Fear · femalestrength · hiking

When a Long Hike Becomes an Ultra Hike: How Fear and Strength Make Friends

This past Saturday, my partner and I set out for an 18-mile (30 km) hike from the Castle Peak parking lot at Boreal (near Truckee, CA) to the Mt Lola parking area (near Sierraville). As the hike is a point-to-point, we prepped by parking a car at the finish on Friday. We set out at 7:45 a.m., looking very much forward to 6 or 7 hours of hiking and a dip in the lake just past the halfway point and another in Independence Lake after we finished.

We’d done the route once before, three years ago, and had happy memories of the effortful day. So, we had only the most rudimentary of paper maps with us. No apps or maps downloaded on our phones. After all, we weren’t novices to the trail and it wasn’t as if the mountains or lake could have changed locations. And the route was simple, follow the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to the Mt Lola junction. Take a right. Follow the only trail past White Rock Lake up and over the top of Lola, then down the other side. We’ve hiked the “other side” of Lola many times as up and down. Familiar turf.  

We found our groove quickly. My partner and I have hiked together a lot and we both enjoy a brisk pace, with a minimum of stops. We passed through familiar spots of the hike, noting with pleased surprise at how much sooner we seemed to be getting to them than we’d expected. As we passed through Paradise Valley, my partner commented that it should only be another mile or so to the Lola junction. He also said that if we got to a traveled road, then we’d gone too far. We hiked on. And on. And on. We crossed a few dirt roads, most of which were clearly logging roads (i.e. untraveled). One had a sign that said “Entering Zone X.9”. We didn’t remember the road, but dismissed it as untraveled. After all, we didn’t see any cars on it as we passed by. We climbed up and over an exposed ridge. We looked back at Mt Lola and kept hiking. We expressed doubt. My partner, who likes to quantify things, said he was 10% uneasy. I was I-don’t-know-what-percent uneasy. We rationalized. We downgraded our assumed pace. We immersed ourselves in denial.

Also, I was annoyed at myself for still not buying a full brim sun hat for hiking. We passed people wearing peaked caps and hoodies as protection against the sun (not just the sun, California Sierra Mountains sun). Every time I felt its hot glow beating against the side of my face, a surge of resentment about my inadequate sun protection coursed through me. Also, I was hiking with a camelback, which had a new 1L bladder, 500 ml less than my previous 1.5L bladder. I was mad at myself for not bringing enough water. Also, I was wearing trail runners that I’d only worn one other time and I wasn’t liking them as much as my standard faves. I had a little hot spot on one of my heels.

Finally, when it seemed incredible that the junction was still ahead of us, we asked the next person we saw. A young woman, a solo northbound PCT through-hiker we caught up to (impressive!). She had an app.

After some consultation, expanding and tweezing the map on her phone, she said, “The junction is 5 miles back.”

IMPOSSIBLE. My mind screamed. I didn’t even feel capable of talking to the young woman anymore. My partner said thank you and good bye to her with great cheer. I was fuming. Why hadn’t I brought the good map we have at home? Yes, it unfolds and is huge. But still. Why hadn’t I thought to download an app? Or even look for one? What kind of self-reliant feminist was I (especially compared to the daring, app-savvy woman we’d just met)? This, in addition to my sunhat and water self-criticism.

As we passed them, we asked two more groups of backpackers if they’d seen the Lola cut-off. No one had. Sidenote: We actually didn’t see any other day hikers. Everyone we asked had apps and assured us the junction was 4.2 miles, then 3.2 miles back. One woman even showed us a picture of the bridge 2/10ths of a mile from the turn off. We knew exactly where it was. Each time, my partner was cheery and friendly with the backpackers. And each time people said things like, “Oh that happened to us yesterday.” Or, “Think of it as more time outdoors.”

I was way too frustrated to be as friendly as I could-have-should-have been. I wanted to say things like, “I don’t f@#*&ing need more time outdoors. Don’t you dare presume to know what’s good for me. I’m not just a jock. I want to read my book, too.” And other such unhelpful thoughts. At one point I sat down on a rock and declared myself done and unable to go on and that my partner should just continue without me. My partner assured me that we would make it. I refused to be cheered. Even though another part of me knew he was right, that resilient voice was getting way outshouted by the catastrophizer. Let’s call her, Apocalyptica.

We filled up on water at a high mountain spring. My partner gave me the rest of his water, which restocked my supply. And then refilled his own from the stream. We had no tablets or filter. He reasoned that it was better if only one of us got sick from the water, if that was going to happen. Thankfully, I can report at this distance of days from our hike that he’s fine! I’m grateful for his taking the risk. And for his calm throughout.

At a certain point on our way back, the resilient voice started to get some airtime. Let’s call her, I-Got-This. Apocalyptica had had her fun and was willing to let someone else take the microphone. I-Got-This reasoned that my partner and I were both strong enough. We had enough water and food and there was no still no pressure to finish. Even with 10 miles extra, we would be home well before dark. Sure, the hiking might get uncomfortable. But hey, wasn’t that what being strong was for? Plus, just think of how rock star we would feel when we finished. Soon, I-Got-This was the only voice I heard. She reminded me of the ultra-marathons I’d run. Yes, they were in 2011. Even better, I-Got-This assured me, this was a golden opportunity to renew the feeling of accomplishment I’d had when I did those runs.

When we hit the crucial bridge, we slowed way down. Our eyes combing the ground. And there it was. A weather worn grey wood sign lying on the grey dusty ground at a bend in the trail. So easy to miss. We changed its location to make sure the next hikers wouldn’t be misled. The path we wanted was nothing more than a thin filament threading through the long grass. Not many people take the cut off. We didn’t see another hiker for the next 7 miles.

What a relief! Just finding the right trail was shot of adrenaline. I-Got-This was dancing. Even Apocalyptica was grooving. She gets her thrills from the possibility of a catastrophe, not from its actual occurrence. I would have busted a move, too, but I was conserving energy. We still had 8.5 miles to go. A mile later, we found the rock we’d eaten lunch on the last time and ate lunch. Took a dip in White Rock Lake. Heavenly. Putting our shoes and socks back on after a dose of cold water was the balm we needed to recoup our spirits for the climb up Lola; an extended effort, which saves the steepest part for the top.

White Rock Lake–from the shore, halfway up Lola and the top of Lola.

Oh, wondrous summit! We lay down on a flattish rock for 10 minutes to replenish. Ate a salty chocolate granola bar. Then set out for the last 5 miles. All downhill. Every twist and turn and change of terrain comforted us with its familiarity. At the sight of our little red pickup truck at trail’s end, we yelped with relief. We. Were. Exhausted.  

The day wasn’t over. We had an hour drive to pick up our car at the starting trailhead. Then we mustered a final drop of energy for ice cream by Donner Lake: Mountain Mint Chip for me; Truckee Trails flavour for my partner (that’s a vanilla with peanut brittle and chocolate flakes). This is ice cream’s calling. To nourish body and soul.

Yes, we agreed that we felt pretty darn proud of ourselves for our 28-mile (46km) hike. And, we agreed that we would have been very happy (equally happy?) with the hike-as-planned; plus, we would have avoided a decent amount of agita.

Still, in these early days of reflecting on the hike, I’m glad for the experience. With each of these conversations between Apocalyptica and I-Got-This, IGT grows stronger and surer of herself; Apocalyptica more willing to step aside. Apocalyptica will never quiet completely. If she did, I’d miss her dramatic flourish in my life. But I sure do appreciate her growing accord with IGT. Together they prepare me for our ever-uncertain future.

cycling · fitness · habits · hiking · holiday fitness · swimming

Getting on board with the slowness plan

You would think that, now more vaccination is happening in the US and Canada, that we would all be waiting at the thresholds of our homes, raring to go, just waiting for Dr. Anthony Fauci’s starter pistol (which, in a way, has already gone off). Time to get out there, do the things, see the people, go to the places!

Track lanes, or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
Track lanes 1–7, , or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

I’ve gotten the message, and am venturing forth. I’ve driven through 9 states and back to see family and friends, had a bona fide dinner party, and eaten in a few restaurants inside, with no masks. I’ve been to the beach and the pool, the grocery store and parks. It’s so nice to see other people I know and don’t know, out enjoying everyday life. Yay! Whew. Thanks, science!

Probably not a scientists pouring COVID-vaccine into a flask. But the color is pretty. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

But, life doesn’t feel back to normal. Not yet. Not even close. Just thinking about adding new things to my to-do list, filling my social calendar, resuming all the activities I used to do, makes me anxious and fearful. I’m not ready. Or at least not ready to do it all right away and fast, like the pandemic never happened. No sir.

But, but: life is returning, coming at us, speeding up, expanding to fill all available space and time. What are my options?

I can go slow.

What?

You know– slow.

Turns out I already have the start of a library of how-to-do-stuff-slowly books. Here are two of them.

I’m taking a memoir writing course online with an old friend and former colleague, Edi Giunta. One of the things she assigned for us is being part of a 100-word writing group. It works like this: people are assigned different days of the week. One starts, writing 100 words exactly. Then the next person writes exactly 100 words, taking inspiration from whatever strikes them in the previous writing piece. And so on.

I love this! It’s breaking down writing into sentences, words, punctuation. I admit I don’t write my pieces very slowly; but, given that it’s just 100 words, I feel like I have all the time in the world to complete it. What luxury– the feeling of rafts of time to do something, and then doing it within that time. WOW.

So I’ve been thinking: if slow writing feels this good, what else will be very satisfying doing slowly? Here’s one: swimming. After reading the Why We Swim book (which we reviewed extensively, you can start here if you want to take a look), I felt the urge to be in water, but not to swim fast or hard or long. I like just being in the water, moving around at my own paddly pace, stopping and treading water or floating to look around. There are slow swimming groups (here’s one on FB; I’m guessing Diane knows about them), but I am happy (for now) being a group of one or two or so.

There’s also slow hiking. Admittedly, I don’t have much choice on this one: I am a very slow hiker, no matter what my age, fitness level, geopolitical situation, etc. If and when it’s okay to hike slowly, I almost sort of like it a little bit. I mean, the outdoors, and woodsy hilly outdoors, are lovely. Being able to appreciate however much or little I want of it seems like an good approach for me. And yes, there is internet information on it, but I warn you: several pages I went to (like this one) featured a picture of a snail. Sigh… Still, it seems promising. And when I’ve done this with fully-on-board-with-the-plan friends, it’s been marvelous.

And then there’s slow cycling. That one’s hard, because I remember being not-as-slow and am not as satisfied with slow-as-I-am-now. But maybe this is the most important one. Why? Because 1) I love cycling; 2) I’ve missed cycling; and 3) I simply am a slow cyclist. At least right now. Given the choice between slow cycling and no cycling, I pick slow cycling.

My sister and I have done a bunch of slow cycling on beach bikes. It’s so much fun. She likes riding around beach neighborhoods, looking at the houses, and wondering aloud how much they cost. I like riding with her. This situation suits us both. In lieu of my sister (who lives, alas, far away from me), I’ll have to slow-cycle on my own or with friends who I’m comfortable slow-cycling with.

Dear readers, what do you like to do slowly? Anything? Have you considered taking up an activity or returning to it, but in the slow lane? I’d love to hear about it.

fitness · gear · hiking · walking

Christine’s boots are made for walking…well, hiking really.

I bought my first pair of hiking boots recently and I LOVE them.

I’ve *meant* to buy a pair for YEARS but somehow never got around to it.

I do a fair but of walking but I haven’t done a lot of hiking in the last. It seemed weird to buy special footwear when I could just wear my sneakers and do just fine.

But I plan to do more hiking and there’s a difference between doing ‘fine’ and doing well.

Any time that I *have* gone on a hike, my sneakers have let me down. Either my feet have gotten wet or I have slid around a bit or I have almost turned my ankle. My sneakers were fine but I looked in envy at my friends in their hiking boots who seemed to be having a smoother hike than I was.

Often, I’d get home and scope out hiking boots online and then put the search aside for later…and never get back to it until I was once again annoyed on a hike.

Recently though, I came across the perfect hiking boots in my price range.

They remind me of a pair my most outdoorsy sister had years ago, so that’s inspirational. And the fact that she used to wear them out clubbing almost as often as she wore them out hiking bodes well for their potential comfort. (She used to call them her ‘dancing boots, in fact.)

Anyway, I have been wearing them on my walks with Khalee lately and I am really understanding the difference between doing ‘fine’ and doing ‘well.’

Now that spring is here-ish, I would normally have ditched my winter boots for my sneakers. But, since I have hiking boots I have been wearing them instead and they are the perfect in-between for right now.

My feet are dry, I feel sure-footed, and I like how my boots look. I can’t wait to try them on an actual hike.

Bring on hiking season!

A top-down photo of the author’s feet in a pair of brown hiking boots , she is standing on some snow.
There’s still snow on the ground in lots of places but let’s take the upside and note how nicely my boots contrast with it. 😉 Image description: Top down photo of the author’s denim-clad legs and feet. She’s wearing pair of chocolate brown hiking boots and standing on some snow that is lit by sunshine.
equality · fitness · gadgets · hiking · shoes · stereotypes

Do ice grippers/traction systems really have to have genders?

Cue scene: It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’ve finished teaching for the day. I’m looking online for ice-gripper/traction thingamies for my boots. I go to the site of my favorite national outdoorsy merchant– let’s call them REYIYI– and look up popular brands. Quickly settling on two different models, I begin the consumer cogitation process. To give you a picture of this, here are some pictures.

Next step: look at reviews. Both score decently, with more expensive ones rated more highly. To be expected. But how to choose? Which one is better for ME?

Enter the promotional/instructional videos. First, the $29 model.

Please watch this. But if you don’t want to, here are the highlights:

Opening shot: intrepid little yellow-and-white flowers in early spring, off a slushy nature trail. Very subtle music playing in background. A woman is hiking, then one foot slides a little on slush. She puts on her ice traction thingamies. There’s lots of ad copy, pointing out they are packable, lightweight, with a removable strap, blah blah blah. Then, she moves confidently through ice and snow, beginning her trail run. She stops to admire nature. Yay woman! Yay $29 ice traction thingamies!

And then there’s the video for the $59 model.

Here are the highlights for this one:

Right away we hear loud music, like you might hear in this Ford F-150 truck ad. There is ad copy, featuring the words “steel”,”bite” and “aircraft grade steel”. Steel seems to be an important part of the messaging here. We see a man walking in the snow, ice traction thingamies already on. He also shovels snow while wearing them. Then he takes them off to a resounding guitar riff, his large truck in the background. Rock on, man! Rock on, $59 ice traction thingamies!

Here’s what I think.

Angry orangy-yellow face saying Grrr.

Really? All I wanted was to figure out if I wanted the base or upgraded model of the ice traction thingamies. Instead I got treated to throwback SuperBowl truck and beer ad stereotypes.

For the record, I want stability while shoveling snow, walking around my neighborhood and also hiking. It looks like both models do that, but the more expensive model has fancier and sturdier components. That was useful information. Oh, also FYI: both come in sizes that reflect the entire range that men and women wear.

But it’s not useful or nice or even accurate to gender the crap out of otherwise-unsuspecting ice traction systems through dopey and stereotyping ads.

Can advertisers and merchandisers and stores and vendors just stop?

I’d really appreciate it.

Penguin says "STAHP!"
Penguin says “STAHP!”

Readers, have you run into any seriously-gendered advertising of items lately? Care to share? Penguin and I will give them the stink eye on your behalf.

covid19 · fitness · fun · Guest Post · hiking · temperature and exercise · winter

So Many Reasons to Hike with Friends this Winter (Guest Post)

By Elan P

As the days of winter get shorter and colder, we begin shifting our thoughts and habits to account for the winter. Tracy I , Nicole P , and Sam B have all blogged on winter exercise and how they love it, have grown to love it, or have chosen to love it (respectively). 

Of course, there is an added layer of challenge this year, as catherine w describes, when we must exercise during a pandemic. Many bloggers in the FIFI community emphasize how maintaining physical health also supports mental health during COVID-19 isolation.

Over the past few years I’ve posted about group exercise in a summer fun run and winter fun run. In her post, Catherine invited FIFI readers to share our winter pandemic plans: mine will be regular winter hiking with friends.

Just starting out on the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

Using a social media chat channel, each week those available agree on a 2 to 5 hour hiking route in SW Ontario, of easy to moderate difficulty, then on weekend mornings we just get up and go. If we carpool together, we wear masks. We keep track of our journeys with GPS, pictures, and good memories. Only a few times so far have we canceled due to poor weather conditions.

I asked this group how likely they are to continue hiking outdoors together this winter. Here is what some of them said:

  • I’m very likely to continue group hiking this winter. Why? It’s fresh air. It’s exercise. It’s community with amazing, diverse women who inspire and support one another. It clears my mind, works my body, and fills my heart. (Kimi)
  • As a single person during covid, it’s even more important for me to keep contact with my friends doing what we love, which is being outside being active. It’s all about mental health check-ins. (Sarah)
  • Our small hiking group this summer allowed us a sense of normalcy during a mentally and physically challenging pandemic. Hiking provided the perfect outlet for our need to stay safe and stay connected. I look forward to continuing our hikes this winter as COVID cases continue to rise and our fears and anxieties fester. Fresh air, friends and physical fitness are the remedies that will get us through this darker than usual winter. (Sheila)
  • Hiking has become a regular component of our self-care, especially since Covid. Everyone in our hiking group decided that we need to make time for this self-care ritual. For me, when I immerse myself in nature, combined with the methodical pace of hiking, I am soothed. And as a group, we are sharing this experience. Often we find ways to avoid, replace, or distract us from self-care. The hiking group has kept us all accountable and motivated to keep it a priority. We will continue even in tougher weather as part of our commitment. Self-care is non-negotiable. And snow and cold add a layer of physical challenge. (Marnie)
  • I am likely to continue group hiking over the winter because I’ve found a great group of like minded women who have a desire to challenge themselves to get outdoors, stay in shape and enjoy a beer. (Julie)

Exercise. Support. Clarity. Check-ins. Safety. Normalcy. Accountability. Motivation. Challenge. Sharing experiences. Self-care (which for our group usually includes enjoying a beer during or after the hike). I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Friends hike the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)

One person isn’t joining us for an upcoming hike due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak at her workplace. Here’s what she said:

  • I enjoy doing sports that are social. Hiking in this respect is social, and as Sarah said, for our mental well being this is so important! It might also be the laughing that happens is also food for the soul. Hiking is in the outdoors, and you don’t touch things, so the risk of spread is super low as long as people are hiking a bit apart. I feel our group has been smart and conscientious of our social distancing, while being able to enjoy and look forward to outdoor activities. Still, I will continue group hiking after this gets resolved at work. I don’t want to cause anyone stress.

Even when we hike outdoors together, we can’t forget to be vigilant about staying safe.

So, if you’ve been practicing physical distancing and you’re not showing signs of illness, grab a few friends (well, don’t grab them) and head outside for a winter hike. There are so many good reasons to do it. If you’re looking for a new crew, there are meetup.com hiking groups available. Choose a group with clear safety practices that follow local health guidelines.

A woman walks across a small wooden slat bridge in the forest with leaves on the ground
Marnie M. hikes the Elgin Trail. Photo by Elan Paulson (CC-BY SA ND NC)
advertising · clothing · cycling · fitness · hiking · inclusiveness

Getting gear that fits plus sized cyclists and hikers!

I’ve written about Machines For Freedom before in a blog post about safe cycling in the time of the pandemic where I noted that the model looked like me!

Because despite the stereotypes, you don’t need to be stick thin to be a cyclist yet it can be challenging finding clothes that fit. I keep saying to people who say they’ll ride bikes (or go hiking and camping) AFTER they’ve lost weight, that there is no need to wait. Do it now! Yet, the message you get shopping for clothes and gear is that as a larger person this activity isn’t for you.

I’ll have more to say about this in the future. It’s a theme of mine! But for now I want to just take a moment and applaud two recent success stories:

Finally, Body Positive Cycling Kits For Women

“Diverse populations of women are featured on the brand’s Lookbooks and bibs and jerseys come in a variety of sizes to fit a wide-range of body types. Representation and inclusivity matter to Machines for Freedom and it’s abundantly clear that it’s important to the company ethos.

“I really wanted to change what this sport looked like and to create space for difference and individuality in a sport that values uniformity,” says Kriske. “When we launched, I was very deep into training, often riding 20-plus hours a week and treating it like a part-time job. Yet, I felt like I didn’t fit in, all because I was a curvy woman who valued life and relationships rather than just talking about gear ratios or what new bike I was lusting after. I saw the industry as very flat and superficial, and tailored to folks who ascribed to a very specific, and elite, lifestyle. I wanted to change that, to draw more people in.”

Kriske believes that the sport of cycling has much more to offer riders than tech specs and racing. “There is so much joy, adventure, and confidence that comes from adventuring on a bike. When it comes to storytelling, that is our NorthStar and it’s what has been driving us to broaden our community year after year.”

The hiking and travel world is finally getting its first plus-size backpack, as the industry catches up with the diversity of people who love the outdoors

“Over the last few decades, the outdoor gear industry made innovation after innovation in product designs. Jackets are now waterproof yet surprisingly breathable, tents are so impressively lightweight one might mistake the aluminum poles for bird bones. But you still can’t buy a plus-size hiking backpack.

“When I think about it too much, I get really angry about it,”  Jenny Bruso, the self-described queer, fat, femme writer and hiker behind the popular Instagram account Unlikely Hikers told Business Insider.

That’s why backpack maker Gregory’s announcement that they’re releasing the industry’s first line of plus-size backpacks in Spring 2021 is such big news. Finally, hikers and travelers will have size-inclusive backpacks that reflect the diversity of their bodies. And Bruso, whose frustrations with the industry is a driving force behind her activism within it, is partnering with Gregory to develop the line. The release will include more than 20 different plus-size packs across the day hiking, multi-day backpacking, hydration and lifestyle categories.”

Black Hustory · Black Present · fitness · hiking · racism · swimming

Exercising while black: a few women’s stories

As a white woman who wants to be a better ally, advocate and collaborator for racial justice, the number once piece of advice I’m hearing is: get yourself educated! Read and learn about the history, politics, economics, etc. of systematic racism. Read about the experiences of people of color as recounted by them. Learning is necessary for white people to acknowledge, be aware of and look for situations where racism harms people of color; these situations are everywhere, and happening all the time. Then, learn how to respond. Learn to be uncomfortable, and accept that others will be made uncomfortable by your responses.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about discrimination against cis and trans women, against older women, fatter women, women with disabilities, and women of color.

Today’s post offers you a few sites and stories of African American women, in motion in a racist world.

I am asking you, dear readers, a favor: if you could add any suggestions in the comments about women of color doing physical activities whose stories we ought to know about, we’ll publish them in a follow-up post. Thanks as always.

First up–Black Girls Trekkin’. this is a group “for women of color who choose to opt outside”. Tiffanie Tharpe, one of the founders, was interviewed in the Guardian about the need for support and safety for women of color in the outdoors:

I feel like it’s important for black girls to hike. When I was young I would have loved to have had someone encouraging me to get outside. To not be afraid. I’ve decided to apply for a master’s degree in parks and recreation management, and a friend and I set up a hiking group for women of color in LA called Black Girls Trekkin’. I want to be a model to other young girls.

Here’s a photo from their Facebook page from one of the events they sponsor:

Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.
Two black women with a little girl in the middle, hiking with a big group.

Second: Outdoor Afro. Founded by Ru Mapp, Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization based on Oakland, CA. They have local leaders and sponsor events in 30 states, organizing hikes, kayaking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities. In their stories section, you can hear from Taishya Adams about the ways being in the outdoors and organizing and leading outdoor groups has helped her develop skills for community organizing and political action. She says:

As an Outdoor Afro leader in Colorado, I build on their 10-year legacy of reconnecting black people to the outdoors and our role as leaders in it. I believe that human relationships are at the center of our work towards justice, the foundation each of us can build upon.

Taishya Adams, in Colorado.
Taishya Adams, in Colorado.

Third: The Howard University women’s swim team. Howard is the only historically black university in the US that has both men’s and women’s swim teams. The BBC spent time with the Howard women swim team to create a documentary podcast called Black Girls Don’t Swim. The swimmers talk about their early experiences with swimming and the barriers they’ve encountered. One of the obstacles is the harmful effects of chlorinated water on their hair. The team discusses hair care, competing in a white-dominated sport, tips on being a successful student athlete, and how much they love swimming in this video interview, conducting by blackkidsswim.com.

Howard university women's swim team member in the water.
Howard university women’s swim team member in the water.

There’s a long and complex and racist history of the relationships between swimming and black communities all over the world. This article in The Conversation by University of Toronto PhD. student Jacqueline Scott provides a short introduction and starting point for learning about these issues.

Finally (for now), there’s Jacqueline Scott’s excellent blog, Black Outdoors. She writes about all sorts of activities from birding to snowshoeing, has published widely and also been interviewed for her research and her passion for the outdoors. Bonus for Torontonians: Scott also leads 2-hour Black History Walks (currently paused), which you can read more about here.

Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking  about Black History.
Jacqueline Scott in front of a mural in Toronto, talking about Black History.

So readers, any suggestions for stories and sites to visit to learn more about women of color in motion on land, sea or air? I didn’t cover much here, so I’d welcome input. We’d love to see them, and will put them together for another post. Thanks!

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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?