Tubing on a “lazy river”

My dear friend Bonnie had a milestone birthday last week, and she was supposed to be on an epic trip. That had to be postponed, of course, it being one of the strangest years we’ve ever experienced — so I tried to think of something adventurous we could do within the parameters we find ourselves in. That meant: a day trip, outdoors, distanced, fun.

And lo and behold, “tubing” presented itself.

This is, apparently, a thing people do. (Sam wrote about doing it a couple of years ago for her birthday; Nicole told me “I love tubing on that river!”). But I’d never even heard of it before. But someone mentioned it to me about a month ago, and then I saw someone posting about it on IG, and because neither Bonnie nor I have ever done it, it felt suitably adventurous.

The whole scenario is pretty simple: you fill out a million covid-related waivers; you show up, masked, at the end point with your own snacks; you sanitize your hands; they brief you on the map and rules; you take a (sanitized, masked) bus about 15 minutes to the launch point; they put you in a little rubber tube-boat with a paddle; and then you have hours to make your way about 11 km down a river, however quickly you want.

It was… blissful. It was a gorgeous day, and we had snacks, and it was the perfect blend between active movement (a little paddling, a little navigating) and total, blissful relaxation.

This was one of the few times I actually forgot about the pandemic for a little while. We found the little waterfall, and made our way through the rapids, and tried to figure out what the heck was happening when I saw a guy wearing a bathing suit and a bike helmet try to walk across the shallows holding up a kid who was also wearing a bike helmet. I had a hard time not interfering here (“do you not realize you need a PFD, not a bike helmet! if you fall you will drown in a bucket of water!”). I just … drifted.

The most complicated thing I had to do was bail my boat after a couple of major slooshes of water after a couple of rapids. I used a potato chip bag.

We had a magical time. Perfect weather, the kind of peaceful easy friendship that meant we talked and didn’t talk, drifted and paddled, ate gummy bears and pistachios. After the tubing, we changed in the parking lot, using lots of wipes, remasked and headed off to a dinner on a patio overlooking the river I’d booked in advance. The perfect day away.

There’s a big campaign this summer to find adventure in your own back yard. I’ve done a little bit of that, with cottage-going and running and riding on the trails near my house. But this day out — a new activity, being outside, chilling, celebrating my beloved Bonnie — it was blissful. And it reminded me once again what a glorious place we live.

This is where we went, near Paris, Ontario: I recommend them whole-heartedly.

What near-home adventures have you discovered this pandemic summer?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is always open to finding new things to play with.


The new Covid tracing app: privacy good, equity and access bad #Covidalertequity

(by Cate Creede and Susan Tarshis)

The Canadian government rolled out a new Covid tracing app in Ontario yesterday, encouraging everyone to download the app to anonymously track proximity, so if someone in your environment tests positive for covid, you can be notified immediately.

Fantastic idea, and we jumped on the bandwagon right away.

But then it became clear that this app doesn’t work for older phones — and by older phones, that includes Iphone 6. Which many, many, many people have.

Our friend Elena noted this first:

“Tried to but it won’t accept my iPhone 6 operating system. This means the app presents a barrier for anyone who relies on older phones. Many of those people are economically precarious and thus at higher risk. What could ideally be an important element of social cohesion has become in some ways another act of gatekeeping. I’m a bit dismayed and hope a fix is on the way.”

Her partner Alistair wrote to the app developer and got this response:

Thank you for your interest in COVID Alert. The exposure notification framework that COVID Alert relies upon is only available on Apple phones that have been released within the past 5 years.
Specifically, for iPhones, this means any model that is newer than an iPhone 6. The most recent software updates for iOS must be installed – iOS 13.5.
Bluetooth must be enabled on the phone for the exposure notification functionality to work.
The COVID Alert Team”

As Elena underlines, this is a major equity issue. The people most likely to have older phones are the people who are economically marginalized, which includes disabled, elderly and people with chronic illness — who are the people who are most at risk of severe consequences from Covid. Those are exactly the people in our world who noted that their phones don’t work with this.

Susan captures the structural inequities behind this:

“It seems that the feds and the tech humans are so focused on our fears around privacy that they forgot to have a lens around accessibility race and class. This seems to me to be another place that privilege has silently operated to exclude the people who need to be protected most. Those of us with up to date phones, who, let’s face it, fling our information at the corporate vultures with barely a glance at that consent, are all twitchy around being tracked for public health and the developers knew it. But, likely because of who they are and where they are situated (I mean it’s tech, mostly white and affluent and male) they did not consider that energy had to ALSO be put into accessibility. Which means more versions of the app so you can run it on an iPhone 4 or 5. The people in my circle who have old phones and can’t download the app are the vulnerable ones, the ones on disability, with tight budgets or who work in difficult, exposes, lower wage jobs. And yes these are ALSO the people that the greater society criticizes if they DO have a fancy phone. This needs to be rectified and the easiest way is to produce another version. There’s a rover going to Mars FFS. How hard can this be?”

So: get active on this. Send the message that “The CovidAlert app is a great idea, but write a version that works with older phones so we can protect the most vulnerable Canadians.”

Send an email to the help page of the app:

Tweet about it, with the hashtags #covidalert and #covidalertequity

Write to the prime minister’s office:

Do it right now.


Taking spinning outside

“Push it up just a notch, go after that moment — you’ve been inside for months, and this is your chance!”

That was Brian’s voice as we pushed hard in our final “road” in our spinning class on Tuesday night. It flooded me with emotion — here I was, finally, spinning outside, sweating and moving my body hard, as the moon rose above us.

It’s a weird time, right now. That goes without saying — but my two outdoor spinning classes in the past couple of weeks just exemplified how everything right now is about adaptation, patchwork, figuring it out as we go along, a sort of slightly unhinged creative edge.

Spinning used to be super predictable, a kind of streamlined and slick activity — dark room, 30 strangers flinging sweat onto each other, music infusing every pore, hard work in sync with a herd. Now it’s 10 bikes spaced out in an alleyway, two decent speakers in the middle, one class with Derek wandering around with Covid hair in his bare feet calling out directions and encouragement, another with Brian continually trying to make the bluetooth work and waving at us with a fancy fan.

Patio tables on Queen St E in Toronto

Toronto has been in “stage 2” of lockdown for a few weeks now, and it’s a stage I’m comfortable with. Shops are open, with masks, with limited numbers of people. Patios are open, with spaced out tables, territory claimed on the streets, and a whiff of gratitude. Services are open, with masks and spacing (in the past 6 weeks I’ve had a dental cleaning, two pedicures, a hair cut, a separate hair colour, three rounds of acupuncture and a mammogram). I had a covid test and drove four hours to visit my mother and my aunt. People are complying, for the most part, with the rules around masks everywhere inside. People are in parks working out, as Nicole wrote about the other day. Most people in office type jobs are still at home, most adjusted (except for that one guy I work with who keeps saying his webcam is “on order.” Um, get it together, Jim!)

I don’t think phase 2 is sustainable from a business point of view, but it’s sure sustainable from my point of view, in the middle of summer, for all the things I care about. And spinning — a class where I really sweat, really push myself — this was the one piece missing from my life.

My first spinning class, I almost cried with gratitude, finding the unique power that comes with the hard class, the pushing that’s different from actually riding an actual bike up an actual hill. (Also good, and I’ve done a fair bit of that too — just different). The different freedom to push hard without having to think about traffic, weather, falling, a flat. Overlaid with this glorious sunshine, a breeze, a coach just diving into the absurdity. Literally savouring every minute — what if this disappears again? Just like the light-streaked first dinner on a patio — a bit of awe and pure joy.

My second class was already a dip back into a bit of routine, Brian’s familiar, confident voice easy, encouraging us to stretch out or slow down, depending on our own bodies. A sequence that challenged the twinge-y nerve I’ve been struggling with in my left foot. But — a rising moon, an open sky, people working hard to make the most of what’s true in our world, catching the scent of creative, collective effort? The shared push of our bodies, even spaced apart and careful?

Truly sublime.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and spins and breathes in the east end of Toronto. If you want to join us, follow @Torqride on IG. The classes are still announced as popups, usually on Sunday afternoon for the coming week.


Paldiski~ Tallinn — 526 km in total

This is the 5th and final revisit of my solo bike trip across Latvia and Estonia three years ago. Cycling back through this time has evoked two things for me — first, the freedom to do this feels so impossible at this time of constraint! It’s like a dream! And, in this leg, I really rode through the echoes of centuries of occupation, war and genocide — and was reminded that all chapters in history pass and this moment is just a touch point in time. Ahhh.

So remember my post the other day about how I try not to engage with my fears too much while I’m traveling?

Well, last night in my Soviet-style guesthouse? The one above the butcher shop? The one where I had my own apartment, but one of the doors was mysteriously locked, and there was a kitchen with an unplugged fridge, and the shower room felt like it had echoes of being used for a felony? And I had the little room with the twin beds that didn’t have a lock of its own? The one with the big steel door downstairs I had to lock with a key I then had to keep near me while sleeping in case of fire? Along with my headlamp so I wouldn’t perish while trying to find the keyhole? That guesthouse?

Yeah, I will confess here that I pulled the other twin bed against…

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Haapsalu ~ Paldiski (78 km)

Day 4 of revisiting my bike ride across Latvia and Estonia from 2017. Reliving this is reminding me of the bigger world in a beautiful way. And it’s making me yearn for movement, freedom, discovery. You will also note the Fieldpoppy theme 😉

Fieldpoppies, by the side of the road. Pure joy.

Today started out sublime. Haapsalu was one of the favoured resorts of the Russian Tsars for decades, and the promenade and many fin de siècle buildings are still standing. It’s one of those towns that wears its tourism standing well, like Hoi An in Vietnam and Luang Prabang in Laos. Not overrun, not overdeveloped, just graceful, accessible, good food and pleasant surroundings. (“Boring in the winter,” though, complained the woman behind the desk at my hotel this morning).

Because it was such a lovely morning and the promenade was right there, I took myself for a walk along the sea before I left. I hadn’t done that before — most mornings I’m hopping to get on the road, after breakfast (where I squirrel away a cheese sandwich), 15 minutes doing the NYT crossword while listening to the BBC world news morning…

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Varbla ~ Haapsalu (97.6 km)

Day three of revisiting my cycle across Latvia and Estonia from 2017… every one of these makes me miss that freedom but appreciate the life I’ve led even more.

Today was the longest day — just under 100 km — and the day I finally found my “just be here” presence. Yes, I’m headed for Haapsalu. Yes, it’s far, and it’s still windy. But I was just riding. That sensation where “I’m going from A to B” transmutes into “this is what I do — ride this slightly unwieldy, mostly obedient, sturdy bike, with all my things on it. I have nothing else to do and nowhere else to be.”

And at the end, my favourite town yet, Haapsalu, where I ate an enormous piece of rhubarb cake and drank a pot of tea at the foot of a castle. Where today’s random Estonian soundtrack included a Josh Ritter album that was one of my dissertation-writing playlists. (Lunch was ABBA)

Haapsalu is little fingers of land clustered around a bay, a resort town for the last century…

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Täna oli nii tuuline: Parnu ~ Varbla (79km)

This week the blog is revisiting my solo cycling trip across Latvia and Estonia from three years ago… this is day 2. How I miss pedalling into that infernal wind.

Täna oli nii tuuline means “it’s very windy today” in Estonian. I should have named my bike Tuule instead of Sigrid.

The thing about wind is that when you’re pedalling, it wraps itself around you and the sound drowns out everything. It’s a loud bully shaking you by the shoulders. Insistent, persistent, roar. Then you stop pedalling and suddenly, it’s gone. From roaring whirl to silence. So that if you say, oof, the wind, to someone not on a bike, they say “oh, is it windy? I didn’t notice.”

Today was 79 kilometres, and it felt like every metre was into the wind. When it’s that windy, everything else recedes. I note the interesting wooden church, the way some of the houses are spruced up and other same vintage houses have peeling paint and sagging eaves, the way that Estonians don’t nod and smile when you greet them —…

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Ainazi to Parnu (65 k)

My Facebook memories keep reminding me that 3 years ago, I was riding my bike alone across Latvia and Estonia. For a taste of the freedom of solo bike travel during a close-to-home time, I’m going to reblog some of my favourite posts from that trip this week. Enjoy 😉

The squeak of the suspension, a slight rattle of my handlebar bag. Soft wind, sky dissolving from bright blue to faintly grey. Slight bruising in my sitting bones after two and a half days on the bike, slightly sore right foot. Left foot not clipped in because I lost a screw from the spd yesterday and it seized when I tried to make do with one screw. Fields of golden wheat on one side, green green on the other, purple lupins and an occasional daisy. Silent road, except for the occasional, always faintly ominous, farm dog. About 35 km into my ride.

I breathe deep and am suffused with a moment of ease, pure gratitude. How is it I ended up on this lonely Estonian country road? How is it I have a life that means I’m physically strong enough, supported enough, flush enough, lucky enough, to do this kind…

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Menstrual activism in Uganda (guest post)

Last week, I wrote about tracing the story of Nikibasika, while I was running, a project I’ve been working on in Uganda for 14 years. We are at the magical point where most of the “kids” in the project are young adults, and are doing amazing things in their own right. Today, I’m sharing the story of the project Britah Atusimiire has initiated during the Covid lockdown. Britah is 23, and graduated with a degree in social work and psychology in December. — cate

Britah this month

Hey people! My name is Britah Atusimiire, and I am from Uganda. I graduated early this year with a bachelors degree in Social Sciences. I grew up from Nikibasika, a children’s home in Kasese, because my mother was not able to look after me and my sister after the death of our father.

I was privileged to be supported by selfless people😊 — which is what inspired me to start an NGO of my own called Kusiima Girls Foundation. The purpose is to help young vulnerable girls access reusable sanitary towels.

This is because many young girls in remote areas of Uganda miss school, are shunned by their peers, and have lost self esteem because they cannot access sanitary towels.

Here is a blog post I wrote to explain why this is so important:

The government should give a period pad to every girl in need

I also watch how young girls in my village suffer with school absenteeism because they cannot afford pads. My goal is for them to learn to make their own.

Through training girls to make reusable sanitary towels, I believe will be a great step for them to live a more fulfilling life and achieve their dreams. My future goal is to start up a home where these young girls can train and make reusable sanitary towels and provide them to people at an affordable cost.

This way I shall create employment opportunities for these girls and also share handskill knowledge to create sustainability and fight the problem of lack of sanitary towels among young girls.

Britah, her Nikibasika sisters and me at a wedding two years ago

 Kusiima is a Runyankole word which means appreciation. Giving back through helping young girls access sanitary towels is the best thing i can do to say thank you for the kindness i have been shown since i was a little girl. The people who supported Nikibasika made me believe that much as the world is full of unkind people, doing the right thing is always important. I want to carry on the kindness i have been given to help other young girls live a more comfortable life.

To support Britah’s project, you can make a (tax deductible in Canada) donation via this link — there is a dropdown link that specifies Kusiima Girls Foundation.


Workouts 79 – 228 of 2020: A pandemic diary

My first workout for 2020 was 108 sun salutations next to the beautiful rooftop pool in a boutique hotel in Singapore, the sky that was lit up by fireworks 9 hours earlier just on my horizon.

Now, that feels like I’m describing a dream. I was in SE Asia? Just wandering the world? Doing whatever I felt like? This YEAR?

That’s the thing. Since then, I’ve worked out another 227 times, easily sailing past my “220 in 2020” goal just past halfway through the year, behind Tracy and in parallel with Sam.

Counting those workouts is a thing, of course — and I’ve written a ton over the past four years of the impact of being in the “217 in 2017” etc support groups. I credit the group with a transformative shift from being a “person who works out and does fun fitness things” to being a person who moves my body, pretty much every day. In 2019, my last workout — a YWA for new beginnings, at 10 pm before going up on the roof for those aforementioned fireworks — was number 355. This year, I’m well poised to blow past 400.

But what does that mean, exactly?

I looked at a few of the photos in my camera that represent workouts 79 – 228. And I realized that this list of days and movement is one of those pandemic diaries historians have urged us to keep.

Workout 78 was the last time I did a class in a gym. I was ill for a few days after that (possibly mild covid?) , and the next workout was “nighttime walk, looking at all the closed shops and restaurants.”

Flicking through those March and early April workouts, I see how we were scrambling to make meaning. Dark nighttime walks — was it even okay to go out for a walk? Social distanced walks with a friend, prompting someone in the 2020 group to ask me if I thought that was okay to see anyone from outside my household. (Since I live alone, my answer was, yes, outside, and distanced. But her pouncing on me made me grumpy). I see a few runs that I felt anxious acknowledging because of the uncertainty about whether it was okay to exercise outside without a mask, and remember all the flurry of that one experiment about bikes and airborne particles that turned out to be not relevant. I see a walk I took on Good Friday on the Spit I didn’t post about publicly because people in my social media feed were shaming people who were “flaunting” their ability to to outside, making people who had to stay inside feel worse.

Against that, I also see resilience forming. Alex figuring out how to do meaningful, personalized classes via zoom, with bags of books and soup cans. Making thoughtful decisions about continuing to go outside but going quiet about it. Moving my body to keep myself from being washed over with stress, with the unease of uncertainty.

Then normalizing kicked in. The next slew of workouts in the list are rapidfire and consistent — Alex workouts, some YWA, runs, more long walks. Realizing how much I missed incidental movement, and adding skipping in the middle of my day, more short walks. Going after new physical challenges, like crow pose and freestanding handstands.

Then, with spring, more freedom. More runs and walks on the Spit and in the Don Valley, some woodsy hikes with Susan, a virtual 5K run, fundraising to replace a little bit of the money usually raised at the Pride and Remembrance run.

Somewhere in May, I also finally got my bike out (much later than usual), and rode on the Spit, around the city, out of the city, by myself, with Kim, with others. Turns out my bike is such a signal of autonomy, of personal strength, that once I got on it, my entire experience of the world changed. I started riding my folding bike to errands so I could swoop along like I was traveling somewhere. I squished in 30 km rides after a long day of zoom. Things shifted so much that even when I was out for a long ride with a friend and had a bad flat a couple of weeks ago, it was just … normal. He rode back to the car, I waited in a park, happy, social distanced, delighted with the world.

My notation in the FB group for #223 looks like this:

The flippancy, the intensity, the pure silliness of running in this kind of heat? This feels so far away from the defensiveness of acknowledging my runs or walks in March and April. And it makes me realize that I have written the story of this pandemic — so far — in my body. And my body is what’s let me ride out the experience so far.

Over the past four years, my 220 in 2020 — which has really translated into pretty much “every day in 2020” — has carved me into a person who can use my body as an instrument for navigating the world I find myself in. Pre-covid, I navigated quests and joy, like the feat of 108 sun salutations, deadlifting 200 lbs just before my 55th birthday. During covid, it’s given me a powerful means to experience, to feel, to make meaning, to process, to sweat out or fling off the anxiety of the world around me.

I’m not running around dripping with optimism or gushing about the Gift of The Great Pause — like most of the people I know, my life is harder. My work is just logistically harder, I worry about the world and especially the people I love in it, the people I care about in Uganda are suffering, my work horizon is uncertain, and I miss the dark intensity of spinning classes, the floating shared breath of yoga classes, the clang of heavy weights hitting the floor. I miss hugs.

But my habit of movement? It’s kept those things in perspective, given me a buffer that keeps the spirals of fretting or anxiety or irritability at the n-teenth zoom meeting at bay. It’s kept me present to the ground under my feet, the energy and persistence that are serving me well.

Right now, those feet are a little tender, with some nerve inflammation that got triggered in that silly hot run last Friday. But I know how to incorporate that tenderness into what I do — safely, carefully, with trust that things will shift. And in my body? Gratitude.

What story would your pandemic movement journal tell?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is frequently flinging herself upside down in Toronto.