Category Archives: Bike Geek

The first time I went to New Brunswick

Not New Brunswick.

This is the ocean next to which I actually currently live.

The first time I went to New Brunswick, I had just turned 15 years old. I took the train to Moncton from Toronto, and then switched onto a bus which carried me to Prince Edward Island, where I spent a week on a cycling trip with a few other teenage bike geeks. I must admit that New Brunswick didn’t make much of an impact on me during that brief pass through.  I remember looking out the window of the bus, and thinking that the houses looked cool and old, but that’s about it.

Three years later, when I was all about punk rock and biotech nerdery, I went back again. This time it was a school trip with my environmental science class, and we spent a week at the marine science centre just outside St. Andrews. My most vivid memory of that adventure was the evening when three classmates and I deliberately disobeyed our teacher’s instructions by walking into town after dinner. We were going to see if we could find pot, which of course we did. It was sold to us by the first kid we asked, who had a skateboard and an eyebrow piercing. It was really bad stuff, mostly stem, but the walk was fun and it was neat to meet someone local.

After we got back to the centre that evening, the teacher yelled at us and then sent the others off to bed, asking me to stay behind.

Instead of providing a further chewing-out as I’d expected, my teacher simply looked me in the eye and told me that he was extremely disappointed in me, because whether I knew it or not, the other kids would do what I told them to. He told me that I had power, and that I let him down by being irresponsible with it.

Oh, how I cringed, with shame and embarrassment: I still feel it now, over ten years later.

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This nostalgia-laden post is brought to you by the province of New Brunswick! Or rather, my recent focus on it, thanks in large part to A Strange Boy‘s request for more queer NB bloggers. In an attempt to make his dreams come true, I’ve been searching out New Brunswickian blogs, and just added the following to the QCB blogroll:

Thanks to Mar for sending in her blog URL… Anyone else know of any others?  I know that half of the team at She-Be-She is in NB, but that’s all I’ve got at the moment.

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Communities


For the past year and a half, I’ve been pouring a lot of time and energy into Queer Canada Blogs, my blogroll project of Canadian queers and queers in Canada. It’s been an amazing experience, especially for those moments when I’m feeling too low to blog myself: I love reading about the daily lives and loves of such a huge variety of bloggers. The project has also provided me with an outlet for my activist energy, because I get a boost of inspiration from publicizing and celebrating the radness and diversity of what it means to be queer, and what it means to be Canadian.

However, as great as online activism is, I still need to feel connected to people in my own geographic region, to build community among the people in my social scene and peer group. This need of mine used to be pretty much met by my niche with the bike nerds: I volunteered at the community bike shop every week, and hung out with other kids obsessed with bicycles, bike polo, bicycle-themed dance troupes, etc. Sure, we all share a lot of non-bike interests, but it usually comes back to bikes.

Nowhere was this more obvious than when organizing our annual bike party weekend, which has historically drawn dozens of revellers from all over the western provinces and states. Over four years, the size of the party has pretty much expanded exponentially, with last year’s event selling out at around 350 people. A note to those readers who are also event organizers: When this happens, it’s time to take stock, otherwise the growing pains are going to be fatal.

Overly-enthusiastic bike nerds that we are, we completely neglected to do this. Guess what? A lot of shitty stuff went down, and some friendships were irrepairably damaged. Beyond that, I believe many of us lost our sense of belonging in the bike community.

I’m not going into the faults and follies of our organizing collective, because that’s not my point. Instead, what I want to tell you in this: Going through such a tumultuous experience made me realize all the ways in which I exist in this world differently from people I’d previously taken for granted as like-minded community members. It was painful, because a lot it came down to the simply fact that at the end of the day, I’m queer, and they aren’t.

There is a happy ending to this story, or at least a happy new direction: After the bike party fiasco, I was feeling like I needed to spend more time among queers. So, I contacted an old friend, and got the info from her about the next meeting of the collective that puts on the local queer dance party. In a town with only one gay bar, and a massive GLBTQ2SQ population, the radical queer dance party is even more of a hit than it is in the bigger cities. In fact, during the past 6 months that I’ve been involved in putting on events, we’ve built up enough of a float to cover our own costs, and have managed to donate hundreds of dollars of our proceeds to community projects.

I’m not so naive as to believe that there aren’t also huge problems in this other community… There are! However, I think they’re more likely to be talked about, and actions taken to resolve conflicts. This is important to me, and I feel like the work we’re putting into creating safe spaces for gender and sexual diversity is really important as well… Even if to to the casual observer it looks like we’re just partying.

So the community I found in 2010 was my local queer community, or at least a small corner of it. All I can say for the upcoming year is that I want more of this: More queers, more dance parties, more games nights and talent shows and long meetings that turn into dinners and giggle fits, more chances to connect and feel like I belong.

[This is my post for Day 7 of Reverb 10, which I’m posting on Day 10… Tsk tsk, such disappointingly lax behaviour, especially considering how Amak just commended me for my blogging commitment in his comment on my last post… Ah well. It’s been a crazy week. I’ll try to keep up from now on.]

What it is that I’m part of.

G used to tell people that we met in Europe, which drove me crazy both because it sounded pretentious and because it was completely untrue. The fact is, we both went to England after high school at the same time, with the same work program, but didn’t connect until a year later, when we were both back here in Canada and I’d moved from Toronto to her city on the West Coast. It’s *possible* that we exchanged smiles upon our arrival in the UK, when the program had us all crammed into the rez buildings at the University of Reading for a 2 day orientation to British life, but really I was so busy being alternately jet-lagged and drunk that I simply don’t remember.

What I do remember are the stories she told me later, of her travels in a van through France and Italy and Germany. We even went to some of the same places, and I like to think we could have met, except that we never did.

This topic usually only came up when we were both inebriated at a party. When I’d remind her of the true facts of the matter, she’d just say, “Yeah, well, we *should* have met back then.” As if that was enough of a reason to tell people that we had.

Her birthday was 5 days before mine, though she was born 360 days after I was: Both Cancers, creative and harsh and protective and moody and sensitive and wanting to belong, with outer shells of toughness that make us push people away when we wanted to know them better. We even did this to each other, becoming once-close friends who in recent years acted like mere acquaintences.

She was killed last month, unintentionally riding her skateboard directly into heavy traffic. I have a particular horror about a death like that, because my closest community is made up of cyclists, and we have near-misses every day even when limiting our risks as best we can: It’s a reminder that any of us could die, which is something that I rarely ever think about in terms of my friends. My family, the older generation, yes… I’ve been preparing myself for losing my parents for a long time now, or at least trying to, because I know it’ll happen eventually. But my friends? These people between 20 and 50 years old, who make up my social scene? No, not them… And certainly not her, this old friend who’d moved on from my small circle of confidants to become larger-than-life.

I met her a month after I first moved to this city, nine years ago. We were introduced by a girl I’d lived with in England that previous winter: They’d attended high school together, and my old roommate said that G was into the same sorta stuff I was. I was immediately impressed by her cool appearance, and when she said that she was working on the upcoming Take Back the Night march, I jumped at the chance to get her contact info.

It turns out that she lived a couple blocks away from me, and was going to be spinning fire at the march. Did I have a bike trailer they could borrow, to hold the kerosene so that they could refuel as they went? No, but I could make one: Some wheels I had lying around, a big plastic bin, a bit of plywood. It sounded like a dozen skateboards as I pulled it behind my bike from my house to the march’s rendezvous point, but it worked. More importantly, it made G raise an eyebrow and tell me that she was impressed. I joined her at the march, towing the trailer in the centre of the fire dancers, the noise of the wheels luckily drowned out by the drummers.

She had a studio in Chinatown, and I soon had a mad crush on her best friend. They often painted together, late into the night, which I discovered during the height of the bad insomnia that hit me during the fall of that year. I was hanging out at the all-night cafe, no doubt engaged in some seriously angsty journaling, and they came in to use the bathroom and get tea. It surprised me that they invited me back to the studio, which was in a pedestrian alley accessed only by a locked gate. Drafty and chaotic, the studio overwhelmed my romantic nature with its sheer coolness, and I was smitten: Not by G, or even really by her best friend, so much as by the entire situation. I went back a lot after that, curling up in a rotting armchair with my book while they worked on their art. Sometimes we talked, often we didn’t, and frequently I just listened as the two of them discussed drama in their social networks, drama that had nothing to do with me. It was comforting, because I’d moved to the city knowing no one at all, and I needed to feel like I belonged somewhere.

The main memorial for G was held in the city where she’d been winning prizes both as an art student and a longboarder these last three years. Locally, plans were made for a second event, one that celebrated G’s life and the connections she made when she still lived here, when I still knew her. In the planning, I pretended it was just another themed party at the community bike shop, which had hosted so many crazy event in the past: A mechanic’s birthday, a fundraiser for a bicycle dance troupe, my going-away bash when I left for Oz. Like we had for these events, Oats and I organized a sound system and set it up, a task that let me continue to be busy and focus only on the details. When the rest of the 100 or so attendees watched the slideshow of photos of G and her art, I barely looked at it, intent only on matching the cue of the music so that I’d get it right for the upcoming video clip.

G’s best friend burst into tears and ran past me.

There was another death earlier this summer, of someone I’d met several times but hadn’t really known. G, however, had been a good friend of hers. When this other woman died, G went to the community gathering where she’d lived, and in their conversations she’d spoken about what she wanted when she died. Many of those same people were at this memorial and they’d remembered what she’d said. So, there it was: Art on display, fire dancers, bicycle theatrics, a table of pickled beets and rye bread and sausage and other favourite foods of hers, trays and trays of vodka shots passing around, singing, a live mamba band (of which she’d been a founding member), stilt walkers. Lots of crying too, though I’m not sure how much she’d have liked that.

What I’m sure G would have loved was the stories being told, as the crowd circulated and we all reminisced. “How did you first meet G?” We’d ask each other. Some of these people have been my friends for almost as long as my own history with G, and yet we’d never talked about these parts of our recent pasts. I found out that P went to high school with her, and M met her through J, who met her when she was working at the health food store downtown. In the background, while we talked, was the mural G had painted across the back fence of the bike shop’s yard.

I suppose that G was in town for one or more events this past year, but I don’t remember talking with her at all. These are my two most recent memories of her:

At the annual huge bike party 3 years ago, she won a spot in a dance contest, along with 3 others. When I, as DJ, started the song I’d selected, she stopped in the middle of the space that’d cleared around her and yelled at me, “I can’t dance to this shit!”

“You can if you want to win,” I yelled back, while she glared her meanest glare. I think she was dead serious, but so was I, and after another beat or two of eye-daggers in my direction, she just went wild with a kind of shimmying step. I believe she was wearing a spandex unitard or something similarly odd, tight, and shiny. Did she win? I don’t remember, but I know she was a crowd-pleaser.

The other memory comes from maybe a year after that, in the city where she’d moved for school and to follow her sport, where I was visiting with Oats for a weekend during the early days of our relationship. G was walking down the street towards us, recognizable even when still a fair ways away simply because she had a artists’ portfolio under one arm and a pair of stilts balanced across the other shoulder. “Hi,” I said when we passed, “How are you?”

“Oh, hi,” G replied, as though seeing me was the most natural thing in the world. “I’m great. And you?”

“Fine,” I said.

We barely slowed the pace of our walking: It was the briefest of encounters, though completely polite and gracious. But this is exactly why it always stuck with me, because it seemed to illustrate how very distant mine and G’s orbits had grown from one anothers. Even before her death, I’d think about this sometimes, as a lens to apply to my behaviours in other relationships: How can someone who was once my only friend, who once made up the bulk of my (admitedly very limited) social life, become someone whom I almost completely pass on the street?

I’d hoped to have some big conclusion here, but I don’t. Maybe it’s too soon: Maybe the fact of G’s death is still settling, and I’ll have something final to say about it in another month… Or decade. Or maybe there’s nothing big about it: Maybe it’s all the little things.

Some of these are basic, such as the lesson to not take one’s friends for granted because they might not be around as long as you want them to be.

Some of these are more complex, such as my parents, who were visiting from Toronto at the time, declining my invitation to attend the memorial. It’s not that I exactly wanted them to watch me get drunk on vodka and cry while K sang Ave Maria in her incredible operatic voice, but I did think they should know who my community is, know what it is that I’m part of out here on the far side of the country from where they raised me. In short, I wanted them to know that we are rad, and that we take care of one another.

Which is pretty much the best conclusion I can think of right now: Last summer, I learned that my community does good weddings, as two couples hosted fun and meaningful nuptial events complete with group bike rides, open air ceremonies, and self-written vows. This summer, I learned that we can do good funerals too. As sad as that is, and as hard as it is to say goodbye to one of us, I’m very glad to know this.

more than you ever wanted to know about my bike trailer

(another post inspired by another blogger… vegan activist asked about my other bike trailer, which i mentioned in a recent post where i showed off the new one we got for taking the puppy on road trips, so here’s way more than anyone ever really wanted to know about it!)

this is my bike trailer, full of groceries and resting on its lower edge:

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here’s another view, now resting on its hitch:

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(as an aside, i must say that the hardest part of this post is showing y’all pics of my groceries, cuz i’m the sort of asshole who judges people based on what food they buy so i tend to expect the same from others… actually, that would be a really good sort of behavioural-modification exercise for me, if i posted photos of all my groceries… not so exciting for the viewer, but a chance for me to get the fuck over my issues)

i bought this trailer for $50 at a consignment shop seven years ago.  the guy was asking $65, i asked if they had a student discount, and he said he’d give it to me for the lower price if i paid cash.  done!  since then, it has been used for countless food not bombs servings, dumpster diving missions, and house moves.  it has carried individual large humans in a completely sketchy sort of way, and on several occasions, one or two small ones, nicely secured and contained.

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i love this trailer because it is rugged: as you can probably tell, i almost always store it outdoors, but the only damage is some superficial rust.  though it does not fold up like other trailers, it has a narrow profile when sitting upright (see first photo) and can be leaned against a wall.  the wheels are quite large, allowing it to easily ascend bumps and curves.  i added the metal hooks around the sides and bottom edge, so that multiple bungee cords (or old inner tubes!) can be used to strap in a big load.  like all two-wheeled trailers, it has a tendency to flip if one wheel hits a bump, particularly at high speeds when there’s little weight in the trailer, but this can be avoided by careful riding.

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the hitch goes around the bike’s seat post.  originally, there were just two carriage bolts held on by wing nuts, in front and behind the seat post, but this rattled quite a bit and damaged the metal.  i found the kevlar hitch in a random bin at the community bike shop, and replaced the front carriage bolt with the linchpin, simultaneously securing the metal outer ring and the kevlar inner band.  i like it because there’s so few parts that there’s very little that can go wrong.  also, the long shafts make the trailer very convenient to use as a wheelbarrow or hand cart, because seat post level is around hand level so it’s comfortable to pull/push the trailer to the grocery store like we did this morning.

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i don’t like the fact that a child (or dog!) riding in this trailer faces backwards, but at least the solid plastic offers more protection than the tent-style trailers… better for a kid than a puppy.  however, there’s nothing to shelter a passenger from wind or rain!  with mo being so bloody cold all the time anyway, i think any attempt to get him to ride in this open-style cart would have him hating all bike trailers, which is why we’re happy to have gotten the other one for him.

luckily, he was happy to act as a model for this last pic: as shown above, the molded seats are quite good for holding boxes.

i don’t know if i’d ever take this trailer on a trip, though i’ve seen photos of the same one in the road trip section of a bike book… the cyclist had even strapped a whole extra wheel across the underside of the trailer’s hull!  it’s not particularly aerodynamic, and must be packed carefully to avoid having too much weight resting at the lower edge, which causes the hitch to slam up against the bottom of the bike seat.  also, it collects water, and requires a cover that can pull tight around the edges and some drainage holes.

however!  as an all-purpose, haul-everything, so-worthwhile-it’s-practically-paying-ME-every-time-i-use-it sort of a tool, this is pretty much the best $50 i’ve ever spent.

a dog for my lifestyle

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aside from the fact that he was unbearable cute, one of the reasons why mo was such an appealing puppy for oats and i was the fact that he’s not likely to grow to be much larger than 30 lbs.  that, combined with his young malleable mind, made him an ideal candidate to be groomed for our lifestyle:  we needed a dog who could be trained to enjoy life as seen from a bike trailer on long journeys, because we have planned many of them for the upcoming years and would hate to leave him behind.  besides which, it’d make our grocery runs a lot easier.

i have a big bike trailer made of hard plastic that is quite good for hauling stuff, but not so excellent for small puppies.  luckily, oats found a metal-framed tent-style one for only $35 on cr@igslist, and it even folds away for easy storage.  this afternoon was the first bit of mo-meet-trailer training:  we got him an especially yummy/revolting bone, parked the trailer in the corner of the kitchen, propped it up to that it would be sturdy, and tucked inside his favourite blanket.  as you can see from the photo, the experiment was a success… not only did the bone keep mo quietly playing for upwards of an hour, but after that he decided that the trailer would be an excellent spot for a nap.

a few more days of this, and we’ll try it outside… and then on the road, biking off into the sunset on crazy adventures together.

pickles for pedals

when you have a bunch of bikes on hand, something starts to happen:  even when you know how to fix the ones that break down, you just don’t bother, because you can so easily grab another bike and keep riding.  in fact, it’s a nice little system, because that way you end up riding all the bikes at one point or another, instead of letting them languish unridden.

but then eventually a point is reached, when there are not enough functioning bicycles remaining, and something has got to give.

at my house, it finally happened this weekend. we’ve only got four bicycles between two people (which is a fairly sane ratio compared to my former life in which i had six bikes all on my own) but only one of them was working.  of the others, one has an undiagnosed puncture, the other has a ruptured rear tire sidewall (again), and the third has a pedal with seized inner bearings that i can’t access.  of course it would be easiest to deal with the puncture, but that’s the bike i’ve been riding most recently, and as much as i love it, i’m wanting a little change.  plus, i miss carrying things, and the bike with the fucked-up pedal is a sweet old italian cruiser with a solid rack that can take my pannier buckets.

that’s when i dug out my collection of cherry parts, and discovered that bike pedals come with two different sizes of pedal axles… who knew?  well, not this bike geek.

that sweet old italian cruiser?  yeah, it takes a size smaller axle than any of the nice pedals in my collection.  fucking hell.

i forgot to tell you:  while i was still in australia, i blogged about how upon my return to canada, my former volunteer mechanic gig at the local community bike shop was going to turn into a paid position, but this didn’t happen.  in fact, not long after i got back, a bunch of changes resulted in the shop no longer even being open for the women-and-trans-only shifts that i used to cover.  i’m not upset about this, because it really does make sense given the situation, but it has meant that i don’t have regular schedules access to tools or parts or impromptu mid-wrenching dance parties.

however!  i still have friends, which is what really matters.  one quick phone call, and i’ve made my plan:  after school tomorrow, me and mo are walking over to a friend’s house to exchange some of my pickles for a chance dig through his pedal collection, which is much larger than mine.  it won’t cost either of us a cent, and his dog may even teach mine a thing or two while i’m there.

this is why, even though i’ve left this city many times, i always come back.

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MTF cyclist Kristen Worley talks about Caster Semenya, sports, and gender on The Current

Gender, oppression, critical analysis, AND my most beloved of sports, bicycling!  You can get it all on Part III of Monday’s edition of CBC’s The Current, when host Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed elite competitive cyclist and MTF trans person Kristen Worley

I generally listen to the radio while cooking (canning…), and this piece was just excellent:  Good commentary on the horrid treatment of Caster Semenya, and an articulate look at the bigger picture of how gender is constructed as a binary despite the natural diversity of sexes and sexual expressions.

The piece could have been improved by a look at the racial undertones of the conflict, but at this point I’m simply thrilled that there was some trans content on mainstream radio.  Yay for intersectionality!