As I took off my black, two-piece suit and hung it on the dry-cleaning rack for the last time, I swore to myself I would never have another job that required me to be so dapper. The employee changing room stunk of the stained chef’s uniforms piled for cleaning in the corner. I opened my locker and pulled out a yellow polypro shirt, my padded cycling shorts, and clip-in cycling shoes. I dressed and put my sunnies on top of my head, taking the small padlock with me as I left. The toe clips click-clacked on the tile floor as I made my way out to the hotel loading bay.
My bicycle stood, leaning against the wall, my sleeping bag and clothes packed into two rubberized bags strapped to the rear rack like torpedoes. A one-wheeled trailer was hooked to the hub of the rear wheel, packed with a one-man tent, cooking set, a repair kit and other odds’n’ends.
Mike was scratching his long beard, counting boxes and ticking items off a delivery slip. The clipboard rested on his protruding belly. “You’re off?” he said.
“You’re fucking crazy. All the way to Newfoundland?”
“Where will you stay?”
“Depends how far I get each day. I got a tent.”
I pointed to my small bob trailer. He shook his head. “Good luck, man.”
Mike hit a large green button on the wall and the corrugated delivery door opened mechanically. I manoeuvred the bike and trailer down the ramp from the loading dock, careful not to let the trailer jack-knife and warp the bike’s aluminum frame. Outside in the sunshine, I put my sunglasses on and waved to Mike. He waved back and hit the red button to close the door again. Cycling gloves, helmet, a quick mirror adjustment, and I was off, down the hill to the Halifax waterfront, over the MacDonald bridge and out through Dartmouth to the eastern shore.The sun was hot on my back, the wind was light, I was fit and strong and moving on. I couldn’t think of a better way to quit a job.
When I broke free of the busy Dartmouth roads and found my way around out to the coast, my legs were pumping happily. A salty wind blew into my face, leaving a fine crystal film on my glasses. I passed the tea house on the hill at Lawrencetown beach and cruised past the krummholzed spruce trees, flagged by the constant winds that battered the coast. As usual, it was misty and colder than it was inland. A thick fog-bank sat just off-shore, hazing the dropping sun.
I stopped at the beach one last time. The hurricane swell had not yet begun, ankle-height waves lapped fiercely on the sand. The beach was empty. I sat on the boardwalk eating an apple, careful not to clog my shoes with sand. I thought of the surf sessions I’d had there over the years, the visits with friends and lovers. I wondered when I would see it again.
As I made my way up the eastern shore day by day, I stopped in small towns whose names either began with ‘port’ or ended in ‘harbour’. Names like ‘Quoddy’ told of the ship-building industries that had once filled the area while places like ‘Ecum Secum’ told of the Mi’kmaq history from long before. The road wound its way to the coast and away from it, changing the feel of each settlement that lay at the heads or mouths of the bays.
I pitched my tent in elementary school soccer fields or behind churches. The locals drove by slowly in their pickup trucks, watching as I sat cooking pasta over my single-burner stove. Some would wave while others simply stared at my bike and gear, obviously wondering why the hell anybody would do such a thing. The nights were lonely but short, truncated by my fatigue from the day of pedalling.
I pulled through the only old-growth forests left in the province at Liscomb and then made my way to the historic village of Sherbrooke for a wander through the streets and way of life that had been preserved from 1892. By the third day, I was leaving the coastal highway and making my way up to Cape Breton Island. In the small town of Country Harbour, I stopped at the cross-roads convenience store for provisions and discovered a small, battery-operated radio mixed in with the hunting supplies. After having spent two nights setting up camp and cooking by myself, I decided the radio might be good to keep me company. No bigger than my hand, the radio had a volume wheel that turned the device off when spun all the way to the left and a tuning wheel that picked up the FM band only. I strapped it down beneath the bungee cords on my rear rack and made my way to the causeway.
Just beyond Port Hawkesbury, I was coming fast down a hill and was too late to avoid a large pothole at the bottom. The bike and trailer bucked heavily and almost threw me into the ditch. I heard a loud crack come from behind me and felt hunks of plastic spray against my legs and fall to the ground. I jammed on the brakes and dismounted. The bump had knocked the radio loose of the cords, sending it down through the spokes of the rear wheel. Bits of red plastic and cheap wiring littered the road behind me. I lay the bike down softly and returned to gather as much of the destroyed radio as I could. With my pockets full of transistors and the broken antenna, I got back on the bike and made my way.
The sun was low in the sky when I pulled into the gas station at St. Peter’s. It was a beautiful night with lazy insects buzzing around. I filled my water bladder from the tap on the side of the building and loaded it on the trailer. There was a large field across the street and a small community centre building in the middle. There was no one about so I straddled the bike and decided to wheel across and set up camp. As I sat on the saddle, I heard a sound behind me, like something had been snapped to attention, as if a great weight had been removed suddenly and the thing that bore it had been released. Then the sound repeated itself, the sound of hard metal giving way. I leaned forward on my handlebars and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look back, I didn’t want to know. Holding the bike upright by the saddle, I tried to inspect the welds in the aluminum frame, any seams or weak points that would’ve blown. I wheeled the bike and leaned it next to a fence to get a good look. It only took a moment to see what had happened. Two of the spokes in the rear wheel had snapped and four or five more in either direction had been badly damaged. The radio.