The peninsular city of Halifax isn’t a safe place to bicycle commute, but that sure makes it fun. The streets in the hilled port city are from a single-lane, dirt, horse-pulled-cart era. They graduated from dirt to cobblestone to pavement in most areas, but they didn’t end up widening the streets in a lot of places.
The epicenters of the city are a circular citadel from the glory days of sea battles, and an impractical but beautiful grassy common from the glory days of British imperialism.
As such, the streets are as far away from gridded as possible. Intersections are a compilation of five or six or seven single lanes turning into one or two triple laned streets with new names, with three or four stoplights per intersection dictating traffic direction and flow, like a bunch of tone-deaf maestros.
The joy of maneuvering the city on a bicycle was that survival meant resorting to maverick mechanisms. The city became a playground where a twenty-minute commute from school to work included near-death experiences and long, steep grades alongside four lanes of traffic. I’d stand up and lean over my handlebars, round a corner, and the blue of the expansive Atlantic horizon pulled me forward, faster.
I never thought I’d become one of those car-driving people.
I purchased my first car shortly after moving to Whitehorse. I was in the twilight of my 28th year, and I experienced a bout of hyperventilation after the transaction was settled. At the time, I thought it was due to the amount of money involved. Now, I’d say I was having a premonition. My inner chambers knew I would love driving as much as I loved conquering the city of Halifax with my bicycle.
Whitehorse, with its wide roads, abundant bike lanes, car-free trails, and logical street order, is a relatively safe place to bicycle. But distance is measured on a whole other scale around here, and if a person were to devote her time to arriving places on her bike, that’s all she’d be doing.
The love of driving is a beast unto itself. A car is a relatively safe place; in a physical sense, but also in an anonymous, enclosed sense, compared to the pure exposure, skin-on-asphalt nudity of cycling. When cycling, especially in Halifax, you give yourself up to the universe. When driving, especially highway driving, the inside of your car becomes a personal universe.
There’s something about the open road that encourages meditative thinking. The mundanity of it allows thoughts to flit unleashed.
There’s also a practical, expedient aspect to driving, because it encourages multi-tasking. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say certain breakfasts are suitable for the morning commute. Egg, bean and cheese (cheddar) burritos wrapped in wax paper or a paper towel and a travel mug of coffee, for example, is a simple and convenient way to kill two birds with one stone. One can conceivably brush her teeth while driving, too, or re-hydrate with a large bottle of water.
It’s not possible to do any of those things while cycling, and the joy of performing life’s administrative tasks in the small space of a car is akin to the joy of standing up and leaning forward against handle bars while hurtling, too fast, down a traffic-ridden thoroughfare.