A day in the life of a mad cyclist

by Gareth Brandt

Yesterday was the absolute worst cycling commute to work I have had in six and a half years of living in British Columbia! I have biked in various extreme conditions: torrential downpours, high winds, falling snow and icy streets but remind me never to set out when it is plus two with a mixture of snow and rain coming down on a layer of snow and rain already there.

In the morning as I looked outside into the wet and dreary darkness of the pre-dawn and began to whine about the conditions my wife actually had the audacity to laugh at me for my cowardice. And so I consoled myself as I often do, “I guess it’s not that bad once I get out there; people in Winnipeg bike in a lot worse conditions.” So I set out with determination.

After about a kilometer of tenacious pedaling a colleague waved cheerfully as he passed me in his car. I gritted my teeth wishing I had asked for a ride. And then a few kilometers further as I turned a corner I wiped out because of the greasy ice that was forming underneath the slush. I picked myself up off the slimy pavement with luckily only my arm and my pride in pain.

From then on I was on busier streets and each car that passed me mercilessly spewed forth a rich concoction of sand, salt and slush in my direction. My Gortex suit is like armor but eventually even it surrendered to the barrage of slush that began oozing up and down my left side. My gears began to be clogged by the freezing slush so that my chain constantly slipped, turning my usual rhythmic pedaling into a vicious staccato. I was not happy. And to top it all off, the man at the bus stop who usually ignores me when I greet him upon passing, sneered visibly at my misery as I limped by.

In the past I have cycled in great self-righteousness.

  • I am reducing green-house gasses and saving the planet and halting the ominous onslaught of global warming. In fact if all of us were biking we wouldn’t be having all this strange weather in the first place!
  • I am stopping the war in Iraq because I am reducing our dependence on foreign oil imports.
  • I am keeping my body in good health by getting an hour of cardiovascular exercise every day.
  • I am saving ten dollars a day on fuel and the cost of another car and can instead spend that money on more worthy things like going on a family vacation or feeding the hungry.
  • I am slowing down my life by becoming more in tune with my surroundings and my body and spirit. And on and on I could pontificate about the benefits of cycling to work…

All this did not matter yesterday morning as I cursed my own stupidity and stubbornness, my wife for laughing, my colleague for waving, each passing slush-spewing motorist, my bike for freezing up, the meteorologist who forecasted this mess and God who is ultimately to blame for everything.

The rain and snow turned to rain only by day’s end so I decided I would brave the commute home rather than bedding down in my office as I had initially surmised. After hearing about my ordeal, another colleague did feel great sympathy and offered me a ride home, but I refused just to prove to myself that it was an isolated experience. I could not let the elements defeat my high principles. If it was not for the world, I had to do it for myself at least!

The cycle home was wet but routine. My heart felt light after the heaviness of the morning. As I approached the intersection where I had wiped out in the morning I decided to symbolically spit on the very spot in victorious defiance of the elements.

Just as I was about to launch a mighty “arch de triumph” toward the cursed street a car rolled through the intersection oblivious to my presence in the midst of my sacred moment. Were it not for my blood-curdling yell and the straight arm tactic honed in the cow pasture football games of western Manitoba, that car would have made me the latest item on the menu of some “Road-kill Café.” When the poor woman driving the car came to from the shock of seeing my hand and open mouth so close to her windshield, she finally slammed on the brakes to avoid me by mere inches.
by Gareth Brandt

Oh the joys of cycling to work! This morning, with the previous day now a muddled memory, as I peered through the cracks of the Venetian louvers I was soothed by the predictable drizzle of a more typical west coast winter morning.

Ahhh! The delectable beauty of this damp grayness unmatched by any clear prairie sunrise! I set out with new hope for a routine ride to work and I was not disappointed. Although climate change and the war in Iraq continue, at least my life of cycling to work was as it should be. The man at the bus stop did not even acknowledge my existence!

Gareth Brandt is a freelance writer and college instructor living in Abbotsford, British Columbia. This article first appeared as a submission to Geez magazine’s Demotorize Your Soul Campaign.

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  1. Snow and rain at the same time?! You have a right to feel sorry for yourself! Winnipeg seems like it would be bad, but I much prefer the cold to what you just described.

    Seth Goetzke January 22nd, 2007 11:34pm

  2. Great article! I do the same here in Vancouver and I feel your pain. I’ve seen too many bad cycling days like that in the winter, hit too many car doors that fly open without warning, and had too many close calls with cars & trucks in traffic. Actually that’s being too polite – all those problems are with drivers. The cars are innocent.

    However the good days are really good, and the best are those when I ride past the stationary cars and their respective drivers who more often than not have no company other than the droning repetitive bad jokes of the local morning radio shows. There is no one for me to merge with, and as long as I’m in the city I get where I’m going just as fast as them.

    Dwight Organ February 26th, 2007 1:30am

  3. Fabulous article. I’m a year round cyclist in Chicago. These challenges are nothing new to cyclists, however it’s nice to hear others who go through a similar ordeal. For me, it’s the sense of adventure that keeps me cycling through the winter, and I appreciate that this adventure is brought out in the article. It’s also great to hear this sort of thing coming from the faith community.

    E. Wade April 12th, 2007 1:29am

  4. LOL. I DO live in Winnipeg and cycle all year round. There is nothing quite like my 5.5km trip to work at -40. I feel sorry for you because you do not get to experience the full measure of the grace of God through “real” winter.

    Dennis Maione April 20th, 2007 2:38am

  5. I think you mean “sleeting” when you say snow and rain is coming down. Also, you mean there was “slush” on the ground, not a layer of snow and rain (not that rain is called rain once it hits the ground).

    Yay for winnipeg!

    bob May 18th, 2007 5:00am

  6. Your experience reminds me of the many nightmarish commutes I had when I lived riding distance from work… once I ended up with an Alfred E. Neuman-esque ear after freezing it in a minus-20-degree wind for 15 minutes.

    I like Dwight’s comment about cars. If the NRA’s slogan is, ‘guns don’t kill people; people kill people’ then the CAA’s new tag should be ‘cars don’t kill the planet; people kill the planet’.


    Peterborough, ON

    Marcus Elia June 24th, 2007 5:00am

  7. I live in the Bay Area, and I can still complain. I am photophobic so everyday that’s bright and sunny, I arrive home with a migraine headache. But I plan on moving to Canada in a couple years and I am totally bringing my bike with me!!

    Rachel November 2nd, 2007 11:27pm

  8. I do live in Praga and cycle all year round. :)

    Anna April 9th, 2009 8:19pm

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