New Year Same You (Guest Post)

There are 3 guarantees in life: Death, Taxes, and New-Years-Resolution-Makers. This is that time of year where everyone and their dog is talking about resolution making. From matter-of-fact haters of the resolution-making (that’s me!) to faithful good-intention-filled folks, there are thoughts and opinions flying  about what to do regarding goal setting on January first.

Let me start by saying that I’m a definite advocate of doing good things for ourselves – our minds, bodies, emotions, hearts. And while most often, a new year brings with it all kinds of resolve along the lines of making our lives better somehow, a lot of resolutions end up being more shame based vanity cries of guilt to conform to social constructs built on foundations of patriarchy and financial gain.

Weight loss magic claims are filling my Facebook feed, and already the talks of cleanses, diets, fads, and ways to be ‘thin’ are assaulting me at every corner.  The idea that we should strive to be one specific way (read: thin, strong, sexy, dainty, ‘feminine’, and all according to the subjectivity of constructed ‘norms’). Substantia Jones, photographer and creator of The Adipositivity Project  was quoted in this great post by Mashable saying:

When determining New Year’s resolutions, I’d like people to know about the studies that have found that making a weight goal part of any health goals is likely to monkey-wrench those health goals. I want folks to understand that even the $64 billion-a-year U.S. weight loss industry no longer disputes that their failure rate hovers around 95%.

So you can see how this ‘perfect’ shape/size/ might not be possible for all folks? Especially with a failure rate that high! Yikes! Yet, we will all watch the parade of weight loss promises pass by when we sign in to our devices of choice over the next few days especially. The focus is so heavy on being lighter that the marquee lit message ends up being “only thin bodies are good bodies”.

Even this well circulated article from Women’s Health that claims to be listening to the desired copy from their readers makes several body shame filled depictions of what ‘ideal’ is and what all of their readers must be striving for in unison. It’s right there in the image below highlighted in yellow.

not all bodies

By the way, I will happily tell you repeatedly: Your body is a good body whether it is toned or not.  No magazine (or blog!) authors can define for you what that should look like. And I hope the epitome of all that your health as a women is NOT found in just how toned, slim, strong, or sexy you are.

Now, before you think I’m trying to discourage someone from setting goals for themselves and making new choices, I’m not. I think it’s great and I probably even wish I had some of your same goals and motivation! I’m only suggesting a consideration of what has been consumed and acted upon as gospel year after year of ‘be a new you’ ideas are riddled with body shame, guilt, and pressure versus inspiration and self-led motivation.

Grant yourself permission to not be pressured to see a new year as some form of forced point of change, and please be kind enough to yourself that you don’t criticize you for ‘holiday treats’. And if you do make resolutions, remember that I told you here and now that if you tap out and change your mind it is not a failure – because YOU are not a failure.

If you’re looking for a January activity that’s not bandwagon jumping and leading to possible let down, feel free to join me in a fun Instagram play-along photo challenge! Read more about #GoodYearGoodYou here.

Wishing you a good year ahead!

Bio: Queer, Fat, Feminist of intersections. Not so fit, but chewing on the reasons why and the ways to challenge what that means. No apologies for any of it.

Good Advice, Bad Advice: some thoughts from our bloggers on 2015

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As this year wraps up, we’ve all been awash in benedictions on 2015 and expectations for 2016. Still, it’s cheering to look forward to fresh slates and new possibilities. This includes fitness. I’ll be posting Sunday on my fitness goals for 2016. For now, as a final adieu to 2015, I asked our bloggers what were some of their favorite fitness advice or revelations for this year. I also asked them what was the worst piece of fitness advice they ran across. Here are some of their responses (edited for brevity).

Let’s start with the revelations and good advice.

Gyms? You don’t necessarily need them.

I let my membership lapse in February, intending to switch to the YMCA; I then experimented with not joining, to see if all my outdoor activities could make the gym redundant. And they did. I cycled as usual with my club… I joined a rowing club in town and was motivated to get out on the water as often as possible because, no gym… I took up yoga at a specialist Iyengar studio in town because I could justify the added cost. And I swam, swam, swam at community pools around town, including my gorgeous outdoor neighbourhood pool.

Now, here we are at the end of the year, deep into winter, and I have no plans to head back to the gym! I am riding outside until it snows, riding my rollers, doing a trainer class with friends, using the ergometers at the rowing club as well as their weight equipment, and I’ve hired a personal trainer that my friends rave about, and indeed he is superb. I don’t miss the gym one bit. It’s true that all this stuff together costs a bit more than a year’s gym membership, but not much. Best of all, I’ve realised that doing sports stuff I love is WAY more fun this way.

Know that you can go slow.

I turned 50 this year and the biggest shift for me was to accept that I’m slowing down and taking longer to recover, that I won’t be in the faster group of runners or cyclists anymore. That was hard to swallow and I fought it. But acknowledging It helped me be present to what is true for me — that I’m 50 and can still ride 525 km through the Vietnamese hills with only my base fitness, I can run 10km with ease and joy — but all only if I slow down, stretch, remember that I’m preserving my body for mobility for another several decades rather than trying to win something in the now. 

For daunting exercises, divide and conquer.

There’s always a couple of exercises in my sets that make me anxious. A friend told me to divide my reps by three and make them more manageable chunks. It works beautifully!

Enjoy the immediate gratification of good feeling that exercise can bring.

Exercise does NOT have to hurt to be beneficial.

Just say NO to fat shaming at your doctor’s office.

Finally, after years of putting off medical care and gritting my teeth when I finally trudged into my doctor’s office, I changed practices and started afresh with someone I could be honest with. I told her I would not agree to be weighed anymore (except at a yearly physical), or unless it was needed (e.g. pre-operative appointment). I explained my position and she didn’t argue with me. I still get asked to be weighed each time to go (even for a cough—argh), but I say no each time and briefly remind them of the conversation we had. I’d prefer not being asked, but I can handle this, and it makes medical appointments much less stressful.

Goals/Schmoals—you can do the movement you do without judgment, assessment, or goals.

I’m trying to get out of the mindset that leads to self judgement when I don’t achieve an arbitrary goal. Self judgement is super demotivating. I have become very mindful of the temptation to critique myself when I don’t run/bike/whatever. Instead, I look to the next opportunity to do it, not because I should, but because I want to take care of myself. It’s resulted in the achievement of goals, ironically. I am now the proud owner of a 10minute mile (6 minute kilometer). It’s not that I’ve abandoned goals altogether, I just don’t take my failure as seriously as I used to.

When you feel the need, go for speed.

Speed work actually works! In swimming and running my times improved from speed drills. I will be doing more of this in my training through the winter. 

No one else is going to call you a failure (so how about don’t do it to yourself?).

I took a trad climbing course this summer. That’s a rock climbing technique where you place your own protection in natural features in the rock instead of clipping into already set bolts. It’s completely terrifying, since it requires even more trust in your own ability than regular rock climbing does. After a particularly knee-shaking, life-choice-questioning climb that weekend, I was once again reminded of a life lesson I probably should have learned by now (I don’t actually think I’ve learned it yet), that most people out there are not the least bit concerned with branding you a failure. And when you come back down off the cliff convinced that your friends will never let you show your face near them again because of whatever inability you have just displayed, you find yourself proven utterly wrong. Because they really don’t care half as much as you do about how good you are at things.

All movement counts—the power of everyday exercise is not to be underestimated.

I’ve blogged about this a bunch, and my experience on sabbatical demonstrated that just being active every day can strengthen me, improve the quality of my sleep, and make me feel happier. I’m keeping it up now that I’m back.

Now to the bad fitness advice to be avoided.

Anything to do with linking fitness and BMI is bad bad bad, especially doctor weigh-ins.

I see a rheumatologist regularly because I have an autoimmune disease; every time I visit her office – EVERY TIME – I have to be weighed and my weight noted in my file. My rheumatologist knows that I am an athlete and we talk a lot about which activities are helpful and/or harmful for the joint condition, and how to mitigate the latter. She’s a very good and sensible doctor, and I know she’s not *asking* for my weight; it’s something that gets done as a matter of routine for all patients by the interns. But why, for heaven’s sake, does it need to be routine? It’s just like the regular weigh-in when I get my physical at the doctor; the nurse duly notes my weight and then gets out the BMI chart. I always want to scream: put that away! It tells you nothing about my body or my health!

It’s one of the things I hate about going to the doctor – it makes me anxious for a good period of time before I head into the appointment room. I get performance anxiety about it. Surely that’s not a good thing?

Just say NO to diet trends.

I find the whole gluten free/paleo/deprive yourself of whatever trendy item is in vogue diet to be quite tiresome [you said it, sister! –caw].

I dislike the endless cycling of diets and “bad” foods everyone is obsessed with. I’m still with Michael Pollans “eat food, not too much, mostly plants “and keep a special place in my heart for carbs if I’m working out hard.

Worst advice was was to eliminate grains & starches from my plate as part of the Prevent weightloss program I’m accessing through work. After a week of feeling deflated and falling asleep every night after dinner for two hours I put grains and starchy foods back on my plate. I need that energy!

Bogus advice from factory farming and self-serving “health” industries: Milk (and its many contaminants), it does a body good.

Once more with feeling: weight loss does NOT equal fitness.

I continue to encounter people (mostly in my practice) that are fixated on the fitness=weight loss equation. By that I mean, fitness is for weight loss or weight loss means I’m getting fit etc. I have become more vocal about steering people away from that as a goal. I try to shift the conversation to taking care of the body by moving it and fueling it well, instead of punishing it and starving it. Punitive strategies never work in the long term and do great damage over time.

Demonizing fatness and body positivity are wrong and scary, and we all have to stand together on this.

The most appalling thing I’ve been exposed to fitness-wise is the sub-group of people who have made it their personal mission to debunk Ragen Chastain and everything she says. People need to get a life. I found it shocking to learn that there are whole blogs devoted to inspecting date stamps on her training photos and so forth to prove that her claims about training can’t be true. Seriously? It’s fat hatred in action. It was enough to make me leave the Pathetic Triathletes group, which made me realize too that I prefer the feminist fitness community that we have cultivated to any other fitness community in the world.

So, readers, what are some of your favorite fitness revelations of the year? Any really bad advice that stands out? Let us know.

And Happy New Year from Fit is a Feminist Issue!

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To Resolve or Not to Resolve? On New Year’s Resolutions

possibilityAre you a New Year’s Resolution type or not? I find that people tend to fall into one of two camps — the resolvers and the non-resolvers.

There are just as many reasons to make New Year’s resolutions as there are not to make them. On the make-them side, there is of course the eternal flame of hope that burns most brightly when we turn a fresh page. And what fresher page than a new calendar year?

Picking up on Catherine’s promise that we’ll be posting about the whole “new leaf” thing, here are some of my thoughts.

Almost everyone has something they want to change–get the finances in order, simplify, and the perennial favourites: lose weight, get fit and healthy, eat better. These have great pull as the holiday season winds down and some of us (not to out myself, but okay, I’ll out myself) wake up from the fog of a sugar-induced coma.

But on the don’t-make them side, there’s this: Only 8% stick to their New Year’s resolutions.  Anyone who has ever had to elbow their way to their favourite workout equipment in their gym during the first week of January knows full well that shortly into February the crowds thin again.

Of the top ten most broken New Year’s resolutions, four are about diet, fitness, weight loss, healthier eating (lose weight and get fit, eat healthier and diet, quit smoking, drink less).

Hope is a powerful motivator, though. And hey, maybe you or I can be among that 8%. After all, said article gives the formula that is the 8%’s key:

The key is to realize that adopting a resolution isn’t just about goal setting. What you are really trying to do, is to change your behaviors. And behavior change—to exercise more, to spend less, to stop smoking—is very, very hard.

The key  is in Gleicher’s “change formula”, balancing key motivational factors against resistance:

These factors are:

D = Dissatisfaction with the current situation

V = Vision of the future state

F = First steps towards the future state

And those three variables when multiplied together must be greater than:

R = Resistance (or the cost of change)

In other words, the combination of your current dissatisfaction, goal clarity and specific action plan must be greater than the resistance (i.e., pain) associated with making the change:

Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps > Resistance

The power of this equation is in realizing there are two ways to win. You can increase the left side of the equation—the size of your motivation, goals and plan—or you can decrease the resistance on the right side of the equation.

That’s the big, “aha!”

I have often found myself quite aware lately that my resistance often outweighs my goals. I told my swim/triathlon coach just about a month ago that I want to get faster but I’m not sure I want to do the work. That’s called resistance. No amount of awareness in the world is going to help if the resistance out-paces the vision.

So what do the 8% achievers do? They plan for the resistance and work with it, trying to reduce it. Here’s where small steps, support, manageable action plans, fun, can come into it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are process goals and outcomes goals. Process goals may be best thought of as habits. Remember, behaviour changes are what we want to stick.

I lean towards the not-make side because I feel as if this is where I start to set myself up to feel crappy about myself.  Nat talked about gentleness and owning our choices. I’m all for that too.

I read recently about cultural procrastination, which according to this article is what kicks in when the resolve, so strong on January 1st, starts to slide:

We always have good intentions that we don’t follow through on. That’s what procrastination is — the gap between intention and action. When you look at New Year’s, by definition, you’re making your intention to start at least days from now, if not weeks or months from now. That gap between intention and action is why I call it culturally prescribed procrastination. Because if you recognize, for example, that you should get more fit, you should change your diet or you should quit smoking, there’s nothing like a good intention now where no action is required to make you feel good. If you recognize these things, then why aren’t you asking yourself the question, ‘What can I do right now to make that change?’ That’s why New Year’s resolutions by definition have an element of procrastination to them.

I’m not here to talk you out of making resolutions. It’s everyone’s choice how they want to approach the clean page that presents itself on January 1st. I’m as prone to the next person at making unreasonable plans for extraordinary change (see my struggles about moderation versus all-or-nothing). Indeed, speaking of procrastination, that’s a big one on my list — I make resolutions about doing less of it all the time.

Here’s an alternative: we can go into the new year with total self-acceptance. That works too. Even Calvin knew that.

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Best wishes for 2016, from Tracy I.

Saying goodbye to smoking

Facebook just reminded me of this:
Life Event, Quit Smoking
January 1989 at Chicago, Illinois

That was a serious New Year’s resolution that actually worked.

It’s been awhile. I quit 27 years ago. Hard to believe now that I ever smoked, though I remember the struggle I had quitting. I was worried I’d have a hard time writing since it was my first year of graduate school and I’d smoked my way through all of my undergraduate essays.

There were also some strong personal associations tied into smoking that made it part of my identity–bad girl, punk, philosopher, writer, radical of various sorts–and hence hard to leave behind.

I also loved, as an introvert, the chance to leave a party or a seminar and get away from people and go outside. Later I discovered you could still do that without smoking. Probably these days checking my phone serves a similar purpose.

A few times along the way I relapsed but the problem was that I couldn’t get back what I wanted. I wanted smoking a cigarette to feel like it did back when I was a regular smoker, addicted to nicotine. Then smoking felt amazing. Without the addiction it just felt gross. Friends who were better/worse at relapsing said I didn’t stick with it. Keep smoking and in a few days I’d be back where I wanted to be.

But no thanks. I didn’t want to be a regular smoker. And the rewards of occasional smoking weren’t very big. So I stayed away.

Shortly after seeing news of my not smoking anniversary, this story crossed my Facebook newsfeed, A feminist case for quitting smoking and loving yourself more. The story intrigued me because it’s the story of smoking runners. For me quitting smoking and my first run at getting in shape–mostly I lifted heavy weights but I also ran–happened the same year. One replaced the other.

The story begins like this:

So a couple of years ago, my wife, Nikki, and I are at a party where we encounter a few friends we haven’t seen in a while. Conversation gets around to how we’d just run the Prague marathon, which our friends meet with the typical incredulity non-runners feel towards the willful madness of running 26.2 miles. A half hour later we’re all on the porch having a smoke.

“Oh my god,” one of the friends exclaim. “I can’t believe you smoke cigarettes and run marathons. I thought you were super healthy.” We laugh and shrug it off, “not that healthy.”

In the endurance sports world, there is a certain level of bad-assedry associated with breaking the health and fitness rules. And endurance sports, in general, attract bad asses. I’ve known ultra-marathoners who drank whiskey and smoked a pack a day while training. There’s a sort of pride in defying the “rules” and still kicking ass. You’re invincible.

You should go read the rest here.

goodbye depression sad fashion food quotes childhood smoke style skinny Smoking 90's cigarettes cry lana del rey heartbreak pale pastel goth soft grunge indies dark vintage

Turning That Ship Around (Guest Post)

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2015-11-11 Vancouver

by Jean

I am nearly 57 yrs. and have only lived 9 years in a household with a car in Canada. I wrote here, where the first 14 yrs. of my life, my family in Ontario, didn’t have a car. We were very poor. My father was a restaurant cook and there were 6 children.

Significant Effort, Patience by Parent

Poverty in Canada, especially if you live in a city with shops, services and public amenities, doesn’t have to be a determinant for lousy health. But to turn that poverty ship around, requires parent(s) to be committed long-term, to living choices in neighbourhoods that encourage safe walking, play as well as creative ways to feed 6 children on a healthy diet. It helps to be committed without lecturing kids much. After awhile, kids just accept it as a norm –even if we didn’t like it.

Car-Free: Childhood Shame and Adult Realities of Poverty

Yes, I felt niggling shame of poverty and having immigrant parents. I felt self-conscious when car drivers whipped by us as pedestrians, as I (or younger siblings) was helping my mother carry groceries home or pull the grocery buggy. I wanted to shrink into the sidewalk pavement, walking homeward in downtown Waterloo, Ontario.

But home was only 15 min. walk away from shops, services and major transit stops. For their whole married life, each home, my parents rented or bought, they made sure, it was always less than a 15 min. walk from a transit or subway stop. Mom did not drive. Dad worked from late afternoon into late night shift over 35 km. away from home. So just forget about schlepping all their kids around by car all the time.

I’ve always believed there is a time in your life, for the type of neighbourhood and housing that you choose to live in to meet different needs at various life stages. But for myself, since I don’t drive, I must choose home close to transit, some services and even nicer, close to a bike route.

In my adult years, I quickly shed the lingering shame that being car-free was a lesser, poorer life. I stayed healthy and even became even fitter, after adopting cycling for work, shopping, fitness and some vacation trips.

Active Transportation Habits Now:   Preparing for Future

It’s intriguing to me, many people who live car-dependent lives, assume someone will look after them for transportation and other needs when they become frailer. They may assume their adult children will always live in the same city, will want to always want to look after aging parents, or somehow friends will magically be always around to help.

I’m not waiting around to test those future assumptions. I’m part of the growing demographic in North America and some European countries, where I don’t have children. My closest friends are scattered across Canada because I’ve lived and worked in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

Not My Genes: Two Pillars- Active Transportation and Healthy Diet for Life

It’s easier for me now while I’m still healthy, to continue my life within close reach of shops, services, work — a lifestyle of active transportation and 60% traditional Chinese healthy cooking. Money normally spent on ownership and use of a car, has been redirected to other uses. I’ve calculated saving and redirecting over $300,000 over the past 33 years to several bikes (still cheaper than 1 car), etc. Local use of transit and short taxi rides several times per year, still is a money-saver. I just have to plan abit better, than a car driver jumping into their car. This lifestyle can reduce a consumerist lifestyle. There’s no point buying unnecessary goods when I have to climb a hill with loaded panniers from the store.

Gift, Legacy of Good Health

Please don’t tell me that I am healthy and slim because it’s my genes. I wager my good health and fitness are only 15% family genes. The rest are pillars of lifelong active transportation from childhood to now, as well the healthy cooking legacy from my mother. I still prepare some of her dishes from my heart and head –a healthy comfort I can’t let go.

So give the gift of long term health by walking, cycling and eating your talk and offer no matter how poor you may be, to your loved ones, ways to do it. It’s an enormous legacy any parent or relative could give.

https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/what-shapes-me-walkable-cycleable-neighbourhoods/

https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/judge-not-the-poor-eating-healthy/

2015-07-04-Jean Cycling Photos

Jean is a frequent commenter on the blog and has guest posted for us before. You can see more of her posts on her own blog, Cycle, Write, Blog.

Times to go Wheee!

Visiting my sister and her family always presents options for activities that I don’t normally do in the course of my daily life.  These activities invariably involve my youngest nephew Gray, who is the perpetual-motion machine of the family.

Yesterday Gray and my sister Elizabeth and I went for a walk around the neighborhood during a break in the rain that’s been falling for the past week.  Gray decided to take one of these along:

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Elizabeth’s family has gone through many generations of scooters as her three kids (currently 10, 13, and 15) have grown.  I’ve never owned one, and now I’m wondering why not, as they are an entirely joyous way to move through space.  I looked up some information on scooters for adults here and found a variety of models, even for slightly varied terrain.  The accompanying copy is certainly compelling:

Only a decade ago adults riding scooters may have looked and felt out of place – now they are more likely to look and feel smart. Scooting is at least twice as fast as walking, and in contrast to biking, is allowed on sidewalks because the ability to slow down and stop, instantaneously, makes scooters much more pedestrian-friendly. And, Micro’s tall, smooth-gliding designs succeed in making riders feel, well, a little bit elegant.

I don’t know about the elegant part, but being able to glide along smoothly does propel me into an uncomplicated state of happiness.

Gray’s scooter du jour is called the Razor Powerwing Deluxe, which is ridden by swaying side-to-side.  In some ways it feels like skate skiing, as you are pushing from each side to generate forward momentum.  But unlike skating, you don’t take your feet off the platform, so it results in a swivel-hipped kind of movement.  Gray does a very good Elvis impersonation on his scooter (sadly not documented).

Of course I had to try it.  It’s not my size, but it was really fun trying on a different way to move.  Gray isn’t so enthusiastic about trying to muscle it up a hill, but I liked seeing if I could tweak my movements to improve efficiency.  Again, it kept reminding me of how one attacks terrain on cross country skis (is anyone noticing how I’m thinking a lot about skiing these days?  where’s the snow?)

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And going downhill was pure joy (combined with a little danger–there were landscaping trucks around– which makes the joy even greater).

So I’m going to get me one of these ASAP, so I can get to go Wheeeee! whenever I want.  You can see for yourself below.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/150344640″>IMG_6465</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user47311571″>Catherine Womack</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Readers, I’d love to hear what makes you go Wheee! and when you last did that.

 

 

Spring Pass, Vietnam (Guest post)

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“It’s just me.” I was 2 km from the top of Spring Pass, a nearly 15 km climb across a mountain range at the edge of the Laos border. It was the top of the Vietnamese jungle, and my guide had disappeared ahead of me some time before. I downshifted to the smallest front cog and felt the spurl of empty chain as it slipped off. I tipped to the side and managed to unclip my cleat before hitting the ground.

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“It’s just me.” I sort of coughed out a little laugh as I said that out loud and righted the bike, clicked off a surge of resentment that Linh had left me behind. Technically it was his job to be there when my chain fell off. But really, this was my ride, my pilgrimage. I know how to do this. I do this all the time at home. I flipped the bike upside down and fiddled with the pedals, the chain, the cogs, lifted, spun. I’m a warrior. Stopped to look at the unfolding, green green endless hills below me. Got back on the saddle — my seat, brought from home — and managed to find the balance to get the bike going and cleats clicked back in on the uphill. As much of an accomplishment as replacing the chain.

It was day 5 of a 6 day bike trip through the central highlands of Vietnam, from Dalat in the centre to Hoi An on the coast. Just me, the guide Linh and the support driver Bo, a gentle retired forestry worker who borrowed Linh’s bike at lunchtime and rode around in circles to get some exercise. They normally only do this trip for two people or more, but I was traveling alone in Vietnam, friends had done this ride a couple of years earlier and it had caught my fancy. I booked it by myself and was paying for a ghost rider. My 50th birthday present to myself.

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Coffee flowers smell like hibiscus, I learn, and the smell suffuses the air as you ride through the plantations. Women cover their faces with brightly patterned cloth to protect from car exhaust and the sun. A wild pig chopped in half can be sold by the side of the road by a woman holding a baby. The jungle destroyed in the war has regrown and obliterated almost all remnants, leaving the occasional reminder like an old airstrip near Kon Tum dotted with goats.

We started in the backpacker town of Dalat and wound our way through roads that always seemed to lead back to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the fabled route that kept the northern Vietnamese army supplied during the Vietnam American War. Now it’s the main route from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south, and is dotted with monuments that just hint at the intensity of fighting here, the people hiding in the jungles, the hills, eventually defeating the Americans. I was surprised at how alive the 525 km we rode felt 40 years after five decades of war, most people engaged in more than basic survival.

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Vietnamese hipster youth can create a sweet tangerine fort of a cafe with leather menus and watermelon smoothies in the middle of an unremarkable town. The burn of exhaust in your lungs feels like smoking a pack of Mexican cigarettes, comes off brown on the cloth when you wipe your ears after a shower.

In the first few moments I was with Linh and Bo, as I was testing the bike I was renting, I crashed when I couldn’t get my cleats unclicked. I wasn’t used to the bouncy suspension of a mountain bike, and this one was a bit too big for me. The first aid kit came out and I had scabby road rash from zero. For the first four days of the trip, I rode in running shoes, not wanting to obsess about stopping.

I knew that crash marked me as a lightweight to Linh, who was really not that interested in me anyway. He got married four weeks before our trip, and was excited about having a suitcase packed “for western Tet” to go and introduce his wife to his extended family. His mother is 3 years older than I am. He got me where I was going safely and did his best to answer my many questions about the area, and we enjoyed the dinners we ate together.  But he wasn’t much of a riding companion. He smoked on every break, and looked at his phone while we were riding. “You know, in Canada you can get a $1000 fine for texting while you’re driving,” I said, in front of the tanks at the monument at Charlie Hill. He laughed and smoked.

Vietnamese children smile and yell happy HELLOs from the side of the road. Busses, trucks, motorbikes, kids on bicycles, the occasional car,  all come roaring up behind, blasting their horns. Vietnamese is a tonal language — the same word means something different when spoken with varying tones — and every howling vehicle has its own dialect. Unrelenting hooooonk from huge busses whizzing through villages. Trucks passing slower vehicles bear down directly at you in your lane, howling at you. Multi-note warnings from trucks, some sounding like the yelp of a small dog. I learn quickly that some of the horns just mean there’s someone behind you, don’t change trajectory, and others seem designed to trigger shudders through your limbic system so you’ll toss the bike into the gutter and jump off the road. The blasts are unrelenting, and you have to hold your course, have faith you won’t meet your death in the path of a Vietnamese cattle truck.

We stopped for lunch the first day at a small restaurant in a tiny town, garlicky fish and spinach and rice that would not sit well as I rode through the hot sun. I ate a banana and drank half a warm coke, Linh smoked. After lunch, we got into the van to go to the top of a long pass. “Do you ever ride this?” I asked. “Only strong strong riders. And they are fixing road, dust, too dangerous.” As we drove, I was antsy at not riding the climb. Smooth road the whole way. I knew the distance between Dalat and Hoi An was 700 km and we were meant to drive about 175 km of it, but the completist in me was testy. “Why didn’t we ride some of this?” I asked at the top, a little more impatient than I wanted to be. The downhill sprawled with gravel and construction. I knew Linh was putting me into the category of older people who get tired and ride in the van — and I think he didn’t want to ride it himself. “I would have enjoyed this downhill a lot more if we’d ridden some of the up,” I said. “That tells you something about me. Please don’t make my decisions for me. I’m slow on hills but I’m strong.” I made my tone gentle but I felt fierce, even as the first day’s 101 km tested my limits.

On day 3, as we rode through rubber plantations, rolling up and down, I asked Linh if I could ride in front for a while. “All I’m really seeing is your back,” I said, with, I hoped, humour. I took the front position, then the next time we stopped, he fled away in front of me so far I lost him on the dusty uphill through a town. “Please don’t disappear so far ahead of me I can’t see you,” I said when I caught up to him, smoking by the side of the road. “You said you didn’t want to see my back,” he sulked. I’ve been in this relationship before, I thought, laughing. By the time I found myself alone on Spring Pass, I was happy to be riding mostly on my own, deep in my own elemental self.

At the top of Spring Pass, I caught up to Linh and Bo, and we stopped for lunch, squishy laughing cow cheese and cucumber in a baguette. Linh let the local children try out his bike.  I changed a tampon by the side of a house whose tin roof was held on with rocks, then found a latrine and promptly dropped my expensive prescription sunglasses into it. I washed them off, took a slug of water, got back on the bike.

You descend from above the clouds, dark wet jungle on both sides, the road slick under smooth tires. Mist and every moment of time that has ever been or ever will be surrounds you, the edge beyond alive. One sharp stop could fly you out of this dimension into another one. Your skin dews with the cloud and hands cramp and pinch holding on. You slide into a stop on a flat, as human as you will ever be, as beyond human as you will ever be.

Day 6 is a half day of riding, through green and rolling land, eucalyptus and betel nut trees and coffee and rice paddies. Every stroke of this trip has been effort, the flats windy, the downhills unnerving, always rolling, always hot, and I pedal in the edge between mentally ticking off the kilometres left to go and never wanting to come up for air. I’m grateful for my body, for Linh and Bo, for this life. I click my watch so I can’t see the kilometres. Be here now. I am here, now. Riding.

Cate works as a consultant and teacher in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads a learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, and takes every chance she can to explore the world. she also blogs at field poppy.wordpress.com.