I know Spring has really, finally arrived in Toronto because during a bicycle ride a few days ago, I became one of several moving hills upon which countless millions of gnats died. Runners and other cyclists shrieked their shocked way through these clouds as though this doesn’t happen literally every year (we’ve killed off many species, but the Natty Gnats have lived to continue their reign of mild disgust). The trees were budding, which is heartening. We couldn’t ride this morning because it was raining but we did see a gorgeous female Northern Cardinal during our walk.
Yes, I know. I’m not discussing all the huge damn elephants sitting here with us: COVID-19 generally, the specific fact that my stepmom is a frontline worker in the LTC home doubling as the epicentre of the Nova Scotia chapter of the outbreak, the mass shooting in my home province. I can’t. I’m so tired. Yesterday, a coworker dropped off some things for me from our boss; he stood in the bike lane and I stood just inside my house and we chatted from a distance; he’s the first person I’ve seen who I actually know besides my husband in 7 weeks. I can’t think about what continued isolation from the people I care about will be like so…so let’s not, just for now.
Instead, let’s wobble and crash down bicycle accident (mine) memory lane for a bit.
Strictly speaking, my first such disaster was not a bicycle accident. Sometime in the early 80’s, my dad and I used to drive up to K Britain to visit his cousin, G. Cousin G. had a son, D., who was about my age. (I have fond memories of D., including once, when we were very young, convincing him to let me squeeze his finger as hard as I could with a pair of pliers (a fine toy for a demented 4-year-old); I convinced him to let me do this even after I’d confirmed his suspicion that this would hurt quite a lot.)
D. was given a dirt bike at some point, which he knew how to handle; it was one of those straightforward situations where you revved a handle one way to speed up and the other way to slow down. We had good times tearing around on that bike in the strawberry patches G. was farming, D. in control and me on the back like a miniature Daisy Duke sporting longer shorts and a dirtier face. One day, someone had the bright idea to let me drive. So we switched places and D. wrapped his overly trusting arms around my waist; I got ‘er going real fast, promptly freaked the hell out, and drove us screaming straight into a thorn bush from which our respective dads rescued us while laughing so fecking hard they could barely breathe; they may have been drunk.
I did eventually get on a bike again, but much later than my friends did and it took a lot of effort: first, to learn how to ride a bicycle at all and then to have the guts to actually do so. It is amazing to me that it was in Toronto, rather than the much less populated cities of Halifax and Kingston, that I became a comfortable and confident cyclist. Toronto is also where I’ve had all my legit bicycle accidents.
In the span of about two months, 13+ years ago, I had two bicycle accidents during which I revealed both to the world and myself that I possess secret superpowers. On a ride, ironically, to physio for a knee made sore by cycling, I got lost and ended up on a busy street named Bayview. I didn’t particularly want to ride up Bayview, but I knew how to get where I was going via Bayview so I went for it, keeping my eyes glued to the parked cars on the right watching for opening doors. I didn’t get doored; however, in broad daylight, a guy in a giant pickup truck failed to see me on his right in spite of my bright blue bike (long since stolen, though I know where it is and am happy to report that its current owner continues to ride it regularly) and bright blue cycling jacket. This is especially bonkers given that he saw the empty parking spot next to me…and hit me hard side-on trying to park in it.
I went flying through the air and my brain (bless you, old friend) told me, “Hit the ground running or die!” I started pumping my arms and legs mid-air like I was running the 100-m dash and by gawd, I hit the ground running. I was not hurt; my bike was not hurt; the guy’s passenger door was horribly dented. He got out to see if I was okay and kept touching my shoulder, saying, “You’re sure you’re alright??” Meanwhile, a woman on the sidewalk hadn’t stopped screaming about someone being hit by a car, though she never actually looked at me and I eventually requested she shut her pie-hole. I also finally yelled at the pickup driver, “Stop fucking touching me!” then got on my bike and continued on to physio where I promptly came out of shock and started shaking so hard I could barely stay in my chair. I had to ride home from this appointment and that helped keep me from getting too scared to ride later.
Pretty soon thereafter, I got flipped off this same bike when one of its tires got caught in a streetcar track near my house. Again, I went flying and again I landed on my feet. All the groceries in my front basket ended up on the road, some of it getting run over. Pedestrians assiduously avoided my eye while a homeless man laying on the opposite sidewalk yelled, first, “Are you okay????” and then, when I confirmed I was, roared repeatedly, “YOU BASTARDS YOU DIDN’T EVEN ASK IF SHE WAS OKAY!”
That bike is long gone, as mentioned. It’s been replaced by my beautiful Bianchi Milano, which is much easier to handle as it’s lighter and has more gears. I’d been riding it mostly hassle- and totally accident-free since I got it 13 years ago, until everything (literally) came crashing down last November.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the day before a massive snow storm; I was excited to be out because I didn’t know when the weather would cooperate again. My husband was away on business. I was about 2 km from home, on a major street, when I thought, “Why am I about to drive into this parked car?” My next thought was, after noting that my face was absolutely right on the pavement, “I need to get up or I’ll die.” I scrambled out of the lane where I’d face-planted and, noting there weren’t any cars behind me (phew!), heard a woman across the street ask if I was okay? I croaked out, “I don’t know” as I limped over to my bike.
Shock does funny things to the brain. I stood there clutching my left knee and my left boob because they hurt SO MUCH while she asked me questions first to determine if I had an obvious brain injury, then to see if there was anyone around who could help me. I was able to assess that her car was too small for me to put my bike in; I’d been fully planning to ask her to drive me and it home if possible; it didn’t occur to me that I could lock my bike up and get it later. She asked me if I knew what had happened and I didn’t; she suggested it might be all the recycling that had been dumped in the bike lane I’d been in; that seemed reasonable but I still really don’t know.
When she again asked if I knew anyone nearby who could help me, I insisted I didn’t and that I was fine to ride home; I was very firm about being able to do this, so she left. I took a minute to calm down; during this time, I noted that my most favourite glasses of all time were damaged and severely askew because of how I’d landed on my face; I started to feel the road burn around my left eye and the old-school shiner that would be out in all its glory by the next day. I then straddled my bike and prepared to ride home but couldn’t seem to make it go; I couldn’t understand why the peddles were just spinning; I tried and tried to get it going until finally a passerby said, “Uh, your chain is off…” (In fairness, it wasn’t just shock that had made me so clueless about the chain; my bike’s chain had never once before come off because it is in an internal hub.)
Luckily, I remembered around this moment that my husband’s best friend lives quite nearby so I called him; luckily again, he answered. I knew enough about the increasing pain in my knee and boob that I needed to go to emergency; he took me there and in a miracle of timing, I was in and out in 90 minutes! My knee: severe soft tissue damage (that still bothers me just a little, sometimes) but nothing torn or broken; broken ribs and the jury is out on whether or not my boob protected or caused the breakage; crazy goose egg on my left shoulder, right where the bicep tendon attaches to the bone but again, nothing torn or broken; best of all: no concussion, not even a headache. The emergency doctor was a cyclist and had had pretty much the same accident a couple months before, so was able to tell me both how I’d feel in the coming days and weeks, as well as how best to handle it. I think that one of my superpowers might be shockingly good luck, which is a pretty great power to have.
The next day’s promised, mid-November snow arrived and there were many storms thereafter. It was a long time before I could get out on my bike again (after it too spent some time in the hospital and then at home recovering). When I finally did get out for a ride, my darling husband came with me. I had a few frightened moments but that first ride was fine. My first long bike ride alone was last week and it was nothing less than fucking amazing.
In the meantime, I’ve also finally acquired a stationary bike for indoor workouts during inclement weather or a full shelter from home order. My husband calls the following a COVID miracle but it seems more like a scene in an absurdist play to me: Having ordered a stationary bike in mid-March, we later ordered a second stationary bike because the first one got lost on its way to our home. We received the second one, then a second version of the second one because of some kind of admin error. And then we received the original one, the accrual of 3 stationary bikes over 2 days making our house look a bit like a demented clown car in reverse.
In keeping with this strange embarrassment of home fitness equipment, my husband and I engaged in some photographic hi jinx for a work “project” of his. I laughed really, really hard while taking these photos and counted my many blessings in this truly fucked up situation, not the least of which are a really funny roommate, cats, various bikes and an internet connection…
Stay well, all 5-10 of you who read this.