boats · cycling · fitness · holidays

Biking and boating round two: Sam has a great day on the boat and the worst bike ride of her life

I blogged last summer about combining boating and biking.  It’s part of my effort to spend time seeing beautiful Ontario countryside by boat (thanks Jeff!) while also getting some road cycling in. That’s partly about fitness but mostly about pleasure. I like moving, not sitting, and the bike/boat combo seems like a great way to do that. In Europe there are lots of bike paths that run alongside the canals and there’s a whole tourist industry built around the boating-biking thing. It’s your mobile home on water that you meet up with at the end of each cycling day. No need to carry stuff. It stays in the boat. Got a non-cycling friend or partner? They can stay in the boat too. You’re both going to the same place.

Last year it worked really well. This time it didn’t work so well but the boating part was a lot fun anyway. The basic idea is sound. For us it’s not about following the boat by bike. What bikes allow you to do is go back and get your car and keep your car near to the boat for trip home. With all the locks and no-wake zones the boat isn’t making great time and so mid-afternoon it’s easy to bike back to where you started and rescue the car. That way when you go to leave the car is nearby.

On day 1 we started in Peterborough with the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock and with best of intentions of biking but we started late and Jeff didn’t have bike shorts and instead we motored on up the canal.

We had dinner out that night and stayed in Young’s Point, anchored where we could hear loons with some bonus cottage noises–playing children and personal watercraft. Zoom zoom.

Bikes at rest on the boat

The next day it was raining hard. But now we couldn’t avoid biking as we had to go back and get the car. Biking and boating involves bike trips back to the car and then shuffling the car on ahead. We waited the rain out until it stopped and then went on what was possibly the worst bike ride of my life. I don’t usually write about things that don’t go well. But this time, cottage country, I’m making an exception.

The main road we needed to ride on was busy and had an inadequate shoulder for riding on. Worse though were the people honking at us and passing too closely.

I got home and posted to Twitter

“Dear cottage country, Would it kill you to pave the shoulders? It might kill us cyclists if you don’t. I’m not asking for separate bike lanes, nothing fancy, but paved shoulders, please.”

“Dear cottage country drivers, We’re bikes, riding single file, just two of us. Speed 25 km/hr. You’re cars going 95 km in an 80 zone. You’re passing us and there’s a dotted line and no oncoming traffic. You’re allowed, in fact required, to leave the lane. Please pass safely. #opp.”

(You can follow me on Twitter. I’m @SamJaneB)

Later, we looked at a bike guide for the area and saw this road labelled, “High volume road, use appropriate caution.”

After the busy road there was my next favorite: gravel bike path. And it was followed by a construction zone that had us riding on the sidewalk. Just 3 km from our car I got a flat. Argh!

At first I thought the drivers just hated cyclists but later I drove a car through the area and continued to get abuse. Argh.

Bikes departing the boat. Ominous grey skies overhead.

The next day we could have ridden some more but I looked at the roads and decided to stay on the boat. It was a gorgeous day and we made the right call.

My highlights were the Kirkfield lift lock and Fenelon Falls.

And no one honked at us!

Sam and Sarah on Mazurka with Sarah at the helm

Lesson learned. The next time we plan a biking and boating adventure we’re going to check out the cycling options more carefully.

Check out Jeff’s boating blog here and follow his adventures.

aging · cycling · fitness

And whoosh, I am carried forward! on needing and getting a throttle (guest post)

Dear readers, I’m delighted to share with you one of my favorite posts by one of my favorite bloggers, Coach Aruni.  I took her mindfulness in eating course at Kripalu in western Massachusetts, and she gave me some tools for thinking differently about body image, self-acceptance, self-love and eating in more satisfying ways (to me).

This re-post from her newsletter and link to her blog is about bikes, e-bikes, and the joy and freedom of movement on two wheels. Enjoy!

Aruni and friend, small kids with big bikes and big adventures in mind.
Aruni and friend, small kids with big bikes and big adventures in mind.

Biking was freedom. As I kid, I couldn’t get home from my school, John James Audubon #42, fast enough to shed my school clothes and wiggle into my play clothes. Dragging my bike out of the cellar, up into the back yard, awkwardly sprinting with it through the narrow walkway separating our house from Mrs. Eisner’s next door, with the two sitting lions guarding her entry, onto the street, Arthur Avenue, and whoosh, into Nay Aug Park, across from our house. I would lose myself in the spiraling bumpy paved paths there, biking and weaving and pretending I was a Royal Canadian Mountie, out to save the beautiful damsel in distress. (It was my era of Sargent King of the Yukon—I was infatuated with the uniform.) School, it’s stressors, my aloneness, my stuttering, all faded as I biked onward, peddling toward glory and that well-earned kiss.

As childhood passed, my biking receded, as did my obsession with the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounties. Time and life went by. It all changed.

However, once in the ashram, biking had its resurgence. We were an active lot back then and my then- fantasy-crush, my now-wife-of-decades, was one of the most active of all us “sisters”. Biking, hiking, swimming, we were committed to the unity of body, mind, and spirt. The Berkshire Hills were not daunting for me; fueled by sisterhood, spiritual longing, carnal lust, and a plain, ordinary desire to fit in, I biked and biked on.

While courting and married, biking continued its role as primary activity in our burgeoning family life, the hub of vacations, amazing day trips, great adventures big and small. This continued for a long while, years upon years, until it didn’t.

It all changed. Why does it shock me when things change? Everything always does.

My wife hurt her knee. I tried biking that first summer without her. It didn’t stick; I missed walking the dogs and being in the family unit. Solo-pleasure seemed unwarranted, undeserved. A few more bike-less summers passed. I got older and slower, with less energy. I hurt my shoulder. We got a new president. I gained weight. Blah-blah. And blah. Not only was there no biking, there didn’t live in me the willingness to take the risk and get out of there and try. I knew I was no longer able to—to what? To get up the hills? To feel that free in my body? To relax into that level of bliss?

The Berkshires Hills were now, for me at sixty-eight, truly daunting.

Until Boomer. Who is Boomer, you might wonder? Boomer is my one-month-old bike-friend, my new e-bike. E stands for electric; she, unlike me, is fueled by a battery. When I need the assist in moving forward, in getting up the hill, both literal and metaphoric, I put slight pressure on the throttle, and WOOSH, I am carried forward.

I now have a throttle. I didn’t even know that I needed one. A friend initiated me into the world of the e-bike. I had no clue about my need or any potential response or solution.

Realizing I now have an externally provided throttle is my fighting back against aging, giving my middle finger to mortality; nothing can stop me now. I’ve had a profound month, biking around, getting use to Boomer’s larger, stockier frame and relaxing into my relationship to that amazing apparatus, the throttle. Initially I had some shame; some still lingers. She’s so Cute, that bike, so fancy and upscale. Shouldn’t I be able to do It all myself? Obviously, the answer is simple. No. I need help.

I can ask for help. Clearly, I need it. I didn’t realize how vulnerable and tentative I have felt, so distant from accessing the energy of moving up the hills of my life. But now, there is a throttle. As I engage it, support is right there, at my fingertips.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge change? How come asking for help often doesn’t even exist on our radar? What strategies can we use to imagine creating support, manifesting an “external throttle” to get up the steep slopes of our lives? Please come on over to this week’s blog as we explore this arena of life. At the blog, too, you’ll find a of picture of Boomer and me in our new partnership, sixty years after the above picture of me in the land of Biking Bliss, 1956. I also will post a snap from this morning’s glorious Berkshire ride. (here it is!)

Aruni and Boomer, a big red bike and her new two-wheeled partner in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Aruni and Boomer, a big red bike and her new two-wheeled partner in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.


Aruni is a writer, teacher/facilitator, and life coach. You can read more about her and from her on her blog here.

accessibility · cycling · fitness

Sam is sorry she was a bit of a fitness snob about e-bikes

One good thing that’s happened to me as a result of my knee problems is that I’ve got a much richer appreciation of the fact that people come to fitness from many different places. I can see now why people thought past me was just a little bit insufferable. I’ve apologized a few times, first for saying if you don’t love it, don’t do it (see An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…) and second for saying it’s never too late, because sometimes it is (see The second thing Sam is going to stop saying…)

As someone who has always walked a lot and always ridden a bike and lifted weights since grad school, I come to new fitness activities in not awful shape to begin with. But that’s not true for everyone. Not everyone starts from the same place. In the past I don’t think I appreciated where people were with their fitness for different activities. For example, I dragged Tracy on some very long bike rides for which she wasn’t prepared. There was a 40 km ride that turned out to be 60 km. Later there was a promised century ride that turned out to be 110 km. Likewise, I’ve taken friends and family on hikes that have outstripped their abilities. Mea culpa.

We all start in different places. I’ve been riding a lot (where “a lot”= 3000-5000 km a year) for about fifteen years now. That’s why I feel like I’ve got 100 km in the bank. Check out my recent post about the 1 day version of the bike rally. I can ride that far at almost any time. But not everyone can do that. Beginners can’t do that. People new to cycling can’t do that and people new to fitness altogether certainly can’t.

Beginners can be beginners at a particular activity, like Tracy and road cycling. Or they can be beginners to physical activity in any form. These days, with cars and sofas and desks as the backdrop for our lives, we can start out pretty unfit. Someone found our blog recently by searching the following phrase: “I’m so unfit that even gardening is too much for me.” I discovered this when researching a blog post on why people hate exercise. Some people are so unfit, researchers say, that even cooking dinner and walking around the house can elevate their heart rate. See Hate exercise? You might just be much more unfit than you think.

So when Tracy writes about starting out small, for some people small might be really tiny.

That hit home when I was talking with someone recently about getting started cycling. She wanted to ride her bike to work but had to work up to the 5 km trip. She was riding around her neighbourhood, adding a block each night. She wanted to ride but couldn’t yet ride distances that would be useful. I couldn’t imagine not being able to ride 5 km but I rode a bike as a child and I’ve been a lifelong bike commuter.

Then it hit me! She needs an e-bike. See this piece on the health benefits of riding an e-bike.

In the past I haven’t been a fan of e-bikes. That’s mostly because I associated with them the faux scooters with vestigial pedals designed just to get around the rules that would require a license and insurance. I blogged about that kind here.

Image result for ebikes

But genuine e-assist bikes? They have their charms. A friend in Germany rides one because his route to work has hills and he doesn’t want to arrive sweaty. He’s a pretty fit guy who races in triathlons but he likes the e-bike for commuting. Another friend’s dad in Australia rides one because, as a life long cyclist, he wanted to keep riding but he could no longer make it up the hills. If I were to go back to New Zealand, I’d be tempted!

Then Elan blogged about her experiences renting an eBike and how much she liked it. I’ve got a good friend who bought one because it meant she could do all her commuting and errand running by bike rather than by bike + bus combo.

Finally, another friend bought an e-assist for her cargo bike. She’s riding with stuff and two kids and needs a bit of help on hills. Who could possibly blame her? Not me.

Image result for ebikes

So I’ve started to think about e-bikes differently. There are lots of good reasons to ride one including as a way to start out as a cyclist if you’re pretty unfit to begin. You can gradually use less and less of the e-assist and make practical use of the bike right from the start.

What do you think?

I can’t see them being used on bike clubs’ group rides and I wonder if they’ll make cycling holidays more accessible but I can see them making perfect sense as practical commuting and errand running bikes for beginners.

They’re also great for the environment.

See The Case for E-Bikes.

cycling · fitness

Two great things go great together: feminist philosophy and bikes

Since Wednesday night, I’ve been in Corvallis, OR at a feminist philosophy conference called FEMMSS– Feminist Epistemologies, Methodologies, Metaphysics, and Science Studies.  The theme this year is Navigating Habitats: feminist explorations of disability, climates, ecosystems, and technologies.  It ends Saturday (for me– I’m taking a dreaded redeye home to Boston, wearing my new travel compression socks!)

The main conference events– talks and panels and workshops and keynote– have been throughly engrossing, informative, provocative and fun. But wait, there’s more.  The conference organizers included some late afternoon activities to help us unwind, relax, and shift gears (in my case, literally). In addition to late afternoon yoga on the grass (which I engaged in on Friday), there was a basics of bike repair workshop. Run by me.

End-of-conference-day bike repair workshop.  Okay, cool, but isn’t that a bit random?

Not entirely.

This idea popped up when a friend posted on Facebook that she had dropped her bike chain and needed help to replace it.  A bunch of people posted, some offering to go to her house to fix it for her.  I posted to say that if I lived in her town (we live in different countries), I’d show her how to replace the chain (which is done in a jiffy). We chatted a bit, and it turned out she was not coming to the FEMMSS conference.

Then it occurred to me:  maybe there are other feminist philosophers in need of some bike maintenance tips, which are hard to explain over the internet but easy-peasy in person. Thus was born the idea of the conference bike repair workshop.

Attending were a small but enthusiastic group of four (and then two hardcore folks).  We went over how and how often to put air in tires (how often? optimally before every ride, but at least once a week).  Then I demonstrated how to change a tire. It requires tire levers (I carry three with me just in case the tire is tough to remove from the rim), a pump (I had a floor pump with me, but a small one will do, or you can use CO2), and some oomph and determination. I’m not linking to any particular youtube video here, as I haven’t screened them, but check them out.  And then find a friend or local bike shop person to show you.  In my view, in person is the best way.

For me, the movements involved in changing a tire are always the same.  When I talked to the local bike shop– Peak Sports in Corvallis— the folks I talked to all agreed that the process is kind of ritualistic.  But of course it’s easily teachable, and practice makes it a routine thing to do.

I want to take a moment here to express my gratitude to Peak Sports for lending me a road bike, floor pump and tire levers FOR FREE to do this workshop.  All just because I called them and asked about borrowing these things.  I didn’t even have to leave a credit card– just ID info.  I love this so much– their friendly, open, happy-to-help attitude.  Thanks Russ and Greg and the others I talked to!

After the demo, feminist philosopher Stephanie offered to try it herself. With a little bit of direction, she got it done.  Of course.

Then feminist philosopher Cate wanted to know about buying a road bike. We talked about price, sizing, saddles (pro tip: throw away the saddle it comes with and buy your own after trying a bunch of them) and fitting (my advice: get a fitting– you’ll be very happy you did).

Here are some pics, mainly of me gesturing about chains, and then trying not mess up the (inexplicably) white saddle with my bike-grease-covered hands.  I wore all black that day with the bike repair workshop in mind.

It was so much fun to share two of my favorite things– feminist philosophy and bikes– with other like-minded folks. Thanks so much to the organizers of the FEMMSS conference (especially you, Shari!).  Next conference:  organized bike ride! You heard it here first…




cycling · Sat with Nat

Nat enjoyed a pretty awesome MS Bike Tour

For the second year in a row I got to ride in the Grand Bend MS Bike Tour. This year my cycling was sparse and I was nervous about completing the ride.

My team, London Lifecycles, is packed with colleagues and friends. I get a lot of joy from hanging out with them.

Natalie faces the camera smiling. Behind her is a group of people chatting animatedly wearing orange cycling jerseys

This year I started Day 1 with my friend Tracy & her 7 year old son Tyler. We rode the first 40km together. The Sweeps were lovely but I hoped I wouldn’t see them again. I hopped on my bike and gave my best effort.

Day 2 I decided to ride on my own. I had a great time seeing friends pass me or chat at the checkpoints. The weather was ideal, 25C with light wind. I finished the route nearly an hour faster than last year. I’m 99% sure that was due to the weather.

It was still hot though.

 Natalie looks at the camera with a rye face. Her hair is wet and standing on end

It was a great weekend and the perfect way to kick off my vacation.

clothing · cycling · family · Guest Post

On cycling with my son and not being the one in a proper kit (Guest post)

By Alison Reiheld

My youngest son—who we refer to as Son 2 when we talk about him on the internet–is 10 years old, and bikes crazy. Along with my husband, who cycles on an amateur team and loves long roadbike rides, he often goes out for 12 or even 20 mile rides. I don’t often go with them because I have a hybrid. However, in the summers when I take the kids up to the Traverse City area in the northern peninsula of lower Michigan (AKA the Mitten), Son 2 only gets long rides if I am game. Two years ago, we noticed a long stretch of lovely trail up near Petoskey and Charlevoix along Lake Michigan and vowed to ride it. Last year, we rented hybrid bikes for a few hours and followed through; I blogged about it here.

This year, Son 2 and I decided to try a new-to-us trail on the Leelenau peninsula. Only completed 6 years ago, the dedicated Leelenau Trail rail-to-trail system is 17 miles from just north of Traverse City up to Suttons Bay, criss-crossing major roads at stop-signed intersections. At the three trailheads with dedicated trail parking lots, bike servicing stations provide manual pumps and bike tool sets as well as water fountains and trail maps. Along the way, the trail is well-maintained with the occasional rest stop and port-a-potty provided by the TART trail system.

Perhaps most importantly when cycling with kids, there is a bike-and-ride system incorporated into the trail. Whether you ride the trail one way from TC to Suttons Bay, or Suttons Bay to TC, you can catch the bus back. Don’t want to ride roundtrip, for your own reasons or to save kids’ legs so it stays fun the whole way? Just catch the bus back.

We chose to start a little north of Traverse City at the easily-accessed Cherry Bend Road trailhead, which was quite close to the corresponding return bus stop on Cherry Bend Road. Our plan was to rent a hybrid for me, while Son 2 would use his own wee road bike which we were able to fit handily in the back of the van on the trip from Illinois to Michigan. We intended to ride the remaining 14 mile stretch of trail up to Suttons Bay, have a nice lunch, walk past some shops downtown, and pick up the bus at the Suttons Bay library on the way back. And this is exactly what happened.


The Cherry Bend Road trailhead had ample parking. From there, we could have gone south into Traverse City, or north up to Suttons Bay, which we did. The trail is even, with only some elevation. Since both TC and Suttons Bay are on the west arm of the Grand Traverse Bay, both directions have the same amount of up and down; there is no easier direction in this respect. The Leelenau peninsula is covered in agriculture, from cherry orchards to grapevines to grains. The stretches of the trail which pass through these fields are only occasionally shaded, but flat and speedy riding.


Benches are placed far more frequently than needed. Son 2 says “the benches were placed about halfway between where people needed it and where they didn’t need it, and they were also strategically placed at beautiful spots.” He speaks truth. Occasionally we would go by one and he would say “I want to stop here, too, but we just stopped!” (we rested twice for water and the view).

Our first stop was on a bit of a hill with woods behind and fields below, the bench in the shade and our water bottles still cool.


Before we took off, we agreed a mom-and-kid selfie was in order. As we came back out into the fields, we stopped again really quickly to take in the view, which included fields of grass shaded green and light purple.


Carrying on, we passed signs for turns to vineyards, shops, and more. One family had placed a handmade hand-varnished picnic table under a tree on their property with a few snacks in a box labeled “take one”, and the word “welcome” carved into the end of the table. Another resident had built an elaborate garden along their entire stretch of the trail, with American flags and pennants of many colors strung along and across the trail. There was a sculpture of frog in a straw hat riding a bike, and a windcatcher sculpture turning in the wind that blew refreshingly across the trail.

At one point, we saw a building with one full wall intact, the others crumbled, made of concrete with smooth river stones set into its exterior walls. We stopped here for another break, accidentally gifting a small pink water bottle to whomever next stumbled upon the shaded picnic table nearby.


When we got to Suttons Bay, the trail carried on a bit, and we turned off towards downtown, walking our bikes until we came to a rack and then locking them. We walked around a bit, hit some of Suttons Bay’s many pokestops for our ongoing family game of Pokemon Go, and grabbed a special treat of steak at a decent restaurant we picked out by using Yelp. A short bikeride later, we arrived at the Suttons Bay Library right next to a lovely park with a good playground near the marina. The bus stop was clearly marked right out in front and a shelter was provided. I realized belatedly that I didn’t have exact change for the bus, and popped into a redolent tea shop where the proprietress kindly broke my $20 bill for me, and I dropped $1 each in her donation bowls for the local LGBTQ support center and the local Women’s Center.

The bus pulled up right on time, and we put our bikes on the front. When the bus pulled up to the next stop, just south of Suttons Bay, a family of three children and one adult joined us, putting most of their bikes on the interior rack. The converted school bus has the capacity for eleven bikes, as indicated in this picture Son 2 took from his aisle seat.


The bus dropped us back at the Cherry Bend stop, we unloaded our bikes, and rode half a mile to the trailhead where we found our vehicle unmolested and put our bikes in the back as happy cyclists rode past on the trail behind us.

The trail had many people, but did not feel crowded. There were enough folks that we could ride for a bit with someone and strike up a conversation, or meet someone at a rest stop, and loads of people commented on Son 2’s speed with his wee road bike. I want to emphasize that I am not a cyclist. I am not steeped in cycling culture. I am not regularly on a bike, though I do walk a lot and occasionally run and do a startling number of pushups for someone my size. I found this ride, even on a rented hybrid whose saddle was an insult to my buttocks, entirely doable. Son 2 said afterwards that he could probably have done the 28 mile round trip, but was glad he didn’t have to.

I heartily recommend either the trip we took last year, or this one. Both can be pushed out to be a very long pleasant ride through beautiful terrain for seasoned cyclists, or easily shortened and, in this case, combined with the bike-and-ride bus, for those with less training or who are habituated to shorter more leisurely rides. Because of this, both are suitable for individuals and families with kids, of a variety of age ranges and fitness ranges. Folks who enjoy shopping and/or cute downtowns will get a big kick out of Suttons Bay where the downtown theater still operates a single screen for residents and visitors.

I will close by noting that more than once, Son 2 was complimented on his kit, and it was clear to everyone that the youngest of us was the most experienced. This had the merits of being both flattering to me as a parent, and true. Also true: this was a wholly pleasant experience with not a single downside except the loss of a single water bottle, pink, which I hope someone else found and now loves.

Gratuitous bonus shot of east arm of Traverse Bay, from the city beach in Elk Rapids, MI.
charity · cycling

Sam and Sarah’s first metric century of the summer on the 1 day version of the Friends for Life Bike Rally: We made it to Port Hope!

It was actually a metric century (100 km) and change: 117 km in total. And we were so happy we did it. Neither of us had trained much this summer what with new job, moving, knee injury, sailboat racing, etc. Now I often say that after years of cycling I feel like I have 100 km in the bank. I feel like I could go out and ride 100 km on the first day of the spring cycling season. It wouldn’t be pretty and I might suffer the next day but I could do it. I’m not actually sure if that’s true but it’s how I feel.

The problem is that day 1 of the bike rally isn’t any old 100 km. It’s often extremely hot. There’s a lot of fuss and bother and stopping and starting getting out of Toronto. The rally always reminds me what a big city it is. The getting out of the city is followed by long sections on speed limited multi use pathways complete with dogs, children playing, roller bladers, long boarders. The view of the lake is gorgeous and it’s nice to be out of traffic but again there’s lots of slowing and speeding up, cheerfully calling out out “on your left” and telling people how many bikes are on the rally and what we’re raising money for. I’m very conscious of representing a group and a cause and I’m on my very best riding behavior. I love the last 20 km of countryrods and rolling hills. They’re exhausting but beautiful and each year I promise myself that I’ll go back and ride just that section fresh, not at the end of a long day on the bike.

There were lots of smiles that day in our small group of two. First, it wasn’t hot. There was a forecast high of 24 and low humidity. Perfect! Second, we paced ourselves and rested lots and really enjoyed the ride. I’m faster than Sarah uphills but even then I managed to slow down, spin, and not get too far ahead. How? See Sam’s bad knee cures Sam of a bad bike habit  She holds her own on the flats and downhill. Third, my knee was fine. I thought it would be but even so I worried about that much time on the bike. Fourth, Sarah was happy to discover that addressing an iron deficiency has helped her aerobic capacity and fitness.

We had a lovely evening at the camp with other 1 day riders and the 6 day riders who were camping in Port Hope and pushing on the next day. Truth be told, I was sad leaving and  I wished I was along for the full ride. But this year, this was the right choice. I was able to maintain my connection with this important cause and this wonderful community. It was my 5th year and my first time not doing the full thing. My social media newsfeed is full of past rallies. Don’t worry friends, I’ll be back!

Want to make me feel better about not doing the whole thing? You can still sponsor me, by the way!

PLEASE SPONSOR Samantha Brennan