Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Purpose of a 5-Day Bike Slog

Years ago, during a hot summer’s day hike to Kelly’s Mountain, Bob Nagel’s young great-niece Brooke posed an unforgettable question we have referenced many times since: Just what is the purpose of this hike? Brooke and her question were much in mind this past week as we rode the bicycles on a five-day odyssey through southeastern New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. It was our first multi-day ride in six years.

As much as possible we rode bike trails and back roads. We pedaled bits of the Trans-Canada Trail and pieces of PEI’s Confederation Trail. We braked for birds, wildflowers and war memorials and paused to photograph vivid tableaux wherever inspiration struck. Mostly, the weather was blithe, if occasionally a tad hot.

Our start point was the summer shangri-la of friends Garth and Carole at Amherst Shore, just 12 km on the Nova Scotia side of the NS-NB border. We typically rode about 65 km each day and managed to find comfortable and convivial B&Bs to rest weary old bones. But by the end of Day 2, as we rode into Charlottetown I was hard-pressed to imagine a positive answer to Brooke’s iconic question. I went to bed fighting depletion and fierce leg cramps. Was I just a broken-down hulk? 

Fortuitously, the third day dawned brighter: I rebounded and managed to avoid outright disgrace. By the fourth day, riding 73 km from near Caribou to Wallace in Nova Scotia, I felt transformed, Charlottetown a faded memory.

At Melville in Pictou County New Scotland delivered the promise inherent in its honest name. Back in 2007, with pals Mary and Mike we rode 28 days in the highlands and islands of Old Scotland. Twenty-four of those days featured rain. My fellow riders were good soldiers. I spazzed. It didn’t help: the rain persevered. Back then I railed against the land of my forebears. Now, at Melville we rode into the heaviest rain we ever encountered on bikes, Scotland included. I might well have spazzed again. Instead, wonder of wonders, I managed to change my mind.

In the first minute we were sodden. I decided not to gripe. After all, we couldn’t get wetter. Maybe the getting-of-wisdom is possible even for a halfwitted heatbag such as myself. It was fine. Indeed I felt retroactive remorse for the tedium inflicted on my pals seven years ago. Rain notwithstanding Day 4 turned out to be the best one of the adventure. We both felt on top of the world.

I remembered the answer to Brooke’s question. The purpose? Achieving the feeling of well-being and vitality that comes from fitness. Now of course the ride is over and we are reminded as we were in earlier long rides that the only way to retain the high is to keep on riding. Sixty-five kilometres a day is not in the cards but for a while at least we are motivated to ride often and long enough that we don’t forget the answer to Brooke’s pregnant question.

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