I woke up this morning a little before 6:00, and registered some good things about the day. First, it was already starting to get light out. Secondly, it was a holiday—that meant no traffic noise. Instead, all I could hear through my open window was the sweet trilling of birds—and no sounds of rain!
Sundays and holidays are my favourite times to go cycling early. It’s so peaceful, and there are almost no cars on the road. So I decided this would be a bike ride morning.
Getting up, I saw the sky was ominously streaked with dark bands of gray. Rain would be coming soon.
I should have started my ride immediately. But no, I wanted to walk to Starbucks for coffee and wake up a little more. My walk was pleasant, cool but dry. By the time I had had some coffee, breakfast, and dressed warmly with several layers of clothing, including my waterproof jacket, it was almost 7:30.
Emerging on my bike from the underground parking, I felt the first drops of rain. With that came anger. Vancouver’s awful weather has been hanging on too long this year! First we had three months of snow. Mundy Park was covered for all that time, and I couldn’t run there. Now it’s mid-April, and although we’ve had a few sunny days, we haven’t had a single day that is both sunny and warm.
Vancouverites are suffering from a kind of collective depression. I’m not the only one; many of us are influenced by the continuous grayness, cold, and rain.
Yes, I felt angry. It’s a holiday! Why can’t I have an enjoyable extended ride; push myself without interference from cars (or many pedestrians, this early), stop to take photos, bask in the loveliness of spring sensations? Because spring is still not really here!
Nevertheless, today I was determined to go riding. My legs felt good—if I pushed hard, I would be able to keep warm. The best ride for that was my usual 8K up to Sasamat Lake—the climb is hard enough to get my heart and leg muscles working to their max.
However, in only a couple of minutes the few drops of rain turned into a steady, cold downpour. I should have turned back and gone later. But no—I stubbornly continued. I pushed hard; my core stayed warm for a while, but the icy water assaulted me from every direction. It was raining down on me, it was blowing uncomfortably in my eyes (and contact lenses), it was splashing up from the ever-deepening puddles until my butt, legs, and feet were completely soaked and my “waterproof” jacket was not functioning as it was supposed to.
I stopped briefly under the shelter of one of the buildings at the lake. I wanted to take a couple of photos, and transfer my phone to a safer inner pocket of my clothing. But I realized my fingers were already too frozen to be able to do these things. This ride had turned into a sufferfest, and I just had to get back home as quickly as possible.
As I rode along the road to exit the park, I noticed it had stopped raining. The sky had brightened and the lake looked eerily beautiful through the trees. But it was too late for me, and too late to take photos. Now I was riding mostly downhill. I couldn’t enjoy the wild speed I usually did; it was dangerous on the wet roads. Also, with frozen feet and fingers, I didn’t have good control of my bike.
I was getting colder and colder, and counting off the minutes as I rode back as fast as I could. Luckily, the bike path was clear—until I reached the steep little downhill to the bridge near the rec centre. There was a group of runners all across the path in front of me. My fingers were too frozen to even move my bell switch, so I yelled out, “Passing on your right!”
The runners couldn’t decide where to move, and still blocked my way, so I came to a full stop; then I struggled to gear down; my fingers had lost all their strength.
Even once I reached the warmth of my underground bike locker, I had difficulty turning the key in the lock. Back in my apartment, I struggled to remove all my layers of clothing so I could get in a hot shower.
What an idiot! Hypothermic again! Why don’t I ever learn?
Haruki Murakami on his writing process—and creative work in general
Last night I was reading a book by a writer whose style and imagination I admire—Haruki Murakami. I’ve enjoyed both his fiction (1Q84 and others) and his non-fiction (What I Talk about When I Talk About Running: A Memoir). The book of his I’m currently reading, Absolutely on Music, is about his conversations with renowned conductor Seiji Ozawa.
What does this have to do with my bike ride? Well, it’s that my bike rides and runs are for me a both a source of joy and a form of escapism, whereas Murakami writes that both he and Ozawa “are happiest when absorbed in our work . . . our ability to work with utter concentration and to devote ourselves to it so completely that we forget the passage of time is its own irreplaceable reward.” (p. xi)
I was awed by Murakami’s description of his daily work routine, which he has followed for over twenty-five years. He gets up at 4:00 a.m. and writes continuously for five to six hours, sipping hot coffee all the while. This is not merely one of the factors that makes him an internationally successful writer—it is what he most enjoys doing.
His ability to focus so completely on his writing reminds me that work can also be a kind of escapism. The best kind of work, creative work, is deeply satisfying and joyful. It makes external circumstances like bad weather irrelevant. It can also provide an anodyne to anxiety, depression, and nagging existential questions like “Why am I here?” Creative work, in itself, is the answer to this question.