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  • Writer's pictureHu Eliot Young

Zen and the Art of Pedal Pushing

Climb up on that elevated pedestal of a touring bicycle seat, with your arms and hands descending downward in the stationary motion of supplication or prayer. Start pumping your thighs like pistons in a rhythmic incantation not unlike transcendental meditation and chugging in a manner that makes you think of child birth. Tell me you are not hard pressed to engage in philosophical musings about life, being, swept away in an airstream where the pelaton and group think permeate all. First, let me digress...

Truth be told, I am more a bicycle rider than a cyclist. Okay, I have "cycled" from Jasper to Banff with my two oldest sons and twice with my brother. I have cycled on three continents and been caught in the maelstrom of a thousand bicyclists near Tianamen Square. But that was then. This is now.

I approach my seventh decade, not nearly as vital as Nick, St. Nick and, further, at 6'4 and a few too many gelati to remain on the light side of 100 kilos, I carry too much hu(bris) to kid myself. But I remember Ron Leflore, the great base stealer who did a "top ten" of the greatest base stealers of that great American national past time. If memory serves, he listed the usual suspects; Maury Wills, Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock, Ty Cobb, Tim Raines and Vince Coleman. Then he added himself, of course and his old teammate, from the Montreal Expos, Rusty Staub. People looked puzzled. Rusty Staub? A great player, but not a base stealer. Old and fat. Leflore pounced. He stated that Rusty (Le Grand Orange), knew how to steal bases. He knew all the trade secrets, all the moves, all the nuances. In his head. He was awesome.

So, I approach the task of "cycling" from Haida Gwaii with the same mindset.

"Biking" is a family tradition and a cultural one as well. How many do not fondly remember, as a youngster, going out with 'ma' or 'pa' to be  shown the subtleties of how to ride a bike?  How many can forget the crashes, the falls, the realization that a parent sends you down that lane or sidewalk knowing that there are going to be bumps and bruises but that they will be well worth it;  that scrapes and cuts are a necessary and vital component of learning, not just a symbolic acknowledgement of " having arrived". I fondly remember the opportunities taken to teach my own sons to ride. Those memories, for them, are likely more fondly remembered than experienced, but it is a symbiotic relationship, passing from one generation to the next, an eternal round. The delicate balancing act, the suspension of disbelief. The recognition that riding a bicycle, like life, requires looking forward, not backward. Not dwelling on where you are "right now" but looking sufficiently far in advance, to not lose sight or balance of where you want to be.

As John Donne wrote, "so wilt thou be to me who must, like the other foot, obliquely run, thy firmness makes my circle just and makes me end where I begun.'

It is also, relatively speaking, a slow way to travel. It allows one to ponder and contemplate. To savour and experience the journey as much or more than the destination. There is a profundity of spirit in cycling that supercedes so many other forms of travel, where speed  either sucks out the soul or saturates the cerebellum cavity with cries of "are we there yet".

So, I join in the joy of putting one pedal down after the other, from Haida Gwaii, to home here in Edmonton.

To do so for such a worthy cause as the Stollery Children's Hospital, will be sweet. I have long cherished the opportunities to work with disabled youth, particularly as a former board member and past president of Alberta Easter Seals and the national board of Easter Seals /March of Dimes Canada. I well know how giving, how remarkable and how enriching the experiences of being with such young people can be. They have the capacity to make you a better person, they enlarge your heart and they make you whole.

I am grateful to be able to dedicate a few brief weeks to this journey.

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