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Why do we suffer for our fun?

Patia in her trailer

We had taken the right fork (or was it left?) in the rutted sandy trail. It was raining hard again and all of my clothes were soaked. A few minutes earlier, unable to get enough momentum in the wet sand, I had been forced to get off my bike and push it up a hill with my daughter, Patia, in tow. It’s hard enough pulling a bike and child in her trailer up a hill, but in these conditions it took almost all of my strength. After the fork I tried to navigate safely through deep tire ruts along a wide curve, but I felt the trailer tip precariously onto one wheel before righting itself again. “Whoa!” Mary-Margaret, who was cycling behind us, confirmed what I had just felt. Close call. Nothing to do but carry on. We eventually came to a sign with a map of the conservation area as we crossed a narrow rural road. I stopped and tried to cross reference this map with my Water Front Trail map, but we’d clearly gone off course.

Sounds like fun, right? When I tell people about our overnight bike trip from Toronto to Darlington Provincial Park just west of Oshawa, they often tell me they can’t understand why anyone would want to do that. And they probably aren’t even imagining misadventures like the one I describe above. Bike touring can be difficult. You have to try to figure out how to pack a tent, sleeping bags, mats, cooking gear, clothing and various other items into four small bags. All of which adds considerably to your bike’s weight. Then there is the matter of pulling Patia’s trailer – not to mention making sure she is happy and occupied during the long day of pedaling. Oh, and did I mention this was our first real bike tour? This was our test run for a weeklong trip later this summer.

But at the end of the day, with our tent set up and a fire crackling in front of us, we both agreed that we felt good about the day. “It’s a lot like a canoe trip,” said MM. “You do a really long, nasty portage with a cloud of black flies around your face in the afternoon heat, but that doesn’t stop you from doing it again.”

Our campsite

But why? I wondered. My thoughts were interupted by the sound of the electric water pump in the trailer across the road from us. Why not travel in comfort? I looked away from the fire to our campsite: the two bikes, the tent, the soggy clothes hanging to dry and the view of the cloudy sky over the lake through a break in the trees. Here we were 80 km or so from our doorstep and we’d done it under our own power. The challenges we’d faced to get here were just the point. Those of us lucky enough to have well paying jobs and a comfortable place to eat and sleep tend to surround ourselves with so much “comfort” that we lose a vital link to the world around us, even to ourselves. I’m hardly the first person to note this: we learn a lot about ourselves when we strip away these comforts, and expose ourselves to the elements. We learn what’s really necessary, we connect to our environment and we gain a sense of self-reliance that’s hard to come by in a world of excess. And hopefully we come back to our everday world with our priorities realigned.

When people talk about the Northeast Blackout in 2003, it is often with a sense of nostalgia. When electricity, that one layer of comfort, was unavailable for several days, people stepped outside of their cocoons and chatted with their neighbours, had impromptu parties, looked up at the starry night sky together. People are nostalgic for that sense of connection we all enjoyed.

It was getting dark as we dried my socks next to the fire. The day had been difficult. We wouldn’t be able to fully dry our clothes until we got back home the next evening. But it had been a successful day of touring. We had met interesting folks and seen things that you would never see from the comfort of your car. Later, I walked over to the edge of the cliff overlooking the lake and listened to the water gently lapping against the rocky shore. What would tomorrow’s ride home bring?