Last weekend, I participated in The Triadventure: The Finale,
which is the primary fundraising event for the Nikibasika project in Uganda
(the blog’s very own Cate Creede is the director of this profoundly meaningful
endeavour). The idea of this event is similar to the Friends for Life Bike
Rally that lots of us have done. . .promise to do something physically hard and
impossible to contemplate for some people and then ask them to donate. It has
the effect of creating a dual path to convincing people to part with their
money. One is the project itself (which has literally raised, as in
parented, nurtured and guided, 52 kids from very adverse circumstances into
community leaders and beautiful humans), the other is people being impressed
with how hard the participants are willing to work in order to draw attention
to the project. To that end, the full event is a 3k swim, a 14k run, a 13k
canoe and a 122k bike ride.
One of the other impacts of events like this is the community they build around a mutual goal. I came to the Triadventure late. This is the last one as the project is now fully funded to its conclusion, which will be graduation from post secondary education the last 13 kids (the youngest is 15 right now). I feel both sad that I didn’t get in on it sooner and also that the experience of being there this last time was enough to make me profoundly grateful that I got to participate even once. I feel very strongly that community building is actually the single most important impact of this event and others like it.
The money is important for sure but the lasting impact on people’s hearts moves forward through time with ripples that generate profoundly important structural cohesion in this very non cohesive world. It’s an antidote to despair. It’s hope for people across the Atlantic but also for the people immediately around us. Smith, a graduate of the project whose profession is somewhere between doctor and nurse practitioner, and who was able to come to Canada for a couple of weeks to see our medical system and participate in the event, wisely noticed the love. He talked about the love that his brothers and sisters felt in the care they received and the idea that people cared for them and worked for them. He also noticed the love of the group for each other. He was struck with love and he said it so beautifully and vulnerably over and over.
While riding the first leg of the bike ride on Sunday, I was chatting with one of the participants about the world and doom and all of that. She asked me if I thought political climate impacted the psychological health of society and how quickly I thought it was passed through to impact. She was actually asking this question in contemplation of another project she is working on that is a support umbrella for social innovation. So, this wasn’t just another bunch of left wing pinko cyclists complaining about the government and the hetero-capitalist-colonialist-patriarchy (although that was there, no doubt).
My answer, in case you wonder, is “YES” and “nearly immediately in my experience”. Leadership sends messages and the messages about disregarding the vulnerable land most acutely in the laps of the vulnerable. By definition, they are VULNERABLE and so do not have means that others have to weather the whims of cost cutters and people who think boot strapping is physically possible (as in physics people, you can’t lift your own self off the ground. Either there is a ladder, a crane, stairs or a person carries you). They are attuned to being left behind and react immediately. They are attuned to the messages that are implicitly sent (it’s their fault, they aren’t trying hard enough, their problems aren’t real, they aren’t real) and this results in further despair, trauma, immobilization and giving up. If no one cares about you, why should you care about yourself? Why would you know you could care about yourself?
Then I started to make the analogy to cycling. Sweeping to be precise. The role of a sweep on a long ride, especially a community/charity ride, is to stay at the back and make sure everyone gets home safely. This means they are likely going at a pace that is not very fast and sometimes not even very fun. It’s work to sweep. You have to keep an eye out for the most vulnerable and help them. Further, you have an obligation to look around and make sure you didn’t miss anyone because sometimes there are people you can’t see (sorry Alan, I’m glad you caught up but I felt bad).
Sweeping requires compassion for people who make dumb choices (about gear or bikes or not enough water or not enough training). Sometimes sweeping requires extra help, like a car and a lift. Those resources are given to those who need them so they can all meet us at the end of the ride and be part of our community together. If we acted like some leaders, people who make mistakes, have gear issues, get sick the day of the ride or get lost, would all be left on the side of the road, in some cases to die. We would say, “that’s their problem, heat stroke should be mind over matter”. But that is disgusting of course and we wouldn’t. We don’t.
I want the whole world to run like the Triadventure,
or the Bike Rally, or even the Ride to Conquer Cancer. I want safety and
community and sacrifice and love to be the primary motivators and goals of what
we aspire to create and be. I want hope, damn it. I know how to sweep, the
principles are easy. I want every politician to behave like a sweep. I want the
focus to be on service and selflessness, the kind that lifts everyone up and
feeds everyone, including those who serve.
Fundamentally, I think this is the kind of wisdom to
be found in sport and specifically non-competitive sport. We were all just
helping each other do a hard thing with love. I mean, that’s just the secret of
life right there isn’t it? Do the hard thing, with love.
Last weekend I was in the Northampton/Amherst area of Massachusetts, cycling and coffeeing and culturing with my friend Norah. We rode primarily on the Central Mass Rail Trail, an 11-mile stretch of shady paved path, designed for multi-use. I posted about our cycling here– Together and separate cycling.
I’m back home and having a tough week, partly because of busyness and deadlines, and partly because of the death of someone in my circle of close friends and their families. I’m hosting a gathering of those close friends and family on Friday, so it’s both a busy and a sad time.
Today I had a therapy appointment, which is about 4 miles from my house. It’s an easy bike ride– somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes, strongly dependent on traffic lights. 13 minutes is my land speed record, requiring perfect sailing through all intersections.
Nonetheless, I find myself sometimes having an inner debate about whether to ride there and back. Considerations fly around, like:
Maybe it’s going to rain/hail/unleash locusts before I get back;
Maybe it’s too hot/cold/windy/muggy to ride comfortably;
I really should go to the grocery store/post office/random other store afterwards, so I need the car;
I’m feeling low and not up to the effort;
Insert random other free-floating anxieties here.
This morning, however, I remembered something: I rode all weekend with and without Norah, entirely in 20-30 minute chunks. The rail trail isn’t that long, and my destinations were all pretty close by. So I pedaled here and there and other places, all in small increments. By the end of the weekend, I had racked up 34 miles without even noticing. All from riding for 20 minutes at a time.
So I did it again today. It was easy: I have loads of biking clothes for multiple biking situations, my old reliable road bike was fully present and accounted for (just needed to pump tires), and it was ONLY 20 MINUTES.
Actually, I got there in 15 (no traffic to speak of– yay). And I rode home– didn’t keep track of the time, but it didn’t take longer than 20 minutes.
So we’re both on board with this. What’s the value of 20 minutes?
Readers, how do you feel about doing something (walking/yoga/cycling/swimming/etc) for 20 minutes (or some short amount of time)? Is it harder to do? Easier to do? Do you always do it? Do you never do it? I’d love to hear from you.
As I said on Tuesday, I’m taking a step back from the blog. I am saying “good-bye for now” but in all honesty, the chances of me coming back to regular blogging here are minimal. As noted on Tuesday, I’m out of ideas on blog-appropriate topics. Not that I have no thoughts on these things, but I have grown weary of writing about them myself. And we now have a team of amazing authors with all kinds of energy for blogging well into the future. So I have no worries at all about the blog’s ability to thrive without my unenthusiastic participation.
This is not at all to say I don’t love and adore the blog, the community that has grown around it, the team of authors who have become friends (many of whom I can turn to when I need comfort, support, a listening ear, the right question to help me work through a thing…). I have deep gratitude and respect for what goes on here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue. Sometimes I can hardly believe I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of it.
For today’s post, I’d originally considered doing a top ten. But my goodness, after seven years of blogging, daily for the majority of those years, it’s just about impossible to nail it down to ten posts that have had staying power with me. I could more easily list ten for each year. But that would be excessive. So instead, I’m just going to talk about an indeterminate number of posts that got my attention, and why.
I have to start with Sam. When we started this blog together, we had been talking about feminist fitness for years and years already. We had a solid foundation of shared ideas that made the blog possible. And we both wanted to add the “aging” angle, as we were approaching our 50th birthdays. In fact, the original title of the blog was “Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty.” I don’t even remember how we came up with that title. But two identical perspectives would have resulted in a big yawn. Bonus points: Sam and I had enough different experiences, interests, and perspectives on some issues to make it interesting. For examples: she LOVES tracking and data, I find tracking oppressive. In 2012, she was into CrossFit and rowing and cycling (of course!) and Aikido. I was into yoga, walking, running, and weight training. I have learned a lot from Sam’s blog posts.
Probably my two favourites of hers from the early days are “Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI?” where she interrrogates the way BMI is used as an individual measure of health and fitness, and “Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice?” where she considers whether we slow down because we age or we age because we slow down. I liked the BMI post because, just two weeks into the blog’s existence, it helped to shape the tone and content of what we evolved into. That post sent the message that we were not just going to co-sign the “received view” about things. Nope. If you want that, then check out the rest of the internet! The aging post was a reflection on Gretchen Reynolds’ book, The First Twenty Minutes, in particular the chapter on aging. This was the very first time I ever considered that we might have a hand in the way we age.
Sam has faced setbacks of late that have driven home the point that aging is not simply a lifestyle choice. And even during our challenge she had some personal tragedies and losses of family members that made it clear that we are not fully in control of every aspect of health and aging. But the idea that at least some people might make choices that either speed up or slow down the march of time is, as Sam said at the time, certainly intriguing. And it has stuck with me and in many ways has been a positive factor in some of the things I managed to do during and since the challenge (like triathlon!).
I also love Sam’s post on ladylike values and sport performance values. Her question: do they clash? She considers some examples, like blowing your nose on the bike or having to act in ways that command attention (like kiaing in Aikido — that’s where they yell). Her conclusion: “I think we women athletes may need to say goodbye to our inner ‘ladies’ and channel our inner “bad girls.” This makes me smile still: yes, we are a feminist fitness blog. Look out.
I’m mostly drawn these days to posts that dig deep, depict challenges overcome or challenges that defeat us and how we handled that, or question dominant narratives. Humour also works for me. We can strike a heavy tone sometimes, and since we don’t actually coordinate posts, sometimes (like when Trump got elected or when a harsh winter seemed to drag on too long) that tone can hang in the air without abating.
I adore the way Cate reflects in her posts. She chews things over and divulges her deepest feelings about them and usually comes to some sort of resolution, all in a way that resonates strongly with lots of people (me included). Her posts “What does it mean to look my age?” and “Making peace with our changing bodies” both do this brilliantly and reassuringly. And of course, her travel posts! They’ve taken me places I’ve never been. There are many, but “Why I run when I travel” really opened things up for me and made me consider that some of the places where I choose not to run might be places I actually could run if I took an attitude more like Cate’s. She’s the most adventurous person I know. Her birthday word cloud shows I’m not the only one who thinks that. And my all-time favourite Cate post: “What are we making together?” This post touched me deeply. In it, she laments the reality of feminists unleasing their fury on other feminists, and proposes a new idea: dialogic communication (i.e. “This means communication based in inquiry, and the assumption that the other person has a valid reason for their point of view.”)
And then she went on to say what it means for our Facebook page (where we had been experiencing some UN-dialogic communication), which everyone visiting knows to be a feminist context to begin with. She said, if you’re on our page “and you think “this doesn’t feel feminist to me,” why not get curious instead of police-y? Think maybe, huh, I wonder why Sam thought this was a fit on this page?how does her version of feminist differ from mine? ASK her — This triggers something for me, why did you think this had a feminist lens? Ask yourself — how can someone I otherwise agree with have this perspective? What am I missing about why they might have posted this? And even if you do understand and disagree, think about what this says about the wonders of multiplicity and how two people can differ and still respect each other and have more in common than they don’t.” Go, Cate!
So about those deep topics that resonate with me at a level that goes way beyond feminist fitness, right to the gut. Susan has a fantastic and gut-wrenching post that she wrote in the days following the inauguration of the new US president in 2017. Yeah, that president. The post was entitled, “Running from my despair,” and she warns us at the outset, “Okay I’m not messing around here, this is not going to be a fun post.” She talks poignantly about fear, despair, the “struggle to feel meaningful,” about privilege, and about how running helps (sort of). And Kim’s post about “girlfriend therapy” and “finding the time and the space to make new female friends in middle age.” She talked about that in the context of one new friendship: with Susan (yes, our Susan of the “Running from despair” post). That one warmed my heart because seeing the blog at work, bringing women together in friendship and support, is a beautiful thing. And I like them both. And girlfriend therapy plays a huge role in my life.
Speaking of making new friends…I had a really great experience last year getting to know Cate and Christine when the three of us facilitated our only fitness challenge group to date. The three of us didn’t know one another all that well when we started. We live in different cities and we hadn’t spent a lot of time together. But by the time the group wound down, we had developed an intimate three-way friendship that included almost nightly chats about everything under the sun. I totally fell in love with them both. Christine is a champion of timed challenges of all kinds — writing challenges, drawing challenges, and yes, fitness challenges. She’s got the best smirk EVER. And she blogs beautifully and humanely about her fitness pursuits. Her “Getting pushy with push-ups” starts with a bold statement of a desire that many of us share: “I want to be able to do push-ups easily.” Her cousin, Ken (a chiropractor), set up a 3x a week “phase one” plan for her to help her get closer to that goal.
During our challenge group, Christine set out to do yoga every day for 30 days. She invited us to join her. I tried, because her post about it — “Yoga. Practice.” was so inviting. As was the idea that 7 minutes a day is all we were aiming at. Christine’s post gave all sorts of good reasons why that commitment was do-able. It all seemed so alluring, the way she put it in her post. I didn’t quite make it. But it gave me another reason to check in every night with Cate and Christine.
A few other posts that I want to mention before I end this overly long reminiscence:
Martha’s smart analysis of the Caster Semenya decision that said she would need to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels if she wanted to compete in women’s competitions. “Women, sport, and sex tests” tackles an important issue in women’s sport and draws out the wider implications of the decision.
Bettina’s posts about bouldering always grab my attention because it’s completely new to me. In bouldering, as in most things sporty, men like to explain things (unsolicited) to competent women. Bettina recounts an outrageous experience of that in “Men explain things to me: the bouldering edition.“
Mina’s reflections on grit in “Is Grit Good or Bad?” is another one of those posts that helps us to reflect on our own fitness practice. At least, that’s the impact it had on me. We hear a lot about the virtues of sticking things out. But we hear a lot less about how to make decisions about when to let a thing go. She offers a list of questions we can ask ourselves, the last of which is “where would I rather spend my grit?” I love this. Why? Because it suggests that, realistically, we need to make choices. We can stick some things out. But over time we accumulate more commitments (in all areas of life) than we have space for. This is where I find myself these days — with a few more commitments than I can handle, and a time when I am engaged in the life-equivalent of licking my wounds and regrouping.
Two women who have a spot in my heart and who blog here occasionally, not regularly (though we would love it if they did!) are Audrey and Rebecca. They had a great ranty interaction about the Lingerie Fighting League (subtitled: “because we don’t sexualize women fighters enough already”) a few years ago.
Finally, I love the post where we got to celebrate our 20,000 wordpress followers. There had been a time, in around 2015 or so, when we were picking up 1000 new wordpress followers a month. But then it tapered off and we were waiting. And waiting. And waiting to hit 20,000. That finally happened. And it felt great. Sam blogged about it in “Celebrating Feminist Fitness with our 20,000 WordPress Followers.” Why do I love that post? Because we are not alone. And when we started our fittest by 50 challenge back in 2012, it was just the two of us and we had no idea where it would take us. We were going to stop blogging when we turned 50 because the challenge would then be over. And here we are, both about to turn 55 and the blog thriving as a community we could not have even imagined.
The length of this post proves to me just how much appreciation I have for all of the other bloggers at Fit Is a Feminist Issue. Together, as a team, we really have built something special, with plenty of diverse content that speaks to a much wider palette of issues than how to be a fit feminist. It’s been a privilege to be a part of it.
Next week, on Tuesday and Thursday, I’ll post my 3rd and 4th installments of my two-week good-bye. Until then…do you have any favourite posts you’d like to mention?
I use the university gym and fitness centre and I love their range of classes. I often go to indoor cycling in the winter and aquafit in the early morning. I do whatever fits. But daytime classes are tricky. I’m mostly booked on the hour, pretty much every hour, for most of my days on campus. I like the idea of exercising at lunch but if my last morning meeting ends at noon and my first meeting of the afternoon starts at 1, full hour classes are out. Sure, the gym is just a few minutes away. Sure, I’m a super hero who wears leggings under work clothes for a quick change but even I can’t manage that. (See Sam is on Conversation Canada talking about super heroes and leggings.)
Then, I noticed them. Half hour “express” classes. The one I’ve been going to is the TRX class. I love it. Starts at 12:15, ends at 12:45.
You might ask–and you’re right to ask– when on earth do I eat?
The thing is since breakfast is at 6, there’s no way I’m going to make it to noon anyway. I usually eat half my lunch early. Call it second breakfast. Mid-afternoon I finish my lunch. It works.
I’ve been going to the express TRX classes Tuesdays and some Thursdays. I really like it. Since I can’t walk much these days I need to make real effort to get movement into my day. Yes, I bike to work. Yes, I wobble on my new stool. But mostly I sit a lot. The TRX class breaks it up. I love the TRX anyway. I think it’s a terrific piece of fitness equipment. I’m going to blog about that separately. It’s great strength training. And I’m back at work in the afternoon energized.
And yes, I could go the gym on my own and do my own thing for 30 minutes but I’d have to be pretty organized and focused. I prefer that some one else does the planning and tells me what to do.
And no, I don’t shower. It’s a half hour. I just put on new antiperspirant and fluff my hair after.
This is Part 2 of a 3-part series of staying active while travelling with kids. Parts 1 and 2 take place in Rome, Italy during the author’s travels there without her spouse, with a friend and the friend’s son, during a conference trip.In Part 1, the group goes cycling along the Via Appia Antica on a sweltering hot Roman summer day. In Part 2, they escape the city for the hills above Rome and kayaking on a crater lake.
We actually slept in a bit the morning of our kayak trip, and put in a few hours of work before we headed out on a transportation mode extravaganza that by the end of the day involved walking, taxi, minibus, kayaking, more minibus, train, and a taxi. The task: escape the heat of Rome as the mercury climbed to nearly 100 F (37 C).
We went out to Lago (lake) Albano, a lake in a caldera above which rises the summer home of previous Popes and below which lie the wrecks from naval training battles. It was apparently host to the 1960 Summer Olympic canoeing and rowing events. Pope Francis apparently does not summer there, believing it to be too elitist, and has converted the residence to a museum. The locals appreciate the upside: crowds of devout Catholics and tourists used to flock to the area on hopes of seeing and being near the Pope AND the streets would be shut down by police and his guard. Now, tourists and city dwellers still come for the lake, but the traffic is entirely manageable and the numbers are not a strain.
The whole group was quite excited for this one, as well: both adult women (myself and Randi), the two 14 year olds (my Son1 and Randi’s son) and my 11 year old (Son 2, the avid cyclist among us). It was a bit spur of the moment in response to the heat, booked just a few days before as I paged through AirBnB’s new Experiences feature. I hate to give a plug for them cause capitalism and ain’t nobody paying me, but they did hook us up with some folks we would never otherwise have found including the former competitive rowers and kayakers who run the kayak trip we signed up for.
We took a taxi to the train station where we were to meet at the end of one of the metro lines; since the line was closed for repairs, our options were limited. The taxiride took us past beautiful fields and a distant rural section of the Via Appia Antica that we hadn’t peddled out to the day we rode (See Part 1). At the station, we rendez-voused by the “old blue train car” and the guide piled us and a few other folks into their well-loved, battered minibus for a rude even farther out beyond the edge of the city into the hills.
The lake was formed by two overlapping craters. We set off from a launching spot amongst the reeds near the swimming beach.
We kayaked almost 7 km, out and back across to the opposite side. Randi and Son 1 shared a canoe on the way out, her son and Son 1 had solo kayaks and paddled together much of the way, and I paddled about at will.
Left: the author, sunwashed and hair not yet sweat-plastered flat. Second from left: Randi and Son 1 taking a short break from paddling, Randig resting an elbow on the kayak and leaning back to turn to smile at the camera. Third from left: Randi’s son in a quiet moment, face shadowed. Rightmost: Son 1, eternally with a silly face for a camera, reeds behind him near the starting point.
At various points we were all quite close together in a flotilla as the guides talked us through the plan for the day and the history of the area, with an English-language flotilla and an Italian-language flotilla. We weren’t able to see the ruins of the ancient Roman naval practices that litter the floor of the lake, but we are assured they were there.
Once we got to the opposite side, the guides stowed all the kayaks in a great big precarious-seeming pile and sat on rocks and ate sandwiches the guides brought and drank water and swam in the lake and NO ONE GOT STUNG BY JELLYFISH because there were no jellyfish. This seems an odd thing to mention, but several days before we’d gone swimming in the ocean and Son 2 got blistered fiercely in several spots. So, the enthusiasm for no jelly fish was strong. Everyone was glad for a break. One strange feature of the water was that it wasn’t very cool at all. There seemed to be quite warm spots, not just sun warmed but perhaps geologically warmed. We never did get to ask about this, but I wondered if perhaps hot thermal springs feed the lake from below or some other kind of geothermal heating.
So, no jellyfish. There were, however, at least four lizards that Son 1 spotted and loads of red dragonflies darting about above the surface. Randi’s old elbow injury acted up a bit by the time we got to the swimming spot, so her kiddo took over being her kayak companion, a job that has been Son 2’s on the way out. About halfway back (3/4 of the way through a quite long bit of kayaking), Son 2 got tuckered out. One of the guides offered to use her life jacket to tie his kayak to the back of hers. He paddled when he could and rested when he couldn’t and she was quite happy to help. Another guide did the same for an adult who was tapped out, and the guides said they were quite impressed that a kid his age had gone so far without needing help yet, which took the edge off of having to ask.
Because the trip was well-designed to include a nice break, multiple guides to help people get the most out of this kind of activity regardless of physical condition, and also included help from the guides when needed, a good time was had by all across a variety of ages and injuries and capability levels. Those who love doing hard work got to do hard work and those who love swimming got to swim and those who love watching lizards and bugs got to watch lizards and bugs and those who love not being in a hot city on a 90+ degree day got to be on a lake in a caldera instead.
NEXT UP: Part 3 of There and Back Again, in which we are back in the States, Randi and her son have gone back to their home, and Son 2 and I set off on our annual bike ride along some part of the Northern Lower Peninsula of the State of Michigan.
In August 2012, both 48 years old, Sam and I decided to become the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we hit 50. That gave us two years to make and execute a plan. We decided to blog about our fittest by 50 challenge and also about feminist issues in fitness–stuff that bothered us, made us feel strong. Along the way we brought some more bloggers on board. First as occasional guests. Then as regular contributors. Our fiftieth birthdays came and went. We hit our goals. We wrote a book about it.
And we kept blogging. And blogging. And blogging.
And after seven years and hundreds of thousands of words of training updates, race reports, posts about doing less, posts about intuitive eating, rants about this and that outrageous sexist sport incident thing, post after post about what’s wrong with dieting, missives about putting away the scale, more race reports, more posts about getting back on track after falling out of routine, travel fitness logs, justifications and defences of rest, telling everyone why hormone replacement therapy was a life saver for me, … I’ve run out of steam for these topics and issues.
The clarity that it is time to step away hit me when I was away on my ten-day meditation course a few weeks ago. It’s not as if I’d even been toying with stepping away. But I have been feeling uninspired (and therefore, uninspiring) lately. Since Around the Bay I’ve had no end of setbacks. Though I felt strong the first day back, I soon had debilitating back pain that kept me almost immobile for weeks.
Since then, I’ve traveled enough to interrupt my training schedule. Then, as I’ve tried to ease back into running, my Achilles has been acting up. My physiotherapist has told me not to run. That makes the window of opportunity to train for the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon on October 20 ever-shrinking. I should not have signed up for it before seeing my physiotherapist. The clock is ticking and I don’t know how I can go from zero to 21K — and without injury — by race day. I don’t really feel like blogging about that.
The clarity came so strongly during my meditation course –it was like a full-body knowing set in and said: it’s time to take a step back and make space for others on the blog and for other things in my life. I think feminist commentary on fitness still matters. And hearing personal stories of triumph and struggle and getting on task and falling away and getting motivated again still matters. But I don’t feel I’ve got anything much left to say.
Not only that, we have built a diverse and energetic team of amazing regulars over the years, along with a huge group of guests. So I can easily leave without so much as a missed beat on the blog. Though Sam and I co-founded it and it grew up around our own challenge, the shape of the blog has changed over these past seven years and it really is a team effort now. I’m enormously grateful to everyone who contributes to the blog’s success by creating smart and relevant content on regular basis.
I’ll be writing a short series over the next couple of weeks as my way of saying “good-bye for now.” In part 2, on Thursday, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite posts by the other authors. In part 3, next Tuesday (August 27th), I’m going to reflect on the posts of my own that I like the best. And finally, in part 4 (August 29th), I’ll reflect a bit on how the blog has shaped, influenced, and forever altered the way I engage with fitness pursuits in my own life. It has meant a lot to me, not just as a way of motivating me to stay on task and try new things, but also by creating a sense of community and camaraderie that I had not anticipated.
On the 29th, it’ll be almost exactly seven years to the day since my very first post. That seems like a fitting date on which to call it a day.
I am fortunate to be able to travel for work and family, sometimes. On occassion when I travel for work, I bring my family along. This post is the first of a 3-part series on how I stayed physically active this summer while travelling with my kiddos.I hope the series is of some help to folks in re/thinking about whether it’s feasible to pursue fitness activities with kids in tow. Please note that while mine were 14 and 11 this summer, I’ve been able to do a number of activities with them while traveling over the years by taking their stamina into account and not underestimating them. We’ve done some awesome stuff that I’ve never blogged about (hiking on the Isle of Skye when the kids were 11 and 8 springs to mind). This summer was no exception. Well, except that now I am blogging about it.
This summer, my spouse had other commitments when I was scheduled to travel to Rome for a conference, and yet I very much wanted to bring the children. They’re both borderline obsessed with ancient history and Roman mythology (thanks, Rick Riordan and Doctor Who). I rounded up a good friend of mine, Randi Papke, a woman whose son is friends with my eldest (both 14 at the time of our travels) and we made such plans! So, really, parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part series are There and Back Again With Two Women Over The Age of 40 And Their Kids. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to my kids the same way I do on social media as Son 1 (age 14) and Son 2 (age 11), and will refer to Randi’s son as, well, Randi’s son.
When we first started talking about traveling in Rome, I asked the three kids to each pick out something they wanted to be sure to do in Italy. While Son 1 had the simple request of finding a store that sold cards in his favorite fantasy game, Son 2 asked for what he always asks for when we travel: a cool bike ride unlike anything we could do at home. No problem, for a mere mile from our AirBnB in Rome lay one of the great wonders of Roman engineering: the Via Appia Antica which once connected Rome with Brindisi, allowing trade (and military movement) to travel hundreds of miles on a cobblestone surface from central Italy to the far southeastern corner of Italy, or what you might think of as the heel of the boot which is the metaphor so often used for the shape of Italy. And along that nearby stretch of the Via Appia Antica lay a large archaeological park in which Catholic Church buildings and homes coexist with sites thousands of years old, including several catacombs open for tours. Given this combination of factors, every single one of the five of us was pretty excited about this option. In fact, we looked forward to it for months.
When we finally arrived in Rome in July, we looked at the weather forecast and blanched: with the exception of one day early on and right at the end, it would be well over 90 Fahrenheit (about 33 Celsius) most days. So we decided to do our bikes trip our first full day in the city when it would only be in the high 80s F (30 C or so). We walked through the neighborhoods between us and the bike rental shop handily located at the northern end of the archaeological park, discovering along the way a grocery store, a whole host of serviceable apartment buildings with balconies trailing flowering vines and verdant with vegetable plants, and grates in the streets filled with cigarette butts. A small detail, but it struck me.
We also passed, at the edge of the archaeological park near the bike shop, one of Rome’s famous Nasoni. These public water fountains take a variety of shapes, but Nasoni (“big noses”) all have crystal clear ice-cold safe drinking water running constantly. Some, like the one at the Vatican Museum, are embedded in statuary. Others, like the one we stumbled across at the edge of the park, are humbly functional and, in the weather we were about to experience, entirely welcome at every turn. We refilled our water bottles and continued on to find our bikes.
The EcoBike shop appears on maps as Centro Servizi Appia Antica. It has bikes for children as well as adults–not as good as our ones at home, but perfectly serviceable–as well as a wide range of bike helmets and bike locks. They also rent e-bikes and electric golf carts for folks who might have reasons to not pedal as their primary source of power, and offer tours on bike or otherwise. But we are the ride-around-a-self-guided-tour sort of folks, so it was much appreciated when EcoBike staff provided a map of the archaeological park and oriented us to traffic patterns including how to take a side street with very few cars until we got to the section of the Via Appia Antica where cars are no longer allowed except for residents. Not coincidentally, it turned out, that section is also the one that is paved with ancient cobbles which you can technically ride a bike on but which we found ourselves moving up onto the well-worn dirt paths on the side to avoid. I wouldn’t have wanted to bike the rest of Rome without a better sense of the local unspoken rules of the road, but this experience was no trouble at all. The few vehicles we encountered seemed to expect to encounter us, and were slow and patient.
The views were pretty amazing right from the get go, with ruins just casually scattered, well… everywhere. The local cicadas filled the air with their hot summer buzz, and a good cross-breeze added to the wind of our passage without giving us too much of a headwind. In short order, we discovered astoundingly old and modern things along it dating back 2000 years and as recently as pretty darned modern, and also bars and eateries and nasoni at regular intervals.
We were surprised to discover that a number of the sites, including the first catacombs we stopped at, were closed for the noon hour. This is pretty common, as we would learn. So we carried on until we came to one that was open continuously. We stopped to enter, buy tickets for a tour, grab some ice cream while we waited to be able to enter the catacombs, and then see what there was to be seen at the Catacombs of San Sebastian. The ice cream was, by this point, a needful thing. Everyone got something containing sugar at cold temperatures while we waited in the shade on the not-as-cool-as-you’d-think marble steps.
One of the folks working the snack bar had a tip jar out for a very charming reason so I dropped them a Euro in support.
The catacombs of San Sebastian were well worth the few Euros for a tour down into the coolness below the earth, out of the hot and the sun, our hair already caked with dried sweat. The history was only half the draw, but such history! No pictures allowed, alas, below ground. The catacombs themselves were the Ur catacombs, as it were: the first below-grown burial chambers to be called “catacomb.” When Christianity first spread to Rome, its adherents did not follow Roman cremation traditions. Instead, they needed a place to put their dead that would not leave them prone to being eaten by wild animals or destroyed by their persecutors. The abandoned quarry beyond the city walls that became the catacombs of San Sebastian was perfect for these purposes. But the church above ground was magnificent, with a ceiling decorated in a style not unlike the Sistine Chapel but in much bolder colors and textures, with trays demarcating one piece of art from another but covering the entire surface in a riot of gilt and jewel tones. No inch of that ceiling was left unattended.
We left the church of San Sebastian and sat for a moment in the shaded courtyard behind the cafe under flowering vines until everyone was feeling up for pedaling on through the hotness. We had, in what would have been clever if it hadn’t been so fortuitous, spent the brightest part of the blazingly sunny day underground and inside or sitting in the shade with cold drinks/food.
We carried on and began to reach the old parts of the road, a combination of more recent tiny even cobbles and old giant square-foot cobbles worn by thousands of years of traffic in which one could sometimes see what might have been wagon wheel ruts.
On the left, you see a close up of the worn, giant cobbles. This part was very uncomfortable to ride on and we hopped up onto more recent even cobbles along the side or, farther down the road, up onto worn tracks in the soft arid dirt on either side of the road. The cobbles shine in the sun, pitted by the years. On the right, Randi pushes on ahead of me, riding on the more recent even cobbles with the oldest part of the road to the side. The kids are way in front. Behind the walls are residences.
We did reach a point where we just couldn’t go any farther having decided we were about halfway done. The road surface and the heat had taken its toll. Before we turned around and headed back, though, we took a group selfie. We weren’t out of good, yet!
Along the way back, we stopped at a sandwich shop. It was delicious, but a lot of the flavor came from hunger which is, as they say, the best sauce. The cold beer Randi had was, she attested, perhaps more necessary than any cold beer that came before it.
It was a footsore, butt bouncing delight to walk to the Via Appia Antica, ride it, walk around, ride back, and return on foot. I confess that for the last mile or so of the ride, I was up on my pedals cause ain’t no way my butt was going to sit that seat another second. Up on pedals, wind in your hair through the slats in the helmet, on a good surface after a hard day’s work in the hot sun with an ancient city laid out before you kinda can’t be beat.
I took two videos for y’all if you want a sense of it, at different points on the ride, first farther out on the road where the trees and the fields open up (well outside what would have been the city walls of old Rome) and then on our way back in to return the bikes passing through the residential area. You can hear the cicadas hard at work, and the bicycle bell on my bike gently tinging from the bumps.
When we got back to our place, replete and exhausted, I noticed the literal mark of a good day riding.
Next up in Part 2 of There and Back Again: we flee the heat and crowds of the city of Rome for an afternoon in the hills kayaking and swimming in a volcanic crater lake.