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Uncle Dave

Untitled COVID Experience

Words Dave Tolnai
Photos Dave Smith
Date May 8, 2020
Reading time

Although not much has changed since we last spoke, it feels like everything has. The most surprising thing for me is just how normal this all feels now, and how easy it is/was to slip into endlessly repeating days. The good news is that I've discovered so many things that I don't really miss that were once a regular part of my life, and this could turn into a pretty great template for the future. Scrape away some of the crap and worry about the remaining stuff that is holding up the building.

It almost feels like it would be difficult to pursue something that doesn't matter right now. Like you would have to be a sadist to use your spare time to do or make or buy things that don't make you, or somebody close to you, happy or secure. And the surprising thing is how often this can be accomplished without spending a lot of money. I think I've pulled out my wallet twice in the last month. Not that I've made very many people feel happy and/or secure.

This could be a sign of what sort of things provide real, fundamental happiness, and which don't. For example, when it comes to clothing, I have no problem with life slipping into an endless rotation of six T-shirts. An evening frittered away watching TV or reading a book after cooking a decent meal is just fine. Lugging my camera around every time I leave the house and then later poring through endless photos of dogs running gives me great satisfaction. And listening to music throughout my working day is something that I am once again very happy to experience. Even just things related to work provide me with some form of happiness, starting with having work to go to, moving along to the bliss of just rolling out of bed each morning without having to worry about getting from point A to point B, or about making small talk in the kitchen. Devoid of excessive external noise, inputs or distractions we all revert to our default settings, and one can learn a lot from this recalibration.

There is a warning there though, too. I have learned that it is way, way too easy to settle into a complacent little rut. Indeed, on the days when 3:00PM rolls around and I realize that I haven't left the house yet (or showered...or brushed my teeth...) it's amazing how much better things can feel once I have taken the dog for a walk.

Discovering these small, internal sources of happiness has been surprising, but so has figuring out the things that I really miss. Not having instant access to whatever food I want is surprisingly difficult, and we have expended a great deal of energy over the last month figuring out how to source the things that we want to eat without having to leave the house. As a result, I take great pleasure in the things that remain, like slapping some peanut butter on a piece of toast or making a nice cappuccino in the morning (no more lattes as they use too much milk). Knowing these supplies are limited and fleeting changes the way that I think about them, and I have a newfound respect and concern for those who struggle to put food on the table.

This is what I hope is the lasting impact for me from COVID. I hope that I will continue to appreciate the simple things in life and that I can worry a bit less about the things that don't matter. I'm hopeful and inspired that, at least in Canada, our conversation has largely moved on from "we can't afford that!" to "how can we help people get through this?" Largely.

This is where riding bicycles starts to enter into the equation. You may recall that the last time we talked I made the bold proclamation that I wasn't going to ride my mountain bike. Since then, I've grappled with exactly what I was getting at with that decision. With no firm medical advice specific to the riding of mountain bicycles, these sorts of things were open to interpretation. For the last 4-5 weeks or so, I've held to that decision, and I think it was the right one (for me). I didn't drive anywhere with my bike and I didn't ride anything that put me at any sort of elevated risk of injury. I did ride my bike though, and it was oddly cathartic to just get out there and noodle around within a few km of my house, sticking mostly to pavement but hitting the odd (extremely mellow) gravel path or multi-use trail. At first I was doing this on my commuter, but it's much more enjoyable to pedal around on a real bike despite the loss of efficiency.

While I did miss riding on actual trails, it wasn't to the degree that I expected I would. As I rode around, enjoying myself on boring trails, I tried to pinpoint exactly what it was that I wasn't missing. How could a 6 foot wide gravel path be a stand in for the North Shore? What is it, exactly, about riding a mountain bike that provides us with joy?

I thought about this, deeply, each time I got on my bike. I realized that I really appreciated the feeling of being able to lay my bike over into a corner. I appreciated the feeling of speed that is created by trees whizzing by. I appreciated being in control of an object, and trying to understand what was working on that machine and what was not. These were the feelings of happiness that rose to the surface during my mountain biking lite experiment.

But perhaps the absence of certain things was just as important? I didn't witness any posturing or shit talking. I didn't see any conspicuous bicycle consumption or experience any feelings of inadequacy. I wasn't subject to any one upsmanship or trail knowledge dong swinging contests. I didn't see any trailhead selfishness or stupidity. I was just left to cruise around like I was the last mountain biker on earth, amongst a sea of dog walkers.

And that was my life until yesterday. I'm not sure what things are like where you live, but British Columbia is poking around the margins of easing up on its hibernation. Very soon, we're going to be able to meet up in groups of 6 people! You can sense this in the attitudes of the people that you pass on the street, and you can hear it in the language of our politicians and bureaucrats. There is a light at the end of the tunnel; we're just figuring out exactly how far away it should be. I mean, look at that graph! It's interactive! So I decided that it was probably okay to go for a real bike ride.

I had the day off work yesterday and I couldn't really come up with a good justification for not going for a North Shore ride. I felt some small pangs of guilt, but I countered that by taking a number of precautions. I went early in the morning (midweek, I will remind you). I parked further from the trailhead than I normally would. I kept it to blue trails. I gave as much distance as I could to anybody that I came across. And it all worked out fine.

While I rode, I tried to focus on staying totally in the moment of that experience. As per my previous COVID rides, I tried to think about what it was that created happiness or joy in the experience. My discoveries weren't all that different from the ones I discovered while riding closer to home. The sensations were similar, but were perhaps enhanced by a greater sense of accomplishment. Nailing a complicated corner feels better than nailing one that provides less of a challenge, for example. But overall, the feelings weren't all that different.

Taken a certain way, this is a bit confusing. How could I possibly feel the same thing riding on a gravel path vs. riding on a real mountain bike trail? How is that possible? This does seem crazy, but I think this nicely fits into the narrative that I'm trying to create for myself. Simple things can provide joy. Simple things should provide joy. If they don't, there might be larger issues at play. The joy is there, somewhere. You just need to look for it, sometimes.

Sorry,

Uncle Dave


Uncle Dave's Music Club

My genre flitting has hit new levels over the last few weeks. I'm an insatiable monster for something good to listen to and I'm looking everywhere for that fix.

Many years ago, a friend of ours had the same funk mix on repeat. Endlessly. It became a bit of a joke at the time, but looking back, it's the soundtrack for some very specific experiences with a very specific set of people. This was always my favourite and I'm pretty happy to re-visit it now.

Look at that album cover! Now that's a party!

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Comments

velocipedestrian
+2 AJ Barlas Pete Roggeman
Velocipedestrian  - May 8, 2020, 12:31 a.m.

Thanks Dave.

I've been enjoying my supermarket trips on the bike I'd recently rebuilt from the spares pre-covid. 

DMR trailstar, SS, rigid fork, 2.3" BMX treads, slx brakes... Cruising the empty streets during our lockdown was great. Now that we're easing back on the restrictions in NZ the foot/traffic has returned and the fun has decreased.

Reply

danimaniac
+1 Pete Roggeman
danimaniac  - May 8, 2020, 1:28 a.m.

Dave, you are right.

While it was "complicated" in the beginning, life seems pretty easy now without the hustle of getting the kids from A to B, being "on time" is quite an abstract construct right now and really doesn't fit into my life (outside work meetings) right now. 

This time can and should be used to reconfigure. We've been asking ourselves what makes us happy. And we've found out what we're missing (social gatherings, friends, real hanging out) and what we're not missing (see above for example). We've found out how to grocery shop once a week. I have found out that easy trails bring the greatest joy to my three year old AND me when we ride together using the MacRide, hollering down some easy gravel path, talking to each other loads when climbing up again and then go again and again and again...

Still can't wait for lockdown and shutdown to end asap. But will try to keep some of the new habits. And will put on pants for work again :D

Reply

taprider
+4 Fahzure twk Mammal Pete Roggeman
taprider  - May 8, 2020, 7:45 a.m.

Grasshopper/Dave, you have progressed towards enlightenment.

Pretty soon you will be bikepacking  ;-)

Reply

fartymarty
+2 twk Pete Roggeman
fartymarty  - May 8, 2020, 7:52 a.m.

You mean rigid singlespeeding...

Reply

Captain-Snappy
+2 AJ Barlas Pete Roggeman
Merwinn  - May 8, 2020, 8:22 a.m.

Two weeks ago I went on a Sunday AM ride on Fromme and it was a zoo, considering the 2m advisory. Some people are just not getting that '2m' applies on the trail too. Wanna stop and take a breather? NP. Just take a few steps off the trail, and its all good.

After getting my kid to bed last night, I did six laps of a short blue trail on Fromme with lights. It was empty. Social Distancing made easy.

I was alone, it was dark, but the dirt is rilly, rilly good and I took my time with no pressure of fitter-than-me climbers riding up my bum like some guy did two weeks ago. Forget the KOM's people. This ain't the GD time for it.

Man, I can't wait until this thing is done... whenever that will be.

Reply

mammal
+1 Merwinn
Mammal  - May 8, 2020, 12:48 p.m.

Saturday at Fromme took the cake for me. Decided to take the Hardtail up to Leopard for a nice little XC loop over to Krinkum, Kirkford and out on the Griffins. Can't be that hard to social distance on the fire road, right?? I get to the Expresso/Leopard junction and there's literally 30 people around, some standing close in their riding groups, and some trying to stay distanced. I approached a pinch point with 8 people yaking in a circle on my right, and 4 people grouped together on my left. 1m between these groups, and completely blocking the fire road. The closest guy on the right-group just stared at me like I was an idiot while I spent 20 seconds in a pedal-stand waiting for the two groups to clue in. He/they didn't, and I had to mutter Covid nothings in his ear as I pushed through. 

I swear, after Bonnie Henry told everyone to get outside, and that the virus doesn't spread as easily outdoors, 75% of the people decided that meant that the social distancing switch was flicked off.

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Captain-Snappy
+1 Cr4w
Merwinn  - May 8, 2020, 1:20 p.m.

"I swear, after Bonnie Henry told everyone to get outside, and that the virus doesn't spread as easily outdoors, 75% of the people decided that meant that the social distancing switch was flicked off.."

COTD!

Reply

mammal
+1 AJ Barlas
Mammal  - May 8, 2020, 2:23 p.m.

I have no issues with the message, but it should have been accompanied by "but not without the practice of rigorous social distancing remaining in place".  Over all, I think BC is doing a great job managing this.

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davetolnai
0
Dave Tolnai  - May 8, 2020, 2:37 p.m.

Ya.  This is fair.  I did my ride on a Monday morning.  I saw 7-8 hikers and a similar number of bike riders.  I mentioned the precautions I took, but I wasn't specific about demanding that of others.  I for sure wouldn't ride Fromme on the weekend right now.

When I started writing this it was a "I'm thinking about going for a mountain bike ride" piece.  Then I went for a ride and had to change it.

I'm definitely not open season on riding and I could have been more specific about that, especially reading the comments above.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
0
Sanesh Iyer  - May 8, 2020, 4:47 p.m.

I was dissappointed with her phrasing. Clearly people will listen to "go outside" and not "keep distance". I do think the social distance switch has been flipped off... Riding even 6 weeks ago (my last ride) was more stressful than fun because of social distancing issues. I think I'm going to have to start pedalling from Cambie/Broadway up Cypress on the MTB pretty quick here.

andy-eunson
+3 Mammal taprider Pete Roggeman
Andy Eunson  - May 8, 2020, 8:38 a.m.

Good sentiments. I think in normal times many people have a need to fill their time with outings, places to go, people to see, things to do as an escape from things that may be weighing on their minds. I know guys I used to ski with, ride with and other stuff get girlfriends and you never see them again. Like activities were what they did to replace a relationship. I know others who race triathlon, volunteer for various things, have a job and children and seem to need to be busy at all times. I think to some extent it is their way of dealing with mild mental illness.

I think some people now are discovering that “let’s go for a walk just outside our front door and not have to go somewhere” is good for us. Not being able to shop for the latest clothing and other stuff makes us realize we don’t need to buy frivolous shit all the time. Stuff is just stuff and doesn’t make us a better human. 

I’m gonna go for an easy ride with my dogs this morning and pick up some brake pads on the way home so I can fix my neighbour’s bike for her. There some new trail work to try out.

Reply

JBV
0
James Vasilyev  - May 8, 2020, 3:27 p.m.

6 t-shirts in the rotation Dave!?  oooh mr luxury here.....

Reply

fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - May 9, 2020, 12:58 a.m.

It depends on how often you wash.  I reckon I could get 2 with the amount of washing we do.

Reply

AJ_Barlas
+3 Mammal Andrew Major Andy Eunson
AJ Barlas  - May 8, 2020, 5:50 p.m.

Well put Dave and I agree with your sentiments. Yesterday I found myself listening to classic Australian rock in my home office and singing my lungs out so hard, you’d think I was practicing for the World Karaoke Championships (Aussie Edition ;) ). I honestly couldn’t have been happier. At that point I hadn’t ridden my bike for 3 weeks and the ‘ride’ before that was to scout some locations for future stuff (more hiking than biking) but here I am, happy as can be.

I had a health scare the last couple of weeks that helped refocus my perspective as well. Waking up every morning and walking the dog around the usual route is amazing enough. Working out in the (home) gym with my wife after getting clearance was great. Cuddles with my young dog and his joy for anything in life is a beautiful reminder to just enjoy every minute and not get fixated on the future or ‘things.’

I guess what I’m saying is that the simple things bring so much joy but we often get caught up in the battle to improve and outdo—whether ourselves or a friend—that we forget to enjoy just being. I went for a mellow ride today. It was fun but did it bring more joy than I currently have in my life or that I could get doing cutties in the gravel around my street? I don’t know, but it was sure nice to munch on some Miner’s Lettuce and take in the surroundings of somewhere different to where I’ve been hiking with the dogs. The best part, though, was coming home to the little furball, frothing to see me and give more cuddles.

Oh, and six t-shirts are definitely luxury. I reckon three a week is excessive. Ha! 😉

Reply

nobby
0
Peter Carson  - May 8, 2020, 8:06 p.m.

This sounds like you are riding like I did when I was a kid and fell in love with riding my bike.

Reply

IslandLife
+1 Andy Eunson
IslandLife  - May 8, 2020, 10:54 p.m.

I figured out a 100% fool-proof way to stay off the trails during a pandemic.

Step #1: Sell your bike as the winter snowboarding season starts.

Step #2: Order a new bike around the same time from a small manufacturer a few months before the pandemic hits.

Step#3: Wait, watch and sit on your vastly growing ass, as that small manufacturer tries to get their frames out of Asia during the height of world-wide pandemic whose epicentre just happens to be in Asia.

Works every time.

Reply

ginofelino
0
ginofelino  - May 9, 2020, 9:53 a.m.

One should find joy in every bike ride. If not, you're doing it wrong. Period.

But really we ride bikes for the joy.
It's there in every ride. You just have to appreciate it and not let the negatives overwhelm the experience. It's something I remind myself of every once in a while.

I think I have maybe 2 mountain bike rides over the last 2 months because I don't want to have deal with possibly a mass of trail users. Fortunately I'm still having a lot of fun on the bike.

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Vikb
0
Vik Banerjee  - May 10, 2020, 7:48 a.m.

I've been lucky and riding bikes more than ever. Riding from home to the trails means we can avoid the parking lot scene and if we go at non-peak hours and ride the less popular trails we don't see too many people. My work hours have been reduced so I have time to ride the 50km round trip to work and back most days. Less cars on the road is nice as well.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has stated multiple times that spreading SARS-CoV-2 outside in a recreational setting is quite hard so as long as you don't travel to another community [which is still not allowed] and stay local getting out on the trails is a good thing. I don't think there is any reason to stress about not being able to keep 2m apart if you are talking about passing someone for 0.25 seconds.

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