So long, Bert, my bicycle buddy.
I’ve known this Dutch fella for a year now. We met in the Hideout, an awesome little breakfast/lunch spot in old Chiang Mai. I spotted him in cycling garb, ready to brave another fierce climb up the long, steep, and winding road of Chiang Mai’s resident mountain, Doi Suthep.
Bert and I rode our bikes together throughout the hot, burning season last year, when the sky takes on a chalky hue and obscures the usual sparkling urban landscape deckled with golden stupas and bank signs all the colours of the rainbow. When temperatures soar to 40 degrees celsius and the pavement appears to melt.
He showed me all the backroad routes through the city’s secret rice fields, tucked away coffee shops where the birds sing a little louder and the shadows stretch a little further. Where the sound of the city recedes to reveal the nourishing quiet of nature.
We talked sometimes about nothing much while we cycled. That’s one of my favourite things about Bert’s company. It’s simple and often silly. He has stories about places he has been, people he has met, and there’s nary a note of regret about things long past. With Bert, what you see is what you get. We cycled for long stretches of time without saying anything.
We celebrated what I referred to as his “Bert-Day” cycling the wrong direction to the coldest pool in town. So instead of cooling off in a luxury swimming pool surrounded by mountains, we instead pointlessly cycled about 25 km and ended up at the bustling CMU coffee shop and chased microdoses of psilocybin with chocolate milkshakes. Then we went to the local pool. He’s a bit like my 8-year-old neighbourhood pal up for some good clean fun on summer days.
He guided my first long-distance cycling trip to Chiang Dao, a total of 180 km of meandering backroads, city streets, and thigh-thickening hills, and I learned cycling etiquette and best practices. Like tucking in line behind a cycling partner to catch the jet-stream effect that makes moving into a headwind a little easier. Like regularly cleaning my chain and putting air in my tires. Like mapping my trips. Like not being afraid of scary street dogs.
But one of the best things I learned from Bert concerns the life-defining skill of decision making. On the surface, our quotidian expression “up to you” when it came to choosing coffee shops and dinner spots and times to meet was just pure laziness and reluctance to make inconsequential decisions.
Where you want to eat, Bert? Up to you. When should we go, Colleen? Up to you. It’s amazing we ever managed to go anywhere or eat anything. We said this so often we jokingly promised to one day open a coffee shop in Chiang Mai called Up To You.
Now reflecting on this little colloquialism, I am confronted with its deeper meaning because no matter how much I try to be content with skimming the surface of what’s said, I find a good plunge much more satisfying.
Up. To. You.
Isn’t it though? No matter how much we leave our most (or least) critical decisions in the hands of another person, a fit of circumstance, or the grand ‘ole workings of the Universe, time and time again we’re met with having to choose. And where choice prevails, so too does uncertainty, self-doubt, and of course, privilege. So too does the illusion that we have any kind of control over our lives. In one sense we don’t. In another sense we do, which demands giving up the illusory comfort of victimhood and instead taking the wheel.
No matter what happens, what circumstances life deals, what mess we find ourselves in, what assholes we encounter, what slips out of our hands and breaks to pieces, what lives and dies, our response (ability) is up to us.
Now Bert heads to Greece where he will be a guide for cycling tours in Athens for Dutch tourists. How cool and fitting a role for someone who loves cycling as much as he does. I could rattle on and on about Bert’s redeeming qualities (there are many but don’t include his aversion to the BeeGees!) but I think it’s enough to say that he holds a very special place in my heart.
So, so long Bert(rum), my super boss bicycle buddy. Athens and all those Dutch tourists will be lucky to know you. May you be well. May you cycle far and fierce. May you learn how to circumvent serious questions about Greek history from inquisitive tourists. May all those coffee stops, dinner decisions, and whether or not to drink ouzo on a work night be Up. To. You.
You are loved, and you will be greatly missed. Thank you 🚲❤️🚲
P.S. This one’s for you 😂