Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: Joy Cameron
In 2013, I was hit and seriously injured by a driver while out biking. People always ask why I returned to biking. Biking is life for me.
Lately I’ve also been experimenting with watercolour painting and find it super relaxing. I’m studying at King’s University College, currently switching my major from social work to disability studies.
The past twelve months of my life have been overflowing with adventures and exciting changes. In May 2021, I began to realize that my beloved London, Ontario community would not be my home forever. But I wasn’t sure what my next steps would look like.
In late August, I hopped on my trusty pedelec (pedal electric assist cycle) loaded with camping supplies and headed north along Lake Huron. At that time I assumed I’d be back in London by November or December, but had no plans set in stone.
In mid-October, I was biking from Wikwemikong to Manitowaning when I snapped a milestone photo showing 1200km on my trip odometer. Although I continued on to Kagawong & Ice Lakes afterwards via a bus-bike combo, in many ways it marked the end (or at least nearly the end) of my first bike camping adventure.
A week later I was supposed to catch the last ferry of the season back to Tobermory… but I didn’t want to leave. In the short time I’d been on Manitoulin, I had already begun to feel a sense of belonging. Community care, breathtaking beauty, and changing scenery around every corner make Manitoulin a place unlike any other that I came across in my travels.
Several weeks of stealth bike camping increased my comfort with making decisions based on rapidly changing contexts, rather than trying to plan everything in advance. Manitoulin feels like where I need to be during this season of my life. So I took a leap and unexpectedly moved to Northern Ontario via bike camping!
Sorry to leave you all hanging for so long! When I wasn’t hanging in my hammock, I was catching up on school and much needed rest! As fun as adventuring is, it’s also tiring. I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a while to dig into exciting research projects, focus on my course work, and start drafting ideas for a book. My posts will be sporadic until I have a lighter course load in the spring. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @JoyBringingHope.
Give yourself time to adjust to a hammock and ask for comfort tips. Initially I found my comfort was inconsistent, so Hennessy suggested positioning my head at the (slightly) lower end of the hammock. It worked! Now beds annoy me. 😂 A quick pre-purchase web search revealed that many North Americans are surprised that they prefer the comfort of a hammock over the comfort of a mattress. (Don’t tell Sleep Country or hammocks will start costing thousands of dollars!)
Pillows are unnecessary (and uncomfortable) while on your back, but useful when sleeping on your side – a sweatshirt works too.
Practice setting up before you actually need it — or at least leave plenty of time to set up before dark.
Falling asleep staring up at the stars is epic… I will never tire of that.
Be prepared for sudden rain even if it isn’t in the forecast.
As the nights start cooling down dew makes the rain fly necessary even when rain isn’t forecast.
Waking up to chirping birds or chittering squirrels can be fun… and rain flies provide poop protection!
Image Description: the background fills the left half of the photo with green grass, it is lush towards the top of the photo, but sparse and interspersed with dirt towards the bottom. The right half of the photo shows a close up of part of a tree trunk in the foreground. In the centre of the photo peaking around the tree and looking directly at the camera is a brown squirrel with a cluster of seeds from a cedar tree in it’s mouth.
Apple trees smell nice, but you’d better have a strong rain fly! 😆Hennessy’s held up well. 🙃
Position your hammock so that the zippered side of the bug net opens towards the easiest exit… which conveniently also allows easy sunrise photos from your cozy sleeping bag.
If you’re hammocking between posts be aware of joints where your rope can get jammed. Always use tree straps since they are easier to get out of a jam or replace if necessary.
Water bottles in plastic bags are great for keeping the fly taught by weighing it down.
Watch the forecast and find covered shelter if it’s likely to be rainy *and* windy. Pavilions, bridges, and Kingdom Hall overhangs are prime possibilities. School entrances could work in a pinch, but would definitely be a privileged mea culpa option which likely has a relatively high risk of police being called. Huge thanks to my friend Eric Todd for brainstorming with me when buckets of rain were expected and the only pavilion in Espanola was unavailable!
Better yet, buy a big rain fly. The one mine came with was perfect most nights… but nowhere near sufficient during windy storms.
If lightning is expected look for a shelter with electricity (eg. fancy picnic pavilions and Kingdom Halls). At the very least avoid tying to the tallest trees… maybe also avoid close proximity to large bodies of water. Stay off the ground though… it’s a conduit. Shoes don’t have enough rubber for lightning protection. (Don’t ask me why. I read this somewhere online while freaking out at my nightmare stealth site.)
Bring a sleeping mat for insulation; it’s also useful if you need to wait out a storm on the ground of a pavilion or simply can’t find suitable trees.
Bring a balaclava to keep your nose and ears warm.
Bring a spare dry bag to store your dirty shoes beside your hammock.
In the space of a few days, I had both the worst and the best campsites.
I was in Thessalon on September 14th, when I had an utterly nightmarish campsite. Hopefully this gives you a laugh without giving my mom nightmares! It began with an electric storm that kept me up terrified I’d be struck and with no idea what to do to protect myself… something I didn’t research before leaving home! I tried googling this info, but my internet connection was the speed of dial up… so while I waited, I continued freaking out about the possibility of being struck by lightning. Eventually I managed to read a few articles that were only marginally helpful and then climbed out of my hammock to begin looking for a safer space to wait out the storm. Since I found nothing within close proximity, I figured curling up in my hammock on a thermarest was probably safer than being a tall thing seeking shelter in a fairly open area.
As I returned to my hammock, I noticed a small plant in the middle of my “campsite.” Not knowing how to identify poison ivy, I freaked out… another thing I didn’t research before leaving home! After yet another extensive and painstakingly slow Google search, I concluded that it was in fact poison ivy. If I’d stepped in it while setting up camp, I’d long since spread it all over my clothes. In the morning I would need to figure out a place to wash my clothes and shower carefully just in case I’d stepped in it… something fraught with other risks since I don’t do well with many types of laundry detergents and artificial fragrances… both of which laundromats are full of.
Finally the lightning ceased and I fell into an exhausted but fitful sleep. I woke up to my 7am alarm, but I desperately needed more sleep so decided it was worth the risk of someone finding me there. By this time I’d been discovered stealth camping a few times and it had always ended in a great convo and laughter, so I wasn’t concerned. I figured the worst that would happen is they would tell me to leave… and I would leave… no big deal.
Around 8am, I awoke to trucks sawing down trees on the next lot and approaching my “campsite” …which was also a construction site.* I have never scrambled out of my hammock and packed up camp as quickly as I did that day! Don’t worry though, I paused to snap a photo before tearing down and did a quick vlog before racing out of there. I did not look back. Really wish I’d left behind a note for the unsuspecting construction workers: “Thanks for the campsite… and not felling a tree on me! My day would have been soooo much worse if you weren’t skillful at guiding the trees as they fell!” (Note to those absolutely horrified by this story: I would not have stopped to video or even packed up if I didn’t think it was safe to do so.)
Even with anxiety a trip like this can be fun… and vlogging my mishaps has been a great way to gain perspective and find humour in the challenging aspects of my adventure. Don’t worry… most sites are nowhere near as dramatic as this one!
Down the street, I paused to pick up my bear bag from the portapotty at the nearby park and to rearrange my load which was very higgilty piggilty. For some time I stood in the wind beside the playground alternating between feeling amused at the absurdity of the story and anxious about poison ivy. I was grateful that the rain held off until I could assemble myself and plan my next steps.
It took a few hours, but eventually my day began to turn around, thanks in large part to another visitor to Thessalon who asked if I was biking across Canada, was empathetic when I immediately burst into tears, looked at the “poison ivy” photos I had taken and confidently told me it was not poison ivy. Thank you environmental guide turned musician visiting from the states for the first time in two years! We ran into each other a few times during the next few days and both appreciated the company of a new friend in the midst of our solo travels.
Delightfully, a few days later I was gifted with the best campsite imaginable… a much needed reprieve! More on that another time!
*Yes, it was a bold stealth spot that likely only felt like a reasonable risk because of my social location as a white thin female. I can get away with things many others could not.
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.
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.
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!
By the time I reached Whitefish Falls on September 7th, I was tired. More tired than I realized at the time.
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.
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, Johnprovides 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!”
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.
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!)
Monarch butterflies *everywhere*
Sleeping under the stars
Breakfast on a nearly empty beach 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!
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?
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.
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!”
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.