fitness · Guest Post

Skating through the pandemic (Guest post)

Rachel attempting a ramp at a local skatepark while locals look on. 

by Rachel Holden

2020 was a strange year. The things that used to bring me joy, just aren’t the same. Choices for entertainment were limited, and who we can do those things with even more so. So far, 2021 hasn’t been much different.

I’ve never been very athletic. Competitive to a fault, I gave up on sports at a young age because my body just wasn’t good at doing the things I wanted it to do. As a little girl I was told “scars don’t look good on girls” so I wasn’t allowed to do the rough and tumble things I really wanted to. As I got older sports and fitness were just another way to obsess about my body size and be disappointed in it once again.

A few years ago, I took up powerlifting and fell in love. The intensity, the competition, the fact that the contest was over almost before it began was what drew me in. But living a year in relative lock-down, trying to work a day job, manage a new business and trying to educate two children under 10 was intense enough.  The thought of doing another hard thing was just too much.

And that is where Skateboarding comes in. My 9-year-old son was the first to start. A great way to be outside, get in some exercise and socially distance. Then, my husband bought himself a board because he wasn’t going to be left just watching the fun. It took me a bit longer, but I finally gave it a try. My 9-year-old coached me and cheered when I didn’t immediately fall.

The next weekend we took it to a skate park, where two young girls, clapped and cheered for me, so happy to see a mom out there giving it a shot. Boys looked at me wide eyed, not believing what they were seeing and other parents mostly looked confused.

It was like learning to ride bicycle all over again. The wind in your hair, feeling like Bambi taking her first steps, learning to balance and feeling the terror. It was exhilarating. I was hardly moving and my watch caught my heartrate at 168 – turns out being scared will rev you up and make you sweat, for no apparent reason! Like riding a rollercoaster, the fear ebbs and flows and when it all becomes just a little too much – you can just jump off!

While kids are whipping around me flying around corners and jumping stairs, I am counting my pushes and reminding myself to bend my knees, sometimes out loud, to my own embarrassment. There have been injuries. Mostly bruises, some impressive, some forgettable. I did bring myself for X rays after an ugly fall while trying to board to the market. Turns out, real life boarding is much rockier than the smooth surfaces at the skatepark. Nothing was broken, but I sprained both hands. At the same time. Wear wrist guards. Do as I say and not as I do. Please. For your own good.

I took two weeks off to heal, put on my wrist guards and got back on. I was not going to let an injury beat me. I started slow, my heart racing, but warmed up quickly, back to the mediocre skater I was before. I bought myself this rad new board. I am not letting it go to waste.

If you’re looking for something exhilarating, stress inducing, and maybe a little foolish, skateboarding might just be for you!

Showing off my new skateboard – son smiling in background – board is red with a white graphic of a curvy woman line drawing.

Rachel Holden is the 43-year-old Founder of Uplift Ventures, a real estate investment firm creating new housing options for renters in Ontario. She’s also a mom to two kids, a powerlifter while not in lock down, and has little regard for her own safety. She can be reached at Rachel@upliftventures.ca

charity · cycling · Guest Post · illness

I live with Parkinson’s. For me, raising funds for health charities is personal (Guest post)

By Susan F

I joined the military reserves when I was 18 to play the French horn in the Changing of the Guard band on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. In 2011, I flew to Maputo, Mozambique by myself to join strangers on a Habitat for Humanity build. I’ve even hiked to Annapurna base camp and para-glided off a mountainside in Pokhara, Nepal.

But my biggest challenge, and maybe my greatest accomplishment, is facing Parkinson’s disease head-on. I hope I do so with courage, fortitude, and occasionally even a little humour.

I am writing to share my experience with PD and Parkinson Canada, one of the 21 health charities supported by Federated Health .

I was diagnosed with Gaucher’s disease, a rare metabolic disorder, about six months before my PD diagnosis. At the time, I was told this meant I was at high risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.  When I subsequently developed a tremor in my right leg, I was not really surprised when PD was confirmed. In fact, immediately after the diagnosis, I texted my family, had a very brief period of feeling sorry for myself, and headed back to work from the hospital.  I subsequently learned how lucky I was to be so quickly diagnosed, as many people suffer for years before diagnosis.

In terms of how PD affects me, the most obvious symptom I have is tremors affecting my right side, which are made worse by stress. For me, the weirdest thing about Parkinson’s is that your body doesn’t do what it used to do automatically, so I have to try to tell it to do things. I have trouble with manual dexterity, things like typing, buttoning buttons and cutting bread. I also have to be careful walking so I don’t trip and fall. Lately, it’s been difficult to roll over in bed.

I am fairly lucky though that so far, my Parkinson’s disease is quite manageable. And my friends, family and colleagues have been incredibly supportive, especially over the past several months.

I was honoured earlier this year to be able to participate in a world-first clinical study which used an MRI-guided ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier (BBB) on the left side of my brain. While my BBB was open, I was infused with a drug commonly used to treat Gaucher’s disease. The purpose of the phase one study was to determine whether this could be done safely. There were only four participants, and I was patient four.

 

Susan taking part in the clinical trial

Although there was no promise of any benefit to me, I was pleasantly surprised to notice a fairly significant difference in my symptoms. The most obvious change was that I regained a sense of smell. Many people don’t know that some Parkinson’s disease patients start to lose their sense of smell long before they are diagnosed. That had happened to me.  I can’t say that regaining smell is all positive given that the first thing I smelled was my cat’s litter box

Seriously though I have noticed positive changes: less tremors, less rigidity of my leg, and better manual dexterity. As the study has been a success so far, they are looking at the possibility of a phase two trial.  If it goes ahead, it will include a larger group of people with the focus on effectiveness of the procedure. I am very hopeful that this could lead to significant benefits in the prevention and/or treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

In closing, I want to mention Parkinson Canada as I really appreciate the work they do through their support groups, research and advocacy. I belong to two support groups including a “young onset” women’s group (“the Parkie girls”), and occasionally attend a Sunday afternoon drop-in discussion group, all of which are sponsored by Parkinson Canada.

I’m also part of a bike group called the Rigid Riders, whose focus is to encourage Parkinson’s disease patients to cycle. The Rigid Riders take part in an annual charity event, Pedaling for Parkinson’s, where 100 per cent of the funds raised goes to Parkinson Canada research.

Most recently, Parkinson Canada created an advisory group to their board made up of people with Parkinson’s disease. To me, this clearly reinforces their commitment to hearing patients’ voices and making their very best efforts to provide the support that we need. 

That’s why I am excited that Parkinson Canada is part of the Federated Health campaign.

To donate to my Pedaling for Parkinson’s Ride – https://donate.parkinson.ca/site/TR/Pedaling/CNO_pedaling_4_parkinsons?px=1153847&pg=personal&fr_id=2511

Parkinson Canada – https://www.parkinson.ca/getinvolved/waystogive/

Federated Health – https://www.canadahelps.org/en/dn/30863

Susan is a ‘Parkie girl’ who works as a lawyer. She tries to regularly practice random acts of kindness and is looking forward to days of hugs and travel.

covid19 · fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Part 2: Covid-19 and the Tyranny of the Pool (Guest Post)

Second excerpt from my forthcoming book Growing Old, Going Cold: The Psychrolute Chronicles, about my Life as an (aging) cold-water swimmer by Kathleen McDonnell

I remember standing in line with my fifth-grade classmates as we waited to get our polio shots. I knew that throughout history there had been terrible epidemics, like the Black Death, where people dropped dead in the streets (which was actually more the case with cholera than the Plague). Like most people who grew up in the twentieth century, that was pretty much the extent of my acquaintance with serious contagious disease. 

So when the Covid-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdown hit in early 2020, I wasn’t terribly phased by it, at least on a personal level. Shelter-in-place? No problem. My spouse and I already worked from home. In fact, a lot of the writing of this book was done during that time. Social distancing? No problem there, either. On this part of Toronto Island the houses are close together – sometimes a bit too close together –so we don’t feel isolated. Like everyone else, we stayed separate from our daughters and grandchild, but FaceTime and outdoors visits made up for that. Get outside once a day for exercise? Let’s see, I live in a village on the edge of a nature park, on an Island surrounded by water. I venture outside, walk for less than five minutes and I’m in the water. Even in the time of Covid Isolation, there couldn’t be a better situation for a swimmer. As time went on, though, I realized just how extraordinary my situation was, how truly fortunate I was. 

I began to see posts by fellow open-water swimmers going through withdrawal, lamenting that they couldn’t get to the water since parks and beaches everywhere were closed. It was just the time of the season when cold-water swim groups were gearing up, and now they were blocked. In the UK the guidelines were rigidly enforced in some areas, with patrolling bobbies chasing people out of the water. One determined outdoor swimmer stopped because she couldn’t stand the stares, the sense that onlookers were thinking, “Why should you get to swim, when I can’t?” A couple of months into the pandemic, swim memoirist Bonnie Tsui published an article in the New York Times entitled  “What I Miss Most Is Swimming” “There’s a poignancy to being a swimmer now,” she writes, “in that we’re not able to do it just when we need it most.”

I was always disdainful of those single-lane lap pools, and the so-called “Endless pool,” a jet resistance you swim against, basically going nowhere – endlessly! But with the shutdown of conventional pools, swimmers were buying them or, more commonly, wishing they could afford to. Meanwhile, the open-water community in the UK refused to take the situation lying down. I saw a flurry of posts on online sites about blow-up backyard pools. Yes, folks who proudly describe themselves as “wild swimmers” were ordering blue plastic inflatable pools on Amazon, setting them up in their backyards, tethering themselves to a stationery object and proceeding to swim in place. Swimmers who hate chlorinated pools were dumping chorine into their backyard pools so they wouldn’t become germ infested. They patted themselves on the back for making do with cheery British pluck. And as pitiful as it all looked to me, I could totally understand. It’s an addiction, this need to be in water. I even felt a bit guilty. They had these postage-stamp-size pools, and I had a Great Lake.

After the full-on lockdown began to ease up in early summer, outdoor pools in Toronto began to re-open, but with restrictions. The city imposed strict limits on the number of people in the pool at any one time, and each swimmer’s time was limited to 45 minutes. Between shifts the pools were cleared and surfaces sterilized. People found they had to wait in line, sometimes for hours, and often didn’t even manage to get into the water. Lanes had to be booked ahead of time. Lockers were off-limits. Time in the change rooms was minimized: Swimmers were encouraged to wear their suits to the pool and home again. Once they managed to get into the facility, some users even found themselves singing the praises of the restrictions. “Forty people is nothing. You feel like you have the place to yourself. Maintaining distance is a breeze.” Ian Brown wrote in the Globe and Mail. Still, in the middle of a summer heat wave, Toronto pools were operating at a quarter of their capacity, in a city that sits beside an enormous freshwater lake.

Now, I don’t believe that the big concrete-and-chlorine tubs are going to disappear, nor do I think they should. But I look forward to a day when they’re no longer the default option for getting into the water. Covid-19 has changed the swimming universe. As I write this, indoor pools in Toronto are once again declared off-limits. And the various Open-Water and Wild Swimming sites I follow on Facebook show a huge jump in interest.

I found evidence of this in my own back yard. A neighbor of mine who is a dedicated pool swimmer told me the lake was too cold for her, even in the summer. But the lockdown forced her hand, and this past summer she broke down and bought a neoprene top. Off Ward’s Island Beach, there’s a line of buoys to keep the boats out of the swimming area.  We reckoned they were a little over 50 meters apart. From then on, most days I’d see her doing her daily 1500 meters between the buoys. (Okay, so it is possible to swim lengths in a lake.)

The Wild Swimming trend may have begun as a necessary adjustment to pandemic conditions, but it’s taking hold worldwide, as more and more swimmers go for regular dips in open-air pools, lakes and rivers. At one point, demand in the UK was so high that the Outdoor Swimming Society was forced to take down its map of wild swimming spots, in an attempt to prevent overcrowding. Even colder weather, more challenging water temperatures and the discomfort of wriggling into dry clothing in public is failing to deter many of the converts. The National Open Water Coaching Association (Nowca), which operates bookings for 30 open-water venues in England and Scotland, said the number of swimmers in October was up fourfold or 323% year on year, after a 60% rise in swimmers over the summer. The surge in outdoor swimming has been a boon for watersports suppliers. Sales of swimsuits are down because of the closure of indoor pools, but cold-water swimming gear – wetsuits, dry robes, neoprene swimcaps – is flying off the shelves.

Covid-19 has introduced countless water-lovers to the joys of open water, and a lot of them will never go back. As one convert wrote on an Open-Water Swimming site: “Ya gotta love not having to book lanes at the pool.”

Kathleen McDonnell

Kathleen McDonnell is the author of nine books and more than a dozen plays, which have had award-winning productions in Canada and the United States. She’s also been a journalist and CBC radio commentator, and does a fair bit of teaching and public speaking. As befits a passionate swimmer, McDonnell lives on an island; Toronto Island, a unique, vibrant, mostly car-free community a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto where she and her life partner raised their two daughters. Check out her website: http://www.kathleenmcdonnell.com/.

birthday · Guest Post

A pandemic birthday tradition I’ll probably keep (Guest Post)

by Beverly Frans

Last year as my 54th birthday approached with no prospect of celebrating normally due to the covid lockdown, I decided to undertake a serious (for me) physical challenge instead. I’d recently watched a video where a guy did a marathon over the course of 24 hours by starting each hour with a 1.8 km run, then carrying on with his day until the next hour. That seemed like an attainable challenge except for the part about running and the part about 24 hours. On my daily walks I mulled over different possibilities for doing something pretty big but also doable at home or nearby and preferably not in the dark. It was my birthday celebration, after all.

I settled on doing a half ironman distance rowing/cycling/walking day. A few days before as I started to have niggling thoughts that this might not be the most fun way to spend a birthday, I posted about it in my women’s cycling club’s facebook group figuring that telling a bunch of people what I was planning would be insurance against wimping out at the last minute. I hadn’t reckoned on receiving a couple of dozen messages of support, though in hindsight, that’s exactly what I should have expected, since it is a very supportive and encouraging bunch.

The day went off without a hitch. I rowed 8 km, Zwifted for 90 km, and walked 21.1 km up and down my country road, stopping only for snacks, second breakfast, lunch, pee breaks, more snacks and clothing changes. There are definite advantages to creating your own home-based event and being the only participant. My reward was a flood of post-exercise endorphins, a huge appetite for birthday cake, and a massive sense of satisfaction.

A couple of weeks ago I turned 55 and to celebrate I did a made-up row/cycle duathlon consisting of 10 km of indoor rowing followed by 150 km of Zwifting, topped off with 30 more km of indoor rowing. This was a considerably bigger challenge (I had never even spent more than about 90 minutes on the rower) but I had more time to prepare for it since I decided to do it back in January when I was setting goals for the year.

I don’t need to remind anyone that this year has been a lot. To add to the general misery, the menopause symptoms I’d convinced myself I’d somehow miraculously avoided hit me with a vengeance. All of a sudden this winter I felt every day of my age and my confidence took a hit. Fuelled by stubbornness and meno-rage, I persisted with my plan, even though it was seeming more and more like a really foolish idea.

I’m pleased to say I completed the whole thing in less time than I predicted (and completing was always the only goal), and because I was unable to find any record of anyone else ever doing the same thing, it occurred to me that I am probably the current world record holder for this event. (9 hours 48 minutes in case anyone is interested in challenging it.) And I can confirm that it was, indeed, a foolish idea. Except that it was also one of the best things I’ve done lately, so I’ll probably do it again.

Even though my Oura ring is still grumbling at me about recovery, I’m already thinking about a bigger and better challenge for next year. I don’t know how long I can keep raising the bar, but I know that completing a significant physical challenge is a splendid way to start a year. The satisfaction of finishing something large and silly like that is a pretty remarkable antidote to the angst of being another year older.

Bev on her trainer

Bev has recently discovered the joy and pain of doing hard things for fun but mostly likes doing easy things. Cycling is currently her main obsession. She lives in Almonte, Ontario where the road and gravel riding is superb.

covid19 · fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Part 1: Covid-19 and the Tyranny of the Pool (Guest post)

by Kathleen McDonnell

An excerpt from my forthcoming book Growing Old, Going Cold: The Psychrolute Chronicles, about my Life as an (aging) cold-water swimmer.

It’s not that I have anything against pools. I’ve swum in plenty of them. They’ll do in a pinch. For competitive swimmers they make perfect sense – separated lanes, straight lines on the bottom, water sanitized to kill bacteria and other undesirable critters – everything is controlled, predictable. And there’s the rub. That’s precisely what those of us who prefer to swim in open, natural, “wild” water are trying to get away from. But in the modern world, pools have become the default option, and the pool mentality intrudes where it doesn’t belong.

Some years back I found myself back in Chicago in the height of summer. It had been a long time since I’d been in my hometown during swimming season, and I was excited at the chance to immerse myself in the waters of Lake Michigan once again. This would be a pilgrimage to Touhy Beach, the very source of my swimming passion. The day was calm, the water warm, and I headed in, anticipating a nice long swim. A Big Swim: A round-trip to a beach a half-mile to the south.

There was a lifeguard in a rowboat a little ways out from shore. I nodded to him as I passed the boat, on my way into the deeper water where I could commence my big swim. I dove in and my stroke quickly settled into a nice, steady rhythm. Until I got near the first of the short wooden piers and saw the lifeguard boat in front of me, blocking my progress. I tried to swim around the boat, but he rowed in front of me again. I stopped swimming and faced him, standing in water that was no more than shoulder-deep.

    “Something wrong?”

    “You’re not allowed to swim lengths here, Ma’am.”

    “Lengths? What do you mean, lengths?”

    He just shook his head at my question.

    “Sorry, Ma’am. Swimming lengths isn’t allowed here.”

    “You mean, I can’t keep swimming in this direction?”

    “That’s right, Ma’am. You have to stay in this area.”

    “Why? It’s not very deep here. I’m a good swimmer.

    “We have to keep an eye on everyone in the water, Ma’am. You’re not allowed to swim lengths here.”

    Again with the lengths! Not only was I not permitted beyond the pier, it appeared I was only allowed to bob up and down in this narrowly-defined area. I’ve been “ma’amed” before by lifeguards at my home beach in Toronto and I usually try to keep my cool. But it was all I could do to keep from yelling at him. “This isn’t a pool, it’s a lake – a BIG lake and I’m going to swim in it!”

    Was I asking for trouble? Would he call the other lifeguards to pull me out of the water? I acquiesced and swam a few strokes back the way I’d come, then swam a few strokes the opposite way, curious to see if this short back-and-forth distance fit his definition of “lengths.” Of course, to show me who was boss, he inched the boat as close as he could without the oar hitting me. We went on like this for several minutes, a few strokes, going a bit farther each time, then turning back the other way, the lifeguard maneuvering the boat so that it was never more than 2 or 3 feet away from me.

    Finally I’d had enough. I’d come to the motherlode, the original source of my Great Lakes swimming passion, and all I’d managed to do was get a bit wet. And be treated to a demonstration of how the act of swimming had become distorted, synonomous with “lengths” of a chlorine-filled concrete hole-in-the-ground. It’s yet another way humans turn away from the natural world, and foolishly insist that the experience of being in water can be replaced or – worse – improved upon. 

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when swimming in natural bodies of water was considered completely normal.

Moats, Swimming Holes and Pools

You might think pools are a modern invention, but in fact they go back several millennia. As far as historians know, the Great Bath at the site of Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Pakistan was the first human-created pool, dug during the 3rd millennium BC. This brick-lined pool was about 39 by 23 feet and was likely used for religious ceremonies. The structure is still there, and has been designated a South Asian World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Both ancient Greece and Rome had extensive public baths that were central to community life as meeting places for socializing and relaxing. Later the Romans built artificial pools in gymnasiums that were used for nautical and military exercises. Roman emperors also had their own private pools in which fish were also kept, hence one of the Latin words for a pool was piscina.

These early pools were used as healing baths for various conditions, rather than for swimming, which took place in natural bodies of water. The Romans built baths in other parts of the empire too, including the one that gave its name to the city of Bath, England circa 70 AD. The original Roman Bath was a renowned healing spa and swimming locale until well into the twentieth century, when a deadly pathogen was discovered in the water. The historic structure is now for tourist viewing only, replaced for swimming with more modern facilities. It’s one example of what Roger Deakin discovered on his epic swim across Britain, lamenting the abandonment and decay of many traditional bathing sites. Deakin’s book Waterlog traces the history of swimming in Britain and its evolution from natural swimming holes to contained, human-made structures. Deakin started his journey from a spring-fed moat on his own property in Suffolk. Typically he would swim from place to place, then walk back to retrieve his clothes and gear at the starting point, basically the opposite of doing “lengths” (So there, Touhy lifeguard!) 

The early twentieth century cemented the transition to enclosed swimming structures, and dozens of open-air lidos were built across Britain. For the most part these lidos are much bigger than modern pools, like the massive art deco Jubilee Lido in Cornwall, and they typically designated separate areas or times for men and women to swim. Mixed bathing only became common from the mid-twentieth century. By tradition, many lidos were kept open right through the winter, and were situated by the seaside to capture seawater in the enclosure. There’s an example of this practice in my hometown of Toronto.  Built in 1922, the Sunnyside Bathing Pavillion is almost twice the length of Olympic size pool and has room for 2,000 bathers. Now known as the Gus Ryder Pool, this concrete behemoth filled with several tons of chlorinated water sits right next to a Lake Ontario beach – an almost perverse turning away from its own environment. As Roger Deakin said of pools, they are “simulations of nature with the one essential ingredient – wildness – carefully filtered out.” 

With the worldwide growth in pools’ popularity came the need for better sanitation measures. Originally they employed archaic filtration systems that required the filters, and the water itself, to be changed frequently. By the time of the polio scare in the late 1930s and 1940s, a panic arose over the public’s fears that children could be exposed to the poliovirus in community swimming pools. In 1946, however, a study showed that chlorine was one of the few known chemicals that could kill the polio virus. As the problem of polio transmission receded, swimming pools regained popularity as a fun and exciting summer venue for families. Moreover, chlorine, as a polio disinfectant, became the near-universal method of pool sanitation, and by the early sixties, strict regulations on chlorine in pools were in place. And it will only get stricter with the rise of a new virus.

Hello, Covid-19!

Kathleen McDonnell is the author of nine books and more than a dozen plays, which have had award-winning productions in Canada and the United States. She’s also been a journalist and CBC radio commentator, and does a fair bit of teaching and public speaking. As befits a passionate swimmer, McDonnell lives on an island; Toronto Island, a unique, vibrant, mostly car-free community a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto where she and her life partner raised their two daughters. Check out her website: http://www.kathleenmcdonnell.com/

Keep an eye out for Part Two, on May 7th, here at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Spring Solo Rides: Northward on the Katy Trail (Guest Post)

I scheduled a break for my students this week in the Syllabus, knowing how long the semester will be for everyone without a traditional Spring Break. While they’re watching short documentaries related to their class, I’m in an AirBnB in St. Charles, Missouri, along the storied Katy Trail, working on my book.

If you’ve read my previous entries for this blog, you know I usually cycle with my youngest, who loves distance riding, often when I am on a trip with him and my cycling spouse is not. But I’ve come to enjoy solo cycling every once in awhile so this week, I brought my bike.

And yes, this is the week that the trees are greening and the invasive bush honeysuckle is a bit welcome as one of the first plants on the forest floor to leaf out. The magnolias have bloomed, the occasional wildflower is out while more are hovering right on the edge, and the dogwoods and redbuds will bust out any day now.

And I, being unable to work every waking hour, have made space on nice days for some rides. If you’re ever looking for a trail-related getaway to the midwest, biking the length of the Katy Trail across Missouri and camping/catching hotels, or picking a town and radiating out in either direction, might be fun.

For me, I want just an hour or two on the trail, in the 10 to 20 mile range. Someone else might fancy a bigger bite of it, and be delighted by the way the scenery changes over the course of each day. The bits I rode were only slightly inclined and, by and large, pretty flat and fast, even on my comfort hybrid bike.

The entire 240 mile length of the Katy is one of the longest stretches of converted Rail To Trail in the US, built on part of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas/MKT, or Katy, Railroad. There are 26 trailheads along the way where one could park a vehicle and explore either direction. The trail surface is soft pea gravel, possibly even finer than that. I wouldn’t want to wipe out on it, but it’s pretty solidly packed in most spots and one only occasionally hits a bit that shifts out from under you. There are sturdy benches approximately every mile, some with lovely views of the Missouri River or surrounding woods and fields. This blog entry will be about my Northward venture from St. Charles on a stretch of the Katy.

If you’re setting out on the Katy from St. Charles, you’ll start somewhere along the Missouri Riverfront, probably at Frontier Park. There’s car parking nearby at the Lewis and Clark historical sites, or the strip of parking between the historic Main Street–brick surface, timber, colonial architecture, and all–and Frontier Park. The percentage of parked vehicles with bike racks is a good bit higher than most places, for good reason.

Going north from town (the direction behind me in this picture), you pass by some neat old warehouses and steel foundry buildings that have been converted into an arts centre, an indoor soccer facility, and the excellent climbing gym Climb So ILL; it started in southern Illinois just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. If you like climbing as well as cycling, it might be a good stop to add. Then you might notice numerous little trails off into the woods between the Katy and the Missouri River. These are lovely for a walk or even biking. But you might want to make sure you have a bike, and trail riding skills, ready for some light hills and rough trails. They’d be a cool oasis in mid-summer, I’m sure.

Not too far out of the city, you will pass a junkyard that is just waiting for you to engage in the world’s most exciting game of jenga. But in no time at all, the woods remain on the east between you and the Big Muddy AKA Missouri River, while bucolic stretches of flat Missouri farmland stretch into the distance.

After a short bit of sunny trail, straight as an arrow, you come to a winding bit that enters woods on both sides. Here, the trail surface is a bit softer, but still in pretty good shape. As you enter the wooded area, you may hear a woodpecker pecking, or frogs calling out for mates–as I was riding, the spring peepers and click toads were picking up steam.

Even in the woods, you’ll find benches with a view of the river, or looking back into the trees.

I snagged one up for a bit to watch the river pass. And such a lot of river there was!

I carried on about 5 1/2 miles out past the wooded section, on into the areas between fields on either side. This was when I really noticed the wind behind me and thought about pushing back against it on my return trip for even longer if I carried on out into the countryside. I got my scenic agriculture on, appreciated a cluster of silver silos and a red barn in the distance, and decided to turn around.

On my way back through the woods, the wind was fierce (you can hear it on the audio, along with a slight rub of my front brake calipers on an irregularity of the wheel), but this video gives you a sense of the wooded areas of the trail, running alongside Big Muddy, south back towards St. Charles.

All told, I went almost 11 miles–though you won’t be able to tell from my Runkeeper screenshot, below, since I only started it at the point at which I decided to turn around and head back, into the fierce headwind.

It was hard work and there’s just nothing quite like the feeling of moving through the world, putting the power down, on a bike. That’s true of any ride. But solo rides offer particular pleasures, especially for people like me–I am a short fat woman who sweats really well–who wonder how their exercise is being perceived by others but who love to move and feel our own strength.

On a solo ride, only you set the pace. You decide when to stop and explore a little hiking trail. Or whether to snag a bench. Or that you’ve gone far enough and would like to see that last batch of things now, from the other direction.

It doesn’t matter if you worry about keeping up with other people; there are no other people.

It doesn’t matter if a sight or sound strikes your fancy that you don’t want to make other people stop for; there are no other people.

It doesn’t matter if your outfit isn’t as fly or sparkly or spandexy or even as functional as other people’s in your group; there are no other people.

It doesn’t matter to other people how you breathe or how you jiggle or how you puff and lean going up a hill; there are no other people.

Every ride is a no-drop ride when you ride alone.

When I got back to St. Charles, I propped my bike up against a mighty tree outside the Bike Stop Cafe–food, beer, wine, bike equipment, and bike rentals including e-bikes–to sit at one of the well spaced-out tables, with an option to sit by a gas firepit. I took off my helmet to let the wind dry my sweat-damp hair, and had a cold soda. Not a bad way to end a good, short bike trip.

Stay tuned for the second installment of my short solo rides on the Katy Trail, headed Southward from Frontier Park, a few days later. Some more of the same, but also some different scenery and more miles and a tip on where to stop for snacks.

fitness · Guest Post · tennis

Loving Serena (Guest Post)

by Lori Watson

            Many of us were rooting hard for Serena last week, and many of us have been rooting for her on and off the court for over two decades now.   Her loss to Naomi Osaka was heartbreaking and hard to watch; it never seemed like she hit her Serena-stride.   Were she to lose at playing her best, it would be easier to accept, I think.  After the match, the reporters at her press conference and many subsequent opiners immediately zeroed in on whether she would or should retire, interpreting her gestures at the end of the match as a secret signal that she would never play at the Australian Open again. This may be it, they said.  In her presser, they hounded and hounded her for a statement about retirement.   So much so, she shut down the interview, declared “I am done,” and left the room appearing tearful.  That moment and the further speculation in the press got me, one super-sized Serena fan, super-sized pissed off.

I began to reflect on the narrative framing the last few years of Serena’s career—the race to 24, beat Margaret Court—the homophobic villain in the story—the can she do it as a mom, can she have it all, be it all, is the G.O.A.T?   Few humans could survive under that pressure, let along thrive.  Meanwhile, she has played four grand-slam finals since her return from maternity leave, two semis and one quarterfinal—in four years!  Few players on the tour will ever achieve even that much less is her standing ever likely to be touched, the 23 grand slam titles, the doubles-titles, the gold medals, the 73 WTA titles, and on and on and on.  And, yet she and we, her fans, feel the pain of the one elusive, so far, accolade: the 24th.  Of course, that accolade is false, premised on a false narrative—Margaret Court played prior to the Open era, so what that she won 24 under much less competitive circumstances?  Serena need not account for herself to any of us—not the media, not her fans, not the 24ers.  She is still playing unbelievable tennis.  If she were anyone other than Serena, the talk of retirement would be laughable in the face of her achievements in just the last four years.  A player that consistently makes it to the finals, semis, quarterfinals, wins other WTA tournaments on the regular is a super-star on that basis alone. 

Our need for a hero, projected onto Serena, through the false narrative of 24 (ride or die), needs to end.  Of course, we want to see her silence any critic once and for all.  Of course, the power of her will to win, her spirit, inspires us to believe that if you just want it bad enough, anything can happen.  But, Serena has nothing left to prove—to herself, to you, to me, to the world.  She is the greatest of all time, about that there can be no doubt.  But, like any hero, the tension between wanting them to prove it again and waiting for them to fall to the Earth drives the criticism.  Were she to take that 24th, then the march to 25 begins, or the could she have surpassed it only if… she didn’t become a mom, she played more when younger (she and Venus took time away from tennis to cultivate other aspects of their lives and were roundly criticized for it), and on and on.  We live to love our heroes; we live to take them down.  But, not this hero, not this time.  Serena can play just as much or as little as she likes, and I am gonna’ watch, grateful for every moment she lets us witness her.

TENNIS-AUS-ATP-WTA
Serena Williams, Getty Images

Lori Watson is a Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St Louis. She’s also a Serena Williams super fan.

Guest Post · winter

You can fit fitness into almost anything (Guest post)

by Diane Harper

I belong to an experimental archaeology group that focuses on the early Middle Ages in Northern Europe. What does this have to do with fitness? Surprisingly, it is a great way to move our bodies and test our strength. When you work the blacksmith’s bellows for hours, or gather wood for cooking and chop it by hand, you work muscles in ways you never do at your office job. A friend and I have been working on some additional fitness-related experiments. She made a replica of a “backpack”, and I have been testing out theories on how bone skates were used. 

Bone skates have been found in various places including the Viking site in York, England. They don’t have blades, so they don’t work like modern skates; rather, they were strapped onto the feet, probably with leather thongs, and the skaters may have used with poles to propel themselves along. We know this because there is a woodcut from 1555 showing skaters using a single pole. Last weekend, my friend and I headed to the nearby lake to test our our equipment. We had a lovely walk through the woods (leather-soled shoes can be quite chilly), and at the lake I strapped on my skates and “skated” up and down a section of cleared ice. The motion that I find most efficient is very similar to classic cross-country skiing. I have two wooden poles tipped with pointy pieces of pig bone. They give me a little bit of grip on the ice to improve my forward momentum, but they definitely aren’t as good as proper ski poles with a metal point.

Here is a closeup of my feet, wearing homemade leather shoes, strapped to a pair of  flattened cow bones. 

The advantage of the bone skates is that some snow or slush doesn’t hinder progress as much as it does for modern skates. The disadvantage is that I am rarely able to get a good glide; mostly I just shuffle along. This is largely an equipment problem. My skates are still rough on the bottom, even through they are becoming smoother with repeated use. I need to smooth them more, and may even try waxing them to reduce the friction. Still, I stay nice and warm, and I get to look fabulous in a dress and fur-trimmed hat. Wool may take longer to dry than modern microfibres, but it stays warm even when wet. Even my feet were warm on the skates, because the bone kept them up off the ice. We were out for almost two hours on a cold, blustery day.

Image – two masked women in medieval clothing, walking in the woods.

Diane Harper loves to experiment with historical cooking and crafts.

fitness · Guest Post · menopause

Hit Play, not Pause (Guest Post)

by Michele A.

Two years ago, when I was 49, I broke my ankle while I was out riding on local trails. I wasn’t being a daredevil and the fall was unremarkable; I just fell in exactly the wrong way. When sharing my story with various people, I was taken aback by the reaction I got from several women who all told me that I was too old to be doing such things and I should stop.

One of these women (I’ll refer to her as Nancy) was a colleague I respect and admire who I have known for over 20 years. She has mentored many women in our organization to successfully navigate their careers and has provided solid advice to countless mothers on how to effectively balance a career and a family. Nancy has both daughters and granddaughters All these factors made me especially surprised and hurt to hear this comment from her.

Shortly after I had my fall there were three other women close to my age in my office who sustained injuries. One acquired a tear her shoulder after slipping in a neighbor’s driveway after having had several drinks at a party. The second missed a bottom step while carrying a laundry basket and fractured her foot. The third broke her ankle from losing her balance and lurching forward while she was a passenger on a speedboat outing on a lake in Italy.

It made me wonder, did anyone tell them they were too old to be drinking at parties or doing laundry or boating in a foreign country? I doubt it. Would Nancy or the other women who told me I was too old to be riding a bike have said the same thing to a man my age? Perhaps, but I doubt that too.

After stewing about this for some time and then reflecting upon it further, I concluded that Nancy and the other women weren’t intentionally being sexist or ageist, but they just didn’t get it. They had never taken part in this kind of adventure sport and didn’t know other women their age that did. Because, let’s face it, there aren’t that many of us. By “us” I mean women over 45 who are fitness-focused, competitive and/or performance minded.

We are women who are out adventuring and using their bodies to do things like get themselves across many miles of various kinds of terrain, over hills and through bodies of water. Many of us are there, or have been there, or are looking to be there again, following injury or disability or other life adjustment (or, perhaps ,a global pandemic…)

Recently I discovered the podcast “Hit Play Not Pause” and am so glad I did. It’s for “active, performance-minded women who aren’t willing to put their best years behind them.” I’m certainly not willing to give up doing the things I love now that I’m over 50, and I hope to continue doing them for many years to come.

This podcast is a godsend because I’ve been experiencing unpleasant and frustrating things with my body in the past few years that I don’t understand. Short of comparing notes with friends, information about being active in menopausal years is hard to come by. Not much research has been done on active women in this age group.

I’ve gotten lots of practical advice listening to the podcast: herbal remedies that can reduce hot flashes; ways to keep my lady parts from getting dry; eating and exercising approaches that can help with weight gain brought on by changing hormones. Specifically, I’ve learned that while we may tend to gravitate towards long, slow endurance workouts, we also need to include some high intensity work, like Plyometrics, to replace in our muscles what we’ve lost from reduced estrogen. (Listen to episode 1 for the science behind this.)  

I also found out that we’re never too old to be doing Kegel exercises! It can help with incontinence.  (Tune into episode 4 to find out more.) These were all useful tips, but the most important things I’ve gotten out of listening to the podcast are a mindset and a community.

If you don’t have much time to listen to podcasts, there’s one particular episode I’d highly recommend – “Joy Goals with Kristen Dieffenbach”. There’s so much good coaching in it about how to manage your own self-image and how to think about your goals amidst a body that is inevitably going to change whether you like it or not.

I walked away from this episode inspired and also with a powerful realization. We – the over-45 women need to be the role models for the generation behind us. Our own role models for being active over 45 are few and far between. Instead of worrying aloud about the weight gain or critically eyeing the crepe-like skin below the leg of your bike shorts, appreciate all that your body has done for you. Show younger women what is possible because of strength and determination. And show them that you can keep doing it for many, many years. Let’s pave the path for them and show them how it’s done, shall we?

fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Adapting (Guest Post)

by Diane Harper

This year has been full of adaptions and adjustments, not least to our fitness routines. Some adaptations have been relatively small; when the pools closed in March, it was no big deal to move outdoors once it got a bit warmer, because I swim outdoors year-round. When the roads to our favourite swim spot became impossible because everyone else suddenly discovered the lake, my group pivoted quickly to staying at the river spot we normally use in spring and fall, and we figured out longer swims to get some distance in. When I didn’t need to cycle to work every day because I was working from home, I developed after work walking routines and even took up cycling to buy groceries.

Other adaptations have been more challenging. Ballet class in my living room means no more big movements across a huge studio floor. For months my barre was the back of a chair. Most jumping and pirouettes are gone – partly so we don’t crash into furniture, and partly because it’s hard for a teacher on Zoom to give individual corrections to people in tiny squares, all moving at slightly different times because of lags in the music.

So far in 2021, adaptations to my routine have become more important than ever. Like many I started January with Yoga With Adriene 30 days series on YouTube. I can’t do crow. I couldn’t do crow last year, either, and I gave up on the series because the failure intimidated me so much. Despite last year’s failure, I dipped in and out of yoga practice throughout the year, and joined a lunch-hour chair yoga series offered through my work this fall. That instructor offers lots of adaptations for people who might not be up to doing certain stretches. I was intrigued to hear her reminding us, twice a week, that we could switch things up in ways that were more suited to how we were feeling that day. That acknowledgement of alternate possibilities has been really helpful. This year, despite that dreaded crow pose showing up around day 19, I kept right on going with Adriene. I simply decided that crouching with my hands on the floor is a good alternative to crow (just getting to a crouch was plenty for me). Similarly, her happy hop to the front of the mat for forward fold, and graceful moves to lunge then plank are all ungainly scrambles for me, but just fine because I’m still showing up and having fun.

Some of the adaptations are dictated by our physical abilities. I started a  dryland training program with a local swim club in January; it is an hour of HIIT led by an athletic youngster. I had never done a HIIT workout before the Christmas break, so I am learning to take advantage of every adaptation she offers in order to make it through the hour without collapsing in a puddle. Other adaptations are more mental. Due to the latest lockdowns in Ontario, I get a two hour window to ride my horse just once a week (she lives at a horse boarding facility on the edge of town).  For several weeks in a row, Fancy didn’t want to be caught, so I spent an hour or more circling the haybale trying to get close enough to put her halter on. I couldn’t ride, so I counted steps instead. It wasn’t the workout I had planned, but I was outside and moving in the fresh air.

Has COVID forced you to adapt your fitness routines too? What have you changed and how has it worked for you?

Image: Diane in a colourful face mask, with Fancy, a bay horse wearing a blue halter.

Diane Harper is an aging athlete in Ottawa, who is slowly reconciling herself to the fact that she may never be able to do all the things.