fitness

Do drivers pass closer to men or to women?

This story is in the news right now Bicycles, Gender, and Risk: Driver Behaviors When Passing Cyclists.

From the story, “Recent research here at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs shows that women have real reason to be concerned. In a field experiment, we found that drivers were significantly more likely to encroach—i.e. to pass closer than three feet—on a female cyclists than on male cyclists. Our study illustrate the scope and pervasiveness of the gender gap in cycling, confirms female cyclists’ concerns about safety on the road, and underscore the need for greater investment in safer facilities like protected bike lanes. “

That’s interesting and the authors speculate it might be part of the story about why fewer women ride bikes.

But’s also interesting because it contradicts other research on the same issue.

See our blog post from six years ago, Women cyclists, implicit bias, and helmet pigtails.

From that blog post, “Want to get more room on the road while riding your bike? Here’s one way. Have drivers judge that you’re female. Study after study shows that drivers give more room when passing female cyclists. They also give more room to riders without helmets but that’s another issue. The original study was done in England by Ian Walker.

“Research suggests drivers tend to believe helmeted cyclists are more serious and less likely to make unexpected moves … the helmet effect seen here is likely a behavioural manifestation of this belief. The gender effect could be the result of female cyclists being rarer than male cyclists in the UK, or it may again be related to drivers’ perceptions of rider experience and predictability.”

You can read about it here:  http://drianwalker.com/overtaking/overtakingprobrief.pdfHis results have since been duplicated in the United States. The US study found that on average drivers passed cyclists more closely when cyclists were dressed in “bicycle attire” and if the cyclist was male. The study was unable to determine the reasons on this passing behavior and the authors of the study speculated that, “it [was] possible that motorists perceived less risk passing riders who were in [a] bicycle outfit.”  You can read about this study here:  http://www.bikesd.org/2011/10/25/florida-dot-study-reconfirms-ian-walkers-conclusions

I’m going to dig a bit deeper and get back to you!

Blue sneaker, grey pants, a red dutch bike with white tires and fenders. Photo by Maxi Corrado on Unsplash .

aging · Dancing · fitness

Regrets, Sam’s had a few

This morning, on Facebook, one friend said that the most disturbing aspect of growing older is the closing down of possibilities conjoined with the pressure of time. Ouch. But they’re right.

And the other posted this.

Cheerful, but I think wrong. Sometimes you are too old and it is too late.

I guess I’m trying to be realistic when I say that there are things for which it’s definitely too late, I’ve blogged before about my commitment to stop saying, it’s never too late. I won’t give birth to more children, for example. I’m not sad about that but it’s obviously true

I’m thinking about limits and aging this week as yet another friend is being forced to give up soccer and running because of knee problems. It’s so hard. I still miss soccer and running and Aikido.

So all of this got me thinking what can I do now that I might not be able to do later? What opportunities should I seize because possible now and might not be later?

I’ve written about my regret that I didn’t play team sports until late in life. As it turns out by the time I started there weren’t many years left. See my older post on team sports and childhood regrets. What else might be like that? What should I start now?

Regret is one thing we might think about when making decisions. Yes, we want to maximize our future happiness. We might also think about minimizing future regret.

What all I regret if I don’t do it now?

I started thinking about this as two other bloggers here posted about dancing. Christine is doing a 100 days dancing challenge. Catherine recalls her dancing days and her ongoing status as a dancing queen, even if it’s in her kitchen.

I’d love to be able to dance. My current dancing style has been described as “sexy Muppet.” I’ve got some work to do.

Maybe this is me! Maybe I don’t have actual learning to do. I just need to find more opportunities to dance.

body image · cycling · Fear

Kim asks herself: why do I ride?

Content note: there is some mention of body image issues and struggles with weight loss in this post.

A couple of weekends ago, my cycling club held its annual feature ride to Rattlesnake Point, a conservation area on the Niagara Escarpment that road cyclists reach by climbing an absolute corker of a hill. (At just a kilometre, and with grades well above 10% along the way, it’s basically a wall of pain with a twist in the middle.) I did the ride last year and made it up the hill, but barely. My memory of it was, “did that, don’t need to do it again.”

This lot makes it look easy. It ain’t easy! A group of female riders racing up Rattlesnake Point in Halton region, Ontario. Image from Pedal Magazine.

When this year’s ride rolled around, though, I started to get a familiar feeling. I should do the hill again, I heard my brain whispering to my quads. After all, it wasn’t THAT bad. Right? Besides, said evil Kim brain to vulnerable Kim quads, if you don’t do it again you’ll always think you barely can and it will haunt you.

I decided to take to the internet for help. I wrote a message in our regular FFI bloggers message group asking the gang to “tell me I should do” the ride. I’m not actually sure what I was hoping for. A chorus of you go, girl! ? Maybe. Or maybe a good reason not to go?

Cate weighed in straight away, and in her inimitable Cate way drove to the heart of my problem. There’s no should here, she said. Why do you want to do this? What will it do for you?

KABOOM.

Why do I ride? This is a question I’d actually already been thinking a lot about, before Cate hit the nail on the head. It’s been following me and my bike across the ocean for a couple of years now. It dogs me on club touring days, when I have to decide if I stay or if I go. And it’s there when I’m tired, but something inside says to me, get up! Don’t be lazy. You said you were going to ride today, so ride already.

There are a lot of answers to the question, why do I ride? Some are frankly awful. Some are amazing. And some of them are different now to what they once were, and different to what I ever expected they might be.

Here they are.

First, I ride because I love to ride.

(Images above, from top left: Kim in green helmet, riding glasses in her teeth, snaps a selfie at the top of Box Hill in Surrey, England, with green rolling hills in the background; Kim in the same helmet and blue, black and white kit walks her bike up a very steep lane, autumn leaves on the ground, and she’s walking because she couldn’t get up the hill but she’s smiling anyway; Kim in pink helmet and black Castelli kit stands in front of her bike proudly, hands on hips, in Richmond Park, South London, England. All these images are from 2014-15.)

This is objectively true and always has been. Road cycling is my sport; I’m massively strong and fast and awesome at it; I handle my bike with skill and have surprising amounts of chutzpah on the road that I don’t always have elsewhere in my life. I heart my bike, full stop. This is my best, and favourite, reason for riding. But it’s not always, or even often, the main reason I head out on the bike.

I also ride because I worry that if I don’t ride I’ll gain a bunch of weight. In other words, I ride because somewhere in my brain I’m convinced I have to or else bad shit is going down. This is my least favourite reason for riding, but it’s often the quickest motivator for me.

I have always struggled with body image; I was raised in a household where nobody was thin but thinness was the ideal. My mom and her sisters policed each other’s bodies like crazy, and mine too. I was overweight as a kid and lived with a terrible, irrational fear of gaining more weight. Passive aggressive comments followed many of my food choices, and someone was always watching and commenting on the contours of my body. I felt followed, all the time, and I felt horrible about myself.

I’m much better now, but that’s because I’ve been fit and strong for a while and as I’ve gotten to my fitness goals I’ve learned to appreciate the complexities of a strong and fit body. I’m still by no means thin – who wants to be thin when you can be strong? – but I have a great deal more body confidence. Still, the nagging fears with which we are raised do not just disappear. They transmogrify; sometimes they are countered by new practices and hard-won beliefs, but sometimes – often – they lurk. So one of the reasons I ride is to outrun this lurking worry about my weight. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s real for me.

Third, I ride because I can, because not all of us can and therefore I am really proud of what I am able to accomplish, and dammit do I feel strong and amazing when I do. (I also love this reason.)

A glamour shot of my road bike, Freddie, with grey cross bar and orange bar tape, with a traditional stone wall and gorgeous rolling dales in the background. I took this photo after getting to the top of yet another stunning climb in West Yorkshire, 2017.

This is what I replied to Cate when she answered my message about the Rattlesnake ride, and then I thought a lot more about it – more carefully about it. I did not end up going on the feature ride that weekend (my partner turned up at my house on the Sunday morning and I very joyfully spent the day with him instead) but the next day I realized that I’d actually wanted to do the ride, because I knew I could get up that hill stronger than I was last year, and I wanted to show myself how strong I am today. I wanted to feel my strong body haul myself up that stupid-ass hill. So on the Monday morning I went out and did it, alone – and got a personal record, too. (It felt amazing.)

Fourth, I ride to go places and make new discoveries about the world. This is a new reason for me, and I’m excited about embracing it more often in future.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that Sam, Susan, Cate, and blog friends Sarah and David were recently on a seriously grit-laden (literally and figuratively!) cycling trip to Newfoundland. Early in the planning for this journey they asked me to come and I decided not to join them. I knew I would not enjoy it: I dislike camping; I knew it would be freezing; I suspected we would be tired and possibly wet pretty much all the time. For me, this sounds like a world of pain, not a holiday.

There was a time I would have said yes anyway, though. I would have decided it was a challenge, I would have told myself that I never shirk from a challenge, and that therefore I would have to go. For quite a while in the early planning stages of the trip I was actually worried that I was going to say yes for this reason; I have a history of saying yes to things that I think will be good for me in some horrible you-can-rest-when-you’re-dead way, and I almost never enjoy them (though I do get a feeling of satisfaction from the endorphin rush and the adrenaline of succeeding in the end). It actually took a lot of work and a lot of courage for me to tell myself definitively, you will not enjoy this. Say no. Not going to Newfoundland was a growth moment for me, then, as a cyclist and as a person.

While the gang were in Newfoundland, however, I was riding too – in Anglesey, an island in northern Wales. This trip was like many I’ve taken, where the bike and I get on a plane and then on a train and head for a cottage where we stay for a while, riding every day or every other day to neat new places we’ve never been before, racking up the miles and the Strava segments. This is my preferred way of bike touring: no camping, no schlepping in panniers. Stay in one place; return there to eat and sleep and shower each evening. Over the years I’ve learned that I don’t just prefer it this way, but love it.

(Images above, from left: I’m in my green helmet and riding glasses, taking a selfie with green pastures and blue sky in the background; Freddie and her orange bar tape chill out against a barrier with soft sand and blue water in the background, at Trearddur Bay, Anglesey; another selfie, this time with grey frog statue from a random Anglesey front yard. Half of my face is visible, glasses on my nose, and I’m looking quite serious, on behalf of the frog.)

On this trip to Wales, though, something new happened: I had to use the bike for errands, not just for touring and challenge rides. My friend and I had no car, and the nearest shop was 1.5 miles away up a hillside; the nearest proper shop was 6 miles away. So some days I rode the bike 50, 60, 90km, visiting beaches and outcroppings and a very cool salt factory; on other days I rode the bike 10km, 25km, 30km, to buy cheese and meat pies and veggies and swim in the ocean.

The pop-up caf at the amazing Halen Mons salt stop. An Airstream is kitted out with typical coffee shop accoutrements, and there’s a posh looking picnic table in the foreground. The sky above is azure-blue, and the shop’s name – TIDE – sits proudly on block letters above the Airstream.

I hadn’t done this before – on previous cottage-style bike holidays I’ve either had a car or been based in a town centre – and it was actually really joyful. Using the bike for all sorts made me feel like I was connected to a community, not just passing through it on the way to yet another Strava prize. And it reminded me that my love for my road bike is about freedom and independence, joy in the outdoors, a love of movement, as well as strength and speed and skill, all blended together.

There’s one more reason I ride: to get stronger. I do this by riding with faster people in my cycling club and struggling to keep up with them. It’s not fun a lot of the time, but it works.

This reason I’m still struggling with.

As recently as last summer, I thought – as with my initial reasoning about the Newfoundland trip – that it was my duty to myself to always ride with the fast folks, and suffer and endure, because if you can, you should, and if you don’t you’re being lazy and will never improve. (Again, I’m aware these intrusive thoughts are not helpful, but they are real for me.)

But earlier this season something weird and unexpected happened: I decided not to care anymore. I arrived at a club ride in April and made the decision to ride with the second-fastest group, not the super fast kids. I told myself, sure you can ride with the fast gang, but it wasn’t that much fun, was it? Maybe you could prioritize joy over speed this time. Maybe there’s an important component of getting stronger in that choice, too. Through the season, I’ve been riding with social group two more often than speedy group one. And I’m OK with it, for now.

I still ride from time to time out of an obligation to my demons. But the great news is that, more and more, I’m riding just for the pure delight of it, knowing that I’m growing as a person, not just as a rider, when I do. I posted in our message group with my demons in tow, asking the gang please to validate them; instead, Cate reminded me that I do not need to pay attention to those dudes so much. There are lots of absolutely wonderful reasons to ride my bike – more than enough to keep me happily rolling.

Why do you ride? Do you struggle with demons around exercise? Can you tap into the joy of movement unencumbered? Let me know.

fitness · Guest Post · running

Keeping Fit While Healing from Hysterectomy Part 2(b): The “Running” Edition

(Part 1 and Part 2(a) here.)

Returning to jogging after a hysterectomy is proving to be a longer process than returning to lifting–or maybe it just seems that way? When you need to regress a lift, it’s pretty straightforward–you use lighter weights, you do fewer reps, or you do an easier version of a movement. But how do you regress jogging, especially when you (I) are (am) not starting from a place of much strength to begin with?

When I was in “really good” jogging condition, I could go about 5 miles at about an 11-min mile pace. (I was in a good place with my jogging when I first wrote this piece about calling myself a “runner.”) I achieved that feat of jogging mediocrity by going out once a week to run pretty much every weekend for a handful of years. It was slow, plodding progress that suited my slow, plodding movements.

That ended over a year ago, when pain made it less feasible. First my hip, and then later, my uterus, made any kind of plyometric movement too painful to let it be enjoyable. So, enter today, post-hysterectomy, and with over a year of physical therapy attempting to address the imbalances and mobility challenges that made jogging a problem.

And I really want to run again.

In fact, about 5 weeks after my surgery, I found myself practically jumping out of my skin with energy–I needed to move, to really exert myself after weeks and weeks of being careful and modulating my movements. Do you know that feeling? Maybe you’re out walking and your feet are just skipping ahead, seemingly without a conscious decision on your part? That’s where I was at. I NEEDED to move.

So, I did. I went out on my daily walk, and while I was at the park, I did a slow, shuffling jog from one light post to the next. Then I walked a while to catch my breath (3 light posts?), and I jogged again. I had to keep my feet very close to the ground, as bouncing felt unpleasant, and I found myself sort of holding my abdomen with my hands, as if I could support my insides by holding my outsides. I did this lightpost-based interval training for the rest of the walk and crossed my fingers that I hadn’t hurt myself unknowingly. But I seemed ok.

The next day, I was achier than usual. My abdominal muscles were telling me that I had used them, and I felt swollen around my vagina. But otherwise, it really seemed to be ok.

So, when I was released to return to normal activities a week later (I cowardly didn’t tell my doctor about my little jogging experiment . . .), I added these little walk-jogs after my lifting sessions sometimes. And I have to say, even if just for brief moments, it feels amazing to move and break a sweat. It’s helping with muscle soreness from returning to lifting, too–I feel so much more mobile afterwards.

I’m monitoring my hip, but so far, it seems to be going along with it ok, too. Someone I’ve read online (Tony Gentilcore, perhaps?) wrote about pain and how to monitor if an exercise is helping or hindering. Whoever it was talked about measuring your pain beforehand on a scale, say you’re a 3 on a scale of 1-10, and then afterwards. If your pain is the same or one notch higher than before, a 3 or 4 in my example, then keep doing what you’re doing. Only if it increases the pain more than that do you pull back on the activity, since it might be doing more harm than good. I like this model, as it acknowledges that I don’t have to expect to be pain free. Many of us do not live like that, and fear of the pain makes it worse than accepting it does.

There are a few more resources out there for people returning to running after a hysterectomy than there are for returning to lifting, but most of the advice boils down to “take it slowly and feel it out before you do too much,” usually paired with the seemingly obligatory, “everyone is different.” Decades ago, they told women not to run afterwards, ever. But advice back then was to never run while pregnant, too, and as more people have researched this, the more we’ve learned that activity does not have to be as restricted as once feared. In fact, for many people, increased activity makes the healing go more smoothly. Thankfully, my surgeon seems to agree with this perspective, and I don’t have to feel like I’m going against doctor’s orders (because, let’s be honest, I’d be doing all this stuff anyway).

And so, I am doing these walk-jogs two or three days a week. I can’t state enough how good it feels to push myself and work up a sweat, although I have to stay very mindful of how I’m moving–keeping my steps short and low to the ground to avoid jostling my insides too much. It is getting less uncomfortable each week, and I am slowly increasing the length of the jogging intervals. One unexpected positive outcome of this surgery may be that I have found a new way to build jogging into my routine–doing short bouts after lifting sessions instead of one longer one on the weekends. Although it’s too soon to know if it will stick as a routine once the school year is back in session.

Thus, I continue to push forwards as I heal. I can still feel uncomfortable at times, but that does seem to be slowly getting less common. Sitting for too many hours can be just as problematic as “overdoing it” on a jog or at the gym. Either way, I have five weeks before I have to be back to my full work/life routine. I feel very fortunate to have the luxury of this time, and I plan on taking advantage of it to build my strength and endurance at my own pace.

Can you relate to the impulse to just GO after a long period away from movement? Do you have experience returning to running (or lifting) after a hysterectomy? I’d love to hear from you!

(Update from 1 year later: Sex and Trauma after Hysterectomy)

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again (and occasionally jogging from light post to light post) in Portland, Oregon.

#deanslife · cycling · fitness · monthly check in · weight lifting

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the June/July version (CW: discussion of weight loss)

What’s up?

I’m riding lots. Newfoundland was challenging and beautiful. I’ve got a summer of biking and boating activity planned. I feel like a cyclist again and I’m going to write about what that feeling is and why it matters to me in another post, later. I’ve been strength training lots and I’m feeling strong. It’s also summer. The sun is out. I started a new blog, #deaning.

Sarah and I have been learning to race the Snipe.

What’s not to like?

See below!

What’s down?

I saw the knee surgery guys at Fowler Kennedy last month and was told that I shouldn’t have any more synvisc shots since I’m on the countdown to surgery.

They didn’t have positive things to say about physio or physical activity either. Long term neither will fix my knee. Now that I’m on track for surgery they want me to focus on weight loss which is the single most important thing I can do to aid surgery and recovery.

And the thing is this is a team I trust. They refer me to studies. They treat my larger body respectfully. They’re giving the same advice to the aging male athletes there. There’s no judgement and no body shaming. It’s all very neutral and evidence based.

But still it feels shitty. I’ve worked super hard to love my body at this size. I do. I cheer on Fuck fat loss! but now, having thrown those looks-related reasons for dieting away, I’m dieting anyway?

These are lots of reasons for wanting a smaller body that aren’t my reasons.

I’m trying to be clear in my own mind about my motivation but in this fatphobic world that’s hard.

I’ve lost some weight but I need to lose more

I’m rereading Ann Cahill’s work on weight loss. I really like the compassion she retains for her larger body.

“I don’t look back at photos of myself from a year ago and shudder. That was a different body that I lived, with its own set of possibilities, practices, and abilities. And there are certainly cultural contexts where that body would be more useful and conducive to my survival than the one I’m living now. Come the apocalypse, those extra pounds would come in handy.”

It’s important for me to keep the positive attitude about larger bodied me because weight loss might not work. It’s not any easier when it’s for health reasons. Your body doesn’t care about your motives. So in my bag of weight loss tools I can’t have dislike of the way I look now. It’s more that a larger body isn’t such a good match for my injured joints. The best motivaton is that even now, just a few pounds smaller, it hurts less.

What am I doing? Nothing dramatic. I’m trying to maintain a calorie deficit through exercise and tracking food. I’m eating lots of vegetables and protein, the usual thing.

Luckily there’s good food on campus. Lunch today is kale and beet salad, lentils, assorted veggies and hummus, and sunflower seeds.

Speaking of joints, my knee hurts a lot and I’m getting grumpy about the things I can’t do. Yes, I said goodbye to soccer and to running, but staying back at the tent when everyone else was off hiking on our activity day at Gros Morne was really hard. Sitting around and reading a book while others are hiking isn’t me, I think. But also, I think being grumpy isn’t me either. I’m a pretty resilient, ‘happy even in the face of sad, hard things’ person but the pain and lack of mobility is getting to me.

I’m jealous of friends posting step counts and runs and CrossFit classes on social media. For the first time I get why people who can’t do those things might find it tiresome. Grump. It’s so not me. Usually I’m the friend who loves it when you post your travel photos. I have friends who do iron distance triathlons and long long ultra runs. Usually I think it’s great that my friends get to do such fun things. This has clearly taken me off my usual path, my usual way of being in the world.

Oh, also on the “what’s down” front, I broke my bike frame. It’s not repairable. Compared to my knee that seems like small potatoes. I’ve got a second string road bike and maybe a third so I’m shopping, without pressure, for another bike.

Sad face. Broken frame. It’s not just the derailleur hanger sadly.

On the bad side, it happened on our bike trip. On the good side, it happened on day 6. That day was 130 km so Sarah and I split the day and we each rode half the distance on her bike.  We spent the rest of the day in the van. The next day was out and back to L’ Anse aux Meadows. I took the morning ride out there (Yay! Tailwinds!) Sarah got to sleep in but didn’t have as much fun riding back.

It’s such a beautiful place. I’m already scheming to go back. Next time maybe with my mother and a rental car. 

Puffins guarding my latte at the Dark Tickle cafe and gift shop.
cycling · fitness

To e-bike or not to e-bike?

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing e-bikes everywhere: in the news, in my Facebook feed, and all over the place in the real world. Last Wednesday, while driving oh so slowly through morning traffic on my way to a critical thinking workshop, a woman on an e-bike zipped by us all in the bike lane. I looked on in envy and admiration. I was carpooling with a friend to a disclosed location 40 miles away, so biking there wasn’t an option.

But a lot of the time biking is an option. I bike not just for fun, but also for errands and meetings near where I live. Most places I go in my part of the Boston area I can get to within 20-ish minutes on a bike. I can’t say the same for driving: there’s the current road construction chaos and the omnipresent parking problem, both against a backdrop of congested urban streets. For this kind of cycling I have to pay very close attention to what’s going on around me, but I tend to get where I’m going quite efficiently and in good time. No need for an e-bike, it would seem.

Then there’s my commute to work.

My university is 41 miles from my house. I commute generally 3 days a week, about 30–32 weeks a year. This is not horrible. I’m lucky that I have the option of working from home 2 days a week, and also in the summer and during school breaks.

And yet.

I hate the drive to and from work. It takes an hour to get there– I leave after 9am to avoid the morning traffic crush– but it takes anywhere from 1:15 to infinity to get home, which is during the evening rush hour. Yes, yes– I listen to podcasts and audio books. But it is still a long and not fun drive.

There are public transportation options, and I’ve tried them from time to time. It involves either:

  1. walking to the bus stop near my house; taking the bus to the subway (called the T); taking the subway to the train station downtown; taking the commuter rail to school (47 minutes); walking 10 or so minutes to class or office. OR
  2. Cycling to the train station (around 45 minutes depending on traffic lights); changing clothes in the train station bathroom, as I’m sweaty after that long a ride; taking train to school; walking or cycling to class or office (depending on whether I took my bike on the train).

Either of these options makes my commute take 1 hour 45 minutes–2 hours EACH WAY. Blech. I’ve duly tried to make myself adjust to this over the years, but it never sticks.

Enter the e-bike option.

In a big fancy survey of e-bike owners, they listed a bunch of reasons why they chose e-bikes (over driving and over regular bikes). Here’s the big fancy graph of their responses:

Lots of reasons why people switched to e-bikes.
Lots of reasons why people switched to e-bikes.

All of these reasons make a lot of sense. Of course a bunch of these motivations would promote non-e-bike riding. However, they also cited a bunch of barriers to standard bike commuting. Here’s the fancy graph with that info:

Barriers to riding a standard (non-e) bike.
Barriers to riding a standard (non-e) bike.

These reasons make a lot of sense, too. For me, the factors that are motivating me to test-ride some e-bikes are:

  1. An e-bike would reduce my commuting time; by how much, I’m not sure.
  2. I’ll likely be less sweaty when I arrive at the train station, which means not changing in the bathroom and also arriving at class looking less disheveled (the train arrives 12 minutes before class starts).
  3. Given 2., I think I’d bike commute for more of the year; in the colder months, I would be less sweaty (I sweat while cycling no matter the weather– that’s the fact), which would make the rest of my commute more comfortable.

So what is holding me back?

  1. Price– e-bikes are still very expensive. From very preliminary research (more will be forthcoming and duly reported here), decent ones start around $2500 and go up from there. Way up.
  2. I’m not an early adopter of new technology. I prefer waiting until the kinks are worked out, more and better features appear and the price drops.
  3. I’m not sure how much shorter an e-bike commute would be. It’s about 8 miles to the train station from my house, but it’s a very congested route on city streets with loads of traffic lights. My land speed record there on my road bike is 38 minutes. It’s not clear how much the e-bike would cut the time of the trip.
  4. It’s not clear how much less sweaty I would be, either. Pedal-assist bikes do require pedaling, so it will take some experimenting to see how my body behaves.

What do you think? Do you have an e-bike? How do you like it? Do you want an e-bike? I’d welcome any thoughts you have on the matter. I’ll report back as I try some out.

boats · competition · fitness · racing · sailing

Serious sailing, serious fun: Sam and Sarah race the GCBC Commodore’s Cup

Sarah and I raced our first weekend race today on the Snipe. We’ve done a couple of evenings of short course races at the club but this was our first longer event.

“Serious sailing, serious fun” is the motto of the Snipe class. The Snipe is described as a tactical, racing dinghy. It’s 15.5 feet and it’s raced by two people. Today Sarah was skipper and I was crew.

The good news? We had fun and no one drowned. We finished the course and didn’t crash into any other boats. Our peak speed was 7 knots. We had a good amount of wind. Also, thanks to us an 8 year old racing a laser is very happy he wasn’t last! We’re a pretty good team and we’re getting better at communicating on the boat.

Also it’s a great community. People were very happy to have us out there and recognize that we’re beginners and have lots to learn. We’ve been attending Thursday night race training where an experienced sailor follows us in a motorboat offering tips and advice. Thanks Harri!

The bad news? We lost Sarah’s hat overboard, attempted to rescue it but didn’t succeed. The line for our pole which allows us to fly the jib like a spinnaker came undone and we had to do some fixing underway. We were very much dead last.

But we’re learning lots.

Our experience reminded me of a conversation I had on our Newfoundland trip about the advantages of racing, both bikes and boats. I like riding in a community of cyclists where everyone races because there are skills you only only acquire in that context. It’s true for boats and sailing too. Everyone learns to race as part of learning to sail.

Our day ended with a moving ceremony to remember Mark Parkinson, former Commodore for Life of Guelph Community Boating Club. His grandchildren were there to raise the colours and a bench overlooking the race course has been named after him. We also awarded the Commodore’s Cup to the winning boat. At GCBC it’s filled with jujubes not beer or champagne. Congrats Julian!

Oh, and a friend asked recently about sailing as a fitness activity. I guess it depends. There’s always work getting the boat in and out of the water, even on a trailer. It weighs 380 lbs. There’s moving about the boat as we tack and jibe across the lake. Today we did lots of hiking, getting our body weight out over the edge of the boat to keep the boat flat. That’s a pretty good ab workout.

fitness

100 Days of Dancing? Hell, yes!

Back in June, with absolutely perfect timing, my delightfully creative friend Leigh Medeiros put out a call for people to join her in 100 days of dancing. 

I had been looking for a small challenge of some sort to get me moving again every day and wanting to keep Leigh company in her challenge was the perfect impetus.

The rules were simple: dance every day, make a short video to post in the new Facebook group she had established, cheer other people on. 

With rules that straightforward, 100 Days of Dancing definitely sounded like something I could do.

And, in fact, I HAVE done that for most of the over 50 days of the challenge so far.  (I missed posting on a few days because of illness but I did some sort of dance every single day.)

Sometimes, I have been getting into the sort of kitchen dancing groove that inspired Catherine to think about all the dancing she is doing/wants to do but I also have been bopping around all over my house and yard* depending on my mood and on who else is home.

I love to dance. I’m not great at choreography (I miss my cues – damn ADHD) but I love flailing about to some music. I’m always listening for the ‘jumpy part’ and I tend to caterwaul along to the music. 

And the good thing about dancing by myself is that I don’t have to match anyone else’s movements so I’m not self-conscious – even though I am going to end up sharing the video.

A white woman with light brown hair is dancing in a room with light green walls, there is a door open behind her and you can see a hallway beyond.
Unsurprisingly, Delta Rae’s ‘Dance in the Graveyards’ is an excellent song for dancing.

I’m having a great time with this and I am so grateful to Leigh for starting the challenge. 

Not only has it got me moving every day – and for me, getting started is always a challenge, once I’m moving I happily keep going, but there have been a lot of other benefits.

  1. I’ve met a great group of fun people all with their own delightful dance styles and we’ve been encouraging each other.
  2. I’ve heard all kinds of new music.
  3. I’ve realized (or perhaps re-realized) that one of my obstacles to dance is that I have a limited dance ‘vocabulary’ – I don’t have a wide range of moves so I end up repeating myself. Repeating myself gets boring, and boring means I’ll stop. Sooooo, I have been inspired to seek out some new movements to learn. 
  4. Figuring out which song to dance to has added extra fun to my day (the dancing does that, too.)
  5. I’m paying more attention to every song I hear – on TV, on the radio, or wherever – so I can decide if I want to dance to it. That also adds fun and a kind of presence to my day.

I was chatting with my friend Elaine (the Nia instructor) recently and I realized that I am starting to think of myself as a dancer rather than just someone who dances. I don’t mean that I will add it to my business card and I definitely won’t be hitting the stage but I am finding that dancing feels even more natural now that I am doing it every day.

When I listen to music, I’m thinking about how I could dance to it – what moves to include where, what parts of the song would lead to repeating or varying a movement. And I am seeking songs that let me express the feelings of that day through my movements. That’s pretty dancer-y, hey?

While I have always loved it, dancing has become a much bigger part of my life since June and I just love Leigh** for bringing this challenge into my life right now. 

I wouldn’t have thought to do this on my own and I am having a grand time. 

If you need a boost today, why not do your own flailing?

Here’s a song to get you started – Bif Naked’s ‘I Love Myself Today’

This song, Bif Naked’s ‘I Love Myself Today’, is perfect for jumping and flailing around.

*Between this, hula hooping, and practicing TKD in my yard my neighbours have long since given up on me. 😉

**You can’t join in Leigh’s FB group at this point (she has deliberately kept the group to her friends only) but you can check out some of her dance videos on Instagram and get inspired by her joyful movement.

fitness

More Than Just a Paddle in the Park

I love Algonquin Provincial Park, a gorgeous area about 3 hours north of Toronto. While it has a few car camping spots along the main highway, it is best known for its back-country camping. The hundreds of lakes and multiple rivers are connected, web like, with well used portages, each one opening up to another spectacular vista and a loon call. It’s heaven and a place I go to disconnect from all. . .this. . .*waves hand dismissively*.

It was about 10 years ago that my dear friend Sarah, the oft mentioned, occasional contributor and mischief maker around here, introduced me to the experience of putting all your stuff in a couple of packs, putting a canoe on your head and waltzing off to adventures of all sorts. In my many trips with her, I learned the value of good gear, how to set up a camp, how to keep from getting too wet, what you need to survive and what you can get away with that is pure luxury in the experience of the trip. I have since introduced my kids and my mom to the experience, with a lot of FIAFI blogger help (Sam, Sarah, Cate, Mallory).

So, when my other Bestie, Jenn, said they wanted to go, I knew I would make that happen. Now, Jenn is no slouch when it comes to camping. They were in the Girl Guide organization for something close to 20 years as a participant and leader. They know a thing or two about tents, fires and outdoor cooking. They also love the water but somehow never put all these things together into a back-country experience. So, I planned a little trip. And when I say little, I mean little. We would put in at Tim River, do a little paddle to the lake, pop over a 350m portage to another lake with only two sites on it and establish our private resort on the point for a couple of nights. Easy, peasy. Except it wasn’t exactly that.

You see, while the park is well used and the lakes are small, nature is big. Sometimes, she gets really freaking huge by way of wind and rain. Also, the park is always changing. When a portage is marked on a tree by the shore, it doesn’t mean the trees around it stop growing and maybe obstruct that sign so that a paddler can’t see it from the direction they are coming from. And further, while my canoe is AMAZING and weighs about 37lbs, putting my fat friend Jenn in the stern or bow, proved to be a more complex issue than we anticipated.

Susan and Jenn standing in front of Susan's blue Prius V with a yellow canoe trapped professionally to the top. Susan is wearing a blue shirt with the blog name on it.
This is us just after we wrestled the Catnoe on the car. What a great shirt I’m wearing.

And you know what else? One of the things I have learned about being a woman in the park, is that I need to decide to do things the way they work for me (and the people I’m with for whom I am responsible). So, this is really a story about how we make it work, even when it doesn’t look like what we thought it would or what other people think it should.

First of all, the two of us don’t fit the profile of canoeing partners. I used to experience this with Sarah too, and basically with everyone I’ve gone with except my ex. Most of the time it’s a couple of cis men or a cis man and a cis woman. Now there is nothing wrong with this configuration of tripping, obviously. What a pleasure it was to pile the heaviest pack on my ex and put a canoe on his head and go while I picked up the lighter pack and the spare bits. But that wasn’t an option with us, no man to power through. We had our own strengths, our wits and the “sense god gave us” as I imagine one of Jenn’s New Brunswick relatives saying, more colourfully than that I suspect.

This is how our put-in day went. Everything was going swimmingly. The stuff was tucked in our packs, everything was in a dry bag or a zip lock and all was efficiently strapped down. I am totally obsessed with everything being in dry bags, even if it makes the pack itself look a bit awkward. I have never tipped, or had never tipped yet (more further down, a little foreshadow here) and I have been slightly mocked by this obsession. We went to pick up the canoe, got it on the car in a half hour, grabbed the paddles, gloves and life jackets and within the next hour, we were at the put-in. Damn ,I was impressed with us.

Susan obsessively dealing with her gear, making sure it's all tied down.
I take gear seriously people. Sarah, this picture is basically you, but me.

The plan was to put Jenn in the stern because they were heavier and off we would go. So off we went. It felt a little unstable but my canoe always feels that way at the beginning. It takes some getting used to because of the flex. Well, we were about 15 meters out and the dry streak broke. The dog moved and the people over compensated and over we went. . .in front of 6 dudes who had just paddled in off the river. We were fine, we could stand up. The dog was swimming and the canoe swamped. Yet we lost not one piece of gear because it was all strapped to the canoe (another obsession) and everything was in a dry bag. There were offers of help and a lot of suggestions from our dude friends. In truth, they were gracious and kind. One of them insisted that putting me in the stern and Jenn in the bow was a better idea. I was skeptical but we tried it. We paddled for 2 minutes and I knew that was an even worse idea so I turned us around and got us back before more wetness occurred. 

Picture of a ziplock bag of money and bank cards encased in red goo. Also a waterlogged lottery ticket
These were the only two casualties of the dump. The scratch ticket was unscratchable. The red goo in my “wallet” was Tylenol.

We were at a cross roads. It wasn’t going to work that Jenn sat in a traditional place. But hell if I was going to leave without trying something else. So, I asked them how they felt about sitting in the middle like a 5-year-old and they were thrilled. It worked! We were stable and I could maneuver and we happily (like supper happily) went off down the river. 

Jenn and Susan happily paddling with bonus yellow lab Shelby in the middle.
I don’t know who is cuter or happier in this picture, Jenn or Shelby?

It was windy but the wind was behind us. We were just glorious sun and smells and the world’s happiest people and dog. Then we hit the lake. Going down the shore perpendicular to the waves with a tail wind was fine. Yet, I knew something was wrong about an hour in. We should have seen the portage by then and I stared hard at the map, trying to discern were we were, meanwhile, the wind was gathering force in a way I had never experienced there and we were down at the end of the little lake clinging to a log, parallel to the waves and in danger of going over again no matter how good a ballast Jenn was. 

Friends, I panicked. I was hungry and exhausted and my dog was freaking out in her quiet dog way and I didn’t know how the heck I was going to turn this boat around and try to make my way back to the mystery portage we had clearly blown past. Jenn, on the other hand, was having the time of their life. What a weirdo. The log was acting as a break water and Jenn noticed that if we pushed along it for a bit, and around a stump and a rock, we may be able to turn ourselves around in calmer water. It took everything in me to make that corner and get us to temporary safety. I knew we were actually in real trouble in the sense that we didn’t really know how far back we may have to paddle and that I may not have the strength to keep us stable and going in the right direction. But, fear not. . .a miracle occurred. As soon as we turned around, we saw an empty camp site. It wasn’t ours but I made the call and set off for that shore. We would camp there and deal with being double booked or whatever later.

After that, the trip proceeded in the way I dreamed it would. Everything was dry and we made camp quickly and efficiently. Jenn put up the hammocks and I made the most amazing dinner on my little MSR burner. We always have a lot to talk about but we had even more this time. We talked about our experience of the day and where it was hard for each of us. It turns out that the hard was in different places. Jenn’s hardest point was when I asked them to stay as still as possible while I turned the canoe around when they were in the stern. They didn’t want to let me down by facilitating dumping us again, although that was a very real possibility and wouldn’t have actually mattered given we were already soaked. It was hardest for me when I realized that I was responsible for their safety and I briefly doubted I could meet the task, that I got us lost and now we were going to drown. The solution was breaking it down into small tasks and smaller moments. When I think about it, the entire trip is just that. It forces me to break everything down into one thing at a time because if I don’t, I get overwhelmed by all the things and bits and pieces and gear and stuff. When I’m focussed like that, on what I can do right there in front of me, then I am successful and move to the next step. 

There was a lot about that trip that was so hard. Yet I loved it and will do it again in about 4 weeks, this time with another friend and my kid and her pal. I will remain obsessed with dry bagging everything and I will look very very carefully at the map before we go anywhere. But nature is big and who knows what it will throw at us. The thrill of that possibility is energizing even when it’s a bit painful or fearful.

Don’t think you can do something like this? Of course you can. Find an experienced friend and do it! Everyone, every body, every gender deserves the magic to be found in places like this. Just remember. . .dry bags, PFD’s, and one thing at a time.

Jenn, like a fat camping superhero with their hammock on their back like a cape in a "fuck guilt" shirt.
This is one of my favourite moments. Jenn was singing “Fat People Can” in the way they do.
A very happy yellow lab
Look at this dog. Is there a happier dog? No.
A camp fire at twilight
Perfect campfire moment.
Dancing · fitness

I just remembered: I’m a dancing queen/fool/dancer! My own #TBT

Who here dances around their kitchen in the morning/noon/evening/night? Come on, let me see those hands.

WWoman with hands in the air, presumably dancing. by Unsplash.
Woman with hands in the air, presumably like she just doesn’t care. by Unsplash.

This morning, after turning on my internet radio (second-favorite gift from my former partner, first being fancy espresso machine), I found myself distracted from coffee making by some great grooves emanating from said radio. I programmed in my favorite jazz stations from all over North America (and one from France), and rotate/update as the spirit moves me.

This morning, even before coffee consumption, I found myself dancing to some funky jazz. Because of the miracle/burden of the internet, I looked up the playlist and found it: Houston Person, “Walking the Dog”. I recommend taking your phone or computer to your kitchen now, hitting play, and seeing what happens. Other locations may work just as well.

There’s nothing like a little Hammond B-3 organ to get you going in the morning.

Since it’s summer and I was having a moment of delightful leisure, I let myself go with the flow (please forgive the previous phrase–I’m feeling carried away). It was so fun. I kept dancing– moving my hips, adding in arms, no real footwork, just some lazy morning grooving.

The tune is 8 minutes long, so there was time for memories to rush in. Muscle memories showed up in waves. You see, I used to be/was/am a dancer.

I don’t remember any time in my childhood when there wasn’t groovy music playing, with someone swiveling hips, snapping fingers, etc. I was born into a Motown household in the 60s. We always had a funky soundtrack for the work of the day.

High school dances (yes we had them back in the late 70s) were all about the funk. The Isley Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, and yes, even Lionel Ritchie were the rhythms of the day.

The Isley Brothers, who are good for whatever you need to oppose today.

Ballet at age 8 was my rocky start to structured dance, abandoned 3 months after (don’t remember why). It took until college, when, on a whim, I signed up for tap class and ballet class, to discover my dancer self. Ballet was not where that happened. I enjoyed it and learned a lot about my body; taking ballet can teach you almost as much as yoga about what your body can/can’t/loves to/flat-out-refuses to do.

But jazz tap– man, I found my home! It was like I remembered who I had been in a previous life. If you’re unfamiliar with the wonders of jazz or rhythm tap (unlike Broadway-style tap, which is a different thing) you can look at this very famous and showy number by the Nicholas Brothers. If you’re still interested, check out these smooth moves by Jimmy Slyde. Yes, women tap dance too. Here’s a piece by two of my teachers, Dianne Walker and the late great Pamela Raff, doing a number they taught me. Go to 1:30 where the dancing starts. And I can’t leave out tap master Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, who makes it look impossibly effortless here , in her gorgeous performance here (that opens with one of my favorite jazz standards, Tenderly).

Lest you think that rhythm tap is a genre limited to jazz lovers (not that I find this a limitation, but…), check out the Syncopated Ladies‘ number to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”.

Syncopated Ladies, showing mastery of footwork, body movement and feeling the funk.

My prime tap years were from my late 20s through my mid-30s. I studied with great teachers in Boston (I even did master classes with Savion Glover and the late great Gregory Hines). I taught classes to adults and kids, did workshops, and studied privately with the above-mentioned Pamela Raff and also Katherine Kramer. I was able to perform with live jazz combos, solo and with friends and teachers.

Some gigs were more modest than others. Two friends and I, armed with boom box , went to an assisted-living facility to do a little show. We tap danced to recorded jazz standards and I sang a little bit while my friends tapped (our “crowdpleaser” number was All of Me). Halfway through the show, an announcement came on over the PA system, saying that the bus to Stop ‘n’ Shop was leaving in five minutes. We lost a third of the audience then. Whaddya gonna do? Seniors need groceries.

There’s no one reason why tap didn’t stay with me, or I didn’t stay with tap. I was changing jobs and moving, traveling a lot, and tap requires access to teachers and studios with wood floors and communities and connections. DO NOT TRY IT AT HOME, unless you live in a single family house alone or with a soundproof basement. It is loud. Very loud.

Lately I’ve been thinking about returning to the floor. Listening to more jazz has put me in mind and mood for dancing again. My body isn’t what it was then (no need for reminders about this; I’m trying to be nicer and more accepting, but having a harder time with it these days; another story for another post).

Can I still tap? Yes. Can I still boogie? Absolutely. Maybe it’s time to start dancing again.

Hey readers– any dancers out there? What makes you get your groove on (yes, I know you’re cringing just reading this; please forgive me). I would love to hear from you.

My actual tap shoes are in my basement (time to get them out!), but I’ll leave you with a portrait of my black-and-white Dansky custom tap shoes. Artist Shari Hersch was nice enough to do this as a commission for me. It was some of the best money I ever spent.

My used and much-loved Dansky tap shoes, a work done in oil by Shari Hersch.
My used and much-loved Dansky tap shoes, a work done in oil by Shari Hersch.