Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2021/ Near and Far

Near and Far

I am typing this out in New Hamburg, which is about 20km from Kitchener-Waterloo. Because I am old and fat and slow, it takes me nearly two hours to cycle here. Nevertheless, I consider New Hamburg nearby. There was a time not too long ago when I considered Petersburg (only 5km out of Waterloo) far.

My perceptions of what is near and what is far have shifted dramatically since I started biking regularly in 2003. I used to cycle from my residence near the University of Waterloo to a farm plot in Bridgeport. It would take me 40 minutes or so, and it felt far. Going back home felt particularly onerous because cycling up Lancaster from Bridge St (where the strip club used to be) to Bridgeport Road was a long, long incline. I would huff and puff my way up that hill and become completely winded by the time I reached the stoplight. These days I consider that trip no big deal -- without much planning I can cycle to Bridgeport or even Bloomingdale and back. The long incline is still long, but I can often reach the top without losing my breath completely.

Unfamiliarity makes destinations seem far. Lately I have been cycling down a country road called Gore Road to get to Carlyle and Burlington. The first few trips I made down that road seemed incredibly far. Now I am starting to become familiar with the landmarks and it seems nearer. Any time I make a brand new trip I know it will feel like a long one, simply because of the novelty.

Similarly, pleasant scenery makes trips seem nearer, and unpleasant scenery like suburbs makes those trips seem farther. Some trips in the country feel far because there is only farmland for kilometres around, but trips of the same distance through towns feels closer. This is the case when I cycle to Elora; taking Northfield seems far, but Katherine St seems shorter.

Steep hills slow me down, and thus such trips feel farther. Similarly, trips in the city with lots of stoplights feel far. Once I cycled down Derry Road through Milton, and boy was that a mistake. Headwinds and tailwinds are another factor.

Geographic distances definitely affect whether I consider destinations to be near or far, but the goalposts have shifted over the years. When I first cycled to Petersburg it felt far; then Baden felt far; then New Hamburg; then Stratford. Stratford is one of my favourite destinations, and I consider it a "medium-long" trip even though it takes me three hours each way. Other destinations like St Mary's or Orangeville or Mississauga or Arthur feel far to me these days. But because I am old and fat and slow, I am reaching the limit of how far I can cycle in a day. Unless I learn to camp I do not think I will be travelling much farther.

Oddly enough, my relationship to walking has also changed dramatically when I started cycling. When I first moved to KW I used to walk for an hour and a half each way from Eby St in Kitchener to the University of Waterloo, and I would think nothing of it. I did not even have an MP3 player to keep me company; at best I could read the weekly ECHO alternative weekly on Thursdays. Although I have walked this trip since beginning to cycle regularly, the trip feels far in a way it didn't before.

I never understood how people could commute from the GTA to KW every day for work. That seemed crazy to me. It still seems crazy to me (especially if you are doing the driving) but I better understand how somebody might get used to the commute. Similarly, it is now conceivable to me how some people can hop on a plane and go to Paris (France) for a weekend trip without batting an eye. Not driving (or taking aeroplanes) has hurt my life and career in a lot of ways, but once again I find myself grateful that I have not had my perceptions warped further by depending on internal combustion engines for transportation.

With my current cycling levels, I do not think my perceptions of nearness are that different from those of car drivers, at least within the city areas. That will change, of course. I am getting older and fatter and slower, and at some point my capacity to cycle will diminish to the point where destinations that seem nearby now will once again feel far.