femalestrength · fitness · football · kids and exercise · soccer · team sports

Warren vs The Wolves: What To Tell Your Teenager Daughters About Sports, Power, and Taking Over the World

This week I’ve shared a post with my online teaching community, The Activist Classroom, about Sarah DeLappe’s amazing 2016 play, The Wolves. The play follows nine powerful young women, 16- and 17-year-olds, through their indoor soccer season; in it I find a different kind of future to the one that Elizabeth Warren imagines when she fears, in her primary concession speech on 5 March, that we might need to wait four more years for an American woman to come into real power.

If you’re wondering how to inspire your teenage daughter – OR your teenage son, or young people of all genders around you… and maybe yourself too! – this post is for you.

(Read the post on The Activist Classroom here.)

***

Last night, Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the 2020 Democratic primary race, leaving Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to duke it out for a shot at Agent Orange in November. She was the last of a remarkably diverse group of contenders, ground-breaking numbers of whom were women. I read, crestfallen, all the commentary on the “fall” of Warren last night and this morning, as it tried to remind me that, in the end, being smart, experienced, level-headed, and a powerfully galvanizing public speaker was not enough, is never enough, for a women to overcome the “electability” factor.

Sitting at lunch yesterday with a feminist friend and colleague from the states, we commiserated; “I don’t think we will see a female president in our lifetime,” she said.

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These are The Wolves; keep reading. (Photo from the Howland Company production at Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto, October 2018)

As she reached the final stages of this primary race, Warren stood unabashedly for every smart and capable woman who has ever been asked to stand down, implicitly or explicitly, because of her gender. She was a warrior on the stage, calling out privilege and hypocrisy. In one of my favourite moments from the primary race, she asked an Iowa debate crowd to look around them: “Collectively,” she said, the men on stage with her “have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in, are the women, Amy and me.”

True to this fighting form, Warren’s concession speech last night spoke directly to the pedagogical consequences of her departure. “One of the hardest parts of this,” she said as she conceded the competition, “is all those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years.”

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Four more years? Or right f#$king now? The Wolves burst forth off Broadway in September 2016.

Given America’s penchant for supporting diversity in theory, and then choosing male, White supremacism in practice, I’m not sure four more years (as my friend and colleague noted) is going to do it. And the US is hardly alone here; Canada has had but one female prime minister, Kim Campbell, and she was the “fall guy” who took the political hit after the collapse of Brian Mulroney’s neoliberal Tories in the early 1990s. There are lots of other examples I could cite from the political landscapes of the so-called “developed West” (Julia Gillard, anyone?), but I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

(Thank heavens for, and long live the reign of, Jacinda Ardern, and shout out to the amazing women fighting for political justice in so many other countries around the world.)

So: let’s turn away from politics for a bit, and let’s think about that charge of four more, long years.

What can, and will, our young women learn in those four years about their strength and their power, as well as about the consequences of that old patriarchal saw, “likability”? How might we foreground – give space and light and air and time to – the former, and use them to challenge the misogynist perniciousness of the latter? What tools are already in place for us to share different kinds of lessons about our collective feminist capability, about young women’s overwhelming strength?

It so happens, this week of all weeks, that I spent part of Monday reading a terrific play, The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe. The Wolves follows the eponymous team of indoor soccer players, nine 16- and 17-year old young women, through the winter bowels of their season. They warm up, play, and warm down again; get sick and get better; discuss the difficult material they are learning in school (the show opens with a volley about the ethical complexities of the Khmer Rouge!); talk frankly about both their bodies (pads or tampons?) and about their creepy coach (who once asked them to warm up in their sports bras… He never appears on stage; he’s plainly not a factor in their incredible on-field success.). Finally, they weather a terrible accident together.

Contrasting shots of the same moment, Still Life with Orange Slices: off Broadway, left, and at Streetcar Crowsnest, right.

Across five scenes we watch them be, variously, athletes, students of the world, and complex individuals, together; there are tougher girls and quieter girls, the brainy girl and the new girl, but nobody is a stereotype – no-one is just one thing. They are a group, finding their (incredible, near-unbeatable!) strength together, coordinating their play together, growing into their power together. They are vulnerable but they are also a team of winners – and they know it.

I’m currently writing about The Wolves for a collection of essays about sports and performance; I was invited to contribute by colleagues who know I have a side-line in feminist sports writing. (If you’re reading this on Fit is a Feminist Issueplease check out The Activist Classroom, my other online home!) I gamely said yes to this invitation because the topic interested me, but I didn’t suggest The Wolves as my focus; the editors handed it to me, and until this week I hadn’t realized what a remarkable piece of teaching – let alone what a great piece of drama – it is.

Lots of young women have poor memories of grade-school gym class, and conflicted, if not difficult, memories of playing on sports teams as adolescents or teenagers. My own memories of childhood softball and floor hockey, high school track (VERY briefly), and university rowing (ditto) are of a reproduction of failure: I was larger than the average girl, I felt awkward in my body, my hand-eye coordination was a bit crap, and I received the kind of feedback from coaches (as opposed to, say, actual coaching from coaches…) that reaffirmed my cementing view of myself (fat/uncoordinated/not a good enough girl on-field or off). Eventually, even when I think (now) I could have succeeded brilliantly (track; rowing), I gave up, because I couldn’t overcome that inner sense of failure – not just failure as an athlete, but failure as a woman.

(Side note: none of the coaches I worked with helped, not women nor men. Amazing how well we reproduce patriarchy on the sports field, when we aren’t thoughtful about our words and actions! I can empathize fully with the Wolves; I’d have left my coach in the stands too, if I could have.)

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Hard play means conflict; negotiation; team work is hard. But these sisters are doing it for themselves – no creepy male coach required.

The Wolves ends with the kind of plot twist you might expect in a lesser piece of work, but as in its handling of young women athletes, here it defies expectations. Nothing gets wrapped up. Fights are not resolved; they are just sidelined while the team holds space for one another, with imperfect generosity. The young women warm up, move their bodies together, and talk. Then, all of a sudden, one of the team’s moms appears.

She is the only “adult” in the show, and she’s onstage only for about five minutes. But this is long enough for her to interrupt this young women’s space, this circle of astroturf and passing games and honest, difficult girl talk. She seizes the space, not aware at all of how she’s usurped it. The teammates sit and listen, stunned but unfailingly kind. Eventually, she leaves, and they elect to chant their battle cry. Huddled together, faces away from us, their song builds, their bodies bounce, then jump, then fly: WE. ARE. THE. WOLVES. WE! ARE! THE! WOLVES!

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Rehearsing for The Wolves in New York, 2016. 

I wonder, this morning, whether Elizabeth Warren is maybe that soccer mom at the end of the play. Whether she has perhaps underestimated the circle of women around her, misread the signs. Do we need to wait four more years to put a woman into “real” power, to overcome the ridiculous bullshit that is the “electability” factor? Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps we need to look away from the old messaging, and perhaps we also need to look toward new spaces to locate the women’s power that we can’t yet fully see. In Sweden, Greta Thunberg started skipping school, sat down in front of a government building, and started a global movement. On their suburban astroturf in the dead of winter, The Wolves sounded their battle cry, and changed the shape of “girl plays” forever.

Let’s listen to these powerful young voices, honour them in the spaces they have adopted as their seats of power, and encourage them to re-conceive what power means – over the course of these next four years, and beyond.

Not planning on waiting,

Kim

 

fitness · inclusiveness · mindfulness · rest · self care · yoga

A mindful kind of fitness challenge

January: that would be the season of fitness challenges.

Here at FIFI, a good part of last month was spent thinking about them, from Yoga With Adrienne’s 30 days, to Nia Shanks’ 100 days, to the 220 in 2020 groups (check out Cate’s massively inspirational post about its power to redefine what counts as “fitness” here), to what is wrong with office “wellness” competitions (OMG EVERYTHING; click here).

I’ve been an absent voice on all of the above, because I don’t generally enjoy any kind of fitness challenge. This strikes me as very odd, since I’m actually a hugely competitive / super count-y person (aka, like Cate, #completist). I can’t explain it, except to say maybe at some point not too long ago I sort of stopped giving a ….

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“The Field In Which I Grow My Fucks Is Barren”: this meme was made for me. I am recycling it here (thanks Catherine!) because holy crap I am busy ordering wallpaper with this on it right now.

Flash back to my last post, which was about kinds of wellness planning that Even Slightly Younger Kim would have pooh-poohed. Mental health. Joint health. Less cardio, more mental/joint health. I’m sorry what?

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Gillian Anderson – Sex Ed hero – says: I’m sorry, what?

Since the beginning of January, I’ve been to my new therapist every second week, and I’ve also committed to a full session (that’s about 12 weeks) at my Iyengar yoga studio of choice, Yoga Centre London. And I’ve learned two really amazing new things*. (*New to me.)

I’m still doing all my fitness usuals, including time on my bike trainer (I have literally inhaled Call The Midwife, polished off Cheer, and am so excited about the new season of Sex Education [see above meme]), plus swimming and stair climbing, hiking and dog walking. But thanks to the therapy and the yoga, I’ve also realized that some things that seriously do not look like exercise are things I actually need to count as exercise. (Again, shout-out to the 220 in 2020 folks for figuring this out long before I did.)

Two weeks ago Monday I was up at the therapist around mid-day. I was cranky because I’d somehow let her book me into a slot that is usually swim time; I was going to have to sacrifice my swim and slot in something else as a result. I spent a good portion of the morning thinking about what else I could do in its place.

Then the session happened.

I’ve been going regularly to psychotherapy for many years, but this new practice is putting puzzle pieces together in ways I don’t always expect, yet clearly need to see and explore. As a result, I sometimes find myself crying my heart out for the better part of a session; this was one of those sessions.

As I left A’s office, I felt the clear, cold air on my face and realized it would be a perfect day for a ride up to the escarpment lookout that makes me feel most at peace. I made a mental note to pick that over the other options swirling in my brain and drove home.

An apple and a dog walk later, it was clear to me I was not riding anywhere; I was ready to fall asleep on the dog in the foyer while she stood in confusion on the “pause for paws!” towel. I chose to rest instead and reasoned I could fit in a late swim at my regular pool.

Of course, that did not happen.

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Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) tells it like it is. I’ve also watched all of Schitt’s Creek in like 5 minutes. SO GREAT.

Instead, I did 30 minutes of simple and relaxing yoga poses in my kitchen while the supper was cooking.

In my cranky head this did not feel like “enough”. But my body knew it was sufficient, because my body had obviously done a huge amount of work in that therapy session, criss-crossing space and time to piece together experiences from my childhood that have shaped the hurt and damaged human I try to ride away from every time I get on my bike.
Fitness revelation #1: crying through the feeling is physical as well as emotional labour, and needs to be honoured with rest like any other kind.

Meanwhile, back at supper-time yoga, I was trying to work on my very sporadic home practice, doing the kinds of things I rarely do at home: Warrior 2, Sirsasana (head balance). Less than 15 seconds on my head and it was clear I was in no fit form to be doing that thing; see fitness revelation #1 above.

Again, contrary to my completist tendencies, I gave in easily, knowing it would be unsafe for me to continue pressing when I was not rested or prepared enough to manage safely head-standing. Instead, I began to think about the thing I don’t often think about when I’m doing yoga: the focus on gratitude that shapes the ethos behind the best yogic practices.

Of course everyone wants to be able to do side crow, headstand, handstand, and forearm balances effortlessly; in this way, our collective social attitudes to yoga are hardly different from our attitudes to any other group fitness practice (#competition).

But yoga’s not about that. It’s actually about giving thanks: for our bodies, their changing dimensions, and the labour they do to keep us upright, healthy, strong, and flexible regardless of that process of change. I’m reminded of these things every time we say the Invocation to Patanjali at the start of a class at my Iyengar studio.

Except that I’m also not reminded of those things when we say the invocation, because every time we say the invocation I am LITERALLY OBSESSED with the parts I know and the parts I still don’t know. I sit there, cross-legged on my block, singing out some lines very proudly while waiting anxiously for the lines where I’m more or less humming “um um um thingy thingy thingy” and hoping nobody hears me.

Which means the invocation is the most self-obsessed part of my yoga practice.

I realized this lying on my kitchen floor, my legs up the pantry doors in Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, aka the best yoga pose in the history of the world). I decided then and there to learn the damn invocation already.

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A woman lying prone in a white yoga space on a purple mat, with legs, belted at the thigh, up the wall, sacrum supported by a bolster, arms back and palms weighted. She looks happy. Because this is the BEST. YOGA. POSE. EVER.

That weekend, I downloaded a bunch of YouTube videos of yogis teaching the invocation, and I got into the bath. I sat in the warm, epsom-salty water until I had learned all the bits I had been fudging.

OK, so, again, here’s a thing that most people would definitely not call fitness: sitting in a warm tub memorizing lines. I think that’s technically called homework. But for me, it was so, so releasing. I can now say the invocation easily and instead of fussing and fretting I can think about its purpose, hear the sounds and feel their vibrations. I can move past the embarrassment and performance anxiety and find the stillness in the song.
Fitness revelation #2: sitting in a bathtub learning a valuable thing also absolutely counts as exercise, because it is a kindness to our mind-bodies.

I am hopeful that saying the invocation loudly and with depth of feeling will now help me strengthen my headstand, but I’m also super OK if it just makes legs up the wall feel even dandier.

I’ll keep you posted.

aging · dogs · health · mindfulness · new year's resolutions · self care

Kim’s 2020 wellness goals, beyond the bike

Here at FFI I’m one of the “bike bloggers”; along with Cate, Sam, and Susan, I get jazzed about the riding. We all have different styles and prefer different kinds of riding-based holidays, but the bike is our collective thing.

As a committed (and pretty darn talented) road rider, usually my yearly wellness goals revolve around bike training, club riding, and trip planning. This year I still have some of these – I hope to go to my regular South Carolina training camp in March, and I’ll be taking my bike to the west of Ireland in July, while I’m there for a working holiday – but mostly my wellness goals this year are about other things.

Specifically, they are about long-term joint health, and about long-term mental health.

Here I am in South Carolina last March, posing for a selfie in green helmet and orange gilet. I am smiling because RIDING. I’m posing with a sign that says “East Fork Baptist Church”.

First, the joints. I have an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which if untreated can cause incredibly painful skeletal distortion as I age. I’m lucky to work in a town and at a university with an incredible teaching hospital network, and I have a wonderful rheumatologist, whom I trust and appreciate, following my condition.

(I’ll never forget my visit to her the day after the November 2016 presidential election. We had a brilliant chat, woman to woman, about how  dreadful we were each feeling before we talked about my hips. That visit also inspired one of my very favourite FFI posts, “What Women Weigh”; if you’ve not had a chance to read it, please click here.)

Alas, this past year I’ve noticed an uptick in my symptoms. I’ve had too many instances of anterior uveitis (a correlative condition – basically the inflammation of the iris, REALLY), and my hips have been stiff and sore more than usual. I don’t want to have to shift my A.S. treatment, because the next step up is to begin taking immunosuppressant drugs, which I’m very anxious about. (I WORK WITH STUDENTS #petridish) So, instead, I’m committing this year to making more time for yoga at home, as well as at my beloved Iyengar studio, and perhaps I’ll also fold in some sports physiotherapy.

I know this will mean dialing back on “regular” workouts to fit in more joint-focused, low-intensity stuff. I find dialing back on cardio and weights hard – #endorphins – but if I want to keep doing that into my old age, I need to reprioritize.

A group of seven ordinary humans practice ‘hanging sirsasana’ (supported headstand) at a rope wall in an Iyengar Yoga studio. Iyengar uses a wide range of props to ensure all students are safe and supported in poses, which means they can receive maximum stretch benefits without any risk to joints.

Second, the mental health stuff.

I’ve been going to Jungian, talk-therapy based psychotherapy for about 18 years, on and off. My doctor in Toronto is covered by our provincial health insurance (YES to medicare for all, friends! It is literally life-changing!), and he more or less saved my life in the mid-2000s. But after all this time, last summer I realized that I’d learned most of what I could learn from him about the traumas of my past, and yet I was still feeling sadness and far too much unexplained rage.

I chatted with Susan about this on a long dog walk last Christmas. She agreed that I sounded like I’d plateaued in my learning with Dr A, and she suggested I give a different kind of therapy a try to see where it leads me.

(Susan, in addition to being a bike person, is our resident “why dog walks are critical fitness activities” blogger. My favourite of her posts on the topic is here. IT IS HILARIOUS AND PROFOUND.)

Susan’s lab Shelby, in Christmas bow and posing with bedecked tree; this snap is from a post a few short weeks ago. Everyone needs more Shelby.

Thanks to Susan’s advice, I’ve now begun a course of EMDR therapy here in my home city. It’s been remarkable so far: I’m learning to revisit certain of my past traumas in safety, and to dissociate the feelings I carry about them from my traumatizing memories. Already I feel lighter, I have more compassion for those who previously enraged me, and I’m looking forward to making more discoveries in 2020. I know there’s a way to go yet, but I also see that the end can be filled with light.

This therapy is not government-covered, nor does my private work-based insurance cover it (beyond a measly 15 bucks a session. WHATEVS). And it is not cheap.

After factoring it into my working 2020 budget (I paid off my car, and redirected the money from the car payments toward it), I realized that I will also need to scale back some other fitness spending to accommodate it. So I may or may not get back to rowing, as I’d hoped, in 2020; we’ll see. And while I need a new saddle, I think I’ll also need to rely on my fantastic partner for more cycling-related presents throughout the year, rather than let myself wander into any bike shops on whims.

The cover of Bike Snob NYC’s 2010 book, “systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling”. It’s a grand cover, with hand drawings of a variety of nifty bikes around a kind of cycling “crest” with the title in it. It makes a superb Christmas present! Thanks, sweetie.

So, in sum from Kim:

Fitness = anything we do to help our body-minds feel better, move better, move safer, be lighter. Yes this is bikes, and weights, and runs; it’s also dog walks, and mental health work, and joint support, and rest. As we try not to fall into the badgering temptation of the proverbial “New Years resolution”, let’s keep this range of wellness options in mind!

What about you, friends? What are your wellness hopes for the new year? And a happy one to all!

 

body image · eating · femalestrength · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Dare *Not* To Compare

(CW: some mention of food regimens, food shame.)

Paul the trainer and I were gabbing in his kitchen post-workout, while I packed up my stuff and he warmed up his lunch. I was feeling invigorated by all the lifting, pulling, squatting and pressing and was looking forward to eating all the things at my fave café up the road.

I asked Paul what he was having.

“Chicken and rice; I have it every day!” was the reply.

I wondered aloud if he didn’t get bored of it; not a chance, he said. He told me he grills a batch of chicken each weekend and freezes it; he makes big piles of rice in his steamer and adds some to each chicken portion. Sometime he switches it up with meatballs, but that’s it.

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A pile of white rice with sliced, skinless chicken on a blue plate. Paul didn’t mention any avocado, though.

For me, even the same (delicious and filling) thing each day would quickly get annoying; I suddenly wondered if I was doing it wrong. I asked Paul what else he ate.

He told me: protein shake or similar for breakfast; the lunch above; a small snack in the late afternoon; a small portion of stew in the evening.

My animal brain kicked in – in this case, not the brain that says “eat something now!”, but the brain, well trained by its old handlers, to fear food and loathe oneself for eating it.

God, I thought. I eat way too much!!

“Ha!” I said aloud, joshing to cover the rising panic. “That’s the opposite of me. All I eat is donuts.”

Of course this is not true; I eat many things including donuts – once a week, my ritual Saturday breakfast treat. And clearly Paul knew this, because he is a kind and supportive and body-positive trainer.

He said: “Really? No!! I mean, not all the time.”

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Newman from Seinfeld: built for memes. “OH THE HUMANITY!” (NB: humanity needs many and varied foodstuffs to survive, including donuts.)

Let me translate. The above statement, said by Paul in that moment, meant: “No you do not only eat donuts! You enjoy your treats. You eat well and healthily for your body a lot of the time and your strength shows it.”

But in my head, filtered through my trained-animal-food-fearing brain, I heard:

“You indulgent slob!!”

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OH YA BABY! 20 epic, multi-coloured glazed donuts on a wire cooling rack. My amazing local, Donut Monster, is worth the trip to Hamilton if you’re in the Toronto area!

What makes us compare our food and exercise choices to others? The same thing, I wager, that makes us compare every inch of our bodies to others’ bodies so much of the time. It’s a lived experience of being taught to compare, with the ultimate goal of shaming yourself into adhering to the promoted cultural ideal, as closely as possible. (Which of course is impossible. It. Is. Designed. To. Be. Impossible. Read that again, slowly!)

I grew up learning to compare. Maybe you did, too. My mom (bless her) would draw my attention to those around us who looked out-of-order: too big, outfit not age-appropriate, plate too full. She would quietly whisper shaming things; I knew they were directed at herself. But I’d hear them directed at me. I knew what not to do: look/eat/choose like that. I knew to compare and be wise.

Comparison is painful; we are our own worst critics, so we always come up wanting. It is also anti-communal; comparing means drawing hierarchical lines between me and you, rather than seeing what we have in common and celebrating that. Comparison has, thus, a very conservative political tendency: it discourages bonds between citizens, and therefore discourages change, revolution.

Comparison is also often limited in its nuance. It can tell us in broad strokes where the same/other stuff lies, but it usually stops there, shamed or prideful.

If you dig deeper, you tend to get more similarities than differences.

Take my experience with Paul’s lunch as a case point. After I got to my car, I reminded myself that my food, exercise and health choices lead every day to a body I want to be in and a life I want to be living. I took some deep breaths. Then I thought more carefully.

Paul trains several times a week, but he does not have the endurance regimen I do; he’s not racking up the kilometres on the bike that I do. Those kilometres contribute to my much-increased need for calories; those calories are pleasurable and they also help make me strong.

Paul’s wellness goals include maintaining his trim physique; my wellness goals are not as centred on such things anymore. I like wearing my selectively-chosen and carefully-purchased outfits; I’m cautious with my clothes budget and only buy a few items a year. It’s important to me to fit my beloved outfits well. Beyond that, I don’t care about the numbers on the scale. (And, like Cate, if I have to buy a new size next time, that’s fine; if the look is swish I’m in!)

Paul is also a man, slightly younger than me. As a woman approaching peri-menopause, I’m aware that things are changing around my middle in particular, and THAT IS LIFE, PEEPS. If I become a peri-menopausal and then a menopausal and then an older woman who can also climb the stairs up the mountain brow and cycle to Guelph and Milton to visit Sam and Susan and still dead-lift a Great Dane, who cares?

My whole life I’ve feared weight gain. Why? Somebody once told somebody who mattered a great deal to my mom, and she told it to me; all the magazines reminded me every week at the Safeway; and don’t even get me started on the bullies.

Things all these things have in common: FAKE NEWS.

Forget blanket, superficial comparisons. Try not comparing at all. What’s working in your life, your exercise, your food choices? Hooray!! What needs some work? Make a list, then maybe a plan, if you want.

But above all else, remember: the more we compare, the less of a community we are.

Do you tend to compare, positively or negatively? Does it work for you or cause you stress? Let us know!

commute · cycling

Adventures on a folding bike!

Last month, I wrote about why I ride, the social justice edition. I focused on the ways in which riding brings me closer to the earth, to other humans, and to our shared entanglements on the road (and elsewhere). The bike, I argued, is a way for us to stay grounded in our commonalities, to recognize our different needs together, and to become more aware of the needs of our shared home, the earth.

For me, part of that last item has to do with changing the way I commute to work. My campus office is about 125km from my front door, and in order to manage that distance I used to drive to and from twice a week. (I’m fortunate to be able to work about 60% of the time at home.) I quickly discovered that driving was more arduous than I’d imagined (focusing on the road for 1.5 hours, at 120kph, is stressful: who knew?). So about a year ago I decided to start riding the train.

That worked fine, until the weather made it less than pleasant to walk the 5 or so kilometres from the station to my office along the riverside path. (One terrible winter day I discovered that the path was covered in about 4 feet of snow, uncleared, but having descended into the valley I had no choice but to do the portage. That was my workout for the day!) I began using the bus to get to and from the station/my office, but when I wanted to add in a visit to Paul, my and Tracy’s personal trainer, or my elderly parents in the west end of town, things got tricky. I discovered the buses don’t sync up well, and outer-ring-to-outer-ring locales aren’t served by direct routes very often, if at all. Cabs were an option, but seemed pricey as a regular choice.

So this past summer I decided that the best way to ensure I could continue commuting by train, and indeed commute much more by train (last winter it was about 40% train, 60% car, mostly because sometimes the ease of the latter got the better of me), was to buy a folding bike. One August morning I found a sale on my preferred model at Cate’s local bike shop, so I got the commuter service into the city and made the leap.

Here’s the result: Titania, my Tern Link D8:

(Images of a folding bicycle, open, blue and black in colour; in one, Kim stands proudly in the shop with her green helmet on, holding the handlebars. In another, the bike is on a train platform with a green and white GO train in the background. I want to pause here to recognize my privilege in affording this new piece of gear, which came in at around $1000CDN. I saved for it using my monthly commuter budget.) 

Now, folding bikes aren’t cheap. Sam has the amazing Brompton, the Cadillac (or maybe the Lexus? The Mercedes?) of folding bikes. Her job is full to the brim of travel, and her knee issues mean a very easy to fold and unfold, quite light and very versatile bike are required for her to do her job effectively. For me, the Tern was the budget option: it suits my needs well because it has a rolling adapter that I purchased as part of the sale, and I can pull it from my car to the train and back like luggage. (This is also great for airports, I’ll add.) It’s on balance larger and heavier than the Brompton, but the trade-off is that it has exceptionally solid, almost regular-size bike features, and I notice literally no difference between it and my upright Dutch commuter bike. (In fact, I think the Tern is faster and more stable on hills.)

(The above is a video showing three characters from the BBC satire, W1A, “arriving in tandem” at work on their Bromptons. It’s a spoof on the poshness of the bikes, their status symbol value. The narrator voice is David Tennant. The deep voice is Hugh Skinner, who plays an intern who has somehow got himself a Brompton anyway; the higher voice is Jason Watkins as Simon, humble-bragging about his new carbon-fibre Brompton. If you don’t know the series check it out!) 

I’ve now been commuting with Titania for a month. How’s it gone? Fairly well overall, though there has been a learning curve. Here are my top three take-away lessons thus far.

  1. Just because it’s a folding bike doesn’t mean it’s utterly simple and totally intuitive, with instant swanning through subway stations and the like. On my first trip into Toronto at rush hour (when regular bikes aren’t allowed on the commuter train), I discovered just how heavy it is to run with a folding bicycle. I had forgotten to set up the roller option, and I was late to the train. I dashed, Titania at my left, bobbing about and staining my calf with chain grease. I shouted desperately at the platform staff: “please don’t leave without me!!!” In the end they shut the doors as I arrived, and then took pity and re-opened them for me. I spent the whole ride into town sweaty, headachy, and sore. Lesson learned: always have the bike set up on the easiest-to-maneouvre setting for your next outing. Keep it in the front hall for ease, too.
  2. Unfolding a folding bike may be simple, but it’s not necessarily THAT simple. I’d practiced in the shop, of course, and at home once or twice. But then two weeks elapsed before I used it for work. When I arrived at my station, disembarked and began to unfold it, I realized I’d forgotten some basics. I managed to turn the handlebars to the wrong way, and rode about 100m with them backwards before realizing. Luckily, I did not fall over! Lesson learned: practice folding and unfolding it at home a few different times over several days, because when you’re in public, it’s embarrassing and potentially dangerous to screw up the basics.
  3. All kinds of weather happen when you are commuting by bike; you will discover this when you least expect it! It was a crazy hot morning last Tuesday, the last day of full-on summer in Southern Ontario. 30+C (about 90F), and HUMID AS HICKETTY HECK. I put on a light summer dress and packed my workout gear in my backpack for later. THEN, around 3pm, the sky darkened. And it opened up. By the time I had to ride to yoga, it was raining gently, but there was flash flooding all along the bike path I use to get from campus to downtown. I had a few episodes of “wheee!” through puddles, channeling my inner Sam, but when I arrived at yoga my arse was soaked, and the underside of Titania was lined with grit. It took about an hour the next day to clean her fully, and worst of all, I spent most of yoga rather uncomfortable. Lesson learned: buy the fenders straight away, and check the forecast! Also: use the nifty rain pouch that comes with the bike’s fanny pack; it will keep your phone completely dry.

Readers: do any of you have folding bike war stories? Or bike-commute war stories? Please share!

climate change · cycling · fitness

Why Kim Rides, pt 2: thinking about cycling and social justice

Here on Fit is a Feminist Issue, we’re big cyclists – that’s hardly news. But lately we’ve been having a moment of connecting our cycling to issues of disability and access (Sam, Natalie), social and political justice (Susan), and personal resilience and grit in the face of unfathomable challenges (Cate).

My last post in this space talked about the reasons I cycle. While that post was comprehensive, I realized not long after it was published (and, honestly, thanks to Susan’s brilliant post on sweeping and the public good) that I had missed out a key – really key – reason I ride. And it’s a reason that deserves its own post.

Here it is:

I ride to keep myself grounded and in touch with our planet earth, the other humans on it, and the things we are doing to it every day.

I ride in order to know my own body and its connections to that earth.

I ride as much as I can in order not to drive quite as much as I have been driving.

[Let me note here that I drive a lot. I commute 125km to my job, twice a week, and at least 40% of that commute, still, is driving. I’m not anti-car; I think modest driving in the right vehicles will be part of a sustainable future. But I’m hyper-aware that our planet cannot survive if everyone’s lives look like mine, right now. And I’m striving to change that. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about my new folding bicycle and its role in my commute-in-progress.]

What do I mean that riding keeps me grounded, connected? Let me unpack this a bit.

A wooden boardwalk runs toward a marshland, surrounded by green wild grasses and trees. This is my home, in Cootes Paradise. Photo by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton.

The first thing any cyclist will tell you is that, when you ride on roads that were built for cars, with a tiny slice of sidewalk attached aimed at pedestrians, you become instantly aware that you are an interloper. You’re in a space that was not designed with your needs in mind, and one that often works actively against your safety. If there’s no bike lane, take your chances with the cars in the curb lane. Or hop onto the sidewalk a bit, being super-mindful of walkers. (I did this last week in the eastern suburbs of Toronto, and it was humbling – there was just no place anywhere on the paved street for me. IN TORONTO! IN 2019!) If there is a bike lane, well that’s lovely, but let’s face it. In many places, still, the bike lane is an afterthought, a political tack-on. It’s painted green or blue. It *may* be *somewhat* separated from traffic. And it’s in the gutter, so cyclists are the first to get whacked by cracked, broken pavement. Plus it’s about as wide as a road bike plus rider – not exactly your average cyclist.

A busy city street with lanes of traffic interrupted by a painted bicycle lane. It looks very pretty and promising but does nothing to protect cyclists from the dangers cars pose to them physically.

Cycling in such spaces, you learn quickly that it’s your job to be aware of everyone around you. To take everyone else’s needs into account, and to guess their potential actions too. This is perhaps more onerous than it needs to be, but I also think it’s a good thing.

Imagine our world if EVERYONE on the road felt like the road needed to be adequately shared, and EVERYONE on the road (or the sidewalk) paid attention to the potential needs of the different users around them. Imagine that. It would be a world in which compassion and recognition, rather than antagonism and hate, were the default settings.

So riding in town can be a challenge – and we know well that it’s a challenge that keeps a lot of people off two wheels, to everyone’s detriment. But what about other places? I mean, road cyclists ride in crazy rugged and isolated places, yes? (Newfoundland, you are amazing.)

For me, riding outside the city is when I feel most connected to, and aware of, space. My home terrain is a deep valley, connected to a looming escarpment (also Susan’s terrain – we are on opposite sides of the same escarpment), and atop that escarpment is exceptional, lush farmland. When I ride through these precious landscapes I feel in my body, ricocheting up from the road through my wheels and saddle, the rich beauty of my and my neighbours’ shared home.

A view from atop the Niagara Escarpment, which Susan and I share as our home. Here, sharp limestone cliff walls boast rich greenery, cascading down into miles of trees under a blue sky.

Some of this land (much, in fact – we’re lucky here) is heritage-protected; we’re part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and also the Ontario government’s “green belt”. And some of it is not. Though note: ALL of this land is the ancestral home of Indigenous peoples who were displaced or worse by European colonial enterprises. Our shared home is part of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum region; more on this at the end of this post.)

One of the things I notice when I ride in these gorgeous spaces is change over time: that suburb is really growing; that farm is no longer in operation; this pavement is breaking apart rapidly, the product of unusual freeze-and-thaw patterns that accompany global climate change. I notice land loss, change of land use, and the changing ecosystem. I also get the opportunity to revel in the stunning landscape we still enjoy, though for how much longer I’m not really sure.

Imagine if everyone who lived in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, the “golden horseshoe” that is home to the densest population in Canada, had the chance to see their community from two wheels, at a modest speed-per-hour. Had the chance to experience the tourist draw that is Tew’s Falls, not by driving into the area and fighting for parking, but by riding the bare 10km up from Hamilton’s downtown core and witnessing the landscape and its needs alongside the waterfall wow factor.

Tew’s is a wow of a waterfall, no question. Parallel lines of rushing water cascade into a limestone bowl under autumn leaves. Most people drive to Tew’s to enjoy it, but it’s super close to thousands of homes and easily ridable from across Hamilton.

Imagine how much more we would all know, feel, think about what we stand to lose here.

Finally, to ride is to know what a threat cyclists seem to be to car drivers – and what that tells us about how much needs to change.

Think about this for a minute.

Share the road: a car, bike, and tractor can all do it together safely!

Me, a woman aged 45 bearing 175lb of fat, muscle, flesh and bone, and riding a 15lb carbon road bike, is apparently an epic threat to that guy in his F-150. That family in their Dodge Caravan. Those two joyriding teenagers who literally almost took me out when they intentionally grazed me speeding up Jerseyville Road, then laughed their mean-ass asses off.

Something about me makes all these motorists MAD AS HELL. Mad enough to not see me – to not see me as a person. Mad enough to want to risk hurting me in order to get the vitriol out, right out.

I can’t tell you how much abuse I’ve taken – ask any cyclist and hear the same. Usually I get the abuse not for doing much; mostly, just for being on the road, taking up space. Sometimes I do a thing that’s not 100% kosher – rolling through a four-way stop when I’m the first person to reach it, say, or not obeying a traffic signal at a three-way intersection, because rolling through along the curb side seems like it will be safe and fine. I’m happy to admit these are law-breaking activities and that technically I am at fault. But the rage that comes at me! That’s not anger at injustice, nowhere in proportion.

That’s rage derived from entitlement, rage bursting forth from shame.

I’m the last person on earth to lecture anyone about having an unhealthily passionate attachment to their vehicle and their right for that vehicle to occupy the road unimpeded. For years I drove an ancient BMW 535 that my dad gave me; I named it, repaired it at all costs, finally sold it reluctantly. It was a friend to me.

But cycling taught me that relationship was an unhealthy one. When I was in that lovely car the world whizzed by; cyclists jamming the curb were a pain. I didn’t stop to see, smell, think or feel about the world at modest kilometres-per-hour. I just wanted A to B. I just wanted this 4500lb of metal and engineering to somehow stand for me, prove something about myself to the world.

On the left, my former car, a 1987 BMW 535is, one of only 1000 ever produced. On the right, Freddie, my Cervelo R2 road bike. Both are pretty. I love them both. Only one is the future.

We live in a community of human beings, animals, plant life, and micro-organisms that is under grave threat right now. We also just live in a community. How can we be kinder and more compassionate toward one another? Getting on a bike is a great way to find out.

As I noted earlier, I am lucky to live in a beautiful ecosystem that is part of the Indigenous territory covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum: that’s a historical agreement that simply says, when you come here to this beautiful place, we all eat with the same spoon. Take what you need but not too much and please, please share. Be mindful of others all the time; we are all in this together.

Cycling taught me that.

body image · cycling · Fear

Kim asks herself: why do I ride?

Content note: there is some mention of body image issues and struggles with weight loss in this post.

A couple of weekends ago, my cycling club held its annual feature ride to Rattlesnake Point, a conservation area on the Niagara Escarpment that road cyclists reach by climbing an absolute corker of a hill. (At just a kilometre, and with grades well above 10% along the way, it’s basically a wall of pain with a twist in the middle.) I did the ride last year and made it up the hill, but barely. My memory of it was, “did that, don’t need to do it again.”

This lot makes it look easy. It ain’t easy! A group of female riders racing up Rattlesnake Point in Halton region, Ontario. Image from Pedal Magazine.

When this year’s ride rolled around, though, I started to get a familiar feeling. I should do the hill again, I heard my brain whispering to my quads. After all, it wasn’t THAT bad. Right? Besides, said evil Kim brain to vulnerable Kim quads, if you don’t do it again you’ll always think you barely can and it will haunt you.

I decided to take to the internet for help. I wrote a message in our regular FFI bloggers message group asking the gang to “tell me I should do” the ride. I’m not actually sure what I was hoping for. A chorus of you go, girl! ? Maybe. Or maybe a good reason not to go?

Cate weighed in straight away, and in her inimitable Cate way drove to the heart of my problem. There’s no should here, she said. Why do you want to do this? What will it do for you?

KABOOM.

Why do I ride? This is a question I’d actually already been thinking a lot about, before Cate hit the nail on the head. It’s been following me and my bike across the ocean for a couple of years now. It dogs me on club touring days, when I have to decide if I stay or if I go. And it’s there when I’m tired, but something inside says to me, get up! Don’t be lazy. You said you were going to ride today, so ride already.

There are a lot of answers to the question, why do I ride? Some are frankly awful. Some are amazing. And some of them are different now to what they once were, and different to what I ever expected they might be.

Here they are.

First, I ride because I love to ride.

(Images above, from top left: Kim in green helmet, riding glasses in her teeth, snaps a selfie at the top of Box Hill in Surrey, England, with green rolling hills in the background; Kim in the same helmet and blue, black and white kit walks her bike up a very steep lane, autumn leaves on the ground, and she’s walking because she couldn’t get up the hill but she’s smiling anyway; Kim in pink helmet and black Castelli kit stands in front of her bike proudly, hands on hips, in Richmond Park, South London, England. All these images are from 2014-15.)

This is objectively true and always has been. Road cycling is my sport; I’m massively strong and fast and awesome at it; I handle my bike with skill and have surprising amounts of chutzpah on the road that I don’t always have elsewhere in my life. I heart my bike, full stop. This is my best, and favourite, reason for riding. But it’s not always, or even often, the main reason I head out on the bike.

I also ride because I worry that if I don’t ride I’ll gain a bunch of weight. In other words, I ride because somewhere in my brain I’m convinced I have to or else bad shit is going down. This is my least favourite reason for riding, but it’s often the quickest motivator for me.

I have always struggled with body image; I was raised in a household where nobody was thin but thinness was the ideal. My mom and her sisters policed each other’s bodies like crazy, and mine too. I was overweight as a kid and lived with a terrible, irrational fear of gaining more weight. Passive aggressive comments followed many of my food choices, and someone was always watching and commenting on the contours of my body. I felt followed, all the time, and I felt horrible about myself.

I’m much better now, but that’s because I’ve been fit and strong for a while and as I’ve gotten to my fitness goals I’ve learned to appreciate the complexities of a strong and fit body. I’m still by no means thin – who wants to be thin when you can be strong? – but I have a great deal more body confidence. Still, the nagging fears with which we are raised do not just disappear. They transmogrify; sometimes they are countered by new practices and hard-won beliefs, but sometimes – often – they lurk. So one of the reasons I ride is to outrun this lurking worry about my weight. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s real for me.

Third, I ride because I can, because not all of us can and therefore I am really proud of what I am able to accomplish, and dammit do I feel strong and amazing when I do. (I also love this reason.)

A glamour shot of my road bike, Freddie, with grey cross bar and orange bar tape, with a traditional stone wall and gorgeous rolling dales in the background. I took this photo after getting to the top of yet another stunning climb in West Yorkshire, 2017.

This is what I replied to Cate when she answered my message about the Rattlesnake ride, and then I thought a lot more about it – more carefully about it. I did not end up going on the feature ride that weekend (my partner turned up at my house on the Sunday morning and I very joyfully spent the day with him instead) but the next day I realized that I’d actually wanted to do the ride, because I knew I could get up that hill stronger than I was last year, and I wanted to show myself how strong I am today. I wanted to feel my strong body haul myself up that stupid-ass hill. So on the Monday morning I went out and did it, alone – and got a personal record, too. (It felt amazing.)

Fourth, I ride to go places and make new discoveries about the world. This is a new reason for me, and I’m excited about embracing it more often in future.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that Sam, Susan, Cate, and blog friends Sarah and David were recently on a seriously grit-laden (literally and figuratively!) cycling trip to Newfoundland. Early in the planning for this journey they asked me to come and I decided not to join them. I knew I would not enjoy it: I dislike camping; I knew it would be freezing; I suspected we would be tired and possibly wet pretty much all the time. For me, this sounds like a world of pain, not a holiday.

There was a time I would have said yes anyway, though. I would have decided it was a challenge, I would have told myself that I never shirk from a challenge, and that therefore I would have to go. For quite a while in the early planning stages of the trip I was actually worried that I was going to say yes for this reason; I have a history of saying yes to things that I think will be good for me in some horrible you-can-rest-when-you’re-dead way, and I almost never enjoy them (though I do get a feeling of satisfaction from the endorphin rush and the adrenaline of succeeding in the end). It actually took a lot of work and a lot of courage for me to tell myself definitively, you will not enjoy this. Say no. Not going to Newfoundland was a growth moment for me, then, as a cyclist and as a person.

While the gang were in Newfoundland, however, I was riding too – in Anglesey, an island in northern Wales. This trip was like many I’ve taken, where the bike and I get on a plane and then on a train and head for a cottage where we stay for a while, riding every day or every other day to neat new places we’ve never been before, racking up the miles and the Strava segments. This is my preferred way of bike touring: no camping, no schlepping in panniers. Stay in one place; return there to eat and sleep and shower each evening. Over the years I’ve learned that I don’t just prefer it this way, but love it.

(Images above, from left: I’m in my green helmet and riding glasses, taking a selfie with green pastures and blue sky in the background; Freddie and her orange bar tape chill out against a barrier with soft sand and blue water in the background, at Trearddur Bay, Anglesey; another selfie, this time with grey frog statue from a random Anglesey front yard. Half of my face is visible, glasses on my nose, and I’m looking quite serious, on behalf of the frog.)

On this trip to Wales, though, something new happened: I had to use the bike for errands, not just for touring and challenge rides. My friend and I had no car, and the nearest shop was 1.5 miles away up a hillside; the nearest proper shop was 6 miles away. So some days I rode the bike 50, 60, 90km, visiting beaches and outcroppings and a very cool salt factory; on other days I rode the bike 10km, 25km, 30km, to buy cheese and meat pies and veggies and swim in the ocean.

The pop-up caf at the amazing Halen Mons salt stop. An Airstream is kitted out with typical coffee shop accoutrements, and there’s a posh looking picnic table in the foreground. The sky above is azure-blue, and the shop’s name – TIDE – sits proudly on block letters above the Airstream.

I hadn’t done this before – on previous cottage-style bike holidays I’ve either had a car or been based in a town centre – and it was actually really joyful. Using the bike for all sorts made me feel like I was connected to a community, not just passing through it on the way to yet another Strava prize. And it reminded me that my love for my road bike is about freedom and independence, joy in the outdoors, a love of movement, as well as strength and speed and skill, all blended together.

There’s one more reason I ride: to get stronger. I do this by riding with faster people in my cycling club and struggling to keep up with them. It’s not fun a lot of the time, but it works.

This reason I’m still struggling with.

As recently as last summer, I thought – as with my initial reasoning about the Newfoundland trip – that it was my duty to myself to always ride with the fast folks, and suffer and endure, because if you can, you should, and if you don’t you’re being lazy and will never improve. (Again, I’m aware these intrusive thoughts are not helpful, but they are real for me.)

But earlier this season something weird and unexpected happened: I decided not to care anymore. I arrived at a club ride in April and made the decision to ride with the second-fastest group, not the super fast kids. I told myself, sure you can ride with the fast gang, but it wasn’t that much fun, was it? Maybe you could prioritize joy over speed this time. Maybe there’s an important component of getting stronger in that choice, too. Through the season, I’ve been riding with social group two more often than speedy group one. And I’m OK with it, for now.

I still ride from time to time out of an obligation to my demons. But the great news is that, more and more, I’m riding just for the pure delight of it, knowing that I’m growing as a person, not just as a rider, when I do. I posted in our message group with my demons in tow, asking the gang please to validate them; instead, Cate reminded me that I do not need to pay attention to those dudes so much. There are lots of absolutely wonderful reasons to ride my bike – more than enough to keep me happily rolling.

Why do you ride? Do you struggle with demons around exercise? Can you tap into the joy of movement unencumbered? Let me know.