My mother the cyclist!

Regular readers of the blog know that I’m part of a family of cyclists. My daughter Mallory and I ride together a lot. See here for our most recent adventure. But I didn’t know that my mother, Kathleen Brennan, rode a bike as a child.

It’s not that she’s never ridden a bike. She did ride my old bike for awhile as a grandmother caring for grandchildren when my sons were riding bikes to school and needed accompaniment. My mum took care our kids while Jeff and I both worked from the time our third child was born. So I have seen her on a bike. It’s just that I’ve never thought of her as having a bike riding past.

I made the discovery about my mother’s bike riding past this week when we had a basement flood. Boxes of old family photos were in the basement and Facebook friends know that we’ve been traveling down memory lane a bit. I keep taking pictures of photos and sharing them in Facebook albums (with family members’ permission, of course) before they dry all curled up. Our houses are interesting places to be right now as the old photos are being laid out on all flat surfaces everywhere to dry.

It turns out that my mum got her bike Christmas when she was 10. She lived in small town northern England, in Lancashire that’s part of a cluster of connected towns and communities–Colne, Nelson, Barrowford, Brierfield, and Burnley.

The photo below is from her school’s Bike Safety Rally in 1954 when she was 12. Notice the lack of helmets. But I love the smiling faces and her basket!

That’s my mother, Kathleen, on the far left.

I asked her some questions about riding a bike: Did she remember riding? Did she like it? Was safety a big deal for kids who ride the way it is now? Why did she stop?

Here are some of her replies, “Yes, I remember riding my bike. It gave me a certain amount of freedom. It was a big deal when I got the bike as it was new, a Christmas present. I remember being so excited as there wasn’t any snow and I could use it that day. No, I don’t think safety was as big an issue. We had the safety rally at school but I don’t remember getting much in the way of advice from parents as neither of them rode a bike that I know. Also, we never really had to use the main road, so many small local streets you could get into Nelson easily. I used to go to the library for me and Dad. I think there was equal riding for both girls and boys. I loved riding and for a while went to work by bike then I changed jobs and went by bus. I think I stopped riding when your Dad came on the scene. He had a motor cross motor bike and we used to go to rallies.”

Thanks Mum!

A love letter to my bike, and others

Sam gave it away on Facebook this week: today’s post is about my time at bike camp in Table Rock State Park, South Carolina. We got back a week ago today, and man, do I ever wish I was still there.

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A view of the southern Appalachians from the top of Caesar’s Head in South Carolina. The skies are unsettled, cloudy and grey; the mountains are blue-grey. There is a lookout and a tree in the near right distance.

The riding was really hard and really fun, and as I predicted in my post last month, I was ready and managed some (for me) good finishes. I’ve got goals for next year, and absolutely, I’m already planning to head back (maybe even in the fall, by myself… stay tuned).

Susan reminded us recently, though, that the bunch of us who contribute regularly in this space have a tendency to toot the old horn. Not that this is a problem – women, own your awesomeness, PLEASE! – but it is sometimes, I suspect, a bit much. Maybe a little bit smug. Because fitness and athletics is all about failure, as well as success. You can’t have one without the other.

I didn’t have any epic fails at camp, but I did have a few moments when I got hit, hard, with the reminder that being on my bike is not about anything more than being on my bike. That’s enough. And women, is it ever glorious and powerful! Just to be able to do this wonderful thing called riding my bike when I want to.

I wanted to share three of these small, but precious, moments with you.

On our first day, my group (“B”) rode up Paris mountain, near Traveller’s Rest (a groovy suburb of Greenville. GOOD COFFEE!). It was my first mountain ride in a while – even though by mountain standards Paris is a bit small (20 minutes to the top, give or take). But on this day, the snow had fallen early in the morning, and it was still clinging to the branches at the upper elevations as I rode into the clouds. Blossoms and snow… it reminded me of time I spent in Japan, and felt quiet and magical as I moved through it. I stopped breathing heavily; I slowed my pace a bit so my heart rate could catch up with the scenery. I wished I could stop to take a photo but was pretty sure that would mean I couldn’t start up again… so I just drank it in. That was, I think, the right call – even though we didn’t get the chance for snaps at the top because The Law was chasing us down… apparently, at the summit, we were trespassing on state property!

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This photo shows the sun shining through evergreens, which sport snow on their branches. It’s from Paris Mountain, but I did not take it. 

On day three, we all did the Caesar’s Head climb. Caesar’s is the big challenge in the area, and I was geared up for it. My time was 48:02 according to Strava – maybe a little slower than I’d dreamed, but better than I’d hoped. We stopped for photos at the top this time (state park! Public access!), and enjoyed the accomplishment and the view.

That evening, I got a text from my ex husband and still very close friend, J. His step-mom had died while we were climbing. We were prepared for this, but the timing was a painful gift. As I was celebrating my strength – my love of my bike, and all the things I can do with my powerfully-aging, middle-aged body – she was slipping away.

I knew then that I needed to enjoy every minute on my bike from now on, and love it more than ever.

On our last day we climbed to the eastern continental divide, before getting packed up and heading home. I was, I confess, anxious to get on the road; we had 12+ hours of driving ahead of us and I really, really wanted to get back for Saturday, to clean the house, shop for groceries… Until I started climbing and swooping past the small communities on our way.

This was another magical climb: through clusters of trailers, shacks, and other makeshift spaces built into the mountains and valleys, every inch cozy homes. I slowed to enjoy them. I sped up to catch the others in my group. Then I slowed again, just taking the stillness, the loveliness, all in. Eventually Amy, one of my occasional riding friends from LonON, caught up to me; she’s a stellar athlete and climber. We chatted; I then pulled ahead to catch another rider, Derek, who was driving home with me. When we reached the divide, I was sure I’d posted a solid time.

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This photo shows me next to the sign that reads “Eastern Continental Divide: elevation 2694 feet”. I am wearing a pink Castelli riding cap, my riding glasses, and my green helmet. I am sort-of-smiling; when I take selfies I always think I am smiling but that’s not always actually true.

I was wrong. My continental divide climb was objectively terrible; I was near the bottom, on Strava, on all the segments. UGH!

But subjectively – for me – it was glorious. Some of it hurt, but mostly it was magical (like Paris), a ride through a dream of quiet, utterly spellbinding landscapes. So I’ve decided not to care at all that Strava tells me I did shit on this particular ride. Because what I felt on this ride Strava cannot capture. And because what I did on this ride was not for Strava, anyway.

It was for Norma, god bless her, and her loving family.

It was for Ruby, my beloved bike and constant companion.

It was for me.

Peace,

Kim

Children and Changing Sleep Patterns, or Confessions of a Former Morning Person

I used to be a morning person.

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When I was riding and racing my bike in an organized fashion, I even had alarms that began with 4. Why? Because I rode to the start of training, which started at 6 am, and it was 20 km away, and I had to have breakfast first. Ditto when I swam with the triathlon club at the university. I had to be on the pool deck at 6 am ready to go. But again I was riding my bike to campus first and then there’s breakfast and so the need for an alarm before 5 am.

And while some days that involved snoozing the alarm clock, or hoping for rain, most days I was okay with it.

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When your life is like that you go to bed at 9 and you’re asleep, for sure, by 10 pm.

Now part of the reason that worked was that years of parenting small children had me wired for early rising. There’s no sleeping in with toddlers. And even slightly older children have morning activities that require parents getting out of bed quite early. I’m still the person in the house who wakes up first, makes coffee, and who yells at, pokes, and prods others to get them to work and school on time.

There was a golden period of parental sleep. That was when the kids first started sleeping in and my partner and I were still on the early rising schedule. We could get up, ride our bikes and be home before they were even awake. That felt like stolen time. Of course the reason it worked is that they weren’t going out at night. The teens stayed up late but they stayed up late playing games or watching movies at home. That didn’t last and it was followed by the years of night time worrying.

If you’re a regular reader you know I don’t have small children any more. There are large dependent adults sharing my house, all over the age of 18. And this fall for the first time, just one them.The other two are off at college, setting their own alarms, and making their own coffee.

The remaining teenager at home is 18. He’s out late a lot. He works late too. He goes to the gym in the evenings. And I don’t sleep very well these days. Partly because I worry. I’m practically a professional worrier. But also because there’s lots going on in my life and in the world that’s affecting my sleep.

So I’m now an evening exerciser. Like him. It’s a bit of an adjustment.

My emerging schedule seems to be in bed by eleven, alarm set for 7. My day begins with coffee and dog walking. More formal sorts of exercise happens at night. I’m going to the gym to lift weights tonight at 7 pm.

I’m not sure where I’ll land once there aren’t any kids living at home. My schedule so far has been driven by other people. I’m curious whether I’ll revert to my preference for very early morning exercise. For now though, I’m going with the flow and working out at night.

You? When’s your best time of day to fit fitness in?

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Mother Daughter Biking Once More 

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Sam and her daughter Mallory, selfie, big smiles, wearing matching red rental helmets

Mallory stopped on her bike, looking back, curved bike path, cliffs on one side, rocks on the other View of Vancouver harbour with ships

My daughter Mallory and I bike together a lot. We’ve done some Quebec trail trails twice. We’ve ridden the Central Otago Rail Trail on the South island of New Zealand. We’ve biked to the Pinery Provincial Park and to United Church family camp many times.

So no surprise when I visited her in her new city of Vancouver this past weekend that we went out and rented bikes together. A large frame for her and a small frame for me. We had a fun ride around Stanley Park. We had to watch out for people who had rented bikes but who clearly hadn’t ridden since they were kids. We had fun watching all the shipping traffic and the rowing shells and recreational sailboats and ferries negotiating the shared space in the harbour.

I miss her while she’s living in another city but it was fun to reconnect on bikes!

Mommy and Me: Childcare as an Access Issue (Guest Post)

Sometime in the hazy overnight hours of my son’s first weeks of life, I decided to become a runner. I place the blame squarely on postpartum hormones that conjured up the words “role model” and sent me into a life-changing panic. I chose running because I bought into the dominant narrative of fitness that includes running as an Acceptable Aerobic Activity for Ladies. But that’s a post for another day.

Prior to this moment, my fitness experiences were limited to a few years trying to make a roller derby team, a handful of fitness videos, paying for gym memberships that I didn’t use, and a brief stint with a boot camp program. In other words, if I wanted to commit to lasting change in order to model a fit life for my son, I had to start from scratch. I Googled “exercise after pregnancy” and “fitness tips for new parents.” Advice ranged from “hire a personal trainer” to “take advantage of post-partum exercise videos.” One article suggested that I could walk up and down the stairs during “those precious 20-minute nap times.” Other articles suggested exercising with my baby by taking him out for a walk around the neighborhood or following along one of many “mommy and me” workout tutorials available on YouTube.

In the beginning, I considered this sound counsel and happily packed up the stroller for our daily walk around the neighborhood. I made a habit of wearing him in a sling while I did my powerwalking video to lull him into an afternoon nap. I congratulated myself for such efficient multitasking. When I was ready, I borrowed a jogging stroller and added running intervals to our walks. I joined a gym with complimentary childcare so I could add strength training to my routine. When I learned about a beginner’s running program sponsored by my local running club, I had to make sure my husband was free to mind the baby before I signed up. It was during one of my first training runs that I realized how privileged I was to have this time to myself, and that time alone to exercise should not be a privilege.

It is well documented that women bear an unfair burden when it comes to childcare responsibilities, and I definitely felt the pressure. None of the articles I read about exercise and new moms included advice like “find out if your gym offers childcare” or “schedule time to exercise when a family member or friend is available to care for your baby.” Consider the answer to the question “What are some ways to start exercising?” from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “When you are ready to start exercising, walking is a great way to get back in shape. Walking outside has an added bonus because you can push your baby in a stroller.” As pragmatic and useful as this advice might be, it assumes that mom is already caring for the baby, and that incorporating an infant into your (perhaps new) exercise routine is a desirable default.*

In some cases, including mine, taking a stroll with the baby in those first weeks can offer additional benefits (like battling boredom) and is likely less effort than finding a babysitter to take a walk. But as my son grew, it became more difficult to include him in my workout plans even though I was still responsible for coming up with a solution and making concessions. I felt frustrated with the few options I had. Do I take him with me on a training run even though it will slow me down? Should I try to organize a childcare co-op with other running moms? Which is worse—the logistical nightmare of taking a squirmy toddler to an early morning race, or the guilt of depriving him of time with me, the fresh spring morning air, and a chance to see a squirrel? Childcare became an issue of putting aside what I needed from a workout (focus, adult conversation, and/or SILENCE) or dealing with additional pressure rather than a choice between equitable solutions.

Certainly, modeling an active lifestyle by bringing my son to exercise events when I can has its benefits, but despite my best intentions, not all gyms have childcare, not all races are stroller-friendly, and weekday evening group training runs always conflict with bedtime. My son is now an active preschooler, which makes it more difficult to include him in my fitness plans. In part, this difficulty comes from his limited attention span and desire to do anything other than sit in the stroller for an hour. Still, it warms my heart when he gets excited about a kids’ fun run, or says he wants to “look for our running friends” when we drive near our familiar park trail route. It seems that my efforts have yielded some positive outcomes for his perception of how exercise contributes to our quality of life, but I wish the decisions on when and how to include him were easier to make.

There are no easy solutions given the wide range of variables that make exercise and childcare a complex personal issue, but I think that it is important to acknowledge that childcare can be a legitimate (and often unfairly gendered) access barrier in our fitness communities. Parents who want to incorporate exercise into their lives can benefit from being supported by having fair choices about if, how, and when to make fitness a family affair.

 

*The “walk outside” advice also makes a lot of other assumptions like, 1) you have a stroller, sling, etc., 2) you have access to a safe outdoor space with sidewalks or paved paths, 3) you are able to walk when another activity would be more suitable for your health needs, and 4) etc etc etc. There are many more intersectional access issues to consider when talking about childcare and exercise.

A child wearing sunglasses in a stroller with snacks, a water bottle, and a book.

How my son gets ready for a 5K

Kate Browne is less than 200 days away from defending her dissertation on Foucauldian notions of subjectivity in weight loss memoir. She runs slow, lifts heavy, and owns a tri singlet. You can find Kate at her online fitness home Ramp and Stair Exercise Club.

Shopping is my cardio (no, really!)

 

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My mom, Linda, has lived primarily in a wheelchair since the spring of 2014; she suffers from an illness called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Before her diagnosis, the disease caused her already-developing dementia to become rapidly worse; on one horribly memorable night in February 2014, while I was over from England visiting my parents, she literally forgot how to walk. (NPH causes both dementia and mobility problems.) It was nightmarish to watch.

That visit was the last time I would see her not living in a wheelchair.

Since then, mom has been through the health-care wringer: she has a neurologist, a neurosurgeon (who performed the life-changing surgery that allowed her to learn to walk again – he never doubted her), a community care access coordinator, an occupational therapist, a regular caregiver paid for by the Ontario government… the list goes on. We live in a small university town in a wealthy province, and we benefit from three major teaching hospitals and a dedicated geriatric facility all within a few minutes’ drive. So mom was set up to bounce back from the worst NPH could throw at her, and she did.

Still, she spends most of her days in her wheelchair, even now. The time it took to reach the NPH diagnosis, meet the neurosurgeon, decide on a care approach, have the surgery, and then go through rehabilitation was long, and in that time she lost a large amount of muscle strength in her legs and hips. Her long-term back condition also got much worse. These days, she walks regularly with her walker in the house as a rehab exercise, but she isn’t comfortable using the walker too frequently. She fears falling – very understandably. And she won’t walk with it outside (not yet).

This poses a challenge for her, and for my dad (her primarily caregiver), from a wellness point of view. Not walking = not walking! Not moving from the waist down, not observing the wide world around, missing out on stimulation both physical and mental. This is the primary health issue we deal with these days: how to help mom exercise, within her comfort zone, both her body and her brain.

Needless to say, we’re working on a variety of approaches. One of her favourite, though, is going shopping.

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Carrie Bradshaw: she said a lot of crap, but this ain’t a bit of it.

Back in the day, my mom was a massively active woman. When I was too lazy to get out of bed at 6am (hey! I was, like, thirteen!), she took over my paper route. She walked the dog three times a day, every day, around our neighbourhood in North Edmonton. She walked long distances without the dog, just for fun. She gardened constantly, skipping and hopping and singing her way through her chores. She was not just active, but lively.

She also liked to shop. Like, a lot. Out at the mall or the big-box grocery stores, she’d walk miles while browsing the aisles. I hope that doesn’t sound condescending, because it shouldn’t – it’s not. Shopping includes walking, bending, lifting, the bodily contortions required to change in and out of potential outfits in badly designed, teeny-tiny change rooms, and so on. There is actually a huge amount of physical labour involved in “going shopping” – among other forms of labour, too.

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The women in the image above have tongues in cheeks, but make no mistake: our culture mocks the idea of shopping as anything more than frivolity in part in order to mock the women whose primary job it is, and has always been, to shop for their families (or for the families of those for whom they work). Our culture trivialises those women’s labour and pretends that labour isn’t integral to the workings of free-market capitalism. In fact, women as consumers have always formed the backbone of Western capitalism. And shopping has always been great physical and mental exertion. In the early days of the department store and what we might now call shopping-as-usual, the freedom to browse and buy gave women the attendant freedom to be out alone, or in small groups, on city streets without being accused of being sex workers. Really. In other words, shopping, at the beginning of the modern period (roughly circa 1900), literally gave women the freedom to walk, unmolested, in public near their homes.

(Curious to learn more? My friend Marlis Schweitzer has written a terrific book that takes up this issue, and more. Check it out here.)

All this to say: shopping is now a regular workout for mom, with me as personal trainer, and I’m thrilled about it. She gets a challenge when we get into and out of the car: this is a transfer she completes herself with the help of a portable handle that can be inserted into the side of any car door frame. She gets another challenge anytime we try on clothes, which I insist we do (even if she claims to know her size in every single outfit we pick! Every personal trainer knows that trick…). Last week, she stood up, sat down, and otherwise shimmied and manoeuvred into three different pairs of trousers while we shopped for the right fit – after climbing out of her chair and into the totally wheelchair-inaccessible change room. (Thanks, Hudson’s Bay Company. Sort of.) That was quite a bit of ab and leg work for someone who largely sits all day.

Sometimes, too, we bring her walker with us, park ourselves in a small shop or section of a department store, and she lifts herself out of her chair and browses a bit using the walker as her aid. If she becomes exhausted and cannot continue, she either sits on her walker’s built-in seat for a moment, or I simply bring the chair to where she is and she takes a break.

As important as this physical work is for mom, the mental stimulation of shopping is even more valuable. Her memory’s decline was slowed by her surgery, but it continues; she is living with dementia, which means she needs to find basic ways to be challenged, mentally, every single day. At the shops all the neat stuff for sale offers plenty of useful stimulation, as does thinking about prices and whether or not something is worth the splurge. (She’s an elderly woman in a wheelchair who worked hard all her life! I always say the splurge is worth it. Sometimes she agrees with me.) Last week we encountered a really helpful sales assistant at the perfume counter, and she gave mom a host of samples to investigate. That olfactory stimulation, too, was mental exercise.

In my first regular post on FFI a month ago I wrote about the “We’re the Superhumans” campaign for Team GB’s paralympians. Mom isn’t about to pole vault, swim, or cycle her way into any record books, but who cares? Like many of the ordinary people in that campaign’s trailer, she is carrying on with her life as she lives it now, seeking gymnastics where she can find them and hoping to enjoy herself along the way. For her, exercise has become about living as well as she can, in her body as she finds it each day, making opportunities happen when she can, and taking pleasure in the ride as much as possible (especially when I’m driving).

In fact, that’s probably what exercise should be about for all of us.

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My mom, Linda Solga, rocking her new autumn outfit. (Photo by Dieter Solga)

Until next month!

Kim

 

 

 

Where the Wild Girls Are (Canoeing in Killarney!)–Guest Post

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Bell Lake, Killarney Provincial Park

Over the last few summers I have taken my daughter on a number of canoe trips, and we’ve always had a great time. She loves stopping at little islands to explore and eat snacks, and when she was really young she would nap in the canoe. This year, I signed us up for a three day “Women and Girls” canoe trip in Killarney Park guided by Wild Women Expeditions. While I love planning routes and organizing trip menus, my work schedule has been heavy enough that a bit of luxury seemed in order. With the fab WWE guides in charge, I just had to pack some gear and get us to the trip access point. Better yet, on this trip my daughter would have other girls to play with. I want to nurture my daughter’s sense of adventure and offer her challenging opportunities, but I also want it to be fun. Kids are the experts there.

And they had fun. They swam, jumped out of canoes, and took over a tiny island which they quickly determined was for “kids only.” (No Lord of the Flies, so far as I could tell…) They ran wild for hours and encountered many fascinating creatures: a water snake, a beaver, a barred owl, and the usual frogs, minnows, loons and hawks. The trip was also just the right length for 7 year olds. We spent enough time in the canoes for the girls to get the feel of travelling by canoe, but not so long that they were bored. And there was only one short 30m portage, so the girls got to experience portaging without its unique hardships. They can find out about those later.

The trip was great for the grown-ups too. Laughs over gritty ‘cowgirl coffee,’ lots of swimming, and a break from the usual demands and judgments of everyday life. It’s also really good to connect with others who want to nurture wilderness skills for girls and foster their sense of adventure. And I found the trip freeing in the way that backcountry trips usually are. In wilder places, I feel light and peaceful.

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Cowgirl Coffee Time

Nothing brought home the full meaning of our trip more, though, than two comments directed to my daughter and I at its end. As we unloaded packs onto the dock, one of the outfitter guys challenged “Isn’t this women-only trip sexist?” Later that night, we were eating dinner at a resort and a man stopped at our table and “joked” to my daughter “You know what I like most about you? You look like your mother.” This man – whom I suspect has been entertaining women with his comedy for decades – was probably unaware that his jokey compliment contained an insult. Among other things, he conveyed to my daughter that what might be best about her is her looks and moreover, that what is good about her looks is that they involve looking like someone else.

The comparison over appearance that women and girls engage in, and are subjected to, is a source of much unhappiness. So is the entitlement that some men assume in their interactions with women and girls by virtue of the fact that they are male. These ways of relating with women and girls steal joy and dampen feelings of adventure, wildness, strength, and capability.

On the bright side, these two fellows offered up some fine teachable moments. I explained to my daughter why I didn’t like these comments in an age-appropriate way. More important, though, is that we had just been on a fun adventure. She saw women charting routes, hauling packs, building campsites, paddling lakes, all the while not giving two hoots about appearances. She experienced first-hand the energy of strong, capable, respectful, fun-loving, and risk-taking women. And she got to feel wild and free. Such experiences fortify girls and women against poisonous compliments and willful ignorance about social power, and do so in ways that may run deeper than conceptual points or clever come-backs (however fun). Where the wild girls are, and how they spend their time, may be more important than we realize.