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.
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.
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?
Also, cute villages! And nice country hostels and hotels!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Joh. et Sabrina en randonnée à la Péninsule Bruce (see English below)
En juillet 2018, j’ai eu le plaisir d’aller en randonnée pédestre pendant 3 jours à la péninsule Bruce avec mon amie Sabrina Olender . Quel bonheur que de voyager avec une personne aussi organisée que Sabrina! On a préparé la liste des repas et du matériel commun ensemble, mais quelques jours avant le départ, Sabrina avait contacté le parc national pour s’assurer que nous avions tous les permis en main avant de partir, nous épargnant ainsi une heure de transport supplémentaire vers le poste d’accueil, en sus de la route de Toronto.
Après quelque quatre heures de route, nous voici donc arrivées au stationnement du lac Crane, notre point de départ vers le camping High Dump (après avoir pris une mauvaise route privée et rencontré une résidente assez abrupte de notre erreur). Nous mettons la dernière touche à nos sacs à dos, enfilons nos bottes et étudions la carte. Je marche 10 pas et réalise, catastrophe, que la semelle de ma botte droite s’est complètement détachée, affichant un large sourire. Comment vais-je marcher 8 km avec un sac à dos de 18 kg sur le dos sans bottes de randonnée?
Heureusement, Sabrina la prévoyante avait du ruban adhésif (le bon vieux duct tape) avec lequel j’ai réussi à attacher ma botte tant bien que mal. À ce moment est sorti du sentier un couple de randonneurs (de 75 et 78 ans!) qui m’a aussi donné du ruban pour tenter de réparer ce dégât; un autre randonneur rencontré en route m’a également donné du ruban. Beaux exemples de solidarité en camping!
Après une randonnée sans autre anicroche, nous avons entamé la descente abrupte vers le site de camping, à l’aide d’une corde pour faciliter le tout. Notre campement était le plus éloigné de tous, situé près de l’eau et très bien aménagé avec une plateforme de bois entourée d’arbres pour bien attacher notre bâche. Aussitôt arrivé, il a commencé à pleuvoir, interrompant notre observation de la magnifique baie Georgienne pour terminer notre installation. Grâce à la plateforme, la tâche nous a été simplifiée, et la cuisine aussi, que nous pouvions faire debout
Le lendemain, nous sommes parties pour une randonnée d’un jour avec un plus petit sac, mes bottes toujours maintenues par le ruban et munies de notre enthousiasme à explorer le secteur et les différents points de vue sur la baie Georgienne. Le sentier était vraiment plus difficile, parsemé de grosses roches et très accidenté. Nous nous sommes rendues au point de vue situé à 2 km, avons dévoré notre lunch et sommes revenues profiter de notre campement et de la plage.
Pour conserver notre nourriture au frais au campement pendant notre randonnée d’un jour, nous avons eu l’idée géniale de la mettre dans un sac étanche dans l’eau glaciale de la baie, bien sécurisé sous des roches et arrimé à la terre ferme (photo 5)… sauf que, deuxième difficulté technique, nous avons dû constater au retour que le sac étanche ne l’était plus et qu’il était plein d’eau; celle-ci avait pénétré par une ouverture béante à son côté! Heureusement que tout était emballé à l’intérieur du sac, sauvegardant la nourriture qui s’y trouvait.
En ce qui concerne les animaux, nous avons vu de multiples grenouilles et crapauds dans le sentier qui sautaient littéralement juste devant nos pieds, un serpent d’eau près du campement, des tamias rayés assez agressifs (un d’eux a même suivi Sabrina dans les bois) et des oiseaux. Pas de trace d’ours, malgré les avertissements. Et vraiment trop de traces de l’animal le plus terrifiant des bois à cette période de l’année : le moustique! Omniprésents et fatigants, ils ne nous ont pas laissées tranquilles, comme en fait foi l’épaule de la pauvre Sabrina!
Le dernier matin, avant de tout remballer et de reprendre le sentier, il y a des crêpes au menu… mais plus de beurre ni d’huile pour les faire cuire, et la poêle n’est vraiment pas antiadhésive. Ce sera notre dernière mésaventure technique… et une chance que nous avions beaucoup d’autre nourriture pour bien commencer la journée!
Puis, ce fut le démontage du campement et le départ! Il s’agissait d’un trop court séjour pour cet endroit magique et magnifique, que je revisiterai assurément.
Et vous, quelle est votre destination préférée de randonnée pédestre avec camping?
Joh. est traductrice, originaire de Montréal et vit maintenant à Toronto. Elle aime être en plein air autant que possible et fait du vélo, du ski, du canot, du kayak, de la randonnée pédestre et, plus généralement, aime trouver du temps pour être active, malgré une vie divisée entre un travail à temps plein, des contrats et un enfant.
Joh. and Sabrina on the Bruce Peninsula
In July 2018, I had the pleasure of hiking on the Bruce Peninsula with my friend Sabrina Olender.
What a joy to travel with someone as organized as Sabrina! We have prepared the list of meals and common equipment together, Sabrina had contacted the national park to make sure we had the right to leave the room. pick up our permit before getting to the trailhead.
After a couple of hours on the road, we arrived at the Crane Lake parking lot (after taking a wrong turn on a private road and meeting a resident who was quite angry at our mistake). This was our starting point towards the High Dump campground. We put the finishing touches on our backpacks, put on our boots, and checked the map. After 10 steps in, I realized that the sole on my right had been completely detached, showing a wide smile. How am I going to walk 8 km with 18 kg backpack on my back?
Fortunately, Sabrina the farsighted had the good old duct tape with which I managed to wrap up my boot as best I could. We also have a couple of hikers (75 and 78 years old!) Who were getting off the trail. And as luck would have it, we put another one in the way who also gave me some more. Beautiful examples of solidarity in camping!
After all, we started our strenuous descent into the camping site, using a rope to facilitate everything. Our site was the most remote of all, with a wooden platform. As soon as we arrived, it started to rain, interrupting our break to observe the beautiful Georgian Bay. Thanks to the platform, we were able to set up camp and it was nice to cook on a level surface, which we could do up.
The next day, we still have a little bag, my boots are still wrapped up in its tape, and we’re all looking at Georgian Bay. The path was more difficult, strewn with big rocks and very unven. We went to the viewpoint 2 km away, ate our lunch and cam back to enjoy our camp and the beach.
To keep our food cool during the day, we had the brilliant idea of putting it in a dry bag in the cold water of the bay , right?) This is when we encountered our second technical difficulty – we realized that it was a long time ago because of a gaping opening at its side! Fortunately, everything was well inside the bag, saving the food.
As for the animals, we have a lot of frogs and toads on the trail, we are going crazy, and we’re going crazy. No trace of bears, despite all the warnings. And too many traces of the most terrifying animal in the woods at this time of the year: the mosquito! Omnipresent and tiring, they did not leave us alone, as shown on this picture of Sabrina’s shoulder!
The last morning, before packing everything and heading out, we had pancakes on the menu … no more butter or oil to cook them, and the pan was not really non-stick. It was our last technical mishap … and good thing we had plenty of food to start the day!
Then, it was time to dismantle the camp and off we go! It was too short a stay for this magical and beautiful place, which I will certainly revisit.
And you, what is your favorite destination for hiking and camping?
Joh. is a translator from Montreal who now lives in Toronto. She likes to be as active as possible, and is into biking, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and enjoying an active life, between a full time job, some contracts and having a kid.
Two weeks ago, I attended the Women’s Summer Festival in Ischgl, Austria. It’s basically a three-day summer camp for female adults. You can sign up for lots of different sports workshops, including yoga, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, the full works. All of it women-only, set very scenically in the Austrian Alps. I’d read about last year’s edition and it sounded like a ton of fun: a chance to try out new things, meet people and spend a few days frolicking in the mountains? Sign me up.
I agonised for a while about my choice of workshops – there’s no way you can do them all – and finally put myself down for a via ferrata (complete novices), trail running (beginners), morning yoga (all levels), and an all-day hike (experts). Aside from yoga and hiking, I decided to do things I hadn’t done before, so for instance bouldering fell by the wayside in favour of the via ferrata. And I was too much of a chicken for mountain biking. Somehow, the thought of hurtling down a mountain on two wheels terrifies me a lot more than the thought of being suspended above a precipice secured by nothing but a fixed steel cable and two carabiners attached to my harness through a via ferrata set.
The classification of levels, I later learned from fellow participants, stumped not only me. How do you know you’re an “expert” hiker, rather than an “advanced” one? As I’ve mentioned before, I have my share of athletic impostor syndrome, so I was mildly terrified of both the trail running (should I have signed up for the “complete novices” one?) and the hiking tour (what on earth had made me think I was an expert? The hubris!). If anyone still needed proof that women tend to underestimate themselves, they only had to attend this festival. Nearly everyone rocked up with the same self-doubts.
But these shared concerns actually ended up making for an incredibly supportive environment. Everyone cheered each other on and kept encouraging others. It had been a long time since I’d seen two people as happy as two women with vertigo after crossing an incredibly scary suspension bridge on our trail run, fuelled by gentle coaxing from our guide and the supportive cheers of the other participants. It was wonderful to watch.
The other thing I’d been a bit wary of is going by myself. I wasn’t organised enough to enlist anyone else to come with me, and I’m not exactly a social butterfly – my small talk is limited and I tend to get incredibly intimidated by people I think are cooler than me, which is pretty much everyone. I ended up really, really enjoying myself, both in terms of the activities and the company. I met some very nice people, and the activities were great. In fact, both the via ferrata and trail running (who would have thought, considering how badly I do running uphill!) left me hungry for more.
The morning yoga was beautiful, and the hike was out of this world stunning – three three thousand-metre summits in one day! With bright sunshine! And incredible views! If I were to do this again, and I’m definitely keeping this option open, there are plenty of things I didn’t get around to doing: a more challenging via ferrata, bouldering, more hiking, and maybe, just maybe, even some mountain biking?
There was a framework programme too, to keep yourself occupied while not attending a workshop, with ad-hoc activities such as TRX training, massages, pilates, etc., and you could even get your nails and your hair done if you wanted (I opted for the nails, which I usually never do or get done, and also because there’s not much you can do with my hair). In the evenings, one night there was dinner at a local hut, which ordinarily is a hip après-ski joint, and another night there was a concert with a local band in the festival tent. And as these things are wont to go, there were exhibitors peddling the latest trail running shoes, hiking poles, outdoor and yoga clothing, etc. You could also try all these things in action, which was fun, though it didn’t motivate any purchases for me.
The whole thing was a very enjoyable affair, but I wouldn’t be a good feminist killjoy if I didn’t have some issues with it. This was obviously not a free event. The all-in festival pass set me back just under 280 Euros, and I treated myself to a nice hotel in addition. There was the option of booking just individual workshops, but they also weren’t super cheap. There was a goodie bag for those who’d booked the festival package that contained some ecologically very dubious plasticky giveaways (although in fairness, there were some great quality ones too that I’ll definitely be using). And diversity at the event was limited to cis-gendered almost exclusively white, almost exclusively able-bodied, relatively fit women who could afford to be there, and a bunch of invited press, bloggers and social media influencers who were there for free (disclaimer: I wasn’t one of them).
In other words, we spent three days oozing privilege from all pores. Is this inherently a bad thing? Probably not. We had a lot of fun and it was great to completely disconnect from the news and the heat wave gripping the rest of Europe for a few days, being active among a bunch of very nice, like-minded women and pushing our comfort zones in a highly supportive environment. The event is absolutely fantastic in that it lets you test the waters with new activities that might otherwise be quite intimidating, which I think is very important in getting women to be more active. But it’s important to be aware of that privilege – and of the fact that if you were insecure about doing any sort of exercise, you probably wouldn’t sign up for a three-day mountain sports festival in the first place, so a substantial threshold is still there.
And things could be done to make the event more inclusive. One could think of travel stipends, marketing the event a bit differently to attract a more diverse crowd, and so on. Again, the organisers are a for-profit company that makes money with this, so it’s not surprising that it’s all a bit commercial, and all things considered, the commercialness is very low key – you’re not forced to buy anything or partake in any activities that aren’t your jam. And yet. A bit more of an effort in making the event more diverse and accessible would be very welcome.
Will I go back? Maybe. I had too much fun not to contemplate a return next year. I’ll keep you posted – and if I do, perhaps it will be in some fit feminist company? Would be fun.