In most interviews, I ask my subject to give a thumbnail sketch of their childhood, and sometimes I get an idyllic picture postcard — unpaved roads, riding to friends' houses, and not coming home until dark.
But it's certainly not everyone's childhood. Circumstances sometimes dictate when, or how, or whether, you get on a bike.
Like many who grew up in the '80s, circumstances of bedroom community living dictated another path for Tania — that she would drive early, and drive often.
I grew up in North Delta, and everyone would just drive everywhere. I rode my bike to school as a kid, but not for very long. The bike kinda stopped after grade 8.
Everywhere we went was with a car. I didn't know shops could exist close to your home. So you grow up not knowing that it's possible to live in a walkable region, or a walkable area.
Growing up in middle class suburbia may not have helped expose her to transportation choice, but it did give her other choices.
For one, choice in education led her to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Semiahmoo Secondary in Surrey. For another, there was a wide array of recreational choices.
I had a great Geography IB teacher. That was probably one of my very first places of understanding and really being engaged with geography and urban planning and hiking. That part I would say really changed my life, being able to be autonomous, outdoors.
That, and coming from the burbs, and being exposed to Brownies, Girl Guides and Pathfinders, probably my biggest influences. Those were big moments that not everybody gets to experience, what it's like to be self-contained, just be self-sufficient.
This early grounding in physical geography and urbanism led to her involvement in the cycling community in the early 2000s, which was initially my main interest in the interview. Where did she meet John from the North Shore group? When did she meet Amy and Mia? How did she and Gwendal get involved with the Stanley Park Bike Festival?
But that all took a bit of a back seat to hearing the story that I could have listened to all day.
In 2004, Tania and her soon-to-be-husband Gwendal cycled from Bolivia to Inuvik, over the course of a year. It was part of a larger trip Gwendal began planning two years prior, starting from the southern tip of Patagonia with two friends.
Tania and Gwendal were together and serious, and although she was into cycling, joining the trip wasn't originally part of the plan. As he began pedalling from Cape Horn northward, Tania began telling his story.
We had done some work going to local schools and sharing the project with schools, to engage with people in following the trip. He would send me back discs of pictures that I put on the website.
And I was like, I don't want to be that person who's posting someone else's photos.
So I took a holiday over Easter break for two weeks, and I met him in Bariloche in Argentina, and I tried it for two weeks. It was pouring rain the whole time, but it was awesome.
I came back, quit my job, and I arranged for my apartment to be rented out for a year. I left in August and met him Bolivia, in La Paz, at 4,000 metres.
You probably want to know how it all worked out. For that, you have to watch their film, Long Road North. (Buy the DVD!)
It’s fascinating, inspiring, and soulful, one of those small indie films that can compete for space in your brain with the best of Hollywood. Because it’s real.
Here's one of my favourite bits from that story, one which tells you more about who Tania is. I believe she brought more than just memories back to Vancouver; she came back with some flavour to throw into the bubbling stew that has become our highly socially-conscious cycling culture:
When you're riding your bike in a city and out of it, you see the slums that are at the edges. Then it goes out to rural, then back to slum, and then you go back into the city. It's hard to describe but it puts a lot of it together. I have a passion for understanding economics and how it relates to geography, and it all comes together.
It just opened my eyes to the humanity of people. Most people in these regions live off of so little. It was being okay with yourself, being privileged to be there.
People would always ask you, how much is that bike you're riding? And you're carrying a very expensive video camera. And how do you make that invisible so people will have a conversation with you? That was always a bit of you're carrying your privilege with you.
Just being able to come to a country with a passport. That was a huge thing.
Traveling gives you a global perspective on economics and culture. And if you bike regularly, you get a local perspective...on the environment, your people, and of course your own body.
It all must have mixed together really nicely for Tania, because of the choices she made for herself, and her career, that were well beyond the profit motive.
I came back from our trip and I was like, it feels dangerous to ride on the road. I've been riding on the roads all over the world, and it feels very unpleasant to ride on the streets here. Because you're squished up and nobody gives you space.
When you're bike touring you have a lot of baggage so people notice you, so they give you space. It's different as a commuter.
Tania eventually became one of the driving forces behind the third phase of Momentum Magazine, one characterized by a shift away from local advocacy and politics, towards a focus on culture, lifestyle and fashion. It would become a newsstand magazine with broadened appeal that mirrored the rapidly growing trend in North American towards transportation cycling, one which in many cities outpaced growth in car and transit ridership.
As cycling ‘mainstreamed’ — ultimately growing younger, more urban, more female — so did Momentum as a flag-bearer for this newly rediscovered (and cool, hip, or whatever kids are saying these days) phenomenon.
That, in itself, was a form of advocacy that was at once unobjectionable, and still somehow subversive.
I was called the baton tosser - if you give this to somebody else, it'll give them an opening to understanding that cycling can look different than what they see on the streets.
I was given a tool basically, a medium for people to use to have a bigger voice. For me, it was my contribution. Providing people a platform to talk with you, and representing a subsection of the community that isn't represented enough.
Every cycling magazine out there has 80-90% male following. Momentum was actually 55% male and 45% female for a really long time. Almost even, and people think that's kind of amazing because it looks like a women's magazine often.
But it's an advocacy magazine, hidden under fashion.
Very purposeful, very smart. Yet Tania still chalks up where she’s been, what she’s done, and the path she's taken, to luck and circumstance, as much as anything else.
Except for maybe one thing. (It’s the kicker at the end.)
Me riding my bike halfway across the world as a suburban kid from a Chinese Malaysian family is somewhat relatable to a lot of people who grow up in Canada. A lot of people grow up in the suburbs, and a lot of people are first generation Canadians.
I didn't have any kind of special upbringing in sports, I wasn't exceptionally wealthy. But circumstances and people I met allowed me to have that opportunity. And I think the difference was maybe jumping on those opportunities and not letting them pass you by.
I'm so grateful for the things that crossed my path. The only thing I did was say yes.