accessibility · camping · cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Bike Tour Voting Challenges

Over the course of about ten days, I spent several hours on the phone with Elections Canada being transferred to one person after another as I tried to get correct information about my voting options, figured out how to vote by mail, and how to resolve complications with the process. I could have voted at any Returning Office before the 14th, but by the time I learned that I was in Espanola and was under the impression that I still had plenty of time to vote by mail since September 14th was listed as the deadline to apply.

Unfortunately, this is misleading since in reality it wouldn’t allow for enough time to receive the special ballot via Canada Post and then get it back to Ottawa by 6pm on September 20th. That’s right, post mark dates aren’t what count here; it has to physically arrive in Ottawa by the 20th. That sort of turn around *might* be possible, but only for those who can afford $85+ to courier it there.

Why is the government not footing this expense for all mail in ballots given the impossibility of the deadline they have listed? Disabled folx and those in remote communities (like Northern Ontario) will be disproportionately excluded by this process. How many ballots will arrive late and thereby be excluded? During the last election “11.1 percent of national ballots and 11.8 percent of international ballots were returned late” (Elections Canada Vote by Mail FAQ). Clearly this is a significant issue even outside of a pandemic.

I applied on September 9th, but even this wasn’t enough time by regular post and maybe not even by express post. My ballot finally arrived to Iron Bridge on September 15th. At that point I was in Thessalon and had been told by Canada Post that the mail left at 5pm. Express post should get it there in three days – just enough time. I packed up as quickly as possible and rode hard and fast to get there in time. 

On the way I made a quick stop at Little Rapids General Store for food. I’d heard they had lots of delicious smoked meat and cheese and I needed food anyway to get through the next stretch without grocery stores. Little Rapids did not disappoint. The smoked rainbow trout and taco flavoured cheese curds were delicious. Beyond that though, the town is a beautiful hole in the wall spot that most drivers would likely miss. I was disappointed that there wasn’t time to hike out to see the salmon spawning or take in the heritage museum. It also had lots of spots that looked great for stealth camping.

Standing outside Little Rapids General Store with dinner and on the go protein (taco flavoured cheese curds, smoked rainbow trout, dried turkey, and dried elk!)

About half way to Iron Bridge I realized that without taking the highway I’d never make it. Pro tip: avoid this stretch of highway 17 at all costs. There’s no paved shoulder and drivers will risk your life here. If I hadn’t been so emotional about the messed up system I likely would have bailed and hoped it would get there anyway. As it was, I plowed on.

My cousin didn’t have time to drop my ballot off and I knew there was no way I’d get to the their place and then the post office in time. A random kind gentleman in his driveway picked up the ballot from my cousin’s (only a few blocks away) and dropped it off at the post office across the road. I made it to the Iron Bridge post office just before 5pm! 

But I got misinformation for the bajillionth time: mail left at 3pm, not 5pm. Couldn’t have gotten there earlier anyway. I cried… not for the first time about the likelihood of my ballot not being counted. I jumped through so many hoops trying to get this ballot in – including changing my route multiple times. Right now it’s not looking hopeful – as of now it’s showing a Tuesday arrival and has no updates since it left Iron Bridge on Thursday. 

Giselle (Canada Post staff) and I crossing our fingers in hopes that the ballot arrives in time to count.

As someone who has lived in poverty since my teens, the right to vote is a huge deal. It’s how we raise our voice, call for change, and hold our government accountable. If you weren’t planning to vote today, please get moving and go vote. My vote probably won’t be counted, but yours still can (if you have the privilege of accessibility). If transportation is a barrier phone the office of anyone who is running and a volunteer will help you get there!

accessibility · camping · cycling · fitness · inclusiveness

Rest and Spoons


By the time I reached Whitefish Falls on September 7th, I was tired. More tired than I realized at the time. 

An incredible view of the escarpment as I left Whitefish Falls en route to Espanola.

I called my cousins who recently moved to Iron Bridge to let them know that I was heading their way. They asked if it would be cheating for them to pick me up. I was *relieved* at the offer. My body needed a break. I told them I wanted to bike one direction, but didn’t need to bike both ways. Miles are fun to celebrate, but for me it’s about the adventure far more than kilometres ridden.

The next day I biked to Espanola, had a delightful visit with Ben & Hector (en route to Victoria), bought a few necessities for the cooler weather, and then loaded my bike into my cousin’s car. In the next couple days, I was surprised at how frequently I conked out on the couch in the middle of an admin task, too tired to even bother moving to my hammock. 

Inside my cousin’s car trunk with my bike and bags loaded for a lift to their farm.

People who have chronic health conditions marked by fatigue often call ourselves “spoonies” or make comments like “I’m low on spoons today.” I’m a spoonie, so in contrast to the average person with a full set of spoons it’s easier to overdo it (even when I’m *not* on a bike tour!) and more challenging to return to my baseline after overdoing it. On the Patients Rising blog, John provides a great overview of what Christine Miserandino‘s Spoon Theory means to so many of us with invisible chronic health conditions.

I’d always planned to prioritize pacing and sufficient rest, but this is easier said than done. Sometimes it feels like I’m playing tug of war with myself… trying to find the ever elusive line between challenging myself *just enough*, but not so much that I push into a crash. 

Ableism makes this more challenging as well. People who have never done bike camping generally think that 30-60km in a day (my original goal) is an astonishing amount to aim for, while many (most?) people who have done bike camping think it’s a really slow pace. These opposing perspectives on what constitutes a great accomplishment mean I must pay close attention to my own goals and not allow my sense of success to be swayed by how others view me or my abilities. As far as spoonie life goes, paying attention to my physical and mental health needs are key, which subsequently means that flexibility is key… so focusing on numeric based goals feels like asking for disappointment. 

Freeze dried chicken stir-fry while watching a spectacular sunset from the dock at Roe Park.

After four days of rest, on Sunday evening I rolled onward with strategies for a slower pace including: scheduling rest days, scouring Google Maps in advance for mid-ride rest spots (which could double as an early overnight spot), and ordering freeze dried meals so that running out of food doesn’t force me to ride further than I have energy for. Sunday evening I employed many of these tactics after leaving later than I’d planned. I rode 10km before enjoying a freeze dried chicken stir-fry while watching a beautiful sunset at Roe Park (aka Sunset Beach). It was perfect. 

For those of you who are wondering, I’m writing this from the cute city of Thessalon after a very eventful night… but that’s a story for another time!

I couldn’t resist adding one more photo from Sunset Beach (Roe Park)… this one looking out at the dock and lake was taken during sunrise.
camping · cycling · fitness · inclusiveness

A Milestone & Kind Strangers (Guest Post)

On September 5th, my trip tracking odometer rolled over to 501km as I reached the boarding dock for the Chi Cheemaun. Such a great feeling… and a very cool spot to reach that milestone too!

Celebrating 500km into my trip while waiting to board the Chi Cheemaun!

Throughout this trip there has been no shortage of challenging situations where the kindness of strangers made my day far easier. Here are a few of those highlights:

  • Emergency phone charge at Seaforth Mini Storage when I made a wrong turn on my way from Exeter to Bayfield. I now have two robust charging blocks!
  • Frozen water bottles from beach goers at Port Albert when I asked about a place to buy water.
  • Help lifting my fully loaded bike up when it fell over. This has happened a few times, but was especially notable when I arrived in Kincardine feeling exhausted, ravenous after running out of protein bars, and maybe a bit dehydrated too… it was a hot day with temperatures in the 30s. I missed my aim when I went to prop my bike against something and it went down. All I wanted was food and *cold* water. I sighed, then sat down to drink water before unloading my bike, lifting it up, and reloading it. But before I’d even moved it to the sidewalk it fell over again! I was sooo tired! So I went to the road and flagged down a driver to help me pick my bike up without needing to unload again. The driver also topped up my water bottle and pointed me toward an excellent restaurant.
  • Free produce from Earth Bound Gardens in the midst of a food desert near Red Bay. Surprisingly this was my first roadside produce stop in all my travels! There haven’t been a lot along my path. Their gardens were also a hidden gem and I felt like I’d stumbled into gardens from a fairytale. More on that another time though.
Some of the produce Earth Bound Gardens gave me.
  • A tampon. Everyone who menstruates can relate to needing feminine hygiene products when out and about!!
  • Help getting my stove lit when all I had was a cigarette lighter. Maybe ten minutes earlier I had watched a group of Muslim women figuring out how to set up a privacy shelter for the first time. They worked together and seeing their collaboration made me smile. I struggled for a few minutes on my own, before asking the group if they had a BBQ lighter or matches. It was easier to ask them for help since I’d seen them struggling earlier. They didn’t have an alternative, but came over to help when they realized I had a cigarette lighter. One of them suggested we try lighting paper first, a couple of us blocked the wind, and together we managed to light the stove. That night I cooked my first (very basic) camp stove meal. A couple days later I bought a pack of 3 BBQ lighters, so I’ll be set for a while yet! This is key, because stores are further apart now, so I have to be able to cook my own food.
Dinner at Black Creek Provincial Park
  • Creative problem solving regarding where to put my food bag when it was tricky to find a decent tree to hang the bear bag in. We ended up putting it in a locked outhouse with rocks blocking it. Yes… I know it probably wouldn’t have worked if a bear came along and wasn’t satisfied with the nearby garbage, but it was a good team effort. Don’t worry, I camped waaaay down the beach from it so I was safe either way!
Food bag in the outhouse! Creative problem solving at it’s finest! LOL
  • Directions plus loads of useful local info when I had no cell service to check my map. Yay friendly and resourceful librarians who are eager to help even when they aren’t at work!
  • Just before I caught the Chi Cheemaun to Manitoulin there was a power outage and everything shut down. I had intended to restock food and water supplies before catching the ferry and since I hadn’t had access to the internet for a few days I wasn’t sure what would be available on Manitoulin. As I made inquiries about where to get supplies one person offered me a bottle of water, another a granola bar, and another 4 bottles of water! This helped me realize that even if there wasn’t a grocery store, I could likely knock on a few people’s doors and ask to buy a few eggs from their fridge to get me through.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way perceptions and stereotypes impact interactions between strangers. How much more readily have strangers helped me because I’m white, thin, and female in a society that views those attributes as safe, non-threatening, worthy of care, and even of needing protection? What role do my academic background and social skills have? What about the fact that I can often present as middle class, even though in reality I live under the poverty line?

Today I am absolutely loving this journey, but how might I feel if strangers weren’t as kind to me? What if I were experiencing microaggressions rather than support and kindness? It’s difficult to imagine what some days would have looked like without kind strangers. Even more so if I was experiencing microaggressions.

cycling · fitness · holidays · inclusiveness

Challenges and Joys (Guest Post) #bikepacking

I began my bike tour just over a week ago on August 21st. So much has happened that I hardly know where to begin. Each day has lots of challenges to troubleshoot, but there is plenty of joy too.

In Exeter my biggest challenge was being kicked out of the free campsite because I was in a tent, rather than an RV. When the by law officer stopped by I had just laid down for a much needed nap, prior to a much needed massage appointment – the timing could not have been worse. As a result, I didn’t get a nap and was 20 minutes late for my massage… even though I packed things up so hastily that I needed to completely unpack and repack later. It threw off my whole day and gave me greater empathy for folx who are displaced from tent cities. 

As I was repacking more effectively my cooler fell and a full jar of pasta sauce spilled all over the place. All day it had been one thing after another, so I looked at it and wryly commented to myself “that seems about right!”

Partially loaded bicycle with bags and stuff all around it (including a jar of pasta sauce spilled on the ground), as I was repacking things in Exeter.

Fortunately, there’s a delicious and low cost Thai restaurant that took the edge off. That night I stealth camped for the first time and left early in the morning. Earlier in the week friends had suggested an a great stealth camping spot in Exeter, so I had an instant back up for the night.

My greatest joy in Exeter was getting to know a couple folx living in poverty. They reminded me of some of my friends from Sanctuary London… the place where I feel most at home… most at ease… most like I can just be myself no matter what. Josh* and I had a couple convos that were rich with a sense of common humanity as we shared our struggles and dreams. Then about an hour before I rolled out of town, an older gentleman who I’d previously asked for directions, came over to ask about my trip plans. He wandered off after a short chat, but about ten minutes later he returned with the most thoughtful care package imaginable… even more so given the poverty he was experiencing himself. Each item had been carefully chosen… an extra tie strap, an instant soup pack, juice crystals, protein bars, and a fruit cup. It made my day. 

An extra tie strap, an instant soup pack, juice crystals,  protein bars, and a fruit cup sitting on a picnic table.
Care package

A major challenge and time suck along the way has been organizing my bags effectively so that I can easily access what’s needed for the day… preferably without unpacking anything not needed. This is a huge pain… but after unpacking and repacking countless times, I think I’m getting better at it… I *really* hope I am! 

A few of my greatest joys so far: 

  • Washing my hair in an actual shower (rather than a sink) or on the beach (with biodegradable soap of course!)
  • Cold water
  • Monarch butterflies *everywhere*
  • Sleeping under the stars
  • Breakfast on a nearly empty beach the night after a big storm
A sandy beach, blue sky with a couple white clouds, and beautiful blue water. There are trees on Botha sides of the photo. There is almost no one on the beach.
My view during breakfast the night after a big storm
  • Countless convos with curious folx
  • Car Free Sunday (with live street music) in Kincardine
  • And randomly meeting Mike Darmon – a fellow active transportation advocate! 
Mike and I are standing in the foreground with my bike between and behind us. In the background is The Bruce Steakhouse.
Mike Darmon and I knew each other from Twitter, but hadn’t met before. He came over to ask about my bike. Both of us were enjoying live music at Kincardine’s Car Free Sunday!

accessibility · camping · cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Beyond Comfort Zones: What if you fly? (Guest Post)

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
“Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”

This quote by Erin Hanson has strengthened me in an enduring way that only a couple other quotes can lay claim to. The start of it is engraved on my iPad as a form of resistance to the impact of perfectionistic ideals that often hold me back. But since my collision in 2013, these words have encouraged me to push beyond my comfort zone in countless ways. 

As recently as last summer, I was super anxious about everything that might go wrong on a hypothesized weekend canoe trip with a friend. But interestingly, internalized ableism was a significant contributor to my camping trip fears. Because of this, solo camping (even bike touring) actually feels less daunting: I can go at my own pace without fear of slowing anyone down.

Even so, it’s plenty daunting! I’ve never biked on country roads, never ridden more than 40km in a day, and I pitched my first tent this July… I’m a newb in every possible way and I’m diving in anyway! 

I finally made it out of London on Saturday evening and was shocked that I made it to Lucan without needing more than brief water breaks on the side of the road. Not sure if that’s thanks to electrolytes or adrenaline, but I’ll take it!

Even before I made it out of London there were plenty of hiccups! I figure that’s par for the course given the steep learning curve! But I’m fumbling my way through, figuring it out, and pushing back against gender stereotypes and ableist views that say I shouldn’t do this… especially as a solo female. I’ve heard “you’re so brave” way too many times already in response to these plans. Do people also say that to men embarking on solo bike tours? I’m guessing not.

Adventure was not the initial driver of this trip, but despite the complicated backstory it appears to be shaping into a delightful adventure. I’m doing all the things that excite and also terrify me… but I’m more excited than anything… which is a major shift even in the past few weeks! I’ve no doubt this adventure will significantly change me and the decisions I make through life… I think it already has in many ways. Because how could showing myself all that I am capable of not change me?

After a second draft of packing, I called London Bicycle Cafe and declared, “This is not going to be a thing. Something has to change. It’s way too wobbly and I don’t know how to fix it.” So Ben and Andrew helped me rearrange things and taught me key principles for balancing my bike. It’s only a few days into my trip and I’m already starting to feel like a pro!
Bubbles (my dear bicycle) is fully loaded and ready to go after adjustments at London Bicycle Cafe!
camping · cycling · disability · fitness

Planning a Bike Tour as a Disabled Cyclist (Guest Post)

As a disabled cyclist, I used to think bike touring was impossible. Most of the time when I hear/read about people bike touring, they’re riding 80-100km/day and make it seem like no big deal. That’s not currently something I’m capable of, but a few years ago – even with e-assist – riding 25km was a shocking accomplishment for me.

Last summer I rode 40km round trip to visit my Grandpa. Yes, I took a rest for lunch. Yes, I was exhausted before I got home. BUT it also encouraged me to dream bigger. 

Soon after that a close friend went on a weekend bike tour… and I was super jealous. This spring a bunch of us in the local WTF (Women Trans Femme) Bike group chatted about the idea of stealth camping to make bike touring accessible with shorter distances… and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

So I’ve quietly been planning my first solo bike tour… scouring the map to estimate manageable distances & factor in spots to charge batteries (mine & my bike’s). I leave one week today… and I can’t wait! Shorter distances & e-assist are gonna make this an amazing adventure! 

My first few nights are planned, but I’ve got no plans after Iverhuron Provincial Park until I reach Little Current. So hit me up with your ideas! I’m aiming for 40-60km/day. With a full load at max assistance I’m guessing my battery charge will only go for 40km, so longer days will require a mid-day charge somewhere. In order of affordability + security I’m aiming for: friend’s backyards/Warm Showers, stealth camping/Crown Land, Hip Camp, and lastly traditional camp sites.

Oh yeah… I’ve also never gone camping on my own… or really at all since I was a teenager… so it’s going to be a HUGE learning curve! Apparently when I do something I go all in…

Here’s to trying new things, troubleshooting mishaps (because that’s going to happen many times on this adventure), and being a kick-ass woman who can solo camp & figure it out… even though I hate most bugs.

Since I won’t be on my bike more than 2-3 hours a day, I’m bringing along a few extras for fun & a low-tech mental health break. I’ve recently discovered that watercolour paints & markers give me freedom to express myself artistically without worrying so much about perfection, so I’m bringing bare minimum art supplies, plus writing materials, and a book. 

Interestingly I’m equally as excited about being schedule-free, as I am about developing routines through the natural rhythms of being more immersed in nature. 

Image: The correct Ortlieb hooks are on back order until October so my friend Emily helped build this rack attachment, roughly based off of a design from my friend Jack.











cycling · fitness

2017 Experiments with Bikes (Guest Post)

2017 was a lot of things. As far as biking goes, it was the year I tried to be a “cyclist” (picture spandex bike shorts) and then realized that I’m simply someone who gets around by bike and I love it! The “cyclist” title and image aren’t necessary, so I stopped striving to fit that image. Most of my bike rides are still under 5km each way (about 15-20 minutes,) except when I have extra time and energy to explore further along the Thames Valley Parkway. The 2017 Strava video titled “My Year in Sport” really should say “My Year of Active Transportation & Adventures in Nature!”
winter bike

2017 was the year that I decided to try winter cycling. For me, that meant getting studded tires and proper gloves… everything else is typical winter attire with well-planned layering – basically snowboarding/skiing clothes.

In 2017, I discovered how much I enjoy learning how to fix my bikes. Oh yeah, I also named my bikes this year – something I had been mulling on for a few years, but it took a while to settle on the right names for them.

Try new things, don’t worry about fitting an image or comparing yourself with others, celebrate whatever steps towards wellness you take, and have fun!

Happy New Year!!

Joy Cameron enjoys cycling, painting, and tai chi. In 2014, she founded Bikes n’ Brains as a response to a collision she was in. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know many individuals from the cycling community. She is excited to be pursuing a social work degree at King’s University College.

cycling · fitness

First Snowy Ride (Guest Post)

My bike and I went on quite an adventure this week. Thursday night, I reduced the pressure in her tires in preparation for our first ride through the snow. I was excited, but also really nervous. Every time I thought of winter riding, two things came to mind. I thought about how much fun it could be, but my fear of falling tempered my excitement. What was I thinking!?

I have post-concussion syndrome – the result of a car hitting me while cycling four years ago. I know that my brain is more vulnerable than most since brain injuries are accumulative. Shouldn’t I avoid any activities that put me at risk of falling? But I know better than that. I could just as quickly fall and hit my head slipping on the sidewalk. I have to live. I cannot stop living life out of fear. Sometimes it’s tricky balancing caution and quality of life.

Typically, I exercise significantly less during the cold winter months – I think most of us do. Last year, I got a gym membership as soon as the snow flew in hopes of working out at least a few times a week. I only live a few blocks from the gym, and I had friends who I could work out with there. Still, there were plenty of weeks when I didn’t get there at all – especially once I started school.

This year, I knew that I needed to do something differently. I have a bike trainer, but that alone likely won’t be enough. Cycling outside with the wind on my face and nature all around me – that is a different story entirely. If I can gain enough confidence in my winter bike handling abilities, it could be a game changer for me. The benefits of trying winter cycling, seem to outweigh the risks.

When I woke up to a winter wonderland on Friday, I noticed a friend who has cycled through many winters had posted on social media about how slippery it was. I reconsidered – again. “Just try it,” I told myself. “You can always change your mind and take the bus if you don’t feel safe. Just try it and see how it goes.” And so I did.

IMG_1820

I biked a slow 12 kph to the bus stop. Bus there and bike home was the plan. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it might be and I felt exhilarated by the time I arrived at the bus stop. Fresh snow to make tracks in made it more fun than I expected!

I was nervous about biking downhill on the way home, and by then I had pre-used snow to contend with. Fresh snow is more fun and relaxing to bike on, but I soon realized that my rubber tires were good at keeping me balanced. Biking over the footprints in the snow felt similar to biking over gravel – go slow and steady, don’t turn sharply and don’t brake suddenly.

I was 7 km into my ride before I realized that I had been so worried about falling that I wasn’t enjoying the experience or the scenery. By then, I was feeling more confident about the conditions and realized that I could relax a bit. “Look up and enjoy the view,” I reminded myself. Seconds later I came around a corner to a delightful surprise. Straight in front of me, heading across the path, was a buck. We paused to look at each other for a few seconds before he wandered into the woods. There’s no photo of the encounter, but the moment is crystal clear in my mind – I had never been so close to a deer.

Initially, I had planned to put studded tires on my bike. There’s a good chance that I would feel more confident with studded tires, but from what I’ve heard, the energy required increases significantly with studs. I enjoyed Friday’s ride enough to try it again, but even without studs, lowered tire pressure doubled my riding time. Given the number of dry days we typically have here, I suspect I will ride more often without studded tires.

I expect it will take a while before my nerves settle down and I’m able to fully enjoy winter biking – it’s a bit of a learning curve. I also know that there will be lots of days when I opt to take the bus instead. However, Friday was a great start, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to bike on a fresh dusting of snow!

IMG_1823

Phoenix – my bike – was messier than I had expected, so I decided that the easiest way to clean her was with a gentle shower. 5 minutes later she was sparkling and free of dirt and leaves!

Do you ride during the winter? What was your first ride like? What are your tips for newbies?

Joy Cameron enjoys cycling, painting, and tai chi. In 2014, she founded Bikes n’ Brains as a response to a collision she was in. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know many individuals from the cycling community. She is excited to be pursuing a social work degree at King’s University College.