May 12

The samsara of headwinds and the awesomeness of the Dalai Lama

Pedaling along the Ottawa River bike path into an icy headwind did not dampen my enthusiasm to go and see the Dalai Lama at the Civic Centre last week.

The way I looked at it, perhaps the cranium freeze would silence the cacophony of thoughts that plague me and allow the message of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama pour straight into my brain matter.

This promotional video encapsulates the Dalai Lama’s vision for one human family united by compassion and understanding. Honestly, someone should sell an album of his laughter (Yeah, I know I’m late with this post. Bite me. Ahem. I mean, oh well):

I was to meet up with my friends Rebecca, Jeff and Michelle when I got there. I didn’t plan on having to wade through the 7,000 attendees. It wasn’t hard to identify them though. Jeff was wearing a two-foot-high Cat-in-the-Hat number, Michelle took a page out of Santa’s fashion book as far as headwear was concerned, and Beck was in some sort of fez. Ahhh, my friends. The Weirdos (well, some of them, anyway). No judgment.

Before the MC was announced, we were told about the Tibetan resettlement project, in which Canada has agreed to re-settle 1,000 Tibetans from their impoverished village in India, where families have lived in exile for generations. When he thanked Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, I was sitting there thinking, “Wow. I can’t believe I’m at this event and applauding Steven Harper’s conservative government.”

But really, why not take two or three or five thousand Tibetans? Watch this video tribute to the Tibetan people that was created by the Montreal band, Sunshine and Good People. After watching this, everyone is going to want Tibetans in their towns:

The big surprise was Richard Gere. From my seat, all I could see was a white guy with white hair.  Gere said something about cherry trees, made a joke about Canadian orderliness, cued the photographers and introduced the main event.

When the His Holiness put on his burgundy golf visor, I wanted to rush over and hug him, but I restrained myself. My sporadic, seven-year practice of two-minute meditation, 1-4 times a week has equipped me with iron self control.

The Dalai Lama said that he’s grateful to Canada for extending to him, a stateless Tibetan, honorary Canadian citizenship.

“Unlike you,” he said. “I don’t have to pay taxes, so when I come here, I can just enjoy myself.”

Less than a minute in and he had us in stitches.

My favourite part was the question and answer session. There must have been a call for questions before the event and the best ones were selected.

I didn’t take notes, so I’ll attempt to summarize a few of my favourites. The words below are entirely my own because I can’t recall verbatim quotes:

1. These events attract people who already believe your message. How do we attract the people who are not interested or not listening?

We have to respect other people’s thoughts and beliefs. Just wait it out. If people are not listening, perhaps they will pay attention when they find themselves in tough times when mindfulness and compassion become quite helpful.

2. How do I raise my infant son to be a kind, ethical person without following a specific religion?

Love your child. We are all born of mothers and have a mother’s love. This is what unites us as humans. But some of you are thinking that this 76-year-old monk should get married and have a child, so he knows what he’s talking about.

3. What would you tell people who have advocated for freedom for Tibet for years and are feeling discouraged?

On one hand, you have truth and compassion. On the other, you have hate and violence. Truth and compassion always win. As China becomes more open, a meaningful autonomy for Tibet becomes inevitable.

I snorted when the Dalai Lama mentioned that the years he lived under Chinese rule in Tibet gave him an opportunity to study hypocrisy. It was snarkless snark artfully delivered.

Afterwards, I perused stalls of Tibetan crafts. If one could buy her way to bodhicitta (awakened heart), I was well on my way. I hopped on my bike for the ride home and made the mildly-annoying discovery that the wind shifted 180 degrees. I pedaled back into the headwind, eased into a nice cadence and blew a flat tire.

For fuck sakes…um…I mean…OM

For more information about the Tibet Resettlement Project, check out Project Tibet Society. And the least you can do is like them on Facebook.

The Dalai Lama’s message that humanity can be united by the secular ethics of compassion and understanding is one I can really get behind. His point was “religion is nice, but it’s not universal,” but kindness can be. The promotional video encapsulates the Dalai Lama’s message beautifully. Honestly, someone should sell an album of his laughter. I’d buy it.

Mar 12

Driving is a privilege, folks

One quote my father was fond of tossing my way when I was filled with ire was this one from Winston Churchill: “A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.”

I try to keep that in mind when I’m consumed by annoyance about slights real or imagined or stupid everyday bullshit.

That being said…holy shit are roadways ever populated by dipshits.

Driving is a privilege, not a right, people. The latest casualty is a young mother in a small country town outside Ottawa, I’m thinking, sidewalks are nice, sure. But how to you protect people from a drunken idiot driving 160 km/h on a small country road? You can’t.

We all make mistakes behind the wheel and we should feel bad about them. We’re piloting death machines everywhere and every day. Is a giant goiter preventing you from doing a shoulder-check before that lane change, buddy? Come on! Really, will you die if you let that guy into your lane before his ends? There are these things called brakes and every car comes equipped with them.

I don’t want to die in a crash, but I feel that being responsible for someone’s death is far worse than being killed myself. At least, that’s the case for people who have a conscience.

Drive safe. Let’s treat each other as fellow human beings out there. And for fuck’s sake, don’t drink and drive.

The scintilla project

I’m participating in a fortnight of storytelling.

Today’s prompts were:

  • Talk about breaking someone else’s heart, or having your own heart broken.
  • Pet peeves. We’ve all got ‘em. What are yours? Write about a time when you experienced one so vividly that we all join your army of defiance.

Dec 10

reverb10-10: I decided to go to Spain

And I found my mojo on a Mallorcan mountain ride:

Grinding happily (at this point) up my first mountain switch-back ride in Mallorca.

And almost lost it when I hit the wall on the way back from Cap de Formentor.

And I found these boots:

Every girl should have a decent pair of boots.

And I found these friends:

The group.

And I really enjoyed this kind of portaging:

Our fearless leader Lori leads us across the beach to the road beyond.

And I saw beauty everywhere:

I forgot the name of this Mallorcan village, but will let you know when I remember.

I’m participating in a 31-day blogging challenge called #reverb10. Each post is a response to a writing prompt from a different author. The goal of the exercise is to reflect on 2010 and set goals for 2011. My personal challenge is to respond to each prompt in an hour or less. So far, I’ve blown my deadline each time. But tomorrow is another day.

Today’s prompt was from Susannah Conway:

Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

Jun 10

A big-hearted Daddy

Oli teaches the girls how to fish for smelts (That's a Northern Ontario joke, BTW).

When I met my husband in university, he was sure of two things—he wanted to be a teacher and he wanted to be a father.

And he is.

He is devoted to kids—his and other people’s.

Oli with the little one, the summer he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy.

He adores his girls and it’s mutual. He’s their fierce protector, passionate advocate and a hugely nurturing presence in their lives.

Oli is the type of guy who, if he sees a cyclist waiting dejectedly at a bus stop, will stop and either fix their flat for them or drop them off where they need to go.

We always said he was a big-hearted guy.  The problem is that he’s big-hearted, both figuratively and literally.

Five years ago, a flu-like virus attacked his heart, causing it to weaken and permanently swell, a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. The damage has resulted in heart failure, a condition that simply means that his heart can’t keep up with the metabolic needs of his body.

At the time, our daughters were two and four years old.

“Most nights before going to bed, I used to sneak into the girls room, kiss and hug them good night and hope with all of my heart that I would be here in the morning to see them again,” Oli says.  “I whispered ‘Daddy loves you so much’ with the hope that if I didn’t make it, they would remember my last words.”

When he was too ill to take them to the park, he’d read to them and they’d drape themselves all over him. He was a tree to their inner chimpanzee.

Oli and Daughter #1 enjoying a break on the side of the ski trail in February.

Thankfully, his condition has improved and he’s stabilized at a good level. In fact, I think he’s an Olympian among heart patients—biking to work a couple of days a week, running with his track team and getting the occasional black eye playing soccer with his high-school boys’ phys-ed class. But it’s still a far cry from the sub-three hour marathoner and epic cross-country skier I married. Those days are over.

Now our daughters are older and their pale, grey daddy is more in the pink. He still has to be careful though. Humid days wipe him out and when he gets a cold he looks so terrible, I want to follow him around with a stretcher.

Medication helps dilate his blood vessels, so his heart doesn’t have to work as hard at its job. But if his condition significantly worsens, there aren’t a whole lot of options before the last resort—heart transplantation.

I try not to think too much about that and try to follow his lead and live each day with grace. I’m deeply grateful to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute for their care over the last five years.

Because the heart institute has given us so much, we want to give back. We’ll be participating in the Medtronic Bike for Beats in Ottawa/Gatineau Park on Sept.26, 2010 to raise money for  the institute. Please donate and support my quest to raise $500.

I’ll be riding in the 50-km event with Oli, nagging him all the while to slow down.

May 10

I don’t wanna be roadkill

Cycling safety is a two-way street, I kept thinking over and over Wednesday night as I pedaled along with a funeral cortege of hundreds of cyclists on the streets of Hull, in the annual Tour du Silence.

I wore a black armband and thought of the two promising athletes that I knew who were killed years ago on training rides.

Red armbands commemorate the injured. Beside me, sporting his red swath of cloth was my husband. He was hit by an SUV two years ago and managed to hobble away, bent bike and all.  He was one lucky cyclist.

Cyclists gathered for speeches before the ride.

But there are many who are not. The recent crash in Rougement, Quebec that killed three triathletes was very sobering. Then there were the riders injured on March Road last year and most recently, a teenager on a bike, who was killed by a motorcycle on Sunday.

Whenever cycling safety comes up, it seems to bring out the worst in both sides of the debate. Is there really any such thing as a road that’s safe for people?

For everyone one who knows a cyclist who was killed on the road, I bet there are many more who know drivers and passengers who’ve died in car crashes.

As I looked around me Wednesday, I noted that the vast majority of people I was riding with are also drivers. We’re taxpayers. We have a right to the road too. But with rights come responsibilities, just as with driving motor vehicles there are responsibilities. And responsibilities on drivers can be heavy indeed.

As a driver, I can tell you I’ve had moments of inattention. I’m just grateful that no one was hurt or injured in those moments. And all it takes is a moment to ruin people’s lives and your own forever. One life-changing moment and the death or severe injuries of others are on your conscience whether you were at fault or not.

As a cyclist, I’ve also have moments of inattention. One recently led to a speed misjudgment on a corner and a nasty case of road rash. I’m lucky it didn’t happen in front of oncoming traffic.

Cyclists observe an angry motorist going by. I hate to generalize, but in my experience pickup truck drivers seem to like cyclists least of all.

As a driver, you need to be prepared to make split-second decisions. As a cyclist, you must follow the traffic rules and ride in a predictable, courteous way.

Most drivers are very good to me and I return the favour whether I’m in my car or on my bike. But there are those who aren’t so responsible on two and four wheels.

I’ve seen cyclists blow red lights, eschew lights while riding at night and ride the wrong way down streets.

While on my bike, I’ve been run off the road by a dump truck driver who was angry that I road my mountain bike on private trails near his quarry. Mine was an honest mistake. I saw no signage; his was a deliberate and dangerous attempt on my life.

I’ve had beer bottles chucked at my head and profanities screeched in my face by passing motorists.

In a crash involving a bike and a car, is there really any question of who will emerge the victor? Must there be winners and losers in this?

Let’s all be safe and kind to each other out there. After all, we all play on the same team. You know. The human one.

Apr 10

Give bad feelings the boot

Retail therapy is a fine complement to dynamic cycle-therapy, I’ve found.

Before my Mallorcan adventure, I was contemplating intense psychotherapy and some pharmacological helpers to combat anxiety brought on by grief and years of unrelenting stress.

But now I’m cured! I figure with all the money I saved in psychiatrist fees, I could do this trip annually until 2050, but my husband doesn’t agree.

Let’s see how long the good feelings last. Souvenirs can be a great spirit booster. So here’s a little tour of my keepsakes.


Mallorca: the olives, the bread, the aioli, the footwear! Oh yeah, the cycling and bike stores are pretty awesome too.


These babies are suede and high. I’m close to six-feet tall in these suckers.

Of course, I’ll never be taller than my gorgeous 6’2″ sister, who wears heels to boot. (I think these boots are nicer than hers, but don’t tell her. Shhhhhh).

Next are the whore shoes:

Look how well I balance on one foot. I’m doing tree pose in this photo.
The fashionistas in the office assure me they’re not whorish at all. Wear them with jeans, I’ve been told.

Casual sandals from the Camper outlet:

Try not to look too closely at the veins. These feet look like they belong to a transvestite weightlifter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

These are my comfortable shoes, but I won’t wear them on my Home Depot shopping trips with my friend Susan. Staff there always mistake us for a couple and I’m the man. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either.

Cycling wear

Next up is my cycling fashion series. My only concern is that these up the flashy factor, which might raise people’s expectations in the speed department. Oh well, I’m stylish, but slow. Sue me.

This is my favourite, favourite cycling acquisition:

Good thing this isn’t a scratch-and-sniff picture. You’d fall over. Maggie doesn’t mind though.

It has a nice fleecy inside and I’m utterly charmed by the pinkness of it. Great for chilly days. I’ve worn this five days in a row on commutes. Oli held his nose while he took this picture.

Flashy jacket:

The light, bright Ca’n Nadal jacket. This jacket is how I recognize fellow Mallorcan tripsters on cycling rides in the Gatineau Park.

I think everyone who does this trip buys one of these. It’s wind resistant and it folds up teenie weenie. Perfect for your jersey pocket and you still have room to stuff in your portable IV kit and pint of EPO-infused blood for those really long rides.

Trip jersey:

Lori’s arm warmers are a perfect match for this gorgeous jersey. She really should just hand ‘em over.

These jerseys were given to all trip participants. I love the design and the fit. This is the best fitting jersey I’ve ever worn. But that could be because I buy cheap-ass jerseys as a rule and not expensive nice ones like this.

Trip fleece:

The fact that the fleece matches Jen’s and my eyes is an added bonus. Photo by William Fu.

Great for post-ride hanging around or dress-down days at the office. I love how this fleece is fitted. Again, this jacket was given to trip participants. Love it.

Whoever said money can’t buy happiness was wrong. WRONG.

Apr 10

Shoulda got on that bus

Me (in pink) while I was still smiling and heading for Cap de Formentor. That’s Tracy behind me playing charades with the photographer. Photo by William Fu.
In a state of utter depletion on a thin ribbon of highway between Alcudia and Cala D’Or, Mallorca I learned a lot about restraint, humility, privilege and gratitude.

But it’s easier to be philosophical in hindsight. At the time, I wanted to get off my bike and throw it at the pace leader, but I didn’t for a number of reasons:

1. I really like his wife and very much wanted to remain friends with her.

2. The last functioning rational neurons in my brain recognized that this impulse was ridiculous and would cause me a lot of problems later. See #1.

3. He was too far in front to hit.

We were about 100 km into a 140-km ride. We had ridden a 60 km mountain stretch from Alcudia to Cap de Formentor to a soaring lighthouse overlooking the northernmost point of Mallorca.

I made huge progress. The downhills, which had scared the bejeezus out of me days earlier, were exhilarating, even with their paucity of guard rails and sniper winds that threatened to blow me off course. The uphills were protracted and grinding, but I had granny to help me out.

Our bus was waiting for us at the municipal sports centre where bikes would be loaded and riders who wanted a lift could be conveyed in comfort back to the hotel.

I had thought I’d take the bus, but after hearing that so many people would be riding the mostly-flat, wind-assisted 80 km back at an “easy pace”, I thought what the hell?

Hell indeed. In the first 20 km, I knew I was in trouble, I downed a sports gel (and I hate those), some dried fruit and glugged water.

“Ease up!” I yelled. The pace slowed for two minutes and then resumed. All I kept thinking was, shoulda got on that bus, shoulda got on that bus…

I got quieter and quieter. Brad, one of the riders in our group, knew I was getting into trouble.

“So, what was your favourite subject in high school,” he asked?

“History,” I said and we spoke of our areas of interest. For me, The Great War. For him, World War II and Rommel’s North African battlefront to be precise.

I knew he was trying to keep me from lapsing into bitter silence. As I faltered more, he started pushing me uphill.

On a gradual uphill, I dropped off the group like a rock, crying quietly behind my sunglasses. I couldn’t even pretend to hold on anymore.

Then, Lori swooped in and offered to lead me back at a slower pace. I didn’t want to stop for coffee or beer or anything for fear I wouldn’t get back on my bike. As we cleaved off the group, we were joined by Jen who felt it would be easier for me to draft off the two of them.

And I made it. My nursing team: Lori, Nadia, Jen and Brad, kept me at a pizza joint near the hotel and jammed Coca Cola and water into me, refusing to let me crawl home and sob in the corner.

In my hotel room, my friend Susan served me hot, sweet milky tea and brought me food, while I huddled, shivering under the blankets.

It was difficult and embarrassing, hitting the wall like that, but it was a privilege to suffer because I overdid it on a bike trip. I have two friends facing cancer and a husband with serious heart issues. I know that now, but at the time my thoughts were pretty infantile.

And I’m grateful to the people who helped me out and to the other cyclists who later shared their tales of hitting the wall or “bonking” on long rides.

And the pace leader? Well, he’s my friend, too. The way I look at it is that it’s flattering to have him think I could go that fast. But my aerobic base kind of sucks and I probably should have gotten on that bus.

But I’m glad I didn’t because now I can say that I’ve ridden 140 km in one day.

Apr 10

Random thoughts on cycling in Mallorca

Jennifer (left) and I relishing a downhill during our mountain ride from Calvia to Galilea in Mallorca, Spain. Photo by William Fu.

Can’t find ‘em? Grind ‘em
This was the advice I heard on Day 1 of the trip to Mallorca when a fellow rider was clunking through a gear switch. I rarely had this trouble, but the idea is to keep peddling and fiddling with the levers until the chain lands where it’s supposed to. Don’t hit the brakes on a group ride or you could be sporting someone else’s front wheel where the sun don’t shine. Painful and not very fashionable.

Quality time with granny
Riding in the mountains is where I spent this quality time. Faced with switchback climbs 5-7 km long, I put my bike in the easiest of gears (A.K.A the granny gear) and slowly and anaerobically, ground my way to the top.

Shammy time versus growing mushrooms
Shammy time refers to training time on the bike. The shammy, of course, refers to the padding in bike shorts. Shammy time is not to be confused with “growing mushrooms”. The latter saying refers to the predilection for sitting around in one’s cycling wear, post-ride and drinking. I’m not confessing to anything, but they called me Portobello. I’m just sayin’.

Tending my private garden
I like the garden imagery over the mushroom one, so this is my preferred alternative saying to growing mushrooms.

Sharks and dolphins
Sharks were the fast riders on the trip. These riders are the type who do repeat hills on 5km mountain climbs and can, amazingly enough, drink until 2 a.m. or later and get up and do it all over again. Freaks (I mean that in the nicest possible way). Some sharks can easily swim among the dolphins and laugh, talk and take long unshark-like coffee breaks during rides. These riders may be sharks, but they have the heart of a dolphin.

Dolphins get the job done, but more slowly and with greater appreciation for the landscape. Conversation abounds during dolphin rides and dolphins have been known to stop and shop, carrying their loot back on their bikes to the hotel. I’m a dolphin.

How do you spell your last name?
If you’re the photographer who took the picture above, you have the pleasure of telling everyone, “Eff you”. William Fu grew up in China and came to Canada years ago. When he was asked this question, he responded honestly and his questioner responded with “Eff you too.” Great story.

Salad is for sissies
I didn’t eat much salad on this trip. I always reached for the more calorie-dense options. When I’m going to be climbing my heart out, it’s bacon and egg sandwiches and chocolate croissants. You can take your muesli and your celery and shove it.

I supplemented all the cycling with running sprints through airports on the journey to and from Mallorca. The consensus among the riders was that Frankfurt was the longest run. We all booked our flights separately, but we all had the mad dash through Frankfurt in common. It must have been a couple of kilometres at least.

The return trip for me also involved running through the Geneva airport and Dulles in Washington. My poor fellow travellers. I lost my deodorant the day of my return and I arrived for my flights in the nick of time, sweating and stinking of aoli from our last feast. I made it, but my luggage didn’t. Luckily, I packed my sexy new boots in my carry-on. I’d include a picture of the boots, but my camera is currently in Belgium. Long story.