canoe · cycling · fitness · hiking · illness

Riding my bike and moving beyond bargaining

Last week, like many of us, I was bargaining.

Sure, #StayAtHome and #WorkFromHome but I can still ride my bike. I can still take walks with friends. I love the outside. It won’t be that bad. I was imagining canoe camping holidays even. Repeat: It won’t be that bad. I was still thinking about me and my life, not exclusively but my plans revolved around making work at home work for me, the daily work of my leadership role in the university, family responsibilities, and seeing how much of my exercise routine I could keep.

I blogged about that here and here and here.

And then I read this, To tackle coronavirus, walk – and act– this way by André Picard in the Globe and Mail. Who is André Picard? His official bio says, André Picard is the health columnist at The Globe and Mail and one of Canada’s top public policy writers. His latest book is MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH: Public Health Issues in Canada.”

To me, he’s the person whose voice I respect the most on matters of Canadian health policy. We were young journalists working together for Canadian University Press and though our careers have taken us in different directions, I’ve always found his voice to be wise and compassionate. You know you have those people in your life, who if they speak, you listen? André Picard is one of those people for me. His column was my wake up call.

André writes,

“People who are not sick and not recent travellers, can circulate freely. They can go for a walk. But should they? Ethically, is it right to go for a walk when we are being asked to keep our interactions to a bare minimum?

“We also have to start thinking seriously, and preparing ourselves mentally, for how long this could go on, and how long we can tolerate a new normal. Right now, we’re still in the bargaining phase: It’s okay to go for a walk, right? It’s okay to take the kids to the park, isn’t it? Are these attempts to eke out a little bit more normal in these extraordinarily abnormal times just a bargain with the devil?”

“In Canada, we’re on the brink of being too late to prevent those dire outcomes. It’s time to bring the hammer down, to move from polite entreaties to practice social distancing to firm orders to do so. This must be done with absolute clarity and a singular message. It doesn’t feel like time for a casual walk, or casual talk, anymore.”

In the past week, I went from thinking riding solo was okay to watching France, Italy and Spain ban recreational cycling. Why? Because if you get a mechanical failure, who is going to pick you up? Is that trip essential? Because you might have an accident and land in the hospital and you absolutely do not want to be taking medical attention away from a COVID-19 patient.

This week I’ve watched Nova Scotia moved to close all parks and ban recreational hiking. You can hike from your home only now. I just read that the UK is allowing people one bout of outdoor exercise a day. You can’t run in the morning and ride in the afternoon.

We’ve all watched people home from work taking over beautiful remote locations. Wales and Banff were both swamped with tourists. Go home, say the people who make these remote places home. We only have enough food supplies for locals and there isn’t room in the hospitals if you get sick. In my part of Ontario cottage country residents who aren’t year round residents have been asked to leave. The emergency rooms only have a few beds.

The world is getting smaller, fast. It’s time to stop bargaining and face the task at hand head on.

But it has its good moments, my smaller world. We took part in a neighbourhood art scavenger hunt today and drew a turtle to place in our window for local children to find.

I really appreciated these words from friend and award winning author Emma Donoghue about making a life in small places.

So there’s one focus right now and that focus is getting through this pandemic without overly taxing our health care system so it doesn’t collapse. We’re doing this so we won’t have sick people unable to get a respirator because they are all being used. I watched a thing last night about a 72 year old Italian priest who gave up his respirator to save a younger person. I don’t want doctors and patients to face those choices here.

Flattening the curve is a group project that requires our full on effort and attention. Today the Premier of Ontario announced (finally!) that all non-essential businesses are closed for two weeks. I hope that got everyone’s attention though I wish he’d done it two weeks earlier.

We are in this one together. We need to stay home, yes, but we also need to support vulnerable people and our essential workers. That’s nurses and doctors but also transit and grocery store workers.

But what about our mental health? Surely there is some need for exercise.

I think that’s right but what’s the smallest-cost-to-others way you can accomplish that? In places like France, Italy, and Spain you can still ride your bike to the grocery store. It’s recreational cycling that’s banned. You can still walk your dog. You can run within 2 km of your house.

We’re not there yet and if we all work together now maybe we won’t get there. I’m past bargaining but I’m still hoping. And me, I’m riding inside on my trainer in the virtual world of Zwift. When it’s nicer I will ride outside but short distances near my house, I think. Long rides are for later.

fitness · Guest Post · hiking

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Volcano (Guest Post)

89583289_10157974504309356_8769320979223543808_n
Image description: A landscape shot of a section of the track. The earth is mostly rocky and is a light brown colour. Steam is coming from geothermal vents on the mountain. In the bottom right corner of the photo is a shadow of the photographer and the ridge she is standing on.

I recently had the opportunity to tramp (that’s what New Zealanders call hiking) the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the Central North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The TNC is a four-day, three-night 43.1 km loop that partially overlaps with the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The TNC takes place in the shadows and volcanic fields of the mighty active volcanoes Ngāuruhoe (which you may recognise as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) and Tongariro. While I had done plenty of day hikes and a handful of overnight trips before, this was my first multi-day trip, and I decided to do it solo. Aotearoa New Zealand has several tramping tracks that are billed as Great Walks, which means they are well-maintained, monitored by rangers, and usually well-equipped as far as huts and campsites go. The TNC is one of those walks, and as such, is well-populated with trampers and rangers alike. That made me feel fine about going solo. I had previously spent a long time wishing I could do something like this, but it wasn’t until I saw these wise words of a kid from the hilarious blog Live From Snack Time that I decided it was time to go do it: “You can make a wish, but then you have to do the wish. It doesn’t just happen.” I decided it was time to do the wish.

75763913_10157974503709356_1080003641504432128_n
Image description: A 360-degree panorama of a section of the track. It is the very early morning and the sky is still dark. Large rocky formations stretch along the length of the photo and they are backlit by a small patch of sunlight peeking up on the left side of the photo.

Here’s the thing about tramping in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to other places: pretty much nothing here will kill you except the weather. There are no large predators like bears or mountain lions, there are no snakes, there are no particularly venomous spiders. The water is usually clean and plenty of trampers just go ahead and drink it without treatment and are usually fine. (Note: that’s risky. Don’t do it. Or do. But also, don’t.) What puts people at risk in the New Zealand backcountry is when weather closes in quickly—particularly common in alpine environments—and natural disasters like avalanches, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. (There are also risks like falling and breaking your leg and being unable to get to shelter.) Those are serious risks, and I don’t mean to be flippant about them. You must prepare for them as much as you are able. Now, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot you can do if a pyroclastic flow is headed your way, but I’m of the mind that life is inherently risky, and if the only thing that ever figured into your decisions was how risky an activity was, you’d never get off the couch. That’s not the life I want, so I’m prepared to accept some calculated risks. I went to an outdoor equipment shop and asked for advice from them and from experienced friends, rented and borrowed the gear that I could, bought what I couldn’t borrow, and set out.

89360386_10157974510829356_2886294542049345536_n
A closeup of small, white flowers growing between stones. Mount Ngāuruhoe, a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano, is visible in the background.

The track was absolutely incredible and the trip was well worth it. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to make it happen. The photos don’t capture the scale and vastness of the landscape. They don’t capture that mixed-up feeling of achievement, relief, and “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” that rises up when you arrive at the hut. It’s hard to explain the introspection that goes on when it’s just you, your boots, your pack, and a volcano to keep you company. It was transformative. Really.

89619021_10157974503144356_1322609851381055488_n
Image description: a landscape shot of a part of the track. On the left of the photo is a 29-year-old white woman with short blonde hair. She is wearing grey shorts and a white shirt. In the distance is a cliff and a thin waterfall coming off it.

But a peculiar thing kept happening while I was tramping, and kept happening after I returned and told people about having gone. People seemed very concerned that I, a woman, was doing this tramp solo. At first, I thought it was a bit funny. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it reflected some weird assumptions people have about women’s ability to manage risk. When I told others about the experience and wondered whether people would have said the same thing about a male soloist, a male friend was quick to tell me that “it wasn’t about gender” (a bold assessment from someone who wasn’t there) and that going solo was “potentially foolhardy.” He’s right, in some sense: the risks of tramping—things like avalanches and volcanic eruptions—aren’t about gender. The volcano does not care about the genders of the trampers walking on it when it erupts. Dehydration and hypothermia don’t care about your gender. Venomous snakes don’t care about your gender. Flash floods don’t care about your gender. I’m totally with him on this one: the risk is not about gender. But if that’s the case, then why were the comments? Why were so many of the comments of the scandalized “A woman, alone?” variety? What is it about being a woman that leads people to assume you can’t look after yourself? (If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am.)

89472879_10157974504849356_8296255431358021632_n
Image description: A photograph of two of the famous Emerald Lakes, one behind the other. The earth in the foreground is golden brown and rocky. The lakes have vivid green water. A slope rises up behind them. The sky is blue with wispy white clouds.

I want to be clear about something: I certainly don’t think I know everything about tramping. I’m still very much a novice and will be for a long time. But I’m a sensible novice: I consulted experts while planning my trip, followed their advice, and did every single thing I possibly could do to mitigate my risk. I left detailed trip and route plans with a trusted contact, and I carried a personal locator beacon, a first aid kit, emergency shelter, all-weather clothing, an extra day’s food, and so on. I also respect the power of nature and know that ultimately, sometimes things go wrong and no amount of preparation can save you from that. Nevertheless, I did what was, by any reasonable metric, a good job of making sure I was going to be okay, barring a volcanic eruption. (And let’s be real, having a buddy isn’t really going to help you much in that situation.) It struck me as odd that my friend immediately concluded that what I was doing was foolhardy, when he knew nothing about the precautions I’d taken, and made no effort to ask.

84878349_10157974507589356_3906594367158091776_n
Image description: A panorama of a volcanic landscape. The earth is reddish-grey. There are two lakes with green water on the left of the photo, and an uphill scree slope to the right. Three distant people are standing at the top of the slope. The sky is blue with a few long white clouds.

A couple of women tramper friends of mine say they’ve had similar experiences. One says she, too, finds that people are either amazed or concerned when they find out she’s tramping alone, and that something about it rubs her the wrong way. How about you, fellow women soloists? Have you had this kind of experience? How does it make you feel?

I’ll finish off with this photo of sunrise on the ascent to the Red Crater of Ngāuruhoe. I left my hut dark and early to catch this special sight, all by myself. It was glorious.

89375082_10157974504034356_3979052900688068608_o
Image description: A panorama of sunrise on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. The sun is peeking up on the left side of the photo. The lower section of the photograph is dark rocky earth, not yet lit by the morning sun. In the distance are two peaks (one is Ngāuruhoe) that are a deep rusty red in the sunlight.

hiking · holidays · nature · traveling

Trekking in the Pyrenees, and not trekking in the Pyrenees

Last week I finally got my summer holiday. I really had to wait for it this year, but September did finally come! My partner and I went to northern Spain, where he’s from. We spent some days with family and friends, but we also spent three days hiking in the Pyrenees. In total, it was a five-day adventure because we needed to factor in two extra days to get there and back by public transport. As the owner of a hostel we stayed at put it, “people think there’s a motorway out here connecting everything, but that’s not quite the case”. I would say it’s definitely not the case. There’s one bus a day from the nearest larger city in each direction, if you’re lucky, and it meanders along curvy mountain roads, stopping at every village along the way. It was exactly what we wanted: to have some “us time”, just the two of us, in nature.

a horizontal white bar above a red one, painted on a tree.
GR11 signage: a horizontal white bar above a red one, painted on a tree.
a pole with arrow-shaped wooden signs pointing in different directions saying "GR11" and the names of different villages.
More GR 11 signage: a pole with arrow-shaped wooden signs pointing in different directions saying “GR11” and the names of different villages. There are three arrows, the middle one pointing towards the right and our destination on day one: Hiriberri.

For a bit of background, we decided to do a trek of three stages on the GR11 Transpyrenees trail. “GR” stands for Grande Randonée in French, or Gran Recorrido in Spanish (“long hike”), and is used to designate a network of long-distance hiking trails across Europe. The GR11, or “Transpirenáica“, runs from Cabo Higuer on the Basque coast all the way across to Catalunya and finishes at Cap de Creus. We chose three stages in Navarre (stages 5, 6, and 7), because the area is beautiful and was accessible by public transport from Bilbao (via Pamplona). The stages in this area are around 20 kilometres each and somewhat demanding mostly because there’s a lot of up and down, but no alpine mountaineering skills are needed.

Purple wild crocuses surrounding a silver thistle. This flower is a symbol of good fortune in the Basque region.
Pretty local flora: purple wild crocuses surrounding a larger yellow flower (a silver thistle, Wikipedia tells me). This flower is a symbol of good fortune in the Basque region.

The trail did not disappoint. On the first day, it rained in the morning, but cleared up by the afternoon. The next two days were beautiful weather: bright blue skies and sunshine! On day two, we had a lot of wind while hiking along an exposed ridge, but it was all safe and, have I mentioned, beautiful?

A wide path meandering along a soft slope, high mountains in the far distance.
A wide path meandering along a soft slope, high mountains in the far distance. The path wasn’t always this wide and flat though!

Also, cute villages! And nice country hostels and hotels!

a small hamlet nestled into a valley beneath a mountain
Cute village, exhibit (a): a small hamlet nestled into a valley beneath a mountain (that we hiked down and then back up on the other side!)

Unfortunately, we did what we usually do when we go on holiday and both got a cold. I don’t know how, but every time we’re on leave, at least one of us gets sick. I don’t know if it’s the germs on the plane, the change in weather, or the sudden lack of stress, or a combination of all three. This time, it hit my partner first, so by the time we were on the trail he was already recovering. But he kindly shared it with me, so on day three we actually had to call it quits. I was so congested I could hardly breathe, let alone hike 20 kilometres with a backpack.

I was so disappointed. But we did the sensible thing and took a taxi from the village we’d spent the night in to the next place, our final destination (Isaba). It was actually a fun taxi ride. The driver is also the local school bus driver and chauffeurs anyone who needs to go somewhere in the area, from school kids to drunk local youth during the village festival and hikers with head colds. We then spent the rest of the day wandering about and resting in the sun in Isaba, which also happened to be the nicest of the villages we stayed in. It’s surrounded by pine forests on steep slopes and consists of lovingly restored traditional houses. I would happily have spent another few days there.

A narrow cobbled street lined with traditional houses with wooden balconies on the left. A square stone church tower in the background and forest-lined mountains in the background.
Cute village, exhibit (b): Isaba. A narrow cobbled street lined with traditional houses with wooden balconies on the left. A square stone church tower in the background and forest-lined mountains in the background.

I’ll be honest, I’m still angry with that stupid cold that made us miss the last day of our trek. But what can you do? I suppose I should be happy I didn’t get really sick, so by the afternoon of that day I was well enough to take a short stroll around the area. But despite the dreaded lurgy throwing a spanner in the works of our trekking plans, it felt so good to be out there, largely on our own. In two days of hiking, we met exactly five people on the trail. It was a much needed respite from the current busyness of both our jobs and lives.

But still, I need to know: do any of you have any tips to avoid the dreaded holiday cold?

aging · cycling · disability · hiking · running

Aging Ungracefully (Guest Post)

By Mavis Fenn

About a month ago, my son and daughter ran the Round the Bay 30 km road race in Hamilton. A brutal course, complete with Grim Reaper. I never could have completed it. As I stood at the finish line, I marvelled at those crossing: varied in age, gender, race, and from a range of provinces and countries. Some finished strong, some not so strong, and some struggled to make that final footstep. And my heart hurt as the waves of runners crossed the line.

I didn’t understand the heartache. I haven’t run for years due to a meniscus tear and arthritis in my knees. I have large velcro braces for both knees when I need to walk for some distance, and will be trying gel injections by the end of summer. My knees are always stiff, and frequently painful. I lift weights, do yoga, and Zumba Gold (now Aqua). I intend to ride my bike this summer. My life is still an active one; why the heartache?

After some reflection, I realized that I had not yet given up the idea of running. In the recesses of my mind was the idea that I might run again if: I lost some weight, got some heavy duty running braces, and so on. That won’t work for me due to other issues. I am not a runner now and I will not be a runner in the future. That’s it.

The wave of runners crossing the finishing line destroyed my “magical thinking.” I was experiencing grief. The death of an ability; the death of something that gave me great pleasure; the death of part of my identity; indeed, the recognition that I was dying. I have experience with grief. I let it into my heart and embraced it. Grief brought with it remembrance of my father who lived until 94. He did what he could as long as he could. When a door closed behind him, he opened another one until there were no doors left. I have closed the door marked “running” behind me. I have not paid enough attention to the doors in front of me, biking and walking.

Time to move on. I will always enjoy watching that wave of people crossing the finish line at the Round the Bay but I am content not to be one of them. I am working on my fear of bike riding, and slowly increasing my walking. Endurance is the key.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

dogs · family · hiking · nature

Walking in the woods with Cheddar and Gavin

Walking is tricky these days. I have good days and I have bad days. I’ve been worried about my future walking. I’ve been jealous of friends posting very high step counts on social media and angry at friends who say they can’t imagine a life without walking.

Saturday was glorious. Here in Guelph it was 13 degrees and sunny. Cheddar needed walking and my son, Gavin, and I wanted to go back to the Rockwood Conservation Area. I did all the right things. I’d biked that morning (Zwift in Central Park), and stretched, and taken pain killers. My knee is always better after riding and that’s a great thing.

I’d just a read a story about seniors with knee osteoarthiritis being encouraged to take brisk walks. So I figured an afternoon dog hike might be a good thing, on balance.

Also, I read that taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels. It had been a stressful week at work. I needed this walk more than Cheddar.

It worked! We walked 5 km on mostly level trails and boardwalks, saw some beautiful scenery, met lots of dogs, and had a great afternoon. I was relieved that my dog hike days aren’t over. I think Cheddar was happy too!

Here he is with other family pets napping after the walk.

hiking

Sam Goes Walking Through the Mindful Forest and Crosses the Field of Possibilities

I’ve written lots about the challenges of conferences, calling them sitting marathons. I loved my conference in Sweden a few years ago because it provided so many opportunities for movement.

North American conferences are often the worst but recently I spent a couple of days at a workplace retreat that similarly made movement easy. Turns out it was a former luxury health and fitness spa. It went out of business and then was bought by CIBC as their corporate training centre. That didn’t work out and now it’s a conference centre. From their website: “Divergent mindsets are often at the root of the inability to agree on how to address challenges and then commit to meaningful solutions. Nestled on 114 acres of forested terrain and rolling hills, Kingbridge’s distraction-free environment is conducive to the deeper conversations needed to deal with the assumptions and mindsets that stand in the way to greater success.”

There weren’t formal hikes or anything but the trails were too nice to resist. The signage and trail names felt just a bit corny and dated but I loved the them and the running track. Their presence felt like an invitation to movement. The inspirational posters and images for trails were so over the top they didn’t bother me. The “Forest of Mindfulness” just made me smile. I made sure I got out during the day and walked lots. The conference centre itself is a beautiful building, designed by Arthur Erikson.

The retreat made me think about how much of how we move is determined by the landscapes and buildings we create. Since then I’ve been thinking about events we could hold there. Maybe a retreat for fitness oriented feminists!

I thought it was a helicopter landing pad (made sense it used to be a bank’s corporate training centre) but no. It’s a labyrinth for moving prayers and meditations.

An inviting trail through the trees

Another trail into the woods

A blue map of the Mindful Forest

A description of the trail through the Mindful Forest

A wooden, raised, covered running track winds through the woods

A close up look at the running track

Yet, more trails!

Smiling Sam selfie–exploring the outside after lunch

hiking · menopause · running · training

Now That Getting Stoned Is A Legal Training Option

Before I dive into this post, I want to put a caution up front. This represents my personal views. I’m coming from a cannabis-positive direction and will not look at the risks and downsides. Others will represent that perspective, to be sure!

Yesterday the recreational use of cannabis became legal in Canada. As if I needed another reason to miss my homeland! By way of celebration, I considered getting stoned this morning before my run, but I’m only a baby stoner and consuming cannabis straight out of bed (and by myself, since my partner is away) felt more than a wee bit outside my comfort zone.

photo-1498671546682-94a232c26d17
lush green cannabis plant

This article in Canadian Running about the potential benefits of cannabis on training might change my mind about running stoned.

By way of background, I consumed virtually no pot until I was into my thirties. Then a few years ago I became intolerant of alcohol, likely related to the onset of menopause. I was never a big drinker, but I enjoyed the social aspect. I miss the festive feel of a cocktail or the last glass of wine around a dinner table littered with the debris of a long meal. I’m glad that I have access to edibles (products like candies or brownies containing cannabis) and enjoy them as an alternative that never gives me a hangover.

Cannabis products didn’t really figure in my athletic life. Sure, there was the marathon I finished where a friend with a joint was at the finish line, touting the anti-inflammatory benefits. I can’t remember if I recovered more quickly from that marathon. Until recently, I had not used cannabis specifically as a recovery tool. Yes, I am likely to consume in the evening after a long effort, but that’s a reward, a celebration. The pain relief is a bonus and I haven’t tracked the efficacy.

Then, about a year ago, I had a period where my hip flexor started bothering me out of the blue. Putting on a pair of pants was uncomfortable. Running got hard and slow, because lifting my leg invoked the pain. My partner counseled me to use the CBD oil he’d bought a while back. I was skeptical. Then I was a grateful convert. Since then we’ve bought a couple of other CBD products for muscle pain, and my acupuncturist uses it. Wow. Nothing topical has worked so well for me. This summer when I was training for a 30k mountain run, I would mix CBD cream with foot salve, to my feet’s delight. I used it on my sketchy hamstring and my cranky shoulder blade muscle. All were happy.

IMG_2122
White plastic bottle labeled Muscle Melt Active Cannabis Heating Rub, beloved by Mina’s muscles

While training for that long run, I did a couple of runs with some younger folk. They were mountain goats with incredible endurance, agility, quite a bit of speed and a lot of good cheer. I also realized that two of the three of them were stoned. That gave me pause. I had never thought about the potential training benefits of cannabis. If anything, I assumed that being stoned would diminish my ability to work out.

The day after one of our four-hour training runs, my partner and I decided to do a 10-mile, steep hike, as a way of being on our feet, without using the exact same muscles. I suggested we follow our mountain-goat friends’ example. We had a cannabis candy as we started up the trail.

I was curious to see how it would feel. Would we be slower? Would we lose the thread of the hike? Would we just sit down and admire the forest? Nope. We charged up the mountain and got to the top as fast, if not faster, than we usually do. We were so jazzed by our ascent that we run-hiked back down. We were so focused on whether we were having a “better” time on our hike, that we didn’t even notice our performance. We concluded that the forest had seemed just as spectacular as always, the view from the peak as breathtaking, and the high meadows of wildflowers as eye popping. With or without cannabis enhancement, we got the same joy out of the experience. It was only afterward that the performance side sank in. Hiking stoned was hiking strong.

That one anecdotal event was not enough to change my training habits. I didn’t overcome years of a strict church and state separation of the workout part of my day and the relaxation part; that prude in me who clucks her tongue at having too much fun when I should be working. I thought of that hike as a one-off. But when I add in the new information from the Canadian Running article about the potential benefits of cannabis during training runs, well, I can feel my no-no stance crumbling.

I’m always curious about new training modes, so why not running stoned? Have you tried it? What are your experiences with cannabis and training?