My love for cycling began back when my dad and I took long Sunday morning rides along the Rideau River in Ottawa. Growing up, I used my brothers’ bikes, so a couple of years ago, I decided to buy my own touring bike. I spent months searching for the perfect one, and found it at a store in Halifax, where I worked at a law firm after attending law school. Then, last September, my father and I did the Ride the Rideau 100-kilometre bike ride to raise funds for cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital. This was the first organized ride we had ever done and we had such a wonderful time fundraising, training and riding in it.
Then this spring, my boyfriend Dave and I decided to cycle the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to San Francisco. What an adventure it was’we cycled more than 1,600 kilometres, averaging 80 to 100 a day, and camped in state parks. We carried our gear in panniers, and strapped our tent and sleeping bags to the backs of our bikes. We did most of the distance over an intense 19 days of riding between Bremerton, Wash., and San Francisco. We cycled through the mountainous rainforests of Washington, along the beautiful rocky coastline of Oregon, and through the magnificent redwood forests of California, stopping in quaint towns, at scenic lookouts and way too many bakeries along the way.
It was the trip of a lifetime and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Well, almost every minute. In northern California, we encountered the infamous Leggett Hill, rising 610 metres above sea level. We conquered Leggett Hill and had a glorious descent back to sea level’which was abruptly slowed by the incredibly steep 245-metre climb that followed. That was a day to be remembered.
Yes, our muscles were stiff each morning, and, yes, we ate some bugs while flying down hills (and I got poison oak). And for sure we needed the rain gear we brought. But on our final day of cycling, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge under the beaming sun to arrive at our final destination was the most rewarding part of the trip. We had travelled so far, met so many interesting people and, best of all, we had made the journey all on our own leg power. ‘Lisa Gillich, 27, Ottawa
I recently started biking to work. Besides being a nice way to enjoy the outdoors and trick myself into exercise, it’s saving me time and money. I get to work for free, and 15 minutes faster. While riding home one night from downtown, enjoying the smell of summer in the air, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of this before.
I think it was a fear of being hit by a car. Years ago in New York, I watched as a cyclist crashed into a just-opened taxi door and flew over his handlebars. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, but it really scared me.
What pushed me past my fear was my desire to get cycling. And since I’ve started, the biggest bonus is that when I leave work, my free time begins when I get on my bike. When I took public transit, my travel time was 50 minutes each way. So I now have an extra hour and 40 minutes of freedom a day!
A few of the friends and colleagues I told about my new chapter said, ‘Be Careful.’ I heard this most from those closest to me; they were happy for me, but worried. This began to refuel my fear and forced me to really think about it: What was I afraid of? Was it justified? Was it my fear, or the other person’s fear, behind ‘Be Careful’?
What I came to understand is that they aren’t saying, ‘Don’t Do It.’ They are saying, ‘Be Smart About It.’ I realized my fear came from inexperience. Being smart about something, I decided, is learning about it to the point that you feel safe’starting out can be considered a kind of training period. For example, in the first three days I wore my helmet backwards, almost got hit by a car AND another cyclist, and almost wiped out. It taught me to pay attention, and it built my confidence. And I learned not to be distracted by shouts, usually from men, of, ‘I like your tassels!’ (I have pink and white tassels on the handlebars of my purple and brown bicycle). The more I ride, the more confident I am on my bike.
I also made a point of talking to cyclists and getting their insights. They include three big ones, all to do with car doors:
‘ Watch out for cabs at intersections; passengers may open the door to get out.
‘ Watch out for passengers getting out of cars that are in the centre lane. (Often, if the driver anticipates a red light, he or she might stay in the centre lane to drop off a passenger instead of pulling over to the right.)
‘ Watch for any opening car door!
I’m still a bit nervous when I head out. But ‘Be Careful’ no longer makes me feel weak. I put those words in perspective, and take them as a gentle reminder to be safe; I accept them as the kind words they are meant to be. ‘Tracy Visser, 44, Toronto
This article was originally titled "Roll on!" in the September 2012 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!