This is my truth now. In six months, I may have a different truth.
June 7, 2013. Vancouver, BC. Although this journey was borne of an idea, when I reflect on when this journey truly began, I struggle to pinpoint the moment.
Was it when I squatted in Vancouver International Airport, put my bike together out of a box and then rode from the airport to downtown Vancouver? Was it when I first tested my touring gear in Ontario’s Prince Edward County? When I gave in my resignation or gave my landlord notice? Started spinning? Got my lightweight tent?
Those were all moments when I experienced the reality of this trip. But this journey did not begin because I wanted a lightweight tent, nor did it begin because I wanted to push my body to its physical limits. No, this trip was borne of a desire to escape.
In conversation with anyone who does not know me closely, the question I am always asked is “What are you running away from?”
Someone asked me how much the bounty on my head was. My boss remarked, “Boy, you’re disappearing.” But faced with these questions, I would inevitably deflect; the notion of escape made me cringe. Escape, escaping, escapism: it all seems so weak! To escape is to avoid. It gives me the impression of leaving things unfinished or unresolved. In fact, it made me ashamed to think that I had something I needed escaping from. Had I really let it get this bad?
With time I came to acknowledge that my cringe was akin to the facial twitch that one reflexively gets when the subconscious truth is spoken. Yes, this is an escape. I can admit that now. Though, I’m not quite okay with the fact that I had made it to a point in my life where my reality, as it was and as it would predictably weave into my future, was one that I could not identify with.
I’m ashamed to admit that my younger selves no longer saw their reflections in the mirror and my current self had been beaten into a mold that was too short in the inseam and too tight in the armpits.
Yes, when I reflect upon the moment when this journey began, it isn’t a time when I was on my bike or in the gym. It was the moment I acknowledged that given the current state of my affairs, an epic change needed to occur.
It had to be big and it had to have me written all over it.
This acknowledgement came to me in the summer of 2012.
Overworked and unable to find any personal time in between continuous work related travel, all the while inexpertly juggling my personal commitments, I was propelled to actually take my lunch hour and to go walking. Downtown Toronto has a sprawling network of back alleys that are an oasis of dilapidated garages, graffiti, vintage cars, creeping vines, discarded bathroom fixtures, rotting wood, soil heaps and cats.
This is where I found my inspiration. Entering the alleys through the backyard of my previous apartment, only half a block from my office, I would pick at the kale and carrots in my old garden and then I would just walk.
Breathing in the fresh air, running my hands through the flora growing untamed around people’s garages and picking the last of the summer’s overgrown lavender, I would let my mind wander.
I pictured what my life would look like without an average of 70 emails a day, remembered how sunsets felt on my skin instead of from my office window, wondered whether I would enjoy writing for pleasure (what would that even look like?) and eventually came to the awareness that deep within I was done with sitting down every day at a desk that was not my own. That this life, while it works for many, was not how I would ever discover my full potential and maintain my fiery passion.
Those walks were the beginning of my escape.
I told no one about them. In fact, at some level I was embarrassed of them. I was ashamed that I was living partly in reality and partly in my dreams and I was unsettled by my awareness that those parallel lives could in no way reconcile themselves. As I stalked the alleys and watched autumn take over and transform what was once fluorescent green into smouldering amber, I knew that one of those lives would have to go. That I couldn’t do both. And so began my journey.
If I were to make a list of all that I intend to escape from, it would be a long one. But what would be the point of such a list? I am aware of the mistakes I’ve made and oh-my-god, unlike Cheryl Strayed, I don’t want to see them written down in one place!
If this is truly going to be an escape conducted under the auspices of all my past successes and failures, I want to begin this one on the right foot, which, as I see it, does not begin with self-flagellation! I hope this journey will open up the space, impetus, and compassion for me to forgive myself. And this adventure might give me a whole slew of new reasons to escape.
My cycle tour is primarily a solo journey, with just me and my 1986 Miyata, although some people will be joining me along the way. My tour begins in Vancouver, BC. Its southern-most destination, should I get there, will be San Diego, CA. My western-most (or eastern by many standards) destination is yet to be determined. The end date is also yet to be determined.
Only I have control over the outcome. I hope that through this journey I will find meaning and nourishment in my passions, meet new people and that a new path forward will open up for me. Holy crap, I hope I’ve learned something!
Here is a sneak preview of the pictures I snapped during my wanderings in Toronto’s back alleys.
Carol Burbank is a cyclist, yogi, hiker, feminist, lawyer, lover and trickster. Born and raised in Toronto, she spent summers on an island in the Shawanaga Inlet on Georgian Bay, in a cabin with an outhouse and no electricity. She quit her job practicing Labour and Human Rights law to cycle the Pacific Coast of North America.
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Assistant ed: Cat Beekmans/ Ed: Brianna Bemel