Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If you want it, here it is... come and get it!

Everyone just wants to be happy, right?  Too bad life doesn't come with a manual, a set of instructions to help you get there. People do all sorts of interesting things in search of happiness. We spent an evening at Playland and the Pacific National Exhibition earlier this week, and I was struck by the throw-away nature of it all. Sure it has a rickety, old-school wooden roller coaster, (and matching rickety old-school bands like Trooper) but everything else about this venue is fleeting by nature.

It's not just that the entire place is designed to part you with your money, that every single item inside those walls costs three times what it would on the outside.  You see people walking out of there with all sorts of things, from stuffies to useless plastic blow-up toys and even various household goods, but everything that leaves the gates is destined for the landfills sooner than later, and that really bugs me.  When did people buy in to that bullshit maxim that more is better?  When did disposable everything  become okay?

Even the fun at playland is fleeting and fleeing.  It's loaded with hidden inflation, just like everything outside the gates. Sure, the seat still costs four tickets, but the ride is only half as long as it used to be... 

Subliminal indoctrination - laugh while you can, little one.  You're tethered. You will soon be spinning around on the socio-economic merry-go-round, too, chained to the banks and your interest payments along with the rest of us.
That was Friday night.  The rest of the weekend was its polar opposite in essence, blessed be.  We joined the Vancouver Wheelmen twice!  The Wheelmen are wonderful.  They have a mission: to make people realise that newer isn't always better. OMG how cool is THAT?

Saturday was August's monthly vintage ride.  We took full advantage of the sunshine and cruised around the seawall, starting at the Angry Birds in Olympic Village.

It's always worth your while to see who's come out to play when the Wheelmen roll through town. 

The bikes are poetry in motion.

Best of all?  A Vancruiser ride is always a lot of fun. Life should be fun, don't you think?  It's a bit awkward as a cyclist sometimes, because everybody hates us.  Motorists don't want us on the roads because we slow their mad dash from the queue at one red light to the one at the next, and pedestrians are scared silly of us, even though it's motorists, not cyclists, who are killing them by the thousands. 

I don't understand how so very many people can be so incredibly short sighted, but it always makes me feel better to discover that I am not alone. Enter the Wheelmen. They ride bikes just like I do, and that means that we share a lot of common experiences, understandings, and expectations. For years, I sought a community of like-minded individuals, and finally here in Vancouver, I've found a few of them. I love it. I never feel like quite so much of an alien when people understand me in a deep and fundamental way.  

Found a few friends? Well, that's always cause to celebrate!

And Saturday itself was a day well worthy of a toast, wasn't it?  It was smiles, sunshine, and unicorns all around. Well, I didn't actually spot any unicorn, but you sure didn't have to look hard to find a few Bronies.  What's that? You don't know what a Brony is? Fair enough. It's a man who is a fan of My Little Pony. That's right. Bro's go for My Little Pony. Don't laugh. They might be dudes with pink hair, but at least they aren't chopping people's heads off on some mad, sad jihad. They understand that friendship is magic.

I always make fast friends with people who appreciate a little sweet bike porn the way I do.

The Wheelmen roll out the magic red carpet whenever we get together, and sometimes they hold quite an event.  But no matter how big it is, whether hundreds of people show up, or just a few friendly faces, they'll always let you know that you are welcome on the ride.

Mmm flying.  If I'd found Alladin's lamp, I would wish for the ability to fly, and the ability to travel through time...

Time is all we have, the one true wealth in this world.  Every moment is precious, so there is a great fortune in a life well spent. Time's universal, or so it seems from this Earthly perch; it's the one thing we share.  I wish I could roll through the ages to look for smiling, friendly faces all throughout hisory, but I've yet to find that lamp.  At least I can ride through town on a piece of living history, making new friends in the here and now. 

After all, what could be better than sharing a sunny summer's day on the beach with a whole bunch of good friends?

Making new friends through your old ones, that's what. That's what they mean when you hear people talk about a Schwinn Schwinn situation.

Keates said "Beauty is truth, truth beauty.  That's all ye know in life, and all ye need to know."  All I know is that there are an enormous number of gorgeous souls in this town, young and old, and I am unbelievably fortunate in having made the acquaintence of a fair few of them. 

Have you noticed? So many of today's youth are super switched-on?  They're quite a generation: conscious, pro-active, healthy, and aware.  

Young pepole today give me hope for humanity, though we are passing along a deeply flawed world as their inheritance. I roped those two girls there into our ride even though they were on rentals and not vintage bikes.  Why? Well, because I am a bit nosey, and a little forward, and I absolutely love it when young people understand the joys of a life of bike-centric mobility -  I hoped that the Wheelmen (and women!) would influence the girls a little. I was so fortunate to be exposed to long distance cyciling as a youth, so that despite having  my license at 14, and a car soon after that, I managed to avoid car-indoctrination. Most people get sucked in, though so that they come to bikes later in life, if ever. I love it when I see young people raised on it, and I especially enjoy watching young people come to a bike-cycling life through the process of loving discovery- that is, by discovering how much they love to live it, because it feels so good to be healthy and fit.

And that's it, isn't it?  Life is all about feeling good. The goal of all other goals is happiness.  If all we have is time, then it becomes imperative to make the most of it.  Every moment you are miserable is a moment of happiness, of Heaven on Earth, which you have missed.  People who spend their time looking for reasons to be offended will ineviaably find them, and then they are stuck feeling miserable. But emotions are so much more than that, aren't they? They are a bio-chemical reality of their very own, and a very direct form of communication, and yet when I was growing up, we were all taught to suppress them. You know it's true. Heaven forbid you should get emotional. When did emotions become synonomous with weakness, anyway?  Probably round about the same time people decided desposable everything was ok, that businesses had to be growing to be healthy, and that more was always better.  

Be careful what you wish for, supersized America! Vancouver is chock full of healthy, fit, enlightened individuals, a little bubble of beauty in the middle of a mad, mad world, and yet even here, rampant consumerism is a sickness sucking the soul out of our very source of vitality itself, planet Earth.  Even here, people cling to their cars as if their very lives depended upon them, when in fact, the opposite is true.

The very essence of a healthy lifestyle is founded upon mobility. Your body was built to move. The bicycle is just a wonderful miracle of imagination that lets you cheat. On a bicycle, you get to take a litte tiny bit of effort and translate it into a great big distance.  Vancouver has a fair few beaches, but the best ones are off the beaten path, away from the big parking lots, in places you actually have to work a little to get to. Third beach always has its fair shair of bikes.

I love it! I mean, come on. How often do you see as many bikes as there are people? It's pretty rare, even here...

But we're getting there!  I still can't believe that most people out there choose to get in a car all year long for a commute of less than five miles. Ideally, your body would like at least two hours of moderately strenuous activity a day, and a full day of activity, too. That is a far cry from how most of us live today, but why?

I love the simple things in life, like riding to my favourite beach, and spending the day with friends, old and new. Happiness is easy to find once you're on a bike.  Try it!  You might just like it.

Sunday was a whole 'nother kind of adventure, but you'll just have to come back for that.  :D

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We had joy, we had fun...

Dunno 'bout you, but my world seemed a little darker this week. August's summer sunshine was suddenly muted and dull, greyed somehow when we lost Robin Williams to that man-eating monster, suicide.

He was one of us, you know.  He was completely switched on.

(photo lifted off Keirin Berlin)
Robin said that cycling saved his life, and man oh man do I ever understand. He said that riding a bike is one of his medications, he called it a form of therapy, and when Jason Gay from the Wall Street Journal wanted to know why he loved riding so much, he replied "It's the closest you can get to flying."  

OMG, right?! Never mind all of the other benefits, like, oh... happiness. Literally. Serotonin. Dopamine.  Endorphins.  And don't forget the superficial things, like you know, your very own chance at sporting Superman's legs...

Even so, some people would argue that it's silly to mourn the loss of a celebrity you don't actually know. And fair enough. I had no reason to feel a personal sense of loss, and yet I definitely did. I actually cried, though even I am not entirely sure why. I don't know him at all, really. I think I saw him once when I lived on the Sunshine Coast almost twenty years ago, and even way back then, he was reputed to be exceptionally humble, generous and kind.  Maybe his death shouldn't affect me, but like Nelson Mandela, he was a true blue hero, and one of my favourite role models. And now my heart aches all over again with this year's all too familiar feeling of grief.

but change is the only constant, so this, too, shall pass...
I was feeling down and somewhat philosophical, and I noticed how easy it is to miss what's happening all around when you've got something sad or stressful on your mind. Vancouver's very own Eckhart Tolle says that the way to make the best of every situation is to be conscious and fully present in each and every moment. That, he says, is the Power of Now.  

I tried and tried to meditate, even as a youth, but there's a reason they call me babble on, and it's true inside and out.  Soon as I hop on my bike to start my heart pumping hard, though, everything changes. That voice inside fianlly quiets and I find myself fully present and completely engaged.  And smiling.  I used to think it was just me, the grinning from ear to ear every time I get on a bike bit, but extensive research has proven that it's pretty much universal.  Cycling = Happy.

It's true, too.  Hipsters find that Zen feeling on their trackbikes, racers always push past pain to that place of absolute quiet, and every bicycle commuter knows how much better it is to arrive on two wheels than any of the four or more wheeled petrochemically motivated alternatives. So no matter which bike I chose to ride this week, I tried to stay fully present and engaged, to notice the world all around, and to find that place of absolute inner quiet.  And here are a few of the things I noticed along the way:

Heading down Vine St to Kits Beach one evening, I heard music. It sounded like a crystal clear recording at first, and then I looked a little closer...

It was live. I love this town...

What else did I find?  Oh!  Down on Southwest Marine Drive you'll sometimes see the four-legged sort of rides.

And then I found a bike party!  I saw a group of lovely girls (and their lucky guy friend) headed off to party hard on two wheels... it doesn't get any better than that, really, does it?

No matter where you go in this town, you'll always find a beautiful view to capture your attention.

If you find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks, take a good look around, and you're sure to find safe crossing.

And better still,  if you keep your eyes open you might see West My Friend, a group of musicians here in BC who have chosen to do their latest Vancouver Island tour via bicycle.

There was a feature on the CBC this week called Mad Meds, about an artist named Marni Kotak, who has made an exhibition of herself as she withdraws from the pharmaceutical anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications doctors prescribed to her upon diagnosis of post-partum depression. Her interview with the CBC made mention of how doctors routinely prescribe medications to treat everything from stress to suicidal tendencies, but they never, ever give patients the tools to cure themselves.  And itn't THAT the truth? Why?! Why aren't people made aware of just how important diet, sleep and exercise actually are to a healthy mind and body?  Why don't doctors prescribe an hour and a half of sweat every day, instead of those damned stinking pills?

Sigh... sure, anti-depressants help some folks in some situations, but the very best thing anyone can do for thier mental health is to take good care of their physical well-being, and that comes down to movement. Function creates form for real. Your body was made to move, so much so that it can't possibly operate well without it. Stop moving, and you start decaying.

Robin knew it well.  Someone close to him figured that a big part of his final despair stemmed from a recent diagnosis of Parkinsons' disease and his fear that it would force him off of his bikes. I get it.  When I crashed this spring, one of the hardest adjustments I had to make was to give up my daily ride, because it is literally my happy place. Please. Join me in this two-wheeled revolution; together we really will create a better world.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beaching on about our water woes.

Water has been on my mind a lot lately, and not just because my favourite thing is to get really wet. 

It's not because I drink a lot, either. 

It's the stuff of life, water, and I am not the only one thinking about it this week. The price of almonds is skyrocketing because of the drought in California.  It is pretty hot and dry here, too, so what better time to tour Vancouver's lovely beaches?  It's pretty cool, cause on a bike you can check out each and every city beach easily enough in one afternoon.

We started on Third Beach in Stanley Park...

Want to get away from it all?  Third Beach is your best bet.

From Ohio to Manitoba, people are talking about toxins born of algae blooms, but on Third Beach everyone is pretty chillaxed.  It's the west coast way.  But even here in BC, where the waters are cool and relatively clear, we have had our own water quality scare.

The quietest of them all...
 This week a few BC residents woke to their very own "Do not drink, cook with, nor bathe in" water quality advisories hand in hand with the Mt Polley tailings breach.

 Environmental disaster seems a million miles away from Second Beach and its seaside pool...

Even so, BC health officials warned that pets be kept away from the areas affected by the tailings pond breach.  Residents reported seeing dead fish floating on the water.  Apparently they didn't heed the warnings. But never fear. Empire Mineral's president Brian Kynoch figures it is almost clean now, anyway.  There were 406 tons of arsenic and 177 tons of lead dumped in there last year alone, and that's just two offenders amongst a truly dirty dozen.  I want to believe him when he says it's clean now, but you have to wonder if he is watering down the truth. It's hard to believe all those toxins magically disappeared inside a year. Still. Brian says he would drink it. Maybe someone will serve him a glass of the stuff, complete with some that nasty, toxic sludge he can't possibly clean up, because then we'll know for sure.

People's food is grown on that land.  It's going to make the harmful levels of lead in US rice look appealing by comparison.

Sometimes I feel trapped, caged.  But then I have to wonder if it's the rest of the world which is confined, while I am on the outside looking in.

The jury is still out when it comes to Mt Polley's impact on the environment, but one thing we do know for sure and certain is that Alberta's tar sands' tailings ponds are leaching contaminants into the Athabasca River. And doesn't that completely belie the bill of goods those companies sold us on the safe and effective containment of the industrial wastes in their tailings ponds?

English Bay - that's UBC you see straight ahead,  where you'll find Wreck Beach if you get your barings straight.
Speaking of selling us a story,Teck used the  Columbia river as a free heavy metal waste disposal for decades, all the while spinning a similar tale about their activities.  Do you suppose their mighty leader is thirsty, too?  I wonder if he feels like drinking from the Columbia river. All told, industry's track record when it comes to telling the truth is beyond sketchy.  And dirty, dangerous water isn't confined to tailings ponds, either. 

Sunset Beach is for the birds. 
The water warnings are a result of unacceptably high levels of e-coli in the water.  Who poo'd?

The e-coli levels are blamed on the Canada geese, but the birds cry fowl!  There is a large marina just the other side of that bridge. It's Vancouver's very own "The dog did it."
Yup. It's as hot as it gets in these parts, yet you won't find a lot of swimmers out in this stretch of water...

E coli. If you do go in, a lifeguard won't be able to help you out. 

When it comes to our waterways it seems we can't help ourselves.  Harper completely gutted Canada's Navigable Waters Protection Act to make it easier to approve controversial and environmentally questionable pipelines across the country, and yet Canadians hardly objected.  We have come to a significant cross-roads here on planet Earth, but we continue madly along on our merry way, rushing full on toward a precipice with our eyes wide open. 

And that's where I see people trapped in a cage, in a construct that doesn't serve them. Mention the need to make a determined effort to switch to sustainable energy, and most people insist it can't be done.  Why is everyone convinced that the world as we know it will cease to exist if we do things differently, if we decide to leave those tarsands in the ground?  

Can't they see how clearly it jeopardises our future if we don't?  

Not my favourite type of hummer.
I thought for sure that the 2008 financial meltdown would be a game changer, a turning point, that the price of oil and the state of the economy would convince people to re-consider driving everywhere they choose to go.  I figured that perhaps we would look collectively at the world we've created, the crazy economics which drive it and where we're headed.  With the sky-high prices of oil, you'd think people would think twice about taking the hum-vee out for a day in the park, but no.

Instead of changing our habits and reducing demand, the global community has instead chosen to rush headlong into mass fracking in a misguided effort to extract more petrochemicals from a planet already strained to the breaking point by our carbon consumption.  Never mind the sheer volume of water fracking requires, never mind the literal fracturing of the mantle we live upon, and don't think for a minute about what happens to those highly toxic chemicals once they are injected into those fractured forms.  Fresh water aquifers?  Don't worry they will all be nearly drinking quality soon, too. 

Jericho Beach, home of the Vancouver Folk Festival. 
 After all, what could possibly go wrong with fracking?  Besides.  People like burning things. A good barbecue is nearly as old as humanity itself.  And I'm okay with that...

And I'd like a burger this big, please!
When I was in Alberta, someone near and dear to me was aghast that I brought our bikes out with us.  "You can't ride a bike out here!" she said.  "It's too dangerous."  It is dangerous because of the collective belief that when you are in a car you have more of a right to the road than anyone else.  


As we rode from Locarno Beach to Spanish banks, I was happy to live in a place where motorists at least respect that as a cyclist I have a right to be on the roads, even if they don't always like that I am there.  I don't like it that everyone figures they have a right to mortgage our collective future for a lifetime of easy trips to the supermarket, so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

Spanish Banks.  Low tide gets really low out there sometimes...

And I get low when I think of how far we have yet to go, before we've righted what's so terribly wrong with our world. It doesn't take a great deal of foresight to see that it won't be long before water is more precious than oil, and what will we do then? Well, we do have one thing going for us...

At least if we insist on burying our heads in the sand, we have plenty of it at our disposal.  And if you have one, you can even drive your hummer to get there.  Mankind appears determined to ebb its way into the history books. Yet it seems the tides are ever so slowly turning.  Fewer young people are getting drivers licenses, because they don't see the need.  I see that as a step in the right direction.