Why Yin?

peppermint patty dancingWe’ve had a weirdly warm September here in Toronto, but with some truly beautiful days.  A few inspired me to get outside and move my body — I went for a random solo 100km bike ride on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year, and Kim and I got out for a 75 ride together, finally (Hi kim!).  And I few times, I managed a couple of those short runs where everything works that make me feel like Peppermint Patty dancing.  (Or doing aerobics — who knew Peppermint Patty had a fitness video?  The world is indeed full).

But — as Sam has written about, September grinds a bit hard on me.  I’ve had a ton of tiring work to do, including a four day intensive I teach in, and a few quick work trips that tuckered me out.  So although I shoved a few workouts in here and there, and managed to get to spinning a couple of times, I just felt tired all the time.  And most of the time, when I was working out, it was either a horrible slog or I’d rev up suddenly and madly and end up overdoing it.  Off balance, a little?

Last week, I was in London (Ontario) for a two day work trip, and I was on my own after my work finished.  It was another glorious sunny day, and I went for a 5K run down on the multi-use path by the river.  It should have been delightful… but it was just… a plod.  I stopped more than I should have, and was sort of vaguely conscious that things just didn’t feel… right.

Earlier that day I’d had the instinct that maybe I needed some yoga, so I’d signed up for a Moksha hot yoga yin class at a studio I’d never been to before.  (Tip:  sign up and pay in advance, because I sure didn’t feel like going after my bleh 5K run).  After my run, I changed my shorts, swiped off the sweat, and grabbed a hotel towel.  I walked over to the studio, through a mostly nice, somewhat sketchy park.

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A woman wearing pristine white yoga clothes doing eye of the needle pose

Yin is basically a form of yoga that focuses on connective tissues, where after a warm up (in this class, we did a series of sun salutations and warrior poses for about 20 minutes), you hold a few postures for a long time.  (These tend to be the stretchy deep postures like twists or pigeon, not balancing or strength postures).  I’ve done yin a few times before, but I tend to put it in the “I should do this more” category instead of the “I am actually doing this” category.  It seems like a lot of effort to find my yoga matt, pay $20 and go lie down on the floor in someone else’s studio for an hour or so when I could just lie down on my own living room floor.

Except, of course, I never lie down on my own living room floor.

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Cate with messy hair and a certain … glow… after a 5k run and hot yin class

As soon as I sank down on the mat I paid $2 to rent, I listened to what I was feeling.  For the first time in weeks, I let myself notice that the bottoms of my feet hurt.  My hips were tight and sore.  My calves were almost knotted. I used a strap to pull my leg straight up to stretch out my hamstring and it was as taut as an overtuned viola string.  The hot room loosened me up, and I still couldn’t fully stretch out my legs without them yipping at me like a tiny angry dog.  My neck was tight and my big toe and thumb — both showing early osteo-arthritis — downright hurt.

How had I not noticed how much everything ached?

I’m not gonna lie here.  This was not a comfortable class.  I focused on form in the vinyasas, and it was an effort. I wobbled in warrior.  The most basic backbend gave me that “eek I’m being strangled” feeling.   Even the simplest twist — legs one way, arms the other while lying on your back — was a challenge.  Very quickly into the class I realized that while I have been pushing my body through work, through travel, through workouts, through long days in shoes that make my knees hurt — I’ve been ignoring what’s happening under one layer of it.

I’m 52, and I’m really quite fit, and I’m working a lot… I’m tired.

I think, when I get busy, I have this quite phenomenal capacity to keep moving myself forward — I can do a LOT of work and switch gears quickly, I can juggle many things.  I can push myself through a hot 100km ride on sheer will.  But I can easily stop paying attention to the next layer underneath — both physically and emotionally.  When I’m pushing myself through a busy life, I stop stretching and I stop breathing.  And when I start listening, I notice the soreness beneath.

And all of those tuckered out, bickering connective tissues are a built in alarm system telling me “do something different or something is going to break.”  The last time I ignored that alarm system I ended up training for a marathon through a grindingly askew hip/IT-band/knee/calf system, and hurt my knee irrevocably.  Then, I put a postit on my bathroom mirror that said “listen to your body.”

Lying on that mat in yin class, my body squawked loudly.  More stretching, more sleep, more care, please.

Okay.  More yin, I think.

What are your signals that it’s time to lie on the floor and stretch?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto.  She works in education and sustainable strategic change, primarily in the space of academic healthcare.  She writes for this blog on the second Friday of every month, as well as at other random times when she feels compelled to yammer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connections, gratitude and breathing deep

As Tracy and Nat both wrote about earlier, this weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving.  It’s my favourite holiday by far — it’s about food and community with no religious overlay or consumer frenzy, and it’s all centred in gratitude.

I formally celebrated by having 16 people for dinner on Monday, two of whom I’d never even met before — they were the important people of people who are important to me.  I loved that my nodes of people connected to other nodes of people.

I got a text Tuesday morning from one of my friends thanking me for “modeling community building.”  That touched me, and it made me think about all of the different communities I’m part of, what makes community, and why it’s important to our general well being. In my little invocation at the start of dinner on Monday, after acknowledging the history of the land we were on and the Indigenous peoples who were here before us,

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Food labels for the different dietary needs at my thanksgiving dinner

I said that I was so grateful to be in a room full of people who all care about the same things I care about. The world feels often fragile right now, and being surrounded by people who care about human connection, respecting inclusion and diversity (even in food preferences, lol!), and creating a more sustainable, loving world is a profoundly important part of feeling grounded.

Earlier in the weekend, I had another lovely experience of community building and being with people who both push my thinking and reassure me about the world.  On Saturday, I drove to Hamilton to go for a bike ride with Kim. We’d never met before in real life, but since we both started writing regularly for this blog a couple of years ago, we’ve orbited each other in social media and email. It was like we’d been friends forever — I pulled up to her beautiful new house, we got on our bikes, slogged up the escarpment (she was patient with my slow climbing), and then rode 75 mostly rural km through a truly glorious sunny day. We rode along, talking about cycling and families and mid-life legacy, and intersectionality and the feminist and decolonizing questions that we can’t seem to grapple with yet as a culture.  All while riding strong and making each other laugh.

This is what community is, and this is one of the important places to restore, build new energy.  People who care about the things we care about, people who ask and dwell in hard questions, people who open their hearts to the bigger world. This is where I dwell in gratitude.

How do you find gratitude, and what is its role in your life?

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Kim and Cate squinting into the sun halfway through a surprisingly warm and not-windy 75km

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works and ponders the world in Toronto.

Using the carrot app to reward movement

Sam wrote this morning about replacing her fitbit with a garmin and noted all the “ink that’s been spilt” on this blog about tracker apps.  I personally giggle constantly at the way Tracy hates counting steps but keeps getting drawn in.  But really, how much does step counting or any kind of tracking motivate us?

Like Sam and Tracy, I have a history of getting bedazzled by devices, as the tangle of charging cords on my desk attests to.  I like to keep track of things — I have annual running and riding distance targets Strava tracks for me, and last year, I really did make an effort in the last three days to hit my riding target (it helped that I was on a bike trip at the time).  I’m doing the “217 workouts in 2017” challenge on Facebook, and I find that if I go a couple of days without posting anything, I do get my butt out for a run or to the gym.  I have every intention of hitting my annual target there.  (I’m at 169).

So on a macro level, keeping track of my fitness seems to motivate me to Do Things. But even though my garmin that I wear all the time as a watch keeps track of my steps, I rarely find myself trying to make a particular target on a daily basis.  I like to see a high number if I happen to hit one by walking around a strange city, but it’s very rare for me to go downstairs and walk around the block if I haven’t hit my basic target by 9 pm.

IMG_9881That changed when the Carrot Rewards app came along.  Carrot is a partnership between the Public Health Agency of Canada, various health promotion agencies and private sector partners.  Basically, you pick the rewards you want — points for Air Canada miles, movie tickets, gas or Drop or More (which seem to be usable for things I don’t use) — and for every day you meet your step target, you “win” 2 points.  Once a week they send you little quizzes about health and wellness and you earn more points by answering them.   Mallory wrote about this when it first came out.

The Carrot app is wildly imperfect.  It counts steps by connecting either to your fitbit or health app on your phone, IMG_0408and at this point there are no links for garmin.  There are often huge discrepancies between what my garmin watch shows as my steps vs. my phone, with my watch showing usually 3000 – 4000 more steps per day.  I went for a run a couple of weeks ago and had my phone tucked into my hip belt, and my gait must have been too steady because the phone showed about 3km when my GPS tracked 8km.

And unlike some fitness trackers, Carrot doesn’t “convert” different activities to steps — I rode my bike 35 km around the city last Friday, but I didn’t meet my modest daily step goal.  My strava and garmin are linked to my apple health app on my phone, but the translation is imperfect — I have found that unless I sync my garmin twice a day (hard, because no bluetooth), the steps never show up retroactively on the carrot app.  And conversely, yesterday I went for a 100 km bike ride, and my phone app tracked a mysterious 201 km ridden, nearly 13000 steps (and 147 flights climbed, lol) vs. the 6500 steps on my watch.

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Apple health app yesterday — I did not ride 200 km!

In other words, the apple health app is wonky and the Carrot app is kind of merely notional.  If you are an avid and meticulous counter of steps, it will probably piss you off.  I can’t speak for androids, but the way the apple health tracks steps is buggy.  And — I love it.  I love to travel, and getting aeroplan points for doing what I do most days anyway gives me a tiny twinge of pleasure at the end of every day.  I love the extra boost I get from the weekly quizzes where I get to feel smug about knowing most of the answers, and then getting 5 – 10 aeroplan points.  And — unlike every other step tracker I’ve used — it actually motivates me to get up, leave my house at 9 pm and walk the additional 1500 or 2000 steps I might have missed earlier in the day.   Although I might get an ice cream cone on that walk :-).

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Me riding my bike ridiculously far yesterday on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year.  Note all the dead bugs on my forehead. 

 

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to this blog.  She lives and works in Toronto.  

How do you take care of yourself?

Throughout August, I flew across the country to facilitate focus groups related to reforms of the criminal justice system.  Each group was harrowing, reminding me with every sentence of all of the privilege I have — so many privileges, but especially of a life free of violence, a life of resources and strong communities and distance from the circumstances that create interwoven, multi-generational violence.

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The groups were important, and it was good work, but they were hard.  My job is to hold the space in a safe way while keeping the conversation moving, and I absorb a lot.  It’s hard to keep an eye on the clock and how the share of voice has been and whether we are getting through the questions while not wanting to interrupt a person sharing the raw story of a restorative justice meeting with her son’s killers “because they were the last people to see our son alive.”  Part of my job was to make it safe for everyone else to cry.  It’s good work, and I’m good at it, but it’s draining — and it hits me after I’m out of the room.

I was on the road for 16 days in total, and in the middle of that, I did the Triadventure, the annual fundraiser for the volunteer project in Uganda I’m the main director of.  As I wrote in a previous post, that involved helping lead the event as well as participating in some pretty significant physical activities.  It was stressful.

August exhausted me, on every level.  Everything I did was important, and it went well, mostly — but I was exhausted.  And being a giant introvert who is becoming even more introverted as I get older, exhaustion shows up for me in impatience and snippiness. For the most part, it stays out of my work, but travel time seems to be when I feel most raw.  I realized just how done I was when I got into a near altercation with a guy in the Porter lounge just before my last flight when he was watching a loud video with no headphones. With an edge in my voice, I asked him to stop.  “You sure have a lovely disposition,” he snarked, then left.  He was kind of an ass, but I had a moment of realization that most people weren’t as irritated by the world around them as I was feeling.

In the aftermath of that exchange, I thought about how many of my friends had asked me, when I was describing the intensity of the conversations I was leading and my frenetic schedule, “how are you taking care of yourself?” I had answered them in ways that seemed thoughtful and considered, but, I realized, inadequate.

IMG_9890I do many things to take care of myself that are familiar to readers of this blog. A big one, of course,  is exercise.  In Winnipeg, after a searing focus group at a hotel at the airport, I asked for a card to the hotel gym and ran hard for an hour before my flight.  In Vancouver, I took an extra day, went for a long run around the seawall, and took time to eat crabcakes with one of my favourite people at my favourite restaurant in the world. In Halifax, I made a little microholiday out of my half day off and rented a vintage bike to get around, ran along the waterfront, ate lobster and got to see the eclipse.  For my trip to Yellowknife, I went a day ahead of time because I’ve always wanted to go to the North, and I went for a deeply connecting solo hike about 25 km outside the city.  In Ottawa, I stayed with my sister, hung out with my nieces and went for a good solid run along the canal.

Beyond exercise, I did the things I know how to do when I’m traveling that keep me sort of grounded.  I stayed in Air BnBs in Halifax and Yellowknife, giving me an energizing sense of adventure about exploring different neighbourhoods and what it might feel like to live there, and making it easy to have simple breakfasts and lunch, feel relaxed in space that wasn’t a hotel.  More importantly, I stayed in different spaces and traveled on different flights from my clients.  I really like these clients, but I knew that adding dinners or cab rides where I needed to be “on” would drain me.

I also tried to travel in ways that were as comfortable as possible.  Diverting tv shows and novels on my ipad, carrying healthy but yummy snacks, using up my e-upgrades for the longer flights (there’s nothing like being joyfully surprised to get a pod in business class where you can actually stretch out and sleep for three hours).  Trying to get plenty of sleep, and using melatonin to help me out.

I did all the things “right” — mostly — there might have been a lot of twizzlers consumed on those flights — and I was still exhausted.  I finally hit a wall last weekend.  I took a four day weekend for Labour Day, and I barely left my house.  I binged some TV, napped, did a jigsaw puzzle, had good friends over for dinner and breakfast, got a haircut.  I did nothing physical until Monday, when I rode my bike down to the Leslie Spit and went for an easy run.  And yes, I did some work, writing the report for the focus groups on Labour Day so it wasn’t hanging over my head as I dived into September.

Why am I writing about this for the fitness blog?  Because I have been thinking a lot about what self-care means, when I did the “right” things and still ended up exhausted. And cranky, and resentful. And I am leading a good, full life — I don’t want to be walking through it with resentment.

As usual, September has burst through the gate like a bellowing bull, a steady stream of work I have to get on top of.  I don’t have time to sit still for too long.  But now I’m asking myself the same question my friends keep asking — how are you taking care of yourself? I think that means building in downtime, and looking at my calendar to deliberately leave empty time.  It also means saying no.

One of the biggest privileges of the life I lead is that I get to do a lot of good, meaningful work. The fact that it’s almost all important, almost all good, can make me forget that I don’t have to do it all.  I need to say no in a thoughtful way, and I need to preserve simple space in my calendar to just breathe, absorb, let things emerge.  And I can’t shove my weekends full of wonderful things either.

September always feels like the new year to me, and I like to make resolutions.  I think I have two right now:  intentionally, thoughtfully saying no to things; and focusing on being able to do my work with real presence.  My work is only as good as the me I bring to it.  Physical fitness and health, time in nature, sleep — these are all a big part of that — and so is being intentional about what I choose to do.

How do you take care of yourself?  And what resolutions do you have?

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and rides in Toronto. Mostly.

Riding from the inside out

Last Saturday night, around a campfire, my friend and business partner presented me with a framed certificate of appreciation for the work I’ve been doing as volunteer director of Nikibasika, a youth development program in Uganda.  This campfire was the heart centre of our three day Triadventure, our annual fundraiser for the project.  I couldn’t stop crying.

The Triadventure is a kind of “choose your own adventure” athletic event — we take a bus up to a kids’ camp on Friday, where we run and/or swim (whatever distance we want, really), and play a charades-like game, then in the morning, call the kids in Uganda.  Then we paddle 11 kilometres on pretty big lakes, have lunch at a provincial park, then ride bikes 25 km to a small campground where we camp for the night.  The next morning, we ride our bikes 125 km back to Toronto.

I will be honest:  it’s a stressful event for me.  Along with doing some fairly considerable physical things, I feel the intense responsibility of the event going well, being meaningful and safe and fun for the community.  I feel incredible stress about raising the money.  With a tiny group of people, I made a personal commitment to a group of orphaned and vulnerable children 10 years ago whom I now know intimately, for whom I’m auntie and parent and friend and sponsor .  Every year, being able to raise the money feels precarious.  The project will end when the initial 52 kids are all grown and launched, but that’s still a few years away.

We have achieved amazing things in a decade — this teensy video shows some of the movement — and this one shows some of the “kids'” voices when we were there in May.  But over a decade, the core group of people has changed and evolved, relationships have come and go (I had a Triad-rooted romance and break-up), and the participants have gotten older and either have become less physically able or had kids or distractions — for a lot of reasons, less able to do the event.  It’s been hard to keep the momentum up, and this year was particularly hard.

 

One of the long-time community members — David — came with us to Uganda for the first time in May.  He is an amazing, open, loving, positive and creative person.

IMG_9570Over a beer after one of our days with the kids, we challenged him to recruit some new people to the Triadventure.  And he came through, with a team of seven people from a company he works with.

Along with David’s new people, we also invited people with kids to participate — either in the full athletic events or in a new one-night family event we created on Saturday.  It was amazing to have the kids there.

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Saturday had messy weather — we had to stop the canoe segment early because of crazy big waves, and we had some logistical issues where we ended up waiting at a marina for too long for rides to the next lunch park, as a storm circled around us and the crew and families at the park where we were supposed to have lunch got soaked and blown.  In contrast, we were dry and bored.

Those of us in charge had a bit of a tussle over how to proceed — whether we moved crew and families out of the lunch park, where they were getting wet and windblown, and therefore skipped the afternoon 25 km cycle — or whether we pushed crew to wait for us so we could ride.  As the only leader riding that day, I got bossy — not my best self — and insisted on riding.  I wasn’t super graceful about it, but something in me knew we needed to ride.

We got to the lunch park eventually, crammed down lunch in the micro-climate storm, commiserated with my brother-in-law who was crewing and had broken his toe moving a picnic table, and got on our bikes.

It was a good ride.  No rain.  One family rode with their kids, including a 10 year old who had broken her wrist the week before.  One couple — who met on the Triadventure — handed off their baby so one of them could ride.  Everyone simmered down. We arrived at camp and had a peaceful evening, with the campfire and our conversation about what gives us meaning resetting us all.

As we were talking at the campfire, one of the young women David had recruited mentioned that she was particularly moved by the stories of the kids in Uganda because she had a similar story.  I noted it and didn’t say anything.

Sunday morning, the long ride.  I was still feeling icky from how I’d handled the decision-making the day before, and raw in the way this event always makes me feel.  It’s a lot to hold, our commitment to these kids, the need to make and be part of community.  I rode most of the first 28 km leg by myself, finding some grounding in the best part of the long ride, the trees and country roads and lake and Sunday morning calm.  Ontario is very green this summer.

I volunteered to sweep the second leg, and Joh offered to sweep with me.  It’s the hilliest leg, and people struggle. It was sunny but windy.  Very quickly, I realized that the young woman who’d made the comment at the campfire the night before about having a hard story was fighting her way through this ride.

Joh was wind-breaking for another young woman, and I found myself riding alone with this woman I’ll call Elle.  We started talking and I asked her about her story.  She said she was happy to share, and told me about losing both her parents and her best friend before the age of 25. Her parents were immigrants and she has no other family here. She laughed a bit and said “I’ve really only just started to deal with my grief, so I cry all the time.”

She was riding a hybrid and wearing running shoes.  It was a hard road, and she was fierce. I kept promising her she’d get through and she climbed every hill, incredulous and protesting.  “YOU PROMISED THERE WERE NO MORE HILLS!”   She’d never ridden more than 60 km before. We made it to lunch and I hugged her.

Someone else swept the third leg, and Elle was last.  She came in in tears.  We made it clear that it was okay for her and two other people who were finding it hard to stop.  No one wanted to stop.

Joh and I set out for the last leg and Elle was right behind us.  “You guys can go ahead,” she said.  I knew the city leg could do your head in, and Joh and I, without conferring, both said “no, we’re with you.”  If you can trudge on a bike, Elle was trudging.  We encouraged and just rode, not too slowly, but always making sure she was with us.

After a while, Joh suddenly said “100km!”  I said “Elle, do you realize you’ve just ridden 100km?”

She laughed out loud.  “No fucking way!  I have never done that.”  If determination was a colour, it was bright purple, and it surrounded her.  She sped up.  “I can’t believe I’m keeping up with you!”

“Look ahead,” I said — “we’re catching up to people. Want to pass them?”

“I can’t,” she said.  Five minutes later, we were right behind them.  “Want to pass them?” I said again.  “YES!” she yelled.  She stood up on her pedals.  “If I can do this I can do anything.”

We passed three of our riders, and laughing and protesting, made it to our marshalling point at the Dairy Queen.  With my mouth full of chocolate dip, I asked David to lead the group to the finish line, and asked Elle to be right behind him.

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Cate, in desperate need of more sunblock, finishes the 125km ride

We only had 18 athletes this year, and we raised just over $140,000 of our $145,000 budget. That’s magic.  And what happened to Elle as she rode that course was the same kind of magic. This event, this project, can’t be explained with logic — its truth is in the determination to do something that surpasses what you already know to be true, with what happens when you connect with elemental humanity, when you push yourself from the inside.

 

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and rides in Toronto.  Nikibasika is still short of its goal for this year, so if you can possibly make a tax-deductible-in-Canada donation, it will go to a fantastic cause.  Everyone in Canada is a volunteer and all the money goes straight to the project. Click here: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/nikibasika-and-triadventure-2017/

Resilience

IMG_8480I was traveling for half of July, and a big chunk of that was a bike trip in Latvia and Estonia. The trip was heady and lovely for so many reasons — new space to explore, days and days by myself on the bike, pushing myself past comfort, coping with wind and boredom, feeling the strength of new culture.  When I wasn’t on the bike, walking and walking and walking and running in Riga, in Tallinn, in St. Petersburg.

There is huge privilege and joy in discovering a new place from the saddle or from your running shoes.  You start to make it yours, and even the embarrassing trip-and-fall on a construction thingy in front of a pile of tourists just becomes punctuation, part of the adventure.

This kind of active travel also creates empirical physical accomplishment — mileage in the saddle adding up on my strava app, one or two entries ticked off every day in my “217 workouts in 2017” facebook group.  The mindful presence of moving my body through a landscape blended smoothly with the concrete physical listing of what I’d done — it was a Thing, this bike trip.

And then I came back, to a hot steamy Toronto and a pile of work, and my everyday step counts and my entries in my “217 in 2017” log ground to a halt. It’s easy for me to move a lot when I’m traveling, when even dragging my bag a kilometre and a half to the train station has an overlay of adventure.  Then I get home, and it’s sultry muggy summer, and I’m sitting at my desk with no time for the 75km ride I yearn for, forcing myself out for uninspiring runs every second day, every step muffled and boring.  Trying to remember what it felt like to have activity built into my days.  Activity punctuated by a steady stream of amazing meals.

Ah, the post holiday let down, where I’m making toast and peanut butter again, eating it at my desk, trying to remember how strong my body felt just a week ago.

A week after I got home, I was on another plane, this time for work.  A mini cross country trip to do some focus groups with victims of crime.  My job on this project is to hold the space for people telling the rawest of possible stories, stories of murdered and trafficked children, one woman sharing the most profound experience I’ve ever heard of meeting with her son’s killers after they’d been convicted.  Truth, reconciliation with the worst imaginable experience in this life, the most open humanity ever.

As I did this work, the reason to run came flooding in.  Sometimes running and walking far and riding are adventure, are exploration.  Sometimes they’re discipline, intentional building of strength. And sometimes, they’re elemental, a deep need to have feet in contact with ground to drum into me a deep reminder of my own humanity.

On Tuesday, I politely requested a key to the tiny gym at the airport hotel in Winnipeg after my meeting, and stuffed a hard treadmill workout, mile and half-mile speed repeats, into the time before my next flight.  Then Wednesday, in Vancouver, I coordinated my meetings and my life to run around the seawall in Stanley Park.

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I’ve done this run many times.  I lived in BC for a year a little while ago, and have been lucky enough to be drawn to Vancouver for work a couple of times a year.  It’s the perfect run, a 12 km loop from my hotel, no stops except those you choose to make.  (And one annoying TV shoot at the beginning).  Just you, the seawall, English Bay, the thread of others making their way around on foot or on the slightly separate bike path.

Vancouver is suffering right now, smog hanging in the air from the wildfires across the interior.  The air quality was a bit challenging, and my feet hurt as much as they did in my uninspired runs in Toronto earlier in the week.  The usual deep August blue and crispness of the seascape were missing.  But it was my feet touching down on the seawall, my body moving through the landscape that makes me feel alive.  Feeling privilege of my community, the work I get to do, the life I have.

As I was running, I was re-running some of the previous forays around the seawall. Striding with my dear friend J I don’t see enough of. A walking date I went on with someone I met online when I first moved to BC, just to have someone to talk to.  A kind person, but far too long a walk for someone you haven’t met before and don’t have much to talk about with.  Later, wandering the seawall with my camera and a telescope with an ornithologist/wildlife photographer I was with for a couple of years, crawling on my belly to get a shot of a great blue heron with his fancy lens, pleased when he chortled his approval at my willingness to get dirty.

Running in new places gives me mastery of a new space in a way nothing else does.  But running in a familiar place also gives me illumination.  I’m not the person anymore who would sort of passively agree to go on a long, inescapable walk with someone I’m not sure I want to spend that much time with.  I’m not the person who lets myself get enveloped in other people’s passions.

I know my passions, and I’ve organized my life to live them as much as I can.  I’m very open to new things — goat yoga, anyone? wow, Uzbekistan sounds great! — but I’m also old enough, seasoned enough, to know the things that ground me.  And I’ve learned to do the work that makes the space for them. A long solo walk, and saying a gentle no to company if I really want to be alone. A slightly too hard 12K run I don’t truly have time for. A pounding music-infused treadmill workout when I’ve absorbed other people’s pain.  Asking a friend to meet an hour later for dinner to carve out the time for the 70km bike ride I need.

IMG_9345The Cate who walked the seawall in June 2009 with a stranger is a different person than the Cate who ran it in August 2017. I don’t know if I realized how much until it was spelled out in every footstep of this run.  So much of my work is with people who demonstrate incredible resilience, compassion, who strive for it.  I don’t know if I’d realized how much I’d been learning about resilience for myself doing that work.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede. Cate lives in Toronto, where she works in the space of socially accountable education and change in healthcare and other public spheres. She regularly blogs here on the second Friday of every month, as well as when she has something more to say.

Self-guided cycle touring:  10 Practical Tips

Yesterday I posted a bit of a summary about the 7 day bike trip I did last week from Riga to Tallinn, in Latvia/Estonia. Sam also posted my updates from every day on the trip as I did it. Today I wanted to just capture a few practical aspects of doing a self-guided, pre-planned trip on your own, based on my experiences and the way I personally like to travel.

1. Decide if you want to bring your bike or rent one. I don’t have the perfect bike for touring, so I have always rented. This takes care of the “what to do with the bike after you’re done riding” question, but also means you’re on a bit of an unknown quantity. I alleviate some of that by bringing my own seat, pedal and helmet.

2. Decide if you are willing to camp or not. Camping gives you more options for sleeping, but of course is its own logistical ball of worms. I’ve done it, but not alone. If you aren’t going to camp, consider booking accommodations in advance, especially in rural or busy areas. I had the company I rented the bike from book my accommodation, and I was very glad of it — there were at least two nights I wouldn’t have had a place to stay, otherwise. And even in places where there are more options, I personally don’t love arriving in a place at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and beginning the search for a place to sleep.

3. Get comfortable with basic bike mechanics. I am not great at bike repair, and that’s been one of the biggest reasons I have limited my cycle touring in the past. I did a fantastic one day hands on tutorial back in April, and I felt so much more relaxed because of it. I also brought my own tools. I didn’t end up having to use any of my knowledge except to slightly adjust my gear cable but I felt much better knowing I COULD if I had to. (I also did a wilderness first aid course, and ended up helping a woman in the airport who fell and hurt herself as I left). So yeah, prepared!

4. Test your panniers out at home. I bought new MEC 20L Aquanot panniers for this trip because I’d had trouble with the mounting hooks the last time I’d used my older ones for a longer trip. The mounts on these were super easy, and worked well. I chose these because they were also waterproof, but they didn’t squish down quite as much as I wanted them to. I would probably look for slightly smaller panniers next time to reduce the possibility of carrying too much. Which brings me to…

5. Seriously think through what you want to carry with you. I had more than I really wanted, especially shoes, because I had another week in Tallinn and St. Petersburg at the end of the trip. I also had a super heavy lock they gave me with the bike, and wished I’d brought my own lighter lock instead especially since I was in rural areas and almost every hotel had a place to leave my bike inside. I was too compliant to refuse this one when I got the bike, but wish I had — I also lost the only key, so it was a useless piece of heavy hardware in the end. I also chose to travel without any camera except my phone for the first time in 10 years, and it was freeing.

6. Assume it will be cold, and be pleasantly surprised. For someone who travels a lot, I have a weird inability to predict what clothes I’ll want when I’m packing. Layers are my friend. I start with cycling jerseys and shorts and work around that. This time I also had a tank jersey with a built in bra, a winter running shirt, a cycling waterproof coat, a wind jacket and a quilted vest. I wore every layer but the tank at various points. I also had a pair of soft pyjama-like yoga pants and my trusty keens sandals for off the bike and these have become my new traveling uniform.

7. Have access to data. I use the “roam like home” feature on my phone that gives me access to my home data plan while I’m in Europe or Asia for $10/day. This is invaluable to me for staying connected to people when I’m traveling alone and more important, for google maps. Which I needed almost every day at least once, especially to find hotels in cities.

8 Be willing to get a little lost. The bike tour company gave me really good, clear trip notes, along with good maps. There are cycling routes (though not designated cycling trails) all across the Baltics, and they are reasonably well signed. But landmarks and roads and construction change, and pretty much every day I ended up using a combination of the trip notes, paper maps and google maps to find my way. It was particularly important for me to let go of the idea that the mileage number on my bike computer should be completely aligned with the trip notes, because there were variances. I had to let go of feeling like I was following the instructions “step by step” and learn to look around, figure out directions, and get a sense of where I was. (This was hardest in the towns!)

9. Let go of pre-conceived notions of speed. When I’m on my road bike, I average about 25 km/hour, more on a good day. A lot of the time with the weighted cross bike in a headwind, I was looking at something like 13 to 15 km/hour. This can play head games with me and I feel like I’m falling behind or push myself too hard. I needed the computer to be able to roughly match up distance with maps, but I stopped paying attention to anything but indicators of how far I was in my day’s journey.

10. Clipping in helps. I’ve documented many times before how I’ve stupidly tried to use my road bike cleats on tours (spoiler alert: they don’t work for rough terrain when you need to be able to pedal unclipped sometimes), and I finally invested in a not-pricey pair of mountain biking shoes with spd clips. I have two sets of spd pedals that flip to flat sides, and I tested out both before I left. I had some anxiety about clipping in with a loaded bike, and I find spds harder to scoot in and out of than my cleats, but they worked great. On the third day, I lost a screw out of one of the spds, and happened to be in one of the only towns where I could replace them. I liked the new ones so much better that I replaced the other one as well. I was very grateful for the way the weight transfers with clipped in shoes, especially in the wind.

Finally — and I can’t stress this enough — cheese sandwiches are your friend. Most of the places I was cycling, there was literally no place for lunch and rarely a food store. Most breakfasts were continental style, so I got in the habit of making a cheese sandwich on the EXCELLENT (I cannot stress enough how excellent) Baltic bread every day, and eating this at about the 30 km point in my ride, with dried apricots I’d brought from home. The food on my trip was fantastic, but lunch was not reliably available. I also brought some powerbar type snack thingies but something that felt like a real “lunch” was an important motivator for me.

So that’s my survival guide… what things do you find most helpful when cycle touring?