Victoria, BC - Monday, July 1, 2013
Finally, after months of preparation and anticipation, it’s “D Day.”
At 8:50 am, I give a 10-minute phone interview from my hotel room, carried live on CFAX radio. I describe the reasons for my cross-country ride and what I hope to accomplish, and then I encourage listeners to check out my website www.ridethetrail.ca. I also invite them to meet me at the BC Legislature at 10 am and to come for a ride.
Then I push my bike out onto Dallas Road and head eastward to Clover Point, the new “Mile 0” for the Trans Canada Trail. Elizabeth’s sister, Millie Jeffery, accompanied by her husband Norm, son Doug and daughter-in-law Doreen, are there to welcome me. They have come over – in their car – from Vancouver to provide much-needed psychological and logistical support.
Shortly afterwards, Elizabeth’s best friend Margaret Marean and husband David Parker pull in on their fully-loaded bikes. In past years, as a foursome, we have shared many cycling adventures; now they will be my boon companions all the way to Cranbrook. We improvise a solemn ceremony, dipping our front wheels in the Pacific Ocean.
Then Clive Webber speeds in. He has very generously agreed to guide us along the Trail as we leave Victoria. (I’m worried that – like Charlie on the MTA – I may just go round and round in circles forever, and never make it out of town.) Clive, a skilled cyclist and a talented map-maker and a generous teacher, works as a Trans Canada Trail coordinator. In 2011, he cycled and blogged his way from West to East right across the country. More recently, he has built an exceptional Trails BC website that maps the province’s many cycling and hiking routes.
Together, we set out, riding westward to Beacon Hill Park, and then northward to the Legislature, Clive close behind, prompting with helpful directions.
A small crowd – mainly family and friends – has already gathered near the fountain. I see my cousin Ellen Bowick and her husband Bruce. They once hailed from Tofield, Alberta, but are now long-time residents of Sydney, BC. My nephew Doug is busy setting up the amplifier. My friend Vern Paetkau, recently-retired Dean of Science at the University of Victoria, has brought his bike and intends to travel with us to the Brentwood Bay ferry.
As we distribute the retroreflective “Ride the Trail for Elizabeth” decals and small Canadian flags, curious onlookers stop by, joined occasionally by CFAX listeners. Soon there are about thirty people waiting expectantly, and I begin my talk.
Photo by Doug Jeffery
This is an important day, a very special day for me. I am a proud Canadian and this is my country’s birthday. The Trans Canada Trail is a wonderful national gift that we are giving to ourselves in celebration. It was formally launched in 1992 for Canada’s 125th anniversary, and it will be officially completed in 2017 for Canada’s 150th anniversary.
Today also marks Elizabeth’s planned retirement – the day she would close down her Speech-Language Pathology practice and take up her Trans Canada Trail activity. Yes, the Trail will connect diverse communities, foster healthy lifestyles, preserve green space and encourage active transportation, but most importantly, for Elizabeth, it will promote safe travel.
Elizabeth was extremely safety conscious and, whenever possible, refused to ride in the same lane as motor vehicles. Too dangerous. That’s why we always travelled on the Trans Canada Trail – a greenway intended solely for non-motorised traffic. Unfortunately, the Trail still has many impassible and incomplete sections, and this forces cyclists and pedestrians onto dangerous roads and highways.
Elizabeth wanted to see the Trail completed, but she also wanted it to be accessible and passable and safe. A Trail that could be used safely by everyone, regardless of their age or ability.
And then, after a flurry of hugs and cheers, we mount up and ride off.
Ironically, on this first day, we will spend little time riding on the Trans Canada Trail. In 2005, when Elizabeth and I were diligently following the official BC Trail Guide, and heading into Victoria, we suddenly discovered the Trail had transformed into a treacherous section of the Malahat Highway. It was an utterly terrifying experience, trying to dodge the road debris, with a rock cliff on our right and high-speed traffic on our left. Never again.
So I have chosen an alternate route. I have resolved to bypass the highway by travelling north along the beautiful off-road Lochside Trail and then west to the Brentwood Bay ferry. We’ll link up with the Trans Canada Trail tomorrow.
We’ve only pedalled for half an hour when Vern pulls up behind me and shouts: “We’re not following your map.”
“Sure we are,” I protest.
“No,” he says. “I know this route and we’re headed up the Interurban Trail. We’ve missed the turnoff for the Lochside Trail.”
Sure enough. I look down at my GPS and squint a few times at the screen – it’s a dark blur – and realise that we’re way off course. I don’t want to take the Interurban. Several sections go along high-speed roads. Maybe we should turn back. And add several more kilometres to our trip? No, let’s just keep going.
If Elizabeth were here, she would have exercised her veto. “I’m not going to travel on the Interurban,” she would have said. “We’re going back to look for the Lochside.”
But she’s not here and I make a poor decision and we continue on the Interurban.
After a while, Vern pulls up beside me. “Sorry, Ed, but this is as far as I’m going. I’m not riding in the car lanes. I’m heading back home.” And he waves goodbye and turns his bike around.
He’s right of course. It’s only the first day of my cross-Canada trip and already I’ve betrayed a basic principle. Avoid the road, ride the trail. Even when the road is called a trail.