Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Note From Alan

Welcome to (or back to) Acadia, or Ki Ora in the first language of New Zealand/Aotearoa, my country for this year of sabbatical. I hope you all had a wonderful summer and I am sorry I was not there to greet folks (though not too sorry given my current abode).  I thought I would share a bit of my summer, which was quite an adventure… sea to sea on a bike, more than 7600 kms wandering across Canada. It took 3 months. If you are interested in the stories of the trip, there are many at Before and during the trip, many folks asked the questions “why would you do it?... what will you learn?... is it worth it? Here are my answers now that it’s all over…

“Yes, it was worth it, it was one of the most significant travel experiences of my life, rivaled only by a year in India years ago. Yet when I look at the photos or watch the short videos, I find the pictures and words don’t do it justice, because at the heart of it all was the mammoth amount of rich and multifaceted experience— highs, lows, wind, rain, snow, people, communities and culture. It was not a simulated experience but a very real one with a large dose of adversity mixed with enthusiasm and exhilaration. Why could we not drive about, car camp, hitchhike, take the train, or whatever for a few months and achieve the same thing? I have done these things and somehow this was different. We were at the whim of the elements and yet also able to influence our paths and make choices in the present, and only the present was important. There was this long term goal, and day by day we inched forward, though we were never sure moment to moment of exactly how much or when. There was a rhythm and physical energy that went with being on a bike for most of every day that was unique and powerful. Bikes seem to have an attraction and magic, somewhat like trains. They provide riders a special interaction with the places and people along the way.

 Alberta on a bike   

One of the most powerful aspects of it all was getting to know Canada far better from coast to coast, gaining a much deeper understanding of how diverse it is. Canadians in different regions live in very different worlds in many ways. It is amazing that we can even talk to each other at times. In part because we were on bikes doing this crazy adventure, and in part because we kept to the small towns and small roads, many many people invited us into their lives and shared so much spontaneously. When I walk into a community grocery store as a traveler passing through, rarely have I attracted lengthy conversations. Walk into a grocery store with bike helmets and safety vests and it takes a long time to get out even if I never initiate a conversation. People are curious and they approached us and soon we are off learning about their worlds and vice versa. Many times we were stuck waiting for others of us in communities because they were stopped and engaged in lengthy chats while doing errands. It seemed rude to explicitly shorten these chats, but sometimes it was the only path to riding anywhere in a day.

Every time we were stuck and faced with confusion or adversity someone would come up and help us out. At first I thought we were just extraordinarily lucky, but over time I came to realize that this was one of the few common links between every place. Whatever happened, someone was there when we needed help and never did we need to explicitly ask. The final straw was at a Trois Riviere campground when there was a huge standoff over the campground rules and fees. I remember thinking… ok, we have finally met our match and no one will help us out of this mess… yet within a minute of the thought, a campground staff person was taking us home to his house for the night. From then on I knew that wherever or whenever, if we needed help, someone would be there. To me this is the one thing that all Canadian communities seem to share, be it BC ski resorts, dusty prairie towns, Northern Ontario mining centres, small Quebec farming communities or Acadian coastal villages. Frequently I seemed to have little in common with the people we encountered in terms of my lifestyle or values, yet there was a human connection that was powerful and it traced back to the experience of traveling as a group on a bike.

Finally, many folks said that we were unique, and I agree, to be doing this as adult family members. What added to the magic of the experience was that we were not only a family, but a team working with amazing collaboration (yes there were a few moments of conflict) toward one shared set of goals. Frequently members of a family do something together but rarely do so many do so much over such a long period of time with such a sense of equality and shared decision-making. The family and team experience has been unforgettable and we have a set of bonds, experiences and memories that we will share as a group for the rest of our lives. Thank you Leah, Evan, Shane and Ginny.”

Check out the blog if you choose. If you are interested in humour, the video of the “Hail storm makes for a good laugh at.

Raglan New Zealand

I have also started a blog of our New Zealand/Aotearoa experiences and I just posted the first entry at We have already learned a lot, some of which will creep into future courses… such as  “Do you feel it is appropriate given the ecological circumstances to poison rats, stouts and opossums with cyanide pellets on a massive scale?” The first entry explains the circumstances very briefly.



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