Time is a constant ticking. But some people bend it, break it, and carve it into a shape that suits them best.
It’s a foggy January morning when Phil and I begin pedalling into Kenna Cartwright Park. “Now you’re just going to need to give me a minute to let my lungs warm up here. Thats about the only part of me that seems to be wearing out so far,” Phil mentions as we cover our pre-trip notes. And he continues, “But you know, we could be dead… So we aren't going to worry about it!”
At 64 years young, and living life on the wiser side of time, Phil Lingren figures he’s the strongest he has ever been. He walks with a careless sway and lives in a state of splendour that breathes light into the day.
“It’s my Sanity!” he exclaims in reference to his love for riding bicycles.
Phil grew up in Kamloops and found mountain biking a little later in life. He still carries a fond memory of test riding a bicycle and feeling an immediate return to his childhood. All these years later, he finds himself falling deeper in love with riding each passing season and he is still learning a lot about himself with every turn of the trail.
Phil hasn’t owned a personal car in twenty-odd years, and he rides home from work every night, regardless of the season. And, as Phil tapers into his retirement, he figures those evening rides have been helping to keep him young all along.
“You know, I’ve been ready to be done working for a few years now. But I enjoy seeing all the people each day. So much, that sometimes the boss gives me trouble for talking with people for too long. So maybe if that happens again sometime in this next year, it’ll be a good time to pull the plug,” figures Phil.
As we travel along our frosted trail, ghostly shapes of trees surround us in the fog. Phil tells me stories of how his fat bike has made him more mobile and given him the chance to ride year round with a greater ease. He tells me about the incredible feeling of freedom he finds when the trail is rolling beneath his tires and the rest of the world melts away. And then we cross paths with another character in the trail.
“How are we doin today!” Phil shouts out as if this man were a great old friend.
“Oh its just good to be out. Shame we can’t see much through this fog, though,” tells the old man from behind his puffy hood and black glasses.
“Well we're headed the same way, so maybe,” suggests Phil with a large grin, “when you reach the top, if you wouldn’t mind just blowing real hard, we’ll see if you can clear that view for us.”
The old fella on foot laughs with a look of disbelief, and chuckles his way through saying, “I’ll give it my best shot,” before he carries on past us with a smile.
“You know, I love old guys like that,” exclaims Phil, still holding tight to the same grin.
“Phil, I think you are an old guy like that,” I suggest, semi-sarcastically.
His face lights up, his grin grows a little bigger, and he begins to pedal again before he admits, “Huh. I guess your right.”
The rest of our ride is much the same. Short sessions of pedalling and huffing and puffing in the trees. Listening to Phil’s old stories and stopping to talk with other wanderers. The fog slowly grows thicker and we search for long lines and little windows between the trees that might lend well to a photo. Phil has a keen eye for all of it. So we played around a little while longer before deciding we had better get on to some lunch.
“Maybe we can talk Sue into making us lunch!” Phil begins scheming as we load back into my truck.
Driving the road home to Phil’s, we slide into a conversation about perspective amongst people, about treating people equally, and about choosing our attitudes towards any given circumstances in life. We both agree with the idea that while we can’t be too much in control of what takes place in life, we can always be in control of how we choose to respond to life’s outcomes.
That conversation carries us through lunch and into Phil’s home studio, where his art comes to life. Much of the furniture in his home was handcrafted from his own workbench, but his carvings are what really catch my eye. Faces of old forest people, intricate cabins or treehouses, and incredibly detailed structures stemming from multiple pieces of wood. Every piece features a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail I can only begin to understand. But Phil, quite willing, shows me the tricks to creating patterns and shares the folklore of the forest people his work has always adhered to.
Carving has been more than just a hobby following Phil through his life, as his work has reached a near professional level. He has submitted his art to be judged in large events purely for his desire to learn, and some of that work has been decorated with multiple awards. But Phil has never sought after selling his carvings or turning it into a career, sighting that he feels it would be a dangerous thing, turning his passion into a profession.
I can't help but wonder how the teachings of such a detail oriented and attention consuming craft could trickle into other aspects of a person's life. So I ask, “Is there anything you’ve learned with carving that you’ve applied to the rest of your life, Phil?”
He ponders for a moment and considers that carving may be a teacher of great patience or an opportunity for a quiet escape from the noise of the day. And then he admits that he’s a bit of a perfectionist.
“In my life, ‘OK’ doesn’t cut it,” begins Phil, with the same strong grin I saw all morning, “Perfect, is just fine, thank you!”
Phil continues on a bit, about how carving allows him the chance to be very much in control of his every move and any possible outcome. And he agrees that a parallel motivation exists between his carving and his lifestyle choices.
“I came home one night, a bunch of years ago, and I asked Sue and the kids,” Phil recalls, “ 'would you like Dad at home, and broke. Or do you want me away and making money?' And the next morning, I went into work and told the boss he had two weeks to find himself a new tree feller.”
As the afternoon moves on, we wonder if we’ll have a chance to catch some colourful sky before the evening sets in. And although the day is still nestled beneath a concrete ceiling of fog, we set out for another short pedal close to Phil’s home, regardless. We ride around for a bit, bumping into a few more older fellas. Each and every one greeted with the same enthusiasm and wished as well as those who we met in the morning.
We play around a bit, but we aren’t granted any gorgeous evening lights or shadows to shoot.
So as the sky begins to darken, I offer, “Well Phil, I’m not sure about you, but I can’t imagine it would be the worst thing in the world if we had to hang around together another day soon, and had ourselves another crack at chasing a pretty winter sunset.”
Phil shares my sentiment and invites me around for a beer. An invitation that would simply be rude to decline.
So we gather around the kitchen table, where Phil and his wife, Sue, share stories of their friends far and wide. He talks fondly of a younger friend in the Kootenay region, always bugging him to come out for a fat bike ride. "A real crafty woodworker himself," says Phil. I hear stories of vacations long gone, and view souvenirs from funny little towns along the way.
With retirement on the horizon and youth by his side, Phil has a lot of riding dreams he’s still hoping to realize. He asks if I’d like to take him down to Utah, or up to the Yukon someday, because he dislikes flying and doesn’t figure he can drive such lengthy roads by his lonesome anymore. But he also mentions that he doesn’t imagine he’ll start to slow down until he turns 85, and so there is very little urgency to his offer.
And as Phil continues with stories of all the patches of Kamloops forest that he finds most attractive in the soft light of a sunrise or the turns beneath certain trees that flow so well he can’t help but to climb back up and ride them once more, I remain eager to hear his every word. Because I can only imagine what a wonderful world we would be living in, if we all chose to carve our way through time with such grace and intention as Phil has.
I owe a very special thank you to Phil for taking the time to ride and collect photos, for the 100 cups of coffee he poured me during the process, for letting me warm my wimpy fingers inside his bar mitts, and for sharing so much perspective with me. The process has truly been a pleasure.