At first, I really missed coffee shops.
I didn’t realize how much of my route planning was built around supply points--stores, gas stations, restaurants, cafes. In the old world, I’d slip a bank card in my pocket and just go, knowing that if I needed something, I could replenish supplies along the way, at a Circle K or Starbucks or Country Boyz.
But when everything closed, suddenly all options for re-supply vanished--and I mean everything. For a while there, you couldn’t even get a drive-thru coffee without a car around here. So, I decided I would just bring everything I might need with me--coffee included.
At first, this was a hassle, digging out the thermos, making sandwiches, even baking scones (!), to stuff in the small pack I started wearing on my back. All of these take time and (admittedly small) effort.
But here’s the thing: I was reminded how carrying all those supplies around actually gives you a ton of freedom. Instead of having to wait until I got to a re-supply point, I could bust out my leftover pizza and Earl-Grey-hot whenever I felt like it. On a park bench or picnic table in the city; at the side of a gravel road or even in the ditch beside a farmer’s field in the country.
I noticed and tried out some pit stops that I don’t think I otherwise would have, like the fountain park benches at Wedgewood near the ravine that connects Lessard Road and Cameron Heights, where I took these shots.
Not long after the pandemic struck, I happened to read (and review in this very space) the Roughstuff Fellowship Archive, a terrific collection of photos and other archival materials from the British off-road cycling organization started in the 1950s. Among the many wonderful photos in the archive are several that show Roughstuffians eating roadside lunches and sipping from thermoses pulled from rucksacks and Carradice bags. Those pipe-smoking mid-century Brits were the epitome of self-sufficiency--out of necessity, of course. The remote places they cycled to had no supply points; packing in lunch was the only option, so they just did it.
Even before the pandemic, reading that book made me envious of an old-school, can-do, self-sufficient ethos that much of the cycling world seems to have lost, with our reliance on GPS navigation and specialized gear, not to mention the knowledge that there’s a Starbucks on every other corner.
Strange as it may sound, COVID has brought something positive to my cycling life. I’ve been forced to become more self-sufficient, and in doing so, I have come to feel in some small way a little less dependent on the conveniences of modern life and also more connected to that Roughstuff tradition. The difference, of course, is that in all those Roughstuff photos, you see groups of people, socializing, sitting close together, like we used to do. I’m still, for the most part, on my own.
Many coffee shops are open again, but so far I’ve mostly given them a pass. I’ll stick with my thermos and squashed muffins, thank you very much. Maybe I’ll even start smoking a pipe.