With staycations on many people’s lists this summer, I spent some time in June trying to think about places we might go that feel like a bit of an escape and yet are close to home. Luckily for us, we are only about a ninety-minute drive to the magnificent Rocky Mountains so it didn’t take me long to know where I’d like to spend some time this summer. For the last couple of years Jim and I have both talked about taking at least one day each week and heading into the mountains for some hiking, biking or sightseeing. Somehow, each summer has come and gone and while we have managed a few trips to enjoy the mountains, we have never managed to make it the priority we have said it would be.
Until this year.
After self-isolating for months, along with all Canadians, it felt almost criminal that we had taken the sights of our own mountain ‘backyard’ so for granted. I’ve always assumed that the mountains would simply be there whenever I was ready to join them for a day. One of the lessons of this year’s pandemic is that in fact the mountains are there, but I cannot assume I can always be there to enjoy them. So once restrictions in our province were lifted in June, I declared I would be spending one day every week somewhere in the mountains this summer. Jim agreed. So far, we are making it happen.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been spending our treasured mountain days exploring Highway 1A. This highway, the Bow Valley Parkway, is a little detour off of the Trans Canada Highway. It’s only about fifty kilometres long, and it boasts the very famous Johnston Canyon. With over one million visitors each year, Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Banff National Park. This year, in an attempt to minimize large gatherings and maximize physical distancing, while the hike at Johnston Canyon remains open, the road leading to it is closed to vehicular traffic.
From Banff to beyond Johnston’s Canyon, at Castle Junction, Highway 1A is completely closed off to traffic. Beyond Castle Junction, the road is open, but there are very few vehicles on it. This means the entire highway is a perfect place for cyclists this summer, and it is where we have found ourselves one day out of each of the last few weeks. This past week, on Tuesday, we decided to attempt the stretch from Castle Junction to the Lake Louise end of the highway. Just like the sections we rode in the previous weeks, this one did not disappoint!
The scenery is absolutely spectacular. The road has some challenging hills early on, but it’s manageable. Our biggest challenge this week was the headwind we ran into as we cycled toward Lake Louise. Strong westerly winds had been predicted for the morning, and unfortunately, this time Environment Canada hit the nail on the head. Sometimes it felt like we were in a wind tunnel, and for the rest of the time it felt like we were climbing hills.
Wind in your face is not your friend when you are cycling. The very nature of the activity causes it to always feel like there is a slight wind. When the real wind is blowing against you, it can be demoralizing. We commented that hills are actually easier to navigate than wind. At least when you are climbing a hill, no matter how high it is, you eventually get to the top. Many times, you are rewarded with a heavenly coast down the other side. But the wind is relentless. There is no coasting down the other side, until you actually turn around and go the other way.
One trick I’ve learned in cycling is the power of the group. Any time there are two or more riders travelling together, they can greatly reduce the effort of all but one of the riders by following each other in a single line, close together. The rider in the front has the same sensation against the wind they would have if they were riding alone. They will be headlong into the wind. The other riders, however, the ones lined up behind the front rider, will be buffered from the wind by the lead rider. The lead rider provides a wind break, which effectively reduces the effort the others need to expend. While this may seem to be a small thing, studies have shown the effort saved is between 27% and 50% depending on variables like number of riders, rider position, strength of wind and the ability of the cyclists.
None of us, not Jim and I, nor our friends we were cycling with, Brenda and Daryl, have ever been invited to join the Tour de France. We are not pros. We don’t know the exact technique of breaking wind or drafting. However, last Tuesday, we summoned our inner cyclist and gave it a try. Our strategy was to each lead for about 500m, then peel off the front and take up a new position in the back, with the next rider in line taking the lead for about 500m. Even with our complete lack of expertise in this technique, it was amazing the difference it made.
The first improvement was realizing that when we were in the lead, there would be an end to the work, and it would happen quickly and predictably. Secondly, we felt like we were making an equitable contribution to the effort of the group. Finally, the time flew by because it was interesting to stay focused on our strategy, rather than wondering when the blessed wind would end.
When Covid 19 hit Canada in March, we all began cycling into a headwind. While there have been a few lulls in the wind, generally it has been relentless. By all predictions, it sounds like it won’t settle down any time soon either. It dawned on me on Tuesday, likely when I was not in the lead, that all of us could benefit from a little wind break. We can also all provide it.
In cycling, not one extra ounce of effort is required to lead the pack. What is required, is first for someone to notice that the members of the group will benefit if everyone works together. The success of the effort depends on the leader taking up their position, keeping a reasonable pace, glancing behind one in a while to make sure the group is actually able to follow and thus reap the benefit, and then to recognize when their work is done.
The relief it gives to the others is immeasurable. There is also a sense of importance in knowing that every single member of the group will at some time take their place in the lead. Everyone’s contribution is important. No one is better or worse. No one is leading because the others cannot. The leader is simply leading because they find themselves in the lead position. For a short time, they possess what is needed to ease the load of others.
There are moments in each of our lives when we find ourselves in a position where we can easily lead, and take pressure off others. There are also moments when we can benefit from recognizing others can do the same for us.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What position am I in the line?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to effectively lead.