Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 26/7/2017 (1114 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘I can get anywhere I want."
Natalie Frijia took a detour on the road to her PhD to cycle from Halifax to Vancouver, and in her one-woman show Bike Face, she shares her adventures with us. Natalie is a natural storyteller, and when I saw her show, the audience seemed to fall in love with this sprightly woman.
This is the first time I’ve written a piece for the Winnipeg Free Press, so I’m not sure if I can say "goddamn charming" in print. But she is goddamn charming!
A lifelong lover of cycling and adventure stories, Natalie realizes putting down roots in the library to complete her PhD isn’t for her. She decides she can "read it, or live it," and with that begins to plan her cross-country quest.
Of course, she’s insistently cautioned about how dangerous it is for a woman to travel solo, the theme of what women should and shouldn’t do underscored by an old-timey recording based on Victorian-era medical journals highlighting the dangerous effects of cycling on women. Oh my, the freedom these women will experience, be afraid!
As an advocate for healthy, sustainable transportation, I believe strongly that our city has fallen behind the times in offering safe, convenient and affordable transportation to its citizens. While not quite Victorian, much of Winnipeg’s planning seems stuck somewhere in the car-obsessed 1950s. I proudly toil in workplace commuter options at Green Action Centre, when not producing and acting in theatre — which, you may find hard to believe, doesn’t actually pay all my bills — and could identify with the freedom Frijia has found on two wheels.
While I have owned a car in the past, my bike is much quicker, more fun and a downright healthy way to explore my city. I can park close to where I’m going, and find it easier to make spontaneous stops to explore shops and parks. I don’t have to make a special trip to the gym to exercise — I get lots of cardio just getting where I’m going. I love the freedom biking brings, which makes it so strange to be encountered by those who comment on how "brave" I am to use my bike to commute. "Don’t you find it scary?"
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Many of the warnings Natalie receives before and during her quest are also all too familiar. According to Statistics Canada, of the people who choose to commute via bicycle, only 33 per cent are women. Compare that to other countries that have invested in cycling infrastructure over the last 30 years, where women make up more than 50 per cent of the cycling.
Winnipeg’s current plan is to have connected, safe infrastructure across our city... in 20 years. For the cost of what we roughly spend on one overpass. Such a long time to offer access to our city to all citizens.
Like Frijia, who has seen our country from coast to coast, I wish more Canadians would experience the freedom that comes from ditching the car to commute on two wheels, supported by safe infrastructure. Frijia’s final encounter with a little girl who loves to bike and is inspired to also travel across the country was heartwarming, but a little sad.
We want to live in a world where that girl can grow up to be anything and do anything, and she can. But unlike boys, she’s going to be constantly reminded about how "hard," "dangerous" and "crazy" her dreams might be. Thankfully, she, and we, have role models like Natalie Frijia to look to.
So put on your Bike Face, get on your bike and experience the world with pedal power!