Photo credit: Todd Ternovan and Matthew St. Amand

Interlude — Rain: No Ride Day

Kilominating has brought more questions than answers into my life:

When, exactly, did the bike become my taskmaster?

Do I ride because I enjoy it or because I feel compelled to do it?

Why don’t I feel like I’m entitled to a rest?

How many kilometers is enough?

Are these even questions if I already know the answers to each? A question, of course, doesn’t cease being a question just because it’s answered, but when the answer virtually precedes the question, nullifying the need for the question…

I wouldn’t be thinking such thoughts if I was outside, riding.

The writing is not going well. I’ve finally cobbled together a small, faltering, sort-of-alive freelance business, writing articles for magazines that provide content intended to help people pass time in waiting rooms.

The act of writing is pleasant for me. I enjoy the process of putting things together, like a carpenter building bird houses. It’s not like the birds thank the carpenter, or even recognize the effort. The bird house is there, so the birds go in, try it out. That’s enough for the carpenter. Stitching together articles from phone interviews is what I do.

My book, the cop book, the book I wrote with my neighbour who is a recently retired 30-year OPP constable isn’t doing well. Its story begins in Windsor Jail, 1979, when he was 18 years old, a newly hired corrections officer (CO). People who know I write invariably approach me saying they have a great idea for a book. Few people actually do, and that’s fine. I often wonder if I do. My neighbour did. Or, at least, I discovered that when, in casual conversation, he told me about working in the Windsor Jail when a fight broke out between COs and three members of a motor cycle gang who were in custody awaiting an appeal hearing on their triple homicide conviction. One of the gang members had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident and wore a prosthetic. In the midst of the melee, the leg became dislodged, came off the gang member completely. As my neighbour watched, from down the corridor, CO picked up the prosthetic leg from the floor and begin flogging the gang member with it.

You don’t run across scenes like that very often.

The book came together very well. It was enjoyable to write. Whenever I got stuck, I asked my neighbour what happened next and he told me. When I needed more detail, I asked him, and he told me. He even gave me latitude to flesh out scenes.

When the book was completed, I was too excited to let it sit and mellow, as I should have. I queried a publisher. As I explained to my neighbour that it could take months before we heard from the publisher, if at all, the publisher responded in less than a week. He asked to see the whole book. For some reason, he was very curious about my name appearing on the cover page along with my neighbour’s name, as though he had never seen a ghostwritten book before. He felt that was unusual. I went to my bookshelves and found numerous examples of ghostwriter’s names on front covers. Seemed a strange detail to latch onto. He ultimately passed on the book.

OK.

Sent it off to another publisher, one we had researched, one with whom my neighbour and I felt the book was a good fit. Since common courtesy is too much to ask in the 21st century, the publisher’s automatic reply email said, “If you don’t hear from us in six months, you can assume we have passed on your work.”

OK.

Six months passed and no word from them. An eco-friendly rejection slip. No fingerprints. No guilt. The clock ran out.

In order to survive as a writer — not just financially, but mentally, spiritually — a person needs to diversify: what they write, how they think, what kind of expectations they’re willing to take onboard. A writer needs to make himself into a multi-chambered vessel, like an ocean-going ship. If an iceberg pierces our side and water pours in, we need to have enough segmented chambers to contain the deluge, which in the case of a writer, is disappointment. Otherwise, you sink.

Freelance writing is just one of the chambers. New, fortified chambers come into existence with every new article I write that makes it into print. The pay does not have me looking into offshore options, but currency is exchanged, so that makes the endeavor legit in the terms of the culture in which I live.

Riding my bike also creates new and fortified chambers. Basing my cycling around the weather, I find we have far more pleasant days in southwestern Ontario than unpleasant. The summer I began cycling, in 2019, I went 50 or 60 days in a row without pause. I told myself I’d rest when it rained. It never rained — or, at least, never rained when I wanted to ride, which was early each morning.

It’s raining today. We’re four months into 2021 and I’ve cycled almost 3,500 kilometers. I cannot figure what the number represents to me. Whether I’m pleased or appalled by it. All I know is that I want more kilometers. It also feels good, pounding on the pedals on open concession roads, times I slip the grip of the wind.

I won’t set out in the rain. If I’m already out on a ride, and rain comes, I’ll continue along my route unless there is lightning.

My bike was back in the shop last week. Five broken spokes. Took Old Red out a couple of mornings. Got my bike back on Friday afternoon, so spun 80 kilometers on Saturday, and 100 km on Sunday. My legs are achy and tired, this morning, and I was almost grief-stricken when I saw it was raining. Donned my shorts and high visibility shirt, just the same, and even rode a kilometer around the neighbourhood, just to see if it was raining beyond my street. It was. At 62 degrees F, it was just cool enough for it to be miserable.

Yesterday’s ride was glorious, though hampered by a 14 mph wind. The wind just made me choose my route a little more carefully and to be smarter with my gears. I made my way into Amherstburg, alternating between going into the gusting wind, and then turning up a road and gearing up a little in the side-wind. When I got to County Road 18, I turned left and rode the gale at my back. Got out to Walker Road and turned left again. Took me 45 minutes to get from McGregor to Riverside Drive in Windsor, wind at my back.

The writing isn’t going well.

After finishing the cop book, in order to preserve my seaworthiness, I embarked on writing a book about my experience cycling. I haven’t achieved the greatest weight loss. Haven’t embarked on a worldwide trek, or attained Zen enlightenment while pounding the pedals. My credential is that I’m an ordinary guy. I don’t have the willpower of a marathoner. I don’t have the discipline of a mountaineer. So, the articles I see in my Internet feed that talk about “training” and “lifting” and “building” interest me about as much as headlines like “8 Ways You’re Cutting Your Lawn Wrong!” Yes, I should exercise. Yes, I should strive to eat more healthy food. Yes, I want to have shredded abs. But I am a New Millennium man — my body and spirit shrink from the effort.

Then, the pandemic hit. Morning rides became morning thrives. Soon, I came to the limits of my cheap, department store bicycle and bought a quality bike.

The writing is not going well. The article writing. My wife comments that it comes so easily for me because I am able to complete my assignments. People are slow to respond to my interview requests. Others take a page from Canadian publishers and don’t respond at all. There is a global pandemic going on — far too long — I remind myself, and it’s affecting everyone differently. My little tricks to occupy and distract myself are wearing thin. I’m coming to that inevitable precipice I come to in every job where I wonder, What the hell am I doing? This is how I spend my days?

Yes, earning money, just like most of the rest of the world.

My sons gallantly endure their online learning in the living room and my basement office, respectively. My older son is very much like me — poor guy — and wishes that his teacher would just post the work he needs to complete each day, and dispense with having to sit through the online instruction. I feel for him.

One outlet for which I write has a process much more arduous than the others. My reward for doing twice the legwork is to receive about half the pay I receive from my other publications. Somehow, other writers allowed this encroachment, and as a consequence, it is my burden to be an unpaid project manager/facilitator, tracking down contact information, inquiring if businesses even want the free advertising being offered to them (some, inexplicably, do not). And my deadline marches closer as my email messages sit in Spam and Bulk folders, or simply ignored, leaving me to telephone. Nearly everyone misunderstands, at first, thinking they must pay for inclusion in my feature, necessitating me to explain, “No, we’d just like to tell readers about your business.”

It’s a lot of uphill struggle for pay cheques that would probably serve better as bookmarks.

I write to create, to interact, to engage my mind, to perform an act of verbal carpentry that often benefits me more than food. If I’m going to write for no pay, I’ll work on my own stuff. When the pay is low enough to make me wonder what I’m doing, I need to take steps.

The best step to take is a ride.

After the last ride, my phone app told me I had burned 3171 kcals over the course of a 3:53:10 ride. I consumed 96 ounces of water during the ride and a stale Clif bar. Got home and was utterly out of sorts the rest of the day, my body recovering from the shock, convinced it was hungry and thirsty, even after I fed and hydrated it.

The exercise is irrelevant. I don’t ride to lose weight or look buff at the beach. The best I can describe is, I feel as though my head is wrapped with mummy bandages. Riding is the process of unraveling those bandages, reducing the number of layers between me and the air. I don’t think I ever completely unravel the entire roll, but letting the layers build up by not riding, leaves me with the sensation of pins-and-needles, which is worse than numbness; the feeling I get if I sleep too long with my arm bent at an odd angle beneath my head.

Then, it rains. Then, it ruins. And though I could use the rest, the mummy bandages slowly form. They never stop, really. After a winter of interruptions, sneaking out the few, rare mornings the roads were not frozen, there was lost time to be made up. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m but a passenger. My legs and bicycle are in collusion against me. And I once found it burdensome having a living, breathing boss. Now, to take my commands from an inanimate object and the weather. I am proto-man. Rather than keeping this blog and writing books, maybe cave drawings are my calling.

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Matthew St. Amand

Matthew St. Amand

Husband, father, amateur ghost hunter, online-ordained minister and writer. Learn more (but not much more) at www.mattst.biz