Years ago I visited Vancouver on my university reading week and a friend of mine took me to a dingy but delicious sandwich shop for lunch, somewhere off Commercial Drive.
As we approached the entrance he turned to me.
“I’m going to show you something fascinating,” he said in low tones. “When we go in, there is going to be a sign on the wall that says ‘Absolutely No Card Playing Allowed’ and right below that sign there is going to be a table full of men playing cards.”
True to his word, there they sat, five or six of them, cards in hand, looking as comfortable and self-assured as Gretzky behind the net. My curiosity was peaked.
“What is going on here?” I demanded of my friend. “Why are they flaunting the rules so blatantly? How can they get away with this?”
My friend just shrugged: “I used to wonder that too, but now I appreciate the mystery. Now I don’t want to know.”
In an age when certainty is prized above all else, when facts and figures bombard us from multiple mediums, it was strange to hear someone espouse the value of “not knowing.”
Even our noble territory has undermined the unknown, changing our traditional slogan “Yukon: The Magic and the Mystery,” to the arguably less accurate “Yukon: Canada’s True North” (the folks on Ellesmere Island might have a good chuckle at that one).
And yet for my friend, “The Case of the Card Playing Men” was not something to be solved, but rather embraced. Over the past few years I have come to understand his perspective.
Since returning home to the Yukon in 2008, my trips south of town on the Alaska Highway towards Wolf Creek (in my ’93 Corolla) have been oft punctuated by a recurring sight. In all wind conditions and all manners of precipitation you can see him, the Lone Cyclist, hugging the shoulder as he rides past McRae.
I’m sure many of you know exactly whom I’m talking about. Donning a reflective vest, untrendy helmet, and a grimace of determination as he hunches over his handlebars, he bikes back and forth to town every single day. I have seen him as many as four times in one week.
Back in my Yukon Icon days, I had a few people suggest I write a column about the Lone Cyclist. I thought about it, but declined.
I enjoy not having a clue who he is or what drives his pathological need to cycle the same route, day after day. Maybe he had a heart attack and is just following doctor’s orders; maybe he’s training for the Tour de France. I don’t know, but like my friend, I’ve come to embrace the mystery.
I once read that strangers will develop feelings of amiability towards each other if they are forced to maintain eye contact for a few seconds. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, then it is one of those tidbits that gives you a modicum of hope about the whole human project.
Likewise, my relationship with the Lone Cyclist (or lack thereof) gives me faith in my own humanity. I don’t know him from Adam, but I like and appreciate him; he is part of my Whitehorse.
So whoever you are, I encourage you to keep dotting the Alaska Highway with your bizarre willpower. And for what it’s worth, if you’re ever in Vancouver, I might know a card game you can join.
Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon