What I know for sure

Can we share an Oprah moment?

I ask because a hefty issue of O Magazine kept me company on a recent bike trip in September and one of its topics kept bouncing around in my head.

Someone once asked Oprah, “What do you know for sure?” Oprah thought the question was such a good one, she made it a regular feature.

Now that I’m back from my tour of the Pacific Northwest’s islands by folding bike, bus, ferry, train and automobile; I can tell you there are a few things I know for sure.

Bicycles are precious

Elsewhere in the world, you can toss a bicycle into a bus, train or ox cart without much fuss or cost. But here in North America, Greyhound considers a bike so precious that they require it be boxed, labelled and charged passage. While my own fare added up to about $30 at the ticket counter my bagged, folded bicycle commanded $33.

The whole idea of travelling with a folder was to avoid this backwards-thinking ridiculousness. I was choked and told my driver so. “You shouldn’ta told them it was a bicycle,” he countered.

Pedaling is meditation

Cortes­–like the other Gulf Islands in British Columbia–is very hilly. It is also home to a spiritual wellness center called Hollyhock. I suggest that–rather than chant mantras or punch cushions–its visitors spend a couple of days contemplatively pedaling Cortes’s steep inclines in the granny gear of a 20″ wheel bike. It’s easy: focus on the pavement at your front wheel, empty your mind, and and don’t forget to breathe.

Prepare for spontaneity

VIA Rail runs a historic rail journey up and down Vancouver Island. The Victoria-to-Courtenay train service is run by the Government of Canada but isn’t well-publicized and–despite the scenic region’s growing popularity as a cycling destination–doesn’t allow bicycles.

Burned by my Greyhound experience, I bought a ticket online without mentioning the folding bike. On departure day I took a stand on the platform with my bicycle bagged in a clear VIA Rail bicycle bag. Four panniers and a drybag of camping gear leaned against it for support.

I waited for the other passengers to load, then passed the conductor my folded Dahon. He carefully placed it at the front of the rail car, positioned the bags around it, and actually thanked me for preparing my bike so thoroughly.

Cycling slows you down

The Pacific Northwest has a powerful cycling voice in the Cascade Bicycle Club and this became apparent when I stood in line to board the Black Ball ferry from Victoria, BC to Port Angeles, WA. Suddenly my lonesome folding bike was joined by a tie-dye tandem, a family of BMXs, and a couple of recumbents.

I overhead the two recumbent guys tell the tandem couple that their goal was to cycle to the Mexican border.

“You guys are lightweights,” I joked as I surveyed their pannier-free bikes and shifted the weight of my own laden Dahon.

“Yeah,” they joked back, “We’re packing credit cards. We want to make it to San Diego in twenty days and we don’t want anything to slow us down.”
“You mean, like, scenery?” I asked.

What I know for sure is that I am not myself unless I can explore. The most authentic, efficient and balanced way to do that is with a bicycle. Cycling lets me move, meditate and mingle at the same time. And it’s fun as hell.
I wonder if Oprah has given it a try?

Published in the November/December 2010 issue of Momentum: the magazine for self-propelled people.

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