#30DaysOfBiking Day 13 – “Today I learned”

Today’s trip is partly informed by the things I had on my to-do list. A to-do list of things to do out in the world when the weather is sunny, the temperature is 27°C and you have a bike is a much happier prospect than even a few days ago when the weather was 4°C and rainy. The question was not “Do I want to go?” but rather “Where else beyond the mundane errands I have to do am I going to go?”

But errands being errands, they had to be done. I planned a route to get them done and one more piece done.

First up: Stop at the package pick-up place. A few days ago on Mastodon, someone mentioned that their partner said that they saw that when they rode their mood improved. “It defeats cynicism,” they said. And something clicked in my head. I made a quick image for the design, went online and ordered ten (the minimum order)

It is an obvious riff on Woody Guthrie’s guitar:

I got it because for me, my bike truly does improve my optimism – not just in the sense that riding it makes me happy, happy neurotransmitters flooding my body as I ride, but it goes beyond that. When I ride I can envision a world where people travel more lightly on the earth – not necessarily meaning giving up cars entirely but using the tool they need to travel where they need to go. Walk 200 metres to the store, ride 5 km to the subway, take the subway 25 km to work, take a car 150 km to another town, and so on. It also makes you more vulnerable – not just in the obvious, negative way of being vulnerable to injury – but also more vulnerable to interaction with other humans and the environment. People outside of cars often talk to one another at intersections, and on longer tours it results in your having so many more opportunities to meet and interact with people. When I fly all the way to India I rarely interact with anyone beyond the flight attendants. When I take the train from Delhi to Jaipur people mostly keep to themselves. When I rode my bike from Delhi to just outside Jhunjhunu I had countless interactions with strangers from people walking on the street, sitting outside their house, pulling over in their cars. These interactions were uniformly positive. How can you stay cynical in the face of all this. In this world of “unfiltered” social media which might well be the most cynicism-inducing tool we’ve ever created as a species, we need bikes to bring us back to centre.

Edited to add: If you would like to have your own stickers made, here’s the PDF I used to send to the printer.

Then it was off to my next stop, also bike themed. I had a hold ready at the Pape Library (which I’ve visited before as part of my Toronto by Library project. Have a read if you’re curious about the neighbourhood). A hold had arrived for me: Life is a Wheel – A Passage Across America by Bicycle by Bruce Weber. I am really looking forward to this one. In March I actually read three travel memoirs about cycling in North America. Overall I liked them though in all cases I felt I wouldn’t get along with the authors – they definitely approached life in ways that I definitely wouldn’t, taking more risks, in a few cases drinking more alcohol and being less prepared – likely in great part due to their age at the time, two were in their early 20s. But hearing about the ride – particularly as they all did it, camping, often “wild camping” (basically hiding in the bushes rather than in a campground) was interesting to hear about as I have very rarely done this, opting instead for Airbnb, hotels or couchsurfing – though I am considering changing this in the future. The author of this book is even a little older than me, a writer for the New York Times and so far it’s resonated much more with me.

Reading these books does have its downside, though, as I do find myself rather envious. Two of the authors went on to becoming professionals, being paid for doing tours with flights and expenses mostly covered. I’m definitely not there yet. The necessity of the word “yet” is questionable here. So for the time being 1-3 week trips will be, for the most part, what I can manage. Last year I did try to see if it was feasible to work and tour, for example, waking early and knocking out 50 km before work. I was able to do that but it was not pleasant and depending on my lodging and wifi availability is not likely to work on, say, a Trans-Canada trip. But what has helped a great deal in avoiding travel envy has been simply getting out for these rides I’m taking this month. After all, what is the purpose of going on a bicycle tour? To enjoy being physically active and seeing new and interesting things. I’ve been doing that for almost two weeks now.

In any case, I have started this book already and am finding it really fun and inspiring even if I won’t be putting my bike in a box and shipping it off somewhere far away for a tour in the foreseeable future.

After the errands came the chance to see and learn something new. I rode down Pape Avenue and found my way to Gerrard street. My route took me to literally across the street from the Thai Cafe Sage and I went to on a recent library visit. But this time it was for a much more unassuming house:

An old building, now advertising tax services was a barber shop over 60 years ago back in 1960. Above it was (and likely still is) a small apartment. In 1960, the last Romanov Grand Duchess of Russia, Olga Alexandrovna spent her final days. Her older brother was Czar Nicholas the Second. While he was executed in 1918, she escaped to Denmark where she and her mother lived in exile.

In 1948, threats started coming from Josef Stalin’s regime and feeling unsafe, she and her husband left Denmark and settled in Campbellville, Ontario, a short distance from Toronto. When her husband died, she moved to Cooksville (now part of Mississauga) – just one town away from Toronto. Even at this time, though, she was still quite wealthy and still connected to her life of royalty. When Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip came to Canada in 1959 she was invited to lunch aboard the royal yacht. Of course she was, after all, she wasn’t just former royalty, she was their cousin (a first cousin twice removed of Queen Elizabeth and twice removed of Prince Philip). Two years later, when her health declined and she was finding it difficult to care for herself she moved in with friends who lived in this house on Gerrard.

A plaque sits outside the home now.

Living in a big city, the fact that someone like this lived here is not that surprising to me. However what does surprise me is how much their life had changed since they were born – from being an emperor’s sister in Russia to living in a modest apartment in Canada. Look at how our lives can change. It also highlights how much I compartmentalize times. The Romanovs, in my mind, come from long ago – almost ancient history. It seems so surprising that one of them could be living at the same time as my parents were. Time is funny that way.

I’d been out longer than I expected – the sun is low in the sky and a beautiful orange as I ride home. A short ride but a long journey through time.

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