My ass is sore and I’m shifting around on my saddle, hands alternately numbing, sweat wicked up through my shirt cold now in the ocean air, five hours in, my left knee is throwing handfuls of shitty pain on my mind, and with every other pedal stroke an annoying clunk from the drivetrain. I’ve been up since 530 trying to ride 157 miles on my single-speed work bike and I’m having a great time.
How are these things a part of how much joy I’m creating? They aren’t just the bad parts of a good thing. It’s all together. My knee hurts and I gain from it specifically. Not pain for pleasure, not quite, but I can’t explain why all of this; the discomfort and fatigue, slot in perfectly with the rest of the pleasure of riding my bike. Is it disguised self-harming? Uncomfortable exhaustion to happiness? The sense of achievement having done something harder than is reasonable? The deep joy of breathing hard, moving across a large piece of land is a chunk of it but that is the easy part to understand. Seeing geography change, going faster and faster and farther and farther with struggle. It’s cathartic. Each minute by minute of effort swelling to hours washed over me like a tidal draw, taking the shock and confused grief to another place, leaving what’s left: a tiring body and a loosening, gradually contenting mind.
When I started work as a builder after high school I would fall asleep just after dinner, my boy body extinguished after a day of man work. I hadn’t slept that deeply since early childhood days running wild in the woods until dinner and after dinner until dark. Jump ahead to my first weeks of couriering and it was the same. Falling asleep talking to Chris and Thea swapping songs on YouTube early each evening. But that exhaustion never lasts. With building work my blistered hands became calloused, with couriering my skinny legs became thin hard machines and in both jobs my endurance grew. I could spend weekends and weeknights for the rest of my life training and challenging my body doing anything knackering providing myself with this now necessary exhaustion. But the trick of it is, cycling has become the way, my personal spiritual bullshit sounding ’the way’. And as I hit the first hills coming out of Annapolis Royal here it is for real. One stupid gear, and I’m pretending to be Eddy Merckx, staying in the saddle, pushing my body weight over each pedal on each stroke, a transport truck thunders beside me, I crest the hill and I’m singing as loud as I can with what breath I have. I couldn’t be any happier. I think I’m going to cry but I just have a confusing yawn while being ecstatic.
And as I’m falling asleep in the backseat of my Mom’s car, having gone half way and caved so, so easily after a Guinness and a load of fish I’m thinking of all the small rewards. Cresting the last of those hills seeing the land fall ahead of me toward the water, beepers giving me a thumbs-up, grannies on porches doing grand HELLO THERE! waves with their flabby arms and wrinkled happy faces, and I’m remembering the feeling of hitting Middleton before the town was awake, sleepy people getting coffee and waiting for the bus, flying through those little towns always relieved I’m not required to live in. And as my ever kind mother leads us astray onto a dirt road to who knows where in the boonies, I’m imagining how wonderfully tired I would be had I tried to do the other half.
I’ve never had to do grief before. It’s like a confused, tiring floatation with whirlpools and waves, currents and tides. This abnormal, this absence, is like nothing else I’ve felt. I’d never gotten to this part in my imagination before. I remember as kids, a friend and I tried to make ourselves cry and the only thing that would work was to imagine my parents didn’t exist. I managed a swelling of emotion strong enough for a tear. But never the days and weeks after that moment. And why would anyone imagine it?
In the days after my father’s funeral I got tired of talking about how it felt and how hard it was and how much we all missed him. Tired of the endless talk and the never altered feeling of being carried along in water against my will. So I went for a long ride.
Artwork by Nora Fuller