It used to take me fourteen minutes to ride from my door to the edge of the city, give or take a minute depending on the wind and how tired my legs were. These days it’s getting closer to twenty-five minutes, on a good day. Yesterday, as I embarked on what was surely to be one of my last blissful rides out of doors, I realized that this city is not what it used to be.
Just as I turned onto the road (now highway) that takes me to the edge of the city, a young punk and his buddies rolled down their car windows and screamed at me to “get off the road!” A few hundred metres further down, I discovered that the construction of yet another overpass had begun, and the wide shoulder has all but disappeared leading up to the intersection. It was only three in the afternoon, but the traffic was heavy and there were dump trucks everywhere. I used to be able to ride all the way to Cochrane in relative peace and quiet, with only the breathtaking sight of the Rocky Mountains to occupy my field of view. Looking out over the expanse of urban sprawl, at the sea of new houses on what used to be endless farmer’s fields, with cars speeding past me on my little bike and clouds of diesel fumes blowing in my face, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of chaos and despair at the shrinking peace and quiet. I couldn’t help but think fondly of the few days I spent riding in Tucson last week, where virtually every street in the city has a designated bike lane and it seems like half the town gets up early on Saturdays to go riding. It also made me think of the good ol’ days, when I was out of the city in fourteen minutes, no one yelled at me, the traffic was quiet and the sky smog-free.
Last summer I was out for a ride with two teammates when we came across a mother moose and her baby stuck on the road, separated by a fence that the mother could cross but the terrified baby could not. We kept traffic at bay while a farmer came by to open a section of the fence and coax the wailing baby through. It was amazing to see wildlife up close, but the circumstances in which we saw them were tragic to say the least. I have seen multitudes of deer out in the early morning or at dusk, which always brought a smile to my face. But the cruel flipside of riding past the one too many (meaning more than zero) deer killed by cars on the side of the road is enough to make my smile disappear. I have observed the construction of endless, soulless mansions; devoid of character and full of excess. The paving of new roads, destruction of green space, loss of habitat and incessant growth seem to crowd my thoughts as I ride these days.
In order to abate thoughts such as these, as well as countless others my hyperactive brain tends to gravitate towards, I took the advice of a sleep doctor I met in the spring and signed up for a breathing and meditation class. He told me I needed to chill out in order to sustain the energy I needed to thrive in the upcoming season. Every Tuesday night for the past five months I’ve been going to this class, learning to calm my mind, act mindfully and think clearly. Although I have yet to be truly successful at the act of meditation, I have learned and absorbed many useful ideas that have helped me to remain calm in situations that might have previously elicited a freak out. My instructor is a very wise and remarkably funny man. He once told a story about the three times he’d been given the finger while driving, for various hideous infractions such as driving the speed limit, stopping at red lights and signaling to change lanes. Although he said he has been known to return the favour in the past, he began to notice that the people angry with him were driving BMW’s, Audi’s and Porsche’s. He commented on how sad it was that people with such abundant wealth could be so angry with everyone in the world, and has realized through years of mediation that one’s reaction to a situation is perfectly controllable, and that no one in fact can make you angry; or happy or sad or frustrated or mad. You can simply choose not be angry. His current response involves a smile and a wave.
When the punks yelled at me to get off the road, I really wanted to flip them the bird, but all I did was glance their way and continue riding. When I saw that the road narrowed and my precious shoulder had disappeared I simply signaled, moved over and had faith that the cars would not run me over. As I finally approached the outskirts of the city and the traffic had subsided somewhat, I passed two people out for an afternoon stroll and was met with a friendly hello and a wave. The mountains looked glorious in spite of the sprawl. The route I chose this day took me past what has become one of my favourite new houses in the city. In amongst the many mansions of Church Ranches is a brand new straw bale house. When I first discovered its existence in the spring it was just a slab of concrete and a pile of straw bales. For many months I have ridden past this site, watching the slow, methodical and ingenious construction of a straw bale house. (For those who are not aware, it is one of my life long dreams to build a straw bale house, and no it will not burn down or get blown over). Riding past it this day, seeing a fresh layer of adobe being applied, my sense of hope and inspiration was renewed and refreshed.
As I rode slowly back into the chaos, I reminded myself that I can find plenty of peace and quiet inside my head, and it is there whenever I need it no matter where I am or what is around me. In this Olympic year, one that is guaranteed to be chalk full of mind-boggling tension, rampant emotion and stress galore, the internal calm I can create will be of utmost importance. Even though there will be times when it eludes me and I am an absolute basket case, I know I am in complete control. Remembering these few lines from a poem by Max Erhmann I read years ago, will always bring me back:
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Rolling past the private golf course near my house at the end of my ride, I looked up to see not one, but six grazing deer munching on flowers and branches along the fence by hole number who knows what. Okay, so it’s not exactly utopia, but it still brought a smile to my face.