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Maple Creek

I quit smoking the same year Obama was elected president. I guess I was feeling optimistic. In that summer of 2009, I bought a bicycle — the first I’d owned since I was a kid. My strategy for quitting cigarettes involved a lot of bicycling and frequent visits to the public swimming pool. You can’t smoke while you are wheezing uphill on a bike or while submerged in water.

I’m still not smoking, so the plan was, I think, effective.

Well into my teaching career by then, and it occurred to me that i could easily cycle the nine kilometres to school in the mornings. Nine kilometres on an unloaded bike would be an easy half hour now. Forty minutes on a windy day. But my first attempt took more than an hour. And the climb up a slope I probably wouldn’t even register today left me sweating and gasping for air at the halfway mark.

But I persisted. And for a while, I even commuted to school. Until... you know... I got busy. And it started raining everyday in Vancouver. And it was dark in the morning and dark on the ride home. From time to time I renewed my resolve to bicycle commute but these attempts were short-lived. Something always seemed to get in the way. Maybe the fact that I also owned a car.

Shortly before I retired from teaching I was on sick leave. It’s a long story. But my illness was at least as much mental/emotional as it was physical. After extensive tests on my heart it was discovered that, despite a few quirks, my cardiovascular system was essentially fine. Somehow it was both a disappointment and a relief to discover that whatever was going on with me, it was largely all in my head.

That is when I started cycling in earnest.

That first day I did an easy eight kilometres. I resolved to add a little distance each day. For weeks I could not cycle up hills. Not even very easy hills.

I mentioned I had quit smoking back in 2009. That was not my first attempt. There were many attempts over the first dozen years of my teaching career. And each time I gained a little weight. By my final day in the classroom I had gained fully one hundred pounds above what I weighed when I began teaching. One hundred pounds. Granted, most people would agree I was was a little underweight to begin with. But still... one hundred pounds.

I noted, with some satisfaction, that daily cycling had caused me to almost immediately shed twenty pounds. I had never given much thought to my diet but now I cut out sugar completely and began eating more healthful fare. More weight came off. My knees felt better. I no longer required inserts to relieve the pain of plantar fasciitis. I felt better.

I started cycling up hills. My preferred daily ride took me from my home in East Vancouver to UBC and back. There is a long hill on 10th Avenue leading up to University Boulevard. Typically I just got off and walked. Or I avoided it altogether by riding the Arbutus Greenway and going past St. George’s School and then through the forest paths.

I thought... someday... someday I will cycle up that hill.

To my surprise, that day came much sooner than I thought. I had lost thirty pounds in about six months. Not dieting, really. Just sensible eating and daily cycling. No sugar. And one day in November, I slowly cycled up that 10th Avenue hill.

In the following weeks I began looking for hills. Eventually, my routine would be to cycle from my place to Stanley Park, up the steep hill to Prospect Point Lookout, down that hill and along the sea wall to Spanish Banks, up another steep climb to UBC, stop for coffee, through the forest, down to the river and up another long hill back home.

It was about then that I began to form a plan to cycle across Canada. Or, in my case — since I was moving to Québec — I would cycle from Montréal to Vancouver. I would leave home on a jet plane and pedal back under my own steam, on a bicycle. If I could cycle up those Vancouver hills then…

But all this is just a prelude to where I find myself at this moment — in a ramshackle motel in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, that was probably a bit sketchy even back in 1950’s. Prairie Pride Motel and Bar. Groaning under the weight of its own slow demise, it is permeated with the stale scent of hopelessness. But for $55 plus tax... well... Ontario sometimes charges that for a provincial campsite with no services. Except chipmunks eager to filch your food and mosquitoes intent on sucking your blood.

Dreary doesn’t begin to describe my room but... It is a little over halfway to where I intended to stay tonight. Before the wind pinned me down.

The wind, again.

Hills I can handle. Hills eventually reach a summit. On a hill, you have the satisfaction of your achievement and the reward of a fast descent. Hills eventually end. And hills don’t keep shifting shape.

But you never know what a headwind will do. Not exactly. Yes, it too will come to an end. But probably not for hours. Meantime a headwind will come at you at a steady 25km per hour until your ribs hurt. And then you get gusts that stop you in your tracks. On the flat, you feel as if you are climbing an ascent. On a hill, the gradient seems to double. Add those gusts and the hill gets even steeper. Descending, you might as well be on the flat except your usual speed has been halved.

A measly 51 kilometres distance, today. Four hours in the saddle with nowhere to take a break. I could have probably continued. But there was a wind warning in effect. And with more than 40 more kilometres to go through a whole lot of nothing/nowhere into an even stronger headwind that might blow me off the highway... it seemed a prudent idea to call it a day.

I might have started out a little earlier today and maybe had a chance. But the rain arrived this morning at 4 a.m. and stuck around until after 6. It is hard enough breaking camp and cooking breakfast in the dark. Add some rain into the mix...

But the forecast for tomorrow says the wind will be out of the south (a crosswind) and then it will shift, coming out of the southwest. For me, that will be as good as a tailwind. At least for a while.

I’ve had mild breezes. I’ve had tough headwinds. I’ve had strong crosswinds. I’ve yet to have a tailwind.

96 kilometres and some challenging hills (I’m told) between me and Medicine Hat. I can climb hills. And those I can’t, I can walk. Just give me some tailwinds, tomorrow, for a change. I’m not asking that the hills flatten themselves. Just give me a break from headwinds for a day or two. That’s all I’m asking.

If I must be tested further, let it be mountains.

Anything but wind.

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Am praying for your tailwind but I guess you just have to take what comes. I hope Thierry is well.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Jul 31, 2022
Replying to

I’ve caught a tailwind for now. 😎

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