A cure for February: ask people to say nice things about you

It’s deep mid February, the time when ice is penning people at home, my cats are restless and fighting with each other and a lot of the people I know are really struggling in various ways.  I am currently battling my fourth virus of this winter, and am secretly convinced I’m harbouring some vintage illness like whooping cough or consumption.  (My chest xray was clear; it’s garden variety crud).  The very thought of going to a gym and paying to run on a fancy treadmill seems like a far away dream.  So since I can’t work out and do the other things that give me joy and ease, I wanted to post about a thing I did for my birthday last week: I asked people I know to tell me three adjectives that reminded me of them.  Then I made a word cloud of it.


I got this idea from my friend Grace, who asked me to contribute to her cloud, and wrote a blog post about it a couple of weeks ago.  (I sent her three words when I got off the treadmill.  The LAST TIME I WAS ON THE TREADMILL whine whine cough cough hack hack whine).

We also do a thing like this in one of the programs I teach in.  That one is called “reflected best self” and is a bit more involved — it asks people to describe examples of when they saw these elements in the person.  Our students are usually very resistant to trying it — they are really self-conscious about asking people to say nice things about them — but people are always incredibly generous with their time.  And it has an incredibly powerful effect on our students — I think we tend not to be very conscious of or comfortable talking about the things we like about ourselves, and we don’t always have a good grip on the way people see us.  After we do that in our leadership program, people shift — they get more confident, more grounded in their authentic selves, start to use their strengths differently.

I was surprisingly moved by my word cloud.  I asked people I was working with, a few people by text, and all the people on Facebook wishing me happy birthday.  And I got about 50 responses.

People generally got the idea of saying adjectives that described me in what they see as my best self when I said “three different words you would use to describe me.” (No one wrote “irritable, stubborn and tiring,” — lol, although a few people did word association things like “goats” and “yoga” and “carrot cake” — all lovely things in themselves).  Then I made a list and put the words into one of those word cloud aggregators (I used wordle, but I had to download a java app to my computer to make it work — I’m sure there’s a better one).  This one makes the words bigger based on the number of times they appear.

Apparently people see me as adventurous, smart and generous.  That’s a pretty good self to live into.

As the words were coming in, I was on my way to a cottage for a weekend with Susan, her daughter and her daughter’s friend.  The driving was awful and snow squally, so I decided to inscribe the word cloud into my journal.  Every word I wrote with my own hand made me feel joyful, made me feel incredibly warm to the people I love.


I think everyone should do this.  There’s a lot of power in writing “tough, strong and fierce” about yourself and knowing that other people see it.  There’s a lot of gratitude that comes when you know that people see you as compassionate, thoughtful a good listener.

I can’t do the stuff I want to do to move my body right now — even yoga makes me cough too hard.  My body needs recovery.  Seeing myself at my best refracted through other people’s words really helps me feel powerful in that.

Try it for yourself.


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and trudges through icy puddles in Toronto.  This is her and Susan hiking in the snow last weekend.  Look at the rosy cheeks!  Look at the smiles!  Look at the cute mittens!



aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · monthly check in


Today’s my birthday. I was going to do a big reflective post like I did last year.  Turns out, last year I  was full of gratitude for my life.

I still am.

But I don’t feel quite as reflective.  I’m good.  It’s February, and I am tired, and I’m still recovering from the flu.  But… I’m good.

I got home at 7 pm last night, and was super tired, but I went out for a short run and pondered what it means to be 54.  And I realized that 54 is really mid-life.  The things I’ve been working toward for decades — intentionally and just by wandering through my life — have come together. I am known for what I do, and I’m doing harder, better, more challenging and far-reaching work than ever before.  I’m on the edge of seeing the end of a volunteer development project with kids in Uganda I’ve been working on for 12 years.  I have the resources to have a home I love and to do all the travel I want.  I got serious about saving for my future a few years ago and don’t feel quite as panicked as I once did. I have the perfect cats. I have community and family I know and trust and care for.  My body moves the way I want it to, most of the time. I like my shoulder and calf muscles. I can do 108 sun salutations and ride 100 km. I have history and experience, and I’m living the fruits of that.

And the middle means… being stretched by aging and waning on one end, aging that just is, isn’t mindset or a construct, but just is.  My fingers are knobbled with arthritis that wasn’t there two years ago — I catch sight of my finger poking at my phone sometimes and am taken aback.  How is that my finger? That is an old person finger!  I’m fatigued, often — by unrelenting menopause, and disrupted sleep, and just less physical resilience than I used to have.  I had the flu in January and briefly caught sight of what it means to be frail and to live alone and to have your sink back up when you’re fighting a fever of more than 39.  I can feel hints of fragility and physical limits — and these are new.

And at the same time — 54 means still being tugged at by novelty, and adventure, and possibilities.  I still haven’t written all of the things that are in me, or learned swahili, and I know there are stories of who I am that haven’t unfolded yet.  There are chapters to be lived I haven’t even imagined yet, people to be loved and known I haven’t met yet, oceans to bob in and coasts to walk and roads to ride on.

54 is knowing myself. Knowing that even though I was tired when I got home last night, what my body and soul needed was a run from home to Coxwell and back. It’s knowing that I’ll sleep better and feel more satisfied in my soul if I scrub the kitchen before bed. It’s having a trusted spidey sense about what’s the right thing to do for myself — whether that’s yep, I need to do this work right now, there’s no other time to do it, or yep, yoga is what my body needs right now, not a spinning class, or yep, this is the right person to go on this date with, or yep, this is a good time to have a glass of wine. Or knowing that I am going to have a complete sugar crash that will mess with my life if I eat this brownie at this moment in time — and I don’t eat the brownie. It’s a knowing that comes with deep listening to myself, to what has unfolded because of the choices I’ve made in my life.

At 54, some pathways are off the table.  I’m not going to go to med school, or have a baby, or a 25th wedding anniversary, or, with this body and its various aches and vulnerabilities, run another marathon. Some things, you just time out of. And part of being 54 is being okay with that, in a way I wouldn’t have been five years ago.

For me, 54 is more about stretching myself more fully into the spaces I already know I love — rather than taking big leaps in new directions.  It’s getting better at the work I already do, and stretching into new niches. It’s embracing my role as Auntie Cate, for my own nieces and with various other people who wander into my life. It’s knowing that traveling alone truly feeds me in ways nothing else does — and finding every possible option to do that.  It’s going deep into yoga and shaping myself into forms I’ve never even seen before.

Like this one, from my Iyengar class on Wednesday.


I don’t even know what that’s called — some kind of advanced fish pose. It was… exhilarating, opening in new ways. We spent about 45 minutes of that class in various forms of trikonasana.  It was intense, and hard, and focused.  And my body found new alignment, new edges.

That’s what 54 is.  Joy in going deep and full into the self I already am.

I’ll take it.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and practices yoga in Toronto.  She likes to count things, and notes that this is her 90th post for Fit is a Feminist Issue.



30 different plants a week: an update

At the beginning of January, Sam posted a piece about a British scientist — Dr. Megan Rossi — who recommends that a good goal for diversity in nutrition is to eat at least 30 different plant-based foods a week.  Plant-based diversity is thought to have a key role in good gut health — and a healthy microbiome (the internal constellation of bacteria in our guts) has an impact on many other aspects of our health.  I read a really thoughtful piece in the NY Times on the weekend about how far-reaching the relationship between gut health and brain health — including depression, dementia and Parkinsons — may be.

My sister and I were both intrigued by the “30 plants a week” thing, and both started tracking our plants in early January.  I was particularly interested in my sister’s take on it, because she already eats a super-mindful array of foods.  She has celiac disease (severe gluten allergy) as well as another auto-immune disease that she has been largely — out of necessity — controlling through food choices and naturopathic and traditional chinese medicine.  I knew for me I would be stretching to hit my 30 — but she’s a kale chip and homemade kombucha sort of person, so I thought she already had it in hand.


The first thing we both noticed is that we both already have pretty diverse diets — I don’t think I necessarily hit 30 different plant based foods in a given week in the winter “automatically,” but I did hit 22 my first week without thinking about it.  It helped that I was at a client site where I had meals from the Whole Foods salad and hot bar two days — it’s easy to add up a dozen veg and grains when it’s all spread out and arrayed before you.

My sister’s major comment that first couple of weeks was that it helped her realize what she was already doing — which was affirming.  She’s worked hard to gain control of a lot of her inflammation through organic, nutrient-packed foods, and she noticed that this has now become automatic for her.

Then it became a bit of a game for us — how could we ADD to this diversity?  I made a point of getting a salad for lunch from one place because I knew it had quinoa, pomegranates, chia seed and beets, none of which I would probably cook for myself that week.  My sister told me that having this tracking in her head “reminds me to reach for the fennel or kumquats in the grocery store when I might usually eat those particular plants less frequently.”  I’m adding flax to my steelcut oats along with the usual blueberries, bananas and walnuts.  And I bought a pre-made mango salsa on impulse — which I never would have done without this —  and found myself making a super healthy “bowl” dinner with halibut, mango, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, and a mixed wild brown rice medley.  Seven or eight plants right there.  And a much healthier meal than my usual Tuesday night default of pasta with roasted grape tomatoes.

Sometimes it became a bit of a joke.  I get random texts from her just reading:  Cauliflower. Sweet potato. Some leftover stir fry so a bunch of stuff (broccoli etc) Chickpeas. Kombucha.  I asked her if carrot cake counted as carrots AND pineapple.  (We decided it sort of did).  She said it was making her do things like choose mango gelato instead of chocolate to get another one to add to her list.  When I had the flu for a week, I texted my daily sad little list —  “orange juice, carrots in my soup, raw honey, linden tea” with a miserable looking emoji.

Neither of us is vegetarian or vegan, though we do both wander through vegetarian territory for a lot of our meals, and we are both very conscious that a more plant-based diet is better for the environment and generally a more ethical choice.  Being consciously mindful about diversity of plants, we are discovering, is actually fun and makes us more creative  — and a good way to move toward even more meatless and dairy-free meals.

How about you?  Have you tried the “30 different plant based foods a week” approach?

IMG_5624Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto, and is aware that the Whole Foods salad bar, mango salsa and easy take away salads with quinoa and pomegranates come with a fair bit of urban and middle class privilege. Cate and her sisters Emilie and Melissa are pictured here skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa last weekend.



High intensity interval spinning

Last week, I wrote about the 6 week challenge I’m doing with my spinning studio that is a good, challenging blend of all the fitness things — working out, sleeping, hydration, thinking more mindfully about the things I’m putting in my mouth.  screenshot 2019-01-19 09.19.07In my little burst of “trying new things” as part of this challenge, I noticed a new class on the Torq schedule:  a High Intensity Interval Training (+!) class.

Normally, I find most spinning classes aggressive enough for me, and I’m all about the intuitive movement these days, as I wrote about last week.  But I was looking for something to fit into a window of time for working out last Friday morning, and this fit my weird logic:  “I don’t love spinning first thing in the morning — it takes so long for me to wake up — but it’s only 30 minutes!  How bad could it be?  Then I’ll be done working out for the day!”  Also, I like Marawan as a teacher — he’s not shouty — so I got myself to an 840 class last Friday.

Because it’s a new class (and maybe because of all of the explosive language in the description), there were only four of us in the first class.  I had had a terrible sleep — still jet lagged and insomniac from my trip to Australia — and I had a busy day before I had to travel four hours the next morning for a family funeral.  I arrived a bit of a worn out rag, and gave all sorts of qualifiers to my Clear Intention Not to Work Hard.  Marawan was just gently encouraging — do what you can.

The class was… highly intense.  But in a really doable way.  I won’t say the 30 minutes “flew by,” but I was deeply engaged the entire time.  Marawan took us through a simple series of 3 patterns of about 12 minutes each, each marked by harder, more intense, intensest, briefly return to a hard baseline again again for a version of “recovery”, repeat.  We use torq sticks at this studio to increase and decrease the weight on the bikes quickly — moving the torq stick to the middle of the gear is similar to 1.5 full turns on the flywheel, to the right is like 3, then you can fling it back to your baseline quickly.  For part of the class, we used the monitor at the front of class to track our wattage output (total class average energy).

It was simple… and it did all of the things HIIT is supposed to do — pushes you hard with pockets of near-recovery, pushes you hard again, then you’re done, sweaty and pleased with yourself.  (A lot of people are HIIT evangelists, but there is a fair bit of argument among exercise researchers about whether it’s really “superior” for anything other than efficiency — but it’s definitely a way to get a really good workout quickly).

That class really stood out in a super busy week as my most intense, focused workout — I managed a quick run here, an exhausted trip to the gym there, a few self-guided yoga workouts.  But it was a week of a lot of driving and facilitating huge groups into the evening, and on Thursday night, I skipped my planned yoga class in favour of lying in bed, eating popcorn for dinner and watching netflix.  (See:  honouring what my body needs).

When Friday morning rolled around again, I had to really persuade myself to get out of bed and show up for class.  I am often daunted by knowing my workout is going to be intense, no option.  I try to fool myself into thinking “I can just take it easy.”  I know that in this class, there’s no room to coast — not in the structure of the actual class or the fact that there are so few of us.  I can’t hide behind the pole on bike 18, my preferred spot.

img_5509Yesterday, Marawan had us all (five of us this time) line up in the middle row and he sat in the middle, riding with us.  A really simple sequence:  three long climbs, with a tone going off every minute to increase the weight on the wheel by half to a full turn.  Within each series, sequences of hard, harder, intense, brief recovery, always to the baseline of the gradually increasing weight.  Between the three long climbs — 12 minutes, 10 and 7 — a minute of actual recovery.  (The pic is me in one of those moments).  In the last sequence, Marawan came around and had each of us work to our absolute highest output for 10 seconds as he encouraged us.

I was exhausted when I got on the bike, and energized when I got off.  I found the recovery I’d given my body by taking two rest days in a row, and felt… strong.  I was still well worn out, but in the best, internally glowing way.  I felt… human again.


I’m probably not going to do this more than once a week — but doing something this intense reaffirms for me that I’m engaged in a long-term project of fitness and health — and even when I’m mostly tooling around in lighter workouts, there’s a warrior inside me.  Marawan is the best kind of teacher — light touch, firm effort, kind.  And I got a blue star for nailing my first week of the 6 week challenge.

img_5514Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto.


Starting 2019 with a new challenge (content warning)

(Content warning — some discussion in here of setting goals around food consumption and weight).

The other day, Sam posted about a new year challenge she — and I — can really get behind:  to eat 30 different plant based foods every week. I got all excited and was pretty pleased that I racked up 21 different plant based foods by Wednesday.  (It would be more if I ate fruit.  I rarely eat fruit.  But my Wednesday lunch salad had pomegranates!  How exotic is THAT in January??)

The same day, I signed up for a new challenge my spinning studio is offering, the January Goal Setting Challenge.  It’s a 6 week overall health challenge with support from a coach at the studio (Torq) with a loose structure around your own personal goals.  (And the entry price goes to a local shelter — yay Torq!)

torq challenge

I was trying to figure out why I feel compelled to take this on, other than the fact that I like the person who is coaching it.  It’s not about adding more workouts to my life — this challenge is actually fewer than I already do.  Over the past couple of years, with my involvement in the “217 in 2017” and “218 in 2018” challenges, I’ve created a habit of working out at least 5 times a week — last year, I reset my 2018 goal after I hit 218 in August, and ended up working out 302 times.

Me finishing my 300th workout for 2018 — a 5 km run in Port Albert, Victoria, Australia


The first year I did that goal, I found that the combination of having a group and a number goal gave me a motivation I never had on my own.  I aimed at 217 workouts, and had to undertake a flurry of activity in December to take me over the line.  In the end I think I hit 221 in 2017, and felt pretty good about that. Early in 2018, as my numbers kept adding up, I realized that the challenge group had done something for me I hadn’t expected — ingrained an expectation that working out almost every day was just something I did.  Because of this habit, I set a personal challenge to work out every day in July, and realized that these challenges had really taught me a lot about what I might term “intuitive working out” — that is, how to move my body regularly in the way that my body needs to be moved, not according to an external training plan or some pre-set agenda.

It turns out, when I set the expectation that I will move my body pretty much every day, and listen to what my body needs, I come up with a blend of yoga, intense cardio like running and spinning, gym visits and more flow-y movement like long bike rides and walks.  I move according to what I need.  This mirrors, for me, some of what Tracy and others have written about intuitive eating.

The 6 week challenge from my spinning studio goes beyond working out — it suggests setting broader intentions about fun movement, eating, and all of the other things that can mess up our health — electronics use, booze and cannabis, hydration, etc.  I don’t love the framing of some of those things as “vices” — they are only bad if they are a problem — but I can live with it.  What appeals to me is that it’s not a rigid plan, but rather, a loose framework that suggests that while we are moving our bodies, we should also be looking at our other habits.  And I think I’m ready for that.

The big aha for me from what I learned from my 217 and 218 workout challenges is that I can learn a more intuitive way of being in my body in new ways.  I’ve developed good practices about giving my body the movement it needs, and it’s become unconscious now.   I also realized that over time, I’ve developed a really intuitive relationship to alcohol. I drink, but I’m highly aware as I am putting a drink to my lips of the impact it will have on my capacity to drive, to sleep, and to feel energetic and whole the next day.  I self-modulate without thinking about it.

I would like to get to that stage with sleep, food and electronics.  I stay up too late, because it feels good in the moment to watch one more episode of whatever is my current netflix binge, because it feels like “found time” in a busy day.  That’s not “intuitive,” it’s impulsive. And then I develop a terrible domino effect of fatigue, crankiness and more bad sleep.   I want to learn to internalize early sleep because I know it will serve me the next day, because I FEEL it will serve me the next day.  And that also means turfing the electronics out of my bed.

The same applies to food.  I’m not a terrible eater, but I have a particularly mindless habit of snacking after dinner and before bedtime.  This doesn’t even feel good in an emotional way in the moment — it’s a binge-y, mindless shoving of food into my mouth, like “oh I have ice cream, I can eat it.” And then I wake up feeling full and gross. And — I will admit this bugs me even while I don’t want it to — while this didn’t used to have a significant effect on my weight, in my 50s, it does.  I feel thicker and slower and not like myself, and my clothes don’t fit well — even as I’m happy with my strength and my capacity to move.

I have tried making “rules” — no snacking after 8 pm — but I always “fail,” and then just put it out of my mind and repeat the pattern.  I think I know now how to set a goal around this that isn’t about “did you eat tortilla chips on Tuesday night after 8 pm?” but rather “are you in touch with how these tortilla chips will make you feel emotionally and in your body?”

I don’t know if this qualifies as “intuitive eating” the way other people use the term — but it works for me.

So my 2019 goals?

  1. Continue working out almost every day, with the overall goal of 300 workouts in 2019 again, if that makes sense for my body as the year unfolds.
  2. Develop a more mindful relationship with snacking.
  3. Develop a more mindful relationship with sleeping and bedtime electronics, with a concrete goal of early bedtime with an actual physical book instead of electronics at least once a week to start with.

These may not be super “SMART” as goals — but they meet what I want to evolve.  And I’m ready for them.  Do you have 2019 goals?



Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto and writes here regularly twice a month.  This photo is Cate on the best hike in the world on New Year’s Day, on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Aus.  



If you want to participate in a “219 in 2019” challenge, one of the people who was in the 3 month fitness challenge Tracy, Christine and I facilitated last fall has created a Fit Feminist version of the challenge on facebook.  New members are welcome — if you want to join, please leave a note in the comments!





Riding in Victoria, Australia, in the heat

“There’s a heatwave in Australia!” People in Canada kept posting heat warnings for me on facebook, in between all of their posts about cross-country skiing and snow tubing. As I rode into Port Albert today, my final stop, it was 42 C — 107F. Most of my ride this morning, I was also fighting a powerful wind on a fairly busy highway, with no verge.

It was my 6th day of cycling from Melbourne east, more or less along the coast. I posted a little bit earlier about the first day or so, and about my 108 sun salutations on Christmas morning overlooking the sea. I don’t know why I decided I wanted to do this, exactly, or how I landed on Victoria. I just got it in my head that I wanted to do this, and cycling a notable distance like Sydney to Melbourne was too long for the time I had, and some people I knew like Melbourne, and a bike hire company for this region was the first one that came up in the google when I was searching. (Yes, this truly is how measured and well-researched a lot of my traveling is).

The bike hire company does tours, and they also have an app that lets you plan your own trip, and they will help with advice about where to stay. There’s also a series of old rail trails that have been turned into bike trails, which seemed sort of fun. So I put some time in Melbourne up front, and a road trip to the coast west of Melbourne for the last part of my trip, and stuck about a week of self-supported cycling into the middle. And rode from the centre of Melbourne to a tiny coastal village called Port Albert, with a pause to stay in a nice place for two nights for Christmas. (Which I spent riding to and then lounging on a glorious surf beach).

Here’s the thing: I was absolutely happy. But only about 25 km of the 287 or so km I rode were actually *enjoyable*. Getting out of Melbourne was beautiful along the waterfront but crowded with Sunday morning runners, and then the trails to the ferry dock to Phillip Island were hard to follow, beset with fences at every road, and very uneven. They would just … .disappear, and there was a lot of stopping and peering at my app. When I finally took to the road, there was no verge and a lot of fast-moving traffic.

My second day was short and again divided between a disappearing, soft trail and a slightly scary road. I stopped to enjoy the koala sanctuary, which was delightful — but the road was waiting for me again. And I missed the trail re-entrance at the big bridge and was genuinely anxious crossing with a big crosswind. Then just crossing the highway to get to the trail — really, a sidewalk shared with pedestrians — was scary.

My day “off” — riding to and from a nice beach — was again mostly trail, but with some ridiculously steep hills, with fences at the tops and bottoms. Unridable, and okay for pushing the bike without panniers, but impossible with it, digging my heels in while holding the heavy, awkward bike to keep it from crashing down. The fourth day retraced that route, then took me along a beautiful coast — first on a rail trail sifted over with deep soft sand, then on a slippery, hilly gravel road, then on a highway with no shoulder and speeding cars. Also, all the wind. And flies. I cut that day short at 50km — it was *plenty* considering how slowly I was going a lot of the time. My bike hire lady came and got me and drove me inland to a sleepy town for the night.

The next day was 98% rail trail — what I came for! — and not one moment of it was actually enjoyable riding for me. Hot, windy, soft and slippery pine needles under my wheels, finding myself going as slowly as 9km/hr with huge effort and then realize I’d had a long, indiscernible uphill. There was a delightful bakery at 10km where I got a scone and jam, and a sweet town at 35 km where I had banana bread and a conversation with a former park ranger who wanted to go to Canada to scout bears. “I love bears! See?” He showed me a necklace with a little cut out silver bear on it. He seemed lonely when I got on my bike and left.

Every time the rail trail crosses a road or a driveway, there is a gate to navigate, some to weave slowly around and some to open and close. There are signs to wait for stock to cross — cows are everywhere — and that means walking your bike through a fly-ridden patch of cow poo. Also, flies. Did I mention the flies? At one of these fences, I came across a couple out riding with a small terrier in a bike basket. “There’s a cow on the trail!” The man said. The cow and I ended up in a standoff for several minutes, until she decided I was acceptable to pass.

That day, I had pegged my lunch for at town at about 58 km, which had one small cafe. I got off the trail and rode up a baking hill to find it well and truly closed. I took myself back down to the general store and bought a banana, bottle of water, orange popsicle and a bag of potato chips. I ate my “lunch” standing beside my bike as two or three people came to the store, all of them getting out of cars and entering the store barefoot.

The final 12 km for the day were windy and hot and I kept hallucinating more cows or dogs on the trail that turned out to be tufts of grass. My destination that night was a “hotel motel” in a cross-roads village that had been very difficult to book, and which looked like it hadn’t actually been open since 1969. “Inquire at bottle shop,” the door said. “When bottle shop locked, come to pub,” the bottle shop said. In the pub, there were two guys who looked like they’d been there since 1979, arguing about how many people live in melbourne and watching horse racing on tv. Finally a young bartender came out, assured me there was indeed a room and gave me a key. I had a tiny “pot” of beer before taking myself to my cinderblock but clean room. The fish and chips in pub later were just fine, and the nice lady Tracy in the shop across the street gave me a good coffee and a cheese and tomato sandwich for breakfast.

My final day was short — around 30 km — and was mostly on a somewhat busy highway, again with no shoulder. Despite what Angela the bike hire lady had told me, it was pretty flat. But — windy. Oh. So. Windy, again with the gusty cross winds. It was also so hot that I stopped every 3 or so km to have a good drink. Finally, I turned off the highway — for 8 km of delightful riding. Flattish, not busy, good road, trees and shade. No cows, no fences.

My 287 km from Melbourne to Port Albert made a shorter trip than many that Ive done, but the riding was *hard*. And with cycling, knowing what it’s actually going to feel like under your feet, what the bike will feel like, what the wind and air will do – it’s hard to imagine. My original plan had me doing 100 on the last day and that would never have done. I think I would have actually died.

I was a little disappointed to find that there was no real swimable beach here, but at 42+ degrees, I’m not going to be sitting on a beach anyway. I have a very nice harbour view room in a little inn, and there is a restaurant at the end of the pier for dinner.

I don’t know how it’s possible that riding that is never actually pleasant is so enjoyable — it was slow, and the bike was ponderous, and while some of the terrain was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, a lot of it was farmland with cows and little hills and bales of hay that could have been England or France or Estonia or Ontario. Turns out I really hate riding on trails — I don’t like gravel and I don’t like soft dirt. They are slow and they unnerve me. I was hot, and my knee hurt, and while I tried to be super careful with the sunblock, I got a bit of a burn on the edge of my bikeshorts the first day that ended up doing that gross sweat blister thing. I banged my shin on the right pedal every time I stopped and put my foot down to navigate one of the fences. I got a cold sore from the sun.

But I was 100% happy — making my way across an unexpected landscape on my own steam, carrying what I need with me, knowing that I can do what I set out to do, weaving my way through a world of kind and helpful people — there’s serenity and power and quiet joy in that, along with the absolute decadence of having a small beer in the middle of the afternoon and a well-deserved nap, overlooking a jolly little harbour.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto when she’s not wandering the globe.


108 Sun Salutations on Christmas Morning

This morning — Christmas morning — I got up at 630 and took my yoga mat out to the hill at the edge of my hotel, overlooking a north-facing bay at Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia. As the sun grew warmer and the world around me started to wake up, I did 108 sun salutations.

I’d had the idea of 108 sun salutations in my head for a while. Last winter, Tracy inspired me by doing this on the edge of her sailboat. And just before I left Toronto, one of my yoga teachers invited us to come and do 108 sun salutations in candlelit silence for the solstice. I left for Australia before the solstice, but I carried the idea with me, to mark a moment.

While I was in Melbourne, I impulsively bought a lightweight yoga mat at lululemon. (As I said on IG, Melbourne is like Toronto and Vancouver smushed together, but sort of in a dream. There was a lulu 400 m from my hotel). I knew it was kind of an idiotic thing to do — for this part of my trip, I’m on my BIKE, carrying everything with me. The minimalist rule certainly doesn’t include a 3mm mat.

But once I get an idea in my head, it kind of lodges there. Even as I pulled other extraneous stuff out of my panniers and left them in a plastic bag at my hotel, the yoga mat stayed. For this exact moment.

See that pokey thing there? That’s my yoga mat. Also? That’s a heatwave.

The reasoning behind the 108 sun salutations is one of those slightly fuzzy “sacred” history things, one of those culturally questionable aspects of yoga that doesn’t bear too close scrutiny. To wit:

• There are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to and from Anahata, the heart chakra.

• There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.

It’s also true that Buddhist prayers tend to be repeated 108 times — I did see that in Bhutan and Myanmar.

(In a related tangent, I read earlier on this trip in the excellent book 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret that essentially, what we think of as modern sun-sign astrology was invented in the 1930s to mark Princess Margaret’s birth, and then was copied by other newspapers. More “sacredness” with no real footing. But I digress).

All of that said, 108 repeats of suryanamaskar appealed to me. It’s a feat, and I like a good feat. It involves counting, which appeals to the completist in me. And it feels ritualistic enough to give me a long, meditative practice to mark the things that are important about this year, and the things I want to dwell in about myself.

So I took me and my painfully toted mat out to the hill, and practiced for about 75 minutes, while the smell of bacon crept out from the kitchen, a woman and a child came out to get Santa gifts from a car, another woman came out holding the hand of a child in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Pure blue sky, tranquil bay.

I did sets of ten, counting out loud and listening to a gently guided meditation from my own meditation teacher on my headset. After each set, I paused and had a drink of water, surveyed my body, wrote a little notch on a pad. After 55, I did a bit of child’s pose and contemplated my body. And my will.

It wasn’t a comfortable practice — the ground was a bit uneven, and I got a grass stain on my new mat. Flies came out with the sun and twitched at me, and a ladybug crawled on me and my mat. I had to move the mat as the sun got hotter. And most of all, it was HARD to stay focused. I alternated between step and hop out of downward, dog, noted that only about 5% of my upward dogs were in true flow. My hamstrings still ached at the end after all my riding. I really faltered through the 9th set, feeling it went on forever.

But from the inside out, I felt whole. The last part of the meditation was gratitude. I was fully present in the final 8 postures, and I got to be fully present to my gratitude for all of my people, for my body, for my work, for the life that lets me stand on top of this hill on the edge of the Indian Ocean on Christmas morning.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is sending holiday light to everyone from the Southern Hemisphere.