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Loss of commute creates an early-morning explorer

With pandemic forcing Chris Tomasini to work from home, he has expanded his horizons for staying active

Working from home has meant big changes for many people over the past few months.

Although the situation has its pros and cons, one of the biggest advantages for most nine-to-fivers is being able to give up the daily commute. Not so for Chris Tomasini.

Tomasini has transitioned to working at home from Lakehead University, where he is Orillia campus librarian.

“Working from home meant I lost my daily bike commute, and that has been a big loss,” said Tomasini.

The commute to and from Lakehead totalled about 23 kilometres a day for the avid cyclist. He said his morning commute was a good workout while in the afternoon it was a chance to relax and clear his head.

“My commute was maybe the best part of my day, especially on a Friday before a long weekend — it’s such a nice feeling to bike away from work under your own power,” he said.

At first, Tomasini was missing all the benefits of his commute and finding it difficult to maintain a daily exercise routine, especially with two school-age children at home and his wife also working full-time from home.

He soon discovered he could turn his weekday mornings into his pre-pandemic weekend mornings — “get up, jump on my bike and get a long ride in.”

Not only has Tomasini been finding all kinds of interesting cycling routes; he has expanded his early-morning outings to walking and kayaking. As an habitual early riser, he says he can enjoy a 50 km bike ride, two-hour kayak paddle or long trail walk and be back before his family rises.

“I’m usually on my bike, on the trail or in my kayak by 5:30 a.m.,” explained Tomasini. “The beauty of early morning is that you have the roads and the water to yourself, with little or no traffic. Plus, the sunrises are amazingly beautiful.”

Before moving to Orillia in 2008 to work at Lakehead, Tomasini says he was a “hardcore bike commuter” in Toronto. From his home in downtown Toronto, he would cycle 66 km a day to his job at UOIT/Durham College. Once in Orillia, he became the chair of the city’s Active Transportation Committee and advocated for improved cycling infrastructure.

So, his early-morning bike rides are really a continuation of his longtime love of the sport. Kayaking, on the other hand, is something fairly new to Tomasini.

“I’m not an expert kayaker whatsoever,” he admitted. “I canoed a little bit with my dad when I was growing up in Bancroft, but being out on the lake kayaking 10 km is a new experience for me.”

With easy access to Lake Couchiching, Tomasini thought he’d try paddling for a change of pace.

“I feel lucky because we live so close to the lake,” he said. “Using my little wheeled carrier, I can be down to the lake with my kayak in minutes. My first morning paddle was around Big Chief Island. It was easy to do and gorgeous.”

Since that first outing, Tomasini has enjoyed exploring other islands on the lake or paddling to the Narrows and other parts of the lake.

“Being on the water, especially in the early morning, is magical. I love the stillness and it often feels as if I am literally alone on the lake. Plus, it’s a nice break from cycling,” he said.

With no clear idea of when and how Tomasini will return to his regular work routine at Lakehead, it is certainly clear he has found a way to cope with the loss of his cherished commute.

“I hope to continue my early-morning routine, no matter what,” he said. “Now that I’ve experienced so many beautiful locations in our community, I hope to keep it up. Even kayaking — it might mean I drive to work instead of bike on those mornings, but it’s a good swap.”