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2017 Issue 3: Science on a small scale

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Changing gears: The road less travelled...by bike

Changing gears: The road less travelled...by bike

[Christine Buuc photowith bike]
Photo by Bernard Clark

Christine Bruce, Artsci'78, takes the “road less travelled” approach to life.

I have an arrangement with the universe. If something calls me, I go.

Christine Bruce, Artsci'78, takes the “road less travelled” approach to life.

This unconventional style has led the 58-year-old down a series of sometimes bumpy, often joyful, and always interesting paths. She’s worked in the demanding and ever-changing technology sector, taught English in exotic locales such as Mexico and Indonesia, volunteered on a small-animal farm in Newfoundland, and is a radio broadcaster and advocate for cyclists. And soon she’ll be heading to Canada’s west coast to volunteer with the Unist’ot’en Camp, supporting the First Nations band and its opposition to pipeline development. Her constant companion on almost every path she chooses to go is her beloved bicycle.

“I have an arrangement with the universe,” she says. “If something calls me, I go. When I think positively, good things will happen.”

In her early adult life, Ms. Bruce followed a similar route as her peers. She got a good education from Queen’s, got married and had children. Life circumstances changed and out of necessity, she moved to Toronto and obtained a post-graduate diploma in technical writing. She discovered a talent for communicating in a specific way, translating highly technical, often jargoned, text into something non-technical people can understand.

Successfully building a career and reputation as an outstanding technical writer in Toronto, Ms. Bruce’s publications were held up as glowing examples of good technical writing. But in the late 2000s, the technology sector began to change. Technical writers weren’t in as much demand and companies began hiring off-shore, less qualified people to write user manuals.

The bike lady

Undeterred by the change in her employment status, Ms. Bruce turned to something that has been a constant in her life: her bike. That’s when things got really interesting.

[book cover]“I have a resumé to die for and it’s killing me,” she jokes. “But cycling is my passion, so I began documenting bike stories of people in the Greater Toronto Area.” Her book, This Road Continues One Block North, was published in 2014.

At the same time, realizing her job options were limited in Canada, and wishing to fulfill a life-long desire to travel, Ms. Bruce trained to teach English as a second language (ESL). Equipped with a new teaching certificate, her trusty bike, and a whole lot of moxie, she journeyed to Mexico on her first ESL teaching gig. She later went to Indonesia, and then to Turkey. Everywhere she made a temporary home, Ms. Bruce cycled and advocated for cyclists.

“If someone had told me 30 years ago, I’d be known in far-off lands and at home as the 'bike lady,' I would have laughed in disbelief,” she says. But as she rode her bike with locals through the mountains in Mexico, through the frenetic streets of Jakarta, and to the local market in Istanbul, that’s what she came to be called. The bike lady.

She returned to Canada from Istanbul this summer, following a harrowing adventure. Police, on the mistaken suspicion that the house she was sharing with other ESL teachers was harbouring ISIS terrorists, raided her home.

“That was a little unnerving and I felt it was time to return to Canada.” She enrolled in a bike mechanic course, offered by Winterborne, Canada’s leading full-time accredited bicycle mechanic training facility.

When she returned to Kingston, she volunteered her bike mechanic services at J&J Cycle, and continued a radio program at CFRC called Totally Spoke’d, a magazine-style show that she began before she travelled to Turkey. The program offers a collection of bicycle stories from around the world, anecdotes and educational tips for cyclists. Her listeners live all over the world, many picking up podcasts after they’ve aired.

“It’s all about advocacy. I am a strong believer in cycling, which offers so many health and wellness benefits, not only personally but for the entire community and the environment,” she says.

A coincidental glance on a website led to her latest opportunity in British Columbia. Volunteering at the Unist’ot’en Camp, Ms. Bruce says, is leading her down an altogether different path. With her Métis status and a deep commitment to social justice, she feels ready to do whatever needs to be done to protect the lands from pipeline development.

“I feel I’m being called to do this, and I truly believe I can be useful there,” she says.

Ms. Bruce will work with a team on a variety of tasks that will likely include everything from cooking, babysitting, caring for livestock, non-violent actions, and supporting the elders so they can focus their efforts on protecting the land.

While there have been ups and downs during her unconventional journey, Ms. Bruce is philosophical. “I wouldn’t wish this life on my worst enemy, but I wouldn’t trade it with anyone either.”

Visit Ms. Bruce’s blog,  This Road Continues One Block North.

Tune into her radio show or look for archived podcasts at Totally Spoke’d.

[bike photo]
Photo by Bernard Clark

 

[cover - Queen's Alumni Review Digital Special Edition Fall 2015]