fitness · Guest Post · injury · mindfulness · racing · triathalon

Pause and Ponder (guest post)

This is a reblog of a newsletter post from the Rockvale Writers’ Colony by Sandy Coomer, its founder and director. Note: I’ll be there for a two-week writing residency in mid-October! She has things to say about what happened when she had to take a pause from life as usual. I’ll let her take it from here. -catherine

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m very active and busy. That’s my natural tendency. When I rest, I’m often thinking of and planning for the next burst of energy required for the next new project or idea. It’s hard for me to slow down. In fact, I rarely stop for long . . . unless I’m forced to. Funny how that works. When it’s necessary to pause, when I’m required to stop my busy enterprises, I’m pleasantly surprised at how refreshing it is to simply “Be.”

I had a triathlon race in Wisconsin this past weekend. I had a good swim and was at mile 15 of the bike when a pedestrian/spectator ran onto the bike course and we collided. The collision made me crash head-first into a parked pickup truck. The moments that followed were interesting. I was unable to say where I was or what my name was. I didn’t feel panic – just a sort of confused wonder at what I was doing on the road. I knew I was in a race, but I had no idea where. When someone told me I was in Wisconsin, I remember thinking, “How in the world did I get to Wisconsin?” Within a few more minutes, I remembered everything, and then I was whisked away to the emergency room.

I’m not badly hurt, but I will need a few weeks to heal from my injuries. It’s a forced pause, a slow-down to allow my body to heal and my concussion-addled brain to steady. Living in the still air of patience and acceptance is a lesson in a different sort of fortitude than the one I’m used to. It wasn’t in my plans to get hurt, but the hurt came anyway, and it’s my responsibility now to see what I can learn from it. Otherwise, the experience is wasted.

Here’s what I’m discovering from my forced “Pause.”

  1. People matter more than anything else. So many people have taken the time to check on me and see if I need anything. Am I attentive to others’ needs when I’m in “Busy” mode? Can I take a moment every day to tune into another person’s heart and say “I see you, you matter?” 
  2. Being still teaches a certain kind of balance which can lead to delight. I sat on my back porch yesterday and watched the afternoon fade into dusk. Two chipmunks were chasing each other from the porch to the grass and into the burrow under the shed. I felt like I was a crucial part of this scene. I belonged in an intricate way to the wonders of nature. I didn’t move or direct anything. I simply was there.
  3. Letting go of perfectionism is the key to being satisfied. I was sorely disappointed I didn’t finish the race. I kept replaying the details of the wreck in my head over and over. What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Sometimes, stuff happens that we can’t control. Sometimes, we simply have to accept the drama of the day and move on with gratitude.
  4. Beauty exists in every situation if you stay open to it. As I was being driven from the ER back to my hotel, I noticed the light glinting off the water of the lake, little cups of sparkle and glee. I thought, “how beautiful.” Back at home, I settled into my own comfortable bed with its floral comforter and sage green pillows and I thought, “how lovely.” Do I even notice this when I’m focused on all I need to get done?

When I think about my writing, I realize that if I get too focused on the achievement aspect and forget the beauty of each moment, I can miss the whole point of writing entirely. I write because I have something valuable to say. My writing comes from my soul, not my ambition. Remembering that is what will keep me at the page. 

A “Pause,” forced or chosen, can be a time of pondering and eventually, great insight. If we believe every situation has a purpose and a lesson, we’re more apt to let experiences teach us and take the lessons to heart. Yes, we learn a lot from work, but we learn equally from not working, from pausing our “Go” button, and simply allowing the universe to share its infinite wisdom. I would not have chosen to wreck in the race, but I AM choosing to ponder the Pause, the Moment, the Wonder of Being Here Right Now. 

It’s something I’m glad I didn’t miss.

-sandy

fitness · Guest Post · season transitions

Late summer magic (Guest post)

by Judy Steers

It’s THAT time of day. You know the one. Where the sun is slicing through the trees at a sharp angle. It’s warm while it’s on you and losing that hot edge like it had back in July. Wrapped in a damp towel, your hair wild and wind-blown, you’re gingerly walking barefoot on the soft moss and hard stones back to shelter – whether that’s the tent, the camper, or the cottage.

You’re a bit wet still from an afternoon of playing in the waves and paddling down the wind and lying in the sun. You’ve body surfed and got rolled over and come up laughing. You’ve had a cold beer or soda or juicy apple or a bag of salty chips on the dock and now, it’s time to shift to the Later Things.


But right now? Now is that beautiful in-between time where you look for the mossy patch stepping stones to take your feet back to warm clothes and lunch dishes still on the table (because you were just so keen to get out on the afternoon adventure).

You wrap up in flannel and someone lights the barbeque or the fire. The water and the wind still roar and the towels dance in the line. You’re warm and happy and surrounded by people you love. Good food awaits. The promise of campfire, s’mores and the wind in the trees to lull you to sleep.


You’re 10 years old at Girl Guide camp, you’re 20-something on a short weekend with friends, you’re 40-something wrapping shivering children in big fluffy towels, you’re staring down 60 and feel like all of them.


5:00 pm on a late summer afternoon is pure magic. It’s the transition between splashing, shivering fun and warm well-fed contentment. The tentative barefoot steps on the moss tell you you’ve been here before, and your heart is grateful you get to do it again.

Judy is a school chaplain in her work life and a kayaker and board game geek in her play life. She lives in Guelph and regularly waves as Sam bikes past her house on her cool Brompton. She is now past 60 and still loves playing in the waves and campfire.

fitness · Guest Post · triathalon

It’s just a hill, get over it

by Alison Conway


For Jennifer

I consider myself a recreational triathlete. Which is to say: I wouldn’t buy a magazine related to the sport and I don’t have a tri-bike. Sprint triathlons were what I did, in before-Covid times, to take a break from running. A recent injury, however, threw me into the pool, where I met people who are serious about their sport. Very serious. Since competitive folks are my jam, I looked forward to going to triathlons with them this summer–and also to proving to my swim coach that I had learned from his excellent instruction.

Triathlon attracts type-A people, it seems to me. So much gear to organize! Such complicated training schedules! It’s a long way from running, which requires only a pair of sneakers and a will of steel. The paradox, though, is that the triathlon event is built to thwart the same dream of mastery that motivates its participants to sign up. Every race, something goes wrong. A bike tire explodes. The water turns out to be too rough and the swim is cancelled. Etc. And so the perfectionist finds herself defeated by forces beyond her control, after months of training. At least, this is how it looks to me, from the outside.

I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, but I’m probably somewhere within shooting distance. I’ve done my best to learn the basics of the triathlon challenge. Last weekend I carefully reviewed “Summary of TriBC Rules” the night before race day, including this one: “It is mandatory that the bib number be worn on the back of your body for the entire bike course.” At dinner, I described the brutal hill that began the bike and run routes. One dinner guest described running a half marathon in San Francisco a while back. Half way up a steep hill was a man holding a sign, she said, that read: “It’s just a hill, get over it.” We laughed and I strategized how to break down that hill.

The next morning was windy—very windy. I carefully placed my race belt with my bib under my running shoes so that it wouldn’t fly away. I came out of the water after a great swim–(thanks, Coach!)–and reminded myself: wetsuit off, shoes on, helmet on, glasses on, grab the bike. I ran down the shoot onto the road, swung my leg over the bar—and saw the racer ahead of me with his race belt on. “Good god, the bib number!” I ran back into transition and put my belt on, cursing my idiot self.

So much negative chatter in my head as I headed out onto the bike course! Until I met the hill. There, I remembered the race sign described the night before: “It’s just a hill, get over it.” And I decided, as I toiled up that hill, to make it my mantra for the race. Get over the disappointment of a ruined bike time, get over the desire to beat myself up, get over everything except the beauty of the race course I was on and the thrill of being there, at all, after two years of pandemic. It was a beautiful morning to swim, bike, and run, and to watch my new pals from the pool race their hearts out.

The take-homes for me are these: listen carefully to women you meet at dinner parties–they may have wisdom to impart. And race day is yours to shape, whatever which way it plays out.


Race bib, number 312, Alison

Alison Conway lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples. 

fitness · Guest Post · strength training · weight lifting

Do not disturb, or on not having ‘hungry eyes’ for men at the gym (Guest Post)

By Brett

This past month has presented me with plenty of inspiration for a blog post. It was, as per usual, incredibly difficult for me to narrow down what to share. However, despite the volume of vulnerable, queer, fitness-related experiences I’ve found myself in there is one moment that feels heavier than the rest. As most of my uncomfortable gym situations begin, this moment was initiated by a male person approaching me mid-workout.

Allow me to paint this picture more clearly. By ‘mid-workout’, I mean a headphones-on-full-blast-sweating-through-my-tank-top-unaware-of-the-rest-of-the-world state of mind.

Now, I have very few objections to interacting with others at the gym. Developing an open, positive community within the gym environment can remove social barriers that hinder the enthusiastic participation of everyone wishing to pursue an active lifestyle. However, this was not one of those interactions. I retrieved my dumbbells from the ground, stood upright, and proceeded to perform my bicep curls.

Simultaneously, this male person positioned himself about 4 feet behind me, and continued to dance his eyes between the back of my legs and making direct eye contact with me via the mirror that stood in-front of both of us. I have a horrible tendency to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, regardless of how clearly their behavior should be reprimanded. Therefore, using said mirror, I quizzically raised my eyebrows at the male person, hoping he may just be looking for someone to spot him on a lift, or perhaps was wondering which direction the washrooms may be. It must be at this point that you are wondering if I moonlight as a comedian…because, yes, these innocent wishes about his intentions were dead wrong.

His response to my quizzical eyebrow raise was to begin speaking, despite the music blasting from my headphones. I set my weights back down, turned to face him, and slid a headphone back.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

“Uh, I was just like wondering if you like compete, or like yeah.”

“Compete?”

“Yeah, in like physique stuff.”

“No, I do not. I’m just a gym rat.”

It was at this point that he began this disturbing soliloquy:

“That’s cool. You should do physique competitions; you have great definition. I was like worried to ask you because so many girls get so offended when I try to chat with them. But, I could just like tell from your form that you know how to work out, and like I knew your vibe was different. Honestly, you’re just so focused, most girls like look at me with like ‘hungry eyes’, but you just are doing your thing. It’s cool, you know?”

When I tell you that I have heard this well-rehearsed chaos on hundreds of occasions, I say so with little exaggeration. Now, a piece of unsolicited advice, if you redirect the topic of conversation onto them, you quickly fade into the background of a wonderfully self-centered dialogue regarding their macro-intake or something equally as unimportant. Which is exactly what I did, and exactly what he did. Fortunately, this led to a perfect opportunity for a swift ending to the conversation, and my ability to slip my headphones back on (my gym version of a “Do Not Disturb” sign).

It is not my intention that this post comes across as scathing, rant-ish, or a generalization of male people in fitness. Rather, I’m hoping that we can let out a big collective chuckle at the absurdity of this moment.

First, the mental image of me participating in the hyper-feminine culture of physique modelling is absolutely comical for anyone who knows me well.

Second, the fact that this person had the audacity to paint himself as a victim when approaching women at the gym and them being “offended” shows so little self-awareness it made me question how this individual managed to think so highly of himself… while clearly having no idea of who he truly is.

Third, and my personal favourite part of all of this, my lack of “hungry eyes” played no role in him recognizing that I truly, sincerely have little to no interest in gazing at men.

Finally, bold of him to refer to me as a ‘girl’.

Regardless of all the technical issues of his little plan, the most curious part was that he could not recognize the hypocritical nature of his actions. My feminist training began running wild. The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy, suffering under a male gaze, r*pe culture and the idealization of ‘the chase’, etc. Luckily, I snapped out of my trance just in time to realize that “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor was playing through my headphones. I picked up my dumbbells, mentally wished all non-conformists a ‘Happy Pride Month’, and purposefully moved those weights with horrible form.

30 lb dumbbells

Bio: Hi! I’m Bret and I hail from Guelph, ON, where I completed my undergraduate degree in Philosophy. I am currently working towards an MA in Philosophy at Western University, and enjoy engaging in feminist theory, ethics, as well as gender and sexuality studies. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be taught by both Sam and Tracy, and I am excited to join the Fit is a Feminist Issue community! When my nose isn’t in a book, I can be found in coffee shops, at the gym, or taking on car repairs that are far beyond my capabilities.

camping · cycling · disability · fitness · Guest Post · inclusiveness

One Way Bike Camping

The past twelve months of my life have been overflowing with adventures and exciting changes. In May 2021, I began to realize that my beloved London, Ontario community would not be my home forever. But I wasn’t sure what my next steps would look like.

In late August, I hopped on my trusty pedelec (pedal electric assist cycle) loaded with camping supplies and headed north along Lake Huron. At that time I assumed I’d be back in London by November or December, but had no plans set in stone.

In mid-October, I was biking from Wikwemikong to Manitowaning when I snapped a milestone photo showing 1200km on my trip odometer. Although I continued on to Kagawong & Ice Lakes afterwards via a bus-bike combo, in many ways it marked the end (or at least nearly the end) of my first bike camping adventure.

A week later I was supposed to catch the last ferry of the season back to Tobermory… but I didn’t want to leave. In the short time I’d been on Manitoulin, I had already begun to feel a sense of belonging. Community care, breathtaking beauty, and changing scenery around every corner make Manitoulin a place unlike any other that I came across in my travels.

Several weeks of stealth bike camping increased my comfort with making decisions based on rapidly changing contexts, rather than trying to plan everything in advance. Manitoulin feels like where I need to be during this season of my life. So I took a leap and unexpectedly moved to Northern Ontario via bike camping!

This December sunset bay photo feels like a warm winter hug! To the left, a few trees are silhouetted against a pastel pink sky. A couple islands can be seen on the horizon line. A thin row of rocks poke through ice which reflects the sky near the horizon, but is covered with snow closer to the shore line. The shore has patches of snow interspersed with sand and tufts of grass. On the left side of the foreground is the corner of a weather worn wooden fence, with tall dried grass spilling out to the right and gradually thinning out. Despite the busyness of this photo, it somehow feels inviting.
challenge · fitness · Guest Post · walking

Walking with the Conqueror Challenge (Guest Post)

By Kirsten

Greetings!  Your intrepid, approaching 50, woman is back to share her journey to fitness and hopefully inspire both herself and maybe you too!

The pandemic has been hard – we’ve all suffered mentally, emotionally, physically.  The winter(s) were especially brutal if, like me, you dislike having to put on 17 layers to just go outside and don’t have indoor exercise equipment.  Alas, I digress.   Now, onto why I’m really here…

There’s this “new” exercise fad that all the “exercise gurus” on social media say, especially for middle aged/peri/menopausal women (like me!) is way better than hours at the gym or HIIT, etc.  Of course, in reality it’s not new at all. We as a species have been doing this exercise for at least a couple  of millenia now.  What is this, you wonder?   WALKING!  Wild, amiright? 

In April of this year I was working from home and still had primary possession of Giselle. See her photo at the end of this post.

I happened to come across this advertisement on social media that was called The Conquerer Challenge.  I investigated and did some research.   The company behind this challenge has put (I’m sure) thousands of hours of work into it. 

The concept is simple, Sign up on the website, select your challenge, download the app to your phone, and off you go on your adventure!  There’s  so much more to it though – it’s an international community of incredibly supportive people, all on a fitness journey who are challenging themselves and others to be more active.  And when one warrior falls (walking buddies, such as my Giselle, or an unexpected physical ailment – damn knees!) everyone rallies to support and motivate!

In April I started a 75km trek from Cairo, Egypt to the Great Pyramids in Giza.   I paid the company about $30.  My google fit app is paired with the Counquerer Challenge app on my phone and every night my km’s are uploaded and my journey is logged. (You can manually log distance as well. For example, I log 1km for every hour of archery I do and the app provides a conversion chart for other movement activities, from rowing to housekeeping) For every 20% you complete, the company plants a tree.  Along the route you receive random virtual postcards with details of the part of the journey you’re on. 

It took me almost 3 months and I completed my first challenge!  What a ride!  It was very encouraging to see how much progress I made on a daily basis and to see my completion percentage and the amount of time it took.  You choose how long you have to complete the challenge, so it really is a self challenge more than anything.  At the end you get an actual medal in the mail with a completion certificate and the distance on the medal.  I am onto my second challenge and am climbing Mt. Fuji.  It’s another 75km trek because I’m still working up the courage to do a longer walk (Niagara Falls 113km for example, or the Great Wall of China at 259.1km). 

The idea of fitness for me is about attaining optimal health.  Walking is truly one of the most accessible forms of exercise out there and if done in proper supportive shoes, is so incredibly easy on the body (well, on my round body, yours may be different) and it can be a great social activity.  Find a friend and create a team and do a challenge together!  It’s amazing how fast the km’s add up and it’s exhilarating to say – I walked 20km this week.  Sure, some people will walk 20km in one day but each person’s journey is their own and cannot be compared to anyone else’s.  Walking has so many other benefits; fresh air and vitamin D, you can explore new to you places in your city/town, you can spend quality time with your pet, your quality of sleep improves and best of all – IT’S FREE!!!. It takes relatively little energy and you will find in time that you WANT to go out.  If for no other reason to see where you are on your journey every day. At the end you can say  – look what I accomplished!

I have found that I tire the dog out when we go for more than 2 km at a time (she’s not that big really) and I’m about to start a full time in person office job, so my frequent daily walks will be reduced.  It’s your journey, walking will also help your mental health and the movement and sunlight will help decrease/eliminate any depression or anxiety you may be going through.  It can be a great meditative time and you will find as you progress that you are walking a bit faster and covering more distance in a shorter period of time. You can catch up on the newest music, listen to your favourite Podcast, listen to a book.  

Who knows, one day when you get to the Great Wall of China you can say, I’ve walked this and it only took me x number of days!  I’m a Conquerer!  I hope you decide to start a walking journey of your own (and I seriously can’t recommend it enough), so far since April and as of writing this, I’ve covered 93.1km (that doesn’t include today’s kms  yet).  I’m so proud of myself – as a lifelong non active person, this has been such a motivating, enjoyable and rewarding experience!   If you’re in the Kingston area and want to start a walking group – hit me up!  I’d love to walk with you and share a journey!    

Giselle

Kirsten (aka Kiki) is a woman approaching 50 who has struggled with exercise her entire life. She lives in Kingston with her 2 cats and occasionally a Shar Pei named Giselle. She is currently taking archery lessons and hopes to start curling again this year. Kirsten is also an active participant in a virtual distance challenge and is currently walking from Cairo to the Pyramids at Giza.

fitness · Guest Post · injury · running · triathalon

On Seeking a Second Opinion (Guest Post)

By Alison Conway

A year ago, I wrote here about an injury and dispiriting MRI results: complex and degenerative tears in both menisci. The specialist sat me down for the bad news: surgeons in my town were not going to be interested in having a look, believing that meniscus surgery puts knees at risk for joint replacement down the road. I had some questions about my injury—it didn’t fit the meniscus tear stories I had read, which included sudden pulls or twists or pops. Nor was I experiencing the usual symptoms related to meniscal injury: knee locking, clicking, giving way. But the images seemed to speak for themselves. The specialist was sorry. There you go.

As he delivered the bad news, I should have remembered that visual data is always context specific and always read through an interpretive lens. I couldn’t find my way to questioning conclusions that the MRI results seemed to underscore, but I was alert to the significance of a remark made along the way, something along the lines of, “You know, you can burn more calories riding a bike than you do running.”  “Hold up,” I thought, “who said anything about calorie burning?” I didn’t run to manage my weight, nor do I talk about exercise in this way. I suddenly saw myself as, I’m guessing, the specialist saw me–a middle-aged woman who jogs to keep her weight down. I became suspicious of his quick assessments and conclusions. My family doctor also had some questions. To his mind, there was no reason not to put me in front of a surgeon rather than discounting the possibility of an intervention out of hand. He agreed that a second opinion was in order.

Fast forward past the usual long wait time and I’m in front of a specialist in another city. The conclusions he draws, looking at the MRI images, are radically different. The degenerative meniscal tears, he says, are pretty run of the mill. I have probably been running with them for years. There is no need for surgery because they aren’t the cause of the injury.  He puts me through a range of tests relating to meniscal function, closely examines my gait and alignment, and then announces, “Patellar tendinopathy.”  My gait, he points out, is slightly knock-kneed, and in the absence of strength training to support proper alignment, the tendon is aggravated by being dragged over the joint the wrong way. I had been sitting on my butt for months at the start of Covid, leaving the house only for easy runs and not much else—certainly not strength training at the gym. The knee trouble began when I ramped up to longer distances the fall of 2020.

These days I’m running again, shorter distances until I have time to undertake strength training with diligence and attention. Will I run a marathon again? I don’t know. But I do know that I was able reclaim running by advocating for myself. I thank the doctors who respected what running means to me.

I recently finished a sprint triathlon, my first in four years.  The run felt like freedom.


Picture:  AC on the podium for an AG win at the Oliver Triathlon, June 2022. 

Alison Conway trains and works on the traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan People.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · traveling

Riding Solo, Part 3: On Hills and Mountains (Or, Learning to Crawl, for Rob West)

by Julia Creet

I’m not built for climbing. I have the muscle and bone mass of a hockey player. I would have made a brilliant rugby player if girls had been allowed to play when I was coming up. (Knocking down girls is still one of my favourite things.)

So climbing has always been a struggle for me. I would attack the bottom of a hill, drive up it until my heart rate soared and my legs and lungs gave out half way, gear down and wobble to the top, arriving spent and anxious and far behind everyone else. I never understood the concept of spinning up a hill or riding at my own pace.

It took Rob West, my excellent cycling coach, two years to convince me that I should learn to crawl hills. Once again, the idea seemed completely counter-intuitive to me. Weren’t hills meant to be conquered? Wasn’t I meant to exhaust myself on them? I bought carbon wheels just to make hills easier, and they helped, but I still arrived at the top panting and worried. Nothing like carrying 60 pounds or so on a bike to make you learn to crawl. Sometimes baggage is necessary to understand weightlessness.

Here’s how to crawl a hill: Start in your lowest gear at the bottom. Forget about carrying momentum into a hill unless you are riding rollers…which are a blast…but at the bottom of a mountain, momentum is a losing proposition. The first little bit your legs might spin too fast and then too slow. The inclination is to throw your weight into your feet, pushing hard on the pedals, quads firing. And then, slowly, once the crawl begins, so does the magic. On a hill with a long, slow incline things begin to shift. Your shoulders relax, core tightens, feet lighten, and the pedal strokes start from somewhere deep in the abdomen, pulling your knees up, until miraculously it seems, you are spinning up a hill, slowly gathering speed. Don’t look up, that’s deflating, unless you are near the top. Look sideways, where the shoulder looks level to the road, and then let your mind both focus and wander.

Focus on breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, focus on keeping your feet light; wander into writing. There’s no better place to write than on a hill. Everything I’m writing here I have written many times over already. Hills have taught me patience. My impatience to get to the top was the source of my anxiety, and pain. It’s a pure lesson of Buddhism. The hill doesn’t create the pain, our relationship to climbing it is the source of suffering. Crawling will get you up anything, up most hills without getting out of breath or feeling like your heart and legs are pistons. But it means falling back perhaps and putting pride elsewhere.

I rode for a few days with my friend Andrea, which was so lovely. Her legs are thirty years younger than mine and she used to teach spin. Watching her climb, because, of course, I was generally behind, was a thing of beauty. Legs spinning at 90 rpm, back straight, forward on the saddle, and up she sailed. I just want to get it over with she said, out of breath. And I couldn’t help but smile. And then I gave her the tent to carry.

I’ve learned to love the hills. Everything slows down. My thoughts have become tender instead of anxious, and I know of few things more joyful than when your legs have found a rhythm, the pitch lessens a bit and you find yourself a accelerating upwards, as if suddenly lifted by an inverse gravity. Sometimes cyclists call it a “false flat,” when an incline feels like a decline. It makes no sense but tells you everything about flow.

Cape Breton is hilly, I was warned. If someone had said the island is mountainous, perhaps I would have paid attention. While I can wax on about hills, mountains are something else. There are four mountains on the Cabot trail. The French and Mackenzie are long and steep but not punishing if you ride clockwise (which I would recommend). The North is nasty. It’s a four-and-a-half kilometre climb at a pitch somewhere between 12 and 15%, the kind of pitch up which cars must gear down. I never found a happy place on that climb. It was the one time I wondered who thought this was a good idea as I fought for every pedal stroke and to keep the bike from swaying into traffic.

Before I came to the island I stopped at a bike store in Wolfville. Had a nice chat with guy there, one of so many conversations I’ve had here (there will be a blog on conversations), but he looked at me, my bike, my stuff, my gear ratio, and he said, you won’t get up that mountain. I hate it when people underestimate me because I am, no doubt, a woman over 60. He has no idea how much he helped me up that climb.

The guy at the outdoor shop down the street said exactly the opposite. No problem, he said, you can do it. Just stop at every lookout. And he has no idea how much he helped me up that climb. I stopped, a lot. But I never walked, and I never flagged down a passing truck, and I was very patient, and when I got to the top, where the trees were small and patches of snow still lurked in the woods, I put on my vest over my sweat-soaked shirt and my warm ear-band and steamed and wobbled on for another 60k knowing that I could crawl up a steep mountain and not panic. That was a transformative cycling experience, a life lesson… and a metaphor.

The author in a blue cycling cap, holding a beer, smiling.

Julia Creet is a recovering academic who just wants to ride her bike.

See also Riding Solo, Part 1 (Guest Post) and Riding Solo, Part 2: Baggage (Guest Post).

camping · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · traveling

Riding Solo, Part 2: Baggage (Guest Post)

by Julia Creet

I wrote in my first post that every material aspect of touring by bike seems to have a metaphorical one as well. How you pack your bags might be the most obvious.

Baggage. It’s a loaded word that translates directly to a loaded bike.

The multiple decisions of what to take and leave tell you so much about your need for comfort, the things you think you can’t live without, the fear that you might need something and not have it, or suffer for not having it, or feel foolish for not having it, or feel equally foolish for having pushed it and hauled it and never used it.

The novice bike adventurer, that is me, has to rely on other peoples’ lists, what experience has taught them is necessary—or extraneous. The first decision, and one with the biggest consequences for your route and weight is whether or not to camp.

Cruising from bed to bed is delightful—and much lighter—but a tent and sleeping bag and a little mattress and a tiny stove and pot and an areopress gives you ultimate freedom and coffee in bed in the most delicious places. It’s a paradoxical combination of baggage and freedom. Camping will easily add ten lbs to the bike but will allow you to pull off the road wherever you can. Everything else is a question of comfort and fear.

Like most riders, I performed the ritual of unloading, sending home a package of heavy and accumulated light things—each light thing feels like nothing on its own—after riding for just a few days. Some of my protection and comfort and cleanliness went with those things, but hauling them around just wasn’t worth the weight. You see the obvious psychic metaphor here.

And, a week later, as I contemplate the mountains of Cape Breton, I’ve deemed another bag of stuff not worth the drag. The bike is still very heavy. I haven’t weighed it; I don’t want to know. I’ve climbed a few steep hills now and know that I can crawl up just about anything, but no question, I feel every ounce.

Have I missed anything I’ve let go? Can’t even remember what I packed off, except that most of it I bought last minute and because I was checking off other peoples’ lists. What’s the heaviest thing you cannot do without? Water. Unlike everything else, you need more of it than you think you do.

I think about weight and baggage with almost every pedal stroke. If even the minimum I have now feels too much, what about all the things I have left behind? The one object I keep excising and adding back in—and here my attachments as a recovering English Prof are most obvious—is a book.

Julia Creet is a recovering academic who just wants to ride her bike.

clothing · fitness · gender policing · Guest Post

Sweater Vest (Guest Post)

by Brett

Gender dysphoria has plagued many moments of my life. In fact, some of my earliest memories remain stark in my mind as moments of feeling lost in my body. Being at the golf store with my dad, and having a ravenous obsession with the sweater vests. There was something about the sharp argyle patterns, and crisp cuff lines. I couldn’t tell you how my parents responded to my want for the purple and grey one I got my grubby little hands on…but I do know it never made it home with me. I couldn’t have been much older than 6 or 7, but if I close my eyes and imagine the smell of fresh leather and the sound of people testing out clubs in the range area, I am brought back to that store. I can feel the 80% cotton and 20% cashmere in my fists, imagining how it would show off my arms without hugging my petite frame.

However disappointing my sweater vest memory is, it was one of the first moments of clarity I had about my identity. Maybe that vest didn’t hang in my closet, but it hung in my mind as a siren for what was yet to come.

I have been an athlete my entire life. Growing up I was a multi-sport athlete through every season. Winter was hockey and volleyball, Spring included track and field and rowing. Summer featured more track and field, occasionally soccer, and ball hockey. Finally, Fall brought about cross country, and basketball. On top of it all, fitness is a passion that has always ignited my deepest sense of self.

I began my own training around age 9. While the drive has remained the same, the goal has weathered many gender-fluid storms. As a child, I loved the attention of having ‘unbelievable’ strength…especially when it showed the ‘boys’ who was boss! What was so wonderful about this time was that societal pressures, and peer-level interrogations, hadn’t forced me to evaluate my beauty, yet. Instead, all that mattered was doing the most pushups, planking longer, and running the fastest. It was a simple time.

However, puberty wreaked havoc on my gender-fluid being. Suddenly, I was painfully aware that my breasts had been replaced by strong pectoral muscles. I remember foolishly thinking that my back side would have to make up for that, to maintain any kind of desirability. During these years, I tortured my mind into conforming to female beauty standards. I was worried about being too ‘bulky’, not having breasts, and not having curves. I would stand in the mirror, flaunting skin-tight dresses, skinny jeans, and leggings knowing that the aesthetic appearance of my body was ‘to standard’. However, witnessing my body in feminine clothing made me want to crawl out of my skin. Suddenly, the goal was no longer obvious. This was the fantastic beginning of a complex, heartbreaking, and liberating fitness journey.

The transition to ‘men’s’ clothing came gradually. It started with looser fitting jackets; then shirts. Finally, the button-downs began to appear, as well as straight-cut pants. My muscular arms and broad chest started to look ‘at home’. The goal changed, quickly. I began to observe my male-identifying, athletic peers. The way their shoulders filled out the hem of a fitted t-shirt. The infamous ‘triangle’ shape in which your shoulders taper to a narrow waist. What I used to think was attractive for men became the desire for my own form. It wasn’t attraction…it was envy.

My workouts have become fixated on acquiring strength, and I’ve learned to appreciate the painful calluses that stubbornly rest on my inner palms and fingers. While the skin-tight dresses rarely surface anymore, I can tell you that they don’t fit the way they used to. But I’ll be damned if I don’t admit to feeling like a warrior in them. Miraculously, my gender-fluid soul has found appreciation in this strength as it embodies each of my identities in a different way (but more on this, later!).

I am on my way. My ‘men’s’ cut t-shirts are becoming less baggy. My ‘men’s’ cut jeans are pinching too much when I sit down. And I’m proud to tell you all that there is a navy-blue sweater vest hanging in my closet.

Sweater vest

Bio: Hi! I’m Bret and I hail from Guelph, ON, where I completed my undergraduate degree in Philosophy. I am currently working towards an MA in Philosophy at Western University, and enjoy engaging in feminist theory, ethics, as well as gender and sexuality studies. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be taught by both Sam and Tracy, and I am excited to joint the Fit is a Feminist Issue community! When my nose isn’t in a book, I can be found in coffee shops, at the gym, or taking on car repairs that are far beyond my capabilities.