Crawford, but of course those are too far east to be useful. Dechen listens patiently but I can see the route holds less importance than other things right now.
“Why do you ride?” I ask, hoping to dig a story from her.
“Just because I like it,” she smiles, which sounds unconvincing. She tells me immediately that she rides a mountain bike, and my face lights up. She doesn’t know the brand, but she describes it uncertainly as “green and bluish.” What she rides is incidental to the experience.
And yet, for some reason I feel that the mountain bike part is a key.
Digging a bit deeper, I discover that the entire family of five owns a mountain bike. Her mother commutes to CultureLink on Dundas Street West and her siblings both ride to school. They all enjoy family rides along the lakeshore, on weekends. In fact, they all went riding just yesterday. I am delighted to hear this, but still something is nagging at me. Why are they all riding mountain bikes?
And then suddenly, she divulges where she learned to ride. Dechen grew up in Dharamsala, which is a twelve-hour train ride from New Delhi. When I google the location later, I discover her choice of the descriptor “tiny” is more apt that imagined. It doesn’t exist on any maps or in any literature. Dechen tells me it is “up north” and I notice that New Delhi is not far from the Tibetan border.
“If you look up at the sky,” Dechen says, a big smile finally lighting her face, “you will see mountains.” My daughter would accuse me of being romantic, because at first I think it sounds idyllic.
“Dharam Sale is on a mountain,” Dechen explains. “Everywhere you go is on the mountain.” I wonder if she worries this might be considered bragging because she changes the wording slightly. “We live on a hill, but you can see other hills everywhere.” So, Dechen grew up doing hillwork. At any moment it sounds as though you are either riding uphill or downhill. So, not idyllic. In fact, riding in Dharam Sale would be a soberingly utilitarian experience. No wonder Bloor Street didn’t seem much of a challenge. And this would explain the mountain bikes. I think of Henry Gold and his drive to get rugged bikes into the third world countries.
“Did you experience culture shock when you moved here?” I ask gently.
She nods affably. “The roads are all mud.” I look up. She is telling me nothing is paved in Dharam Sale, that you just ride through the dirt. I suggest that they must have spent a lot of time cleaning their bikes off, and this time she shakes her head, almost apologetic at having to correct me. No.
“The bike gets really muddy, but you just leave it,” she tells me. Dechen is so good-humoured, so pragmatic and so inspiring, I wonder briefly if I am speaking to a direct descendant of Tenzing Norgay.
“Did you ever need to lock your bike up in Dharam Sale?” I ask, wondering about the bike culture on a mountain. No. Everyone rides and there is no theft. It being such a small community, you couldn’t get away with the theft of a bike.
As I ride away, I realize I have just had my very comfortable butt handed to me by an extremely sweet-tempered, courteous fourteen-year-old. On the other hand, her story makes me incredibly relieved to have done one thing right when I fell in love with the Rocky Mountain brand. After eleven years of solid service, Miss J requires a complete overhaul—the brakes, the gears, the entire driveshaft needs replacement. I have expected and received excellent, reliable service of her. Will I just sell her and buy something new? Not on your life. She’ll get her overhaul, with my eternal thanks. And if we ever find ourselves in Dharam Sale, I know she’d be game for hillwork, hopefully being led by this young mountaineer.