Guerilla Girl

There’s nothing like sleeping outdoors. You wake at sunrise, naturally, peacefully. You immediately notice the crisp, raw scent of fresh air and you breathe it in deeply. This invigorates you. There is a depth of human alertness you had been unaware you possessed. You hear birds chirping and breezes blowing.

And buses roaring and cars zooming.

Even still, despite these reminders of urban life, even on one’s tenth-floor balcony in the middle of metropolitan Toronto, out in the open air is a wondrous way to wake. It begs the question: why on Earth would I be sleeping on my balcony? The answer: a preliminary test of my brand new bivy sack. What is a bivy sack, you ask? And what am I testing for, exactly?

Well, first, let me rewind the script a bit.

I had been searching a long time for a bicycle to replace my beloved but stolen Peugeot cruiser. In November of 2014 I finally found one. A matte metallic silver Raleigh. It was the perfect bike because it was simple, only eight speeds, inexpensive, only three hundred dollars, and humbly attractive. A simple machine, through and through. I put the bicycle on layaway and told the nice staff at Cyclepath on the Danforth that I would be back in March to pick it up.

In the months that lapsed between November and my impending bike pick-up, I began to dream and concoct wild ideas about the travels and adventures I could have and do on my soon-to-be-had new bicycle during this coming summer. I had spent my last three summers in France, mainly Paris. But my friends had sold their restaurant where I’d worked for them and now I needed to keep myself occupied in some other way.

My first thought was to ride from my home in Toronto out to Vancouver, British Columbia. I tried to plan routes and read blogs written by people who had done the ride but I kept running into obstacles; some logistical and some simply logical. Not that logic carries a terrible amount of weight in my world, really. For although I decided that riding the more than five thousand kilometers alone to Vancouver was perhaps a bit daunting for my first bike tour ever, the compromise I came up with is still, even by my own skewed standards, a bit nuts.

Passing through twenty-six Canadian cities in five provinces, I have decided to ride my bicycle from Toronto to Charlottetown, P.E.I.

And back.

More than four thousand kilometers over fifty days. Brighton, Gananoque, Ottawa, Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Québec City, Lévis, La Pocatière, Edmundston, Woodstock, Fredericton, St. John, Digby, Halifax, Truro, Charlottetown, Moncton, Bathurst, Campbellton, Amqui, Tadoussac, Baie-Saint-Paul, Québec City again, Trois-Rivières again, Montréal again, Cornwall, Kingston, Prince Edward County, and then, last stop, my dad’s house in Whitby.

I still haven’t explained what a bivy sack is. I’m getting there.

I have never done any type of long-distance cycling in my life. I have a background in marathon running but I needed a new drug now. Even though I had come up with this crazy concept of how I would spend my coming summer, I had no idea if I was physically capable of it.

So I started to test and prepare myself.

On Saturday, April 18th, I had plans with my cousin Danny to see the Italian Baroque exhibit at the Art Gallery of Hamilton where we are family members. I was also to meet his new girlfriend Krissie. It was supposed to be a beautiful day and I wasn’t in any rush and it was only eighty kilometers from my doorstep to the gallery entrance, so I told him: I’m riding my bike. I had no idea if eighty kilometers for a first long ride ever was even possible. But there was only one way to find out.

It took me four hours seventeen minutes. I turned up, met them at the pub across from the gallery, had a double vodka soda, locked my bike up, and off we three went to see the exhibit.

Fait accompli. (I took the GO train home the next day.)

Now what I needed to know was if I could do consecutive days of long rides. My dad had invited my sister and me over to his and Helen’s house for a family night of wings and lasagna and euchre and “soda pops” on Saturday, May 9th. My front doorstep to his makes fifty kilometres. He said we were welcome any time after two in the afternoon. So I called him up and told him: I’m riding my bike.

It took me three hours four minutes. I devoured Helen’s perfect lasagna and my dad’s hot and tasty wings! I drank wine and at one in the morning I told my sister we should really go to sleep!

The next morning, we had leftover lasagna and wings for breakfast! We even played a bit more euchre. Then at about eleven, I began the fifty kilometer trek back.

It took me three hours fourteen minutes. Doing two consecutive days of a mere fifty kilometres was not only reasonable but easy. I needed further testing.

I have a very dear friend named Timo who lives in London, Ontario. I hadn’t seen him in four years. We had made long overdue plans for me to come visit him on Saturday, May 16th. I also have a sweet aunt, only eight years older than me is more like a cousin, who also lives in London. I looked to find a half way point. Paris, Ontario. I emailed my aunt and Timo. I told them: I’m riding my bike. And with saddle bags packed for a four-day, three hundred sixty kilometre excursion, I set off.

On Friday, May 15th, I rode one hundred five kilometres from Toronto to Paris in the cool temperatures, intermittent rain, and the last forty kilometres in the pitch black darkness! I finally arrived to the Davidson Motel in Paris just after midnight.

It took me five hours twenty-nine minutes.

The next morning, Saturday, May 16th, I set off for the second part of the journey: Paris to London. It was an eighty kilometre trip.

It took me five hours and four minutes. My Aunt Amy welcomed me into her beautiful home and gorgeous garden backyard. We talked, had beverages, and enjoyed the best barbecued steaks I have ever had: charred on the outside and blue on the inside. Perrrrrrfect! She served this with corn on the cob, baked potato, melted butter, sour cream, and fresh cut chives from her own garden.

The next morning, Sunday, May 17th, I met up with my dear friend Timo. We ate a hearty breakfast and then headed to a pub. He had a few beers while I enjoyed three glasses of what we shall henceforth refer to as “Fancy Red Gatorade.” More specifically, I had an eight ounce, then a five ounce (denial), then an eight ounce (acceptance). Then I set off for the trip back to Paris.

It took me three hours and fifty-six minutes. I listened to an oldies channel on Songza the whole ride. It was heavenly.

The next morning, Monday, May 18th, I set out for the final leg of the trip. I rode seventy-one kilometres then decided it was getting late and to save time, since I had things I needed to do before work the next morning, I would take the GO train from Oakville. Anyway, I had learned what I needed to learn; that yes, I was capable of riding consecutive days of eighty to one hundred kilometres per day. My legs were perhaps slightly tender but barely. The trip to Charlottetown was looking good!

I haven’t forgotten about the bivy sack. Explanation dangerously close to delivery.

I’m not rich. There is no way I can stay in a motel for each of the fifty plus nights of my East Coast bike excursion. Nor do I want to. I want to simulate as close as possible my secret desire to return to simpler times and “live off the land.” In short, I want to camp the nights as much as possible. (Where necessary, I will couchsurf, Airbnb, or stay in a motel.) But not only am I not a cyclist, I’m not an experienced camper! So I will need to practice this part, too.

I went to Mountain Equipment Coop on King Street and bought a bivy sack. Here’s that explanation you may have been waiting for or perhaps have googled already. A bivy sack is basically a sleeping bag-sized waterproof tent. It rolls up into about the size of a large Thermos. It is lightweight and ideal for bike travel. On Saturday, May 23rd, I bought one. I was eager to try it out immediately but it was already late and I needed to plan properly and think about safety. In the end, I settled on this: I practiced assembling and disassembling it inside my apartment. And then, to practice what I might reasonably need for warmth and comfort, I assembled it on my balcony and, with a low temperature of nine degrees Celsius, I slept in my sleeping bag, in the bivy sack, on the concrete floor of my balcony.

I slept like a baby.

Next weekend, Saturday, May 30th, I am riding my bike to my dear Aunt Gisèle’s house in Niagara Falls. It is a one hundred thirty-five kilometre journey. My cousin Danny (her son) and Krissie will be there, too! Then on Sunday the 31st I will make the same trip home. I probably won’t sleep outdoors in my bivy sack on Saturday but I will pack it and my sleeping bag to get a feel for the weight I will be carrying for the East Coast trip.

My apartment is rented out for seven weeks this summer beginning Monday, June 29th. So that is my departure date for the East Coast tour. I still have five weeks to test, experiment and prepare. I am both stupendously excited and scared to death. My biggest fear is being a woman alone camping at night. But. I believe in the goodness of human beings and I can’t live life hiding under a rock.

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Don’t Give Me No TTC Blues

The other great thing about riding public transportation is you just plain get exposed to things. Even if you don’t like some of those things, or even if some of those things are nothing but boring, is still a boatload better than not getting exposed to things. Human beings, how they dress, do their hair; the conversations, the delays and the reasons for them; the advertisements. Yes, even the advertisements. (I once saw a comedy show because of a poster I saw in a subway. It was a quality show; entertaining and smart with lots of laughs.) But the thing I mean to mention of all the things you are exposed to riding public transportation is the books people read. 

It stands out because half the nation is passing their idle time, valuable reading time as I see it, by playing Candy Crush and not by reading. It’s a rather sad state of affairs and though my inspirations to write are nearly never complaint or lament driven, I did feel compelled to complain and lament about this before, near a year ago, when I had just sold my car and first started riding public transportation regularly. Let me take this opportunity to state that I have never regretted this change from owning a car to depending on public transportation, not even for a moment. One of the best, smartest, decisions I’ve ever taken, actually. 
So this morning there was a gentleman on the subway who immediately struck me as quite a lot resembling Steve Carrell and perhaps it was the fact that his nose was thus likewise a bit long and pointed that, quite like the saying, it actually looked as though it were buried in his book. He was engrossed. I careened my neck and noted the title and author: Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris. I googled it. A satire of the American workplace during a downturn in business just after the nineties’ Internet boom. Sounded like something I’d like. I added it to my list. 
At first, near a year ago, as I said, I’d been keeping track and count of all the books I was now able to read instead of being stuck behind the wheel. In the first two months alone, I still boast to people, I read thirteen novels. Thirteen! But then much like Ecstasy in the nineties, I could no longer keep track. (You see, in the back of my book « Dance, Trance and Transformation » I’d started a little list noting the date, the name of the rave, and the name of the E I’d taken. It’s fun to look back on.)
I went to BMV that evening and found the book and read the synopsis and flipped through the pages and decided the book was not at all for me. I did leave, however, with three other new books, one of which is Justine by the Marquis de Sade. I’d been looking for that one. 
Another day…
Yesterday on the way home from work I caught glimpse of another man likewise engrossed in a book he was reading. « Godel, Escher, Bach » is the title. I will have a look for it and who knows? In the meantime, I am reading The Complete Short Stories of Truman Capote, relaxing with a coffee, checking out a cute, young construction worker also on his way to work, and patting myself on the back while some kind stranger chauffeurs me to work. 
Stimuli equals thinking. Leave early, welcome delays, smile while the robots stress. 
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Cats and Dogs and Cows

Just sitting here watching the rain. The people in the rain with no umbrellas and black umbrellas and half-broken deformed umbrellas. One time in Manhattan after a rain the streets were absolutely covered with abandoned, broken umbrellas. Most of them black. It looked like it had rained umbrellas! All the trash cans, too, were stuffed and overflowing with these broken umbrellas. It was quite a sight. 

He said he saw cows lying down today and that is a sign of coming rain. I didn’t know that. Nor have I ever seen a lying-down cow. However I have been bitten on the shoulder by a baby horse. No teeth yet, lucky me. I was just a little kid. It was in Québec. 
Once you’re soaked, you’re free. I said that. It was his birthday, we were down by the lake. Years ago. The wind picked up rather suddenly. The sky darkened. There was no one around, at all, like in some spooky movie. Then a man appeared with his dog. He told us, « There’s a big storm coming. » Then he was gone, too. Then the storm came, hard and heavy. We ran, but it was useless. So we walked and laughed and that’s when I said it. Later I described the experience as baptismal. 
I won’t mention what restaurant I’m sitting in, watching the rain, but I’ve just noticed a man in the corner, talking to thin air and sobbing. Maybe he’s breaking up with his imaginary girlfriend like Lars did on that movie and he’s going to suddenly not be crazy anymore. Imagine life were like that. 
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Girl versus demons

Days like this, it’s much too difficult to concentrate on reading a book. Even Capote. It’s a beautiful Spring day, and very late arriving. I just keep looking about, eyes a bit glazed, soul a bit dazed, intensely content and calm. Eight degrees. Jacket on, a bit too warm. Jacket off, a bit chilly. That kind of day. A day of change.

I’m seated with a glass of red on the patio of Valentina in Kensington. It’s true I spend a lot of time alone but only rarely am I lonely. That is both very true and not wholly true. I’m happy but someone seated beside me would also be quite nice. 
It was a long, cold winter. Things were done, decisions were made, time was passed in necessary ways. Now the sun is shining and the winter’s wrath arrested. 
Now nearly one and nine, in the afternoon and degrees, respectively. Jacket’s off. 
Gloves, too. 
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Do Make Say Don’t Think

Sunday morning, I leave the house, I check, it’s ten oh six. Random, numbers, to which we seek to assign significance (not in this case) or is it that we search for meaning? No definite destination in mind, but I’m thinking Kensington. I want to be around humans but a specific type of human that won’t annoy me. I probably shouldn’t go to Kensington, then. But it’s the same everywhere. It’s all contrived. Gawd I sound miserable.

It’s true, I’ve woken in a strange mood. Is it the long weekend, too much time alone? Is it the surprisingly thought-provoking film I saw last night? The very ironic company kept me for it? Is it just another curve in the never-ending, uncontrollable often inexplicable roller coaster of life; no reason for this mood? Hormones? This snow in April, for crying out loud? It is any or all or one or none of these things so just life and thus nothing to dwell on or to try to get to the bottom of?
The film was « While We’re Young. » As I said, every now and then Hollywood makes a movie I like. I loved it. Anything that makes you think. Even if the thoughts turn endlessly like a spiral and are akin to asking, « What is the meaning of life? » The cursed, the blessed human condition. The fact that this condition exists brings us round to that same question again. 
The summers in Paris, for example. Diversion or fulfillment? Anyway the questions are exhausting me and the place is filling up and the snow is falling down and I think I’ll just go follow my big toes down the sidewalk.  So yes, there is some genius in me. 
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No different

Was that you on the subway this morning? I was standing on the platform and when the train rolled in. I thought I saw you near the front. I boarded and began to walk up the train to see if it was you. I envisioned myself acting mischievously casual, sitting down beside you and saying, « Good morning, sir, » as though I see you all the time, as though I was simply a friendly stranger, as though it hasn’t been years upon years, too long. It would have been a nice moment!

I began to walk up the train, to see if it was you, but then saw an empty bank of three seats, a truly rare find on the morning commute. I sat down. I scrambled wit my telephone to send you a text before we went back underground and had no signal. « Are you on the subway? » I sent this in time. No response. Back underground, no signal. I picked up my book and read comfortably sprawled in my bank of three seats. 

The government is proposing policy that will infringe upon our privacy rights. The city is paving over the park to build another mall. The university is raising tuition. We sign an online petition and go on with our day, feeling good about having done our part. 
I lament that I do not feel aligned with the society into which I have been born. I don’t walk the length of a subway train to say hello to an old friend, gambling on the chance they it probably wasn’t him. 
The online petition failed, the years continue to accumulate, all is as it has been. 
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Self-Talk of a Potential Line Jumper

Of course, it doesn’t begin the way you choose. You’re born into some city, into some family, into some genetic pre-disposition. You accept the language, the lessons, the routines of your surroundings. You don’t accept it. It just is. It’s subconscious. And if you stay here, live this way, without taking a good look around, without seeing where you are and how things are done, without giving thought to what it all means, what’s important; if you live robotically, why, how could, the end be any different than a damn straight line? Straight as a razor’s edge to your jugular, dear. Understand? You ask: Can I choose, if not at least partly, the direction, ultimately how this life will end? The answer is yes. It takes realizing you have the choice, love. Do you realize you have a say? That you have one life and owe them nothing and there are other ways? Wake up, sleepy head. There is time left yet. 

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