by Hamish Gordon::
On Canada Day weekend I was the fortunate guest of the King family on Hall’s Lake. But it was at Fort Irwin and on the Harborn Road that I made a remarkable re-discovery. It was a re-discovery because I was returning to the Highlands that I once called home in the summer of 1984 when I worked for your illustrious publication under Len Pizzey. Yes, I was once a roving reporter, photographer and general dog’s body for the Echo back in its hey day when the Minden Times and the Echo scrambled for headlines and battled for the best feature articles. And I did love the competition to fill those broad sheet pages. So you could say I was once very initimate with the Highlands near and far.
So, last weekend, instead of racing all over the county in the blue Echo van waving back at friendly Highlanders as I used to love doing, I was racking up mileage on my stealthy carbon fiber, super light Bianchi 22 speed bicycle. Indeed I am now an aging war horse who loves to race his bike at every opportunity that my real estate career in Mississauga permits. It’s my vain attempt to turn back the clock of time.
In any event, cottaging with the Kings and training in the Highlands are my favourite things to do. Not only because of the tired cottage road surfaces, nor because of the amazingly friendly Halls Lake cottagers who drop by the Kings every five minutes, but because of the undulations and rolling hills that dance around your glistening lakes and rivers. It is a road cycling paradise. And last weekend I found an even more profound reason to fall in love, as a cyclist, with the Haliburton Highlands again.
Yes, after having been swallowed up by the motoring mayhem of the Greater Toronto Area suburbs for the past 20 years, I had forgotten what remarkable people populate the shores and river embankments of the Highlands. My morning ride began with Alison & Brad King, my wife Lucie Cousineau and Kinesis Lake cottagers, Diane and Jeff Rushton. We circled around Halls Lake, to #35, then along the North Shore Road past the Stanhope Airport all the way to West Guildford where we met the Rushtons. If interested, I know the location of each and every pot hole on the North Shore, but it was much later that I became a victim of my own enthusiams and your road surfaces. We all made it to the charming General Store Cafe on Pine Street in Haliburton (where I incidentally had rented a 2nd floor room in that summer of of ‘84). Gushing over our wonderful ride, we agreed to make this Canada Day Ride to Haliburton Village an annual event.
Indeed it had been a very pleasant ride at a civilized pace, but I was not satiated by the 40 kms round trip with the ladies. I was still hungry! Hungry to break away on my own and ride at unrestricted speeds. And so I did. At Highway #35 and Harborn Road, I took off on my own to ride the 20 km roller coaster that is Harborn Road. I was exhilarated all the way to the top of the last hill before Harborn descends into Fort Irwin. And that is where I made my remarkable re-discovery that prompted this letter.
I flatted. So who cares? Well apparently everybody. The issue was that clever me had flatted without a spare tube or tools, and with no cell phone to call for help AND I really couldn’t remember where I was in relation to Halls Lake and West Guildford where I had started this epic journey. Yes, you may well ask, what was I thinking riding without out a spare tube in the Haliburton wilderness on cottage roads. Well, I was on a brand new set of wheels with brand new tubeless tires, much like a car tire except very much narrower – 23 mm to be exact. I was told, “They will never go flat!” Yet, here I was stranded.
I did not panic, but I did look pathetic. Standing around, alone in my blue and white spandex and white racing shoes with a broken bike at the side of the road, I contemplated my immediate future – for about 90 seconds.
I knew I was at least 40 kms from Halls Lake but I knew not in what direction. Ninety seconds later the first passerby in his red SUV towing a log splitter going the opposite direction came to a stop. “How you doing there? Need a ride? ” he inquired. “Well actually where is West Guildford? ” “Jeez, not sure, but Fort Irwin is just at the bottom of the hill, and there is a gas station right there. Want a ride? ” I was astounded. He was pointing in the wrong direction towing a log splitter yet was offering to turn around and drive me 300 meters to the gas station. “Thats very kind but I can walk and make a phone call. but thank you for stopping.”
I messed around with my flat tire for another 30 seconds when another female Haliburtan in a Caravan with two kids in the back stopped and offered to help. Again I thanked her, and declined assistance as I felt sure I could fix this flat. How, I am not sure. I needed time to think but kept getting interrupted, this time by a third passerby offering to drive me … anywhere.
The tire did still have about 30 pounds of pressure in it so I put the wheel back on the bike and rolled carefully down the hill to the gas station. I dismounted and walked across the broken rough pavement around the gas pump. As I walked my bike toward the porch of the gas station, another highlander filling her tank remarked “Hey there, did you see the Tour de France this morning on TSN? Great finish!” Its like we’d been neighbours for a half a life time. Again I was astounded by the friendly demeanour. And since when do Canadians, except avid cyclists like myself, watch or can even find the Tour De France on TV? “I wish had seen it,” I replied. On the front porch in the shade I dismantled the rear wheel again and applied the canister of foam injection I was carrying to try and seal the side wall puncture. It was not working. The white foam sealant, like shaving cream gushed out of the pin hole puncture on the side wall and the valve. I was SOL.
This tire was finished and I was counfounded yet again. So I went inside and asked for phone book to call the Kings. The attendant was delightful OF COURSE, and dialed the number for me – 10 TIMES while she served a steady stream of Canada Day customers in the heat of the day. I decided I could not hang around inside the store, so I sat on the porch forlorn wondering how in the heck am I going to get home with no tube, and a punctured tire? Inside the attendant kept calling the number and getting a busy signal. I sat powerless on that porch and pondered my immediate future yet again. But something remarkable was actually happening. I met families, dogs, couples and teenagers all of whom wanted to help me but couldn’t. So they merely engaged me in conversation about biking, boating, the weather or their yappy, adorable dog. My world had finally stopped and I was able to observe what a wonderful world it really was.
And then it happened. An extreme act of kindness.
Jamie Braun (of 1158 Fort Irwin Rd.) was his name and he lived 5 minutes down the road. “Hey I have a buddy just like you . He rides like a 100 kilometers a day just to train and he has everything you need to fix a flat.” “Really ? That’s awesome, but I need a tire, a tube and a floor pump.” That is a tall order in the middle of Haliburton Highlands at a MARINA, I thought to myself. “No Problem,” Jamie said. “I will be back in 10 minutes” Ten minutes later I was gobsmacked, when Jamie arrives with everything on my list including the right size valve on the tube. How could this be and where am I? I fixed the flat within 5 minutes. Left the pump at the gas station to be retrieved later by Jamie and I was on my way. And all the way back to Hall’s lake, which is precisely 40 kilometers, I marveled at what wonderful world it really is when you are down and out in the Haliburton Highlands on a summers day. Oh and Jamie the tire and a new tube are in the mail to you presently.
Many thanks again.