I was traveling for half of July, and a big chunk of that was a bike trip in Latvia and Estonia. The trip was heady and lovely for so many reasons — new space to explore, days and days by myself on the bike, pushing myself past comfort, coping with wind and boredom, feeling the strength of new culture. When I wasn’t on the bike, walking and walking and walking and running in Riga, in Tallinn, in St. Petersburg.
There is huge privilege and joy in discovering a new place from the saddle or from your running shoes. You start to make it yours, and even the embarrassing trip-and-fall on a construction thingy in front of a pile of tourists just becomes punctuation, part of the adventure.
This kind of active travel also creates empirical physical accomplishment — mileage in the saddle adding up on my strava app, one or two entries ticked off every day in my “217 workouts in 2017” facebook group. The mindful presence of moving my body through a landscape blended smoothly with the concrete physical listing of what I’d done — it was a Thing, this bike trip.
And then I came back, to a hot steamy Toronto and a pile of work, and my everyday step counts and my entries in my “217 in 2017” log ground to a halt. It’s easy for me to move a lot when I’m traveling, when even dragging my bag a kilometre and a half to the train station has an overlay of adventure. Then I get home, and it’s sultry muggy summer, and I’m sitting at my desk with no time for the 75km ride I yearn for, forcing myself out for uninspiring runs every second day, every step muffled and boring. Trying to remember what it felt like to have activity built into my days. Activity punctuated by a steady stream of amazing meals.
Ah, the post holiday let down, where I’m making toast and peanut butter again, eating it at my desk, trying to remember how strong my body felt just a week ago.
A week after I got home, I was on another plane, this time for work. A mini cross country trip to do some focus groups with victims of crime. My job on this project is to hold the space for people telling the rawest of possible stories, stories of murdered and trafficked children, one woman sharing the most profound experience I’ve ever heard of meeting with her son’s killers after they’d been convicted. Truth, reconciliation with the worst imaginable experience in this life, the most open humanity ever.
As I did this work, the reason to run came flooding in. Sometimes running and walking far and riding are adventure, are exploration. Sometimes they’re discipline, intentional building of strength. And sometimes, they’re elemental, a deep need to have feet in contact with ground to drum into me a deep reminder of my own humanity.
On Tuesday, I politely requested a key to the tiny gym at the airport hotel in Winnipeg after my meeting, and stuffed a hard treadmill workout, mile and half-mile speed repeats, into the time before my next flight. Then Wednesday, in Vancouver, I coordinated my meetings and my life to run around the seawall in Stanley Park.
I’ve done this run many times. I lived in BC for a year a little while ago, and have been lucky enough to be drawn to Vancouver for work a couple of times a year. It’s the perfect run, a 12 km loop from my hotel, no stops except those you choose to make. (And one annoying TV shoot at the beginning). Just you, the seawall, English Bay, the thread of others making their way around on foot or on the slightly separate bike path.
Vancouver is suffering right now, smog hanging in the air from the wildfires across the interior. The air quality was a bit challenging, and my feet hurt as much as they did in my uninspired runs in Toronto earlier in the week. The usual deep August blue and crispness of the seascape were missing. But it was my feet touching down on the seawall, my body moving through the landscape that makes me feel alive. Feeling privilege of my community, the work I get to do, the life I have.
As I was running, I was re-running some of the previous forays around the seawall. Striding with my dear friend J I don’t see enough of. A walking date I went on with someone I met online when I first moved to BC, just to have someone to talk to. A kind person, but far too long a walk for someone you haven’t met before and don’t have much to talk about with. Later, wandering the seawall with my camera and a telescope with an ornithologist/wildlife photographer I was with for a couple of years, crawling on my belly to get a shot of a great blue heron with his fancy lens, pleased when he chortled his approval at my willingness to get dirty.
Running in new places gives me mastery of a new space in a way nothing else does. But running in a familiar place also gives me illumination. I’m not the person anymore who would sort of passively agree to go on a long, inescapable walk with someone I’m not sure I want to spend that much time with. I’m not the person who lets myself get enveloped in other people’s passions.
I know my passions, and I’ve organized my life to live them as much as I can. I’m very open to new things — goat yoga, anyone? wow, Uzbekistan sounds great! — but I’m also old enough, seasoned enough, to know the things that ground me. And I’ve learned to do the work that makes the space for them. A long solo walk, and saying a gentle no to company if I really want to be alone. A slightly too hard 12K run I don’t truly have time for. A pounding music-infused treadmill workout when I’ve absorbed other people’s pain. Asking a friend to meet an hour later for dinner to carve out the time for the 70km bike ride I need.
The Cate who walked the seawall in June 2009 with a stranger is a different person than the Cate who ran it in August 2017. I don’t know if I realized how much until it was spelled out in every footstep of this run. So much of my work is with people who demonstrate incredible resilience, compassion, who strive for it. I don’t know if I’d realized how much I’d been learning about resilience for myself doing that work.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede. Cate lives in Toronto, where she works in the space of socially accountable education and change in healthcare and other public spheres. She regularly blogs here on the second Friday of every month, as well as when she has something more to say.