Tag Archives: change your life

Cycling: Why You Should Start, & How

Britain’s greatest Olympian ever retired yesterday. Chris Hoy took another gold medal in Cycling, and then called it a day. Tearfully, he said his career and these racing competitions weren’t just about winning gold, they were about seeing more people get on bikes. More cyclists, more roads with bikes, more, more, more.

Cycling isn’t just about exercise, it’s not just a way to get where you’re going. Cycling is a complete change in lifestyle. It’s pretty much the only sport that can change your life, in every way, on a daily basis.

When you park that car and ride your bike, you’re saving money, you’re saving the environment, and you’re saving your life.

It costs, on average, about $10,000 a year to run a car. Just riding a bus daily for work can cost you over $1,000, and that doesn’t include lost productivity in all those hours waiting for connections.

Cycling doesn’t cost a cent once you’re in it. Yearly maintenance costs are pretty low, especially if you know how to clean your bike chain and do some of that yourself. Quality bike maintenance and parts can likely be done for under $200 per year, and a good bike should last well over 10,000 kilometres.

Me, I changed cities and lifestyles entirely so I could ditch busing and other forms of motorized commute. I’ve gone from 60 hours a month to only riding a bus for 15 minutes in the last 30 days. The rest of the time, I walk and I cycle. I’m happier, healthier, and less inclined to want to slap the masses.

Change Your Thinking

When I was new to Victoria, I was busing a lot to get a sense of the world. My chiropractor was just under an hour by two buses. Turns out his office is close to one of the nicest bike routes I’ve ever ridden. Total time to cycle there? 25 minutes each way.

With my saddle bags attached, I can hit up some of the great food shops, save $5 on return bus fare, and get an hour of cardiovascular exercise in, reducing my need to find time to “exercise” at some point in my week. How is that inconvenient in any way? Well, it isn’t.

Once you turn all those wasted commute hours — because, by bus or car, you know you ain’t getting anything done but reading or emails — into exercise, that too is where you change your life. It’s killing two birds with one awesome stone.

Cycling is a low-impact, high-result exercise that does amazing things for your body, IF you’re riding the right kind of bike with a good fit. If your bike shop isn’t concerned about “fit” and how a bike performs with YOUR body, then you need a better bike shop. This is not frivolous “entitled customer” thinking, as bike fit is absolutely critical to your enjoyment of the sport, and whether it has negative effects for you.

With the right gear, the right fit, and a little conditioning, you will be amazed at the way cycling simplifies your life.

Tired of getting home angry after a 15km commute by car? Try cycling it. It only takes a month or so to be conditioned to cycle 15kms (10 miles), and I’m telling you that as a girl over 200 pounds. If I can do it, what is YOUR excuse?

Here are considerations for getting started in cycling:

Saddle Bags Will Change Your Life

I pick different areas to shop in every week. My saddlebags will hold 70 litres of goods, which is actually a lot for a single girl like me. I can get beer, veggies, meats, condiments, and more, for over a week.

In one area, I get Mediterranean foods, stellar produce, and Indian ingredients. I plan meals ahead and get things from all three on the same day.

For routine staples and bad weather, I have a closer network of shops for more mundane goods, an 8km circuit I can easily do year-round in about 90 minutes including both cycling and shopping, that sees me hitting 4 to 6 great food purveyors downtown, from Italian to organics.

Then there’s my elaborate “gluttony ride” out to Oak Bay, a beautiful seaside area, where there’s an artisan salumerie, specialty wine shop, and great cheesemonger’s, and I hit that up once a month with a mind to enjoy a fantastic cheese & wine platter after that ride — and getting 75 minutes of beautiful flat touring ride makes it a guilt-free gluttonous night.

Now, I never, ever leave home without my saddle bags because I’m either packing my camera and a lunch, or I usually make use of my excursion by grabbing things on my way home.

When you do, buy heavy-duty saddlebags, because they will last for YEARS. Mine are 5+ years old already, from Canada’s MEC, and cost me about $75 when I got them, and they’re not the expensive ones. If I replace them this winter, it will be for larger ones, not because of wear. Make sure they’re weatherproof, clasp into place, and have reflective surfacing, extra pockets, and easy-to-carry handles. These will be the best things you ever put on your bike.

If you could exercise AND save money AND get all your out-in-the-world chores done at the SAME time, why wouldn’t you?

Pick the Right Bike

There are lots of styles, and more than you likely think, when it comes to bikes. From step-through Dutch bikes to hybrids, road bikes, and mountain bikes, to beyond. Each has benefits, and it’s why most lifelong cyclists have more than one bike.

If you’re looking to be a commuter and use your bike for recreation, then a road bike’s probably the last thing you want, oddly. Get a good bike shop, talk to friends about why they like their bike (as opposed to what YOU should ride, just find out why it works for them). Plus, use places like bike swap meets, used shops, and cycling organizations to gain some good insight from people who use cycling as a whole-life endeavour, because they’re the ones who know.

Know Your Paths

Cycling on the road isn’t a death sentence, but I sure as hell don’t enjoy it as much as I like a pedestrian/cyclist trail, like the great paths here in Victoria, which include the Galloping Goose and the Lochside. Most North American cities are designating paths for cyclists now, but they’re not always where you’d know to look. Ask at your local bike shop to see if they’ve got maps for your region, Google routes, or scan the app stores to see if there’s a cycling app for your area.

The Google (the web version only) now has a “bikes” feature in Beta testing on Maps searches, and you can select that to see the most bike-friendly route. Bike routes are often better, and different, than walking routes as elevation tends to be a big factor in riding. Here in Victoria, the Galloping Goose and Lochside trails are on an old train track, so the elevation grade has been smoothed out very nicely despite all the dips and valleys of living on an island. This makes for a much less intimidating ride than heading up car-friendly hills and other steep grades, and makes it the perfect place to get accustomed to distance rides.

Another plus to Googling places for your travel route is you can also get an approximate cycling time and distance. From my experience, the times tend to be for the “semi-conditioned” rider — not experts, but someone who’s cycling more regularly, so if you’re new, add some cushion time there.

Skills Count

Cycling, like motorcycling, is very much a skills-based pursuit. The more confident you are, the safer you’ll be. You need to know you’re a victim in the making every time you get on your bike, because Car vs. Bike almost always has the same outcome. But that’s not to say you can’t be more prepared to avoid these situations entirely.

Most cycling organizations have Skills-based rides where they teach you how to ride smarter. Here in Victoria, there’s a 3-hour basic skills course that’s free, and there’s an 8-hour one that costs $30, where you go on a ride through the city and they teach you in situ what skills are suited to what scenarios, and how to be a proactive, safe rider.

Safety First

Gear is pretty much the be-all end-all with cycling. You get what you pay for, and, trust me, when your life is on the line in a mid-winter chores ride near dusk, cheaping out isn’t the way to go.

Whether it’s great-quality raingear that keeps your head in the game, rather than you shivering and thinking how awful you feel, or lighting for evening rides, quality counts.

For lights, you want to check out the brightness rating. How many watts? Anything less than 2 watts should be a throwaway. And if it’s only 2 watts, you likely want to double up. Obviously, you need a front and back light, but most cyclists never think to put spoke lighting on their wheels. The only seriously close calls I have ever had have been from cars on side streets not seeing me in front of them and nearly T-boning me. For $15, you can get a couple sets of spoke lights to make your wheels light up and give yourself 360-degree visibility on the road at night. Trick yourself out with lotsa lights, because being a Christmas tree means being seen.

A helmet is a no-brainer, but most people don’t like them. I’ve been saved by helmets twice — once preventing a head injury, and once preventing death. But, hey, if your haircut’s that important to you, fine — just opt out of my medical system if you choose the no helmet route.

And That’s a Starter

Cycling will change your life. That’s inarguable.

If you get hooked, it will be your drug of choice. It will clear your mind, improve your health, bolster your finances, charge your creativity, and mellow your mood. It will save the planet, too.

If your arguments are “It’s too hard,” well, that’s because you’re new. Cycling on the road, your conditioning improves faster, better, than probably any sport I’ve ever tried. If you think “It’s too far,” that’s also because you’re new. Trust me. Give it one month of 4-5 rides a week, and you’ll be stunned.

There are really no good reasons to stay off your bike. I’ve seen parents taking kids to school on bike trailers, children as young as 6 years old cycling 10 kilometres around a city with Mom and Dad during a day, and more.

Cycling is more flexible than you imagine, more rewarding than you could dream, and it’s something you can do today to change EVERY part of your life.

Give it a shot. You’ve got more power in you than you think. Change your life, ride a bike.

Jumping into the Darkness

Before you read on: I know you MEAN well, but don’t give me life advice right now. You have about 3% of the information you need in order to offer specific-to-me insight. If you’re a friend of mine in REAL life, please talk to me over a beer.

If you only know me online, I love you for caring, but don’t weigh in. Life’s confusing enough without 80 cooks in my kitchen. I’m just thinking out loud, not soliciting advice here. Understood?

You rock. Thanks.

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I withdraw, sometimes.

It’s most likely to happen: a) if I’m rethinking my life’s direction, or b) when I’m jarred by a person, thing, or event/series of events.

And it happens.

Recently, a) and b) have happened.

Thus, this past week, I’ve withdrawn. Mostly because I couldn’t really withdraw last week. And I still had a lot I needed to do this week, and a lot of crap to deal with.

But in the moments I could, I withdrew. It was everything I’d hoped it could be. I hope to do even more of it next week.

Someone’s got some thinkin’ to do, and she’s not too sure how much she wants to share.

You already know I’m a big believer in writing your way through things.

Yet sometimes it’s better to get through life with a bump-in-the-night approach. Feel your way through and have quiet faith in where it takes you.

Do not be afraid, blindfolded grasshopper.

Bump-in-the-night’s a pretty solitary experience, though. Putting it out there for public consumption is a pretty foolish endeavour. Some things are just better left inside some days.

“Do I go this way? Do I go that way? What’s it feel like? Did I step on a bug?” Yeah, foolish to share.

Sometimes thoughts seem like stars being born. An idea appears as if out of nowhere, just an inkling in a semi-dark mind. Nebulous in its power and growing, slowly gaining clarity and discernible features as it comes into light.

Sometimes life events are like that, too, and to really learn what we’re being taught, we need silence and a little time alone in the dark.

Lately, I’ve sorta been hanging out in my own private darkness, looking for a lightswitch.

Last week, I did a big new thing. I officially became self-employed. Finally legally laid off for good-for good from my old employer, I took the jump and now my new work for them is in the form of Self-Employed Earnings. The exact direction I want to go in is a little hazy, but I’m off to a new start.

It’s a scary leap in a million ways, a jump in the dark with no safety net. Pretty terrifying, regardless of the fact that I deep-down think I can do it.

I mean, I know thar be no monsters, but sometimes when I turn the lights out, I get a little scared at night, y’know? It happens. The curse of being imaginative.

In the bold new world of 24/7 and epic personal schedules, it’s pretty easy to ultimately realize the only person you can ever really, really count on is yourself.

That’s not saying I don’t trust my friends to be there for me — that’s just me learning the hard way that their lives can get in the way, too, and I won’t always know why at the time, so instead of feeling like they’ve let me down, it’s usually better to have a self-sufficient plan of getting through things.

Sometimes self-sufficiency is the only way to go.

When it comes to things like self-employment, it’s really all about you. It’s about you putting in the work, getting it done, capitalizing on connections, and living up to the hype. You can have all the fuckin’ friends in the world but if you’re selling shit product, doing shit work, or delivering shit service, you’ll land face-first in the dirt every time — and rightly so.

This time I have to do it on my own, but I know that if I do provide great product, awesome service, and I do my work like a professional should, then not only will I have success, but my friends will have nothing to lose from supporting me.

Some people take business referrals very seriously, and everyone else who doesn’t SHOULD. Who you refer reflects entirely on you. They’re great to have a beer with but offer no business scruples? That’s on you. They screw your friends over in the end-run? On you. They flake out? On you.

I refer few people. I’ll be honoured when I see judicious people doing the same for me.

But, that’s somewhere down the road. I’m new to this.

For now, I’m figuring out my future and it’s a very strange and difficult path. Designing any kind of career based on the internet and writing for it is a pretty harrowing thing these days. No one knows where it will lead. So, I’m a-thinkin’ life over — and what I bring to it all.

For me, it’s a follow-the-heart do-what-thou-wilt moment. There’s a door open to me and I’m not really sure what’s on the other side of it, but I think I can take it. I think I can kick its ass and take it.

I just need a moment alone to find that in me. Don’t we all?

Diving into Safety Head-First

We have helmet laws here in British Columbia. Even if we didn’t, I’d be wearing mine.

One saved my life. And still I’m different than I used to be.

When I saw this article come up on Twitter, I got pretty choked about it. I started thinking of the friends I’ve seen riding without a helmet — whether for a block or in the thick of city traffic with bad weather — and I found myself clenching my teeth in frustration.

Head injuries are horrible.

They change you forever.

They affect you emotionally, spiritually, physically.

And I’ve had far too much personal experience with head injuries to let the topic of helmets disappear easily into the cybernight without some commentary.

My personal experience, with just people my age?

Well, personally, I almost died. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I would have died when I somersaulted off my scooter and hit the pavement at Columbia and 2nd back on August 29th, 2004.

I spent the next year trying to get back to who I was while I laboured without a diagnosis on my head (because judgment is the first thing to go; you can’t be objective about yourself and you don’t think about the reasoning behind why you’re such a “fuck up” now; it becomes a self-esteem and time/skill-management thing when it should really be a head-injury thing).

I changed as an employee — it cost me my job security and made me first on chopping block when needed lay-offs came rolling around. (We didn’t know then that it was my brain-bouncing that was the cause of my production getting slower and less sharp.)

That started two years of job insecurity as I hopped around the employment world, learning that I couldn’t handle stress like I used to anymore, and realizing I couldn’t learn new skills or organize as well as I once could.

Experience 2 with head injuries is my brother. Hit by a Chevy Suburban, he spent 5 days in a coma in late 2005 and has never been the same person since. He takes longer to understand things, has a hard time processing his emotions, is more inclined to depression, and it’s all a result of the severe head injury he took — since he had another one within 6 months of the first.

Experience 3 with head injuries was a beloved old friend, in 2008, just 34 years old, who was out adventuring with friends just 9 days after the birth of his little baby girl. His ATV tipped, crushing his head on rocks, and leaving him washing down the fast river, where he drowned and died — orphaning that beautiful baby girl in her first two weeks of life.

Yes, head injuries are bad.

So, when I see brilliant, fantastic friends hopping on their bikes in their almost-hipsterness, cruising around town without their helmets, it fucking kills me.

Know what a head injury feels like?

Take equal parts of STUPID, ANGRY, and CONFUSED, throw them into a martini shaker and mix liberally with IMPULSE CONTROL ISSUES and BAD JUDGMENT and you’ll have the start of what you’re after.

Now, take that horrible mood cocktail and spread it over your days — 24/7, 365.

I spent a year at a loss about what I felt, what I needed, where I wanted to go, how to get there. I’m lucky, I’m a writer, and somehow through the act of writing EVERY SINGLE DAY for a year, I managed to get my brain to finally start firing again.

I don’t even remember ANY of the first 6 months except a Pocky Incident and being unhappy about a hamburger while watching World Cup Hockey.

I’ve never been as good at learning things as I used to be, I need more guidance and have more questions, but I’m smarter than the average person so I get it together sooner or later on new tasks, but only after a lot of frustration.

I’m still smart as hell, no doubt, but I forget large chunks of my life.

Large chunks.

And my mother’s dead.

And some of the chunks are of her. When death rolls around with your loved ones, memories are all you’ve got left, and your head is all you got to protect that with.

It kills me, you know. Just kills me.

When you’re a writer, your memory is your most valuable tool. I’ve lost a lot of mine. My years are a hazy blur when they used to have crystal clarity to them.

I have to live the rest of my life with the very real knowledge that head injuries are like a good savings plan — they compound infinitely.

Every time I hit my head, I run the risk of making myself less of who I was.

Every time my noggin bumps a doorframe or something, a shock of fear runs through me.

You parents failing to put helmets on your kids, I’d be all right with calling that child abuse, given what I know has changed in my life from my head injury.

Protect your children. It’s your job. It’s the law.

I can’t tell you how much I wish I could have that day I almost died back. How much I could undo the stupidity that led me to thinking I should be on my scooter that morning.

I just can’t tell you.

Most people who know  me would never think I’d had a head injury. I’ve got razor-sharp wit, keen conversational abilities, and I’m sly as the day is long.

But they’d be wrong. I’m different. Just in little ways I can work around.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t anger me still that I’m different now.

I used to test at Mensa levels on IQ tests, you know. Between 145 and 170, depending on the day, over the years. “Smart” is a commodity one can’t afford to trade on, not via head injuries or anything else.

Really, it’s not that the head injury takes you out of the game — because it doesn’t. That’s kinda part of the problem — you become the “walking wounded” afterwards.

You go through life okay enough — you look fine, everyone thinks you can do your job, they think you’re as normal as can be. But because you’re rendered some lesser part of yourself as a result of the changes, you’re not even aware of how much you’ve changed — you’re in a fog, a daze, so you can’t say “Hey, something’s off here.”

And because you’re not defending or explaining yourself, those around you think you’re just in some depressive funk and that you need to “shake it off.”

But you can’t.

You hit your brain and you have a boo-boo that can’t be bandaged, doesn’t get air, never sees the sun, and can’t be displayed to others. You’ve seen how long a bruise on your leg takes to heal? What about if it’s under a skull, and all the bruised areas affect how synapses and thoughts and neuro-body-controls occur?

It was two years after my head injury that I finally realized how much I had changed, and only because I was seeing the same stuff happening to my brother with his head damage. A strangely consistent downward spiral in his life mirrored the one that had been happening to me.

Finally, I went to see a shrink I’d been to in the past, who’d had muchos experience in head injuries, and I learned what was going on inside was all part of the healing journey a head injury victim usually takes.

I had a helmet on and I’ve luckily lived to tell my story, even though I’m changed and will probably always have to live with the legacy of that day in small ways.

In fact, everyone I’ve written about here today was wearing a helmet, and yet, look at our stories.

Put your fucking helmet on.

Get over your haircut. Get over yourself.

If not for your own life and the hell it will likely be if you survive a head injury and have to live with it for the remainder of your life, then at least wear it so my fucking tax dollars can go somewhere more intelligent than dealing with your dumb-ass negligence.

Please.

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Think you might’ve had a head injury and wonder what the indicators are? Check here. The New York Times has a good cheat-sheet HERE on what to do or look for after a head injury has first been suffered — please read it NOW, not when you need it. Remember how quickly Natasha Richardson died from a ski fall? Yeah. Know your shit.