The Art of Collecting Kilometres
And Seeking Sanity While
Cycling Essex County
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Todd Ternovan
Seven o’clock Sunday morning, September 6, riding my bike down the empty expanse of Howard Avenue—from its termination point at County Road 20, heading toward Laurier Parkway. I needed 33 kilometers to reach my goal of 6,000 km for the summer. At that point in Sunday’s ride, I’d hit 28 km and would go another 43 km before I was finished. By then, however, I no longer cared about number totals on my app. The wind was at my back, my legs pumped like pistons, the front of the bike rang like tuning forks, and the old thrill of riding was upon me just like when I was a kid.
It had not always been like this.
I have been overweight my entire adult life—painfully, embarrassingly, heart-palpitatingly so.
The only remnant of my athletic youth was my outsized appetite. As a writer, my pursuits—reading, writing, watching movies—involve me sitting as still as the Buddha beneath his bodhi tree. Over the years, I took on the Buddha’s physical dimensions, but none of his enlightenment.
The bathroom scale was not my enemy. I didn’t bother with it. The scale was not an essential part of my day.
Wearing pants, however, was essential, and it became an increasingly uncomfortable endeavor.
I never hit 300 lbs., but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
It changed, somewhat, when my sons were born. By 2012, I trimmed down to what felt like
a sleek 230 lbs. on my 5’11” frame. Motivation, however, is like a fire you make by rubbing
two sticks together: it only lasts so long. Still, my goal was galvanized: 200 lbs. before my fiftieth birthday.
Following March Break 2019, aged 48, I was a desperate, disconsolate 235 lbs.
For some reason, “doing the right thing” didn’t motivate me. “Get fit for my family” had a bit of traction. Vanity? That went out when my hair turned white. No, what I needed was a good blast of anxiety.
That came when I lost my job in June 2019. It forced me to remember an old axiom: activity
I bought a cheap department store bicycle and rode it during my newly free mornings. At first, just around my neighbourhood, soon venturing further out. By Halloween Day, my final outdoor ride, I biked 20 km a day and consistently hovered around 220 lbs. The vaunted 200 lbs. seemed so out of reach.
Over the winter, I mounted my bicycle on trainer in my basement. I missed the grand vistas of Malden Road and Laurier Parkway, but I listened to interesting audiobooks and kept my legs strong.
Then, COVID-19 hit.
The global pandemic didn’t become real for me until March 13, 2020, when the NBA canceled the remainder of its season. Disney World closed. The schools closed for two weeks beyond March Break. Toilet paper futures traded like tech stocks and suddenly I wondered if water would come out of my tap if I turned it on.
It was then that I turned to “kilominating”—a word of my own creation, which means: “To accumulate kilometers by way of a person-propelled conveyance, such as a bicycle”.
My anxiety is a diamond-tipped drill with a plutonium core fuel cell, capable of piercing the center of the earth, if left unchecked. Kilominating burned up the excess energy.
Soon, riding weather returned. Any worries I had that my basement trainer was less rigorous than riding outside were groundless. It was a surreal experience, blasting through my old 20 km route. I soon ventured onto the Herb Gray Parkway, adding kilometers to the ride. The day I rode 30 km, I felt like Magellan.
Then, in the middle of May, a friend said to me: “You should try this biking app.”
I resisted. I am not an app guy. My friend was persuasive. So, I got the app. Zeopaxa Cycling.
And then—the app got me.
The app not only timed my rides but utilized GPS technology to plot my route on its cartoon map. It counted kilometers, calories, displayed average and top speed. Soon, I no longer cared about getting fit or staying young—the numbers became everything. With my cell phone mounted on my handlebars, I saw my readout in real time. If I had 29 km as I arrived home, I rode around the block until I hit 30 km. If my calorie count was 987, I rode around until it hit 1,000.
Following a spirited 28 km ride on a rainy late May morning, the space-age shock absorber connecting the front half of my bicycle to the rear half snapped. My bicycle broke beneath me.
Luckily, Mark at Infinity Cycle hooked me up with a sky-blue Scott mountain bike. A true game-changer. No more slushy give to the pedals, slipping gears or lopsided pedal arms. Every ounce of energy poured into the bike went into forward motion.
One morning, on Kelly Road, putting the bike through its paces, a Jeep pulled up beside me. The driver called over: “Do you know you’re going thirty-five kilometers an hour?”
“Yes!” I said.
The orbit of my rides widened by the day. My first expedition-by-bicycle took me to Emeryville, in May. By the time I tottered home, I added 80 km to my total. Another Saturday, I cruised into Essex, veered into Kingsville, and returned home by way of County Road 50 for a total of 115 km.
My kilominating totals were inadvertently aided each time I got lost on the Greenway Trail or along concession roads. More than a few times, I pulled over, bit the bullet, turned on my phone data to find my location using Google Maps.
Some rides were hampered by sudden downpours, dodging lightning storms, high winds that tackled me from every direction, and even old-fashioned falls off the bicycle. A brain misfire, one morning, caused me squeeze to the brakes when I actually intended to switch into a higher gear. The blunder launched me over the handlebars like a character in a cartoon. As I scraped myself up from the pavement, pained and embarrassed, I thought, “Note to self: brakes on quality bikes work really, really, really well.” And following especially long rides—the impromptu 70 and 80 km outings—I returned home ravenous enough to eat my house.
The scale never became a friend, even as I broke the 220 lb. barrier. The 204-206-209 trifecta bedeviled me for weeks without resolution. And the larger problem sorted itself out. As my family and I hunkered down—my sons learning online, my wife and I working from home, forays for groceries my only interaction with the world—the engines of my anxiety sought to rev, they were more Chevette than Harrier jet.
Then, July 22, my 49th birthday, I rode 52.84 km through the balmy morning. When I stepped on the scale that morning, it read 195 lbs.
Attaining a goal is rewarding, but it’s also frightening. Now that I’m over the hump, I see that the easy part is done and the real work of maintaining what I achieved has begun.