I landed among the bike couriers of Montreal on short notice: We firmed up the plans for my visit to the city just five weeks ahead of time, and I spent 12 days of that lead time on board a cruise ship in the Arctic, working on another story and logging a lot more hours of eating than exercising. So my biggest concern, going into the trip, wasn’t the writing or the interviewing – it was my fitness. I was worried about my legs. (And, if we’re being honest, I was worried about my butt.)
It had been a cold, rainy summer in Whitehorse, where I live, so I did my handful of training sessions on a recumbent stationary bike in my apartment: I’d attach my iPad to the handlebars, fire up Netflix, and pedal away. To get into the spirit of the story, one night I streamed Premium Rush, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller about a bike courier pursued by stone-cold killers who want what’s in his messenger bag. It was a good movie to keep me going: 90 minutes of heart-pumping (and leg-pumping) action on the streets of Manhattan, but the disconnect between my surroundings – a quiet apartment in a remote Yukon town – and the movie felt surreal. Bike couriers are known, stereotypically, as rebels and risk-takers, and as Gordon-Levitt ripped through the New York traffic on a fixed-gear bike with no brakes, I wondered what I’d signed myself up for. (“You know you might actually die, right?” One friend, herself a former bike courier in Vancouver, said to me when she heard about the assignment.)
But the reality of riding with Chasseurs was nothing like Premium Rush – and nothing like riding in my apartment, either. It was a sensory overload: The noise and smells and motion of the jam-packed traffic all around me, the late summer heat beating down on the streets. Yet somehow, I was never afraid, never felt truly unsafe. And while my legs wouldn’t have let me out-pedal a gang of murderers, in Montreal they were just strong enough to get the job done.
Read Eva Holland’s story “The Messengers” in the July/August 2016 issue of Canadian Geographic.