Book Reviews · fitness · Rowing

A Pearl in the Storm, #CurrentlyReading

In a Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean Tori Murden McClure tells the story of rowing across the Atlantic ocean, solo, with no motor and no sail.

I loved her story and I recently found out that she’s the neighbour of a feminist philosopher who reads the blog. I’m going to interview her email and post here so if you have any questions for this remarkable woman, pls send them my way.

There’s a lot to love about the book. I’ve been reading it pretty much non-stop. I love the way she weaves in her life story with her harrowing journey in a very small boat amid some intense weather and big waves. Early chapters also tell the story of McClure’s earlier adventures. She was also the first woman to ski to the South Pole.

Also of note, especially for the academics out there. You might relate to McClure’s discussion of her decision to swap her life boat for books to take on the journey. I also loved the food recommendations she received. If you’re starting in good health, it’s okay to eat like a teenager for 3 months. The peanut M and Ms came on the trip.

I found Tori Murden McClure’s story of growing up defending her disabled brother from abuse at school more harrowing than the tale of rowing across the Atlantic. Parts of that story needed a content warning in a way the rowing adventure did not. The assualt story in Chapter 6 was especially difficult to read.

In a different way it was also hard to read the author’s account of the conflict between her early athleticism and being a girl. I suspect many blog readers will relate.

The book is also soon to be a musical!

See ‘ROW’: A Musical Odyssey Of One Woman’s Solo Boat Trip Across The Atlantic.

Tori Murden McClure, A Pearl in the Storm

You might also enjoy watching the TED talk A song for my hero, the woman who rowed into a hurricane: “Singer-songwriter Dawn Landes tells the story of Tori Murden McClure, who dreamed of rowing across the Atlantic in a small boat — but whose dream was almost capsized by waves the size of a seven-story building. Through video, story and song, Landes imagines the mindset of a woman alone in the midst of the vast ocean. “

aging · birthday · cycling · fitness

What are the rules for birthday rides!

A white coaster bike on a street under a sign that reads “Follow that dream”

I’m a member of a Facebook group for cyclists over 50. There’s a great group ethos of supporting one another however far and fast we’re riding. We even seem to have, knock on wood, laid the e-bike controversy to rest. It’s also the most geographically and racially diverse cycling group I’ve ever been a member of. 10/10 if you’re a cyclist over 50, who uses Facebook, recommend.

One of the common things that members post are photos of birthday rides. I love them. But what I don’t love are all the people who seem very insecure about what counts. Like, someone says “I’m 68 and I want to do a birthday ride. Is it okay if I do in kilometers or does it have to be in miles?”

Just today someone asked if it still counted if they did their birthday ride on a trainer because it’s cold and snowy in their part of the world on their birthday.

Can we scream together?

In response someone recently posted this lovely list of ‘birthday bike ride rules.’

Rules for birthday ride

  1. You must do your age or not.
  2. You must do it on your birthday or not.
  3. You must do it in one continuous ride or not.
  4. You can’t substitute kilometers for miles or not.

These rules must be strictly adhered to or not.

Next month I’m turning 57 and likely I’ll gather up a group of friends and ride 57 km but I also hope that if I make it to 80 while still riding bikes I won’t feel pressured to ride 80 km. Any distance, at any age, is a celebration of life and movement.

Happy Birthday and have a great ride!

Bike with a basket of flowers
canoe · fitness

Decolonizing your canoe trip

Canadian Canoe Museum

Sarah and I have a big canoe trip planned for the end of July, our longest back country canoe camping trip yet. You know that if you read last Monday’s blog post.

Blog readers also know settler Canadians are grappling with the discovery of unmarked graves and unearthing the bodies of Indigenous children who were killed at residential schools across the country. You can read Cate’s post on cancelling Canada Day for more. We didn’t celebrate Canada Day in my house and we’ve been thinking a lot about what’s ethically required of us as settlers on this land.

Since I’ve also been thinking about our canoe trip–that very Canadian activity–I’ve been thinking about the connection between recreational canoeing and camping, and land ownership and decolonization.

I guess I started to think about recreational wilderness, protected lands, parks and what that means when I attended a talk at the University of Waterloo the year before the pandemic–checks calendar–that’s 2019. The speaker was Kyle Whyte and his talk was called “Not Done Critiquing Wilderness Areas, National Parks & Public Lands.” He’s a professor at the University of Michigan and more recently also a member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council to the White House. Whyte is Potawatomi and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

After listening to Whyte’s talk I began to wonder about the ways I enjoy the land and the water while back country canoe camping. Aside from the very obvious and glaring issues of whose land the parks are on, that talk made me think about the way settler paddlers treat parks as pristine nature museums. We don’t see ourselves as part of nature. Instead we’re visiting it with the ideal of leaving it exactly as we found it. There’s no cutting trees, no fishing, no hunting. Instead we carry in dehydrated meal packages and carry out our garbage.

The take away lessons from Kyle White’s talk were more about policy and models of shared park management, less about individual behavior.

So I was happy to see some personal, rather than policy, advice on how to responsibly enjoy back country canoe camping as a settler Canadian.

Here’s the advice shared on Facebook by the Canadian Canoe Museum.

Learn the Indigenous language of the territory in which you’re paddling. What is the language? Learn some basic phrases. What are the names of the rivers and lakes you’re paddling on in those languages?

Know the treaty territory you’re paddling through. Print the text of the treaty, read it on your trip, and share it with other paddlers.

Build relationships.

Take action.

Learn the history and the stories

“The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.”
― Thomas King

“You have to be careful with the stories you tell. And you have to watch out for the stories that you are told.”
― Thomas King, 

Both quotes are from The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative.

So when I report back from our canoe trip, I’m also hoping to report back with some details about history, language, and story.

body image · tbt

The unexpected advantages of growing up chubby (#reblog, #tbt)

After yesterday’s post about why focusing on ‘results’ and looking fit isn’t the best motivation for working out, Nicole and I got chatting about why this hits some people harder than others. I shared this older post about the advantages of never really being inside the beauty ideal. Here it is as our Throwback Thursday post….

“I have a fairly robust self image despite being significantly overweight. How did I come by this? It’s puzzled me a bit so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.

It’s not that I think my body is perfect, far from it. I see the flaws: footballer knees, a soft lower belly from pregnancy, wide calves, short legs/long torso… What I mean is that when I look in the mirror, I usually smile. I see my stretch marks even (hard to be pregnant three times without getting some) with affection.

I used to think that body acceptance would be easier if you were closer to society’s ideals for women. Now I see that isn’t so. Doing the Lean Eating program I got to know some very small women with some serious body image issues. I found some of the self-loathing pretty difficult to be around and in the end I chose a smaller subset of that community as allies and friends….”

Read more here.

camping · canoe · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

How long is the ideal vacation? Or, Sam heads into the woods again

I shared this to my Facebook page the other day, mostly because I noticed that my upcoming canoe camping trip is the exact length of the ideal vacation!

I was amused at the heated debate that ensued among friends. You never know what’s going to bring out competing views and strong opinions!

There were the stereotypical American friends who claimed never to have taken a vacation that long. There were the Europeans who spoke up in favour of their two months off.

To be clear, I do take a month’s vacation each year. Eight days isn’t my only vacation. But I like to take time off throughout the year rather than in one big chunk.

For me, the ideal length of any one chunk of vacation really varies. If I am flying somewhere, especially somewhere with a time difference, I like to allow some time as part of the trip to recover when I get there and when I get home so it’s usually two weeks all told but not all of that is the vacation itself. I schedule time to decompress, do laundry, and get caught up on sleep when I get back. Getting sensible in my middle age!

My biking trips south are usually a week off work but bookended by weekends for travel.

My best bang for buck vacation time wise are my canoe camping trips. Even my four day back country canoe camping trips feel like real vacation. There are no phones, no email , lots of natural beauty, and lots of movement. I sleep very well! I come back rested and sometimes feel like I’ve been off for weeks.

This is my longest back country canoe camping trip yet. Sarah is carefully planning all the things so that we have food but not too much food and we’re being very weight conscious because of portages. A couple of years ago we invested in ultralight weight camping gear so we could keep doing this even with my knees in the state they’re in.

I’ll report back on how eight days feels.

Here’s our report on the 2020 six day trip.

Sam paddling on a blue lake with clouds reflecting on the water

What your ideal length vacation? Also have you ever done a long back country trip? What did you eat? What are your favourite dehydrated meals?

fitness · Guest Post

Buy the damn wetsuit! (Guest post)

by Alisa Joy McClain

The other day, I was in Value Village and I spotted a pair of neoprene pants in the “leggings” section.  You wouldn’t think neoprene pants would bring on a bunch of anxiety, but they did. 

Here is the conversation in my head:

Voice of reason:  Oh, hey, have you thought about the fact that your wetsuit might not fit anymore because of pandemic coping?

Anxious Alisa:  I DO NOT HEAR ANYTHING.

Voice of reason:  You should buy these pants, just in case.  They look like they’ll fit.

Anxious Alisa:  My old wetsuit HAS to fit, so I don’t need these pants.

Voice of reason:  Um, actually, laws of physics, the wetsuit does not have to fit.  These pants are 15 dollars.

Anxious Alisa:  But, that was the biggest wetsuit they had way back when, and if they don’t fit, I can basically never do scuba again and that would break my heart.  I can’t buy those pants because it will be an acknowledgement that the wetsuit might not fit.  Then, my life will be over.

Voice of reason:  That is ridiculous.  Buy these pants.  Your wetsuit jacket will still fit; it’s always been loose.  You might have a less than ideal suit, but you’ll make it work because you LOVE scuba diving. 

Anxious Alisa:  LA LA LA LA LA LA LA.  I don’t hear anything.

Voice of reason:  We’re buying the fucking pants.

I’ve always been so afraid of not fitting in my wet suit? Like why? You know what, Alisa, you can buy a new wet suit.  Problem solved.  Surely, there is a company out there that has figured out that women of larger sizes also like watersports and don’t want to freeze to death?  I have clothes that fit best at different body sizes.  It doesn’t bother me at all to change which clothes in my wardrobe I wear based on different body sizes.  Why do I not deserve the same in wet suits?

Self love is buying a new wet suit that isn’t going to cut off my circulation.

So, my old wetsuit does not fit, at least not if I want to be able to continue circulating blood through my body.  Yesterday, I was underwater for the first time in 2 years.  I was awkwardly dressed in those gift from heaven neoprene pants, a shirt meant for the ski hill, and my neoprene jacket, but who is judging my fashion underwater?  The fish?  Also, yesterday, I called the company Truli (Truli Wetsuits – Women’s wetsuits for all water sports.), which carries sizes called “defiant” and “fierce” in 21 sizes.  They show pictures of women with round tummies and powerful thunder thighs on their website.  I am currently waiting for them to call me back to help me figure out what size I am.  We’re talking a Canadian-based, woman-operated wetsuit making company that knows that my generous hips do not make me ineligible for staying warm while in the water.  They can take ALL my money.  I promise to report back about buying with the, once I’m in my ADORABLE polka dotted wetsuit from them.  I cannot wait. 

Wetsuit ordering form


Alisa Joy McClain spent the first half of her life thinking she couldn’t do cool exercise-y things because she was fat and is now spending the second half of her life enjoying the body she has and all the cool things she can do with it like rock climbing, cycling, and scuba diving. When not trying to be a fat athlete, she can be found reading books, playing pinball, hanging out with her family and children, and ranting about various social injustices.

gear · inclusiveness · normative bodies · swimming

All people vary in size? Really? Shocking!

No photo description available.
A photo of a women’s size guide on a wetsuit according to which XS is 5-5’2 and 95-110 lbs and XL is 5’9 + and over 155 lbs.

One of the things I love about our Facebook page is when people share things with us. Often it’s links for us to pass along on the page but sometimes it’s readers sharing their own experiences and observations. One reader, Sara Wabi Gould, was shopping for a wetsuit and was amused/horrified at this size chart and the accompanying text, “all people vary in size.”

She sent an image of the tag to us with the comment, “Wetsuit sizing strikes again. “Over 155”???”

According to this chart that variation tops out at 155 lbs. There’s also, according to this chart a strict correlation between weight and height.

Our bloggers had some reactions too:

Cate: “I remember reading once, in the 80s or 90s, some sort of “advice” in a women’s magazine that women who were 5.0 should weigh 100lbs, and for every inch after that you could add 5lbs. At the time, my not-quite-5.2 self weighed about 118lbs, the tiniest I’ve ever been — I think I was a size 4. I now weigh about 140 – 145 (haven’t weighed myself for a while) and I don’t THINK I’ve grown. I’m incredibly fit and strong and happy with my body. But I think I’ve carried that bullshit algorithm in the back of my mind for three and a half decades, with a flicker of shame every time I get on the scale that I am so much heavier than I “should” be. When I let it, that flicker of shame can outstrip the accomplishment of riding my bike 150 km in a day, running 8km comfortably on a hot day, deadlifting 200 lbs or being a super functional, fit, healthy 56 year old. These charts are dangerous bullshit.”

Tracy: “I feel oppressed by diet culture just looking at the chart and the way they assume height and weight correlate in just that way.”

Kim: “I’m 5’8 and just after I did the London to Paris challenge I was at my lightest at 155lb. This was me as endurance cyclist not lifting at the time. So does that mean I need to ride 450km in 24 hours and 14 minutes if I want to deserve a wetsuit? Bahahahaha!!!”

Sam: “Oh, FFS. I’m 5’7 and 155 lbs is a weight I haven’t seen on a scale since my early twenties. So I guess I’m an XL in a suit that’s too long for me. This brings me to one of my pet peeves about XL sizes. Sometimes they’re just a bit larger than L and other times they’re four times the size of L since they’re meant to fit everyone larger than that. It’s like the “one size fits everyone bigger than L.”

Diane: “By this sizing, my daughter (who is petite by almost any standard but very muscular) might need to get a medium as she is on the cusp for weight. What happens if you weigh 117 lb? Or 140? The answer if you weigh over 155 is generally that you learn to swim without a wetsuit. There are some slightly larger models out there, but most larger swimmers I have talked to simply gave up on trying to find one.”

You might want to also read Catherine’s post about choosing a wetsuit.

What would your reaction be to encountering this size tag on an item of clothes/sports gear while shopping?

Black Futures · Black Present · fitness · inclusiveness · link round up · Olympics

Fit is a Feminist Issue Link Round Up #105: Black Women Athletes and the Olympics

The Olympics is starting to look like it has a thing against Black women competing. I wrote that back when there were just a few of these issues and now there are more I want to add, “You think?”

See The Olympics Continues to Prevent Top Black Athletes From Competing for an analysis of the issues and a list of the athletes involved.

See also The Olympics Don’t Want Black Women To Win. Taryn Finley writes, “Sha’Carri Richardson, Christine Mboma, Beatrice Masilingi and others have been disqualified in the 2021 Olympics because of policies that are racist and unjust. There is no grace for for Black women at the 2021 Olympics.”

And then there’s this tweet which also lists the issues.

I know that some people want to say that these issues have nothing in common, that it’s not about race, it’s about rules that don’t mention race, but one thing all the cases have in common is that they target Black women Olympic athletes.

Ditto the swim cap story. There’s a lot of commentary that says competitive athletes would never wear such a swim cap since it would slow them down. Maybe that’s true. But if it puts someone at a competitive disadvantage, it’s hard to see why they’d be banned at the Olympics. It’s hard not to reach the conclusion that race is a factor and that the normative ideal of the Olympic athlete is white, in addition to being conventionally gendered.

Here are some of the relevant links:

Blocked From Her Signature Race, Caster Semenya Won’t Run in Tokyo

Clock ticking on Caster Semenya’s Olympic Career

Namibia teenagers out of Olympic 400m over high natural testosterone levels

Sha’Carri Richardson, a Track Sensation, Tests Positive for Mari

With 3 Short Words, Sha’Carri Richardson Just Taught an Incredible Lesson in Emotional Intelligence

Athletes will not be allowed to wear swim caps created for natural hair while competing in the coming Olympics

Soul Cap: Afro swim cap Olympic rejection

Swimming caps for natural black hair ruled out of Olympic Games

You might also want to read some of the past posts about Caster Semenya from Fit is a Feminist Issue:

Sexism, racism, and fear of successful women: the future of women in sport and the Caster Semenya decision

Women, sport and sex tests: Why Caster Semenya matters a great deal

Semenya’s future as champion in doubt

Link Roundup: Caster Semenya and the IAAF decision

And finally a few more words from Twitter.

fitness · top ten

Top Ten Posts in June 2021 #ICYMI

  1. Kim tells the tale of Naomi Osaka vs The Patriarchy
  2. Cate at 53 1/2 was still menstruating
  3. Why is it so hard to find athletic suits for larger swimmers? asks Diane. 
  4. Catherine asks What’s wrong with “Rearranging your Post-Pandemic ‘Friendscape’
  5. What Fresh Hell is This, a book review by Alexis Shotwell (guest)
  6. Christine interviews her fitness icon
  7. Catherine also hopes that The Biggest Loser won’t be renewed for another season.
  8. Ten Percent Happier app is free for many types of frontline workers, thanks Catherine.
  9. Catherine writes about scuba diving while fat.
  10. Nicole reflects on sneezing while middle aged.
fitness

Sam is checking in for June: Bike rides, friends, ice cream, joy…

June was a busy month, full of active weekends, some holidays, bike rides, and ice cream.

The province of Ontario is starting to re-open and we’re ready to roll. Bring on outdoor summer activities! After a long winter and serious pandemic restrictions and stay at home orders, it feels really good to be moving about in the world.

We kicked off the month on the first weekend in June with the 160 km Simcoe Loop Trail. You can read about it here. The short version is that the trails are lovely, the countryside is beautiful, and we 10/10 recommend getting out and about in your bike in this part of Ontario.

Next up, on Saturday, June 12th, it was the Tour de Guelph, more bike rides, and backyard meals with friends. We rode with our friend Ellen and it felt like it was a whole new thing riding bikes with people we didn’t live with.

After that there was another weekend in Prince Edward County and a Big Island bike ride with Kim and Dhurin. More riding bikes with friends! I feel a whole new appreciation for this activity which I’d come to take for granted. It was D’s first time riding in a group and we had fun coaching him about drafting, hand signals, and all that.

Finally, we took some days off work and went camping at the Pinery–home of more bike rides, camp fires, outdoor visits with friends and family, and time on the beautiful beach.

Tracy, Rob, David, and Mallory all visited with us.

Here’s some photos of our time at the Pinery. Car camping isn’t our usual speed but it was a good way to visit with people outside.

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I love the Lake Huron beaches. It was stormy our first day there which meant for dramatic waves and interesting skies.

And yes, my knees still hurt. I’m in pain while walking but I do it anyway. I’ve been good about knee physio. It’s boring and sometimes also painful and I do it anyway. I’ve got a schedule for ibuprofen and for the joint freezing topical gel. Somehow though with all this biking and times with friends, the knee bad news matters less and less.