accessibility · cycling · holidays

Sam changes her thinking on walking her bike up hills. These days it’s less shame and more beautiful scenery.

I remember the first time I walked my bike up a hill. It wasn’t fun. I was embarrassed. I’d also fallen over because I slowed down quickly and couldn’t unclip in time. Ouch. It was also a group ride and everyone was waiting for me at the top. Double ouch.

That first time was just weeks after getting my first road bike. I was in my late thirties. It was early days of clip in bike shoes and pedals for me. I was still learning to shift on my new bike. I was a pretty strong rider, out with a triathlon training group from the Running Room but I was very much a beginning cyclist. I’d heard cyclists talk about serious hills but I hadn’t yet encountered one.

When we started out on River Road in London, Ontario I was fine, just a gentle incline. “What were they talking about?” I thought. But after turning the corner and seeing the steep hill ahead I was worried. I tried to race up it but that was a recipe for disaster. I shifted frantically and ran out of gears. Rookie mistake. When I came to a stop, I just fell over. Thump. I scraped my shoulder falling over but other than my pride really I was fine.

In the weeks and months ahead I mastered the skills that made stopping on hills less dramatic. I unclipped and got off the bike in a controlled fashion when I needed to. I learned, although I’m still not great at this, to start again on a hill. Tip: if you can cycle across the road to get going that helps. Walking my bike up very steep hills became a thing I could do. But I often felt ashamed. If only I were smaller, fitter, faster, weighed less….

Hills have been a weight loss motivation for me since the early days of the blog. See Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway. In November 2012 (nearly 7 years ago!) I wrote: “My main reason I want to get leaner is sports performance. An awful lot of what I do depends on a power to weight ratio. For an explanation of power to weight ratio and its importance when it comes to cycling, read The Pursuit of Leanness over at Australia’s Cycling Tips blog. I’ll never be a hill climber. I’m a reasonably powerful sprinter and time trialer (for a recreational cyclist in her midlife years!). I know my place in the cycling world. But I’m sick of getting dropped on hills.”

This year in Newfoundland, I noticed my attitude had changed. I was smiling walking up some of the hills. I wasn’t just putting on a brave face either. I was happy all the way inside. What had changed?

Four things, I think.

1. I was riding with friends. No one was going to drop me. I didn’t feel I had to prove myself to anyone. We’ve been riding together for years. On all sides there’s a lot affection, trust, and goodwill in the bank.

2. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I loved the scenery, the dramatic landscapes. When you’re focused on “wow” and wonder at the world around you, it’s hard to care that you’re walking rather than riding up the hill.

3. Then there was a practical thing. I’d switched to spd pedals and shoes for this trip in anticipation of walking up the occasional hill. They’re a lot easier to walk in and there was no wearing down the metal cleats.

4. Finally, it helped that we all walked some of the hills, at some point. If the hill was short enough either David or I would make it to the top first and we’d wait for Sarah. If it was a long hill at some point we’d slow down and she’d patiently pedal on by in a spinny gear. There were some hills that defeated all of us.

These photos capture the beauty but they don’t capture the steepness of the hills. Trust me. They’re steep. (Oh and yes this is July in Newfoundland, midsummer, and yes, that’s snow.)

Image description: Sam walking her bike up a hill in Newfoundland. David is behind her also walking his bike up the hill.
Image description: Sarah looking back down another hill.
Image description: David walking his bike up a hill in Newfoundland.

Question: Why not ride a bike with gears to get up all the hills? There’s no shame in a having a triple, a granny gear as they’re called? And I agree. No shame. But it’s not gearing we need around here. I like the gearing range I’ve got.

I suppose I could get a touring bike with a triple chain ring but I’m not sure I want or need a touring bike either. They’re great for carrying stuff, loading down with panniers etc. But the kind of bicycle tourism I like to do has other people carrying things for me. Touring bikes are great for riding on gravel and other surfaces but my bike tourism is all or mostly on pavement. See Cate’s recent post for a description of that kind of bike holiday.

Things could change. It’s not impossible.

But for now if the only price I pay is walking up the odd hill, I’ll take it.

accessibility · fitness · trackers

Why Sam isn’t getting a fitness watch

I recently posted the following request to Facebook, “I’m often in meetings where I need to know the time but I don’t want to look at my phone. I know the answer, a wristwatch. I want something very mimimalist, no second hand, analog not digital, and it can’t be small. Suitable for wearing to work. Not gold. Also, I have large wrists. Watch wearing friends, what do you recommend? It’s been years.”

Like this! Image description: A black timex watch with white numbers and silver band around the face.

Like that but without the second hand and the military time. I wanted something minimalist but still readable. Not a digital watch and definitely not sporty. I wanted it for work so it needs to look good with suits and dresses. I got a ton of recommendations. Thanks friends.

Lots of you had brilliant suggestions. Some beautiful and out of my practical price range. I’m not sure if I’ll happily go back to the watch habit. And I take off watches and lose them so there’s that too. Others liked quirky trendy watches and predictably fights broke out among the purists. I love my friends.

But there was one answer that made me realize how much my life has changed. Lots of you were shocked I wasn’t already wearing a fitness tracker. You made suggestions about the best kind. The thing is I used to love having one and wearing it. But not anymore. The problem is that they mostly track steps and my steps are very limited these days. When I wear one I’m conscious of how little I’m walking and sometimes I walk when I shouldn’t. My knees are happiest on days with fewer than 5000 steps. I get that just walking around campus and taking the dog around the block.

I try to put step counts away but it’s so hard. See You are so much more than your step count.

GoogleFit has been better for me because it tracks active minutes and they’re the main thing rather than steps. So my reasons aren’t Tracy’s reasons. I’m a fan of tracking. But it makes sense to track things in your control, that you have reasons to care about, and for which tracking brings about a change in behavior in the right direction. Tracking steps isn’t that for me anymore.

Anyway, back to meetings. The meetings for which I want a watch aren’t working meetings. For those I have my laptop or phone out for access to documents. Tasks and machines go together. But some meetings are all about listening. I take handwritten notes. I don’t want to be distracted from what the person is saying or have them think I’m checking my phone for messages. Checking your phone sends a signal that glancing at your watch doesn’t. I’m still watch shopping. I’ll report back when I’ve made a decision.

Update: My new watch!

Sam’s new watch, a Skagen.
accessibility · cycling · disability · fitness

Safe cycling is a disability rights issue

I had a bit of a moment on Twitter last week.

I shared the tweet below and added, “Indeed. I’m someone who can ride a bike 100’s of kms but can’t walk more than a single km. My bikes are many things to me but they are also increasingly mobility aids. Safe city cycling is a disability rights issue. “

Four hundred+ likes and dozens of retweets and lots of new followers later, the virtual dust settled. It seems I’d hit a nerve. The thing is safe cycling isn’t just about the young and the fit and the able bodied.

I’ve written about this before.

I started to notice it when my knee got really bad and I was walking with a knee brace and cane. On two feet I was definitely a person with a disability, recognizably so, but put me on a bike and whee, zoom! I started to ride between meetings in campus. I bike to work even though it’s just over 2 km.

Sometimes I explain when people express surprise that I ride when I live so close. Other times I just let it go.

This was all pretty natural for me. I’m a cyclist. It’s part of who I am. But I can imagine that for lots of people who pre-injury or pre-chronic condition didn’t ride a bike, it wouldn’t be obvious that cycling is a great way to get around. Lots of people, watching me walk, were shocked that I could ride a bike.

When I ride a bike for disability reasons, I feel like I’ve joined a community of people who wheel rather than walk. That includes mobility scooters and wheelchairs and tricycles. Walk your bike? Um, what if I can’t? No ramp? We’re all in trouble.

Since then I’ve bought a Brompton which I travel with so I can get around in other cities. I take it in places, folded, walking, but often it would be easier if I could keep riding. It needs an accessibility/mobility device sticker!

I see people with scooters like this one using them inside and I’m jealous.

A man with a blue shirt and khaki pants sitting on a mobility scooter.

What are the big takeaway points?

  1. Not everyone riding a bike is able-bodied in virtue of riding a bike. We often stereotype people on bikes as young and able-bodied. From this article on bikes as rolling walking sticks: “For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around. “
  2. If you have difficulty standing or walking yourself, you might be surprised at how much better riding a bike feels. In my case it takes the weight off my joints and relieves almost all of the pain. Plus, I’m mobile.
  3. For municipal planning, safe bike lanes aren’t a luxury. Lots of people need to wheel around rather than walk. Safe cycling is a disability rights issue.
  4. “Walk your bike” isn’t always a good thing. That assumes that everyone can walk their bike. That’s simply not the case.

Once I started to pay attention to bikes this way, I started notice that there are lots of different bodies, with lots of different abilities out there on wheels.

accessibility · body image · disability · fitness · inclusiveness

Better language for inclusion needed: Not “all bodies can…”

As most of you know while this blog is very much a group project, I pretty much run our Facebook page solo. (I do get some help with moderation. Thanks blogging team!) But in general I read things that I think will interest our followers and I throw them on the page pretty quickly. I make mistakes. I learn things from our readers. I apologize.

Why have the page? It’s a great way to reach a broad audience and build community. Posts that aren’t shared there aren’t nearly as well read as posts that are. Also, there are a ton of stories that come across my newsfeed that I don’t necessarily want to write about but that I think will interest our readers and followers.

Yesterday I shared this story about plus sized outside adventurers. I commented “all bodies are outside bodies.”

But of course there’s reason to be wary of “all bodies” language. Our bodies vary a lot in shape and size and ability. One reader commented, helpfully, that we need better language around inclusion. She has ankle injuries and instability and can no longer hike and misses it.

Hey, me too! I can’t walk very far these days without my knee brace and even with the brace hiking on uneven ground is out of the picture. Now I didn’t say “all bodies are hiking bodies” I deliberately said “all bodies are outdoors bodies” because I was thinking of recent attempts here in Ontario to make provincial parks and beaches wheel chair accessible.

But I get the general point. I feel it when people say “it’s never too late.” Yes, as a matter of fact sometimes it is too late. I’ll never run or play soccer again.

So we want to make sure plus sized bodies are included so we say “all bodies” but not all bodies can do all things. What’s your thoughts about better language for inclusion? Do you mind all bodies talk? How about “all bodies are good bodies?”

accessibility · fitness · Guest Post · motivation · race report · running

Julie’s Lulu 10K – in which the swag was good and Anita and Tracy were voices in her head (guest post)

by Julie

Last Saturday I embarked on the Lululemon 10K I would say that I am not too much into material things but for those that know me would say that might be a stretch when it comes to Lulu! I like to do races for the company and the swag but this race I only had the swag as my company, Anita and Tracy, have been globe trotting and training for the 30 K the past few months. 

I have to admit I have not run as often as I should but when I do I run hard for like 5 minutes and crash when I am on my own. Anita is the pacer of the group and without her I am often lost. When alone I often call this my ‘run like hell’ and die runs or sprint and walk. Tracy is the one that often motivates with her interesting and passionate discussions and the things I have gained from the both of them can not be measured in words.

Image description: full body shot of three women, Julie, Tracy and Anita, dressed in summer running gear (shorts, tanks, and running shoes), blue sky and trees in the background. Taken a couple of summers ago after a Sunday run.

I was a bit nervous but I had done a lengthy run 2 weekends before with Anita (almost died but survived) and I was going out every other night for my run and die sprints. So I felt confident and I approached it with the attitude of once I have the shirt I only have to finish and they had walkers at the end so no shame. 

I was grateful to learn that there was a pace bunny, incredibly people these pacers, just ask Tracy and I how grateful we are to have Anita to ‘slow us down guys.’ My approach that morning was no technology, no phones, no watch, other than my fossil time telling and no monitoring devices. Just me, the ground and 10 000 other racers.

I felt good and we started early so this bode’s well for me and my bathroom habits so off I went, alone, into the running coral. I pulled into the Green coral for the 61-75 minutes and found a bunny. It was typically crowded and the weather was exactly perfect, not too hot or sunny and I was dressed right. When we started to go I felt strong and listened to Anita in my head telling me to hold back and slow it down. No need to burnout I did this once and it was very self defeating. 

I passed the markers with pretty good ease and tried to stick to a 10 min run and 1 min walk as I normally do but I was feeling good after 20 minutes so I kept pace behind the bunny with only about 3 walks for less than a minute for the total race. I could hear Tracy in my mind commenting on the pacing and the feeling of the race, there were bands and singers, lots of energy and at one point I passed a series of spin cyclists biking and cheering us on. I wondered what Tracy would have thought she likes to see these things along the race and  there were the giant angels with donuts, the dancers and of course the witty signs. However, with all of this I looked up and saw that 7 km had gone by with a fair bit of ease so I picked up the pace and rounded the bend to the uphill.

I remember this from my Scotiabank Race a few years back but I was strong, calm and Anita was there chanting in my mind to keep a steady pace. I hit the top of the hill and with 2 km left to go I picked it up more and the crowds were a bit heavier. I was a bit frustrated by the lack of runners etiquette with many slower runners going 4-5 wide and it was difficult to pass. No one was moving to the right and a couple of times I almost ran into people in mid stride on the left side of the lane who just stopped. I was tired but used a few tricks Tracy told me about in her training (1,2,3,4 …I can run a little more, 5,6,7,8 … keep on going get to the gate … 9,10 do it again!) 

I rounded the bend and saw my chance and took off for the finish. 

I finished the race in good time 1 hour and 3 minutes!! The worst part of the race was the finish line where everyone stopped before hitting the third marker and then the crowds came to a slow crawl. It seemed to take forever to get the medal and there were people just crowded everywhere. One could not go left or right. They handed out Sage essential oils and some snack bars but I did not get these as I was not able to see anyone in the mosh pit of a finish line. I got my banana and tried to get to an exit which was impossible. They handed out boxes of what I learned later were dry and dusty donuts but the box was neat. It took about 20 minutes to go from the finish line to a clearing. 

All in all I was so happy with my time and my t-shirt and I purchased some extra swag at the end with Toronto 2019 and coordinates on them so that was a nice $$$ takeaway. 

Would I do it again? Given the distance from home it is a bit more $$ but if you make it a bit of a trip and like the gear then it was fun. I am happy with my time and I got my banana! I also learned that the people you run with over time become a part of your race and inspire you in so many different ways. No technology made it better I think as I was not focused on a wrist watch and I instead felt my feet on the pavement, my breath in the air and my friends in my mind. I will rate this one a success and on to my next race or Sunday run with Tracy and Anita (if they are up for the challenge)!

Julie Riley – Fitness enthusiast at times reluctantly but always a team player! Runner, CrossFit and general city walker who also teaches yoga on the side. Julie is passionate about working on her healthy choices one day at a time without judgement of the setbacks!

accessibility · body image · fitness · SamanthaWalsh

Body Diversity (Guest Post)

By Samantha Walsh

Saturday was the Protest against Divisiveness with @connectionarts. It really was not a protest, but more of an installation. The event was to draw attention to the need for unity and collaboration.

Each model was able to pick their own slogan. I picked “Human Diversity.” I think this speaks to the need to value disability and that the notion of one standard body is a myth. Additionally, difference makes us stronger as a society.

The event offered an opportunity for onlookers to better understand why folks would be compelled to participate in body painting. My friend @elisabethalicee was my artist. (There were more models than artists.) I think she did a great job. The installation took place in time square and there was a mile long parade after to the flat iron building.

This was a very different experience than the other two events I have participated in. There was a lot more media. Folks in Times Square were a lot more vocal and sometimes rude. The day overall was great. However, I did end up putting clothes on part way through the parade, because I was at the back end of the parade and at points felt unsafe.

Overall, the experience was great and gave me a lot to think about. Another cool feature of yesterday is I have done enough body painting that I now know some folks from the past. Additionally, I met a really cool fellow disabled woman, she and I were steadfast in the feeling that representation matters.

I am so pleased Human Connection Arts is in my life.

Samantha Walsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Sociology. She also works in the Not-For-Profit Sector.

You can read all of Samantha’s posts here.

accessibility · body image · cycling · Fear · fitness

Sam gets told “Get off the road fat bitch” and mostly feels sad and confused

It had been one of those days.

My university age son, home for the summer, has a summer job that has his alarm go off at 5 am. I get up with him and mostly that’s great for my summer schedule.

He rides his bike to work and packs his lunch. It’s a physically demanding job and there’s no food there.

Except this day he got part way to work and remembered that his lunch was on the kitchen counter. Return home, retrieve lunch. Then he got back on his bike but his chain fell off and it wouldn’t go back on. This time I just drove him.

I got to work later on my bike and remembered that I was almost out of Synthroid. I had thyroid cancer a few years back and take Synthroid everyday now. That’s okay, I think, the pharmacy is open until 6 and the last thing on my calendar ends at 4 and I can bike there.

Except it was one of those days. I checked the pharmacy hours. They close at 5 on Fridays and they’re not open all weekend. I checked my calendar and the last thing ended at 430. Yikes.

Needless to say it was a speedy bike ride through traffic. But I made it. Whee! Zoom! Yay! I left the pharmacist feeling fit and powerful.

But leaving the pharmacy there’s a four way stop. I’m great at four way stops. I don’t go straight through. I stop and wait and take my turn. I make eye contact with drivers. That’s easier at four way stops than it is at intersections with lights, less time for phone checking.

So two cars go and it’s my turn and the driver next up at the sign on the other corner signals for me to go. Nice. Clear communication! Except the guy in the oversized pick up truck behind him (why is it an oversized pick up truck every time?) starts honking. “Don’t wait for her! Go! Go!”

Nice guy waits anyway and I proceed through the four way stop. Next through is angry pick up man who continues honking, roars out of the intersection and yells some variant of”Get off the road fat bitch” at me. It’s always “fat bitch.” Okay, you can tell I’m fat but how do you know I’m a bitch, I wonder. I’m on a bike. Even though I’m smiling, I guess that’s enough to merit the bitch badge.

I’ve written about this before, this abuse hurled at cyclists, especially women, maybe especially larger women. I’m genuinely sad and puzzled.

I’m sad and puzzled a lot these days as I struggle to understand the world around me and our collective political choices. Things seem so mean and small minded. I understand wanting less government and a balanced budget. I don’t understand the right wing populist politics that’s around these days with its not so thinly veiled racism and transphobia. The anti-immigration stuff makes zero sense to me.

I try to get inside his head, the guy who bought the large pick up truck and is now driving through a neighbourhood full of speed bumps and four way stops. What’s his world like?

I also want to defend myself. I’m exercising. Surely that counts? Surely even if you think I’m awful to look at because fat, I’m out there exercising and that’s better than sitting at home or driving a car?

But I stop myself. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I deserve respect as a person. I don’t need to be a person exercising to merit non-abusive treatment.

Friends joke about making the small penis hand sign at him.

But the thing is I’ve always thought that was unfair and body shaming to men with small penises. I’ve got a thing about treating men’s bodies with respect too.

May 27 was Bike to Work Day here in Guelph and June is Bike Month. I’m pretty immune to drivers hurling abuse at me but I tried imagining if the insult did get beneath my skin what that would feel like. What would it feel like to be new to bike commuting? When the angry aggressor is driving a large heavy metal box that can go fast and hit hard, and you’re a woman who has been hit hard and yelled at by men before (that would be most of us) it’s especially frightening.

In the end I land on the usual line of “some people are just jerks”and move on. I’m angry though that male jerks in particular feel free to comment on women’s bodies and yell at us from their vehicles. Mostly though in sad and puzzled. And I think we need a signal for toxic masculinity that doesn’t rely on body shaming.