While everyone is marking the anniversary of the start of the pandemic, I’m celebrating a positive first anniversary as well.
One year ago today as cases ramped up I headed out to work, taking two buses and two subways to work each way. A handful of people were wearing masks Though I didn’t know it, that would be the last time I would find myself in a motor vehicle. The following Monday as cases rose and things looked more serious I decided to take my bike to work, minimizing my chances of exposure. In our staff meeting that day we decided that there would be a rotating schedule for everyone to come on site – one day on, one day off to minimize the number of people. The next day that plan was thrown away and people only went to work on an as-needed basis.
From then on, I traveled everywhere I went under my own power. I walked to stores, eventually buying a bicycle trailer to do curbside pickup and grocery trips. In the past year I went to the office four times, riding there each time. I did volunteer work and went there by bicycle. I rarely went very far from home but even when I did, I still went there by bicycle, even traveling 200 kilometres round trip in a day to go to Lake Simcoe and enjoy a lunch nearly alone on a patio before returning home.
For an entire year I have not driven a motor vehicle nor did I once ride in one. I can’t even think of a time where I’ve come close to this. There were times in the yurt when we might spend a week without driving in to town. Even when we were snowed in for almost a month, I rode to town in a neighbour’s four wheel drive truck to get food. In 2019 I flew to India twice, took several domestic flights within India, rode in trains, autorickshaws, buses, cars and subways. Even in the early part of 2020 I rode over 1,500 kilometres on transit. But for the past year, nothing. Not one ride.
It’s been a learning experience. The more time I spent outside the more I learned how much it helped keep me on an even keel, mentally. Once I resolved to go outside every day, I learned how many of my reasons for not going outside were simply excuses. Rain meant wearing waterproof gear, cold meant wearing an extra layer or two. Heat meant riding more slowly and drinking more fluids. Unless the weather was actually dangerous, I found, it is always possible to enjoy being outdoors.
In the past year I’ve traveled over 5,000 kilometres: farther than the distance from New York City to Seattle. My fitness has improved and my attitude throughout the pandemic has managed to stay relatively positive despite challenges. All of this makes me wonder: What’s possible if we just set clear boundaries. What can we do if we say definitively “I will do this.” or “I will stop doing this.”? I suspect we can do amazing things. In fact, I’m certain of it. I’ve spent the last year proving it to myself.
On Friday my client sent out an email to the department. As our project ramps up we will be coming back on site more and more often with me going in to work two days a week – the same as the plan we originally had a year ago. It’s a new challenge. Over the past year I’ve proven it is possible to ride on rainy days, hot days, and cold days. I’ve proven it’s possible to ride 200 kilometres in a day. Work is only 20 kilometres away from home. It should be possible to maintain this streak, so it just becomes a test of willpower. But after a full year of providing my own human-powered transportation, I have a totally different idea of what is possible. So I know I can keep going.
Of course there’s already a really high bar set for human-powered transportation. John Francis traveled by human power alone for almost three decades. His book was fascinating, made even more fascinating by the fact that for seventeen years he also stopped speaking. Imagine just keeping quiet no matter what for almost two decades. I found out about him from the TED talk below – it’s pretty inspiring whether or not you want to go totally human-powered yourself.