How It Was We Took Up Cycling

I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable – Dwight Eisenhower

The weather outside is somewhere between bitter and miserable – hardly the sort of day to hop in the saddle and set out for a century or two. So pull up a chair, thrust the tin heater well into the red heart of the fire, and let your chilblains toast until they tingle. I will tell you the story of how it was that Mary and I took up cycling.

The year 2004 was supposed to be one of those “special” years – you know, one of those in which there is a confluence of “significant” events. As such we had planned a trip, a European Tour on which we would, for the first time in our lives, experience the Real Europe with carefree abandon. Sort of.

Our plan centred on France. After all, how can you have “done” Europe if you have not done France? We booked our tickets months in advance, using practically every air mile we had collected over two decades. We would land in gay Paris, rent an automobile, and motor off through the countryside, breaking bread, drinking wine, and putting up in quaint villages where restaurant meals are served on checkered tablecloths. Etc.

Planning was done in advance to a laborious level of detail. Every ruin, every parapet, every village was targeted with great care. It had all the makings of an “if this is Jeudi it must be copper-pot-day” type of holiday.

I had even saved cash – hard cash – to pay for it. For over a year I had carefully tucked away a few bills each week. A comfortable lump of cold currency gave our plans just the right amount of gravitas. Bliss.

On a Sunday in February, probably February 8, 2004, Mary slipped on our front steps and broke her tibula. Her recovery period spanned our date of departure. We had to postpone. So we did. We rebooked for September, and changed our destination from Paris to Amsterdam.

Well, to make a long story and little bit longer …

When filing our tax returns in April we missed a tiny checkbox. By doing so we did not acknowledge our marital status (which influences the tax calculation). This was not intentional. We didn’t notice the oversight, but the tax department sure did. In July we got our tax assessments, and I don’t have to tell you the result. My little lump of cash took a one-way trip straight into the taxman’s pocket. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

We had plane tickets for Europe, healthy bodies, and no money. We asked ourselves, “What are we going to do”? And in a moment of inspiration I said, “Why don’t we bicycle? You have a bicycle already, and I could buy one.” It was Friday evening, July 23, 2004, about two kilometers west of Griffith where highway 42 crosses the Madawaska River, en route to the cottage. That was when and why we decided to take up cycling – to save money.

So in September of 2004 we cycled along the Rhine from Arnhem in the Netherlands to Colmar in Alsace and had simply the most fabulous time. And we have cycled every year since (almost). Of course, I don’t have to tell you the pleasures of touring – you know that already, and probably knew it long before we discovered it.

We have learned a number of lessons along the way, one of which is that cycling is not less expensive than the alternatives. By the time we were equipped, fitted, and ready to roll I’m sure we spent as much as we would have had we rented a car. But never would we have had as much fun.

But you probably knew that already as well.

3 comments on “How It Was We Took Up Cycling”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Good story Kern. Interesting how it was Mary who first owned a bicycle, not you. It's a lucky chap whose partner enjoys cycling too, especially cycle touring – hardly a mainstream holiday choice for most people.

    ... about two kilometers west of Griffith where highway 42 crosses the Madawaska River, en route to the cottage.

    I don't suppose that happens to be the location of your 'lonely road' photo?

    We're thinking of Germany this year (on the bikes), and also another go at Holland.

  2. Hilary wrote:

    Amazing how a nasty letter from the tax man can change your life for the better!

    Patrick wrote

    It's a lucky chap whose partner enjoys cycling too, especially cycle touring

    My ex and I used to do a lot of cycle camping. I think the writing was on the wall when we started to take seperate tents!

  3. Mary wrote:

    Oh what a great story Kern, and how wonderful to have found the joys of cycle touring this way. It was simply 'meant to be'. You are as others have said, a lucky chap indeed to be able to share this great way of sharing. I wish my other half could see the light. Maybe his turn is still to come.

    There is something that digs at our past of the great outdoors when cycling, that no other modern transport can unearth. Horse riding does the same thing for me, but its not everyones possibility. (also even slower than cycling and higher risk on busy roads too!) I think its about sharing the air, scenery and having a sense of achievement that running an engine and getting carried about does not evoke, and taking your time as you view your surroundings. :)

    Ive never thought of a tax bill as an advantage before!

    :)

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