Hadrian’s Wall and an Unfortunate Event

What’s a road trip in a foreign country without some misadventures?

Continuing on from Durham, we drove along Hadrian’s Wall on our first day with the car or boat as my husband often referred to it (we were given a very large car, not ideal for UK’s narrow roads).

Unfortunately, you can’t see the wall from the road so you have to stop at designated attractions, such as Housesteads Roman Fort. This is the best example of a preserved Roman fort in England though and definitely worth a stop. You can walk among ruins of a hospital, barracks, and even see flushable toilets though we missed those. Hadrian built this wall in 122 CE as the northernmost frontier of his empire to separate the Romans from the “barbarians.”

We got there with less than of hour of the fort closing. After a long day of learning to drive on the other side of the street and all your senses on overdrive (pardon the pun), our priority was running along the wall and taking shots with our bright red umbrella (with some occasional meandering through the fort). We had it all to ourselves and look at those pastoral views!

Our end destination that day was a tiny town (and I mean tiny) called Torpenhow that lay just north of the Lake District. We arrived late at night because we got the first of two flat tires on our 10-day road trip. We think the tires were lemons because what we hit would not normally deflate a car’s tires, but in any case, we managed to make it to a gas station and waited a few hours for roadside assistance to rescue us and patch the tire enough so we could get to our Airbnb 20 minutes away. Apparently UK cars don’t have spare tires like Canadian ones do. Who knew? The next day, we had to bring the car in to Carlisle to get the tire replaced, eating up what precious time we had left in this scenic part of northern England.

All that to say, when we got to this Ivy Cottage in the smallest town I have ever visited, we were very much ready to pack it in for the night after eating our gas station dinner of canned soup and beans.

On Broken Bulbs & Flat Tires

This story starts with a discovery.

Last Friday, I am in my washroom. One of the light bulbs is burned out above the mirror. I go to replace it and notice there’s an outlet attached to the light fixture. I am curious, grab my hair dryer from my bedroom and plug it in above the mirror. Turn it on, and away it blasts. After almost 2 years of living in my apartment and blow drying my hair in my bedroom, I discover there is—always was—an outlet in the washroom. No one—myself, the Artist, my dad, or my landlord—noticed it.

And then the other day when the Artist was over, he discovered the inside of the pantry door had a lock on it. Why on earth is there a lock on the inside? This is what I love about old character apartments—sometimes they don’t make sense. And they surprise you. After I thought I knew everything there is to know about my apartment, I am still discovering it.

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The next day was a Saturday much like this one. Sun shining, cherry blossoms out, my amaryllis in full bloom. I needed to run an errand on Main Street and was tempted to drive for convenience sake, and then thought: Why drive when I could bike? Not only could I bike, but I could bike in a T-shirt! In February!

I had never biked east of Cambie Street before, so it was a new route for me. I took Ontario Street all the way north to 27th Avenue. And because I had never ridden that street before, I was greeted with more discoveries. Ontario Street is the street of schools. First Langara College, which I had always known about because the Canada Line SkyTrain station nearby is called Langara, but had never seen the actual building. And then I pedalled by some old brick beauties: Sir William Van Horne Elementary and General Wolfe Elementary School.

Sir William Van Horne

Sir William Van Horne

General Wolfe

General Wolfe

Since Ontario Street is a bike street, there are fun bike sculptures along the way, such as these bike seat benches in Queen Elizabeth Park.IMG_1012

On my way home, I sat and started reading a used book I picked up while I was running my errand. I got it a Y’s Books, a store I had never seen before, and you know I am a sucker for my classics, especially when they’re at a great price!

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Everything was perfect the way there & the way back from Main Street. That is, until it started feeling like I was pulling a 100-tonne truck behind me when I wasn’t even going up a hill. I get off my bike. The back tire is as flat as a pancake. I am still a 15-20 minute ride from home. But I am on Ontario Street and there are people standing on patios enjoying the sunshine, so I walk over and ask, “Would you happen to have a bike pump?”

Sure enough, the man does. He fetches it and helps me pump it up. But then we discover the outer tube/valve where the air goes in is broken and only keeps air in if held a certain way. By this time, another neighbour comes out to offer his assistance, running to get electrical tape and secure the precarious tube. He also sends me home with one of his pumps in case I need to use it along the way. I am speechless. “Really? You want to lend this to me?”

He says, “It’s no big deal. You know where I live now and so just swing by and return it when you get the chance.”

I am stunned, and grateful. I ride home and the air comes out of my tire within another five minutes. And I am hauling a truck again. I pump it up and get back on it, and it lasts another minute. I do this maybe one more time before I realize I’m better off walking it home.

And so I do. At first I’m upset that the otherwise perfect day ended with a flat tire, but then this thought came into view: This is how I slow you down, Charlene.

I don’t slow down very easily. Unless I’m forced to. And I’ve been more aware of it during this Lenten season where I’m trying to pay attention to what God is doing. Maybe there are some discoveries that await in walking my bike instead of riding it. In making some new “neighbours” who don’t live near me at all but who set aside half an hour of their afternoon to show love to a stranger and quiet those naysayers who purport that Vancouver isn’t a friendly place.

I need to slow down, to see the beauty and discovery that comes from broken things and a bunch of people trying to fix it together.

I now have the most wonderful reason to bake a batch of cookies.