The Learning Curve – Forward Motion

I’m going to take a diversion in this column to tell you about a friend of ours. His name is Peter. He owned a business called Gabriola Cycle and Kayak; it was one of the original kayak companies in British Columbia.

He ran kayak trips to the Broken Islands, Queen Charlottes, and Baja, Mexico. But his real love was cycling. For many years he organized trips in Baja, Spain, France, Hawaii, and right here on Vancouver Island.

In 2004, Leslie (a.k.a. The Man) and I ventured on the Spain cycling trip. This was the first cycling trip to Spain that Peter had organized. We were to fly to Madrid and Peter, being the helpful bloke that he was, would organize us from there. We were to cycle the Camino de Santiago trail from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela.

This was the first organized cycling trip that The Man and I had been on and the fact that it was in Europe and we were taking our own bikes was a special challenge to us. We had decided to take the car and the bikes to The Man’s daughter in Surrey on the mainland, and she would drive us to the airport the next day. We would pack our bikes in boxes, as per Peter’s instructions, and we’d fly out to sunny Spain.

We had a series of adventures getting to Vancouver Airport. It rained. The car battery died. The bike boxes got wet. The check-in lady was unsympathetic. We arrived in Madrid and couldn’t find a taxi able to take us and two bike boxes. We finally got to the small hotel and they wouldn’t let us in. No, we don’t take bikes, they said. But Peter told us, we said. Oh, Peter, they said. Okay. We were in.

Once we arrived in Madrid, Peter had told us, he would help us and our bikes find a way to the bus or train to Burgos. In reality, we found the bus and Peter took care of the bikes. He had booked delightful rooms in Burgos. The next morning, he helped put the bikes together. We were off.

We spent ten days bicycling from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela. Each day we would have breakfast with the group?and a diverse group we were: doctors, lawyers, accountants, retired people, lesbians, singles, couples, Australians. You name them, we had them.

After breakfast Peter would give us a map showing how to get to the next place and the next hotel. Some of the group hot-pedalled it and made the trip in a couple of hours. Some dawdled and checked out churches and other places of interest along the way.

Me and The Man? Well, we were always last to arrive. We were slow cyclists anyway, but we’d stop at coffee shops, stores, villages, and just to chat. The best thing about arriving last was that at the hotel the clerk would know our name: ?Buenos dias, Les and Christine!? they would say. I was impressed until I realized that we were the last of the group to arrive, so who else could we be?

When we cycled into a town, always late, generally the first person we would see would be Ana, Peter’s wife. She’d be out looking for us. Everyone else was in the bar. But she’d be concerned that we were missing. After a cheery wave, she’d disappear to her family and the group, and we’d be off for a shower.

One of the amazing sights that the Spanish villagers saw was Peter on his bike with his seven-year-old daughter, Camila?she was cycling on one of those kids? bikes that attaches to the adult’s bike. I would guess that this sight was new to the Spaniards. The old women in the villages along the way would come out to stare at the man chatting and singing away with his young daughter as they cycled along. They’d wave and laugh?Peter, Camila, and the villagers.

It was a great trip. There was not a dull moment. We met people from all over the world walking the Camino, horseback riding the Camino, cycling, and just plain enjoying life. It was amazing. It spurred The Man and me to take a cycling trip, just the two of us, to Portugal the next year. Thanks to Peter, we had the confidence to pack, travel, and cycle a new country by ourselves. Thanks to Peter, we’ve bought a fifth wheel, packed the bikes on the back, and we’re off all over North America and Mexico.

Peter died last month. He was 52. He was fit, healthy, trained as a special education teacher, a kayaker, a cyclist, a delightful man, friend, husband, and father to Camila. He will be sadly missed. If there is one thing I learned from Peter it was that things don’t count. People count. Family counts. And above all, experiences and life count.

Think of Peter: enjoy university. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

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